What makes a good business relationship

A basic rule for discussions with potential new clients or with existing clients about possible new assignments is: If the client speaks, then you are on the right track. Questions make it easier for you to stick to this rule.

Sample questions for starting new business relationships

Before you can solve a client's problems, you need to get to know the client first. However, trust cannot be enforced, and building new business relationships takes time. It is therefore important to invest time in the business relationship by asking the client the right questions - just as important as being patient and listening to the client's answers. It makes sense to use the right questions to get an overview of the difficulties and challenges that the potential client and their company are facing. For example, a few questions to start with are:

  • How long have you been working as ...? What do you like best about ...? What is the least?
  • What do you think has changed in your company / project / work etc. since you started?
  • What previous experiences do you have with clients regarding ...?
  • What challenges have you faced in relation to ... since you started working for the company?
  • What were your original motives for taking on this responsibility / project / work / task etc.? What were your expectations when you started with ... and how have these expectations changed compared to your needs today?

Questions about existing relationships with other advisors

Formulate your questions in a way that won't spoil your own efforts. Because if you ask your client questions about the business relationship with his existing advisor and his answers show that he is more or less satisfied with the respective advisor, what does he need you for? The following questions will help you get the information you want without harming yourself:

  • What are the characteristics of the ideal advisor for you?
  • When you originally selected this consultant, what were your selection criteria? How have these criteria changed compared to your needs today? What would you expect in the future?
  • If you could improve something about your advisor, what would it be?
  • How would you rate your current relationship with your advisor on a scale from 1 to 10? (When your client says a number, encourage them to do the same as in the following example.) So you say the number 7 - what would you expect your counselor to get to get a 10?

Questions to strengthen existing client relationships

You shouldn't take your clients for granted. The following questions therefore help to maintain and strengthen existing relationships and thus generate more business. Questions should be asked in a more relaxed setting (such as at a business lunch) with the aim of finding out how the relationship with the client could be improved in the coming months or years. The questions should be phrased in your own words in order to better adapt to the conversation.

  • What do you think we / I do well / right in the existence of our business relationship? (Continue with several follow-up questions ...)
  • What could we do differently / from a little less / do more / what could we improve to ensure that you achieve your goals?
  • What do you think we should focus on most to better support you in achieving your goals?
  • If there is anything you can improve about our business relationship, what would it be?
  • How can we make your work easier? (Make you more satisfying / lucrative / successful ...)
  • If a potential client asked you why you are doing business with us, how would you respond

Questions to help identify problems - past and future

In the assessment of questions that are usually asked, 85% relate to the present. Such as:

  • What are you currently doing?
  • How much ... do you produce / do?
  • How do you use this product / service?
  • Which business partners do you currently use?
  • What do you appreciate about these business partners?
  • Do you make the decisions in your company?
  • What are the challenges you face?
  • What are your needs?
  • What are your wishes?
  • What can I do for you?

These are common questions most frequently asked by counselors. They may be important to the counselor, but boring to the client, and they only relate to the current situation. However, many clients are dissatisfied with the present state and are more interested in the future, since they believe that this is where they will find the answers to their problems.

Questions related to the past and the future

  • Think back to when you implemented ... (process / workflow). What were your expectations back then? What results are you getting today? What results would you like to see in the future?
  • To what extent is your current business situation meeting your expectations?
  • How does your current business situation relate to what you would like to do?
  • How do you imagine your future / business situation / work / responsibility etc. in three years? In other words, what would you like to see more of? See less ...?
  • What steps would you have to take to achieve that?
  • How do you know that you have achieved your goals?

Questions to identify problems

Clients are often so busy with their day-to-day challenges that they usually cannot find the energy to concentrate on the bigger problems. You should therefore support your clients in not neglecting these problems and can stand by them as a consultant they can rely on. Help your clients evaluate their current situation and identify potential problems before they even occur. The following questions will help identify aspects that your client should work on:

  • What exactly is the problem?
  • What is causing the problem? Can you give an example?
  • How long has the problem been around?
  • If the problem is not resolved, what would be the possible implications?
  • How much does this problem cost you in terms of resources / money / profit / costs / productivity / performance / labor / time / clients / market share etc.?
  • What are the obstacles in your way to solve this problem?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your current consultant / service / business situation? (Based on the answer you say: "You said the number ... What would you like your advisor / service / business situation to do / cause / change in order to get a 10?")

Questions about your client's customers

Your client's customers are important, and you need to convey that to your client too. Your job here is to help your client to recognize the wishes and needs of his customers.

  • Who are your most valuable customers?
  • What do your customers expect from you as a company?
  • What can we do to add value to your customers?
  • What are you doing to make sure your customers' needs are being met? In which areas can we do more?
  • Why do your customers hire you?
  • What do your customers complain about the most? How can we help find a solution?
  • What do your customers value most about doing business with you? What do you like the least? What steps are you taking to improve this area?
  • Would you tell me the difference between a profitable and an unprofitable customer?

Why to ask “why?” Questions in order to identify unconscious needs

“Why” questions help you to find out the motivations of your clients and to bring their unconscious needs to light. Some clients act out of fear, others out of self-interest or out of the desire to increase profits. Knowing your clients' motivations gives you valuable information about how your clients work. This knowledge in turn enables you to offer your clients an individually tailored service. While it is difficult to find out what your clients are doing, the following questions should make it a little easier:

  • What makes you interested in ________?
  • What is the reason for that?
  • What drives your need for change?
  • What originally brought you to this decision?
  • What moved you to make the decision about _______?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • If you get this / that result, what is it worth to you?
  • What concerns do you have in the event that you are unable to achieve this result? How would that affect you?

Questions about the other parties involved

It is not enough to know your client, you also need to know something about their colleagues or superiors. Asking about your client's corporate culture will help you understand how the company works internally and allow you to anticipate problems before they even arise. You must be aware of the fact that other employees can influence whether a certain change or a project is carried out or not. The following questions will help you find out who else is involved in a particular process:

  • Can you explain how you make decisions?
  • Who else is involved in this process besides you?
  • What exactly are his / her views on this matter?
  • What steps is your company taking to reach a decision about this type of business?
  • How can we best present this solution so that it will be seen by everyone as a gain rather than a loss?
  • Can you tell me some of the difficulties you might encounter in the decision making process?
  • What are your thoughts on the upcoming project? What does your manager think about it? Your colleagues? Others on your team?
  • Who on the team might be averse or indifferent to this solution? Why?
  • How can we adapt the solution so that it is seen by everyone as an asset rather than just a potential?

Questions to create added value

Questions about the value of a thing help clients move away from the “cheap price” mentality and into a discussion of its true value. However, everyone has different values. Therefore, don't forget to ask your clients what is most important to them. In this way you can successfully present your solution as a smarter investment compared to the cheap alternatives.

However, you cannot sell “value” without knowing what your client values. The following questions will help you find out what your client cares about:

  • How do you measure success with your current advisor?
  • Explain to me the criteria by which you select a new consultant.
  • What is most important to you: price, quality, service, delivery, customer support and / or availability? What is the least important to you?
  • How important is the price compared to the service / performance? Compared to the quality? Availability? At launch time?
  • You mentioned that quality is important to you. How would you define quality?
  • Can you give me an example where your quality standard has not been met?
  • Could you rate the criteria you listed earlier from “important” to “not so important”?
  • How would others on your team rate this criterion? How could their classification differ from yours?

Questions about competition, trends and sales opportunities

Assessing the competition on a regular basis is essential for any business. Likewise, every company needs to know about the trends in the industry in order to be able to market itself efficiently. Questions relating to these aspects lead your clients to take a critical look at the current situation in order to better concentrate on the future.

  • How do you stand out from your competitors?
  • Why do your clients hire you?
  • If there was one area that you could improve to ... better use / fix / address - which area would it be?
  • How does your company see itself in today's market? …in three years?
  • In which areas of the market do you see opportunities that could be exploited? ... obstacles that have to be overcome?

Questions about impact and impact

These questions are used at the end of your discovery phase. Effectiveness questions are decisive because they provide information about the client's motives and whether there is a sense of need for action. Based on the client's answers, you can quickly decide whether you will have the opportunity to close the deal, better get out, or move on with more questions to determine the client's real needs. The following examples are questions of this kind:

  • What would be the impact on you if this problem persisted?
  • Let's pretend for a moment that the problem you just described cannot be solved. What would be the possible effects on ...? How would that affect you?
  • What if it doesn't fix the problem they identified? What would the consequences be?
  • What will these problems cost you in the long run if they are not fixed?
  • Can you afford not to take action?
  • Let's assume nothing changes. What will it cost you this year? If you don't solve the problem, what would be the possible impact on your business? Can you afford to take the risk?

Questions related to the client's ideas

By asking questions about the client's vision, you get them to look into the future and thus present them with a picture of how promising their future could be through the positive changes that result from doing business with you. Once you've got your client ready to ask such questions, you can also convince them that your service will help them achieve their future goals. Examples of such questions are as follows:

  • If we could eliminate the problem that is preoccupying you - for example, if it is a problem that costs you € 1 million a year - what benefit do you think your company would get from it?
  • Now, if we could make these changes, what opportunities would it give you to do or achieve certain things?
  • How would making this change affect you personally? What could you do differently as a result? If these changes are made, what would your job (or career) be like five years from now?

You can use this collection of questions in numerous situations over the course of numerous conversations. As you ask these questions, you will gradually develop a close relationship with your clients through which you will present yourself as a consultant that your clients can trust. Once you achieve that, you will have opened your clients' eyes to the value of your solutions rather than just the price of your services.

Please also read the article Questions and Answers

You can download the questionnaire for the first interview and the questionnaire for an expectation interview