13 best questions to ask consulting clients
From starting off with honesty to giving up control, here are 13 answers to the questions, "What are the best questions to ask a potential client that will position yourself as the consultant they need to hire? Why?"
- Would You Tell Me if We Aren’t a Good Fit?
- What Differentiates You from Your Competitors?
- What Are Your Specific Challenges?
- How Are You Creating a Memorable Brand Experience?
- What if the Root Cause Is You or Your Leadership Team?
- What Is the Cost of Inaction?
- What Are You Trying to Accomplish During This Next Stage?
- What One Problem, if Solved, Would Make the Biggest Difference?
- What Differs Between Your Target Market and Existing Client Base?
- How Are You Making Your Corporate Culture a Talent Magnet?
- How Do You Stay Consistently Connected With Your Associates?
- Would You Agree With the Following Assessment?
- How Comfortable Are You Giving Up Control?
Would You Tell Me If We Aren’t a Good Fit?
I believe it's essential to start by establishing an open and honest dialogue to foster genuine partnerships built on trust and alignment.
During our discovery meeting, I make it clear that we are both here to explore whether or not we are a good fit for each other. Because I may determine that we are not the best fit to support their needs, I assure my potential client that I will communicate clearly and promptly if I see a misalignment.
I then invite them to do the same, asking, "If you felt that we aren't a fit for any reason—budget, timing, whatever it is —would you feel comfortable telling me?" By creating an environment of honesty and openness from the outset, we can establish a foundation of trust that will be essential to the success of our partnership. This also eliminates any "used car salesman" sales pressure and demonstrates that I prioritize respecting my potential client's time.
What Differentiates You from Your Competitors?
I like to ask: What differentiates you from your competitors—why are you different? I've found that every owner/founder has a story for why they do what they do, and I believe that storytelling is one of the best ways to connect with an audience.
Most of the time, clients that I work with believe that something was broken in the industry where they now do business, and they had a unique way to address and fix it. Working with clients to capture that story and tell it in a compelling way helps them showcase their uniqueness to potential customers.
What Are Your Specific Challenges?
One of the best questions to ask a potential client to position yourself as the consultant they need to hire is, "What are the specific challenges or problems that you are facing in your business, and how do you envision a consultant like myself being able to help you address them?"
This question demonstrates your understanding that every client has unique needs, and it allows you to tailor your pitch to show how your skills and expertise can address their specific challenges. Self-awareness is one of my personal super skills that I have continuously tried to improve upon and master. It also positions you as a problem-solver and strategic thinker, which are important qualities in a consultant.
How Are You Creating a Memorable Brand Experience?
Creating a positive, emotional connection with prospects is a great way to promote your brand as well as your product or service. It's important for consultants to inquire how the organization is currently doing this.
There are five components to include as part of this discovery process. One, ask where the prospects get their information and what social media channels they frequent. Tailoring the message for each channel is essential.
Two, ask how they are disseminating their message. Short video reels are great at getting points across quickly and can increase engagement.
Three, are they building trust by offering something of value? Educating their audience with content is a great way to build that connection.
Four, are they subject matter experts and sharing their opinions or engaging with an influencer who can help amplify their message?
Five, are they engaging with their current customers to grow their business? Customers can also be great spokespeople.
What if the Root Cause Is You or Your Leadership Team?
Change is difficult. Each person experiences change or challenges differently, but the underlying factor is oneself. We must be able to look at obstacles, challenges, change, issues, etc. as what can I do differently. What can I communicate better, what support can I provide, or who do I need to bring in to help?"
What Is the Cost of Inaction?
Asking the question: What happens if you do nothing to solve this problem? What's the cost of inaction?
This question serves three important purposes:
1. It provides more insights into the problem statement and its severity.
2. It allows the client to reflect on the cost of delaying or stalling to hire you as a consultant.
3. The client feels a sense of commitment, which helps you throughout the course of the engagement as a consultant.
What Are You Trying to Accomplish During This Next Stage?
“What are you trying to accomplish during this next stage of… (your life, career, marriage, mental health journey, etc.)?” This loaded question allows the client to tell you EXACTLY what they want, and from there, you can easily address how you will help the client achieve their future goals.
At the start of the conversation, there are several common obstacles that prevent people from being perceived as expert consultants. If you spend too much time engaging in “small talk,” you may lead the client to believe you are stalling. If you immediately dive into budgets, timelines, or a potential business transaction, you are showcasing that you care more about financial outcomes than the client themselves.
While there are no magic questions that automatically position you as an expert, asking about what the client wishes to accomplish in relation to your area of expertise will present the perfect opportunity for you to demonstrate your ability to help them realize their goals.
What One Problem, if Solved, Would Make the Biggest Difference?
When meeting with a potential client, one of the best questions I ask is, "What one problem, if solved, would make the biggest difference in your business?" When I ask this question, it opens up several possible directions that the potential client can take, and my follow-up questions then help me to better understand the pain behind this problem. I find that this question also helps the potential client better define the problem and shows them that I want to help and provide value.
What Differs Between Your Target Market and Existing Client Base?
Understanding this difference helps determine where messaging can be improved to better resonate with your target market. It can also shed light on demographics or product uses otherwise not considered. Sometimes it's both!
Laurel Sharp, Marketing Consultant
How Are You Making Your Corporate Culture a Talent Magnet?
Companies spend an enormous amount of money on talent acquisition—which is not surprising, since hiring the right talent is critical for the success of any business. What is surprising is the relatively low amount that is invested in engaging and retaining that talent.
It is time for companies to start focusing on creating an amazing employee experience in order to attract and retain top talent—great pay and cool perks are no longer enough. If you want your company to become a talent magnet, focus on your people; they are the key to creating an iconic brand that your customers will love. I help companies hire, engage, and retain top talent!
How Do You Stay Consistently Connected With Your Associates?
Getting a pulse on your employee satisfaction and engagement is critical to the health of your business. “What is your approach to stay consistently connected with your associates?"
As a business owner or leader, keeping an ear to the ground and associates that are customer-facing/service-providing and not just the leaders that report to you is critical to properly understanding what is happening.
Creating routines of communication with different levels of leadership and associates builds rapport when done consistently and in a meaningful way. Over time, leaders can build trust and create a culture of transparency. The key is to acknowledge and act upon feedback, suggestions, and ideas.
Conversely, addressing difficult situations, being transparent about challenges, and identifying when changes cannot be made are equally important. Employees that feel heard and are able to contribute to key decisions and solutions are more engaged and fulfilled, which is better for everyone's business!
Would You Agree With the Following Assessment?
An effective method to position yourself as an expert is to show that you've done your homework and are ready to act as an adviser instead of a service provider. Here's a quick template:
Would you agree with the following assessment? I benchmarked your industry and competitors in a few areas and found that [Competitor] tends to be stronger in [A and B]. But for [Company], I see more opportunity around [C]. Could I share more with you? (Include a supporting chart/graphic if you can.)
This approach positions you around solving the problem or strategic challenge instead of probing questions about budget or timeline. Additionally, through the element of reciprocity, you'll be more likely to get a specific response that invites a broader discussion—or affirms that this prospect isn't ready for your service. The clients I've worked with have enjoyed my analysis, which has given me an edge over others.
How Comfortable Are You Giving Up Control?
Some clients like to micromanage, while others feel like the given project is a top priority and want to be involved in every step of the consulting project. Most of the time, however, clients are small business owners who are overwhelmed and think they have to be part of every aspect of the project but welcome the opportunity to let the expert take the reins and provide the best possible solution.
Every consulting project is as unique as the organization's owner/CEO, and it's okay to let them know that they don't have to be in control, and they can let the consultant help them succeed.