It’s time to leverage the power of questions – great access to all your “low hanging fruit.” The purpose of questions is to highlight any issues that hamper your client from achieving what he or she wishes to accomplish. I often say that questions are like seeds – plant them and they will grow.
The key to using questions with clients is to avoid having a list of them in front of you. If you do make sure you only glance at this occasionally. Using questions in this manner will not only stunt the flow of the conversation it will limit your freedom to ask ‘drill down’ questions. These are the follow up questions to the information provided by your client in response to your last question. Along the journey of drilling down you are likely to dip into your question bank so that the meeting has a natural flow to it.
Learning maybe 40 or 50 questions that you can introduce into conversations might not take too long but could yield rich dividends. Here are a few questions that you might like to learn. Think of it like being an actor learning lines for the next play! This is not intended as a comprehensive list so by all means add in your own favourites.
THE FUTURE OF THE BUSINESS
- How concerned are you about the future of the business?
- Does the company have a business continuation plan?
- How do you see the business developing?
- Does the management team need a strategic partner to take the company forward?
- Is there an obvious family member or other successor to take the business forward?
- Is there an obvious trade or strategic partner on the horizon?
- Is there a lack of direction, with no clear vision as to where the business is heading?
- Is there a lack of an agreed plan and is the management team pulling together?
- Does management lack the ability to implement a plan? Maybe management is good at starting new initiatives but not fully implementing them.
“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and to ask questions.”Peter F. Drucker
- Is the business increasing the top line without seeing any bottom line benefit?
- Does the business need to access additional skills (e.g. HR, IT, marketing) without the need to employ full-time specialists?
- Is there a lack of clarity in the sales message?
- Is existing management good at what they actually ‘do’ but maybe not trained to manage?
- What do you feel are the two or three most pressing problems facing you in the next 12 months?
- What challenges do you see in the future?
- What are your greatest challenges?
- What risk does the business face?
- What threats do you face?
- How can you improve the way the business is run?
- What are the top three problems you are wrestling with?
- What is the competition doing that you are not?
- What product/services are your clients asking for that you do not provide?
- What customer feedback have you had?
- Does the business have a plan for the next 12 months? Is it in writing? Known to company staff?
- What is your vision for…?
- What are your short/medium/long-term goals? Are they written and known to company staff?
- Do you think the business has adequate funding?
- Do you have any concerns regarding any possible lack of capital?
- Do you have any projects in mind that require funding?
- Do you have more month than money?
- Have you seen any changes in debtor days?
- How has investment in stock and work in progress changed?
- Does ‘just in time’ have any application to the business?
The difference between a good accountant and a great accountant is that a great accountant asks better questions than a good accountant. It is wisdom as an adviser to ask better questions and not seek to give better answers. Your clients generally have all the answers; the key is to ask the questions they haven’t thought of. So, use some of these questions to get started. Listen to what your client is saying and as you engage in the relationship, ask more questions. Relationships don’t take time – they take a completely different skill set.
- What one thing would make a material difference to you and your business?
- What has been your greatest success over the last year?
- What has been your biggest failure?
- What are you looking to do differently over the next year?
- Ask your client to discuss how he or she feels about the following factors concerning the company’s future:
- Overall economy
- Technology and the internet
- Working from home
- What has changed over the past year?
- What do your competitors do that is of interest or causing you concern?
- How dependent is the company on up-to-date technology?
- What opportunities are there in expanding your business via the internet?
- Can you deliver the same level of sales as last year? Is an increase possible?
PROFITABILITY AND CASH FLOW
- Are profits increasing or in reverse?
- What measurable results are important?
- How is the business currently performing?
- How are results-to-date compared to budget?
- Has there been any change in your margins?
- What does your profit forecast look like?
- What does your cash flow forecast look like?
- Where does your own passion lie?
- What are your goals?
- What are your current income goals?
- How is your morale?
“An advisor has to do a lot of dog sniffing – that is intellectual dog sniffing.”Morris R. Shechtman
EXIT AND SUCCESSION
- When do you intend to sell the business?
- When do you intend to retire?
- What is your exit strategy?
- How much do you want the business to be worth when you sell?
- How much do you think your business is worth now?
- How will you handle management succession?
- Should a minority stake be retained?
- Is ‘equity release’ through an injection of external investment or integrated finance an option?
INTERESTED IN RECEIVING A FULL LIST OF CLIENT WINNING QUESTIONS?
For a complete list I am happy to send you a PDF that you can circulate to others. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Walt Disney once said – That’s all folks