Client Development Questions for Architects
If there’s one thing I know, clients-to-be have very little tolerance for slick-talking, project-flashing, self-centered people. And let’s face it; so do we!
The myth that we’re supposed to go into a client development situation showing and telling, instead of inquiring and listening has got to be smashed.
1. Shifts your focus from you to them.
Questions pivot a conversation from self to other. Most people are uncomfortable meeting people for the first time. As an act of generosity, it’s kind to do the other person the favor of putting them at ease. By opening the meeting with general, get-to-know-you questions, it sets the tone for the meeting and gives everyone present the opportunity to quell any nervousness that may arise.
There’s a reason people typically begin meet and greet meetings with small talk. Meeting new people is uncomfortable for many folks. Insecurity arises. What will she think of me? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I don’t get the information I’m looking for? What will I tell my boss?
2. Gives you a chance to evaluate the client-to-be.
By asking questions, you’ll immediately begin to sense the prospect’s personality: is she straight-forward and deliberate, or casual and less structured in conversation style. Is he open- or closed-minded? Quick to laugh? Serious? Intense? Calm? Receptive? Stand-offish?
By observing the characteristics of the person you are meeting, you’ll be better able to match the tone and conduct a successful meeting.
Finally, you can tell a lot about what it would be like to work with this person from the initial meeting. Was the person accessible, or was there a series of doors you had to go through like Get Smart, before finally reaching the person? Is the person present for you or distracted? What sense do you have about the person’s work style, ego, management approach? All of these things can be on display if you are watching carefully and reading the meeting intently.
3. Sets up a binary system of communication.
Questions and answers are a binary system of zeros and ones. Think about it. When you ask a question, your mouth is literally open—like a zero—and the prospect’s mouth is closed—like a one, only sideways. When the client-to-be answers, his or her mouth is open, and yours is closed. At the beginning of the meeting this system tends to be very clear with little overlap. But as the meeting progresses, the switching back and forth becomes more fluid, less structured, and more conversational. For people who are new to client development, I often suggest that they think about the zero/one visual to keep from interrupting or interjecting too often.
Beginning with general questions gives both parties a chance to get comfortable, break the ice and get to know each other. So what do these kinds of opening questions sound like?
Deborah Pierce says
Great questions – they represent a lot of thoughtful inquiry! Nice to end with the Rilke quote, too.