As an agency owner, I often receive questions about our client and web project on-boarding process. When a lead comes in, what are the right interview questions to ask potential clients before accepting their job?
From a client’s perspective, I’ve noticed that asking technical or design-oriented questions causes more problems than not, and of course, we aren’t just hired hands. When a potential client contacts you, consider yourself a business consultant and approach their project as a solution to a problem they current have–not someone who takes the exact need of the client and blindly builds it on command.
Good communication between a designer and a client is essential to every job, and to understand a potential client, you have to understand their problem (If you need to improve on your client communication, see Designers and Communication Skills: Why and How to Improve). The problem is by far the biggest question you will be trying to solve in the discovery phase. After determining their problem, you must explore the scope, cost, and timeline of the project. You’ll notice most of these questions revolve around the project management concept of the triple constraint. Let’s dive in!
Web Project Questions
Understanding the Scope
1) Tell me a little about why you want to start this web project?
The first question I ask is about their project. I want to know about why they feel they need this project. I want to know about why they think they need it and how this could solve a problem that they are having. I’ve experienced potential clients say things like “The design sucks” or “This wasn’t what I wanted”; but, this isn’t the real reason.
As an agency owner, you need to dive in deeper and discover the true pain that they are experiencing. Hearing answers like “The design sucks” or “This wasn’t what I wanted” can translate into things like “Our site isn’t generating enough leads” or “Our users drop off quickly in the registration process”.
Those types of translations are extremely useful when determine how to solve their problems. It is also useful in determining what solution you can offer them. Remember that your goal is to be focus on their problem when speaking with them.
2) What business goals do you have in mind after you execute this?
This is the second most important question that you ask and goes somewhat hand-in-hand when you’re speaking to them about question 1. The first question is about where they are current at in their business. This question is about where they want to go.
If your potential client understands their current business state and already knows the solution for their pain, this will most likely be already stated when they are discussing question 1. If your potential client doesn’t know why they want to start a project or misunderstands where they are, you’ll have to do a little discovery work to find this out.
As a business consultant, you have to determine the answers to question 1 and 2. You want to focus on giving them a solution that will not only solve their problem but also align with their future goals. If you can answer those two questions, you are golden.
3) What will make this web project a success?
This question is more about their expectation than anything else, and one of the realities of designing websites for clients is that no two clients are the same. When you’re having your first meeting with a potential client, you want to determine what is success in their eyes. A happy client is one of the most important things since it will lead to good relationships as well as good referrals.
I have experienced clients draw success as solving the problem discovered in question 1. Others feel success is only achievable after a few iterations of their current site or product. Both of these are good examples, and as the business consultant that will help them solve their problems, you need to know what their plans are for the future.
Steven Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, agrees, stating that not making a conscious effort to understand what success is for you will ensure that you will not have success at all. Keep the end in mind. It will end up being the most important part in maintaining that client relationship and also helping them meet their goals.
4) What will happen if this web project isn’t successful?
Along with understanding the success, it is also important to understand the ‘what ifs’. This includes understanding what happens if you fail. More often than not, their existing site or product can still function, but you want to gauge the cost of success and failure. Understand what happens if they do not solve the problem. Understand what happens if they knock it out of the park. Knowing this will help you pitch why they need to go with your agency who knows how to solve their problems.
Understanding the cost
Photo courtesy of Flickr
5) Do you have a budget you’ve set aside for this web project?
The budget. This is the hardest question to ask and the hardest for your potential clients to answer. I’ve experienced clients who reply with, “The cheapest possible” and “thirty bucks”. I’ve also experience clients who answer honestly with a healthy budget.
This is an important question for the obvious reasons. It helps you as the business consultant determine the scope of what you can provide. It also validates and vets potential clients on their seriousness of the project.
Answering this question can help you make decisions in what can you provide. Maybe the cost of responsive website design isn’t worth it since their budget is a little lower and their target demographic only uses desktops. Maybe their budget is a little healthier and it would be better to stop hacking at their WordPress site and build a robust web application. When they have a defined budget, you can determine the possibilities and better help your client solve their problem.
Understanding the timeline
6) When are you looking to get started on this web project?
The is the last question that I ask the potential client. Just like budget, time is also just as important. Sometimes time doesn’t allow for specific features. Sometimes time is so abundant that everyone can take their time to ensure maximum results. Before starting a project, you have to figure out the time in which it takes to implement the solution and how much they are allowing you. This will shape the project that gets built.
My goal with asking this question is not just to find out what their timeline is, but it is also to determine the urgency of the project. Often times, excited potential clients want to start their projects immediately, but sometimes this is just excitement. Maybe the marketing team isn’t expecting this until 3 months after you are able to deliver. If the project isn’t urgent and your current workload is full, an option could be to push it back a little. This is kosher.
Go out and conquer
By asking your clients the above 6 questions, you’ll quickly find out how you can best solve their problems, make them more money, and build a happier and healthier client relationship. And as stated in the post Communicating with Indecisive Clients, getting as much info up front before the project begins will alleviate any issues that could arise down the line.
Don’t worry about asking these questions verbatim during your first client meeting. Casually and naturally discussing these topics will help you see the difference in the results that you can offer your clients.
What other questions do you answer potential clients before starting work for them? I’d love to hear them in the comments!