The Ultimate Guide to Proposals: Client Interviews

The Ultimate Guide to Proposals: Client Interviews

So, if most proposals fail due to a lack of understanding, what you're probably asking yourself is “How can I understand what the client needs?” And that’s what today's post is about. Client interviews…

I’m sure when you're first contacted by a prospective client you have some sort of screening process. Maybe you use a PDF or Word document that contains a list of simple questions. These questions help you to avoid spending more time than is necessary on tire kickers.

Find out what your client wants, and then what they need

A winning proposal starts with the client. You can't do anything without talking to the client. A questionnaire will help with screening, but little else. Use the above mentioned questionnaire and turn it into the basis for a live client interview. Meet in person or via Skype (I prefer Skype) if you work remotely. What comes next is as easy as getting to know someone. Talk…talk some more, and then talk some more again. The longer you can engage a client on their favourite topic; that of themselves and their business, the better the insight you’ll have into their goals, expectations and needs.

So what should you be looking for, what should you be asking? It's not always easy to start from scratch so I've put together a small list of questions to get the ball running. But remember the questions are only a starting point; the answers can take you anywhere. If the conversation goes in a direction you hadn’t anticipated that’s OK. You want to get to the core of the client’s problem. Ask questions, but above all actively listen and don’t forget to record the conversation. You’ll need it as a reference while writing your proposal. Repeating a client's problems back to them, using language they've actually used is very powerful.

If you only say 4 things in the entire conversation, you've probably done a great job!

Don't be afraid to be quiet. Ask your questions and let the client do all the talking…Seriously. (You don't need to ask all of these questions :)

List of starter questions:

  • Tell me a little about your business. What do you do?
  • Why do you need this website/app/service?
  • What problem is this project going to solve?
  • What will happen if this project doesn't go ahead? How will it affect your business?
  • What are you hoping will come of this project. What do you want to achieve? Be specific.
  • Where do you see your business in 12 months after completing this project?
  • What are your goals for this project? Is it to make money, generate more leads, increase trial signups, increase brand awareness or simply annoy your ex business partner who's apparently doing so much better than you?
  • What sets your business apart?
  • Why are you looking to start this project?
  • What sort of timescale are you looking at?
  • Did you have a budget range in mind? I don't want to waste your time with some crazy proposal.
  • How would you measure the success of this project?
  • Do you have any way of measuring your current successes or failures? (Analytics)
  • What do you think might be the hardest part of this project? What most concerns you?
  • What aspects of your current product or service work well? What doesn’t work so well?
  • What are the short-term goals for your business?
  • If this project could only achieve one goal, what would it be?

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These questions aim to start a conversation that goes a little further than “When do you need it by”. So keep asking. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn with just a few simple questions. And don't think you're being nosy or too pushy. If a client doesn't want the best for their project, well…there's only one solution for that.

A final note: If your client asks for a price at this point, no matter how hard they push for it resist the temptation to quote on the spot. A lot goes into any project and until you understand just how you can bring value to the project it’s best to err on the side of caution. If they really need a number, offer a ballpark figure. Just be very careful not to box yourself in early on.

In next weeks post we'll take a look at the importance of clarity.

Check out previous posts in the series:

Part 1 “What’s a proposal”

Part 2 “Why proposals fail”

Part 3 "An interview with Marcus Blankenship"