Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Twenty Questions

When I sit down with a new client - and periodically with old clients - I like to create an FAQ. In real life, it's not really an FAQ at all, as there's typically nothing "Frequent" about the questions I'm asking. What I do with my "AQ's" (which I variously call Never Asked Questions, Internally Asked Questions, Nosily Asked Questions, and Me Asked Questions) is to get at the heart of what a company is and does, what they're products are and do, who their customers are - and why they're their customers, what's their reason for being, what's happening in their market. The questions are a combination of soft ("Who are your customers, and why do they purchase from you") and hard-ball ("If you've been in business for three years, how come you only have two customers?"), but the tendency is toward the hard ball. I want to make sure that my clients have thought through tough questions - and have an answer - before they're asked by a customer, investor, or analyst.

Most of these questions never see the light of day. They don't get published on the web site. They're not a piece of collateral. They're "just" the foundation for the messages and positioning I'm going to develop for my client.

I've always thought of my AQ's as a starting exercise with a client, something that gets revisited on occasion (maybe once a year or so), but Charles Green at Trusted Advisor has another take on this (part of an excellent post that includes the ultra useful tip: ABC - Always Be Curious). Here's a bit of Charlie's trusted advice:

Always have a rolling 20 question list about your client and your customer on hand. Keep them in a notebook, in your to-do list, in a separate client info/data file. Keep the questions genuine—questions that you honestly don’t know the answers to, and the knowing of which would add to your knowledge of the company and its issues. Don’t use gimme questions that you could have looked up; make them richer questions, ones requiring insight or perception...At every client interaction, be curious by asking one or two of your questions. There’s no need to be coy about it—you can tell your client exactly what you’re doing and why. Top up your questions list a day or two later, so it’s always a rich one.
Having Twenty Questions for and about your clients is an excellent idea. These questions can help you learn more about your client, and help your client achieve clarity of purpose, a sounder strategy, and overall better outcomes. I'm going to start on a couple of Twenty Questions lists now!

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