A while back I wrote that it’s essential to know what your clients want from their point of view. I said that it’s not “Do what you love, and the money will follow,” but “Do what you love and what serves others, and the money will follow.” (You’ll find the earlier post here).
Several readers wrote to ask how to get clients to tell you what they want. What do you ask them? How do you ask? What do you do when you ask them, and no one responds?
Here’s my answer, and it’s one of the most important keys to getting clients.
It begins with a conversation
The first first thing to understand is that finding out what clients want involves a conversation, an exchange. And the first requirement for a meaningful conversation is for you to be 100% present.
That’s not always easy when your business is at stake. Even though you believe in your work, and it is ultimately of service to your prospective clients, you may feel uncomfortable asking them for information that will help you to market and sell more to them effectively.
So I teach clients to begin by getting into their Personal Safety Zones.
Create a zone of safety and respect
Your Personal Safety Zone is a conscious sense of personal space in which you center and ground yourself.
One way into your Personal Safety Zone is to bring your awareness into your body. Breathe into your abdomen and, when you exhale, expel as much air as you can. Repeat this for three breaths. Surrender to gravity, allowing your weight to settle until you are aware of the soles of your feet on the ground beneath you. Invite your body to show you how it feels to be perfectly centered, grounded, and safe.
Take a few moments to feel that.
Practice getting into your Personal Safety Zone in all kinds of situations until it becomes second nature, and you can do it in a moment. Then, use it whenever you talk about your work.
When you feel safe, you put others at ease
When you feel safe, people naturally feel safe in your presence. There is room in the conversation for them to be exactly as they are.
This is especially important in conversations with clients or prospective clients. As you show up naturally and with peaceful confidence, the person you speak with feels comfortable. There is no need for either of you to contract or defend.
Have a one-on-one intentional conversation
A successful conversation about what a client wants happens intentionally and one-on-one. Schedule a specific time and place for the conversation, and be clear about the purpose.
It can be scary to ask for such a conversation! So practice your Personal Safety Zone. Throughout the process of learning what clients want, you will find that returning to your Personal Safety Zone is the key to success on many levels.
As for what to say when setting up the conversation, be simple and direct. “I’d like to understand what it’s like for you to…. May I have 30 minutes of your time to talk about that?” (Fill in the blank with the problem or need the client has.)
Set a date to speak by phone, Skype, or in person. Email and surveys don’t work for this kind of conversation. They aren’t personal enough, and they don’t allow you to get beneath the surface.
Take the time to get under the surface
Most conversations start on the surface. People naturally want to please you, and, in the beginning, they tend to say what they think you want them to say.You can help the client move past this phase by gently redirecting the focus to their experience. Repeat that you’re truly interested in what it is like for them to have this problem, desire, or need. Ask them questions that take them deeper.
As you continue to ask respectful, probing questions that shift the focus to what the client experiences from inside their problem, the client’s answers will become more spontaneous. Your client will express more emotion and will tend to use less formal language.
This is exactly what you are looking for. Not a neat and clean global description of a problem, but an in-the-trenches report of what it is like for your client to have a pressing challenge or urgent desire.
At this point, your client (or prospective client) is telling you exactly what you need to know. To make sure you get it, listen literally. That means listening to the precise words and phrases (and intonations) that your just-right clients use to talk about the world from their perspective.
That sounds simple, and it is, in principle. But when you are deeply immersed in your work and listening to a client who is talking about the things your work is designed to address, you tend to hear through the filter of your experience.
This is why it’s important to capture the conversation as exactly as possible, which is what we’ll talk about next.
Capture the conversation
Every word from your client’s lips is golden, so capture the conversation in as much detail as you can. Recording the conversation (with the other person’s permission) is ideal. Taking notes is another way to capture what is said.
Whether you take notes or use a recording, you’ll be going back to the conversation time and again to steep yourself in your client’s point of view and language. Capturing the exact words and phrases the client uses will be immensely helpful when it comes to describing what you do, making people aware of what you do, and making it safe and easy for them to hire you.
Allow problems to go unsolved
Problems are, well, problems. And we generally prefer not to hang out in the problem space, especially if we are trying to make a good impression on someone. But a conversation with a client about what they want is not a problem-solving conversation. What may sound like a cry for help is often a cry to be heard. If you rush to solve the problem, you miss the point.
It will be easier to let go of the pressure to problem solve when you remember your Personal Safety Zone. Remind yourself that your client is a whole person. Detach from the impulse to fix things and tune into the work of connecting.
If you are truly focused on connecting from your Personal Safety Zone you will be able to hear your just-right client without being swamped by the problem or distracted by rushing to a solution.
That’s how to find out what clients really want.
Photo by Kibondo via Flickr