Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tools for Understanding the Client’s Organization: The Client Interview

In my previous post I discussed the importance of understanding your client’s organization, specifically its 3P’s – principles, people and processes.  Some of this information comes just from interacting with the client both during pursuit and project work. Much of it lies deeper though, and unless you are intentional about finding it, problems with client retention and relationships can result.

One great tool for uncovering information about the 3P’s is a client interview. This is a face-to-face meeting, preferably not connected to the status of a specific project. Rather it should be set up as, “if you have a few minutes, I’d like spend some time learning more about your organization and how things work there. This will help us meet your needs better.” Making it casual, over lunch or dinner for example, is a great idea.

Below are sample questions that should reveal critical information about the 3P’s. It’s important to probe on those questions that are most important.  For example, after an initial response, you could ask, “Tell me more about that,” or “what did you mean about that?”
  • What do you like most about working here? (principles, people, process)
  • What do you like least? (principles, people, process)
  • If there was one thing that could be improved here, what would that be? (principles, people, process)
  • How do you get recognized, move up here? (people)
  • What are key challenges facing your company? (principles, people, process)
  • What is most important to the leaders? (principles, people)
  • How do decisions get made? (people, process)
  • If your company was a person, how would describe its personality? (principles, people)
  • How do things get done around here: budgeting, purchasing, product development, etc. (process)
You get the idea. I’m sure there are more you can fashion depending on the situation.

An important aspect of the interview is how to share the information you just collected. Make sure to write up notes quickly after the meeting. Then share at the next team meeting. File where other project and client information is kept for future reference and for new team members.

More tools to come!

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