How to Set Yourself Apart From the Competition by Asking Great Questions

6 Reasons Asking Great Questions Sets You Apart From Your Competition

Lack of clarity leads to loss of revenue.

If we assume we know all we need to know and don't spend time clarifying our assumptions or asking for more details about the client's expectations then it could set off a chain of (time consuming) events that leads you, the client and your company down the path of wasted man hours.

Well-designed, well-delivered and thoughtful questions can cut through any potential misunderstandings, clarify needs and get you and your company on the right path to delivering the right solutions. Importantly, the client will have a completely different view of you because asking great questions makes you appear more assertive and in control.
6 Reasons asking great questions makes sense
1. You get to know your client's business

With increasing competition for new business many companies are desperately looking to protect what they have.
Where possible you are looking to develop new revenue streams from your existing clients. Your success depends largely on how well you know your client's business. To know your clients you need to ask great questions.

Your value is determined more by the amount of information you can gather than the amount of information you can give.
2. You can anticipate and respond to the changing situations facing your clients

By asking 'what's changed' and 'what's going to change', you can anticipate and respond to the client's needs and stay ahead of the competition

3. You can ensure answers lead to discussions on issues where you can help
Successful companies phrase their questions to clients carefully to ensure the answers they receive are useful and lead to information-rich discussions on issues where they can help. Without good questions you are just another company trying to sell solutions before understanding the client's real problem.

4. You discover the client's real issues

Today's clients expect you to be able to walk in their shoes and understand the issues they are facing but are often too busy to spend lots of time with you. W
hile you need to know your clients well, the challenge is to make the contact you do have with your client count.

Asking compelling, intelligent questions allows you to discover the client's needs and even drill down further to uncover their underlying problems. The more information you take in, the more help you can give.

5. It shows you are interested
Questioning focuses on the client's needs. It should not be about you, but them. Asking the right questions gives a huge advantage in showing that you are astute and, most important of all interested.

When the client is answering questions about their own predicament it keeps them more engaged and they're more likely to come away feeling that you really were getting to the heart of the matter rather than prematurely trying to offer up solutions. It also ensures you don't fall into the 'mind reading' game.

6. It helps build client loyalty and protect relationships

A supplier who asks great questions and uncovers what the client is struggling with in their business is seen very differently from one who simply presents self-serving solutions with no context.
If you show the client you are only offering solutions that suit their needs it builds trust. Trust leads to loyalty. Loyalty leads to increased business and potential referrals to new clients.

This quote from the Managing Director of a pharmaceutical company who uses specialized healthcare agencies to promote their products sums up the client's sentiment in a nutshell:

"Frequently I get suppliers coming to see me with the sole intention of trying to persuade me to part with my money. They don't understand where I'm at or my business is at, they don't know what I see as the key issues I need addressing. The suppliers who end up getting my business are the ones who ask excellent, intelligent and thoughtful questions, they genuinely want to know my point of view - and they listen! They engage me and end up understanding my business much more. I find it impressive and they gain much more respect. The outcome of this dialogue may end up being suggestions for how they can help. It's not hard, but so few people get this!"

Can you think of other reasons asking great questions sets you apart from your competition? Are you asking enough questions to your clients? Have you ever experienced failure because of not asking the right questions?
By Jenny Plant
Image by Photo Rack
Jenny Plant has worked in account management for various advertising agencies for most of her 22 year career. She was General Manager for a global healthcare agency and now trains customer service skills to Account Managers.


5 Reasons Courting Current Clients Makes Sense

5 Reasons Looking After Current Clients Makes Sense

It's not uncommon for an agency to accept a pitch opportunity knowing they are low on staff due to holidays or that they have other client commitments e.g. major conference, campaign launch etc. By their very nature, agencies are flexible. They freelance, they hire, they stretch.

Nevertheless, frequently agencies forget that their very own existing customers hold the potential for incredible new business opportunities, which would be easier and cheaper to attain.

Here are 5 reasons looking after current clients makes sense:

1. It costs more to get new clients
Most agencies spend a great deal of money and effort on getting new customers. Pitching alone can cost the agency several weeks in man-hours. By the time you've factored in client meetings, internal meetings, pitch development time as well as external costs, there could be as much as 3 weeks worth of time for at least 4 members of the agency team plus additional out of pocket expenses.

In fact they generally spend five to six times more on obtaining new business than they spend on keeping the clients they already have.

2. Long term clients buy more services
Over the course of a relationship, a client will continue to learn about your company and the services you offer and will end up buying a lot more from you.

Similarly, as you get to know your client's business better you will have the knowledge you need to look for opportunities to create services to offer to your client. Either way, a long term client equals more sales.

3. Existing clients will recommend you more frequently
Clients who you keep for a longer period of time will be more willing to recommend you to others.

If you don't already have a referral process in place then now might be a good time to start because if your existing clients are satisfied with your services they are usually very willing to introduce you to others.

A personal introduction is lucrative and could reduce your cost of sale i.e. it could mean no pitch. And another way to benefit from your client's endorsements is to ask them for a testimonial - more powerful than any marketing message you could come up with for yourself

4. It costs less to sell to existing clients
A lot of the new business that comes from existing clients is gained in the process of doing other work and excludes marketing time and pitching costs. For example if you are presenting work to an existing client, you start to ask thoughtful questions about the state of your client's business.

During this conversation an opportunity arises for you to sell the client another service you provide which happens to fulfill their needs. This new sale has come about through doing existing business and didn't require the huge amount of man hours to come up with.

5. They let you know if they're unhappy
Your client has a stake in the relationship. It costs them lots of time and effort to find a new trustworthy agency who is going to suit their needs. To undertake a search for a new agency takes time, to build knowledge and trust takes time.

Therefore, if asked, they will usually tell an agency they are unhappy. This gives the agency a chance to put things right, improve their service and win them back before they're gone.

Good agencies will carry out six monthly relationship audits with their clients which for the agency is like a 'risk analysis' process to determine their client's level of satisfaction and commitment to the agency.

These types of audits can be carried out by an independent third party which are extremely fruitful as it takes out the individual characters from the assessment. Clients will often open up more to an independent person who isn't part of the agency. It's a way to uncover new business opportunities as well as understand honestly the areas that the client thinks the service could be improved

Do you have any other reasons agencies should be focusing more on their existing clients? Do you have a measured approach to finding out the current needs of your clients? Are there opportunities to provide more of your services to them? Are you building in the time to spend on this activity or are you too busy working 'in' your business rather than 'on' your business?

By Jenny Plant
Image  by Michael Connors

Jenny Plant has worked in account management for various advertising agencies for most of her 22 year career. She was General Manager for a global healthcare agency and now trains customer service skills to Account Managers.


The Focus of a Successful Marketing Strategy

What's the Focus of a Successful Marketing Strategy
"I don't do marketing". It's something that many design business owners quote time and time again, without realising that every time they engage in conversation, or tweet or post a Facebook message about their business that's exactly what they are doing. No matter who you are talking to and no matter who is viewing your message, you have the opportunity to emphasise the positives of your business, ultimately increasing your profits.

As you are undoubtedly engaging in marketing now and again, thinking about your marketing strategy is a logical next step. By spending some time considering how best to communicate with new and existing clients, you can put some steps into practice that will maximize your sales. This marketing strategy will help you to know what to say to whom, and perhaps more importantly when to say it. But what should a successful marketing strategy focus on?

1. Understanding your clients

Putting yourself in the shoes of your clients may sound like something of a cliche today, but without understanding exactly what they actually need you will struggle to persuade them that you can meet their requirements. Some simple two-way conversations with existing clients will go a long way toward helping you to understand them, as will your experience in your own market sector, but without some specific and targeted market research you could struggle to glean the information that you need.

Successful market research will not only help you to understand the needs and wants of your customer-base, but will also solidify your definition of your target market, allowing you to identify those groups of people that will be interested in what you have to offer. As well as providing you with the knowledge that you need to avoid those segments of the population that simply aren't interested.

2. Realistic objectives

Without clients you won't make sales, and without sales you won't make any profit. As such, your marketing strategy should contain some realistic objectives regarding how best to keep existing clients loyal to your brand, while attracting new clients at the same time.

Through this process you will start to realize how best to package what it is that you can offer to your client-base, be it through the message that you are giving out, through the promotional materials that you may plan to circulate, or any other means of marketing.

3. Creating a marketing plan

It's all well and good having a strategy for your marketing success, but without a practical plan designed to put the pieces into action your strategy will fail to see any success. The marketing plan will include all of the detail from the previous two sections, such as information regarding how you plan to go about marketing to existing or new customers. It will also feature very practical bits and pieces, such as budgets for your marketing strategies, and timeframes for their completion.

These are just a few tips to help. Get more help on establishing a marketing plan here.

By Phillip John Reynolds
Photography by StockSource
To request a free copy of Phillip John Reynolds' "Introduction to Internet Marketing" eBook and a free subscription to my "Internet Marketing Tips" newsletter, just simply visit my site


Networking for Business: 6 Golden Rules for Face-To-Face Networking

With the advent of the internet and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook it's easy to overlook the value of face-to-face business networking because of the extra effort. If you feel that the extra effort is just not worthwhile and you are not getting new business,  so perhaps it's time to take another approach.

Going to networking events can be fun, especially but it's important that you make good use of your time while you are there. Here are six golden rules to follow to help you do just that.

Rule #1. Have a Purpose

That sounds pretty basic but it will save you a lot of time and energy if you have a purpose to your networking. Your purpose could be to meet new prospective clients, to be "seen" amongst the movers and shakers of your industry or to connect with possible joint venture partners. Depending on the event it could be all three! Perhaps you are looking for a coach, mentor or service provider to help you move your business forward. The main thing is to be clear about why you are there.

Rule #2. Be Selective

Because going to networking events can be fun, it's very tempting to accept every opportunity but you can't afford to do that. Being selective means being clear about who you want to connect with and identifying where those people are. If you don't prioritize, you could end up in all the wrong places. Worse still ,you could miss out on being where you really need to be to make the valuable connections you are seeking.

Check your opportunities against your criteria and ask yourself - is this a good use of my time?

Rule #3. Set an Intention

Before you head out the door, set an intention. What you want to get out of the networking function?On an energetic level, when you begin mingling you'll automatically attract the people who are looking for you. Conversations will come easily and you will have more chance of finding a match than having no clear intention or outcome in mind.

Rule #4. Quality not Quantity

There is no need to talk to every person in the room. In fact that is one of the big mistakes people make. There's simply not enough time. Your purpose is to make meaningful connections with the people you intend to meet so focus on quality and not quantity.

Look around and get a feel for who you want to meet and approach them.  Take your time, introduce yourself and be inquisitive. Ask questions and wait for the answers - then ask another question. If you like what you hear, spend more time to develop the conversation. If not, politely move on.

At the same time be careful not to monopolise someone just because you do established a rapport. If you are really hitting it off then suggest you spend some more time together and pull out your diary and make a time. Meanwhile you can both continue to mingle.

Rule #5. Swap Business Cards

Some people go to all the trouble of attending a business networking event and don't take any business cards! Don't be one of them. Make sure you leave home with a stack of business cards and be generous in exchanging them with the people who you meet. My tip is to have two pockets in the outfit you wear. One loaded with your cards and another to put the cards of your new acquaintances into so you don't get them mixed up!

It's also a great idea to have your picture on your business card so people can recall your face and put a face to the name when you contact them.

Rule #6. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up
The way to maximize the results from all the time and effort you have made in your face-to-face
is to follow up. Make contact in whatever way you like but make contact! An email or, better still, a card or note through the snail mail will be appreciated. And not just to sell them something!

Remember: even though you have met in person you should also connect on common Social Media platforms as well. Send a LinkedIn invitation, Twitter tweet or Facebook friend request. This will broaden the opportunity to share about yourself ongoing as well as learn more about them. This will deepen the relationship must faster than you can imagine.

Business should be fun so have a good time with your face-to-face networking but always remember your purpose is to make connections and build relationships. Don't leave empty handed.

By Kathleen Ann
Photography by Johnny Magnussen

Small business marketing expert Kathleen Ann is the "Marketing Champion for small Business and entrepreneurs." As a Certified Money, Marketing and Soul Coach Kathleen delivers breakthrough marketing strategies so heart-centered entrepreneurs can Brand, Package and Price their services to quickly create more money, time and freedom in their business. For free articles, free resources and to sign up for her free audio and transcript "7 Must Know Secrets to Business Branding Success", essential Branding strategies to help you attract qualified ideal clients in droves, visit


4 Steps To Successfully Negotiate With Your Client

What are the best ways to approach a negotiation? Well there are essentially four steps to most negotiations; preparing, setting up, negotiating and closing.

If you're negotiating with your client, here are a few tips for each stage of the process:

1. Preparing

  • Take time to familiarise yourself with all the details of the deal to help build your confidence during the negotiation
  • Decide three things before going into the deal: a) what your ideal outcome is b) what you'd be happy with and c) the point at which you'll abandon the deal
  • Work out what the 'worst case scenario' impact (financial or otherwise) would be to you/your business
  • If possible, try to get an idea of what's important to the other side and even try to test their position before you go into the negotiation itself (knowledge represents the upper hand)
  • Always aim realistically high and hold this position as long as you can. You can always come down but you won't be able to push it back up
  • Be prepared to justify your starting position and also be prepared to say no
  • Prepare what you have to 'trade' with - and prioritize these things in order of value to you.
  • Remember that what you decide during this negotiation will set a precedent for what happens in the future i.e. once you make 'allowances' for no reason, expect your client to ask for similar concessions in the future - you're making a rod for your own back if you do!

2. Setting up

  • Try not to be intimidated by the other side's demeanour, data, facts, stats etc. but try to anticipate what they will begin with and what you'll respond with
  • Lay out the agenda for the negotiation but try not to be the one who reveals a starting position first
  • Be inquisitive and use intelligent questions to garner more information. Don't try to convince the other side to come round to your way of thinking and don't be over-emotional
  • Sound 'sure' when you state your position and have the confidence to request clearly what you're looking for.
  • Anticipate that the other side will be challenging your position/pricing
  • Decide that you will stay strong if the other side decides to play power games such as 'good cop bad cop' or aggression to force their position

3. Negotiating

  • Never give something without asking for something in return. Take your time and don't be too quick to change your position when the other side pushes.
  • If you lower your price then the scope of what you are providing for that fee should change in accordance e.g. "if you'd like to reduce the overall cost, we can replace the X element with X (i.e. a cheaper component)' or "how about we only allow for one round of amendments rather than two, which will reduce the overall cost by X" etc.
  • If a question or point comes up that you haven't anticipated, don't feel pressured to decide on your response then and there, take time to think before you answer.
  • Don't be inflexible, aim to be as co-operative as possible throughout the negotiation
  • Ask questions "What is important to you about... ?" "What if we gave you X and you gave us Y in return"? "What is most valuable for you/your company?"
  • Don't undervalue your position by agreeing to split the difference
  • Focus on the value you bring, not the price (find out what the other side values)

4. Closing

  • The end of the negotiation is where most concessions are made, stay logical and don't be fooled by 'last minute' tactics to throw the negotiation off course
  • Aim for a win/win position but at least ensure the other side feels they have gained something valuable from the negotiation
  • Don't be forced into a bad deal. It's better to walk away than accept something that hasn't been thought through properly

Have you founds these points useful? What other negotiation tips would you offer to someone who you've found helpful?
By Jenny Plant
Image by Andre Klopper
Jenny Plant has worked in account management for various advertising agencies for most of her 22 year career. She was General Manager for a major global healthcare agency and now trains customer service skills to account managers.


Risk Management Plan: Establishing Contingencies for Your Design Project

Creating a Risk Management Plan for the Project
Many times it so happens that a project is delayed or needs extra money in order to complete the work. However, after completing the project, when the organization performs the debrief, they see that many of the reasons that cause such problems can be avoided by proper advanced planning- i.e. by adopting  risk management principles.
A risk management plan is a plan that identifies future risks on a project and prepares a contingency plan to deal with them. Many professionals think that this plan is a separate and isolated plan. However, this is a wrong assumption. A risk management plan is an integral part of the project management plan and it is developed along with it. This plan defines the guidelines on how you will identify  project risks and techniques to manage them.
The objective of this plan is to minimize the impact of  threats and increase the probabilities of opportunities.
Three steps are required to develop the project risk management plan. These steps are as follows:

1.  Identify Project Risks
The first step is to identify the project risks. Here, you will take help from your team members. Together you will identify the project risks. Afterwards, you will go to other project stakeholders to brainstorm more risks.  You will also go through any "lesson learned" documents from your files from  previous similar projects completed by your organization.
Once you complete this step, you will note all this information into the "risk register."

2.  Analyze Identified Project Risks
In the second step, you will analyze all identified project risks. This step is required so that you can rank and prioritize the risks. It will help you to prepare the contingency plan to manage them.
Here you will determine the probability of the risks happening along with its impact on the project. This if followed by  ranking  and prioritizing the risks.
Risk analysis is a people-oriented process and in this process you ask the experts [and other contractors] their opinions Be very careful while considering their opinions into the risk analysis calculations.
After completing this process, you will again update the risk register.

3.  Plan Responses to Manage Identified Risks
In the third and final step, you will plan the responses to manage the identified risks. Risks can be divided into two categories:  opportunities and threats. You have to plan response strategies for both. Some common strategies are as follows:
  • Accept: Here, you simply accept the risk. You decide to manage this risk at the moment it happens. This type of strategy can be applied with both types of risks; e.g. threats and opportunities.
  • Avoid: In this strategy, you try to escape the risk. You change the project plan or the scope of the work so that this risk could be avoided. This strategy is used with the threats.
  • Mitigate: Here, you will create a strategy to deal with the risk so that the effect of the risk could be minimized. This type of strategy is used with the threats.
  • Enhance: In this type of strategy, you try to increase the probability of happening the event so that you could realize it. This strategy is used with the opportunities.
The project risk management is an iterative process and you have to continuously look for any new risks throughout the project life cycle. If you find any new risk then you have to repeat all these processes again as described in this article to manage the newly identified risk.

By Fahad Usmani
Photography by Photo Rack

Article author Fahad Usmani, PMP, PMI-RMP is a blogger on Project Management topics. He writes on his blog at  to help professional to pass the PMP Exam. Visit his blog to learn about various PMP Exam Study Notes.