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6 Questions to Help You Gauge Client Fit

Freelancing an independent consulting present a number of problems, we all know that. One problem is deciding whether to take on a client. Knowing when to hold them... and when to fold them.

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As freelancers and agency owners, we don't always find every client meeting ending in smiles, handshakes, and huge re-ups in our contracts. Although these are the victories we always strive for, roadblocks get in the way and problems need to be solved to keep things moving. The question to ask yourself is whether it's actually the client that is the root of the problem.

When it comes to new client relationships, many of us get so excited over the prospect of signing a new deal that we overlook whether that client is the 'right' fit for our firm. Even worse, we skip all of the qualifying activities necessary when chatting with a new lead and and end up chasing 'bad sales' as a result. According to Gleanster Research, 324 B2B organizations reported that 50 per cent of leads weren't ready to buy, and 25 per cent of leads that entered the pipeline weren't qualified enough to be considered opportunities at all. At Growth Spark, we've generally found that only 50 per cent (at best) of the leads that come across our plate are qualified to work with us.

So how exactly do you determine whether a prospective client is qualified beyond just your gut instincts? We've developed a series of questions that we rely on to determine whether a lead is worth pursuing. The answers are then evaluated using a client scorecard (more on that to come) to determine how much of a focus this particular opportunity should take in our sales process.

The questions we use, cover six different aspects of our relationship with the client and can help you determine a solid client fit.

1. Are They a Good Technical Fit?

The idea behind technical fit is simply whether or not your firm can meet the technical requirements of the project. If the client needs video services and you do graphic design, it's clearly not a great fit to work together. If they need a website built on a platform that you don't support, they're likely not a great fit either.

Figuring out whether someone is a good technical fit requires a basic understanding of a client’s  project requirements. In some instances, there are immediate red flags that indicate fit isn't present, while other situations might require you to scope out a bit of the project before you can make a proper decision. Depending on how specific your service offerings are, you might put determining technical fit at the very front of your qualification process, or towards the end as you start getting into the details. Some helpful questions to ask when determining technical fit include:

  • What programming languages (if any) is the client expecting to use when tackling this project?
  • What software or technology (if any) is the client expecting to use when tackling this project?
  • What range of services (i.e. design, photography, marketing, analytics, etc.) is the client  expecting for this project?
  • What testing and QA process is the client expecting to be conducted for this project?
  • What sort of performance or compliance standards is the client expecting to meet for this project?

2. Are They a Good Portfolio Fit?

Portfolio fit is all about whether showcasing this client in your portfolio is going to be something you'll be proud to do. If you're focused on a specific industry that this client isn't a part of, perhaps it would send the wrong message to future clients. Conversely, if this is a huge brand in your current or desired space, perhaps it's worth taking them on just to have the testimonial.

Knowing whether an opportunity is a good portfolio fit requires a sense for whether or not this particular client would help springboard your business to new or better opportunities in the future. Some helpful questions to ask yourself when determining portfolio fit include:

  • Is this client a prominent brand that we'd be excited to showcase?
  • Is this client in an industry that we're trying to target?
  • Is this client someone that the team would be really excited to work with?
  • Is this client a firm that's fast-growing?
  • Is this client someone that might open up new relationship opportunities for us?

3. Are They a Good Timeline Fit?

A rather standard question, timeline fit  is meant to determine whether the client's timeline is reasonable given the way in which you work. It's important, however, to realize that the timeline extends beyond just the time they have available for the delivery of the project.

Some clients might have adequate time for the work to be done, but are pressing you to get a proposal to them before you have enough time to properly scope out the engagement. On the other hand, some clients will have conflicting expectations about how long it will take them to make a decision, actually get started, and launch.

When thinking about timeline fit, you’ll want to examine the entire process from sales through to delivery, and breakout the expected milestones the client needs to hit. Some helpful questions to ask when determining timeline fit include:

  • When is the client expecting a proposal?
  • When is the client expecting to make a decision on their vendor?
  • When is the client expecting to start the project?
  • When is the client expecting deliverables to be presented for internal review?
  • When is the client expecting deliverables to be launched?

4. Are They a Good Budgetary Fit?

Everyone’s favorite topic is the idea of budgetary fit. Are they going to have the money to work with you? The interesting thing, however, is that budget can go far beyond just the sticker price associated with the project. It's important to also understand the payment schedule, whether there are any performance incentives, and how things such as post-project support are going to be covered.

Digging into budgetary fit requires that you understand how your prospective client is thinking about budgeting for the project as well. For example, some may be  dealing with a fixed budget, while others approach it from an ROI perspective. Understanding the motivation behind their budget, as well as the full spectrum of financial decision-making, should help determine whether their expectations fit your own. Some helpful questions to ask when determining budgetary fit include:

  • What is the client's established budget (if any) for the project?
  • What is the process or framework the client is using to determine their budget (i.e. fixed vs ROI)?
  • What other quotes has the client received that might anchor their pricing expectations?
  • What sort of payment schedule is the client expecting for this engagement?
  • What sort of performance-based compensation opportunities are available for this project?

5. Are They a Good Process Fit?

Process fit is meant to determine whether the client will work within whatever processes you've established to deliver your services. Are they willing to take whatever time necessary to scope out a project during the sales process? Are they willing to adhere to your particular project management style whether it's Agile, Waterfall, Lean or something else?

Evaluating process fit also requires educating the client upfront on the processes you use to run your business. Some helpful questions to ask when determining process fit include:

  • What does the client need to learn or see during the sales process to make a decision? What sort of internal decision making process does the client have during the sales cycle?
  • What sort of project management process does the client expect during the project?
  • What sort of approval process does the client expect to have during the project?
  • What sort of relationship does the client expect after the project is complete?

6. Are They a Good Cultural Fit?

The goal behind determining cultural fit is to determine whether or not you'd enjoy working with this client. This might be a bit amorphous and rely a bit more instinct, but it's worth asking whether this would be someone you could spend the next few weeks or months communicating with on a frequent basis. Naturally, you want as many of your clients to be as pleasant and polite as possible to keep morale and productivity high within your team.

In the end, cultural fit is really focused on identifying any red flags early on that might indicate the client being a pain down-the-line. Some helpful questions to ask when determining cultural fit include:

  • What sort of communication style and frequency does this client have over email?
  • What sort of communication style and frequency does this client have over the phone or in person?
  • Has the client ever experienced a project like this in the past?
  • What sort of requirements does the client expect out of their vendor, beyond meeting scope, budget, and timeline?
  • Could I grab a beer/coffee with this person after the project and enjoy myself?

Creating Your Client Scorecard

During your initial qualification call/meeting with the client, you'll want to reflect on the questions above to determine where the client falls. The idea of a client scorecard is to help provide a quantified means of determining whether a client is a good fit. You could keep it as simple as a yes/no for each of these six areas, or decide to assign some sort of point value across each area.

We've even seen some agencies weight each of these six areas differently, when one aspect was more important than the others (i.e. revenue trumps all, portfolio first, friendly clients only, etc). Once you've filled out your scorecard, it should help indicate where the client falls into the sales pipeline from there. A good strategy is to set a minimum score that the client must meet in order to progress into the next stage of sales.

Regardless of how diligent you get with a scorecard or grading approach to qualification, always trust your gut above everything else. If you get a bad feeling in your first meeting, it's unlikely that will ever change. One way to ensure you don't get blinded by a client that's overly alluring in any one of the six areas, is to consider getting multiple team members involved in the qualification process. You could also consider having someone else fill out the scorecard so no personal biases get into the evaluation. In the end, the better you get at qualifying leads, the better your close rate will be, and the less time you'll spend chasing bad sales.

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consulting,clients,business advice

Published at DZone with permission of Ross Beyeler. See the original article here.

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