We’ve all heard the cliches: You can’t hit a target that you can’t see. You can’t see a target that you don’t have.

As internet marketing professionals, we know that starting a new relationship or initiative with a client without clearly understanding the client’s expectations, will result in disaster. I have observed this exact behavior from seasoned professionals and rookies right out of school. The reasons for not understanding expectations are never good and typically include:

– Lack of training: rookies don’t know how to extract meaningful expectations from a client.

– The “Busy” disease: we need to move onto the next assignment and “think” that we understand what the client wants.

– The “I Got It” disease: The Old Pro has done Search Engine Optimization 100 times and doesn’t need to ask any clarifying questions.

We’ve all experienced the consequences of all of the above. Here’s an approach that I like to use. I find this to work in many situations. It is easy to learn, easy to teach and if done well, produces the result that we are looking for at the beginning of a client/agency relationship: ALIGNMENT.

Asking Effective Questions
We should not assume we know what the client means when they say a specific word or make a statement. In fact, we should assume the opposite.

1. Dig for Clarity
– “When you say ____, what specifically do you mean?”
– “______ means different things to different organizations. What does ______ mean here?”

2. Ask for Evidence
– “How specifically does _____ show up?”
– “What is there too much or too little of?”

3. Explore Impact
– “What makes ______ so important?”
– “Let’s say you don’t do anything about it, then what happens?”

With answers to these questions, you can begin to understand the current situation and can move the conversation toward understanding the the client’s expectations. You can also assess if those expectations are in line with the results that you believe you can produce.

These are a few questions that will help you qualify and quantify the issues that are being discussed at the beginning of a client relationship or initiative.