I just received this question and hope the answer gets to the reader in time. A reader asks:
I have a second meeting with a company to consult with them. This is my first client. What questions should I ask?
First of all, congratulations on joining the consulting world and working toward your first client! Very exciting. Planning for a meeting – whether it’s an internal project or external client – have some of the same components:
Research the client. Check out their website, LinkedIn profile, etc. Know a little about what they do. Think about any questions you might need to ask about their business and corporate culture.
Find out the agenda. If a client wants to see you, ask for a quick overview of the meeting agenda. If it’s a first meeting, be prepared to talk about your background, your company’s history, and similar projects you’ve worked on. This is also true with internal meetings – be prepared to discuss what you can bring to the project and any other related experience.
Don’t feel pressured to make promises you can’t keep. Just because you’re in a meeting doesn’t mean you have to answer everything right away. There are certain things you must know. For example, the client expects you to know your stuff (i.e. the topic you’re consulting them on). Once you know the agenda of the meeting, try to anticipate the different directions the meeting might take and be prepared to discuss those topics.
I’ve been in plenty of meetings where we started down one path and ended up somewhere totally different. If you’re faced with that situation and need to go back to your office to confirm a detail – say so. Just be prepared to tell the client when you would be able to confirm the information.
Get clarification on key issues. This is the time to ask about resources such as budget, timetable and labor. You’ll want to leave the meeting with a clear picture of what success looks like for the client. That ultimately will become your goal for the project. Examples:
What’s the budget for this project?
What’s the deadline for the project? Are there any milestones and required delivery dates?
Who are the subject matter experts for the project? Who will be your main contact?
Has any work already been started? Are you able to see it?
Find out if there is any confidential or proprietary information you will need from the company to do this project. If it’s an internal project, determine if you will need access to a report you might not currently receive. Make sure you can explain why you the need the info and how you will keep it secure.
Know your follow-up items and when they are due. Think about all the things you might need to deliver after the meeting and when you can make them happen. Have some idea of what your schedule looks like so if a client says, “Can you send me a proposal by next Tuesday?” You know whether or not you can make that happen without fumbling around for your calendar.
Taking the time to understand the client, project, and agenda will help tremendously in planning for the meeting. Anticipate all the possibilities and you won’t get caught off guard.