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3 Questions To Ask Your Data Consulting Clients (So You Can Understand The Problems You Actually Need To Solve)

Today, I’m sharing 3 questions that will help you read the minds of your data analytics consulting and freelancing clients.

There’s power in asking the right questions.

Instead of resorting to guessing games and missed opportunities, you’ll be able to unlock exactly what they need help with. Then you are primed to get working to help them solve their data problems.

For some context, I’ve been working in the data industry for 15+ years for large and small companies in all sorts of roles from entry-level to the director level. I’ve been leading teams and working with clients for more than a decade. And I’ve coached dozens of data professionals along the way.

These are the questions I rely on the most.

Unfortunately, many beginners miss this step.

Asking bad questions wastes everyone’s time

If you ask bad questions, you’re playing a losing game:

  • Loss of trust from your clients
  • Mistakes that waste time and resources
  • Missed requirements and lackluster results

Fortunately, you can become your client’s “data hero” by asking these three questions.

Let’s dive in:

Question 1: “What is your number 1 data problem right now?

This question cuts right to the heart of your client’s deepest fears about their business.

Now, you want to avoid getting too caught up in the drama. It’s best to keep this focused on the core issue. And don’t jump into “solution mode”.

Simply let them talk and let the conversation unfold naturally.

Rookie mistakes to avoid

  1. Not listening carefully: You have to be paying close attention to their answers
  2. Not taking notes: Jot down important ideas or questions you have along the way
  3. Not probing deeper: Follow up with your questions to show you’re interested in getting to the bottom of the problem.

Example from my own work

I was working with one of my clients recently and I wanted to understand how much work was going to be needed for the rest of the year.

During our call, I asked this question and they started explaining a new CRM tool that they recently purchased but they weren’t sure if their sales reps were going to actually use it.

It was an expensive tool and “CRM adoption” was important to them.

So I dug deeper and proposed a new CRM adoption reporting metric that measured how each rep was using the tool — and if they were using it at all! The client was pleased with my proposal and I got to work right away.

Don’t overthink this one!

If you ask the question, your client will likely tell you exactly what they want you to do.

Question 2: “What’s not working well for you right now, data-wise?

This question gives your client a chance to vent.

But it also gives you yet another place where you can add value and solve problems. Before long, you’ll become a “trusted advisor” by helping them where they need it most. No wasting time and no beating around the bush.

Just taking action.

Rookie mistakes to avoid

  1. Not keeping it grounded in reality: You can’t build an entire system that would require a complete overhaul of their systems by yourself. Keep it reasonable.
  2. Not focusing on practical results: What can you get done in a short amount of time (4-6 weeks for most projects)
  3. Not connecting the dots: How does your client’s answer to this question tie back to question 1?

Other ways you can ask this question

Sometimes, this question won’t land well with the client.

They might be defensive about their work. Or protective of their team members. Or maybe they don’t have a good answer and are afraid of looking stupid.

You can still pry the information out from them by changing up the question slightly.

For example:

  • What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
  • What’s a recent data project that didn’t go as well as you would have hoped?
  • What are other leaders in the organization asking about?

Question 3: “What have you tried in the past to solve the problem and how did that go?

This one is a goldmine. Especially when combined with Questions 1 or 2 above.

This is because you are helping them think through previous attempts at solving and bringing up fresh pains and fears. Based on their previous answers, you already have a few examples of problems.

And when you follow it up with #3, it’s time to land the plane.

After all, if the problems were fully solved, you wouldn’t be involved. But things didn’t go well. And that’s your opportunity.

Rookie mistakes to avoid

  1. Not connecting this with another question: You should already have a solid idea of where you want the conversation to go before diving into this one.
  2. Not getting specifics: You need a clear understanding of what a previous attempt looked like and what your client’s understanding of the failed solution was. You want to avoid proposing that solution!
  3. Making assumptions: Don’t be too eager to point fingers or cast blame on anyone involved. There could be internal politics that you don’t understand. Focus on your role in solving the problem as quickly as possible.

Example from my own work

I was recently talking with a potential new client about getting them onboarded to a platform that I manage. This conversation was two parts: platform demo for the client and pre-qualifying the client to make sure their use case would be a good fit.

I asked this question, after understanding their business problem a bit, and set up my platform as the perfect solution to that problem.

By the end of the 30-minute conversation, my platform sold itself and they’ve been a happy customer ever since.

Okay, those are the 3 questions I rely on all the time. Probably every week, I’m asking some version of these questions to one of my clients.

They set you up for success.

Here are the 3 questions:

  • Question 1: What is your number 1 data problem right now?
  • Question 2: What’s not working well for you right now, data-wise?
  • Question 3: What have you tried in the past to solve the problem and how did that go?

Whenever you’re ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:

  1. View all past issues of my newsletter here.
  2. If you’re ready to build your online data analytics portfolio, my 14-day Data Analytics Portfolio Playbook is for you.
  3. If you want actionable data analytics advice on your specific situation, book a 1:1 coaching session with me today.

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