When you first strike out on your own and start a new client-facing business like a digital marketing agency, it can be tempting to sign any random client that comes your way. After all, you have to pay your bills.
Then once you push past the initial, "survival mode," phase and have built a consistently positive reputation, you'll begin to have the luxury of deciding with whom you want to work.
Then you'll discover one of your biggest challenges is deciding whether a prospective client is a good fit for you and your business.
Some of these instincts you'll naturally hone over time. You can't replace good old-fashioned hard work and experience. But you can make the process a little easier by knowing what questions to ask on the initial consultation call or online questionnaire. We've got our top 20 questions to ask clients or potential clients below.
Understanding Client Strategy
First, you might want to know if you and the new client will have a good rapport. The next thing you need to do on the discovery phone call is gather some background information on your clients' company and understand their marketing strategies.
1. What are your company's mission and values?
This first one is a pretty standard question that even the greenest entrepreneur should answer easily with passion (red flag if they can't). It will give you insight into why the company was founded and how it interacts with the world.
If you base your pricing on a sliding scale, you might decide to offer your services at an adjusted rate if their long-term goals align with your values as a way to give back to your community.
2. What are your top pain points and challenges?
This question is critical so you can ensure the client's goals are realistically attainable and make sure that you have the expertise to help them.
3. What does your sales process look like, and how long is your average sales cycle?
Understanding your client's business and how it operates on a macro level is vital. It can also be valuable to know how long their sales cycle is to determine how long it will take to see results.
If you are a content marketer, and the client expects lots of new leads in the next three months, you might recommend a different short-term strategy beyond content creation.
4. What problem does your product solve for customers?
Client messaging can often get bogged down in the specific feature set of a product. If they have not gone through an in-depth messaging exercise, you may need to guide them towards the, "Why," not just the, "What."
5. Who are your top 3 competitors?
Although you could file this question under product research, it's always a good idea to research similar or competitive companies upfront to gain a broader perspective.
Performance Metrics and Marketing Goals
When speaking with prospective customers, you need to determine how they measure success and align your reporting goals.
6. What are your monthly and quarterly marketing KPIs?
This question is self-explanatory, but it's vital to understand what metrics your client is beholden to and how their superiors will measure their success.
7. What is your business' North Star metric?
Often, companies monitor a single so-called, "North Star," metric. If they do not, you can still ask your client what the most crucial company-wide metric is, in their opinion. Even if your work does not directly impact the North Star metric, you can still provide better value when you understand how you fit into the overall business.
8. What is your monthly marketing budget?
Discerning the marketing budget is an extremely practical question. You need to know what a realistic project quote will look like. You don't want to aim so high to scare the client away, but you also don't want to low-ball himself.
If you are running social media, other types of advertising, or paid search, you'll also need to account for the ad budget on top of your own fees.
9. How are you tracking your goals, and who is responsible for monitoring this information?
Take note of what tools they are using and whether you will be responsible for managing them. If that responsibility is not yours, clarify which team member you will work with to gather engagement metrics, visitors, SEO rankings — whatever reporting your role requires.
10. What platforms and tools do you use?
Does your client use any legacy systems that will be a headache? Do they have the proper tools that you need to be successful, and if not, are they willing to pay for them if you do not have your own individual subscriptions?
Product, Customer, and Industry Research
The following few questions focus on understanding your client's target audience and obstacles to purchase.
11. Do you know your customer buyer personas?
Surprisingly, many companies do not have fully fleshed out buyer personas; however, demographics information like gender or age is critical if you are engaged in any form of marketing. You have to know how to target your messaging.
12. Do you understand your customer buyer journey?
Similar to understanding the target audience, you also need to know each step of the buying journey of your client's product. For example, if you work in email marketing, you have to identify each buying stage to write an effective nurture campaign.
13. Is your business affected by seasonal buying patterns?
This question is handy to plan timelines effectively. You must align your projects with your client's seasons. If you are doing a website redesign, you'll want to complete your project either before or after the holiday season if your client is in retail.
14. What perceptions (accurate or otherwise) do prospects have of your product?
This query is a great open-ended question because it can help you perceive where your client's current messaging or advertising is failing and how you can improve it.
15. What are the top reasons you lose a deal?
This question is similar but different from the previous question. It also tells you where current messaging might be failing, but it also reveals product weaknesses that you may want to get in front of.
Operations, Expectations, and Agency History
This last group of questions is designed to set you up for ongoing success. Communication and workflow compatibility matter as much as the work itself.
16. Have you worked with a similar agency before, and why are you moving your business?
Understanding why a company has left a previous agency is an excellent way to glean your client's dislikes. You can then do your best to avoid similar pitfalls.
17. What made you want to hire us?
Similar to knowing dislikes, it's also good to know what they like about you and why they chose you over others. (This information can also help you market yourself to other clients in the future when you better know your perceived strengths.)
18. Who are the decision-makers in your department?
Operationally, you need to know who needs to approve your work at each stage. You also need to plan for multiple revision rounds if more than a few people are in the approval hierarchy.
19. How do you handle project management and communication?
Know how your client prefers to communicate — how frequently, what medium, what are the best times to get ahold of them?
20. Who will handle tasks for which I am not responsible?
This question may not be applicable if you are handling the entire workflow end-to-end. But if, for example, you are creating blog posts but don't have access to your client's CMS, you will need to know who will handle publishing.
You Know Your Business Best
Keep in mind this list is by no means exhaustive. The above are just some sample questions to get your brain percolating. Ultimately, you know your skills and business better than anyone else. With a little careful thought and some experience, you'll be able to craft open-ended vetting questions that work best for you.