When I propose that consultants I’m mentoring ask this question, I usually get two reactions:

  1. I can’t ask that!
  2. What does that have to do with anything?

Let’s handle the first reaction.  There are many ways of asking this question, some overt and some oblique.  The key here is to know your client and where they are at in the organization.  As an example, a sales person or sales manager is probably comfortable with the direct approach.  Excellent sales people are relentless in eliminating non-commission generating activities–and if you can help them focus on selling versus administrivia, you will be a hero.  However, if your customer is a systems manager, they may or may not be as tuned in and likely to provide this information directly, so let’s start with the oblique ways first.

One oblique way of asking the question is to read their annual report if they are a public company.  Most importantly, read the letter from the CEO.  The letter will lay out the strategic foci for the coming year.  Also, reading the financial statements can give you an indication of where the company’s performance is strong and where it’s deteriorating.  Other oblique indicators are posters on the wall that list the company’s core values or strategic focuses.  If the company is not a public company, you can simply ask what the strategic foci are.  What major projects/investments are approved or underway?  Finally, just start an open ended conversation–why did they buy your services?  What are they trying to accomplish?  Asking these types of questions will build trust and confidence in both parties.

So now, on to the second reaction:  what does this have to do with anything?  Usually people don’t do analytics projects just for the heck of it–there is a reason behind it.  In other words, people have a motivation for what they are doing.  Reporting and analytics is generally an attempt to understand and maximize one’s sphere of influence.  If I’m bonused on raising top line revenue, do I care about optimizing the factory floor?  Probably not, so building an analytics solution to optimize the factory floor will result in a poor customer experience.  The bonusing question is probably the most critical question to know:  you will have an immediate insight to the motivation and you can create actionable insights that make your customer shine–a true win-win.

I hope you now have an idea of why and how to find out what is motivating your customer.  Ask this question early in the process in whatever way feels right to you, taking in to account the customer’s personality and role in the organization.  If you consistently do this you will consistently deliverable actionable analytics and cement long term relationships with your clients.

Til next time…

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