As seen on Forbes
Building a new tech product—or updating something you didn’t build initially—for a new client always comes with challenges. Addressing the client’s actual needs can be difficult, especially when you’re working with someone outside of your industry. They may not know how to fully communicate or describe what they want, which can make their asks vague and unclear.
To help you ensure you’re giving the best service to your non-tech clients, we asked members of Forbes Technology Council what questions they ask to clarify a new client’s project. They recommend asking these questions to get both of you on the same page.
1. ‘What are you trying to do?’
Understanding the business value and using that as a driver for technology evaluation and selection is crucial. The business value, or return on investment, must drive technology decisions, not the other way around. A mentor of mine once told me, “In IT, there are five right ways to do things.” That’s the flexibility and adaptability of technology, but the end result is what the project must be measured on from the start. – Tom Fisher, SAS
2. ‘Can you tell us a user story?’
I have found it helpful to ask such a client to write their expectations of the product/experience in the form of a user story. This accomplishes a couple of things that are of general utility in such a situation: It introduces the client to the formalism of defining a user story and forces them to be specific about their expectations. Further, it has the advantage of being directly incorporated into the development team’s agile process. – Bryan Smith, Myia Health
3. ‘What does success look like for you?’
Many of the stakeholders in a customer business are non-industry clients, such as economic buyers, procurement and infosec. The key question to each is, “What does success look like for you?” This teases out both desired benefits and potential risks, which are different for each stakeholder and should be addressed in their language and incorporated into the new or updated product. – Ivan Harris, Kraytix
4. ‘How can we make your job easier?’
In today’s employment landscape, most people are multitasking while tackling multiple job functions. Ask about their pain points, and then ask, “How can I make your job easier?” Then apply technologies that will work for them, not against them. By automating tasks and simplifying work through the right technology, the customer may find themselves with free time, and that’s priceless. – Ryan Decker, Marion Eye Centers & Optical
5. Are you willing to learn new tools?
All non-tech clients want to see their projects and developments run smoothly, but for that to happen, some of them might need to learn some additional tools. You have to know whether they are ready to make this effort right off the bat to manage your expectations and your knowledge of the future flow. – Daria Leshchenko, SupportYourApp Inc.
6. ‘How will you measure success?’
No “one” question gives the complete perspective of what the client needs. However, a good place to start is, “How will you measure your success?” A client who is looking to save cost versus someone who is looking to expand their customer base will have different technological needs. This question also helps to get the client focused on results and outcomes rather than the myriad technological choices that exist today. – Shashank Garg, Infocepts
7. ‘What user experiences do you want to offer?’
In the wireless industry, it is difficult for non-industry clients to understand the latest technologies available. When clients need in-building wireless solutions, we focus on solving problems instead of asking technology questions. For example, we ask, “What specific user experiences and digital services do you want to offer, and for how many individuals?” This helps us see the client’s vision for their tenants and venue so we can suggest the right solutions. – Julie Song, Advanced RF Technologies, Inc.
8. ‘Where do you want to be in six months?’
There are a few questions to ask based on the actual product, but ultimately, regardless of the product, you need to know the following: “Where do we want to be in six months, a year, or even five years from now? How do we want people to describe the product? How do we know we’ve won?” If we have a clear understanding of what constitutes success from the above questions, we ask, “What behaviors do we need to change with our customers/users?” – Edwin Huertas, Shockoe | Mobile by Design
9. ‘What do your business processes look like?’
When it comes to non-industry customers, the emphasis should be on the clients’ business processes. If experts in the industry do their due diligence to understand customers’ core processes and the scale of the project, regardless of the technology used, products can be successfully created. – Lana Vernovsky, Synoptek LLC
10. ‘How do you use automation?’
As an AIOps company, asking and understanding where our customers stand in their IT automation journey is critical to delivering the right tech for their needs. Whether it’s handling mundane IT monitoring so they can think more strategically or providing observability into their digital systems, their answer helps us to continue advancing their automation transformation. – Phil Tee, Moogsoft
11. ‘How do you envision your customer interacting with your product?’
The No. 1 question to ask to help understand a non-industry client’s tech needs is to have them describe (in their own view) their customer’s journey. A good way to phrase that is, “Please describe the product and how you envision the customer interacting with it.” From that, a technologist can gain an understanding of all of the components, touch points and data that need to be architected to deliver it. – Kim LaFleur, Title3Funds
12. ‘Who, what, when, where, why and how?”
The five W’s, as in the news, are always key. “Who, what, when, where and why” are all important, but also add, “How?” If you ask any client those questions about their new technology—as well as what they want from it—you’ll find yourself with a clear direction and understanding of their goals, setting yourself up to successfully create solutions and client loyalty. – Frank Speiser, Talla
13. ‘How can you accomplish what you want in the most pared-down version possible?’
It’s important to know that a client might think of a larger picture than necessary. There’s analysis paralysis, but there’s also scope and execution paralysis. There’s always the beginning of a success story, and the client needs to think of that so that the chances of failure are dramatically reduced. – WaiJe Coler, InfoTracer
14. ‘What’s your end goal?’
Ask your clients about their “big picture.” What’s their end goal? It’s easy to get bogged down in myriad project details. For technology to truly facilitate progression towards a client’s main objective, you have to take a step back, cut through the noise and hone in on the target results. See the forest through the trees, and it will guide you in the right direction. – Marc Fischer, Dogtown Media LLC
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