What we say

Asking the right questions

Jeremy Clark

March 4, 2016

Recently we successfully secured a major programme of work from an existing client. Due to the size of the programme and the scope of the work, the client understandably went through a competitive pitch process.

The CHC team took the process very seriously; researching the area thoroughly and challenging ourselves to come up with a specific programme tailored to this brief and presenting it in a clear and helpful way to the clients. From the feedback, we heard how the client started to form a positive opinion about CHC based on the questions we asked after reviewing the brief. This is not a new idea to me or to the client.   So I was staggered to hear that one agency did not ask any questions at all. And that CHC was the only agency to ask for more information about the data which was at the heart of this brief.

If an agency doesn’t ask smart questions have they really understood the brief? Will they be able to ask for relevant information when actually working on the business? Will they be prepared to challenge your own assumptions, as a client, about the project or programme?

I think asking questions is fundamental to being great at communicating. I also wonder if clients should specifically acknowledge this in their assessment of agencies pitching to them. If score sheets are being created for pitches, I would argue they should not just focus on the content of a document submitted or a presentation given, but also assess the earlier parts of the process. In a perfect world questions can be answered on a call, allowing an additional opportunity to get a real sense of what working with the agency will be like on a daily basis.

At CHC we are not asking because it’s ‘just part of the process’ of winning new business. We are asking because we really need and want to know the answers, and are genuinely curious about the problem or opportunity. Knowing the answers will help us formulate the best communications solutions, so it’s for our benefit to listen carefully to the responses. However, it has always mystified me how little attention is paid to really what is said, and how few people double check and summarise to demonstrate they have understood correctly. I have seen many people take away an inaccurate interpretation of what was said and confidently go away and work up the wrong recommendations.

If you are a client reading this and thinking ‘when did my agency last ask me a really good question about our business?’ Or ‘sometimes I’m not sure the agency gets it’, then give us a call. At CHC we will not only ask loads of questions but will also REALLY listen to the answers.