The three discovery stages when meeting with your clients’ Centers of Influence (COIs) are:

  1. Learning about their business philosophy.
  2. Educating them about you and your business.
  3. Exploring ways you can work together.

At the first meeting, you will want to use what we call a “bridge.” This is nothing more than showing them your agenda and acknowledging their agenda. Here’s how the dialogue might go:

“I’m certainly looking forward to telling you about the work I do with our mutual client, [client’s name]. As we talk, I‘ll tell you more about our practice, but I must say, I’m really fascinated by the way other people run their businesses, and I’d like to know more about you. If you don’t mind, would you share with me a bit about your practice and what’s important to you?”

This is Stage 1 in the discovery process and will provide you with important knowledge about the COI so you can guide the conversation to topics that interest them, encouraging them to partner with you.  Here are some questions you can ask them. They’re separated into three categories: past, present and future:

Questions about the past:

  • How did you go about achieving the success you’re enjoying?
  • Who has been your ideal client?
  • Why have they been your ideal client?
  • How did you go about establishing that client relationship?
  • What do you like most about working with your ideal client?
  • What do you wish you could improve about your ideal client, if anything?
  • How have you grown your business in the past?
  • Have you ever been approached by professionals, like myself, about engaging in some form of strategic alliance or partnership?
  • How did those relationships work out?
  • What the experience like?
  • Looking back, what do you wish you could have done differently?

Questions about the present:

  • Do you have any of these partnering relationships now? If yes, what do you like most about them?
  • How do you wish they could improve?
  • Which of your needs are being met by those relationships?
  • Which needs are not being addressed by your current relationships?
  • How would you describe your current working relationship with those individuals?
  • What did you like best about how they approached you about working with them?
  • What arrangement did you develop that seemed to be a win-win for both of you?

Questions regarding the future:

  • If I wanted to have a discussion with you about ways that we might partner, what would be the best way to have that conversation?
  • What would you most want to know about me to engage in such a dialogue?
  • If you were going to design such a relationship, what would you want it to look like?
  • If we were to consider moving forward with something, what do you think would be the best way to avoid some of the pitfalls you’ve experienced?
  • If you were me, what first step would you take?
  • If we were to have great partnering success, how would that look to you, say, three years from now?
  • Considering all the people you work with, what would you need to see from me to become your No. 1 resource?
  • If you had a major fear or concern, what would that be?
  • How would I know whether someone might be a good client for you?
  • How would I go about connecting them with you?
  • Are there any other resources you need that I might be able to introduce you to?

Listening, replaying, and acknowledging are important elements to the conversation.  These key communication skills will encourage them to continue sharing, and will set the stage for this important question: “How do you go about growing your practice?”

Ultimately, Stage 1 in the discovery process is vitally important. It’s how you will know their exact stance on business development and whether they are a good fit for your networking group.

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