A prospective customer who approaches Jon Voigt’s firm about a project is likely to hear one question a lot: Why? Voigt and his team aren’t just mimicking the inquisitive phase of childhood. They’re gathering critical information.

More than half of what you’re likely to hear from clients in an initial meeting or phone call is the ‘want list’ says Voigt, the co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based cloud content management system builder Agility. Clients will often come in with a fixed idea of the solution or product they’re looking for, so they’ll skim over a crucial subject: their goals. “They think, I know what my goal is. I’m going to figure out what I want and need to do that, and [that’s what] I’ll tell them,’ says Voigt.

That’s not good enough. It’s possible to fulfill a customer’s wants and needs but get to a different outcome than their actual initial goal, notes Voigt. Here’s how he and his team figure out what their clients’ real goals are and help meet them.

1. Pick service-minded people

When Agility was founded in 2002, Voigt took charge of the technology while his then-business partner handled sales and marketing. But now that he’s in sole charge, Voigt doesn’t simply hire in his image. Many of Agility’s employees come from outside the technology world.

What Voigt looks for is an instinct and talent for service. “They want to make sure the customer’s successful, and they naturally keep working with them to … figure out what their goals are,” he explains.

Finding such workers isn’t easy, so Voigt has developed ways of identifying whether a job candidate has the necessary mindset. “We ask them ways that they’ve used service in the past or shown really good service, and seen a good result,” he says. References are also asked if a candidate would exhibit Agility’s core values if they were to be hired.

2. Listen, listen, listen

That’s the mantra Voigt emphasizes to his employees. As soon as a prospective client gets in touch, Agility is trying to figure out what their goals are and how to meet them. “We take the [first] phone call as a requirement-gathering initiative, and we try to absorb as much [as we can],” Voigt says.

It’s also crucial to get buy-in from all the stakeholders in the customer organization. “Make sure you get as many people involved that could influence the end-goal [as possible],” he says. Final decision-makers and employees with responsibilities related to the project may not feel the need to participate early on, but Agility makes an effort to involve them anyway.

3. Keep asking that one question

Say a customer comes to Agility looking for a responsive website. By repeatedly asking “Why?” Voigt and his team might discover that the client’s end goal is actually to generate more leads, and that they’ve landed on their desired solution because they’ve noticed an increase in traffic via mobile.

Agility won’t just go ahead and build a responsive website. “You may touch those customers on mobile, but do you actually convert them to leads?” asks Voigt. Instead, the team will look to provide additional solution that meets your goal—leads—instead of just your stated want—responsive design.

4. Sketch out the options

A customer recently wanted to hire Agility to build a website and an app. But when Voigt’s team put them through the goal-seeking process, they discovered that the client’s wants and goals weren’t entirely aligned. “The only reason they really wanted the app was that people had told them, ‘You need an app. You need to be in the App Store or Google Play,’” Voigt recalls.

Building an app is a considerable undertaking, and a responsive website would have been a better solution for the client. But Voigt didn’t just tell them they were wrong. He also didn’t simply take their money and do what they wanted. “We stepped back and said, ‘Let’s do a cost comparison,’” he recalls.

Agility and the customer sketched out what an app on the one hand and a responsive website on the other would look like and do. They mapped one on top of the other to show that making the website responsive would achieve just as much as the app. Then Agility laid out what the cost of doing each would be. “The customer finally started to realize that an app may be a flashy, nice thing, and maybe it’s something they could do down the road, but to get the best bang for their buck and actually meet their [original] goal, they could still do it with a responsive website,” Voigt explains.

5. Don’t ignore the wants entirely

While Voigt emphasizes the importance of goals, that doesn’t mean he refuses to fulfill clients’ express wishes. “You still need to make sure that you include some of their wants in the solution,” he says.

Just fulfilling the client’s wants won’t necessarily help them meet their goal. “But if you come up with a solution that [meets] the needs and goals and you’re able to slide in a couple of those wants, not only do they get to their end goal and [be] successful in what they’re trying to achieve, but they also feel good about it.”

6. Don’t force it

Agility doesn’t simply pick up the phone and offer a pre-packaged solution, says Voigt. “Let’s find out what you need first, and find out your wants, needs and goals, and then see if we have a solution that fits that,” he says.

Sometimes they don’t, and in those cases Agility won’t try to shoehorn in a solution where one doesn’t fit. “[Those clients] should be recommended a company that will help them meet that goal, because it will come back around and get you in the long run,” says Voigt.

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