How to Find Out What Your Clients REALLY Want

As we enter the world of consulting and advisory, one of the new skillsets we must develop is the ability to help clients identify the services they don’t know they don’t know they need. In other words, we must recognize what our clients’ service needs are even before they know they need something. Now, I can’t give you a crystal ball, but I can give you some methods for finding those ideas with a few key strategies:

Get your full team Involved

Identifying what your team members learn from your clients and capturing their ideas for improving existing services or developing new ones is a crucial step in identifying what clients need. The dreaded suggestion box is out of date, but there are plenty of other ways to capture ideas. Try running a campaign a few times a year to ask people for ideas on improving the client experience. Give awards to those who participate: cash, tickets to an event or a day off. Then, let them lead or be the champion of the initiative.

Involve clients in the process of generating ideas

When you work with your clients, ensure that you are asking good questions. Ask things like:

  • What issues are keeping you up at night?

  • What has changed in your business over the last year?

  • What roadblocks are keeping you from reaching your business goals?

  • What is your big bold dream for the future?

The more you understand your client, their business and their future dreams, the better able you are to shape your services around those needs. Don’t simply assume you know what the client needs and talk about their services. Remember, a simple client request often means much more. A client may ask for help completing a tax return or handling payroll, but what they’re really looking for is help with tax strategy or outsourcing their HR function. Get in the habit of asking questions – and really listening to what is happening in their business ̶ every time you meet with a client.

Involve the clients in new ways

While not a new idea, resurrect the client advisory board. Identify five to eight clients that are similar in niche and then host a brainstorming or innovation meeting several times a year. Make it fun but work hard on an innovative agenda that will inspire the clients to think big about their business.

Choose a topic that you know is on their mind and then dig deep into what they would do differently if they create something new. The goal is to let them create. You get the benefit of hearing what they want, exposing board member clients to services they may not have known were offered, and often receiving referrals from board members to work with other organizations. The amount you spend on a location, food, drink and possibly an outside facilitator will be far outweighed by the benefits a client advisory board can bring.

Seek ideas from new client groups

If you are considering developing a new niche, bring together a group of thought leaders and prospective clients to feed you knowledge and help develop the business plan for how to go live. Who better to tell you what they are getting currently that they are happy about, as well as what they are not getting? Again, facilitation and knowledge is the goal, but what a great way to launch a new and exciting venture.

Finding out what your clients really want seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many firms are oblivious to their client’s deepest wants and needs, simply because they forget to ask or ask the wrong questions. Start practicing these methods for identifying the services your clients need before they know they need them, and your firm will start realizing the profits other firms are leaving on the table.


Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., has been lauded for her industry expertise in human resources and training. She is often called the “go-to person” for solutions to the profession’s staffing crisis, citing her wise advice on hiring – and keeping – employees for the rest of their careers.

Sandra developed the P3 Leadership Academy and hosts regional training sessions throughout the country. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant’s Alliance and a certified KolbeTM trainer, advising firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.