February 28, 2024

20 Questions To Help Tech Pros Identify Real Client Needs

Companies developing technology solutions for non-industry clients (or their internal “clients”) face a common problem: Most non-tech professionals don’t “speak technology” and have difficulty explaining exactly what they need from a technology solution.

It’s up to the technology pros in the partnership to ask the right questions to build a product that will truly solve the end users’ problem(s). Below, 20 members of Forbes Technology Council sharing insightful questions tech pros can ask to pinpoint the real needs of clients who aren’t tech experts.

1. ‘What is the challenge you are trying to solve?’

For any technology to have a real impact, the needs of the user must be at the center of the solution or design. Understanding the business challenge to be solved, in tandem with the needs and desired outcomes for the end user(s), creates space for non-tech business owners to provide context and key expectations that can be translated into design goals and enable solution design. – paula kennedy garcia, ContactCX

2. ‘Tell me the details of your problem.’

We cannot and should not expect non-tech people to create their needs in technological terms. Their job is to clarify their problems. Tech people should be like doctors. When you go to the doctor, they don’t start treatment before they ask where it’s hurt and how long it’s been going on and order blood tests. They can only give you the right solution after understanding the problem. Technology leaders must do the same! – Christian Peacock, DuPont


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3. ‘Can you share clear examples of the question?’

Many of our less tech-inclined peers will counterintuitively focus on the solution as a way to explain the technical problem they’re asking the engineering team to solve. I like to reframe their ideas by asking them to clearly define their problem, ideally with clear examples. We can then work with the engineering team to define the solutions they need. – Elliott Teissonniere, Nodla

4. ‘Why is now the right time for this solution?’

I like to ask, “Why did you choose to explore X tech at this particular time?” I think this question helps non-tech business leaders communicate the challenge they face and the urgency for a “better” solution. Asking this question can help both parties identify deficiencies in both processes and outcomes, making it easier to map those deficiencies to a technology-based solution. – Laxman Papineni, Outplay

5. ‘What would you like the system to do?’

It’s all about managing expectations. Just ask them what they want their system to do, in their own words. Let them walk you through their idea, and then you can (in your head) translate that into a technical system. – Seth Wasserman, Menin Hospitality

6. ‘Define your problem in business terms.’

Every problem can be expressed in business terms, which is exactly what we want. If we expect non-tech professionals to “talk technology,” we’re essentially asking them to provide a technical solution, not define a business problem—putting the cart before the horse is the proverbial saying. We do not provide a solution and then discuss the problem; should be the other way around. – Francisco Diazluna, National Producer

7. ‘Have you considered bringing in a business analyst or product owner?’

A good question to ask a non-industry client is whether they have considered hiring a business analyst or product owner. Someone in this role will help the client connect their needs with the technology team, giving the team a better understanding of the value they need to deliver to the client. A domain expert in the industry who understands the technology is important to fill the gap. – Nihinlola Adeyemi, ErrandPay Limited

8. ‘What is your current problem?’

Sometimes the most impactful insights come from the simplest questions. The only question I ask is, “What is your current problem?” By identifying the problem market fit, we can reduce the technical requirements to achieve a value-added solution, creating a truly positive customer experience. – Craig Ross, Euna Solutions

9. ‘What will make your life easier?’

A good philosophy to follow is to give the customer everything they want and nothing they don’t. So a helpful question to ask is, “What will make your life easier?” The answer to this question will ensure that you are building solutions that are critical to your business rather than wasting time on features that don’t really address customer pain points. – Ryan Barone, RentRedi

10. ‘What goal are you trying to achieve?’

You need to learn the specific needs and requirements of the client from the technical solution. By understanding their goals, you can tailor a technology solution that aligns with their specific need(s) whether it’s to increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve communication or enhance the customer experience. – Valentin Kropov, N-iX

11. ‘What concerns do you have about adopting new technology?’

First, I would ask them to identify their business frustrations and pain points. Next, I would explore their concerns about adopting new technology. This approach reveals their specific challenges and enables me to understand which types of technologies will best suit their needs. It also helps me explain to them how technology can help them achieve their goals. – shahar chen, Aquatic

12. ‘What task are you trying to complete?’

Step back and ask, “What is the task you want to do?” This can clear up a lot of technological confusion. People get busy and stressed at work, easily overlook simple steps and disrupt the work flow. Sometimes, a technical fix isn’t even needed – the person just needs a second set of eyes to communicate a solution. This can save you time troubleshooting and give you something to laugh about together. – Syed Ahmed, Action Software

13. ‘What costs you the most time and/or money?’

I would ask, “What tasks take the most time or cost the most in your organization?” This question gives you an overview of a task’s deliverables and the client’s expectation and workflow, allowing you to identify which aspects can be streamlined and which pain points need technical improvement. – Different buster, Lens, Inc.

14. ‘Explain your problem to me as if I were 5 years old.’

It’s overused these days, but the hint “explain it to me because I’m 5” is always telling. The client will cut through the nonsense and tell you what they want to accomplish, or use fewer words. Either way, they’ll tell you the most important bits. Another good question is, “What is the one problem (or main problem) you are trying to solve?” – Jordan Ialán, MetaTope

15. ‘If you could change one thing today, what would it be?’

Get to the bottom of the question by asking, “If you could wave a magic wand and immediately solve one specific challenge in your daily work, what would it be?” Understanding their pain points helps pinpoint their technology needs without relying on technical jargon, and also provides a better understanding of a compelling event. – Dr. Vivek Bhandari, Power driver

16. ‘What is the best possible outcome?’

Henry Ford is often credited with saying, “If I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ask non-industry clients to describe the best possible outcome, and work backwards from there. – Gentry Lane, ANOVA information

17. ‘How are you dealing with the problem at the moment?’

Many people have no idea how technology might, or might not, be able to solve their problem. It would be wise for clients to explain their issue and how they are currently working through the problem. Then, someone in technology can marry their problem to a solution and solve the problem completely or offer something better than what the client is doing today. – Tom Robert, Core Technology Solutions

18. ‘Can I have a closer look at your current practices?’

From my own experience, most clients don’t even know what they want, or, rather, can’t say it clearly. It is unfair to put them in a position of frustration by asking them, “What are your needs?” It’s painfully open and general and likely to produce the same answers (such as more profits or lower costs). It is best to examine their current practices and suggest ways to improve them. – AJAbdallat, Beyond Borders

19. ‘How do you imagine your day, and how is it now?’

When you start a conversation with clients, you will often find that they have a strong idea about their problems and how a technical solution can solve them. Shifting the focus to the desired outcome makes it much easier to detach them from their understanding of the technology and dig down to the problem you need to solve to keep them happy. – Kevin Corte, Unity

20. ‘Can you describe the typical steps in your workflow?’

A detailed understanding of the client’s workflow or business processes enables us to identify areas where we can seamlessly implement a technology solution. By aligning with existing steps, we can ensure that the solution improves efficiency and effectiveness without disruption. – Cristian Randieri, Intellisystem Technologies

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