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How to find out exactly what your clients want: A tale of two coffee shops

I was riding in an elevator to my office building and struck up a conversation with someone in an office one floor down from me.  She was really enjoying her morning coffee, and I noticed that her coffee cup was from Awaken Café, right across the street from our building.  I was surprised because there is a delightful coffee shop less than 10 feet from our elevator-  Bittersweet Café, and it’s right in our building.  It’s well designed, cozy and has seemingly good coffee (though I don’t drink coffee), and it’s less expensive.

I got curious, and asked her why she doesn’t get her coffee from Bittersweet in our own building.  She said that their coffee is not that great, and they should stick to what they do best – hot chocolate (THAT – I do drink and it is wonderful).

This is a waste of opportunity for Bittersweet.  If they would have simply bothered to ask their clientele a few questions like:

    • Have you ever tried our coffee?

    • What do you like most about it?

    • What would you improve?

    • Would you be willing to taste test 3 version of our coffee and tell which one you would be delighted to drink daily?

it could have made a HUGE difference.

This got me thinking about how few people in service-oriented fields ask their clients, and even more importantly their potential clients for feedback.  Honest answers to those feedback questions would be like finding a treasure.

Why not just ask your potential clients and clients what they want and simply give it to them?

Share your question ideas below.  The more people share, the more ideas we will all have for questions to ask.

Here are some questions we ask clients who don’t say yes to our offers:

        • What’s been the most impactful for you about_____________?

        • What’s one thing you would improve?

        • What was the biggest reason why you didn’t say yes to hiring us?

Please don’t forget to share your questions below.

Can’t wait to see how this crowd sourcing of wisdom experiment will go!



  1. My question would be: have you used any of my competitor and if so what did you like about them, what did you dislike (you then make sure you don’t make the same mistake as them)

  2. Regarding selling your services to companies you would benefit from reading Sharon Drew Morgen’s book selling with integrity.

  3. Sue says:

    Just an observation re: the two coffee companies. Would you rather have a cup that says ‘Awaken’ or one that says ‘Bittersweet’… If Dr Emoto’s water experiment holds true for coffee cups with words on them, I’d pick the coffee with the word ‘awaken’…

    As for the “I don’t know” answering prospect Iain described in the first comment – have you tried asking: “If you did know, what would your answer be?” or “If we switched places right now, what would you ask me?”

  4. Melissa says:

    You could ask:

    What insights have you had about what you would like to do next?
    What action steps can you take and how can I help you to achieve this?

  5. When a client says, “I don’t know”. I say, “Okay, I hear you and I believe that you don’t know. Take a wild guess.” We begin to explore from there.

  6. Myrtis says:

    Bill,this was a great dialogue

    Ask Clients
    If the client did not say yes,
    A month from now, what would be different with your staff?

    After reviewing information about the service,in what ways can we help improve the area of your most immediate need?

  7. I create a list of tailored questions (based on researching the company/website, etc. and a brief chat) that they answer and submit to me prior to any further discussion or meeting (one of the questions obviously is always, “do you have a marketing budget?”). I agree with Ian above. The big door slam for me is always money.

  8. Ask clients:

    What things are most important to you about the service that I will provide to you?

  9. Good dialogue Bill! I could see a really nice list developing here. Will you share it down the road with the participants?
    A couple questions I could ask are:
    For clients that say no:
    What would it take for you to move to the next level?
    What seems to be missing for you that we perhaps don’t offer?
    For clients that have worked with me:
    What is the greatest gift or nugget you received from working with us?
    What positive changes have resulted from the work you did with us?

  10. I do clothing repairs & alterations for senior residences. Can you suggest ways to improve the number of clients to bring their repairs to me?

    • DO you offer current clients an incentive to send you someone new.
      Thank you for your custom if you know anyone who might benefit please give then my card with a voucher enclosed with 105off or something so they are doing them a favour as well as you.

  11. I ask a LOT of questions, so this isn’t a major one for me, but I do have an issue with the prevalence of the not-helpful answer I get: “I don’t know.” What worked for you? I don’t know.
    Was this or that helpful? I don’t know.
    What would you change or improve? I don’t know.
    The ONLY not-hiring excuse is ALWAYS, I just don’t have it in my budget right now. Followed with, “I totally see the value, and this is incredible work, I really want to do it, but…”
    I’m guessing your advice on this is: “next!”

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