Listening is somewhat of a lost art. Many of us are so busy thinking about what we are going to say next that we forget to really listen to what our clients need and, more importantly, want.

As experts in our field, we often want to jump right into explaining all the nuances of surveying. There is a time to explain how things work and what we do; the initial contact with a new prospective client is not that time.

First, we must set the correct tone for everything that follows. Far too often, we let the client set the tone by responding to that so often asked question, “What does a survey cost?” Instead, we must establish the groundwork upon which the entire client relationship will be based--by listening.

One of the most important principles to keep in mind is that the client is in charge of the big decisions. Not us--the client. Nothing makes clients feel more helpless than the thought that the surveyor (or any other professional, for that matter) has them at their mercy. Clients who feel helpless are never willing to pay premium prices. (This is exactly why pushing for government mandates that require a new survey every time property is conveyed is a very bad strategy for surveyors.) In fact, the more helpless clients feel, the less willing they are to pay anything. Conversely, once they know they are in charge, the entire dynamic changes.

Try using a variation of the following statement very early in the conversation.

My purpose is to help you achieve your goals. We can only accomplish that if we work together. You have to first help me understand the current situation so that together we can develop a plan to help you achieve those goals. Only after we have reviewed the plan and agree upon the cost will I agree to take on the project. Is that acceptable?

Putting the clients in charge and making sure they know they are in charge is essential.

Of course, we cannot guarantee a certain acreage, placement of lines or governmental approvals. No reasonable client will demand we guarantee them. (Those who make unreasonable demands shouldn’t even be our clients because we choose not to work for them. Remember that part of the responsibility of professionals who use value pricing is being willing to say no and walk away from a prospective client.)

What we can do is involve our clients in determining the best way to accomplish their goals. We can come up with at least three alternatives from which the client can choose. Being able to play a role in the decision-making process gives the client a sense of power. The good news is all clients want that power, and most are willing to pay for it. That power has value.

The initial conversation is not the time to inform the client about who we are and what we can do. Instead, it is our opportunity to listen as the client tells us who they are and what they need and want. (Keep in mind that people are often willing to pay more for what they want.)

Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. The exact questions will be dictated by what the client says and the nature of the work needed, but should help you understand why a survey is needed, who is paying for the survey and whether any existing documentation is available.

Once you get past the routine questions, you should take some time to discuss big-picture issues. You can hear some amazing things when you give people a chance to tell you about their dreams. Understanding the “why” that motivates your client opens the door to you becoming a valuable part of the process to make those dreams a reality. Creating that value for our clients is key to everything else we do.

For a printable version of "Questions to Ask a Prospective Client"click here.

10 Rules for Listening

In her book “Rule #1: Stop Talking,” Linda Eve Diamond outlines 10 rules that are imperative to being a good listener. Here are some ways that surveyors can apply these rules to our initial interactions with prospective clients.

1.         Stop talking. It is difficult to learn from the client when you are speaking. This is not your time to give a sales pitch.

2.         Create a space. When discussing a project with a client, take time to reflect on the client’s statements before responding with your ideas and suggestions.

3.         Hold your judgments. No two projects or clients are exactly the same. Do not judge a client based on a past experience.

4.         Don’t be a label reader. Not all liberals or all conservatives are alike. Tall people don’t all think the same way. When you label someone based on brief initial observation, you prevent yourself from learning everything you need to know about the client and the project.

5.         Open your mind. Not one person knows everything. Being willing to entertain new ideas is the beginning of learning more.

6.         Focus. Look at the person speaking. Give visual clues that you are listening and that you care. Now is not the time to multitask. Put down the smartphone and pay attention. Ask open questions.

7.         Visualize. Picture in your mind what the client needs or wants.

8.         Remember names. What is more important to someone than their name? Misspell a name in big letters on a map, and you’ll quickly discover that nothing is more important.

9.         Question. Who? What? When? Where? Make sure you’re asking all the right questions. (View the online version of this article at for a list of recommended questions.) It is OK--even mandatory--to take notes.

10.       Be aware. Don’t just hear the words. Listen for other clues. Body language, how things are said and what isn’t said can reveal much about what a client truly wants versus what someone is demanding they get.

“Rule #1: Stop Talking,” by Linda Eve Diamond (Nov. 2007, Listener’s Press) is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major booksellers. For more information,