Executive Decisions: Twenty Questions
By Russ Jolly - published February 2006
Why stop at 20 questions? How about 56? Or maybe 33 will get the
job done. The fact is, when researching a corporate video project,
the quantity of questions you ask your clients is much less important
than the quality of the questions. Over and over again, I have found
that there is a direct relationship between the quality of the questions
I ask during the discovery process and the ultimate success of the
The majority of the corporate projects I produce and direct are
scripted marketing or training videos. From my first contact with
a potential client throughout the pre-production process and even
continuing on through post, I find myself digging, proactively,
for any bit of information that will help me understand my clients'
needs and help them attain their goals. I consider a project to
be successful when it leads to results for the client, whether that
means more sales from a marketing video or improved productivity
from a training video. How do I identify the specific results my
clients are seeking? I ask questions.
No two lines of questioning ever follow exactly the same course,
but typically my first contact with a potential client will include
an assortment of the following questions:
• What is the purpose/objective/goal of the video?
• Who is your target audience for this video?
• What is the desired response from your audience after they watch
• When, where, and how will the video be shown?
• What length do you think the video needs to be to cover the subject
• Where will we shoot the video? How many locations will we need
to acquire all the necessary footage?
• Will you need professional on-camera or voice talent for this
• What is your deadline for completing the video? Is a specific
event driving your deadline?
• Has your company used video in the past? Do you have examples
of those videos?
• What is your budget for this project?
• Who will be approving the script and edit?
This is an essential set of questions; however, it is by no means
a checklist to plow through mechanically in the same order every
time. These questions serve as prompts that open the door to in-depth
conversations with my clients. Eventually I'll get answers to all
the questions on the list, but most importantly I'm focused on listening
to their needs and asking quality follow-ups that elicit detailed
For example, in a recent phone conversation with a prospect, I
asked if the company had used video in the past. He replied that
they currently had a business-to-business sales video but it needed
to be updated. This presented me with the opportunity to ask one
of my favorite questions: "Can we meet tomorrow at your office
so that I can review the video with you?" I like to meet as
soon as possible following a first contact. The opportunity to review
an existing video with the prospect can be a gold mine.
After watching the video together with my prospect, I was able
to ask a series of detailed questions that gave me more insight
into the company's needs:
• What do you like about your current video?
• What do you dislike about this video?
• Does the professionalism of this video appropriately portray your
• In what setting do you present this sales video to your clients?
• How do you integrate this video into your overall sales presentation?
• How do your clients respond to this video?
Because I asked comprehensive questions, I walked away from the
meeting with a solid vision of what the company wanted from their
new video, and my proposal for the project was instantly accepted.
Another case involved a video for a major food manufacturer. Inquiring
about the purpose and target audience for the video, I discovered
that the company needed to train their maintenance workers on the
proper method of repairing machinery on their assembly lines. Digging
further, I learned that repairs were taking far too long, costing
the company significant amounts of money while the machines were
offline. This company needed an urgent solution to their problem,
and I was happy to help. Two simple questions opened up a world
of opportunity. Q: "What materials are you currently using
to train your employees?" A: "A written manual with images."
Q: "Could you send me a copy of the manual so I could see it?"
Minutes later I received, via email, a document containing several
pages of single spaced text accompanied by an occasional hand-scribbled
drawing that resembled ancient hieroglyphics. This company desperately
needed a video! I immediately made an appointment to meet with the
client at their plant. Through focused questioning we determined
that the best approach for getting repairs made quickly and keeping
their machines in operation was to create a step-by-step, bi-lingual
training video separated into DVD chapters corresponding to a detailed
troubleshooting checklist. The approach worked wonders for the company
and we have now completed three projects for them.
Practice asking detailed, quality questions. Become a good questioner
and a good listener, and you'll see the success rate of your corporate
video projects increase substantially.
Russ Jolly is owner of 214 Media: a Dallas
video production company.