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Winning New Business with Clean Scoping


How can you use Clean Language to help a business client to clarify what they want and to determine whether what you have to offer is a good fit for them?

In my company, I’m often asked to write business proposals for clients or to have conversations with clients to “sell” one of our business presentation programmes – and it’s not always easy to find out what it is the client wants to have happen.

Sometimes, this is because the clients themselves don’t yet have clarity. And when they don’t yet have clarity, we can’t tell whether what we have to offer is a good fit for what they need.

This is when using Clean Scoping, a Systemic Modelling tool developed by Caitlin Walker, has been valuable for me. It is an efficient way to clarify client needs during a face-to-face meeting or conference call. With Clean Scoping, clients get to further clarify what they want and how they will know they have got it. And as trainers and coaches, we’ll know if what we have to offer is what they really need.

What do I pay attention to?

When I’m Clean Scoping, I’m first and foremost focused on where my attention needs to be. That’s in two places:

1. The current situation: What is the problem or challenge the client is currently facing and that they need resolved? To find out, I ask “What are things like at the moment?” or “What’s currently happening?”

2. Their desired outcome: What is it that the client wants to have happen? What would they like to achieve from a programme or intervention? I ask questions like, “What would you like to have happen when you have that problem?” I might also ask some follow-up questions like, “What would you like to have happen between now and […]?” or “And when you have that, then what happens?” or “What’s important about having that?”

And what else am I doing?

1. I use Clean Language, repeating back the client’s words exactly to let them know I heard them, and then following up with a clean or clean-ish question to find out more about what they mean. For example, if a client says, “We want better communication in our team”, I might ask, “What kind of better is better communication?” or “What kind of communication is it when it’s better communication?”

2. I’m OK with not knowing. This means not imagining I am the expert on what’s going on for the client. It is always going to be true that the client has more information than I do about what’s happening in their company.

My job is to mine their experience and expertise so that both of us can have better clarity about what’s happening and what needs to happen next. Essentially, I hold the attitude that I can’t know what a client means or needs until I have done enough scoping.

Being OK with not knowing also gives me permission to accept that I won’t always have the answer. Very often, it is the client who does even if they are looking to me to be the expert.
For example, one client wanted me to suggest how they would measure the success of a programme. What KPIs could they put in place so that they would know the programme had resulted in the team having the skills we were discussing?

I said, “How will you know that your team has better engagement at the end of the programme? What will you need to see or hear?” After a short while, the client remembered that they had already had a performance review system in place and the criteria for assessing engagement was already available to them.

3. I’m noticing and tracking how the client is thinking about their problem and their desired solution. To do that, I use the Evidence, Inference, Impact model when I’m scoping their current situation and then again when I’m finding out more about what they want to have happen. This is illustrated below:

All of this lets me know how the client will measure success, and whether I can facilitate the kind of success they are looking for.


The benefits I’ve experienced from Clean Scoping are several:

1. It is a quick and efficient way to find out what the client wants or needs. Often, a conference call doesn’t last more than 45 minutes if I’m lucky, and the client is rushing to attend to something else that might be more urgent.

2. I know just the kind of proposal I need to write for the client. I have a better understanding of what they want to have happen and whether what I have to offer matches what they need.

3. Clients feel really heard. They hear me repeat back their words so they know I got what they said. And at some level, they must be conscious that I am tracking what’s going on for them during the meeting, and the challenges they are facing at work.

4. The best benefit, of course, is when I’m able to close a sale. In one instance, I managed to sell a programme to a client I was meeting for the first time on a conference call. Her feedback at the end of the call was, “You speak slowly and you’re not rah! rah! rah!” It was only much later that I discovered she was considering two other companies that offer the same programme. And yet all I was doing was asking clean questions, allowing the client to be the expert about what she knew and needed and noticing and tracking the client’s experience and expectations. Her experience, with just one conference call, was that I had heard her and she could trust me to deliver what she needed.

Further resources

Caitlin Walker, From Contempt to Curiosity, Clean Publishing, 2014.

Caitlin Walker, “Clean Scoping: Applying the Power of Clean Language for Successfully Scoping New Business”, Rapport Magazine, Spring 2016, p. 14 – 16

About Jacqueline Ann Surin

Jacqueline Ann Surin's avatar

Jacqueline Ann Surin is a Level 1 Clean Facilitator, the first Master Level Systemic Modeller in Asia, and is qualified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the ICF. She is an associate of Clean Learning and Training Attention in the UK, and a specialist-partner of the Singapore-based BeInClarity. She was previously an award-winning journalist and has a published chapter in Clean Language Interviewing: Principles and applications for researchers and practitioners.

She can be found on LinkedIn.

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