Using the Art of Listening to Get Clients


Your cell phone rings, and it’s an inquiry for a family interested in your weekly service. Unlike a dinner party inquiry (which just wants to know your availability), a potential weekly client is looking for a personal chef. You are probably one of four calls she is going to make. How are you going to stand out?  

Two things immediately come to your mind:

  1. Don’t blow it; I need to get them to hire me
  2. I need to tell them how great my service is

While you exchange pleasantries, your head is buzzing with thoughts of what to say first - your training, your fantastic food, your eagerness to please, or your many happy customers. With all the excitement of this inner dialogue, you just missed the last sentence she said!! So you can’t wait, and you just start talking. And talking. And talking. You are not sure if you hit all your points, but at least you are happy you got it out there. The potential client says “Thank you” and you never hear back from her again.

If this does sound familiar, don’t feel bad. Of course, it is only natural that you want people to know how you can help, and that you can make delicious meals for them. But all you end up having is a one-sided conversation.

Now, I am not a personal chef like Bonnie, but from my experience in 30 years of marketing and sales, I can tell you that this situation happens all the time, and it's incredibly simple to fix.  

Here is the key...


That’s it.  All you have to do is listen. People are calling for a reason. They have a problem, AND they are hoping that you can solve it. Listening allows you to hear their story, their problem. Once you understand their story, you can make a connection that will motivate them to hire you.

So how do you hear their stories? You ask effective questions.

Two simple questions to get “their story.”

These questions that I am going to share with you are not rocket science, but they are quite effective in their simplicity. I learned this approach from a great teacher Mahan Khalsa (google him later) over 20 years ago. It was probably the most insightful class I’ve ever taken (and I’ve taken quite a few throughout my career).  Although he taught this approach to large corporations, it is just as appropriate (and just as successful) for Personal Chefs.

So here are the key questions:

1. What’s the Problem?

Ok, this is a little obvious, but getting at the problem takes a little work. When they call you, they have a problem, but you need to get them talking about it.  It’s easy to start things off, by just asking “So how can I help you?” Your goal is to understand the details of the problem and how is it affecting them on an emotional level.

For example, you may get a call from someone whose spouse was just diagnosed as pre-diabetic, and they want to change their diet.  They are both scared and stressed about their future if nothing changes.

You may even follow up with a question like, "What has your diet been like up to this point?" which get's them easily talking for another 5 - 10 minutes.

2. What do they want to happen?

Ask them to describe what they want to happen. What will they feel if their problem is solved?  In the above example, the family would like to start eating healthier, so the spouse can reduce his risk of becoming a diabetic. They are truly happy because they have peace of mind that they are on a better path to a healthier lifestyle.

3. Bonus question: What have they done before to try to fix the problem?

I love this question because it gives you insight into how they work through their challenges. How they answer can give you an idea of how well you could work with them.

The art of asking questions

There is an art to asking the above questions.  With practice, it can become second nature and for some it already is. The key to asking these questions is to try to empathize with your potential clients. They have a challenge that is causing them stress which in turn causes you stress because you FEEL for them.

Your questions should start a conversation. Think of a great interview you’ve recently seen. Chances are the interviewer did not just read the questions off a sheet of paper. Instead, they had a real conversation which flowed and discovered many interesting things. You can do the same.

Ask open-ended questions

Start your conversation by asking open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are hard to answer with just a “yes” or a “no.” For example, you can’t answer just yes or no to “So why are you thinking about hiring a personal chef?”. Contrast that with “So you want to eat healthier?” Which question do you think will get you a better story?

Ask follow up questions

As they tell you their story, follow up with questions just like you would with a friend or family member.  In the above example, we may ask “I’m sorry to hear about that, so how are you and your husband coping with the diagnosis?” This question tries to get to the emotions they are feeling with their current situation.

Restate and Acknowledge

In the above example, I also did something extremely important. I started off the question by acknowledging that hearing the diagnosis is traumatic. Restating what you heard allows you to demonstrate that you are listening to what they are saying. They will notice that they have your full attention and that you are trying to understand their situation. Restating also allows them to correct you if you misunderstood something.

The Gap = the need

Once they answer the above questions, you should start to see “a gap.” The gap, between where they are currently and where they want to be, is the motivating force to hire a personal chef. This gap, which we call “The Need” becomes the cornerstone for your entire client relationship (I will talk much more about “The Need” in a future blog posts). 

Now you can talk

Once you understand the need, you are in a much better place to start talking about you. Now you can talk about your service and experience with context. You can describe how YOU can resolve their challenges and make their lives better. The reality (and I’ve seen this so many times) is that they are already sold before you say one word about your business. You will start to get comments like “I feel like you are the first person I’ve spoken to that truly understands our situation.”

This is just the start

Once you understand the art of listening and put it to use, it will become second nature. You will even see opportunities to use it on your website. Have a “conversation” on your home page. Research the challenges your target clients are facing and acknowledge their frustration and pain on your site. Then talk about how you can help in the context of their problem.  

In our core course, Becoming a Personal Chef, we have a full lesson dedicated to the Art of Listening with exercises that you can practice with other students or your friends.  The course also includes how to apply these concepts during inquiries, events, and on your website.

If you want to practice asking effective questions, we’ve created a handy “Asking Effective Questions” reference card that you can look at when the next call comes.

Greg Goodman

Co-founder The Personal Chef Guide

Greg has over 30 years experience helping companies grow their business through technology in marketing. In 2008 Greg left the corporate world (his last position was Vice President of Web Marketing with Gateway Computers) to help small business owners realize their dreams. Greg is also a successful professional photographer and documentary film maker.

Greg has taken proven strategies in marketing, technology, and client service and applied them to the Personal Chef industry.