When working with new clients, custom training providers are tasked with learning about the client’s background, vision and goals, and then connecting that information to the right training solution. It is critical to establish credibility and build trusted relationships quickly with clients, and that starts with an effective needs analysis strategy.

There are four fundamental components in a strong needs analysis strategy that allow a custom training provider to swiftly build the client relationship, understand their business need, and provide a successful training solution:

Authentic relationship. Each client’s relationship need is different, and the training provider must determine up front where they stand on that continuum, from transactional to strategic. One of the keys to building relationships is meeting the other person where they are — this means matching their energy, taking their lead on social interest (for instance, how much time to use at the top of the call catching up about your weekend), and taking an interest in their personal investments and strengths in the project. Mutual trust is essential.

Organizational design. The stakeholders of the solution go beyond the learning leader who partners with a training provider. It is important to know who the key players are in the client’s business. By identifying stakeholders, you’re not just looking for the participants in the training solution. It’s important to canvas both operational and executive leaders to understand the client’s organizational goals and to identify other teams, departments and even customers that may be impacted by the training solution. You also need to understand the decision makers, both the supporters and detractors who could influence the training outcome or effectiveness.

The mind map of all of these stakeholders provides the client’s big picture: to see what’s been done before and how it was accepted, to understand how employees generally share with and learn from each other, and to piece together elements of the client’s organizational culture. This helps the training provider to focus questions and to stay relevant, and adds credibility to the solution by aligning it with other learning and change initiatives the client may be implementing.

Business need. It may sound like a no-brainer, but often talking through the business need with multiple stakeholders uncovers a lot of valuable insight about performance goals and performance gaps. What data is available that supports the need for this training? How is success defined, what will be measured, and what should the business look like after training? What policies, business models, or management theories has the client adopted that will reinforce the training? It is important to know what the business problem is, how it’s measured, and how the training solution will solve it.

Transparency. This is the client’s business. If there are any surprises from the training provider, trust can be lost. The client should know who the training provider is talking with and what questions are being asked throughout the process. One idea is to make all transcripts and recordings of interviews and focus groups available to the client, and to provide a detailed summary when the data collection is complete. This helps to clarify expectations, gain buy-in, and serve as a reference once development is underway.

Getting each of these components right can lead to a more productive and sustainable training solution for the client ─ and can make the difference between being a vendor and being a business partner. By approaching each needs analysis with this discipline, the training provider will be focused on the client’s goals and can deliver a solution tailored specifically for their unique culture and needs.