Last week, I learned that a proposal I'd written for a product launch meeting had led to my team winning the bid. In explaining why we were awarded the project, the client said, "You really listened to us."

I once thought that strategic insights and creative ideas were the keys to winning clients' hearts and minds; now I know better. Listening has become my secret weapon. 

At the start of a proposal or project, I'm relentless about asking questions. One client compared the experience to being cross-examined by a prosecutor. But she wasn't complaining: like most clients, she recognized that my goal was to get the information we needed to deliver our best work. 

By asking lots of questions, and listening carefully to the answers, I'm able to gain a clearer, deeper understanding of what's in the client's mind. That leads to ideas and solutions that speak to their needs, which in turn leads to winning proposals and my new favorite compliment: "You really listened."