Most good sales people know the most successful customer relationships are based on trust and a deep understanding of the customer's business. But, how do you uncover the most important information about a customer that will allow you to become a great Business-to-Business (B2B) product or service provider?
Well, there are 3 critical business questions every good sales person should be asking and every business owner should be ready to answer. The answers to these questions are the key to understanding any business.
1. What are the key challenges in your business?
This may sound like an obvious question to lead with. Interestingly, most salespeople I have trained often assume the answers to this question rather than asking it of the key decision maker and then... shutting up and listening, intently. Most average sales people ask questions like "is cost your most important challenge?" or worse "do you think new business sales growth is an area of concern for you?". Both questions are closed questions which do not encourage the client to talk and which presume the answer.
It shows amazing disrespect to predict the answer and not encourage a business owner to tell you directly. As a sales manager for many years I would always ask my best sales people "did he actually tell you this was a key concern or did you suggest it and they confirmed it?". It pays to ensure the sales person has not "lead the witness". Always get key concerns in the words of the client. It is after all their reality. It shows great respect to the client and forces you to really listen to the key pain points the client has.
2. What are the key opportunities in your business?
The answers we normally get here from a business owner are either internal opportunities for improvement or external market opportunities. Of course, opportunities can come from strengths that the business has (e.g. leveraging its brand or reputation) or from addressing gaps in the market or from weaknesses in the competitors or from the 4 types of business shifts - technology shifts, competitor shifts, demographic shifts or legislative shifts.
It is important that the sales person does not judge or question the opportunities that are raised. The key is to clarify or ask for more information about each opportunity, but not to do this in a way that is judge mental. Again, this shows great respect to the client and develops trust in the relationship with the customer.
3. What current actions are in place to address these challenges and opportunities?
This is actually the most critical question of all. It will help a sales person uncover opportunities to assist and add value. Carefully noting each of the activities that are being undertaken will lead to the obvious next step... identifying areas where the sales person can start going into more detail about solutions and options at a later stage. This question will help the client tell you in their own words where they may require help. It is amazing how often we have found the client themselves identifying the 3 or 4 areas they require extra help when they are encouraged to identify their current operation. Most senior decision makers are busy dealing with lots of things and get little time to reflect and clarify pain points which they may have pushed aside because "the urgent" sometimes delays consideration of "the important".
Don't be fooled by the simplicity of these 3 questions. They are common sense qualification questions and they uncover a huge amount of information which helps a salesperson identify opportunities to help a business owner or decision maker. In my many years of using these types of questioning techniques it is rare that I can get the answers to these questions in less than an hour! Especially if we include the clarifying questions I normally ask to ensure I have understood each of the answers given.
Try this yourself if you are a B2B business person. Never interrupt unless the client gets repetitive. Clarifying questions are good. Closed or judgmental questions are ineffective in this situation and annoying to many customers. Take lots of notes if you have to and ensure you get good eye contact. Of course, face-to-face is better than over the phone. And quiet relaxing environments are better than noisy distracting environments. Good luck. Let us know if it improves your client successes.