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Top Tier Training & Development Inc. | Seattle, WA

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With the year more than halfway over, the pressure is on once again to achieve your revenue goals. How are you going to get your existing clients to buy more?  If you lost any accounts last year, how will you make up for the loss?  Most would reply – we’ll make our clients happy and keep them happy.  Good answer, but where do you start?

Some think that you can keep customers happy by not stirring the pot or ruffling any feathers by asking the tough questions that really beg to be asked.  I disagree.  Your customers can’t solve their problems if they don’t acknowledge them.  They might have had a very challenging year and spent most of it putting out fires of their own.  So they’ve probably not spent any time to clearly think through their challenges and considered what steps they need to take to hit their goals.  That’s where you come in – that’s where you can make a meaningful difference – you can help them see the bigger picture.

It’s a lot like the concept of “tough love”, using tough questions that help your customers recognize what’s really going on.  You’ll create some urgency that can cause them to take action.  If you have the courage to ask the questions critical to their success in 2010, you will have successfully positioned yourself as part of the solution, while your competitors remain part of the problem.

If you’ve been Sandler trained, you know what these questions are, but maybe you’ve been reluctant to ask them as they might seem imposing, intrusive, uncomfortable, or you might view them as taking away from your selling time.

You might even be a bit afraid of their answers.  What if they tell you they haven’t been happy with your work and now they are shopping around for new suppliers?  Don’t let this intimidate you.  If those issues are a thorn in your customer’s side, you need to hear it from them and pull the thorn out before it becomes an infected, and possibly, fatal wound.  Have no fear of negative answers; rather embrace them as tools that can help you give your clients the care they require.  You’ll put money in your pocket.

Asking tough questions will help you to:

  • Establish a strong bond with your client
  • Demonstrate that you understand your client’s needs
  • Shine a light on hidden needs and wants
  • Gather the right information from your clients
  • Direct rather than follow the conversation
  • Increase the customer’s comfort level with you
  • Attach a name to your customer’s problems so you can conquer them
  • Create a sense of urgency to take action with your help

Some strategies would suggest that you begin this dialogue by capitalizing on what you’ve done right with the customer.  I’m not so sure this is the place to start – of course, this will creep into the conversation, but not right away.  Concentrate on the customer – this is about them and not about you.  The key is to make sure your customer realizes they have ownership in this process, while validating your role in shared success.

You might start with something like this to get the conversation going:

  • In this second half of the year, what do you think you should do more of, less of, or just plain differently?
  • In what ways can we improve or change to ensure your continued success?
  • What changes do we need to make to ensure greater mutual success?
  • What goals would you like to see us accomplish with you in the next 12 months?

And then with the “pain funnel” questions, along with the other questioning techniques, you can ensure the conversation moves in the right direction.  Focus on the path of the customer and stay with them – don’t veer off to your own path until the time is right.  Be sensitive to what they are telling you.  Keep an eye open for speed bumps and barriers.  The time is now to address issues before they become overwhelming problems.

Most customers have four major concerns on their minds:

  • How are you going to minimize my fears?
  • How are you going to enhance my organization?
  • How are you going to help me save money?  Or make money?
  • How are you going to make my life easier?

Addressing these concerns through the strength of strategically rehearsed questions will get your customer to provide critical information that they might not have shared with you before.  Maybe because you didn’t ask?  You really can’t position yourself or your products as a better solution when you don’t understand their true needs and concerns.

Don’t be afraid to dig into the dirt, even your own dirt if that’s the case.  It’s truly the only way to unearth the answers you need to significantly impact your customer and their business. 

Remember this though:  nurture, nurture, nurture.  Seek to understand and then be understood.

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