Prime Advantage has invited industry experts to share insights on achieving manufacturing and business success. In this post, Andy McNulty of Communication Performance Management Associates, discusses the questions to ask your customers right now to finish the year strong and set up an even better coming year.
It is for many others too, but it really is for those of us who make a living selling. As companies are coming down the “home stretch” for the year, they are not only scrambling to achieve the goals, initiatives, and objectives they set for the closing year, they are also strategizing about the new year as well. It is truly the best time to ask “business questions.”
We spend a lot of time and energy trying to ask our customers and prospects “good questions,” and they always sound better in person than in discussion or on paper. For example, it couldn’t sound less valuable to write “How’s business?” in a newsletter. But depending on the time of year, the nature of the conversation, and the relationship one has with the customer, “How’s business?” can be one of the most useful questions to ask. But it needs to be modified and rolled into the flow of the conversation.
If I’m calling on Rudy down in Louisiana, after we set the table with the standard conversation about the SEC dominating the college football landscape, I might say something like: “Rudy, there are a lot of positive signs out there. The markets are doing pretty well, the banks are lending money and my buddies at John Deere are selling more construction equipment. How’s it been for you folks down here? Are you seeing good things in your industry? Are projects up? Is the phone ringing more? How’s it looking out there for you guys?”
I would never tell anybody to say anything I say or the way I say it. My goal is to just offer you an example in hopes that when you read it out loud, you think there might be a framework of some sample language you could use in crafting your own version.
I also like to use this time of year to look forward with customers to see if they are willing to share projects or initiatives that have already been established for the coming year:
“Rudy, I’m sure you’re like a lot of folks I work with who start thinking about the next year as soon as July hits. What’s the message for 2017? Is there a particular emphasis being placed on certain markets, products, services or direction for the company or the sales force in particular? How do you see the coming year shaping up for you and the industry?” Even though I wrote that pretty much exactly like I would and have said it, when I read it back to myself, it sounds really corny and canned. It must sound even more corny and canned to you because you didn’t write it and likely wouldn’t say it.
So don’t say what I say or even try to say it like I say it. But find a way to ask your customers about their businesses. It can be based on the economy (good or bad is license to ask), their market place (typically that means their competitors, pricing, lead times, suppliers, etc.), their customers’ markets (what’s driving their trends / demands?), or any changes with their actual business strategies (new products, M&A, regulatory challenges, etc.). Keep in mind, no matter how well you craft it, or how many times you practice it alone or with a role play partner, it will sound a little scripted. They all do. But in the flow of the conversation, as you transition from “Howdy” to “How many you want,” you’ll be able to steer the conversation towards business. They expect you to talk about you and your business. They want you to talk about them and their business. And we can’t do that until they start talking about them and their business. So ask ‘em: “How’s business?” I bet that helps your business.
Here’s to hoping your 2016 wraps well and that 2017 starts even better. Good selling!