How Well Do You Know Your Customers?

By Heather Baldwin

You’ve heard it over and over again: successful selling takes a genuine focus on the customer. That means asking a lot of questions, listening to the answers and determining how your product or service can help solve that customer’s specific problems. Understanding this principle and actually applying it, however, are two very different things. If you want to drive home the importance of listening to the customer in order to build a successful relationship, try running a sales version of the old “Newlywed Game” at your next sales meeting, suggests James Dance in his book, Get the Most Out of Sales Meetings (NTC LearningWorks, 1992).

Here’s how it works: start by picking five customers, at random, from the account lists of each salesperson on your team. Next develop a set of questions regarding each customer. Questions should be tailored to your particular business or sales situation, but could include the following:

§ What is this customer’s most serious business problem?

§ What does this client like best and least about your company and why?

§ What does your customer think you could do to improve the service you offer?

§ What new thing did you learn about your client’s business the last time you were with her?

§ What is the name of your client’s spouse? Does he or she have children? If so, how many?

§ Where did the client go on his or her last vacation?

§ What was your last follow-up with the client?

§ How long has the client’s company been in business and what are their approximate annual revenues?

Armed with those questions, visit as many of the customers on your list as possible in the weeks prior to the meeting and try to get some of the answers to your questions. The purpose of your research is two-fold, says Dance: first, it will keep your salespeople honest when they answer the questions, but it also demonstrates that this type of information can be gathered and that you wouldn’t ask your sales team to do anything you wouldn’t do.

When the meeting itself rolls around, set the stage by discussing the importance of knowing the customer and asking how well each salesperson thinks he or she knows his or her customers. Then hand out the sheets of questions with the list of each attendee’s five customers. “It’s likely that your staff will do poorly the first time around. No problem,” says Dance. “Repeat the exercise a few weeks after the initial session and give everyone an opportunity to show off their new listening skills.”