One Simple Question

By Heather Baldwin

Want to improve customer relationships and boost sales at the same time? Just ask your clients one simple question, says Lawrence Friedman, author of Go To Market Strategy (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2002). Next time you stop in for a visit, ask, “What would cause you to do at least 20% [or whatever percentage you choose] more business with us next year?”

It works. Several years ago a $1.5-billion high-tech firm asked Friedman to develop strategies for increasing its sales by 20% the following year. And it gave him just two weeks to do it. Unable to come up with a plan for generating $300 million in new sales in that short timeframe, Friedman resorted to the simplest plan he could think of. He asked the company’s top 30 sales reps to ask each of their customers the question: What would cause you…. The results were phenomenal. “We were deluged with more than 30 specific recommendations on exactly what the company needed to do to increase its volume of business with its customers,” says Friedman. “Feedback ranged from making sales calls on a consistent, monthly schedule, to deploying a customer hotline, to creating a user-accessible database of industry solutions.”

The company immediately implemented all the recommendations that were affordable and mentioned by several customers. Within four months of doing so, monthly sales revenue jumped 12%. Within six months, the company achieved nearly the full 20% gain in sales — six months ahead of schedule.

Friedman has since incorporated that question into every customer analysis he performs. “It almost always produces excellent and immediate results,” he says. “The very least it will do is generate some new sales.” Ultimately, it could do even more than that, Friedman adds, by enabling you to better understand what your customers want from you. And there’s no better way than that to help you build lasting relationships.