When going on a commercial visit, you have two main ways to gather client information. On one hand, there is the information collected prior to the visit such as an analysis of the market, products and potential needs. On the other hand, there is the information gathered from the conversation with the client during the visit.

All this information should help driving the presentation of our products in the most relevant and appropriate way with full knowledge of the client’s needs. The latter is an important point because the ability to adapt our pitch to each client is what differentiates the “consultative sale” from the traditional “product-price sale”.

The ability to adapt our pitch to each client is what differentiates the “consultative sale” from the traditional “product-price sale”.

The art of asking questions

The information needed to better understand your client’s business depends not just on the customer, but also largely on your ability to obtain it. Therefore, after presenting your organization, you must ask open and intelligent questions to the client, in order to tailor the presentation of the offer you intend to make. It’s important to prepare these open questions very well before the interview, going from more general questions to more specific ones. This is the best way to know the client’s needs, concerns, the satisfaction level they have with their current suppliers etc. This process has a very clear objective: to be able to present a more concrete offer that is more adjusted to the client context and their business.

The time spent before the presentation of the offer, in addition to being an opportunity to obtain information, is an opportunity to help create a relationship of trust with the client by probing discreetly, to understand what the specific needs are, what they are looking for and what they think about their current provider. You should be able to detect if they are satisfied, if they feel well attended and if they would recommend it.

The time spent before the presentation of the offer, in addition of being an opportunity to obtain information, is an opportunity to help create a relationship of trust with the client.

However, it is not always so simple. Sometimes you may find that, although your questions are appropriate, the client does not answer them or is evasive and does not want to provide the minimum information considered necessary to be able to offer something concrete. If this is the case, in my opinion, the visit becomes more difficult. In these cases, I recommend speeding up the presentation and determining whether it is worth continuing or not.

The importance of achieving a rational and emotional connection

Also, keep in mind that, beyond the value of the information, if you fail to get the client to answer your questions openly, it means that you are not getting the necessary confidence to make your offer more credible. The lack of an emotional connection at this stage of the sale remains one of the most important factors in getting a purchase decision. Be aware that they may have an understandable distrust in you, probably because they don’t know you enough, and therefore may not provide you with the information to help you succeed.

As for the rational connection, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the client’s objective may be to improve the services and/or prices that he has contracted at that time, through a possible new relationship with you.

From here comes the great importance of preparing well the questions you will ask throughout the visit. They should not be the result of improvisation, which can be disastrous because it may not convey the image of professionalism that should be given.

Some practical examples

Ask the client about important issues to know better their organization. For example, if I offer commercial consulting services, it makes a sense to ask for the number of active clients, how their commercial organization is structured, how many clients on average does a salesman have, the frequency of client visits (physically or in a virtual way), if the salesteam have a variable remuneration and what percentage represents the same over the fixed one, if cross-selling is encouraged, number of daily visits, seniority of sales staff, etc.

In a nutshell, you must structure a series of questions around the great lines of their organization aimed at better understanding the way of working of the commercial network. It is very important to know if the salesteam has a stong back office support, or if he spends hours in the office preparing the offers directly. It is also interesting to know if back office staff has a variable remuneration, and what are the dimensions with respect to the number of salesmen (for example, does a back-office employee follow 2 or 4 salesmen).

In the same way, it will be vital to ask if there are cross-selling methodologies, or if they prepare a daily or weekly report, what type of reporting it is. Through these types of questions, you can get an idea of how a salesman faces daily activity.

More examples for this same case: Ask if middle managers have clients or not, or if they are dedicated 100% to supervision, motivation, control, and evaluation of vendors who depend on them.

You may also be interested to know if they have a statistics of the customers gained and lost by each of the sales people, if there is a control over late payment of customers and product returns, since it can be very useful to have individual statistics for each salesman to be able to compare them with a national average or the area in which they operate. So, you can know if a salesperson is above or below them.

Questions of this kind, made in a discreet way, but in a systematic way, can, on the one hand, give a very positive impression to the potential client; and helps you to know what are the weakest areas in the commercial organization of the company, in order to guide a proposal to strengthen them and thus allow the company to achieve greater commercial effectiveness and better results.

In short, planning the meeting and knowing the appropriate questions is one of the best tools to add value to the offer, generate bonds of trust with the client and show that you know and are really interested in their business. In the end, without effective questioning and active listening there cannot be decent customer service.