How to Think Like the Customer (Now That’s a Great Question!)

By Steve McClatchy, President
Alleer Training & Consulting

I arrived early to a lunch meeting recently and while I was waiting for my client to arrive I could hear parts of a sales meeting taking place at the booth directly behind me.  What I heard that intrigued me most was the comment “that’s a great question!” made by the client.  What are great questions?  What changes an ordinary question into a great question?  The answer, I believe, is the point of view from which it is asked.

Great questions arise from putting yourself in your client’s shoes.  They are questions that come to you when you are thinking about the problem or opportunity as if you were the client.  As you listen to and understand your client’s unique situation, and based on what you know about your company, products or services, competitors, and past successes and failures, what questions would you have? If you do they are great questions that you need answers to before you can go further.

Have they considered doing the project themselves?  Given their need or constraint should they be considering one of your competitors?  What has stopped them from addressing these issues before now?  Do they have the financial resources available to achieve their desired outcome? Have they considered doing nothing at all about the problem?  If you were them, would you buy from you, why or why not?

One of my largest clients told me the sole reason they decided to go with a workshop I offered, over my competitors, was the question “have you considered not doing anything at all?” I don’t ask this question in every consultation but in this given situation it seemed appropriate.  They had shared with me that many people in the organization were not convinced that they needed training because they didn’t see a direct financial impact from it, however, they were still seeking a solution.  Why?  Am I missing something? Is there something I don’t know, that I need to know, in order to help them?

The answer to each of these questions was “yes”.  What I found out by asking these questions was that their largest client had threatened to leave if they didn’t start investing in their people in this way and seeing some results.  I also learned about some training they had done in the past that was ineffective and why people in the organization were opposed to investing in more training, even if it was different or had different goals.  I asked them if they considered losing their largest client in the financial impact of the training and they said they had not connected it to that before.  Based on these answers we tailored the workshops to accomplish what their client wanted to see and, with the new connection to a higher financial impact, the solution that I offered then gained strong support from the rest of the organization.

I wish I could give you a list of all the great questions but I can’t.  A great question depends on the situation and the circumstances, and is driven by a motive of wanting to provide your client with a successful solution to a real need, not just make a sale.  The next time you have a question that you don’t think you should ask because you think you might lose the sale if you ask it, ask it!  It may end up being the sole reason you are chosen by the client.