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Developing a Customer-Focused Relationship through Questioning & Listening

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Have you ever wondered why certain sales or business people have that “magic touch” with prospects and clients? Have you every observed that the very successful relationship builders and well-respected sales people are also amazing at asking questions, get great eye contact and seem to have a way of positioning themselves so that everyone around them is very “comfortable”? Have you noticed that there are certain learned behaviors and skills that lead to wonderful Customer-Focused Relationships?

Just what do we mean by “Customer-Focused Relationships?” Well, if the foundation of growing a commercial service business is selling planned or preventive maintenance agreements (and it is!), then the foundation of working through a thorough sales process is developing strong customer-focused relationships! It is understood that a “Customer-Focused Relationship” is a relationship based on trust, empathy and enough good conversation filled with questioning and listening to help build comfort and rapport in order to work with or engage in an activity with someone.

What if we begin by saying that strong relationships begin with great communications combined with commitments made and then fulfilled. For any sales person, sales manager, selling general manager, or owner, building strong relationships and facilitating a very thorough sales process means that great QUESTIONING and active LISTENING become necessary competencies and well-practiced skills.

Let’s talk about questioning, listening, and qualifying in the context of customer-focused relationships. We begin by understanding that we should be listening twice as much as we speak, especially in the early stages of selling. As well, effective sales people and great listeners know that “we earn the right to ask closing questions” and use “Levels of Questioning” to organize our thoughts and help prioritize issues. Levels of Questioning include:

  1. Asking questions about the prospect and their business
  2. We ask questions about the facility and impact of the HVACR, and related pain.
  3. We ask questions about the impact the aforementioned issues and “pain” have on the budget.
  4. We ask questions related to how any recommendations would be approved.

Each of the four levels of questioning demand that we ask multiple open-ended questions and “drill” or probe into the responses! The open-ended questions that are followed by “explain that to me,” “tell me more” and “describe that to me,” are critical components of learning about our prospects and clients and their associated HVACR problems and issues. Because of probing, we are exposing the mechanical needs, emotional hurts related to the environment and specific business objectives.

Think about all the questions that you may want to ask at each level. We may want to ask questions about the prospect and their responsibilities. We should ask questions about the person’s business and facility, about the concerns they have related to heating ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration. We should be asking questions about the financial impact that HVACR problems have on their business and budgets. “How does that affect your overall budget and do you feel that your costs are in line?” we may ask. We respect their position, opinion and how they make a purchasing decision by asking questions related to how things might move forward or how solutions would be approved. However, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Early questioning and listening with an existing client or potential customer begins with marketing materials, in emails, and of course on the phone setting appointments. Questions that differentiate our contracting business would include questions about whether or not the business owner, building owner, or manager has ever had a building performance assessment, what HVACR problems exist, how energy affects the budget, if they are pleased with their current planned maintenance program and if they would like help with capital expense planning (equipment replacement planning).

Early in the relationship, the fact that we are truly interested in serving them, means that we ask great questions in order to listen more thoroughly to why, how and when the prospect will buy. As mentioned, solid relationship is founded in communications, combined with commitments made and then fulfilled. What communications? What commitments? The answers lie in how we are going to help or serve our customers, and that is where we find the critical nature of good questioning and active listening.

Let’s start all of our customer relationships by being good listeners, by asking great questions and by helping prioritize the needs, hurts, and objectives of the building owner or manager. Good questioning and active listening require preparation, knowledge, practice, and thorough note taking. Questioning and listening are fundamental to building those long term, mutually beneficial customer-focused relationships and guiding us through a comprehensive sales process to provide the best solutions and recommendation options to businesses, building owners, and facility managers.

James Graening

Posted In: Sales & Marketing

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