Most salespeople prepare very carefully for every client interaction. Your preparation will dictate whether you are granted face time for that first appointment (and subsequent appointments), and it will dictate how much information you are allowed to gather in a needs analysis meeting.
But the nature of sales often leads us to focus on our own objectives when preparing; we want the appointment, or we want to learn about a specific objective a client might have that we know can translate into a selling opportunity.
If your customer-focused approach is sincere, there is one question—a simple question that can be asked in a multitude of ways—that can help you gain even greater respect and revenue from this customer.
The Question Is, "How else can I help you?"
Now, "How else can I help you?" might sound a little boring, if you just toss it out there in a boring way. But if the empathy at the heart of this question is put on display in a sincere and creative way, you might be shocked by the openness and opportunity it rewards you with.
Here are some ideas:
- Once you have succeeded with a great valid business reason (VBR) and been granted an appointment, how about closing the call with this: “Great, and I look forward to meeting you at [time] on [date]. But beyond the issues I’ve raised here, is there anything else you’d like me to prepare for? Anything else we should be talking about when we meet?”
- Once you arrive for the appointment—even though the agenda for the meeting was set through the use of a great Valid Business Reason—create the option for an even more important meeting. It might sound like this: “Now, when we set this meeting, our objective was to discuss _________________. But has anything emerged since our last conversation that might represent an even greater priority for you?” If the answer is no, you can move forward as planned. If the answer is yes, you can adjust accordingly.
- After your pre-planned needs analysis has yielded an assignment, consider floating this option to your customer: “Okay, this sounds important, and I think we should spend some time really focusing on the details of this issue. But briefly, before we move forward, is there anything else we should be discussing? Are there any other priorities on your radar that you think I could be helping you with at this time? Anything we should come back to when we’re done talking about [X]?”
- Near the end of any needs analysis (while I’m contracting the next steps), I like to inject one more opportunity for customer input by asking, “Is there anything else you’d like to add to this conversation; any answers you’d like to offer to questions I haven’t been thoughtful enough to ask?” That lets the client know I am eager to serve their agenda, not just my own.
- Intermittently, you might just invite the client to stop and think about other ways they could be using you as a resource. During a quick phone call or routine service visit, consider asking: “Is there anything else I could be helping you with right now?”
Any time you’re preparing a Valid Business Reason or needs analysis question, it is easy to focus on your own objectives. You’re hoping to get the meeting or to reveal that amazing challenge that’s tied to a month-making budget. But make sure your approach to these tasks is both self- and customer-focused—all at the same time. Your consideration will help you stand out as someone who is empathetic and responsive. And you may even discover an opportunity that other salespeople have completely overlooked.
*Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in 2015 and has since been updated.