Business Development Series Posted by David McDermott

A consultative approach to business development is key in demonstrating value to your clients. Asking questions will take you from salesperson to consultant. Of course, anyone can ask questions, asking the right questions is an entirely different matter.

When working with a client recently I noticed that the business development manager would open every training programme and hammer home just how important the “fact find” was at client meetings. This had led to the sales consultants getting bogged down in factual detail at meetings rather than exploring what was keeping their clients awake at night.

I suggested to the business development manager that perhaps we should find another name for this part of the process since asking for facts does not add value to the client and is likely to end in irritation. After all, most of these facts can be found out in advance.

Tip 1

Open the meeting by having a clear objective and setting a platform to ask questions. If you state a positive future outcome for the client this will be more readily agreed. For example:

“I’d like to explore how we could help you meet your objectives (objective). As you know markets are very unpredictable at the moment and we appreciate the huge challenges this places on you. I’d like to show how recent changes in our firm have been implemented with our customers in mind and demonstrate how we can help provide you with stability in these difficult times (positive future outcome). First of all, I’d like to hear from you to understand more about your challenges and where you are at right now (consultative).”

Tip 2

Ask questions that explore client challenges. These are known as “away from” questions and will identify what problems and concerns the client is dealing with. For example:
“How often do you find …. results in problems with …?”
Probe further. For example:
“What sort of consequences does that lead to?”

Tip 3

Ask questions that explore clients needs. These are know as “towards” questions. For example:
“What do you regard as the main benefits of ….?”
Again, you can probe further:
“Would …. also help you to achieve ….?”

Gaining commitment to a course of action is more likely when you can demonstrate clearly how you can solve the client’s problems and meet their needs. Use, “You said…we can…”” statements to achieve this.

If the next part of the sales process is to submit a proposal you will certainly generate quality information to populate your proposal (see our article 5 top tips for winning proposals). You will also be able to demonstrate true value when you pitch (see last month’s article ‘4 top tips to ensure you meet audience requirements at a beauty parade’).

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