To join the ranks of the b2b sales superstars, you need to know more about your customers than your competition and in some cases even more than your customer knows about themselves. True b2b sales superstars are consistently told by executives “you know more about us than some of my direct reports.”
Being told by an top level executive – you know more about their company than others – is a sure path to gain immeasurable credibility with the decision maker. Therefore it is imperative you learn as much as you can about you customer.
One area I consider a vitality important area is their strategic position in the marketplace and how your customer ranks against their competition. This information gives you insight into the progressive or regressive nature of management decisions. Your customer’s ability to grow – thus growing your business – is critical to your success.
Therefore, here are five strategic questions to ask your customer in order to learn about how they are positioned within their industry and how the marketplace is recognizing their position…
- What are the major external influences impacting your business today?
You are looking for indicators of what is important in the eyes of management. What factors outside of their organization are threats and challenges. How are their responding to these issues? And, most importantly, are they even aware of industry trends which will be impacting them in the future? A knowledgeable and aware customer will be around longer. If they are totally unable, you have picked a company that is soon to be doing cost cutting to survive rather than thrive.
- What are some of the key industry trends your company is facing today?
Again, is the management team aware of industry trends? Are the trends favorable or unfavorable to their future and/or current position? You really want to have customers who are looking ahead, since they are the ones willing to make changes to improve their position. When there is no awareness of industry trends within an organization, well surprise, we have a crisis in probably their standard operation procedure.
- Who are some of your closest competitors?
Actually, you should already know the answer to this question through your research and study of their industry. Yet, it is always a good idea to learn how key decision makers or influence to the sale view the competition. Many times I have found a decision maker is totally unaware of who their major competitor is and therefore they make decisions based upon errand assumptions about their competition. Knowing your competition allows for planning to separate from the nearest competitor and become unique in the marketplace.
- What is your single greatest competitive advantage?
This is important to understand – what separates them from their competition? Is it sustainable and real? The important thing here is to know if they really have a true competitive advantage with their major competition or not. Innovation is a key ingredient for maintaining a lead in the competitive advantage arena. Are they developing new products or services for their customers or only redesigning their old products? Redesigning old products will make a customer susceptible to strong competition, thus lowering there marketplace position- and possibly lowering your sales volume.
- What differentiates your business from your primary competitors?
Now you are looking for strategic advantages your customer possesses and then you can determine if it will be simple or difficult for competitors to replicate their advantage? Knowing what factors are critical to maintain for your new customer will impact your offerings or solutions. Sometimes it is important to question a decision maker – how do you know this differentiates you in the market. Here you are looking to see if the decision maker is accurate or only giving you a “blue sky” opinion rather than facts.
Okay, there are five starter questions for learning about how your customer is positioned in their marketplace. This information allows you to know if they are ahead of the curve or playing catch up with their competition. The facts are – leaders in an industry are the best customers to have since they are usually growing faster than their competition and their volume of buying is higher than others in the industry.
Your ability to position your b2b sales with the leaders in an industry will also enhance your reputation as a leader seller into the industry. Other companies will seek you out or open their door wide when you call on them since they assign credibility to you for selling a leading competitor.
I found this to be true in one local market. After selling the largest and most progressive company in the region, I found myself picking up several new accounts just because I had made the cut with the leader in the region. Take advantage of every thing you can and join the ranks of the b2b sales superstars.