The third in a series of four short, practical articles on successful account management.
As discussed in last week’s post, effective account management is, at its core, quite simple; selling value by identifying the client’s needs and providing the right solutions, and to do this you need to ask the right questions and listen carefully to the answers.
Selling shouldn’t be about telling, instead we need to ask questions to find out what our clients need if we want to sell them anything of value – ask don’t tell.
When learning about your client it is helpful to first understand their present state, what is happening in their business today, what’s going well, where do they have issues, challenges or opportunities? Do you truly know what they do? Why and how they do it?
Once you are clear on the present state, the next step is understanding where they’re trying to get to, what is their desired future state. What are their goals, their stakeholder or shareholder’s goals, the development plans for the business, where do they see their business going, where do they not want to head, how their business would look if they resolve the challenges they have today? Does everyone have the same goals? You also want to be clear on whether they are trying to move towards or away from a situation. For example, towards expanding into a new market, or away from a product that’s no longer selling.
Start with open ended questions, (those that ask what, why, how, when, which, who) that lead the other person to provide detail and expand on a subject, for example “why is XYZ product not selling well now?”. Use probing questions to deep dive into the detail. As the person answers your questions what they really need becomes clearer to you and often to them too.
Ask questions that encourage the person to think more deeply about the answer. The TED questions work well here; “Tell me about …”, Explain for me ….”, “Describe how….”.
When you want to hone in on a point for emphasis, or to confirm you’ve understood correctly, ask some closed questions (those that require single word answers like yes or no) to clarify.
Once the current situation is clear, start the questioning again around the future state, using the same techniques.
From here you should have a clear picture of the current state and the desired future state. Ideally the account manager comes away from these conversations with a list (even if it’s only a mental one) of opportunities where value can be added. These are the ideas the account manager can take back to the business to determine the best solution for the client.
Don’t be tempted to try and jump to the solution before you’ve heard and understood in detail what the client has today and where they need to get to. It’s important to listen and understand their pain points and goals before you can provide a solution that is individual to them and their needs.
I know great account managers who don’t take any sales collateral with them to their first client call, instead they position the meeting as an opportunity to get to know the new client and their business, to hear about their needs, pain points and areas of opportunities. In subsequent meetings, they will talk about the products and services that meet that client’s specific needs, not a generic sales pack, and not in the first meeting.
Remember, selling isn’t telling. Test out some new questions next time you’re with your clients – you never know what you’ll learn.
If you would like to discuss how your account management team can be more effective, become trusted advisors and retain more clients, please contact me to arrange a time to discuss.
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