"We've attended a series of your public seminar on managing key accounts. The topics we discussed and tools you provided were very useful for our sales team. In fact, we are now able to serve our key accounts better because we learned to understand them and their business more.  There was a rather short portion in your seminar where you provided guide questions for salespeople to ask their key accounts so they get more meaningful answers.  We are now preparing to negotiate for our annual contract with our key accounts. We’d highly appreciate if you can provide us with some more guide questions to help us generate more relevant information from our accounts." – Alex Fran
I find it interesting that most salespeople are not trained to listen and ask the right questions to their customers. There are very good sales training programs in the market that focus on presentation skills and techniques to handle customer objections or complaints.  While they are undoubtedly good communication tools, they lack the ability to generate a more in-depth information about your customer’s business and strategies. As a result, less meaningful insights are also generated and recycled from these encounters. When salespeople are trained to ask the right questions, they are usually compensated with insightful answers that pave the way for a better account plan.
With space constraint, here are laundry list of questions you can begin to discuss with your sales team.

To understand your customer’s met and un-met needs you may ask the following:

1.     What are your business needs that have been satisfied by most of your suppliers? Why are they important to you?
2.     Who are in the top of the list in providing your needs and how are they doing it?
3.     What are your business needs that have not been satisfied (or are under-served) by most of your suppliers? Why are they important to you?
4.     Why do you think they remain un-served or under-served by your suppliers? What can suppliers do?

Their answers to these questions can lead you to discover where and how you can position yourself in the customer to gain an advantage. For example, if you can find out a real business need that remains unmet by any of their suppliers, you can develop a value proposition that’s not only unique (no one is doing it yet) but also value-adding for the customer (i.e. satisfying an unmet need).
 To understand your customer’s business strategy, ask these:

1.     Who do you think are your main competitors?
2.     What are they doing right that’s hurting your market position and business?
3.     What are your competitive advantages over them?
4.     What are you doing right so far? What are the factors contributing to your successes? How can these successes be leveraged?
5.     What financial measures are you most keen about? How can suppliers help and still remain profitable?
6.     How do you create market value?
7.     What are key factors that differentiate your product or service from those of your competitors?
8.     What are the most important things you need to be doing differently to be more successful in the future?
9.     What will your customers expect in the future that they consider exceptional today?
10. Which of your competitive advantages will be most difficult to maintain as the future unfolds?
Training salespeople to understand the customer’s business strategy helps provide a helicopter view of the customer’s business. From this vintage point, the salesperson sees patterns and discovers a number of opportunities to help the customer develop its business. This is a far cry from merely negotiating for purchase orders or to get a check payment from the customer.
While these guide questions you requested are very helpful for your purpose, I suggest you take time to discuss and evaluate each question with your sales team. Using them requires a good deal of preparation and skill to deliver the questions with smooth confidence. I’d be delighted to get feedback from you soon after you have applied these power questions.  More power to you and your sales team!

Emilio Macasaet III is the Chief Distribution Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. He will be running the program 6th Key Account Management on November 12-13, 2014. For more information, email info@mansmith.net, call (+63-2) 584-5858 / 412-0034 or text (+63) 918-81-168-88.