I recently read the below post originally by Tod Cordill at the Print Media Center and thought it brought up a few good points. You can read it for yourself, but essentially it lays out a few questions with the intention to not only understand your customers' needs (as a print buyer), but their needs in relation to the ultimate consumers of the collateral you create.
At the end of the day, becoming more familiar with the buying process between your client and their customers is critical to how you provide your own services. The questions laid out below are a few of the many questions that can (and should) be asked for not just new clients, but existing ones as well since a company's needs and wants are constantly changing. Deliberately taking the time to understand your clients' needs, both concrete and implied, results in a product and/or service that better suits their needs, and leaves you and your company with a more successful relationship with the client.
Other more specific questions below aim at addressing important yet often forgotten aspects about your client's business such as the demographic of their ideal customers and their own sales/marketing process. Keep in mind that this should not be an interview, and that these questions should ultimately be open-ended. This again, is by no means a complete list and should simply be a gateway to a conversation between you and your client that informs your relationship. Be sure to take a look at the article below and ask yourself if you're asking the right questions to satisfy the needs of all the stakeholders in the entire process, and not just the ones you communicate with directly.
Note: In this article, we use the term clients to mean the buyer you, as a marketing or print service provider, sell to. Customer refers to your client’s customers.
1. How do you find customers, or how do they find you?
Whenever I meet a marketing or sales executive I usually lead with this question. It is an opened ended question that normally leads in interesting directions. Benefits of this question include:
- It immediately gets people talking about themselves and their work.
- The conversation goes in a direction that quickly provides insight into their most important business processes and needs.
- It’s holistic and doesn’t pigeon-hole the conversation into a discussion only about sales or only about marketing.
2. What do your ideal customers look like?
There’s two parts to this question:
Define what industries, geographies, and size of customers that the company is most successful with.
Value of the Deal or Customer Lifetime Value
The value of the customer lifetime value help defines the acceptable cost of sales. Companies that realize a high portion of lifetime value from the first sale will use ROI on the initial sale as the primary measure of success. Companies with long term customer relationships with continuing, or increasing, revenue will be less reliant on the amount of the first sale and should place more emphasis on customer retention.
Don’t ask “what do your customers look like?” If you ask this question you may hear about the majority of customers, not the 20% where most profits are typically derived from.
3. How long does a typical buying process take?
Customer value (question #2) and the length of the buying process drives sales and marketing processes. Longer buying processes require:
- Focus on each phase of the Awareness > Consideration > Decision customer journey.
- Long term nurturing that presents this content at the right time.
- More direct sales activity that builds the relationship and, most importantly, trust.
Be sure to focus on the buying process of ideal customers.
4. What steps do customers go through before buying?
This gets into the specifics that identifies areas you can help. You may come across companies that have well documented customer journeys that identify personas and detail where sales collateral and digital content are used. But you won’t normally find this to be the case.
You may get a description of the company’s sales process. While gaps in content or collateral may be identified that is a quick opportunity, this is tactical and won’t make you invaluable.
There is a strong correlation between:
- the duration of the sales cycle
- the number of steps customers go through, and
- the number of people involved in the buying process
The more complex the customer buying process the more opportunities you can find to help.
5. What are your biggest problems?
This question is too open-ended to ask first, but after going through the There are many reasons to save this question for last. The answer will be:
- More relevant to how you can help
- Include issues that were identified during the conversation
- Easier to articulate
You may be able to directly solve their biggest problems. For some ideas read the earlier Print Media Centr article Four Email Marketing Problems Direct Mail Solves for Reaching Customers.
When you can’t solve the biggest problems:
- Discuss tactical projects that fill the gaps identified by question #4.
- Provide ideas that may help solve the biggest problems.
Build trust and propose services that solve real problems.