What Defines ‘Success’ … for Your Customer?

The next time you meet with a prospective customer to discuss their product or service requirements, don’t leave without asking a question like this:

"Imagine that you decided to move forward with us. It's about a year later, and you're reflecting on the progress you've made since we started working together. What would success look like to you?"

Here are five reasons why this power question will significantly increase your odds of winning the business.

#1. You gain a competitive advantage.

That’s because the response you will most likely get is: “Hmm. That’s a good question. No one has asked us that before.”

You would think that understanding a customer’s success criteria—from THEIR perspective—would be a no-brainer. But too often we get tempted to shortcut the sales process and assume that we know what “success” looks like for them and then tailor our pitch to speak to those assumptions.

But even when you have a clear idea of a prospect’s expectations, ASK THE QUESTION. It communicates that you genuinely care about understanding their needs, which will set you apart from the majority of competitors who get stuck in “pitch mode.”

#2. You get the customer to visualize you as already part of their team.

You've essentially taken the prospect through a mental exercise where they can imagine you, or your team, working with them and being successful, which causes them to feel more comfortable with the idea of bringing you on board.

When they can envision the possible successful outcomes from working with you, it makes it easier—and more likely—for them to choose you over a competitor.  

#3. You become more likable.

Asking this question shows the other person you’re interested in them on a human level and don’t see them as merely a sales transaction. You're getting the customer involved in the sales process, where you move to their side of the table to collaborate on designing a solution for their success—not yours.

The idea here is that when you get customers to talk about their goals—in their words—they start feeling more positive towards you. And the more they can talk, the more that they're going to appreciate and like you.

#4. You gain insight into your prospect’s most important values and expectations.

By asking this power question up front, you get a clearer idea of what your prospect wants and whether there is a match between them and your product or service.

If you can fulfill or exceed those expectations, great! That sets the stage for a successful partnership.

But if you can't deliver, that’s the point where you can tell them, "I don't think that we're going to be a good fit for you."

This way, you're setting up the relationship for success, whether you pursue the business or refer the customer to another provider that is better suited for their needs.

#5. You collect the “raw data” you need to craft a powerful proposal narrative.

Now that you know what your prospect expects, you can craft your proposal to focus on how the scope of work (or product spec) is going to help them meet those expectations down the line—to strengthen your odds of winning that contract.

The Bottom Line

A common misconception is that sales is about selling—you know, to somehow get people to do what WE want them to do. But truly effective sales is about serving—to help customers achieve what THEY want.

That’s why you should ask, “What does success look like to you?”

Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, an Orlando, Fla.-based consulting firm that helps companies use storytelling to unlock sales growth.