Excellent products and outstanding services are two cornerstones of any successful business, and there are a number of others as well. One that’s often undervalued is having meaningful conversations with your key customers, says Jim Berardone, chief customer officer at OnlyBoth. The Pittsburgh-based firm specializes in benchmarking and analyzing company performance metrics.

Berardone teaches a technique that helps equip salespeople to have strategic conversations. The process starts with the sales team members asking themselves the following three questions:

1.            Where is your farmer-customer headed with his operation? Engaging farmers strategically means you want to help move them from what they’re currently doing or buying to a different course of action or thinking. That can only start when you know a farmer’s objectives and goals. With that information, your sales team can add value in several ways by:

·  focusing attention on actions that will have impact on the farmer’s goals.

·  providing meaningful guidance.

·  demonstrating the value the farmer gets from your products and services.

2. How will your customer get there? Berardone says your sales team needs to have an idea of (a) the approach the farmer is taking to get to his desired future state; (b) the initiatives he plans to use to get there and when; and (c) the role your product solutions and services play in this. Knowing your customers’ intended strategies is important for several value-adding tasks including:

·  anticipating and prioritizing unmet customer needs.

·  aligning the roadmaps for your products, services and programs with the needs of key accounts.

·  sharing best practices and lessons learned from other customers with similar strategies.

3. Where is your customer’s business today? This question has a number of components to it. They include (a) Do you know what the farmer is doing well? (b) Where could he improve? (c) What has changed in his business? (d) Where have you effectively helped him? (e) Where could you help him more? When the sales team has these comparative insights, it has the basis for adding value to the farmer’s operation.

Berardone advises reviewing these questions on a regular basis during internal customer-review meetings. “Because of your interest, your sales team will put more emphasis on getting this information and understanding it,” he says. “Plus, you’ll gain opportunities to coach and develop their strategic thinking skills.” Ultimately, he notes, When farmers and sales representatives talk strategically, it helps farmers move closer to their goals and sales teams closer to theirs.