Can you imagine visiting your doctor to address a health concern, only to find that the physician is too shy or unsure of himself to ask you any personal questions related to your physical condition? Do you think this doctor would have much success getting to the root of your problem? Likely not.
Energy solutions sales professionals often ask me what kind of information is appropriate to request during a first meeting with a prospect. Is it appropriate to ask probing questions about capital budgeting criteria, past experience with energy projects, the corporate culture surrounding project approvals, etc.?
A prospect who has agreed to meet with you to explore efficiency initiatives is much like a patient going to see a doctor—there is already an implied level of trust that you, as a professional, can be of genuine service provided that the prospect has the need, desire, authority and ability to address their energy challenges. Prospects will understand that if you are to do your job effectively, you’ll likely need answers to sensitive questions.
This is no time for either party to be shy. You need to ask intelligent questions and to listen carefully to the answers. Without those answers, you’ll be less prepared to render credible assistance.
An added benefit to this forthright approach is that, by knowing what initial and follow-up questions to ask, you will demonstrate to your prospect that you possess industry foreknowledge. Be very specific in your requests. When meeting with a commercial building owner, for instance, you might ask whether their leases are gross, fixed-base, or net… or perhaps whether their model lease form features a capital expense cost recovery clause. When approaching an industrial prospect, consider referencing the same yardsticks that company is likely using to measure its own success. Whatever tack you take, you need to demonstrate that this is not your first rodeo and that you have an eye for detail. A keen and intelligent line of questioning will help you build rapport, much as a doctor would build rapport with a new patient in the course of conducting a diligent and methodical medical examination.