Green industry professionals looking to close more sales should ask more questions. And they should listen — carefully to the responses. In fact, listening (and hearing) more and talking less might be a good New Year's resolution for green industry professionals.

Communication with customers has taken on a new significance in these highly competitive times, when those customers have more buying options than ever before. It's never been more important for lawn and landscape firms, garden centers, nurseries and other companies to hear as well as listen to what their customers have to say.

Hearing what customers have to say, for example, about their "maintenance" budget, as well as their design budget can help landscape pros offer better solutions and, ultimately, generate more sales. When they communicate with prospects, retailers should focus more on the benefits of their products ("These drought-resistant plants will help you reduce your watering bills") than on their features.

And they should ask more probing questions.

"Exactly how will you use your outdoor space?" is an obvious question that too many landscapers don't ask early enough — or, in some cases, don't ask at all. The needs and priorities of enthusiastic gardeners often vary considerably from those of backyard barbequers.

"How much time do you spend in your garden?" is a good question for garden center retailers to pose, to get a better idea of the types of plants to recommend. "How much space do you have?" is an especially relevant question at a time when a growing percentage of homeowners now reside in multifamily dwellings, where outdoor garden space is limited.

To gauge the potential for future sales, garden center personnel should ask this question: "Where do intend to put these plants?" The answer may have nothing do with the garden and everything to do with the patio, deck, balcony or front porch.

Good questions can help you do more simply gather information. They can help you seal more deals.

"What are your biggest challenges?" with the garden, plants, etc. is a powerful question for all green industry professionals to ask their customers. Pinpointing a customer's pain, and suggesting products or services that will help them overcome it, is the best way to convert a contact into a contract and a single transaction into a long-term relationship.

Questions are tools for resourceful green retailers intent on overcoming price objections. Asking customers how committed they are to resolve their challenges ("Are you serious about dealing with your soil erosion problem, or are you just 'kicking the tires' here?") diverts the conversation away from price, and onto what may be a more pressing problem.

Another question that can help you deal with a customer’s price resistance: "What would it cost you in time, energy and money if you don't move ahead with this now?"

Good communication with customers is the centerpiece of successful selling, and it's critical for green industry professionals seeking to sell more products, and get bigger projects from better clients in the year ahead.

Communicating effectively with your customers means coming up with the right questions, and listening ever so carefully to the answers.