All businesses have 3 important relationships: their relationships with their vendors, employees, and buyers. Of these, the most important is with your buyers. Without their buy-in, you won’t have the luxury of building credit or company culture. So, what are they buying? Is it a superior product that satisfies their needs? Is it an opportunity to make more profits? No! They’re buying you!

And who are you? They know you only by your reputation and how you present yourself. Is it all about your product? Many entrepreneurs, including us, have believed in this fatal misconception.

“But with all these great features and benefits, what’s not to like?” you may ask. Isn’t the product itself what they really want? How about our competitive pricing? What about this outstanding label? How about our slick marketing campaign?

Michael once had a supermarket buyer who turned him down every time he called on her. Month after month, she’d kick him out! This went on for a year. Finally, she bought, and bought big! Michael had to ask, “Why did you wait so long?” She said, “I wanted to see if you would come back. In the past, I have bought from folks who never showed up again!”

She was buying Michael’s commitment to customer service. After all, that’s what she’s going to need the day after she bought his products, and she knew it. Perhaps Michael should have given her testimonials from other happy buyers about how well they were serviced. That experience significantly reduced the buying cycle timeframe going forward!

Your buyer wants to know your degree of integrity, general competency, and whether they can work with your personality. And what they really want to know is if you have their interests at heart. If they are going to do business with you, they don’t want to worry about you. They want to believe that you are watching their back and are committed to their goals.

In other words, they want to give you the keys to the kingdom! They want to trust you blindly! In order to do their best as buyers, they have to delegate responsibilities to many others. But how do they know you can do the job they must rely on you to do?

Here are some exemplary questions that we asked buyers (finally) after years of doing it wrong:

  • What is the biggest challenge you face?
  • Who is your favorite vendor and why?
  • Who do you consider to be your competition?
  • What is your plan for the year?
  • Where do you need the most help?

Be sure to at least ask these, and other open-ended questions, that have to do with your buyers. In the process, they will become comfortable with you and ultimately ask you how you can help. Don’t, however, just run with it. Answer the question in short, more general terms. This will generally compel them to ask more specific questions. The key here is to keep them engaged and, in the process, liking and trusting you, and, by extension, what you are selling.

When your business gets to the point that you are delegating the selling function to others, these rules still apply. Does your sales candidate ask you or tell you? They will do the same to your customers. Remember, buyers “buy” the salesperson first – then what they are selling!


Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact