This isn't always easy. Here are some tips to get the answers you need:
- Always start off praising the product, or if you don't have any experience praise the manufacturer's advertising of the product (website, ad, trade-show booth, etc.).
- Understand that all manufacturers believe that they are charging fair prices. Don't challenge the price. There may be a lot more that went into the manufacture and production of this product than is obvious.
- Focus on product quality. This is important to them as well as to your inquiry. Being green is about quality and manufacturers are more willing to talk about product quality than energy efficiency.
- Be honest. There is no point in trying to make a manufacturer think that you are someone else, wealthier or less so, more knowledgeable or not. They've been doing this a long time and they will figure this out. There is nothing that can deteriorate a working relationship faster than dishonesty.
- Don't be afraid of not knowing. If there is one thing manufacturers can do well and enjoy doing, it's educate customers about their product. Let them explain all the details about the product.
- Find alternate ways to ask the same question or get at the same answer. For example, instead of asking if a product meets strict European energy consumption standards, ask if it is distributed there and if any modifications are made when sold there.
- Don't bad-mouth a competing manufacturer or her/his product. It makes the manufacturer wonder if you'll do the same to him/her in the next room.
- Don't drop names. Kind of self-evident, but going around saying you hob-nob with Michael Fremer, isn't going to be helpful. It's also quite possible s/he does too, and if you doing so was a white lie, then this is obviously not good.