A common concern among many of the clients we provide sales training solutions to is how to effectively design, implement, and execute a strong, coherent qualification process. Given how often we see this issue, we thought it’d be a good idea to provide some assistance – namely by giving you this list of seven questions to ask in the qualifying phase.
- What problems are you trying to find the solutions to?
A customer-focused, consultative sales approach emphasizes the potential client from the jump. Before you can even begin to think about what offering to suggest, you need to know what problems the prospect is actively seeking answers to. I say problems because many times, what looks like one big problem is actually a cluster of individual, smaller, interconnected problems.
For example, in our industry, many times we find the big problem is “Our sales reps need help communicating with clients”, but that major issue has several branches emerging from it. Like the prospect doesn’t have a universal sales language or formal selling process. Or if they do have a formal process, it’s focused on features and benefits – not customer needs. Sometimes there’s a deficit in relationship-building skills, which is usually connected to a features/benefits model, not one that identifies customer needs as we mentioned above.
- Why are you looking for a solution to these problems now?
A key piece to discover is the trigger event or inciting incident that caused the prospect to start looking for solutions. What exact shape the trigger or motivator takes is going to depend on the solutions you sell, but asking this question will allow you to find out what it is – if one exists.
If there is no specific trigger event, there’s a chance that these problems might not be a major concern right now. If there is a trigger, you have a better understanding of the prospect’s current business situation, which helps inform what solutions you’re going to offer. Regardless of whether there’s a trigger or not, follow up with the next question to get a definitive answer.
- Let’s say you did nothing about these problems. What would happen?
In classic game theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma is a scenario where the players will try to avoid the worst possible outcome. By asking this question, you’re inviting the customer to envision that worst possible outcome.
But this isn’t a tactic to lead into a sales pitch. Instead, it’s to determine how pressing or serious an issue is. If not much will change as a result of inaction, this isn’t a high priority concern right now. In that case, it’s best to bring the conversation to a smooth close and disqualify them for now. Your prospects will appreciate your honesty and you’ll free up time to pursue those more in immediate need of your offerings.
- What solutions have you tried previously? Why didn’t they work?
This is arguably the single most important background question(s) to ask. If they haven’t attempted any efforts previously, the prospect might need more explanation and discussion of how your solution connects to the problems they mentioned in Question 1.
If they have used another solution (or even solutions) that failed, finding out what went wrong accomplishes three things:
- You might uncover a spot of differentiation to highlight. We often find, for example, that many of our prospects used off the shelf, one-size-fits-all sales training products. While these services can be good in the right situations, often sales problems need customized, tailored training like we provide.
- Once you know what the prospect has dealt with before and why it failed, you can start to suss out possible objections – they’ll likely relate to the prospect’s previous bad experiences. At this stage, you can make note of them and prepare how to answer them in a future conversation (assuming you’re able to qualify them).
- It’s possible that they’ve tried a solution similar to yours in the past and it didn’t work. In that case, there’s three options before you: 1. Find out what’s changed since then that could stop the prior issues from happening again. 2. Hunt for that differentiation we mentioned in Point One. 3. Disqualify the prospect if nothing in Option 1 or 2 presents the possibility of a changed situation.
- How does your decision-making process for this solution work?
Once you’ve progressed to this point, there’s a very good chance the prospect will be qualified. That means you can set down some groundwork for future stages in the pipeline. Finding out how the decision will be made is critical – How many people are involved? Who is the final decision maker(s)? What roles does everyone play?
As an example, in today’s multi-department process, you might need final sign-off from several different stakeholders – the end-user, the C-Suite, the procurement team, and the legal department. Finding out this information in the qualification phase allows you to start building relationships with the relevant people in those respective departments and proactively clear any hurdles.
- What other options are you considering?
AKA learn who else are they looking at and which specific products/services are they considering. Listen closely during this answer – the prospect might tip off through verbal or nonverbal cues that you’re not really in the running and the vendor has been pre-determined. This gives you the opportunity to determine if you want to pursue this further.
- What would be the best time to discuss our solutions and how they’ll fit your needs? I have Friday at 9 am and next Tuesday at 3 pm available.
There’s some other questions to ask before you get to this point, but since we’re capping at seven, we’ll jump to here. Why? Because it’s where you determine the next steps and move them down the pipeline, as they’re 99% qualified if you’ve gotten this far.
Forget to ask this question and you’ve needlessly set yourself back. If they’re not ready to commit to the next conversation, at the very least secure a time to check back with them – perhaps they want to bring in another stakeholder on the next conversation, but need to check the other person’s schedule, for example.
The point is, you’re outlining some form of clear, locked-in next step and getting agreement to it.
Using these seven questions will allow you to discover pertinent information – both in terms of the immediate qualification question and in terms of preparing for future stages in the sales process (if the prospect qualifies).