Tips to Differentiate Qualifying and Need-Analysis Questions
So much of successful selling centers on questions. However, the best salespeople know these can never be fishing expeditions. Sure, you ask questions to elicit information. But the right, targeted questions can differentiate closed deals from lost opportunities.
For most sellers, there is a distinct difference between qualifying and need-analysis questions. However, with need analysis often called “discovery,” it’s easy to confuse the two. After all, isn’t qualifying a prospect a type of discovery? With so much riding on the questions we ask, let’s examine the distinctions between these types of questions more closely:
Qualifying prospects is an essential part of the sales process. This is where salespeople seek more information about an organization than their initial research revealed. Chief amongst this is determining whether the business is the right fit for your organization.
While prequalifying research should reveal industry, company size, and revenue, qualifying questions are more about the sales organization. In this way, they are self-serving and can determine if the prospect is worth your time, money, and resources. After all, there’s no point investing in prospects incompatible with your products and goals. Here are some examples of qualifying questions:
- What kinds of problems are you facing?
- What is your most immediate priority?
- What’s prompting you to do something about this now?
These background questions can reveal the compatibility of your solutions with the prospect’s needs. Even at this early stage, sellers should consider which of their offerings match the prospect’s needs and how urgent this is to address.
Many organizations rank leads based on origin, such as social media, referral, paid ad, or organic search. Knowing where the prospect comes from can indicate their likelihood to convert.
Once you know you have solutions to help, budget questions are essential. These can determine if the prospect is prepared for the cost of the solutions you can offer. They can help you prioritize those prospects most likely to become long-term partners. Consider the following:
- What is your budget for this project?
- When do you expect to have a budget approved for this project?
No sales organization wants to negotiate with a company that cannot pay. While budget issues are often a delicate subject, you don’t need to get specific. At this early stage, you want to see if you and your prospect are in the same ballpark. Sellers can always mix and match or customize solutions to fit any budget. Also, budget questions can indicate the prospect’s readiness to act. Perhaps, they are “just looking” or “seeing what’s available.” Later, we’ll examine how need-analysis questions can create urgency.
In addition, it’s always helpful to know who is involved in the decision-making process. The sooner you get to the right people, the sooner you can proceed in earnest. Of course, decision makers can be hard to pin down. There are often more than prospects let on. And most sellers know the real boss may not reveal themselves until things get serious. Still, it’s best to start with a general idea. When qualifying a prospect, consider the following questions about decision makers:
- What is your specific role in the decision-making process?
- Which departments are directly impacted by the challenges you face?
- Who are the major players in your company’s budget sign off?
- Is there a procurement team for final approval?
Experienced sellers know procurement teams can make or break a deal. Knowing the prospect’s buying and decision-making process, sellers can align their sales process accordingly. This can impact the solutions you offer and increase sales velocity.
When qualifying, you need not get too specific. Your need-analysis questions can go much deeper into a prospect’s needs, budget, and specific process. However, it’s important to cover these bases before investing too much in prospects that are not right or not serious.
Now that we’ve discussed qualifying prospects, let’s look at the targeted questions of need analysis.
Need analysis, also called discovery, requires a different set of targeted questions. Here, the goal is to get the prospect talking about themselves and their situation. More than just getting answers, however, sellers should employ their active listening skills.
In addition to what the prospect says about their business and needs, sellers should note what they do not say. They should listen for vocal qualities. When applicable, they should observe body language to gauge unconscious or unacknowledged need.
Another important consideration is asking open-ended questions. These require lengthier answers and explanations than closed questions. Here are some examples of open-ended, need-analysis questions:
- Can you describe your current situation?
- What does an ideal solution look like?
- What would it take to achieve your desired outcome?
- What solutions have you employed in the past?
- What has impeded your progress or kept you from achieving your goals?
- What aspects of your current solution do you like best?
- What aspects do you like least?
- What can keep your business moving forward?
Of course, this list can seem endless. The important thing is for sellers to prepare the most important questions in advance of discovery or need analysis. Now, we can turn our attention to asking targeted question in critical areas of focus.
Critical Areas of Focus
Asking the right questions at the right time puts sellers in the best position to help. As your dialogue with a prospect continues, your questions should get deeper, more probing. In addition to eliciting the most information, the right questions show commitment. They also show you have the knowledge and experience to get the job done. Here are some critical areas to focus your questions:
Customer Situation: Assessing customer situation is essential. In addition to current state and goals, reps must know the history and which solutions prospects have employed. Again, targeted, open-ended questions can give you a deeper understanding. Consider the following:
- When did your current situation change?
- What internal/external factors contributed to the change?
- What steps have you taken to mitigate the problem?
- Can you explain which aspects of XYZ solution have and have not worked for you?
Here, sellers can determine what outside influences impacted the customer and differentiate these from internal factors. The problem may be organizational, or it could be market driven. They must also know their competition and other solutions tried. Understanding the advantages and drawbacks of competitive solutions helps you demonstrate the value of your own.
Needs and Challenges: Beyond assessing the prospect’s current situation, sellers should allow prospects the chance to address their needs and challenges. In this, there are two sides: how needs and challenges affect buyers professionally and personally, such as:
- Can you give me a sense of what’s at stake if you don’t solve this problem right now?
- How might your position be impacted by a successful outcome?
If selling were as simple as a specific number of widgets for a specific price, everyone would be successful. Instead, the best salespeople know how problems affect a sales team’s quota and a manager’s bonuses. They can impact hiring and layoffs. This personal trait marks the difference between trusted advisors and order takers. It can also be the difference between a short-term, one-off sale and a long-term partnership.
People and Relationships: As noted, the best sellers strive to be trusted advisors. To this end, the right questions help them understand the often complex networks of an organization. This includes departmental alignment, which decision makers share common goals, and the web of interpersonal relationships. Some essential questions about people include the following:
- Who is your strongest advocate in the organization?
- Who else might be useful to know?
- Who has the most influence on buying decisions?
- Who might require additional information as we move through the negotiating process?
Understanding who’s who and how they work together is key to crafting solutions that align the buyer’s needs. Today’s uncertain markets and additional decision makers require solutions that address individual needs and bring disparate groups together. Sellers who know the people involved can ask the questions to uncover relationships and form successful partnerships.
Buying Process: All sellers know to align their selling process to the buyer’s buying process. This makes agreement easier to achieve and speeds the sales cycle. Therefore, ask pointed questions to comprehend how buyers buy. This includes the decision-making process, budget, schedule, lead time, etc. Here, it’s helpful to ask direct questions, such as:
- How often do you replenish inventory?
- At what stage does procurement enter the picture?
- Can you explain their criteria for approval?
When qualifying, you may have inquired about a procurement team. In need-analysis, get more specific, such as when they get involved and some things they consider. Of course, they want the best price. However, procurement teams understand the cost/benefit analysis of long-term solutions to their bottom line.
These questions can determine the types of solutions and the lengths of deals you can offer the prospect. Understanding how the buyer buys determines the best solutions and gets you to decision makers quicker. This speeds the sales process and boosts the value you can offer.
Options and Alternatives: Today, buyers are better informed than ever. They have the internet and social media. Plus, they engage salespeople later in the process. Thus, sellers can assume buyers have done their research, comparison shopped, and have already implemented competing solutions.
While some may see this as an impediment, it’s an opportunity. Ask questions to understand alternative and previous solutions, such as:
- Which alternatives have you investigated?
- Of the options available, which seem most attractive?
- What can improve upon an existing product?
Further, demonstrate knowledge of the market. Display familiarity with the competition’s offerings. After all, no sales organization exists in a bubble. Maybe a competitor’s offering was great for the short term. However, recent market changes have rendered it less effective. Rather than disparage the competition—and the buyer’s previous choice—acknowledge the benefits of the solution. But explain why it now comes up short. More importantly, how can you improve upon it and offer more long-term value?
Impact: Earlier, we noted how need-analysis questions can create a sense of urgency. While qualifying questions present an overview to determine fit, need-analysis questions should get buyers thinking about impact. The more specific sellers get, the sooner they can get buyers to see the benefits of acting. Here, consider specific need-analysis questions on results, such as:
- What will be the impact on gross margins if you reduce the manufacturing fail rate by three percent?
- How will losing your current top market position impact quarterly targets?
- How might an additional influx of product boost revenue in your underperforming regions?
In addition to addressing needs, both personal and professional, get buyers to think of their bottom line. Often, if you can make prospects articulate specific outcomes, they will be more motivated to make them happen. The best sellers know effective selling is more than replacing outdated products with better-performing new ones. It’s understanding a buyer’s short- and long-term needs, providing solutions, and proving yourself an invaluable resource.
Whether art or science, a seller’s ability to create need is paramount to closing deals. Of course, sellers might tell buyers how products will impact ROI. However, a seller’s best skill is using the right questions to create the images. Let buyers see for themselves the benefits of taking decisive action sooner rather than later.
In some way, the idea of asking questions can be misleading. Like so much in sales, general ideas like “Be personable!” and “Ask questions!” can seem quaint to serious professionals. Often, too personable can seem disingenuous, and the wrong questions can seem fishy or unprepared. Instead, the best sellers ask specific, targeted questions for each sales situation. This way, they can make the most of their interactions. Not only do they understand and satisfy needs. But they go the extra step to show themselves trusted advisors.
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