Are you cold calling small to medium sized local clients?
Qualifying questions are designed to help you efficiently collect specific and useful information.
They’re a critical tool. Correctly used, they will help you to:
- Determine if you have a viable prospect
- Identify potential roadblocks in the sales process
- Discover a prospect’s needs
- Plan an effective close
- Estimate the prospect’s price points
- Uncover your competition
- Establish who the decision makers are
You already know that sales is a numbers game. Based on your talents and product, you close a certain percentage of sales. The more you present, the more you close.
There are two ways to improve. Get better or make more calls.
Using qualifying questions will help you do both.
I’m going to cover 13 general qualifying questions.
This isn’t a quick list, my friends. We’re going to talk about each one.
You don’t need lists of qualifying questions, they’re all just different versions of the same basic questions. You need to understand what their intent is and what the answers received mean.
A little coaching tip for beginners: Under most circumstances, you should not recite your qualifying questions.
There are a couple scenarios where an interview is ok (analyticals and assertive people sometimes prefer it), but you want to avoid it if at all possible.
Brush up on your basic personality types and how to approach each one.
Construct your information seeking around the type of client you’re dealing with. If you aren’t doing this already, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.
Remember, use your voice and your words to make the questions flow in the conversation. If your prospect recognizes probing… their guard will go up.
Use details like your ideal market, company size, target roles of decision-makers and the regions you’re most likely to get responses to your email. Once the conversation is started, it’s easier to get a face-to-face (or phone call).
1. How long have you worked here?
We’ll start with a couple ice-breakers. Ice-breakers help to size up your prospect. Watch for clues that identify their personality type. Assertive alpha types and analytical introverts are easy to spot. Others can be more subtle.
Keep casual chit chat going for a bit.
You’ll learn something about how to approach the more difficult subjects.
Ice-breakers will often lead to information given without prompting. In this example, it wouldn’t be odd for your prospect to reply:
‘20 years. I was in sales for 10 and I’ve been the marketing director for the last 10.’
That’s quality information right there. Your prospect is likely a decision maker and they’ve got sales experience. That helps… don’t try any cheap tactics.
2. Personal question ice-breaker.
Yeah, I know. That’s not a question. If you don’t get anywhere with your first ice-breaker or you want to try for more, take a look around the office.
Do you see a lot of personal touches? Family photos, hobbies, awards or certificates? Anything you can relate to?
If there’s a lot of information on the walls and desk then chances are it’s ok to bring some of it up.
‘I see your kayaking photo there. I’m out on the water every weekend. Do you go often?’.
Personal questions might not expose budgetary or timeline information. They will still help you to narrow down their personality and mood.
This allows you to work out the best strategy for moving forward. You can also build rapport. Common interests can give you an advantage.
Your niche and the flow of conversation will usually dictate the order that they come in.
Try to use the questions that could disqualify the client quickly so that you waste no time. Yours or theirs.
At this point, with any luck, you’ve got a little back and forth going. You’ve started to form an idea on how to move forward with your prospect.
3. How are you involved with the use of this product?
This is a great early question if your prospect is knowledgeable. People love to sound smart. Let them talk, show positive listening traits, encourage them to continue. Ask relevant questions. Getting your client to explain their direct involvement can reveal extremely useful information.
- Showcase the decision maker’s personal thoughts on your product or a comparable one.
- Identify features that your prospect is unfamiliar with.
- Identify bottlenecks in your competitor’s product that your prospect is unfamiliar with (that your product can correct!).
- Keep your client talking. The more they talk, the more you learn.
4. What are you currently using?
Again, word this to fit your product. Producing a quality pitch and close is much easier when you know what your client is currently using. Like any skilled salesperson, you’ll positively compare your product to its different competitors. Right?
This can also shed some light on the financials. Are they using some nickel and dime, small dollar stuff? Are you packing the Ferrari of your industry?
You might be barking up the wrong tree.
Maybe they’ve got a lot of bells and whistles. They’re clearly spending some money in your niche. Now you know you probably won’t scare them with your high quality, high priced wares.
5. What’s your budget?
If only it were that easy. Well, sometimes it is. Know when to be direct and when to be a little more coy. Did the prospect give you clues that their current spending may be much lower than your service costs? It’s probably time to be direct… respectfully. Try something like…
‘Are you making some big changes? You’d be stepping up into a much higher price class.’
If the client isn’t aware of the cost, this will let them know that they might be out of their depths.
But it makes no assumptions.
It leaves the door open to the possibility that they are aware of the cost difference already.
Don’t offend. You’re a stranger. People can be sensitive.
If they weren’t aware, and can’t afford it, then you saved yourself a bunch of time. Disqualify and move on.
If they acknowledge that they’re aware, carry on.
They’re making changes and you’ve got information to collect. Find out what the changes are. See if those changes would make them a reasonable prospect.
If they don’t, be more clear.
‘Based on what I’ve learned so far, you’re probably looking at (amount here, give a wide range) per (whatever). But I’ll need some more information before we get into that.’
If they get beyond that statement, then do your job. Work in some “yes” questions like;
‘Does this sound like what you’re looking for?’or ‘Have I covered your concerns so far?’
All while you show your stuff.
Be sure to do your homework before getting into finances. Get some idea of their needs before diving in.
6. Will anyone else be working with us? AKA are you the big dog?
Be inclusive! You might not know who you’re speaking to. Use terms like…
- Are you the only person that I’ll be working with?
- Will anyone else be joining us?
- Aside from us, does anyone else need to see this presentation?
- Before we get to the important stuff, anyone else we should conference in? (phone)
- Do we need anyone from Finance, Operations, or Marketing before we get started?
Have a prepared folder to store your customer notes and information. Inside the cover of the folder, put a list that says “Who to call”. Beneath that list things like billing questions, creative questions, approval questions, technical questions. Put blank lines next to each. Try something like…
During this process and then after you’re up and running, I’ll have questions about these different areas. Will I be going through you for everything or do you know who my contacts will be?’
Sometimes you don’t get to pitch to the decision maker. It happens. If you’ve realized that it’s happening to you, be strong with features and benefits. This person will be selling for you. Less focus on financials (though qualify them), more focus on the product.
7. What challenges are you having with your current product?
Be careful with this one. If this is a cold call, they may very well say ‘none’. Yecch.
I find it’s best to use the process question above. Have them explain how their process works. It will help you identify opportunities they don’t know about.
They may also voluntarily share bottlenecks and preferred features. Many times, you’ll be able to get this information without having to flat out ask for it.
Still, you might not get a very good description of what they’re doing and then you’ll have to ask. Try things like…
‘If you were to replace your current plan, what would you like to see improved?’
8. Have you been through this process before?
The main point of this question, and others like it, is to identify potential roadblocks. If your client has been down this road before, did they have difficulties? Were there things they didn’t like? Use the information gathered to better prepare yourself to avoid those situations.
Maybe your product avoids those issues altogether. That’s a focus point later.
9. What are you currently spending?
Money questions are fun. Most experienced buyers will see right through the tactics you use. But at some point, you’ve got to cross that bridge.
Are they not giving you an opening to work into their budget? You can always try:
‘We’ve got a full range of features for all size businesses. Can you tell me what you’re currently investing in your service? Is it fulfilling your needs? That’ll help me figure out which packages will get you a better ROI.’
It’s simple, straightforward, and polite.
10. Why are you making this change?
Have they even decided to make a change?
First, determine that the customer is actually in the market for your product or service. Then, use this question to help you gather feature and benefit information. They may be changing due to growth. It could be because they’re dissatisfied with their current product.
Find out and figure out how your product makes that change better for them.
11. Are there any features of other products that you’re particularly impressed by? Which is most important?
How do your features compare to your competitors? Can you present your product in a favorable light?
Other salespeople may have impressed your prospect with a feature that you have. Maybe yours is even better. Know your product!
Jabir Mohamed, founder of Search Beast Digital Marketing Agency, says, “Know your product like you know yourself. Be the expert that instills confidence in your prospect. The confidence that they have found their solution.”
This question can tell you who your competition is. It can also tell you where you need to focus on your feature/benefit presentation.
12. . Where do you see this project leading in a year?
Just because the customer has told you what they need, doesn’t mean that they’ve told you what they expect.
Unreasonable goals are a serious issue, particularly if you’re building long-term relationships. If your customer expects something that you know your product cannot deliver… tell them! Find out how they arrived at that expectation and see where the problem is. Can you solve it?
Keep expectations reasonable and clearly outline the prospects part in reaching their goals.
This doesn’t apply as much with a one-off sale type niche. Provided you’ve explained the capabilities and potential returns on your product.
13. What is your target date?
This is an underrated question. It can do a lot for you. Answers with immediacy or a specific nearby date could mean that you’ve got a buyer who is ready to spend. If you’ve got a good feel for their budget, it’s time to dazzle.
Answers that are more ambiguous aren’t always a bad sign. But it could mean they’re just window shopping. They’re not quite committed yet. Dial up the confidence and sell those benefits.
If a prospect is too far out, let’s say a year.
Suggest going over their needs and gathering information. Try setting up a presentation in six months.
Keep in touch. You don’t want your competition closing them next month.
Keep your tools sharp. Be product smart and confident. Ask strategic questions that get you the information you need with the least amount of probing. Be sure to leave your battle proven qualifying tips in the comments. See you there.
- Roleplay. Out loud.
- Qualifying questions are a road map each often leading to others. When used skillfully, your client is far less likely to feel defensive.
- Avoid interviewing. People are less defensive when engaged in naturally-flowing organic conversations.
- Know your personality types. They’ll help you determine the most suitable way to get the information that you need. If you aren’t trained, check out this post, then learn as much as you can. It’s invaluable.
- Be results-oriented. Work toward qualifying your customer quickly. Ten minutes wasted is far better than two hours.