Everything you need to know about qualifying can be summarized with two questions: Can I help them? And can they help me?
This is what we call selfless and selfish qualification. If you can say yes to both questions, you’ll never close a bad deal again.
But how do you get the answer to those two questions? By asking the right questions.
To get you started, here is a list of 42 qualifying questions to ask sales prospects.
How to use these qualifying questions
The first category, ideal customer profile, is meant to be a checklist for you to determine if you’re targeting the right companies. If you don’t already have one, now is the time to create your own ideal customer profile.
The remaining five categories—needs, decision making, budget, competition, and closing the deal—cover the questions you should ask prospects. You don’t need to go in order or ask every single question but after qualifying a prospect, you should know:
- What do they need?
- Who are the decision makers and how do they make decisions?
- Can they afford your product or service?
- What other solutions are they considering?
- Are they ready to take the next step, such as having another meeting, attending a product demo, signing up for a trial, etc.?
From there, you’ll know if you can help them and if they can help you.
Ideal customer profile
1. How well do they match your ideal customer profile?
An ideal customer profile is one of the most powerful ways to identify companies which get significant value from using your product/service, and also provide significant value to your company. If you don’t know which companies to target, you’ll struggle to hit your sales quotas or worse, close bad deals.
2. Which industry are they in?
It may be tempting to try to target every industry imaginable but there will be certain industries that will need and value your product more than others. Don’t take a scattershot approach; double-down on markets you already know and have been a part of or ones where you know many insiders.
3. How long have they been in business?
Length of time in business is an important criteria because it will help you get a feel for a business’s stability. It can also determine which businesses need your solution the most. For instance, one business owner had a point of sales system for chefs who ran their own business but was having trouble selling it. However, behavioral data helped him realize that the best prospects were chefs who had recently opened up a restaurant.
4. What’s the size of the organization? (Measured in revenue, number of customers, number of employees, etc.)
The needs of a small, early-stage startup will be different from those of an older, more established enterprise company. In particular, while enterprise sales can be lucrative, it also can be dangerous if you’re a small startup unaware of the rules of enterprise sales or unequipped to support an enterprise client once they’re a customer.
5. What’s the size of the relevant department?
If your solution is for certain departments (marketing, accounting, HR, etc.), you’ll need to sell to that department and prioritize their needs but you can’t do that if you lack the right information.
6. Are they located in the same areas as your ideal customers?
Depending upon certain factors, location may or may not be relevant but if you’ve noticed your ideal customers tend to be located in particular areas, use location as a qualifying criteria.
7. What's the ideal use case?
Your ideal customers are in a special category because they use your solution in ways that maximizes value for them. Be careful of prospects who would use your product in suboptimal ways because they’ll be unsatisfied and eventually churn.
8. What would automatically make them a BAD fit for your product or service?
For instance, when qualifying prospects for our sales pipeline management software, we ask them how many leads they usually have in their pipeline. If it's less than 100 a year, we recommend they not buy our solution and instead just use a whiteboard or a spreadsheet. That’s selfless and selfish qualification in action.
9. How did you hear about us?
This is a killer sales question because it allows you to understand what makes the prospect interested in your solution and reminds them of the reasons why they are spending time with you.
Ask this question early in the conversation since the answer will guide your approach to the conversation, tell you which angle to use when conveying the benefits of your product, and which questions to ask to keep them engaged. It’s a shortcut to gaining real insights into their wants and needs, so you have a more targeted conversation.
10. What are the top challenges your team or company is currently facing?
Prospects won’t initially care about your product and all of the bells and whistles it has. Their priority is tackling their own challenges. Therefore, if you want to be on their radar, you need to know what their pain points are and demonstrate that you can provide a solution. Only then will you have a chance of closing the deal.
11. What are the top challenges you’re currently facing?
In B2B sales, there are three levels of customer need: the company, the department, and the individual. Guess which level is most important?
To summarize one of the points of Gary Vaynerchuk’s sales philosophy, you’re not selling to an organization, you’re selling to a collection of individuals. Failure to sell the individual prospects can lead to a delayed or derailed deal.
12. What are the results you want to achieve and how do you want to achieve them?
Knowing a prospect’s challenges is a good start but you still need to dig past surface level understanding. For example, say your prospect’s biggest challenge is increasing revenue. You could immediately launch into a pitch about how your solution will increase revenue by saving them time but that would be pitching prematurely.
By asking the right questions, you might learn that while they’re not interested in saving time, they are interested in increasing revenue with more effective advertising. That changes the dynamic of the conversation because then you can tailor your pitch around their needs and interests but you couldn’t have reached that insight if you hadn’t dug deeper.
13. When would you like to achieve these results?
Your prospect may need to have their challenges resolved by a certain deadline. The closer the deadline, the more urgent it will be that they find the right solution, which could help speed up the sales cycle.
14. How would achieving these results benefit you, your team and company?
This question helps tie positive emotions to the resolution of the prospect’s challenges and by extension, your solution. What if your prospect wants to increase revenue because it meant they could hire more employees and better tap into more opportunities in the market? The excitement they feel about the possibility of more opportunities would then be transferred to your solution if they believe your solution can help make this possible for them.
15. What would the consequences be if you didn’t solve these issues?
Despite a company or individual’s challenges, it’s still possible for them to delay or get distracted with other issues. By highlighting the consequences of not solving their problems, you create a sense of urgency and keep the conversation focused on the important issues at stake.
16. What motivated you to search for a solution now?
If a prospect has recently experienced a major event such as a change in leadership, the company, or market, they will have a greater sense of urgency and interest in selecting a solution, which would shorten the sales cycle.
17. If you’re not currently searching for a solution, why not?
A prospect may not be searching for a solution for a multitude of reasons such as already using a competitor’s product, not having the budget, or not viewing your solution as a priority.
However, an outside perspective can motivate prospects to rethink their stance by, for instance, informing them of a better option, helping them find the money in their budget or uncovering the opportunity cost of not having a solution in place.
While prospects don’t want an aggressive salesperson, they will appreciate a salesperson who educates them and challenges their thinking.
18. Which features are must-have versus nice-to-have?
You need to know the answer to this question in order to help your prospect prioritize. Plus, it prevents you from pursuing deals that could never close because even though you had everything the prospect wanted, you didn’t have everything they needed.
19. Why do you need these particular features?
It’s very possible that your solution may not have one of your prospect’s must-have features. In that case, you must think like an engineer, not a salesperson.
A salesperson may be tempted to overpromise and underdeliver on a missing feature. However, an engineer will often want to know why a prospect needs a feature and exactly how they plan to use it. This line of questioning can help reveal if a feature is a deal-breaker or if it’s possible to use a workaround to accomplish the same objective.
20. What role do you play in the decision making process?
This is one of the most overlooked questions in the qualifying stage. The person on the phone may be an enthusiastic internal champion but at the end of the day, you still sell to decision makers and you need to confirm you’re talking to the key players ASAP.
21. Who are the people who have the final say on making a decision?
The larger and more complex an organization is, the more decision makers there will be. Every decision maker must be sold on your solution before you can make a successful sale.
22. What concerns will these decision makers likely have?
Remember, you sell to individuals, not companies. Gain a competitive advantage by asking your internal champions what issues are more likely to attract or repel individual decision makers to or from your solution in order prevent any embarrassing or costly mistakes.
23. How does your company or department make decisions?
Knowing who the decision makers are is different from knowing how a company makes decisions. For example, one person or a group of people may have the final say but the company or department may hold meetings to gauge the opinions of other important stakeholders such as end users. If you’ve turned each stakeholder into an internal champion, you're better positioned to make the deal happen.
24. Which departments are involved?
This question is especially important when selling to large organizations. Even if the marketing department will be the sole department using your solution, the procurement and legal departments of a company may be involved in finalizing and approving the contract. Use this simple sales hack to get your contracts signed quicker and reduce the amount of legal hassle to a minimum.
25. Who will be responsible for implementing or overseeing this service or product?
Even if the CEO loves your product, getting their approval is only the beginning of the deal. Generally, your product will be delegated down the organization to a more appropriate person. However, the person responsible for implementing your product won’t always share the CEO’s excitement for it if it means more work with very little upside for them.
Find out who will be responsible for managing your product internally. Then sell that person on how it will benefit their company and their personal career. Otherwise, your product will be poorly implemented and the contract won’t be renewed.
26. Do you have the resources and time to handle implementation and training?
Especially if you’re dealing with a large and/or demanding prospect, implementing and training people on using your product can be expensive and time-consuming. You need to understand their capabilities and willingness in this matter, and make sure to sell them on using your product or else they will receive no value from your product.
27. How much time did it take your company or department to buy a similar product?
Asking this question will help you estimate how long this deal will take to close. If the timeframe seems long, you’ll have a chance to ask about choke points and delays in the process.
28. When do you want to make a decision and begin implementing a solution?
You now have a rough idea about how long the decision making process will take, but you want to ask your prospect about a deadline in order to keep them accountable for and focused on making a decision.
29. Which metric(s) would you use to evaluate the success of my solution?
If you know how they will judge the effectiveness of your solution, there will be fewer surprises as both parties will have an understanding of the objectives your product can and cannot accomplish.
30. Who oversees the budget?
By now, asking about the decision makers and decision making process should have allowed you to identify the person or department in question but if you haven’t, now is a good time to ask.
31. How much have you spent on similar solutions?
The amount a prospect has spent on past solutions could determine the amount they’re willing to spend. You need to know where the pricing of your solution falls in regards to their predetermined range. If your price falls below their range, your solution might be too cheap and if it falls above their range, you’ll need to convince them that the value of the product outweighs the price.
32. How much do you have budgeted now?
Things change. It’s possible that they might have spent more in the past but now they’re on a tighter budget. On the other hand, maybe more money has been made available recently. If there’s a gap between what they have spent on similar solutions in the past and what their budget is now, inquire about it.
33. Have you ever needed to invest in a solution that was outside of the original budget? If so, what was the budget allocation process like in that case?
If your solution costs more than their intended budget, you’ll need to know about similar cases. It will give you an idea of the likelihood of the budget being increased and how it was handled in the past.
34. Do you currently have a contract with another company? If so, when is it up for renewal? Is there a cancellation fee?
If your prospect currently has a contract, your job will be double-fold: convince them that their current vendor isn’t the right one for them and that your solution will make their jobs and lives better.
Don’t be surprised if your prospect isn’t interested in switching if they’ve recently signed or renewed their current contract. The key is to be patient and regularly follow up so when they’re ready to switch, your company is the first one that springs to mind.
35. What has worked and hasn’t worked with your current solution?
Picking up on unmet needs is a great way to position your product as a better solution if your product can solve those issues.
36. What were the deciding factors that made you choose that particular solution?
When you're qualifying prospects, you mostly ask a lot of questions that focus on the present but asking questions about the past can be powerful because it gives you access to past buying experiences. If their past buying experiences were positive, associate your solution with that success and use it as a model for the way you sell.
However, if their past buying experience was a flop, distance yourself from it and frame your solution as something completely different. How is your offer better? How does it protect them from missteps like these? Why won't they have to worry about making another bad choice if they choose you?
37. How does our solution compare to the competitor’s?
In this day and age, prospects are more savvy and aware of their options. Therefore, at the very least, you need to know your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and be able to sell against the incumbent in your market. However, if you really want to blow the competition away, outcompete your competitors by pitching their product.
38. Are you considering building your own solution?
Competition can come from multiple sources and you don’t want to overlook the potential competitor right under your nose: your prospect. Especially if they’re developers, they might think they’re better off building their own solution.
While that option gives them the most control, it might not be the most time-efficient option, particularly if they have to deal with maintaining and updating their solution on a regular basis. You might even have examples of current customers who initially invested in building their own solution, only to find out that in the long-term it’s not feasible.
Closing the deal
39. What are all the steps we have to take to help make this deal happen?
This is called the virtual close and it’s one of the most powerful questions you can ask. Ask this question in order to learn in detail what it would take to turn the prospect into a customer. This question will give you a roadmap to the prospect’s buying process and will uncover any major red flags before they have a chance to screw up a deal.
40. Are there any obstacles that could prevent this deal from happening?
This question is essential. By asking it, you prompt your prospect to identify potential roadblocks, allowing you to be proactive instead of reactive.
41. Based on what we’ve discussed, do you think our solution is a good fit for your needs? Why?
At this point, you should know whether the prospect is qualified, have a roadmap to the decision making process, and be prepared for potential obstacles. This gives you a chance to handle any objections that haven’t been addressed and re-confirm the prospect’s interest in your product.
42. When is the best date and time to schedule our next meeting?
The best time to schedule a follow-up conversation is when your prospect is still on the phone! While you’re still talking, ask them to look at their calendar and schedule a time that works for them. Then, a day or two before the next meeting, make sure you send them an email to remind them of, and confirm, your next appointment.
Selflessly and selfishly qualify, then sell
There’s a saying that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. In sales, this means asking the right questions and then listening to what your prospect says. Only after you’re sure you can help them and they can help you should you sell to them.
Close the right customers and you’ll have successful customers who will be a source of referrals and additional revenue in the form of upsells.
Close the wrong customers and you’ll have unhappy customers who will be a source of bad reviews and higher churn rates.
The difference between those two outcomes begins with qualifying prospects correctly.
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