When you’re sorting through prospects and replying to their inquiries, wouldn’t it be great if you could know early on if they were a good or bad fit for your organization?
If you were sure they were a good fit, you could feel comfortable moving them further down the sales pipeline, confident they would be worth your time and energy to pursue. On the other hand, if they were a bad fit, you could disqualify them to begin with and avoid wasting your time — and theirs!
There is a way to narrow in on these good- and bad-fit leads, and that’s with sales-qualifying questions.
But what are these questions? And when should you ask them?
In this article, we’re going to cover:
What sales qualification is and why it’s an important part of the sales process.
Which sales-qualifying questions will help you sort good- and bad-fit prospects.
This way, after asking a few pointed, strategic questions, you can be sure the leads you’re pursuing are worth your time and have a better chance of becoming buyers.
Ready to shorten your sales cycle by asking all the right questions at precisely the right time?
What is sales qualification and why is it an important part of the sales process?
As you meet with prospects and vet them for interest, what you’re really trying to accomplish is figuring out if they’re a good or bad fit for your products and services.
You want to know as soon as possible:
Is this prospect worth your time? (Meaning, are they a real opportunity or are they better served elsewhere?)
Are the solutions your prospect is looking for something they need? Or something they want? (For example, your prospect might be looking for a website redesign when they need to make better use of what they already have.)
Is their perceived problem a symptom of their needs or the core issue at hand? Or is there an underlying problem they need to solve that they haven’t yet gotten to the bottom of?
If you’re able to understand the root cause of your prospect’s needs early in the sales qualification process, it makes moving forward with your sales reps far easier.
Our solutions typically work best for companies with bigger teams that can take on the multifaceted tasks that inbound marketing requires (content management, video creation, HubSpot tracking, etc.).
If we have someone come to us who is a solopreneur with no team or website, we have a pretty clear indication this isn’t going to be the best use of our time. Their needs don’t match the services we’re able to provide, and this gives us the opportunity to steer them in a different direction.
Maybe we refer them to other resources or a better-fit business, but there are instances where we know from the start when someone isn’t going to be able to implement the direction we plan to give them. We know they won’t be able to implement, and therefore benefit from, our services.
These questions, when you ask the right ones at the right time, can help your sales team narrow in on your realistic opportunities early and help smooth over the buying process for your prospects.
It helps your team figure out which particular solution the buyer is after, and as a result helps you better identify qualified prospects (or those who are more likely to buy from your business).
So, which sales-qualifying questions should you ask? And at what part of the buying process?
Here, we’ll break down exactly which sales-qualifying questions to ask that will help you get to your prospects’ pain points and assess whether or not they are a viable prospect.
Which sales-qualifying questions will help you find better-fit leads?
As you walk the prospect through the discovery process, you want to understand if you are working with the core problem, or a symptom of the core problem. You do this so that you can provide your client with a clear understanding of how your business can help them best.
We’ve broken out these questions into categories that will help you save time and get to the root of your prospects’ most pressing needs as quickly as possible.
Questions to ask prospects during the awareness phase
When your prospects still don’t fully understand their own problems — meaning they’re still grappling with their main issues and pain points — these questions will help you peel back the layers of understanding and help your prospects understand what the main issues are:
1. Why is [main problem] your focus?
2. What is frustrating you most about this [main problem]?
3. What are the biggest challenges you’re seeing with this [main problem]?
For example, say your company sells custom-made hiking boots and there is someone asking about running shoes. Your boots might be a good solution to your prospect’s needs, but there are a few questions you can ask to be sure.
Here’s how this questioning might play out:
Salesperson: I understand you have questions about our hiking boots. That’s great! Tell me what you’re looking for to get the most out of this pair of shoes.
Prospect: I like to run a lot outside and could use shoes that make it easier to navigate the rough terrain.
Salesperson: What frustrates you most about the shoes you have when running outdoors along rough terrain?
Prospect: My feet often hurt, so I need something with more padding, something that can absorb a lot of the shock. I also want something waterproof that keeps my feet dry but allows me to remain agile.
Salesperson: What are the biggest challenges you’re seeing with your shoes keeping your feet comfortable but allowing you to be more agile?
Prospect: I suppose I always go for comfort, but I need something that accomplishes all these things that is a bit more resilient and lightweight.
Maybe you offer a lightweight pair of hiking boots that could also be useful to this prospect, but you also might not offer anything that works for runners, specifically. You might need to refer this prospect to another company or resource altogether.
The point is that you need to be able to get to the root cause of your prospect’s pain point to see if you can help them in the first place.
The goal here is to help your prospects analyze what they think is the main issue (in this case, they think they need hiking boots) and help them understand what it is they really need (they might do better with lightweight but waterproof running shoes).
Either way, these questions will help you qualify or disqualify the prospect and figure out their own solution. At the end of the day, if you’re able to gain a better understanding of your prospect’s needs this early on in the sales-qualifying process, it’s a win-win.
Questions that make sure decision-makers are present
When discussing the value of your products and services with a possible buyer, you want to be sure the key decision-maker is present. You want to meet with the person with the final say to make sure they are aware of your offerings and can decide whether or not what you propose is a viable solution.
Send out an email to your prospect before you meet, and ask the following questions:
4. Is there anyone else who needs to have a say?
5. Who all needs to be a part of the discussion?
6. Who has the final say?
If the decision-makers are not on that call, you will need to schedule another one anyway, so it’s worth your time and your prospects’ to have everyone who needs to be present during the decision-making process there to begin with. It also helps you avoid potential roadblocks and having to pivot if what’s decided in the meeting is later changed or doesn’t truly align with your prospect’s priorities.
Questions that get to the heart of the needed solutions
These questions can certainly seem obvious, but you want to be sure you completely understand your prospect’s needs.
Similar to the questions you might ask during the awareness phase, you want to be sure to drill down on what your prospect’s need (versus want).
You’ll want to ask:
7. Why? (This is really the biggest question here. Ask why until they can’t answer anymore.)
8. If you are going to solve this, what does that do for your organization?
These questions will not only help you know you’ve gotten to the real problem (not the perceived one), but they’ll also help your prospects understand the value of your solutions. Once they understand the value of your solutions and how you can help them, it will become easier to qualify leads and close those sales.
Questions to ask about a prospect’s budget
Many times, the prospects we interview aren’t a good fit due to budgetary constraints.
Questions about budget can be tricky to navigate because prospects aren’t always looking to share what they’re willing to spend on a project — at least not until you’ve built trust with them first.
For example, if your client owns a large Fortune 500 company, they may not have budgeted for the project, but you know they have the potential to find the money. You just want to be sure you’re building enough value into your solution.
When you’re ready to explore whether the project budget qualifies or disqualifies your prospect, here are a few questions that will help you get to the bottom of things:
9. Have you identified an investment for this problem?
10. How many people are in your organization?
11. What has your revenue been the last couple of years? What is your goal this year? (If they’ll share that with you.)
Again, you might want to wait until you’ve built trust with your prospect before digging into these questions. They’re helpful to your sales process, but they also might scare away prospects if you ask them too early.
With budgetary and revenue questions, timing is key.
You’ll know you’re able to ask these questions if you’re sure the prospect understands the value of your products and services.
If they’re bought into what you can offer and how you can help, your prospects might be more willing to share budgetary and revenue information with you.
Like anything else, these conversations are really a give and take, meaning you might have to give some information to get some.
What the project requirements are and how long they will take
Last but not least, you want to ask questions that set up your prospect for the project timeline and expectations.
Ask questions, such as:
12. How soon do you need this problem fixed?
13. Are you committed to fixing it within [timeframe]?
14. Do you have a timeline in mind?
Sure, most people will tell you they needed this done “yesterday,” but at least you’ll have a jumping-off point and can decide whether you’re able to deliver what your prospects need in the timeframe they’ve allotted.
Their timing might be way off base or fit nicely within your ability to deliver.
When sorting through qualified leads, the more questions you ask, the better
One of the things sales teams often try to do is tell a prospect why they should be choosing them instead of helping the prospect come to the conclusion on their own. By asking the right sales-qualification questions, you’re leading your prospects to that conclusion without having to do a lot of heavy lifting or persuading, which can come off as “salesy” and inauthentic.
Also, aim to ask as many questions in advance of the meeting as you can. While you might not be able to ask a lot of questions upfront, work them into your emails and pre-meeting correspondence.
For example, send your prospects a note asking them to review your process or philosophy prior to meeting so they have a chance to disqualify themselves. The more information you can have your potential clients consume prior to meeting, and the more information you can gather about their needs, the better off you’ll be at qualifying leads and setting up your lead nurturing process.
Although it might feel strange to spend more time asking questions than explaining how you can help, you’d be surprised how helpful this process is for sales reps looking to improve their sales-qualification process.
With a little practice, these questions will become second nature, and you’ll be finding better prospects and landing more deals in no time!