After over 20 years in the lead generation and lead management business, our team has participated in thousands of conversations with sales prospects, and one of the first lessons you learn in the lead generation industry is that qualifying sales leads requires time, patience and a careful process of asking questions.
Many inexperienced lead generation staff tend to make the mistake of asking for the sale too soon, talking about budget too directly, and assuming that the prospect is immediately ready to talk about closing a deal.
Instead of jumping the gun, play a longer-term game by asking specific follow-up questions to uncover more information, build credibility and deepen your relationship with the prospect.
Here are my three favorite lead qualification questions that can help your sales staff get farther into the sales process and maximize your chances of success with every sales prospect on your calling list:
1. Was there a compelling event that caused you to request information from us?
The reason to ask this question is to find out more about the prospect’s reasons for ending up on your list of sales leads. Are they unhappy with their current vendor, shopping around for a new solution to keep up with a competitor, or trying to upgrade or replace an inadequate situation?
What was the serious problem, point of pain or “last straw” that made them want to have this conversation with your sales team?
If the prospect can clearly identify a compelling event, your sales team can position your product or solution to respond to those circumstances. Link your solutions to the prospect’s specific “pain” issues.
Of course, not all prospects have such a clear and visible cause that motivates them to seek out your solution. They might only have vague ideas or a general sense that something isn’t right, or they might just be curious to shop around and see what solutions are available on the market. If the prospect does not identify a clear “compelling event,” then your sales team will have to invest some time in educating the prospect to help them recognize the specific problems that they are trying to solve, and show them how your solution can help them.
2. What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish by solving this problem?
Even if a prospect didn’t have a clear event that occurred, causing the motivation to talk with your sales team, they often will have a clearer idea of where they want your solution to take them. By asking this question, you can help the prospect visualize what they want to achieve.
This is part of the process of helping the process understand the benefits of your solution and the ROI that your solution can deliver – by talking about accomplishments, you are helping the prospect think not in terms of “how much they have to pay” but “what they will receive” from your solution.
Another benefit of asking this qualification question is that it shows your sales team how serious the prospect and his/her organization are about investigating your solution and understanding the value. If the prospect doesn’t have a clear answer for what they hope to accomplish, this could indicate that they are not ready to make a purchase or are just doing preliminary price shopping.
3. It sounds like you could benefit from our solution. What would you like to see happen as a next step?
Instead of pushing to close the deal, this question serves to invite the prospect into the sales process by putting the ball in their court. You give the prospect the courtesy of allowing them a degree of control over what happens next – and this tactic often helps prospects feel more relaxed and receptive to moving forward in the sales process.
Sales people often prefer to maintain control of the process, so this technique can feel risky, but the truth is that asking this kind of question can give your sales team some valuable insight into the customer’s thinking, and see where the customer is in the buying process. You might hear, “We’re not sure what we want to happen next,” or “We’re not ready to move forward,” but more often than not, putting some control in the prospect’s hands can help move the sales process along faster than you might expect.
Qualifying sales leads doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires thoughtful questions and listening to the subtext of what prospects are telling you. Use your sales qualification questions as a chance to probe deeper into the prospect’s thought process and learn more about how their organization hopes to benefit from your solution.
By asking the right questions, you’ll get to the deal closing table faster than aggressively and immediately asking to close the sale.
Jump the Gun Photo via Shutterstock
Great questions. I also like this one, “What do you like best about what I have shown you so far?”
This question is powerful because it uncovers the hot buttons that the prospect has, that you can use later in the presentation to help close the deal!
Great post Al. I too, am a big proponent of using strategic questions in the selling process to really get to the bottom of the prospect’s intent. Having these key questions in your back pocket will surely maximize one’s selling activities. Great stuff!
Be cautious about the answer you get to #1. They might be less than forthcoming about the reason they’re reaching out to you (if a current vendor relationship is very public they might not tell you they’re unhappy with them since it could get back to the vendor).
And with #3, they might stone wall you with something like “I’ll take this info back to the company and reach out to you when we need more information.” Then you’re stuck.
In response to #3, you were stuck anyway. At least now you know, which is a win in itself.
Question 1. I’ve been out of sales for 15+ years, and the first thing I learned was never to ask an open ended question.
Great post – love the simplicity of the 3 questions. Also like Rob’s #4 question. The questions cause the prospect to think and they probably did not expect the questions. Their responses almost always give you an opening to proceed. They are generic enough to start the conversation and then allow a well prepared sales rep to take the conversation almost any direction. The second question helps you understand how far the prospect has thought about business impact. The third question helps keep the dialog going and has the prospect create the “next action steps.”
When talking to a less direct and more thoughtful prospect….
your question 2. What is the most important thing you hope to accomplish by solving this problem? could be tweaked to
What are some of the most important thing you hope to accomplish by solving this problem?
This gets the person talking, once you’ve got a list then you can go onto narrow it down to the most important thing…just a less direct route to the same result that allows for more rapport. When faced with identifying ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING some buyers may feel put on the spot and overwhelmed with the decision to identify only ONE
These questions are great. I’d love to see a variation for cold calls.