Asking good questions during your sales process is a super power, and it starts with your first call. The purpose of that call is to eliminate anyone who doesn’t belong in your pipeline.
The best way to quickly eliminate prospects is by asking great qualification questions.
Definition of Qualifying Questions
A qualifying question is a question intended to surface important information that will help you and your prospective client determine if you should work together.
You’ve probably heard of selling qualification systems like BANT, MEDICC, CHAMP, ANUM, or others. They’re all overkill, but hit on an important idea: you should look for key factors that would allow you remove someone from your pipeline and refer them elsewhere. It’s better for you, and it’s better for them.
How Many Questions to Ask
As part of my sales workshop, I guide attendees through a process of creating and collecting questions to ask during the sales process. About half of attendees create so many questions that they’re left with a question of their own: how many sales questions should they ask during the initial Fit (qualification) or Discovery sales stages?
Unsatisfying as it may be, the answer is “it depends.” But I’ll make it one easier and just give you a rule of thumb. I run my qualification calls for 30 minutes, and in that time I can ask four or five primary questions plus follow up questions, and give my prospects an idea of what it would be like to work with me.
Think about it on a spectrum. On one end is the worst job interview you’ve ever had, where the interviewer peppers you with questions in quick succession, reading right off of a checklist. On the other end, you sit in awkward silence and say nothing. Land somewhere in the middle.
Four questions is a good benchmark for a 30-minute call.
Coming Up With Good Questions
Asking good questions is the core behavior you need to implement value-based selling.
There are three ways most people will come up with qualification questions: just copy them from an author like me; develop their own questions through the intentional reflection of the sales process and their Perfect Fit Client (PFC); or just make it all up on the spot. Don’t do #3, especially in a remote selling environment when the stakes are higher in every moment.
I recommend taking a hybrid approach whereby you use the best of #1 and #2. The advantage of taking outside counsel is that you get to rely on someone else’s expertise to reveal blind spots. But reflection on your own conversations and your PFC is critical because it allows you to make outside advice more applicable to your business. You can make it yours.
Think about your questions as being in three categories: client pains, client goals, and red flags. Client pains are the current challenges your client has. Their goals are the literal opposite of pains – a desirable future state that will help them achieve vital outcomes. And red flags are a disconnect in beliefs or expectations – perhaps they’re unrealistic about timing, expense, their own involvement, likely results, or any other variety of issues that would cause them to be unsuccessful.
If you need help coming up with your own qualification questions, just draw a table with the headings “Pains,” “Goals,” and “Red Flags.” Fill it out with everything you can think of, erring on the side of writing far too much. Once you’re done with that, you’ll transform those items into questions. Think of it like reverse Jeopardy. Favor questions that reveal the leading pains or goals, as well as any dealbreaker red flags.
This is an exercise I go through in the Sales Sprint and recommend you do it to get clearer on the potential questions you can ask.
Qualification Questions to Ask
If you’re looking for a shortcut, there are some basic questions you can ask during the Fit stage that will help you identify whether someone’s qualified at a high level to work with you.
Here’s a quick list of questions you can ask prospective clients during the Fit stage of your sales process:
- What’s going on right now?
- What challenges do you have?
- Why is now the right time to make a change?
- How are decisions made at your company?
- What’s your timeline?
- What questions do you have about us?
- Tell me more about your company…
As I mentioned above, four questions is about the right number of questions to cover in a Fit call. There are tons of questions you can ask about company characteristics and demographic factors, but I recommend you figure out as much as you can on LinkedIn or your prospect’s website so you don’t have to waste time on questions you could’ve answered on your own.
Everyone’s favorite qualification question is the budget question because, let’s be honest, you want to make sure your prospect can pay you. Understood, but with today’s technology I find this question lazy. Most of the time you can look up demographic factors of the person and company without even having to speak with them. This may include the number of employees, funding they’ve gotten, employee growth trajectory, technology they use on their website, and variety of other factors that would allow you to make an educated guess about your prospect’s ability to gladly pay your fees.
If you have a well-implemented positioning strategy, this is a further qualifier before you speak to anyone. The narrower and more specific your positioning, the more likely it is that you’re speaking to the right people who have the budget for your services.
I’m not advocating that you avoid the budget question completely, but do some deep thinking on who your PFC is and why, then see how well each individual prospect matches that profile before you speak with them. If someone appears to match your PFC – or at least come close – then budget is unlikely to be an issue. Instead, the challenge will be about establishing the value you provide.
Asking great questions early on will set you up for success in your sales process. It’ll also demonstrate to your client that you’re knowledgeable, organized, and understand people like them.
Whatever qualification questions you settle on, be sure to document your sales process, including your qualification questions. It’ll help you forget about the questions to ask, and instead focus on the quality of the conversation you’re having.