April 15, 2008

Three Qualifying Questions

I’m convinced that poor qualification leads to more wasted effort in sales than almost any other problem. For your own sanity and efficiency, you need to screen out the non-starters among your leads as quickly as you can to avoid wasting time. That means qualifying prospects early and effectively. And that’s our topic this time.

Before you do any qualifying, do your homework. Know your client. Review their web site, read their annual reports and 10-K, read their product brochures and company history before you talk to them. Your goal is to prepare yourself so that you can talk with the prospect in an intelligent way about his or her business. In fact, you should have three specific questions prepared in advance, based on what you’ve learned from your research. For example, if you were selling to an office products company, you might say:

“I see you are focusing on selling large business shredders this year. Is that your primary sales focus?”

“Do you typically compete against the large-scale document storage companies or are they going after a different market?”

“Has the growth of digital documents affected the volume of paper that needs to be shredded?”

Is there a real need?

Qualifying questions should uncover whether or not the prospect has a real need, problem, issue, or opportunity that you can address. If there’s no problem, there’s virtually no likelihood that they’ll buy. Good business people don’t spend money unless they are eliminating an undesirable situation or capitalizing on an important opportunity. Here are some questions that could help you figure out if there’s a real need:

· Who in the prospect’s organization is experiencing a problem that could be solved by using your product or service? Is this problem significant to them? Besides the people who are directly dealing with the problem, who will gain from eliminating that problem or meeting that need? In what ways?

· What are the consequences if they don’t solve the problem, close the gap in capabilities, or meet the need?

· How are they handling this issue or problem now? (To build rapport and credibility, you can share a success story of a client who had similar concerns and overcame them through the use of your product or service.)

· What is their biggest complaint or concern about the product or service they are using now?

Is there a significant payoff?

If there’s a real problem to be solved, the next question should determine whether or not there’s a compelling outcome, impact or other measure of gain associated with solving the problem. For example, you might ask:

· How do they calculate return on investment? How do they recognize and publicize a good decision? Who determines what a good investment is?

· What does management want to gain from improving a process or from buying your product?

· Ask for the operating numbers or statistics. How many? How often? At what cost? In which locations? Numerical results? Statistical findings? You’re looking for information indicating what kind of baseline they have now (so you can prove that your solution has improved the situation) and what their key performance indicators are (so that you know where to focus your value proposition).

Is there a good fit?

Finally, ask questions to determine whether or not your solutions are a good fit—in terms of technical features, specifications, business practices, locations, or other factors—for what this prospect seeks. Some questions to help you figure out the issue of fit include:

· How do they make decisions? What are their steps? Approvals? Timeframe?

· What criteria do they use in making decisions? How are those criteria ranked?

· What are the technical specifications that a solution must meet? What are the operational, logistical, or other factors that will determine whether a solution represents a good technical or business fit?

If you ask probing questions at the outset to determine if there’s a real need, a potentially compelling payoff, and a good fit, you’ll avoid wasting your time pursuing deals that aren’t real or that you don’t have any chance of winning.

Once you’ve qualified those deals, you can generate terrific proposals and presentations that address all the key decision factors with ProposalMaster and PresentationBuilder from Sant.

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