It’s the age of the Always Be Helping salesperson. Sales is an increasingly consultative profession, which means reps should be providing prospects with helpful and specific resources, not stuffing irrelevant information down their throats.
Of course, the sales rep-prospect relationship cuts both ways -- as your prospects are qualifying you, you need to be qualifying them. As your prospect moves through the three stages of the buyer’s journey, you can use the questions below to make sure you’re still on the right track.
Awareness and Education Stage
At the awareness stage, prospects are beginning to understand they have a problem but haven’t defined what it is or how to solve it. Usually, Marketing handles top-of-the-funnel leads, so if I decide to engage a prospect at this stage, I use a very light touch.
1) What were you looking for help with?
If your company’s CRM is worth its salt, you’ll already know what piece of content your prospect downloaded. Probe a little deeper and you’ll hear your prospect begin to talk about their business pain and how the content they converted on relates to it.
2) Is there anything else I can do to help you out right now?
I purposely keep this question vague. I stay in educational mode during the awareness stage, emphasizing that I’m always here to help out and that prospects can ping me whenever they have questions, but I avoid being pushy.
Consideration and Evaluation Stage
When prospects reach the consideration stage, they have a better understanding of what their business pain is. If I had the opportunity to connect during the awareness and education stage, I've already started to educate them on the best way to solve their problem. During this stage, they’ll be internally setting budgets and priorities, and it's the best time to get your foot in the door.
3) Where are you in the budget-setting process? / Are you looking for proposed solutions now? / Is there a timeframe for finding a solution to your problem?
These are some of the classic BANT questions. A prospect could be an amazing fit on paper, but if there’s no budget or if the company leadership doesn’t intend to think about vendors for a year, you shouldn’t be spending hours per day on them at this point. You could also sour your relationship by pushing a prospect to act far sooner than they want to. Always ask these questions first so you don’t waste anyone’s time.
4) When do you need to achieve X goals by? When do you need to implement the solution by?
Prospects will frequently say, “Yesterday.” Your follow up is what’s important here. Ask about their specific process. When do they need to choose a vendor to accomplish their goals within a given timeframe?
Framing the sale this way gets the prospect thinking about their purchase decision in terms of its benefits, not what it will cost. Remember, your product becomes valuable to a customer the day they start seeing benefits, not the day they purchase it. Focus on the solution, not the purchase, and your product will begin to seem a lot more attractive.
5) How can I make this process easy for you?
This question provides insight into your prospect’s decision making process. More often than not, you’ll have to get buy-in from multiple stakeholders to close a deal. Vetting this process as early as possible is crucial so you can understand how to get everyone on the same page and what a good outcome looks like to the decision making team as a whole.
Decision and Purchase Stage
By this point, you’ll know whether your product is a good fit for your prospect and understand what needs to happen for a deal to close.
6) How are you doing?
Wait a second. How are you doing? How can such a generic question be helpful this late in the game?
I use this question to read my prospect’s trust in me. Buying a new product isn’t traumatic, but there’s risk involved. So my prospect’s answer tells me where I stand.
If they say, “We’re behind,” I ask if there’s anything I can do to speed up the process.
If they say, “We’re on track, I brought it up to my boss and we’re meeting about it on Friday,” I know things are going well.
If they say, “Well … ” or “I don’t know … ” we have a problem. If they don’t want to tell me, it’s a sign that things aren’t going well and they don’t have trust in me. If they can’t tell me, it’s usually because they don’t know -- and that means that I’m speaking with the wrong person.
7) Have you gone through a similar purchasing process before?
If they have, great. You won't have to do as much hand-holding and educating.
If they haven’t, the help you offer your prospect can make or break the sale. I always offer to walk my prospects through a first-time decision making process -- after all, I’ve done this a million times, and I understand how to help get executive-level buy-in.
I will also occasionally offer up a “Godfather” -- a senior executive at the company who will check in with a customer once or twice a year to make sure things are going well. I’ve made this offer hundreds of times, and only a few customers have actually taken advantage of their “Godfather.” The offer itself is often more valuable than the actual resource -- prospects feel their risk is reduced if they know help is just a phone call away.
These questions have served me well throughout my career in sales, and I frequently use them to glean important information from my conversations.
What are your favorite questions to ask prospects? Let us know in the comments below.
Originally published Jul 7, 2015 8:30:00 AM, updated February 01 2017