I know I’m not the only one with a handful of stories in which I schemed on how to get parental approval. Kids and teenagers know better than anyone: It’s now what you ask, but how you ask it.

As a sales rep, there’s an order of communication skills that do the trick of getting you information, while keeping the prospect on your side.

For our reps at Lesson.ly, we match the tough questions to our qualifying matrix, ANUM: Authority, Need, Urgency, and Money. In this post, I'll address the "A," "U," and "M" questions in this matrix, as well as the ultimate question: closing. 

Here are the right -- and wrong -- ways to probe into these areas.

1) Authority

The wrong way to ask this question, especially early in the conversation, might sound something like: “Will you be the final decision maker?” or “Can we set up a meeting with the person in charge of making this decision?”

Keep in mind that the key is to acknowledge the prospect’s role. Sales reps need to make influencers and others feel just as valued as the person you ultimately need to speak to.

With this in mind, here's the right way to ask about authority:

“Who, outside of yourself, will be involved in a decision making process related to [your solution]?”

We’re seeking to understand who the final decision maker is and the relevant parties involved in the buying process. This specific question works well, because it acknowledges that even if the prospect is not the decision maker, they are still important. By assuming they’re involved (“who, outside of yourself … ”), you take their guard down by letting them know they’ll have influence.

More often than not, they'll not only tell you who the final decision maker is, but they'll also fill you in on the buying process.

2) Urgency

An elementary, and not terribly effective way to ask about urgency, would be “What is your timeline?”

It’s direct, but it assumes that the prospect already has their purchasing decision mapped out. We often find that this isn't the case, and therefore, the answer is not well thought out.

Instead, try:

“What happens if nothing changes with your current process? Is that bad?”

The information we’re looking for is the cost or implication of the status quo. In too many sales processes, this is the biggest opportunity killer. This question works because it makes the prospect consider life without your solution.

In addition, we want to gauge when the prospect will come to a decision. To get at that, it’s wise to ask:

“When would you like to launch a solution for [the audience that is most impacted]?”

Too often, prospects don’t allot enough time for research, planning, and implementation. If you know the target date to launch, you can work backwards to the present time and use key dates to drive the rest of the sales process.

3) Money

The wrong way to ask about budget, in my opinion, is to ask for a specific number and neglect to provide a range. Asking, “What do you have budgeted for this?” will quickly lead to defensiveness, and you’re not likely to get a straight answer from a defensive buyer.

Candidly, it’s rude. It gives off an air of entitlement, as if you deserve to know. And you don’t.

Here's what I say instead:

“Typically our solution ranges from $X-$Y depending on A, B, C. Does that seem in line with any budget you’ve allocated for [solution]?”

Frankly, we’d like to know the budget for a project. And I’m certainly not opposed to asking, but early in the process it can be off-putting. This question works because it gives an honest range to consider, and allows the prospect to answer without giving a specific number.

4) Closing

“So, do would you prefer to get started with the X or Y package?” is abrupt and outdated.

Here are two options that are much better, in my opinion:

“Understanding you want to make a decision quickly, what can we do to make [company] an easy choice for you?”

or

“Based on all of our discussions to date, we’re extremely excited at the opportunity to partner with [prospect company]. I’m curious, what’s standing between our conversation today and getting you started?”

The first question format expresses a desire to cater to the customer, while also rhetorically suggesting your product as the solution. The second conveys humility and excitement about the prospect becoming a client.

When well executed, not only will all of these questions give you the responses you’re looking for, but they’ll also keep the conversation fluid. And if the deal is won, you’ve got a great start to a client relationship. If lost, at least you’ve left the prospect with a positive perception of you and your company.

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Originally published Oct 28, 2015 8:30:00 AM, updated October 20 2016

Topics:

Sales Qualification