Your time is valuable. Every precious minute you spend with a prospect who will never be a viable buyer is a minute you’ve wasted. You need to qualify prospects to make sure they’re serious, not just price shopping or browsing.
The problem is that empowered prospects are impatient with your qualifying questions. They’ve done some research and are talking with you to get their own questions answered. Some of your questions might seem intrusive or premature. HubSpot Research’s study on buyer perceptions revealed there’s a wide gap between your sales process and your prospect’s buying process.
To gather the necessary information without alienating your prospect, you have to strike a delicate balance between understanding their needs and qualifying their ability to purchase. If you flub this balance, you might lose the deal. The number one thing buyers want sellers to do differently is provide information and answer questions in a relevant and timely manner. If you’re perceived as doing anything less, buyers begin to question your trustworthiness.
As you work to qualify prospects and protect your time, avoid these three mistakes.
1) Asking purely self-serving questions
Your questions about the prospect’s needs are welcome and appreciated. Conversely, questions about the prospect’s ability to buy seem self-serving, especially if they come in rapid-fire succession.
There are, of course, certain things you need to know. Is this the decision maker? Who else will be involved in making the decision? What’s the timeline? What’s the budget? What’s the current solution? What other options are being considered?
There’s no shame in needing this information. But the way you ask matters a great deal. Questions that are buyer-focused signal that you care about the prospect. Questions that seem process-focused make the buyer feel marginalized. To get these details without seeming untrustworthy:
Explain the purpose for your questions in a way that shows prospects your desire to help them. Say something like, “I know your time is very valuable, and I have just a few questions that will ensure the best possible attention to your needs.”
Mix up your questions. Start with a broad, open-ended question to understand the prospect’s needs. You’ll get lots of insight and may even get some of your qualifying questions answered, too. Your opening question will sound something like this: “Let’s get started by talking about your current business needs. What’s going on that led to your interest in (our product)?"
Combine your questions so there are fewer of them. Try “Tell me about the process and where you are in your process for making a decision about this,” or “When it comes to all the variables like price, timeline, decision criteria, and such, what are the ideal outcomes you’re looking for?”
2) Being inflexible
True story: At a large, well-known software solutions provider, SDRs are only paid when they set appointments with the true decision maker who has budget authority and final say. A sure-thing purchase in the high six figures was recently lost when an SDR refused to set up a next-steps meeting with a VP, insisting the CEO would have to be present. She was unwilling to accept the VP’s explanation the CEO would take his recommendation and never, under any circumstances, met directly with vendors. This VP went from being a rabid fan of the software to a bitterly disappointed customer of the competition.
This is a classic case of process interfering with progress.
If your processes require you to ascertain where the prospect is located, how much the prospect will likely spend, the number of users the prospect is considering, or other bucketing information, consider how this sounds to the prospect. People want to be treated with dignity, not sorted.
Sellers also lose trust when they’re unable to answer basic technical questions and insist on setting an appointment with someone else. This happens, for example, when SDRs push for demos with the technical team and an account manager. To buyers who only want to get their questions answered, this often seems like a ploy to ensnare them in a thinly veiled sales pitch.
Strive to answer the prospect’s questions in a timely manner and provide basic information without requiring a full demo. Don’t let internal roadblocks stop you from closing deals.
3) Implying someone's not worth your time
There’s an inherent problem with the question, “Are you the decision maker?”
It suggests that you can’t be bothered with someone who is not a decision maker. For a prospect who has been appointed as information gatherer, it may suggest that you’re about to cut them off without giving them what they need.
Buyers often answer in partial truths. Some don’t want to admit their lack of authority. Others have been asked to stand in for the decision maker at this early stage and will represent themselves that way until it’s truly time for a decision. Increasingly, committees of decision makers are appointed but not revealed to sellers until absolutely necessary. It’s not uncommon to have layers of decision making -- the person you speak to first truly is the decision maker, but only for this phase of the process. And so on.
This question really doesn’t do you much good. You risk offending the prospect and operating on incorrect information. Asking someone about their own authority builds barriers between you and makes it more difficult to establish mutual trust.
Instead, treat the prospect like the ultimate decision maker. Demonstrate that you’re on the same side and it’s normal and expected for others to be involved. Ask, “Who else should we keep in the loop as we proceed, and how can I make that easy for you?”
If you correct these three errors, you can qualify prospects without offending them or making them feel like you only care about getting their money.
Originally published Jun 14, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated June 14 2017