Although closing is often thought of as the essence of sales, it’s actually only the last step in the process and one that, if you’ve done your job correctly, never comes as a surprise.
That’s because closing is the end result of a process that’s deeply embedded into every part of the sales process: Qualification.
The sales qualification process is where you discover whether a prospect is a good fit for your product, whether they’ll be successful with it, whether they’re able to pay for it, and when they can start.
But it’s not easy to be great at qualifying. You have to ask the right questions and understand how your prospect’s answers map against your ideal buyer profile, and getting good at that takes practice. Everybody has different strategies for qualifying, but the best salespeople have the following eight habits in common.
8 Sales Qualification Best Practices
1) They ask open-ended questions.
Only asking “yes” or “no” questions is a waste of time. For one thing, questions that can be answered in simply the affirmative or negative generally require making assumptions (see #7) because you’re asking your prospect to confirm or deny a premise you came up with.
For another, “yes” or “no” can only tell you so much. Without open-ended questions, you are determining the direction of the conversation -- and if your assumptions about where the discussion should go are incorrect, you could miss a huge piece of the puzzle crucial to the deal.
2) They incorporate their research into their questions.
If you’re doing research on your prospects and then regurgitating what you’ve found out during a discovery call -- “So, I see you’re based in Omaha …” -- you’re doing it wrong. Instead, use your research to guide your line of questioning. For example: “I see you have a support team of about 200. How are you currently handling the volume of customer requests and balancing workload across the members of your team?”
Research is only useful if you use it to bolster your questioning strategy. The best qualifiers excel at doing so.
3) They have a plan.
Every sales call differs in minutiae, but most will follow one of four trajectories:
The prospect is interested and a good fit.
The prospect is interested but is not a good fit.
The prospect isn’t interested and is not a good fit.
The prospect isn’t interested but is a good fit.
The best qualifiers know how to suss out which of these four categories prospects fall into. They have tried-and-true talk tracks they can deploy in each of these scenarios, and are ready to adjust their line of questioning dependent on what they discover in a call.
4) They don’t try to do too much.
Early on in a sales process when sales reps are having exploratory conversations with prospects is the wrong time to start full-on pitching and attempting to demo. There’s a time and place to talk features, pricing, and implementation, but the discovery stage of the sales process isn’t that time.
Instead, the best qualifiers focus on gathering information during the discovery process. They know that the more they learn during this part of the sales process, the more they’ll be able to target their approach later on, which will end up being more effective in the long run.
5) They listen more than they talk.
The best salespeople always listen more than they talk, but especially so during the discovery process, which is when they need to learn as much as possible. A trick one of my friends uses is to physically hit the mute button after he asks a question to remind himself to shut up and listen.
The main takeaway is this: The more your prospect talks, the more you’ll learn and the more complete your picture of their situation will be, enabling you to do tailor your sale as much as possible.
6) They gather as much context as possible.
When good qualifiers aren’t totally clear on what their prospect just said, they’ll ask for further clarification. When great qualifiers find themselves in this situation, they make sure they understand the whole picture. They ask why processes work the way they do, what was behind the decisions that led to the process, and dig deep until they understand the prospect’s world. Only then can they begin to make recommendations to their buyer.
7) They don’t make any assumptions.
This one goes hand in hand with #5 and #6. At the beginning of a discovery process, sales reps don’t know what they don’t know. Making assumptions at this point in the process is dangerous. You could easily lead your prospect down a path of questioning that misses or obscures something that’s crucial to the purchase decision. After all, they don’t know what you don’t know either, and they don’t know what information you need to make an informed recommendation, so you can’t count on them to surface those details.
8) They don’t force a fit.
Good qualifiers don’t blaze through discovery calls, but they also know not to drag on a call longer than necessary once it becomes apparent the prospect isn’t a good fit. A sales rep’s time is literally money, and the best qualifiers are looking for reasons to disqualify just as much as they’re trying to figure out whether a buyer is a good fit or not. Instead of trying to shoehorn a poor fit into buying a product that they won’t see results from, they cut their losses and move on to the next prospect.
What do you think the most successful qualifiers do? Let us know in the comments below.
Originally published Aug 8, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017