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Qualifying Questions Explained

Qualifying questions are powerful things.

They can let you blow past that beginning dance of "tell me what you want vs tell me what you've got" buyer and seller often do.

Qualifying is a step frequently ignored by newbies in favor of fancy closes or techniques to "bust past the gatekeeper." But professionals know qualification is the key to sales success.

Qualifying QuestionsWhat is our aim in asking qualifying questions? When do we apply them?

The old features and benefits school of selling says to present early and often, to anyone paying the remotest bit of attention.

Where does that plan lead us?

Presenting to a ton of unqualified prospects. People who have no need, no budget, nor the personality fit to work with us. Exhaustion. Frustration. Disappointment.

Even the newbie eventually comes around to the realization that a better system is needed...if only to safeguard themselves.

Then people often want a list of qualifying questions.

This too is an error. No list of questions will cover all situations. The questions will change depending on your prospect's situation.

Begin generally, then zero in.

Use a question like, "When you started this business, what were your hopes and goals?" This will get your prospect instantly involved. They'll probably even enter reverie, an emotional state, and have the realization that they are off course--and now they are open to change.

The Purpose of Qualifying Questions

The purpose of qualifying questions is to separate those prospects we should be talking to from those we shouldn't.

Qualification needs to happen at the beginning of the conversation, not later on.

We shouldn't be talking to a lot of people. Most people who we encounter.

Most don't have the need or want for our offer.

They don't have the budget--which we also know means a problem the size worth your time to fix.

And they don't have the personality fit for you to work with. They'll hurt you.

Begin with open-ended, top-level questions.

Then start developing your style. I also commonly talk about "putting on your Sherlock Holmes hat."

This is what I mean. You're qualifying, you're digging.

What is the situation this person is in? Sure, they came to you asking for a website. OK, you could do the dumb thing and throw a quote at them. Where's that going to get you? All you did was turn yourself into a commodity. Your price is up against the other bids they're getting but you didn't bother to find out about, and your price is also being used as a BARGAINING TOOL against other bidders.

What Qualifying Questions Look Like

Instead, put on that Sherlock Holmes hat and start poking around.

"I'm glad you came to me about this. ...Let me ask you a few questions about where you're at to find out if we're a fit."

Now's your chance to ask qualifying questions about their situation.

"Why do you want a website?"

"Why now? What changed?"

"How many designers have you approached?" (Yes, this question is completely legit...and most often goes unasked because of Scaredy Cat-ness; yet, why wouldn't you want to know what you're up against...it only takes a moment to ask...and follow up with

"Just...off the record, if you don't mind sharing with me...what kind of a range have you seen in prices so far?"

Imagine if you knew that.

One or more of your competitors does. Because they had the guts to be brave for a moment and ask. If there's pushback, "I want to make sure I'm not way out of the ballpark." You're doing them a favor.

Developing Your Skill With Qualifying Questions

This is a skill that is developed. People are not born being "natural salespeople."

The question is: Are you willing to COMMIT?

Experts commit YEARS (not just one or two years, but many and some decades) to the study and practice of selling.

We are still learning.

My Kindle library and bookshelves are full of sales books. We talk sales. There is no End to this stuff.

Do you think you're going to pick up a clipboard with questions on it and become an instant top seller?

It's going to take around three years before you start naturally applying this stuff. Six months to get the idea, three years to make it a part of you. From the heart, not needing a script. You have to LIVE it.

I remember a salesperson with about a year's experience asking me, "You say you don't want everyone's business, for everyone to become a customer, but you don't really mean it, right?"

That alone showed me where this person was at in their development.

Qualifying is mindset.

Those qualifying questions about the website project above were not fancy ways of pre-selling the customer.

They were to find out what was really going on.

Imagine some different answers:

Q: "Why do you want a website?"

A: "Well, it just seems like everyone has one nowadays..." (trails off)

I'm looking at this guy. He just lost my interest. There's no fuel here for the sale...I'm going to dig a little more, but...

Q: "Uh, so your reason for wanting a website now is...everyone else has one so you think you should too?"

A: "Well, yeah..."

Q: "So why now? What changed?"

A: (eagerly) "Oh, my boss told me to get some quotes."

Uh huh.

See, I just discovered a few things with these qualifying questions. One, he's not the decision maker. People love to pretend they're top dog. If you don't ask, don't get confirmation, they'll string you along and then--whoops--at the end, suddenly inform you they have to take it up the ladder.

To a different person or persons.

Who you don't know anything about.

Preferences, decision making styles, what they want to see, favorite or most hated colors, nothing.

And you think your quote is going to work. Ha ha.

Two, he's just getting quotes. I have to ask another question to find out if/when they'll be making a decision. Deliberate vagueness on his part will tell me they're just goofing around and not to spend time on it.

Qualifying Questions With Different Answers

Now let's imagine a different set of answers.

Q: "Why do you want a website?"

A: "We need to grow, to get more customers!"

Q: "So why now? What changed?"

A: "I just read this Hubspot case study on a swimming pool company--how they reached so many more people with a website and blog--and we're a swimming pool company! We've been doing it by phone and a store and service vans all these years; I freak out when I think of all the customers we've been missing out on!"

Ah ha. Now we've got something.

What have I learned? The guy is a relative newbie online, but excited about the possibilities. He's probably seen Hubspot's pricing (I'll confirm) which ain't cheap, and that has likely anchored him to a decent price level. If not, I can refer him back to Hubspot's pricing to do the job for me. He has a personal, emotional reason for making change. And he knows WHY he wants to make that change.

I will ask more qualifying questions and work on customizing that presentation of the solution so he sees my solution as the ONLY one that's a true fit for him. This is worth my time to pursue.

Qualifying is not about making people buy. It's about discovering who is worth spending more time and energy on.

>> Jason Kanigan is a worldwide sales trainer and copywriter. To learn more about effective qualifying questions, get the Sales On Fire program. The advanced training module has an entire section devoted to prospect qualification. <<

Jason Kanigan

3 Comments

  1. Wow, This is a GREAT POST! I totally hear where you are coming from and Qualifying people is necessary. It will help save so much time speaking to people who are not ready to make a buying decision now. I have an application on my website that’s designed to pre-qualify prospects. I love some of the question ideas you added! Great Post!

  2. Jason I don’t know if I’ve read a better post outlining examples of qualifying questions and why you should be asking them. Asking the right questions is such a big part of the sales process that so many people miss. Great post man thanks for sharing this!

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