Not every lead is a good fit for a product or service — no matter how strongly a salesperson believes they are (or wants them to be). Buyers don’t buy just because they have a serious need, a looming deadline, or money to burn. They buy because of a combination of all of these factors, and more.
During the qualification call, salespeople can’t simply focus on establishing a fit on one of these criteria. They have to establish a fit on all the relevant factors. While the specific sales qualification questions a rep asks will depend on the product or service they sell, here are 18 solid conversation starters that can help you recognize who’s a successful customer in the making, and who’s barking up the wrong tree.
1) What’s the business problem you’re seeking to fix with this offering?
Change isn’t easy, and businesses don’t undertake system overhauls and new implementations just for the fun of it. If there’s no real problem the prospect is trying to solve, there’s no real reason for them to buy. Establish pain (either from a known issue, or from a problem the prospect wasn’t even aware of) before diving into other questions.
2) What’s prompting you to do something about it now?
Prospects who have recently experienced a significant trigger event, such as a change in leadership, market shift, legal problem, or major company development, will have more incentive to address the issue now rather than later.
3) What has prevented you from trying to solve the problem until now?
Do other priorities keep taking precedent? Is there a bend in the path to a solution? Learning what has historically blocked the way to fixing this problem can help the salesperson understand where it falls on the list of priorities, as well as alert them to potential pitfalls.
4) Have you tried to solve this problem in the past? If so, why didn’t that solution work?
Alternatively, it could be that the prospect has attempted a solution before, but for whatever reason, that patch didn’t stick. Digging into what went right and wrong with past projects could reveal that what you thought was a perfect fit isn’t actually so great — or that your prospect needs what you sell ASAP.
5) What happens if you do nothing about the problem?
If the answer is “well, not much,” the prospect doesn’t have a pressing need. At this point, the salesperson should either disqualify the lead, or explain to them the danger that lies ahead if the problem goes unresolved (only if they truly believe this).
6) Do you have a budget allocated for this project? If not, when do you expect that you will?
Money isn’t everything, but it certainly has bearing on whether or not a prospect is worth pursuing. The specific number doesn’t matter as much as the fact that your offering’s price and the prospect’s ability to pay are within the same ballpark. For instance, if your product costs $1 million and the prospect can only afford $100, the sale isn’t going to go through.
7) How does the budget signoff process work?
This question can uncover additional financial decision makers that need to be looped in sooner rather than later.
8) What are you currently spending on this issue?
If the prospect already has a competitive solution in place, the salesperson can get a benchmark of how much they’re used to spending. And with a firm number, the salesperson can then ask if the prospect would be comfortable going higher.
Here’s how HubSpot Sales VP Pete Caputa phrases this question in his sales qualification calls:
“We’ve established that your goal is X and that you’re spending Y now to try and achieve X. But it’s not working. In order to hire us, you will need to invest Z. Since Z is pretty similar to Y and you’re more confident that our solution will get you to your goal, do you believe it makes sense to invest Z to hire us?”
9) How would the decision process work with an offering like this? What would be your role in the process, and the roles of others on the decision team?
Is the person you’re talking to the decision maker? Or is the decision maker someone else? Make sure you understand the dynamics of the buying committee and who has authority over what. For example, while one stakeholder could be the “ultimate” signer, another might be the financial approver.
10) Has your company ever considered/used a product like this before? If so, what happened?
The best way to make sure you don’t repeat history is to study it. Compare your buyer’s expectations and perceptions of “good” and “bad” to your offering. If there’s a significant mismatch, it’s best to disqualify the prospect now before you spend any more time on the deal.
11) What hurdles could crop up and derail this project?
Too many potential potholes might not make the deal worth pursuing.
12) What challenges do you think you’ll come up against with the plan I’ve laid out? Do you think you’ll struggle with Z or Y?
When is a prospect who has the requisite need, authority, and money to buy as well as the correct solution timeline not a good prospect? When they won’t be able to execute the plan you’ve laid out. While some offerings require more elbow grease than others, every new product or service requires some effort on the prospect’s part to get it up and running. And if the prospect is unwilling to put in the work, they’re not going to get results. Find this out early so you’re not dealing with an unhappy customer later.
13) What other solutions are you evaluating?
In some cases, an additional vendor is brought in after a prospect has already decided on another in the name of due diligence, or to put price pressure on the incumbent provider. Listen carefully to the prospect’s answer to assess whether their engagement with you isn’t totally authentic.
14) What does success look like to you, both in terms of qualitative and quantitative results?
Whether a prospect becomes a happy customer or a detractor largely depends on their expectations. If their definition of success does not line up with what your offering can provide, it might be time to disqualify.
15) What does solving this problem mean to you personally? What do you stand to gain if the issue was solved? What do you stand to lose if it goes unresolved?
An internal champion can often be more effective at corralling the buying committee around a particular product or service than the salesperson herself. The more skin the prospect has in the game, the more likely they are to be a helpful advocate.
16) Based on what you’ve seen so far, do you think our offering could be a viable solution for your problem?
Peppering mini agreements or commitments throughout the buying process — even in the qualification call — can lay the groundwork for the ultimate agreement at the end.
17) When do you need a solution in place by?
If there’s a drop dead date that the problem absolutely needs to be fixed by, the salesperson can then work backward to determine a signing date.
18) Do you agree that the next step is X by Y date? When would be a good time on or around that date to schedule a call or meeting?
This isn’t so much a qualification question as a sales best practice. Every sales interaction should end with a next step tied to a date. If the buyer is truly committed to moving forward, they won’t have any trouble agreeing to a second meeting or call. Interest: secured; prospect: qualified.
What sales qualification questions would you add to this list?
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.