No-one likes being ‘qualified’ by a salesperson. Nor do they like it when people ask manipulative questions. A life insurance salesman once asked me “Tony, do you love your family and want the best for them?” I answered in the affirmative with wry grin and waited for his next zinger. “Would you want to know that they’re being looked-after financially when you’re dead?” I kid you not and it annoyed me – my response was deadpan: “No, I won’t be thinking about anything then.” The ‘qualification’ process can feel awkward or go badly if sellers ask questions than annoy the buyer or make them feel manipulated.
Most sellers think of qualification as a series of gates that buyers must pass through in order to qualify for their time and be candidates for the product, service or solution. The best known, and simplest, qualification framework is BANT. It’s an acronym for asking whether the potential customer has Budget, Authority to make the decision, a genuine Need, and a Timeframe for going ahead. Yet everything we do needs to nuance and examples of poor BANT questions include, ‘Do you need to involve anyone else to make this decision?’ And; ‘Do you have budget to go ahead?’ Rather than ask closed low-level qualification questions like these, we need to blend discovery with some insights that earn engagement and get us on ‘their side of the table’. We can do this by focusing on their business case for changing the way they currently operate.
Intent is everything, and we must seek to establish why they need to change or invest and whether we are helping them solve serious problems or realise significant opportunities. We need to focus on them and the outcomes they seek rather than talk about us and our ‘solutions’. By exploring their business case for change and how they can measure results and manage risk, we create the right focus on value and risk mitigation. Rather than push to close, we attract through alignment. Most objections that we receive during the sales process are the result of pushing too early or seeking progression before having the necessary level of understanding about their situation, process and timing. Here is the most important thing in qualifying a prospect.
The degree to which the customer provides quality information and access to their people is what determines whether the seller should invest time and effort.
In corporate and enterprise selling, doing business with someone is a partnership where the parties jointly define value, determine priorities, build a business case, secure consensus and manage risk. When everyone is focused on the outcome of change rather than when a purchase order can be raised for the seller, real support and momentum is achieved. Having the right intent and building trust enables the parties to be aligned which results in a purchase order or contract being executed as a logical next step within the process. Stress and tension is reduced, and the risks of ‘negative surprises’ are minimised.
Opening is the most important phase of any sale and trust rather than salesmanship is the X-factor in creating momentum and commitment. The way we open sets the tone for the engagement and we all need to lead with value in the conversation before seeking to articulate value from our product, services or ‘solution’. Rather than beginning with qualifying the buyer, we should target based on our Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and engage senior buyer personas. The very best sellers measure progress in how much trust is built as evidenced by how much quality information is being shared by the customer and how much engagement is happening with key people? Without this, there is no chance of answering the two most important qualification questions for the sales manager to ask the salesperson: 1) Why will this prospect change the way they currently operate? 2) Why will they select us as being best value and lowest risk?
Here are some open questions you could ask that nuance qualification:
- What’s happened to cause you to look at changing the way you currently operate?
- Who’s impacted internally and who needs to be on-board to achieve consensus?
- Where do see the risks in selecting the new supplier and managing the change?
- What’s the business case and how’s is the project being funded?
- Talk me through your timing and process for making the change?
- When does this need to be implemented; why is that date important and what happens if it slips?
Time is the your most precious resource and trust is a multiplier than accelerates timeframes, increases commitment and lifts the probability of success. Yes, we need to conduct discovery and qualification, but move as fast as possible to partnership by exploring their business case for change and how they can best manage their risks in achieving the results they need for investing in any solution.
Here is my advice to business people and sellers: Target prospects carefully and engage at the most senior level possible. Lead with value and insight in a conversation by focusing on them and their outcomes. But if the customer won’t share information and provide access to key people… qualify out and move on.