Qualifying Questions - A Sales Manager's Best Friend

A reader writes, "One of my reps gets really excited after meeting with a potential new customer. He then puts in a request for a sales engineer to accompany him on the next visit to this prospect. Unfortunately, he usually gets very incomplete information from the decision maker. It's costly for me to send the SE out to speak with poorly qualified possible buyers.

"Having accompanied him on several unproductive visits, the SEs have lost trust in this rep, pushing back about visiting clients with him. I can't blame them. How do I make this rep understand the importance of getting certain information from prospects before I commit additional company resources?"

Many of my clients struggle with a lack of proper qualifying information from their reps. These suggestions should help.

The Root Cause

This goes back to the fear of rejection. First, reps worry about asking too many questions - the potential client might get annoyed and refuse to answer some of them or shut down altogether. Then, if they do answer the questions, reps fear discovering the prospect might not really need their product or service. That's one less prospect to put in the pipeline.

What Do You Need to Know?

Before speaking to the rep, make a list of the questions you need answered before authorizing a sales engineer visit. Of those questions, determine which two or three are absolutely essential.   

Stay flexible, though. Sometimes prospects can't or won't answer every single question. With other prospects it might take multiple contacts from the rep to qualify them. Don't always expect a "one and done" to get the required information.

Define the Term

Make sure the rep understands the definition of a qualifying question. Explain that these critically important inquiries determine whether or not a prospect can potentially use your product or service. The answers don't guarantee a customer will buy, just that they could buy.   

High performing reps use these valuable questions to decide if they should spend any more of their valuable time with a prospect.

Be Clear

Go over the list of qualifying questions you put together.  Say something to the rep like, "I need you to ask these questions to determine whether or not sending an SE out makes sense. You must get answers to a minimum of 7 out of 10 and numbers 1 and 2 are required. Without answers to those, I cannot justify a visit from a sales engineer."

Reinforce the Behavior

Ask this rep to pick out a book on early stage prospect qualification. Many excellent ones exist. Have them read and discuss it with you. 

Help the rep get comfortable through practice. During staff meetings, role play. Take turns having the salespeople play the part of the rep and the decision maker and ask each other qualifying questions. Discuss afterwards.

Do the Math

Determine the approximate cost of sending an SE out on a sales call. Include travel as well as pre-call preparation and post-call follow-ups. Share this information with the rep.  Demonstrate the expense involved in meeting with an inadequately qualified prospect.  

Make Necessary Changes

If after a period of time, the reps report consistently struggling to get certain questions answered, look into it.  Run the question by peers or a few trusted customers. Find out whether or not they would answer it. Why or why not?  The question might need to be re-worked, eliminated, or used further into the sales process.

Final Thoughts

Successful salespeople ask high value, insightful questions to develop solid rapport with prospects. The information they bring back helps the sales support staff and their direct supervisors prepare for productive meetings with potential new clients.