This post is part of an 8-part series on the steps of the sales process.  Click here to see the full series.

Qualification – The Third Step of the Sales Process

Once you have successfully set up an opportunity for a sales conversation with a prospective customer, the first thing you want to do is to qualify them.

By qualification, we mean determining that they are both able to and likely to buy from you.  Failure to qualify early in the process means that you will spend a lot of time with prospects that are unlikely to buy from you, which is an enormous waste of time and a huge drain on your overall potential for success.  The prospects in your pipeline should have the potential to buy from you, and qualification is where you learn this – do it early in the process!

There are three things that you always need to know about a prospect to consider them qualified.  Your industry may have more, such as special certifications or licenses, or some other special circumstance, so know what these are and be sure to add them to this list.

The three things that apply to all prospects are the following:

  • They have a current need (preferably an important or compelling one)
  • They have the money to buy what you are selling to meet that need
  • The person you are talking to can make (or influence) the decision about buying what you are selling

Salespeople are often unwilling to push too hard on qualification questions early in the sales process because the questions seem very invasive.  Unfortunately, failure to get the answers to these questions is a recipe for sales pipeline disaster.  As such, it is imperative to find ways to get this information.

So how can we do that? How can we get the information we need in a way that does not seem rude or pushy or invasive?

I like to approach it this way:

When you first meet a prospect, it is natural for your to want to know their situation as it relates to your products and services – this is the reason you are meeting after all.  Early in the conversation then, take the following line of questioning to establish at a general level where you stand with respect to this bigger question.

“Can we talk about why it is that you wanted to meet with me?  What issues are you trying to solve with the products that we offer.”

This will help to establish needs.  Ask at least a few questions here, but not too many – just enough to establish the general scope of the problem and the solution that will fill it.  Just enough to then ask…..

“In my experience, a solution for a problem like that usually costs between X and Y.  I will need to learn more before making a specific proposal, but if our solution meets that need, is that going to fit into the budget?”

This will help to ensure that there is no unpleasant surprise in your proposal.  If your client is thinking four figures and you solution costs five, it is better to find that out sooner rather than later.  At this stage, in most cases, you won’t have enough information to name a price just yet, but it’s important to establish the price range early on to avoid trouble later.  Don’t name a price that is too low, because your prospect will remember if the price you name in your proposal is higher!  The answer to the price questions sets up the next question, which is…..

“So who will we need to involve in a decision like this?”

You may have to dig to find out what financial or technical or administrative people and processes need to occur within the prospects company before the decision to buy your product or service is made, but getting this information now will save you from the too often heard “I need to talk to someone else before making the decision”.  When that comes after a long Needs Analysis and Proposal, you spent a lot of time talking to only part of the decision making team, and facing an objection that is almost impossible to overcome.

More detailed information about the situation will be needed, and this is the role of the next step – Needs Analysis, but Needs Analysis can often take a lot of time. You want to be sure that the prospect is qualified before taking the time for Needs Analysis, so get this general information first, and fully, before you move into a more detailed examination of the issues that will lead you to a sale.

Please click on the following links for more information about Qualification, or this link for the full list of topics in this 8-part series on the sales process.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Hi, I’m David Masover. With nearly three decades of B2B sales experience, I work as a private practice Sales Force Development Consultant. I help company leaders understand the root causes of sales issues that keep revenue from growing as fast as it could, and to fix those problems through work with reps, managers, systems, processes, strategies, and tools. You can learn more about me and my work and/or get in touch with me here at my web site www.davidmasover.com/contact/ or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/masover/