Ask these during every qualified prospect discussion. Asking these questions throughout the process ensures we don’t miss changes in the deal qualification circumstances and that we exert maximum influence on the decision process.
Note: a qualified prospect is where a need for your solution is discovered AND an interest is expressed by the prospect (i.e., you find they have requirements your solution address, and they have said to you that they have an interest in your solution)
Asking the following questions collects information and helps the customer focus on the issues involved in the decision process. Not asking these questions adds risk to the deal by keeping us ignorant of the customer’s needs, and by not getting the prospect to focus and think through their decision-making processes. SO, SKIP ANY OF THESE AT YOUR PERIL.
I have seen variants of these questions. If you have a variant, just use it. However, read on as some philosophy here will undoubtedly provide new insight into the how and when you use these questions.
NOTE: use your own wording in questions, it’s important that you’re comfortable and sound relaxed with doing hard qualification.
# 1 Do you have a current budget for our products (and/or service) assuming they meet your needs?
The answer will provide the ability to determine if the prospect is a short-term or long-term revenue opportunity. By asking this question more than once, we continually qualify their funding and determine if the need is relatively immediate. A non-responsive answer usually indicates we are not talking to the economic decision maker. An answer of “no” might mean they didn’t anticipate the need but expect to find the money for a purchase. Validate a negative response with a follow-on question like, “if the (product/service) provides the value you seek, would you be able to find the budget?” If they don’t know how to answer this, they are looking without a budget owner’s approval, or they were directed to investigate by some manager/budget-owner. So, keep asking them the following questions to understand their role in the decision. Consider they are just one of the members of a complex decision-making process and you need to uncover the others involved in getting a decision made.
#2 When would you like to execute the (initial) purchase?
The answer helps indicate the level of need and urgency in the purchaser’s mind. If the answer is deliberate and short-term, we know they are in the purchasing mode. If they stumble or evade then a “yellow flag” should be raised. The prospect likely needs help understanding their pains or their decision process is fragmented across other deciders and they aren’t confident in responding. Complex deals are characterized best by the Strategic Selling model from Miller Heiman or my simplified force field selling process. The important think to keep in mind is that not getting an answer could mean a lot of things but shouldn’t represent a reason to disqualify the opportunity. What it means usually is that the salesperson has more selling work to do.
#3 Who is making the decision, and what are the decision steps/timing and process?
We have to ask this multiple times and triangulate the answers, from numerous respondents. It is critical that we know who all the decision-makers are (i.e., all decision makers and types) and engage them fast and early in the process. Each person will not always know all the people involved. It is best to assume that multiple people make parts of the decision in most cases. (i.e., the technical decision-maker, an economic decision-maker, users of the solution, and other influencers). So, be skeptical of each person’s answers and be weary when you have not spoken to all the decision maker roles, especially the budget holder. Refrain from filling in gaps with your assumptions.
If our contacts don’t open the door to all decision-makers, don’t get frustrated. It’s not their job to open doors, that’s the role of a salesperson. If you expect your prospect to help carry your message internal to their decision-makers, imagine the poor job they may do communicating your values given their lack of training around your messaging product/service offerings. Consider just one aspect: do they know the answers to all the common objections you hear every day? You are the expert on how prospects make their buying decisions Communicate and lever this reality with them by saying, “having seen hundreds of users go through their decision process I feel like I have seen and heard everything and would like to share what’s helped improve some and caused delays with others.” Gain their confidence as a valued member of the decision process. You will want to demonstrate your value many times but may need to point out this value explicitly when/if they try to become a salesperson for you inside their organization. The probability of closing accounts is low when a customer’s decision-maker tries carrying the responsibility we hold in selling the solution.
Finally, a clear picture of the decision process steps, people, and timing helps ensure you know every area where you can add value and every area that a risk might exist which you can help reduce. One test for a sales manager, that their salesperson is executing this question completely, is to ask who the purchasing agent is (in the case where a purchasing agent exists). Many customers won’t want to share this detail either, so it’s a good opportunity to coach a rep how to get these important details from reluctant prospects. If a rep objects to their needing this information, remind them of the many times an order gets delayed on a purchasing person’s desk. Then point out that knowing their name would enable us to walk in a morning coffee or treat in order to ask the favor of moving our order to the top of the stack.
#4 Who signs the purchase order?
Follow on to question #3 as most opportunities involve teams under the control of the budget/economic decision-maker; the budget and signature authorities may be two different people. This question helps uncover any hidden roadblocks to the timing of the final close. I have found it common to receive a response to this question from prospects, “I sign the order.” Be aware that very few people have the legal and budgetary power to make a final decision. We can usually confirm this by asking a follow-up question like, “really? You sign the order purchase/approval, and you’re the budget owner? That’s great!” Then expect them to correct you and maybe feed you the name you want along with some explanation of why you don’t need to know, or talk to, that person. The salesperson will need to get creative here in order to find the actual signer, or at least confirm that person’s existence, power and interest in buying.
#5 Who are the competitors to this solution (or, what are the alternatives to choosing our solution)?
We need to know this, not to bash them, but to share info for efficient prospect decision making. Knowing the competition, and their weaknesses, will allow you to share relevant info to help differentiate yourself. Anticipating and preparing against competitors assaults is more effective then reacting after a competitor is fully engaged. Be sure that you are positioned to win against a competitor versus dumping all your values out on the prospect like a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes. Exposing all your benefits without the expressed need, for each, from the customer, disrespects your customer’s time resources by forcing them to weed through everything to find the few things they find value.
#6 What is the positive result expected from this purchase?
Business customers purchase results, not products or services (read that one again – if you take away anything, this is that nugget). They want to be more competitive, more productive, save money, save time, avoid risk, and save effort. The answer to this question will validate the customer’s intent and diligence at executing the purchase. Asking this question of each decision maker also lets us understand how each perceives your product/service offerings value (triangulating this answer will help you predict the probability of closing and timing). This question also forces your prospect to imagine a time and place where they are using your product/service offerings. Imagining in this way also creates a permanent impression on their subconscious. The subconscious doesn’t always know the difference between reality and imagination, so this question helps set in motion a personal need they should fill inside their heads.
#7 Will there be a negative impact of not executing this purchase?
The question forces the prospect to be aware of the negative consequences of not executing the purchase. By asking this question, we are very lightly playing the Fear Card, and the answer gives us the pain driven value point from the customer’s perspective. In a sale, their fear is our gain. Some will take that last sentence as manipulative, but that’s a matter of perspective. I pride myself in reducing their fears.
The BANT model, developed by IBM, like all processes needed a little update. The seven questions model (a BANT update) is one of the many structured models used to fully qualify opportunities. It is not the only one and not the last one you will come across in a sales career. But, I have found that any organization using a standard qualification model is better off. A standard allows for all open opportunities to be measured and probability more reliably.