How To Qualify Prospects With Open Ended Questions

questions around puzzle and a magnifying glass

It’s true, qualifying a prospect can be time consuming.

Since your goal isn’t to make a sale but simply to gather information, it can feel like a huge waste of your time.

As a sales person, your mindset is to sell something regardless of who’s on the other end of the phone.

However, prospecting is an important and crucial step.  One that can’t be overlooked.

The main reason is that it helps fill your sales funnel.

It also helps determine if you and your prospect are the right fit for each other.

And you eliminate a wrong prospect who can be a complete waste of your time.

 

Have you ever spent weeks or months chasing a prospect but never managed to close them?  You even had good follow-up conversations, yet still no sale?

It’s because you missed the initial step of qualifying them.  Or you just didn’t ask the right questions.

There might never have been a real need, only a perceived one.  By properly qualifying your prospect you would have determined this.

Also avoid rushing them into the buying stage before they’re qualified or ready.

You could miss out on an opportunity if they feel you’re not really concerned with their needs but only in making a sale.

When Is The Best Time To Qualify A Prospect?

Ideally, you want to qualify them right away early in the conversation.

There’s immense value in taking time initially to ask qualifying questions.

Strategically plan when you want to reach out to them.  There are good and bad times to do this.

The best time to call a prospect is in the morning between 8 – 9 A.M.  They’re at their desks and ready to begin the day.

They won’t have to deal with a lot of interruptions and should be able to spend time answering your questions.

Another good time is between 4 – 5 P.M.  Most meetings are over and people are back at their desks trying to wrap up their day.

If they had to deal with issues and are looking for solutions your call will be coming at just the right time.

The worst time to call is between 11 – 2 P.M.  It’s difficult to reach anyone since most people take lunch between those hours and are away from their desk.

If you do manage to reach them it’s because they’re working through lunch and are very busy.  Your call will then be viewed as an annoying interruption.

telephone best time and worst time to call listed

What Type Of Questions Should You Ask?

A) Are your prospects answering most of your questions with only a yes or no?

B) Does it sometimes seem painful to get any information out of them?

If you answered YES it’s because you’re not asking questions in a way that will get the response you’re looking for.

By asking closed ended questions you’ll simply get yes or no answers.

To gather as much information as possible from a prospect you have to ask them open ended questions.

The questions I just asked you were closed ended because I wasn’t looking for more than a yes or no.  If I needed to gather more information I would have asked my question differently.

For example:

A) Why are your prospects answering questions with a yes or a no?

B) Why are your prospects reluctant to give you information?

There are so many variations to how you can ask those 2 questions as you’ll learn below.

Whatever answer you give I can ask you to elaborate on more if I need it.

Do you see how changing the way you ask your question can make a huge difference?  If you start paying attention to how it’s phrased you’ll extract a lot more information.

 

Your open ended questions should begin with:

Who, What, When, Where, Why or How

These types of questions will assist you in uncovering a wealth of information.

1. It will help you determine if a prospect can eventually be converted into a customer.  They can then be entered into your sales funnel once you’ve finished qualifying them.

2. You’ll uncover any challenges they’re facing now or will in the near future.  Their company may have plans to implement some large projects or go through a restructuring.

3. You can start building credibility right from the beginning.  Once you determine the problem you can offer a good solution which will help build confidence in you.  It can prove early on that you’ll take care of them throughout the sale including before and after it.

4. You’re able to establish yourself as an authority in your niche and industry.  By finding out how they prefer to receive information whether through webinars, blog posts or eBooks you can provide it for them.  You can also give examples of customers with similar pain points that you were able to help.

5. You can learn more about your competitors.  Some prospects will willingly offer up information on your competition if you just ask.  It always helps knowing who or what you’re up against.  Usually if a prospect shares a lot of specifics or complains about a competitor they are looking to leave them for better price or service.

open ended questions -who-what-when-where-why-how-questions

 

So remember to keep your questions open ended.

It’s easy to slip back into asking closed ended ones but now you’ll be aware of it as soon as you start hearing those yes or no answers.

Simply go back and rephrase your questions.

What Areas Should You Qualify?

There are 5 areas that should be qualified to determine if a prospect is a good fit for your company.

You’ll be able to uncover information and establish if there is a need for your product or service.

  1. Needs: You can decide if you have the right solution for their needs.
  2. Pain points:  You’ll determine if there is a challenge or pain point your product can address.
  3. Budget:  You need to find out what their budget is and if they have money allocated to buy your product.
  4. Decision Maker:  You can get the contact information for the person or people you should be speaking with.
  5. Timeline:  You must find out how soon they need your product.

Open Ended Questions

Here are some open ended questions you can use to uncover information.  Put them into your own words so you sound natural and not scripted.

It’s also important to tailor them to your product and your prospects business.

I’ve found it beneficial to arrange the questions in a logical sequence.  That way you can progressively build on the last question you asked.

Needs

  • What prompted this need?
  • What else do you need?
  • How did you determine this is the right product for your needs?
  • What else should we be discussing?
  • How do you plan to increase x with this product or service?

Budget

  • What’s your budget?
  • When are funds allocated for your budget?
  • Who’s responsible for the budget?

Pain Points

  • What pain points are you trying to address?
  • What are some common challenges your department faces?
  • How do you expect this product to resolve your challenges?
  • What difficulties do you anticipate if you don’t fix this issue?

question mark with question and answer

Decision Maker

  • Who is the decision maker?
  • Who else is involved in making decisions for this need?
  • What other departments need to sign off on this?
  • What criteria do you usually consider when selecting a vendor?

Timeline

  • How soon do you need this?
  • When do you plan on purchasing this product?
  • When will you need this delivered by?
  • What’s your deadline for getting this implemented?
  • What are the next action steps needed?

Here are some more takeaways.

They’ll help you be more successful when asking open ended questions.

When a prospect answers your question resist interrupting.  You want to keep them talking for as long as possible to uncover any opportunities or challenges.

If you interrupt or hurry them by asking another question it may give the impression that you’re not really listening.

By allowing them to finish what they’re saying shows you’re engaged and are sincere about wanting to know more about them.

Practice active listening and fully concentrate on what is being said.  Take notes as they speak to ask follow up questions or to get further clarification if needed.

How you respond when they share information is what helps them to build trust in you as a sales person.

As you begin asking questions allow the conversation to be relaxed and not sound like an interrogation.  To avoid this happening try to take a personal interest in your prospect and really get to know them.

Imagine if you both met face to face.

word trust in front of man and woman shaking hands

You wouldn’t start drilling them with one question after another.

Instead you might ask a little about them and their role or responsibilities at work.  This is to draw them out so they slowly open up and trust you with the information they’re about to share.

Try and do the same thing with a prospect over the phone.

If you can engage them in a good and meaningful discussion they’ll quickly warm up to you and continue answering questions.

By taking time to initially qualify prospects you’ll soon be filling the top of your sales funnel.

Then with a little nurturing these well qualified prospects will in time become your good customers.

 

 

What are some qualification questions you always use?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

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