Qualifying—the critical skill

For most business people, selling is not usually a favorite task. Salespeople are often viewed as greedy, unethical and unscrupulousdetermined to close a sale at any cost. But a business cannot survive without generating sales so selling skills become a critical competency.

Selling is an honorable profession and anyone who operates a business should learn the fundamentals. From my perspective as a business owner, sales trainer and consumer, the most important skill to learn is how to effectively qualify your prospect.

The most common mistake sales people make is to immediately launch into a product presentation or sales pitch when they first meet their prospect. They extol the virtues of what they sell and bombard the prospective buyer with how good, fast, reliable, inexpensive or easy to use their product is. They talk, talk, and talk hoping they’ ll convince the buyer that their product or service is of value.

The problem with this approach is that the pitch seldom addresses the issues or concerns of the buyer. Because their needs have not been addressed, there is no compelling reason for them to consider using your product or to change vendors. If you really want to give prospects a reason to buy from you, you need to give them a reason. One of the most effective ways to do this is to ask a few well thought-out questions to uncover what is important to the prospect. Here are a few examples:

“I notice you currently use XYZ Company. How long have they been your supplier?”

“What do you like most about them?”

“If you could change one aspect about your current arrangement, what would it be?”

“What are the most important issues for you?”

“What have your experiences been with ABC Organization?”

“How many… do you sell in an average week/month?

“Who is your primary customer?”

“Where do you see your greatest challenge?”

Notice that each of these is an open-ended question, which means it begins with “who”, “what”, “where”, “why”, “when” or “how.” These types of questions encourage the prospect to open up and share information of what their needs and wants are. An important note is to be cautious you don’t inadvertently turn these open questions in to close-ended ones by saying something like; “What are the most important issues for you? Timeliness of service? Income?”

This is a very common mistake that now gives the prospect an answer. Selling is hard enough without making it even more difficult. Never assume you know how a prospect is going to answer. Ask your question and wait patiently for the answer. Even if you are a veteran in the industry and think you’ve heard it all, don’t make the mistake of assuming you know what the prospect needs. Let them tell you, rather than you telling them.

One of the most important lessons in sales is that people will tell you anything you want to know. All you have to do is ask. Most people love to talk about themselves and want to share information about their current situation, their challenges or problems, likes and dislikes. But, in most cases, they need prompting. This prompting comes from you in the form of asking the right questions in the proper tone and manner.

It amazes me how few salespeople actually take the time to learn about their customer before they launch into their presentation. I recall interviewing several companies for a training initiative I once worked on. The first two salespeople I met rambled on at great length about how good their companies were, how long they had been in business, how they could help me and so on. Not once did the salespeople ask me what I was looking for. Nor did they address any of the issues that were floating through my mind. Finally I called the interviews to a close. From my perspective, they had just wasted half an hour of my time.

If you really want to begin differentiating yourself from your competitors take the time to learn about your prospect’s situation. By doing so, you’ll begin to give them a reason to do business with you instead of someone else.