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Asking questions

If only we know which deals would close. As salespeople we often wish we had a crystal ball – so we’d know where to focus our energies and efforts.  It’s incredibly frustrating when the deals we are working on don’t progress – or fade away into nothing.

Qualification is perhaps one of the greatest skills you can develop if you are serious about your sales pipeline. Qualifying means asking the hard questions, AND being prepared to listen to the answers.  This will help you sort the deals that will progress and close from those that won’t, but can still suck up all your time and energy!

Let’s take the example of a good friend of mine, who was selling solutions to medium sized companies to help manage their expense payments.

Upfront, there were some pre-qualification things he would always want to know. For example that their business was financially viable and that it was the right size and shape for him to do work with.  For the expense management solutions he targeted companies with between 50 and 250 employees.  Any bigger and they wouldn’t consider doing business with him. Any smaller and they simply didn’t have a big enough problem to warrant his solution.

He also needed to know that they had the potential to buy from him, so he qualified out any that had already outsourced their expense processing to a third party and also foreign-owned companies where their decision making for solutions of this type was handled elsewhere. He just didn’t have the capacity to deal with those things.

Here are the top 10 questions to qualify opportunities, through his lens of selling expense management services:

1. Is expense management (or project/pain area X) an area that you are involved in/responsible for?
He wanted to confirm that he was speaking to one of the right people.   If not he would ask them who the best person was (after asking them a couple of questions which could still help to understand the situation better.)

2. Is expense management a recognised problem or pain area for the organisation?
If there isn’t a problem, pain or project, there isn’t an opportunity.  You have to create one which is the hardest sell of all and not one he was prepared to tackle. The best you have is a relevant contact that you can add to your lead nurture list but not a sales opportunity for your pipeline.

3. How much is expense management costing you And what’s the impact of this on your business?
My friend was trying to get a feel for the size of the problem.  If it wasn’t a big one, and only took a junior member of the team half a day a month for example then the likelihood of them spending money on an automated solution was slim to none. On the other hand if it wass a major headache involving significant time and effort from people that could be better used elsewhere that was a positive sign for him.

4. Is ‘doing nothing’ an option?
Do nothing is the strongest competitor in any deal.  If it’s an option for them then be wary that the deal could slip out.

5. What might change that?
What’s happening in their business that might force them to make a decision? In my friends case he was looking for any reduction in the size of the finance team, (fewer people to deal with expense processing), increase in headcount (more to process) or a board level initiative to cut costs or streamline manual processes, ideally with a deadline attached.

6. Have you considered alternative ways of addressing the problem? 
He wanted to find out whether they had looked at similar solutions in the past.  Maybe they had but found that the solutions weren’t cost justifiable?  His solution was significantly less costly than others on the market, so this would give him an ‘in’. What does your solution offer – is it better/cheaper/faster that what’s been available before?

7. Are you looking at other solutions at the moment? How long have you been talking to (the competitor)? 

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About Urmas Purde

Urmas Purde is co-founder of Pipedrive, maker of popular web-based CRM software. Urmas has more than 15 years of experience as a sales trainer and software entrepreneur.