Questions to ask prospects

10 Sales Qualification Questions to Ask Prospects

Questions to ask prospects

If only 3% of your prospects are ready to buy, the remaining 97% of your prospects aren’t ready (or interested) in making their purchase. How do you change that?


Ask the right questions.



The right questions give you a clear idea of the prospects you’re dealing with. These questions show you who’s who, the state of your relationship with these prospects, and the next steps you’ll need to take to move toward closing deals.


Let’s take a look at these questions.


  1. How did you hear about us?
  2. What’s your role in this process?
  3. What’s your budget?
  4. What’s your timeframe for purchasing?
  5. What does the ideal product or service look like to you?
  6. Suppose I provide you with the ideal terms/product. What are your immediate next steps?
  7. Who did you work with last?
  8. Why did you stop working with them?
  9. Which potential deal breakers would keep us from working together?
  10. What do you expect from our product/service?


Now, let’s break these questions down.


How did you hear about us?


This question is essential because it tells sales and marketing teams which lead sources are working. Using this intel, you can increase spending on the marketing channels that produce higher quality leads and less on the channels that fail to perform. This means more commissions for your salespeople and more revenue for your company.


What’s your role in this process? 


You’ll need to identify who you’re speaking with – gatekeepers, influencers, or decision-makers. Working with a decision-maker is rare with larger, more established companies, but it’s common with small businesses. A clear understanding of the role you’re dealing with tells you a lot. If you’re dealing with a gatekeeper who is withholding access to the decision-maker, lead nurturing or sending the lead back to marketing may be the smart play.


What’s your budget? 


Every salesperson wants an answer to this question, but no prospect wants to answer truthfully. Prospects are afraid of throwing out the wrong number. If your company charges $ but your prospects list $$$$ as their budget, they believe they won’t get a good deal. A better strategy would be for sales reps to throw out a range that forces prospects to self-identify (e.g., Our services range from $50,000 to $175,000 per year, is that within the ballpark for you?). Combined with the “how’d you hear about us?” question, you can gain additional intel on the quality of your lead sources.


What’s your timeframe for purchasing?


The answer to this question tells you if this prospect deserves your attention now, later, after a specific date, or never. This tells you about the action steps you’ll need to take to close your deal. [Now] could mean qualifying, following up, and closing. [Later] could mean adding prospects to your lead nurturing campaigns until they’re ready. [After # date] means you add them to your lead nurturing campaigns, then check-in and convert to [now]. [Never] could mean this prospect is blacklisted and removed from your prospect listings.


What does the ideal product or service look like to you? 


This qualification question flushes out your prospect’s fuzzy, implicit, and unrealistic expectations. This question tells you (a.) what your prospects expect, (b.) how to address these expectations, and (c.) whether it’s a good idea for you to pursue this prospect. If your prospects have unrealistic expectations and they’re unwilling to compromise, it may be a good idea to walk away; these customers are likely to initiate refunds and chargebacks. If prospects have a fuzzy or implicit expectation, you can ask more questions to make their expectations explicit, then determine if it’s something you want to tackle.


Suppose I provide you with the ideal terms/product. What are your next steps?


This question gauges commitment levels. Find out your customer’s internal processes. If it’s a B2C purchase, does your customer need to talk to their spouse? If it’s a B2B purchase, do the terms need to be cleared with legal or accounting? How they answer this question determines if they’ll make a purchase and how they’ll do it. If you’re dealing with a gatekeeper, they may say something to the effect of “I’ll need to discuss this internally with our team,” (indicating that they’re not a decision-maker. If you provide this prospect with the perfect product, service, and terms, the obvious answer should be, “I’ll make my purchase.” Any other response besides that indicates a lack of commitment on their part. You can then determine if you’d like to do some more digging or whether you should cut this prospect loose.


Who did you work with last? 


This tells you about the company they keep, their mindset, and where they stand on the social hierarchy. If they’ve worked with the bottomfeeders in your industry, this reflects poorly on them and sets the tone for your relationship with them. If they’ve worked for the best in your industry, they will have high expectations they carry over to you.


Why did you stop working with them? 


This tells you about their relationship and the reasons why they feel things failed with their previous company. This is a lot like an ex from a previous relationship. If they think their previous providers were wrong, they may maximize their previous providers’ mistakes while minimizing their role in their circumstances. This is important for you to know as this gives you an idea of what you’re getting into.


Which potential deal breakers would keep us from working together? 


These details are important because they tell you how to sell your customers on your product or service. This question qualifies customers, enabling you to identify the problems, objections, risks, fears, or deficiencies surrounding your business, product, or service. This gives you a chance to come up with a solution to these issues and defuse these concerns directly.


These questions enable you to sort your prospects.


This is essential.


The last thing you want to do is spend your time with the 97% of prospects who aren’t ready, able, and willing to buy. As a salesperson, you want to spend your time with prospects who will generate revenue for your company.


What happens when you find the 3% of prospects who are ready, willing, and able to buy?


How to qualify the qualified


If you’ve qualified your prospects, you’re ready for the next step in the qualification process.


The customer interview.


Here is a list of helpful qualification questions you can use to further qualify prospects who are active buyers. Here’s an important detail to keep in mind. Having a list of questions helps to keep things on track when prospects go off on a tangent. It also enables you to spot opportunities to jump in and redirect them. This is more about knowing what questions to ask than it is about the exact wording.


You don’t have to ask all of these questions. 


Rather, you’ll focus your attention on the questions that enable you to provide the most value to your prospects. For this interview, you’re looking for prospects who are willing and able to buy. If they don’t meet both of those criteria, they’re not a good fit.


Put them at ease, and make them feel safe.


Let them know you’re not gonna share what they tell you with anyone else unless they give you permission. Let them know they don’t have to share anything that makes them uncomfortable. Permit them to be as blunt or direct as they need to be.


Be conversational, not formal. Treat this as a conversation with a friend where you listen and ask questions about their circumstances and the things they’re going through.


They should do most of the talking; this means 80% listening and 20% talking.  Or 90% listening and 10% talking. This isn’t meant to be an exact ratio; it’s meant to show that your interviewee should be doing most of the talking.


Go off script, small talk is fine. Treat this questionnaire as a guide and not an absolute rule. If a customer goes off tangent for a bit, it’s alright. Steer the conversation back on track when you notice you’re not making progress.


Qualification Interview Framework


We call it a framework because qualifying customers can be complicated. A framework tells you about the information you need to know, enabling you to deal with the unexpected twists and turns that come with ideal customer interviews.


What you need to know


The answers to these questions are important. But the extras, emotion, and choice of words used – are also relevant.


  • A list of all the problems your ideal customer has that creates the need for a product or service like yours.
  • What’s the biggest problem from their perspective?
  • Why is that the biggest problem?
  • What’s the consequence if that problem isn’t solved?
  • What does a solution to that problem look like to them?
  • What’s the second biggest problem from their perspective?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • What’s the consequence if that problem isn’t solved?
  • What does a solution to that problem look like to them?
  • Why are you motivated to solve this problem now?
  • What would cause/motivate them to give you a review?
  • What would make your product or service unique from their perspective?


Important caveats


Don’t confuse an interview with a survey. When it comes to customer conversation, they’re often used interchangeably. But surveys and interviews have different purposes. Surveys are used to diagnose and/or assess, while interviews are investigative.


If you’re doing an interview, you’re looking for answers. Answers to things you know you should ask about and things you don’t know to ask about. You dig like a detective, asking questions until you understand what’s happening. With interviews, you can catch the subtle signals customers send (e.g., tone of voice, word choice, emotion, concerns, stories, etc.).


Asking the right questions gives you a clear idea of the prospects you’re dealing with. These questions show you who’s who, the state of your relationship with these prospects, and the next steps you’ll need to take to move toward closing deals.


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