Sales, or the act of selling, as we know is really just a methodical process one follows to take a prospect through to a close. Once you have identified the target account, the appropriate contact, devised your sales messaging, reached out to them, and secured a meeting, then the real fun begins. This is where you have an opportunity to engage the prospect in some meaningful dialogue to assess their business pain, your solution and the fit. Open ended sales questions can help you accomplish this.
I have always found it best to ask questions that give the prospect a chance to express their need or pain in more than just one word answers. Oftentimes, there is a story behind their business pain and asking questions to draw it out helps you better understand the scale and scope of the opportunity, as well as the key players, timelines and budget.
The better you understand the opportunity, the better you can gauge the “fit” and the value your product brings. The more the prospect is engaged, the more they will listen to your pitch and solution and oftentimes see it is as a viable fit.
One question we are often asked is what sort of questions are best to ask when in a qualification meeting with a prospect. This is by no means a definitive list but I hope it is something to get you started.
What is your situation today?
This can be broken out into a variety of similar questions such as:
- How are you managing your daily tasks?
- How does the pain affect the organization overall?
The bottom line here is that you want to get a feeling for the size, depth and impact the need has on the organization.
How have you been managing it till now?
Part of the process here is understanding what they have been doing until now. Have they been throwing a lot of people resources at the problem? Have they tried to custom build something?
I remember in one meeting I was at for a client, the prospect we were speaking to had been doing a specific process with huge volumes via mail for years. Their solution, before hearing about us, was to move the same operation to a country where labour costs were 75% lower but still go through the same process with the same errors and then container load shipping costs to another continent. Though this process may have seemed like a good idea on paper, mistakes cost money and moving your operation off-shore means less control and probably more costs. Even further, shipping from other continents adds another expense to the operation.
Our pitch was changing the process by laying on a tech solution to lower costs and driving 70% or more in savings. Understanding what they were doing and what they had planned to do to drive savings before we arrived allowed us to tailor our message more effectively.
Walk me through the workflow or process – how does it all works now?
This question relates to number 1 and 2, but in this question you want to get into the inner workings of how all the facets touch each other. So starting at point A, say the mailing of an invoice from a supplier to a buyer, what happens in the buyers system when this invoice is received. What people and other systems are required to make processing happen.
Who uses the tool and is involved?
You want to understand who are the main users of the tool and what drives them. It could be a number of different parties all with different challenges. Your job is to understand this as best as you can and work on a solution to hit all of the core areas of need. Also, by understanding who is a user and who is an influencer, as well as who owns the budget, you can be better prepared on how to position to each stakeholder.
Where are your operations? What locations would the solution be applicable for? Where will the key users be located?
This question matters as it impacts pricing, roll-out, support, logistics, etc. Again, the more you know, the better your proposal and the better you can plan your support. We had a meeting recently for a client and the prospect we were speaking to has operations across North America and the overall premise of the solution our client has is a fit. The challenge is each operation has a slightly different need and will require a tailored implementation at each location.
What are the key criteria to judge potential suppliers?
Always important to know what you are being rated on or judged against. Some firms have a very formal matrix rating system while with others it is more informal. Make sure you understand how to position yourself for the best possible outcome.
I wrote a blog a few months ago about influencing the RFP process. If this is the route the engagement is going, be in early, consult the customer and try to influence how the RFP is written to ensure you are well placed to bid and ideally win.
Who else is competing for the project?
When selling products or services you are always competing against someone and sometimes it may not be a direct competitor but rather an entirely different project being run in a different part of the company. One client we had rated their projects based on IRR. The minimum was 16%. If it did not meet that threshold, they did not pursue it and then the better the IRR of the project, the higher the priority.
What is your budget and the timing of your budget cycle?
An easy one but important. Different organizations have different budget cycles. Understanding this will allow you to deploy your resources in a timely manner and plan your approach strategically.
If you’re looking for tips on how to improve your B2B sales lead generation efforts or are considering outsourcing your B2B sales and marketing, please don’t hesitate to contact us. For great insight into startup sales and marketing, feel free to sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Twitter.