8 Sales Probing Questions To Ask Your Prospects

Sales probing questions are types of questions a salesperson can ask their prospect that will potentially lead to a greater business opportunity. Using the correct sales probing questions will gather the information you need to be a more effective sales person and create an improved experience for your prospect overall.

Once on a call I made for a client, it was originally positioned to me that the prospect I was speaking with needed only 5 to 10 units. While on the call with the prospect, I asked a series of sales probingquestions that helped to open up the conversation. The end result was a much larger opportunity in the range of 100 units. This equaled about $840,000 in revenue.

Here are 8 useful sales probing questions you should ask your prospects to position yourself for a better business opportunity:

1. What do you do? What are Your Goals?

It’s important to understand what your prospect does and the services or products they sell. The deeper your understanding of who they are, what they do and their business pains and goals – the better you can position your product or service to help them.

I remember in one situation, we were having a meeting with a prospect of a customer and as we started probing into their overall business goals, it became apparent that the solution we were pitching would be a good fit. In this case, the customer wanted to look at expense reduction and better asset utilization. It so happened that the solution we were selling did exactly those two things and we have quantitative proof to back it up.

2. What is your Current Situation?

Using the SPIN Selling methodology, you can ask probing questions around your buyer’s current situation. Be sure to do your homework first though. Buyers will be annoyed if you ask them questions that could have easily been found on their website or through basic research. In Spin Selling, you move from the current situation, to probe into the problems the buyer is facing, the implications of those problems, and needs-payoff questions. These final questions ask about the value, importance or usefulness of the solutions. Need-payoff questions are particularly powerful selling tools in the larger sales because they also increase the acceptability of your solution and are one of the best ways to prepare and rehearse the customer in presenting your solutions convincingly to other decision makers.

3. What Projects are you Currently Working on Now?

Are large capital projects, infrastructure projects, community or research initiatives underway where your offering can provide value? For a clean-tech client we were working with a number of years ago, we were speaking with a prospect of theirs in the educational sector and it became apparent that the technology we were pitching was not only a fit for the school at an operational level, but also tied in nicely to a number of research programs underway on campus. In this case, we were able to solidify the sales opportunity and access additional funding to pay for it as the solution had both commercial and research uses.

4. Where are you Located? Where do you Provide Your Products and Services?

Related to question number one, this question takes a slightly different angle. Depending on how the company is structured from a location standpoint, your sales approach, pricing and post-sales support could vary entirely.

For example, if you are selling consulting or advisory services to a firm with international locations, you need to understand the chain of command from not only a purchase standpoint, but also a usage standpoint. If you have numerous global locations to service, how are you doing that, who is doing it, who on the customer’s end is the main point of contact in those locations and how are you pricing it. These will all vary based on the situation itself.

5. Do you have a Budget in Mind?

The budget question should always be asked because if there is no money, there is no point in selling. The budget does not have to be a finite number, what you want to know is that there is a recognition from the buyer that budget would be allocated to purchase what you are selling should you meet their needs. So definitely ask about it and be prepared that in some cases, you are going to have to help them with it.

The other aspect to the budget question is timeframes. When is their year end? When do they start planning for next year’s budget? What does the process entail? How can you help? Can you support your internal champion in creating the budget?

6. Who is Your Current Supplier or Vendor? What are you Using them for?

Find out which solutions your prospect is currently using, why they selected them, the pros and cons and what they are looking for in a new solution. These are basic and solid questions to ask and they are also open-ended enough to get a conversation started.

In addition, understanding how they are using the current solution is important as it gives you perspective as to what is happening today and allows you to probe for ways to service them better and look for new sales opportunities.

7. What Criteria are you Basing Your Buying Decision on?

This helps you understand how your solution and other competitors will be evaluated. This can include things such as cost, terms and functionality. Make sure you articulate how your solution fulfills each criterion so that it’s clear to them that your offering can meet their needs. This also allows you to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

8. Are There Other People Involved in the Purchasing Process?

Different stakeholders from different departments may be involved in the buying process. Maybe it’s an RFP Process. It could be a senior manager and a buyer, or it could be various stakeholders from various offices across the globe. You will need to ensure you understand their roles and responsibilities and tailor any messaging to them at the appropriate times. If you can identify who holds the budget, who is an influencer, who is your champion, who is the dissenter and so forth you can improve your chances of success. Work your sales strategy and process to ensure you can get enough of those people on board to drive a close.

Other Considerations

Obviously, this type of list can continue on and on, but I hope you get the basic feeling for the sort of probing sales questions that you could ask to turn good opportunities into great ones. While asking questions you might also consider looking at some principles of active listening when speaking to your buyer. Sometimes we can be trying to follow a “script” so closely that we don’t really tune into what our buyer is telling us. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t be afraid to also challenge your prospect’s assumptions when necessary.

If you’re looking for assistance with your organization’s sales efforts or would like some advice with some personalized probing sales questions you could ask your prospects, please give us a call. We would be happy to explore the opportunity with you.

For more great insight into startup sales and marketing, sign up for our monthly newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

This blog post was originally written on June 6th, 2016 by Steve Gruber. It has since been updated with recent information by Randy Hendriks.