In sales, when you start strong, you end strong.
In fact, our most recent sales research shows unequivocally that sales are won—or lost—at the beginning of the sale.
So if you’re focused on what to say at the end of sale in order to close it…chances are, you’re in trouble.
The key to closing more sales is to focus instead on creating tons of value in the early part of the sales conversation, also known as the sales qualification or discovery phase.
This is when you have the best opportunity to create real value in the prospect’s eyes.
Yet so many salespeople are missing out on this opportunity to dig deeper and build more value during sales qualification.
Starting strong during sales qualification requires that you first understand that prospects don’t see value in what you say, they see value in what they say.
That’s why it’s key that you know to ask the right questions to get them talking, so you can start to understand what’s really going on in your world.
Focus on getting your prospects to articulate the value of your solution in their own words, and you’re golden.
Create Value During Sales Qualification Step #1: Don’t qualify; disqualify.
Here’s the thing: Most salespeople have been taught that they need to qualify prospects—hence the popular term sales qualification.
As a result, salespeople end up asking leading questions to influence prospects to conclude that they’re a good fit for whatever solution is being sold.
This is the absolute wrong mindset for creating value during sales qualification.
Instead of trying to get the prospect to buy into the idea that your solution will help them, you should be focused on determining for yourself whether the prospect is a fit for what you sell in the first place.
When you take this counterintuitive approach to sales qualification, your prospects will either see clearly that they’re not a fit…or they’ll see massive value in your solution. You want your prospects to go in one of these two directions early on in the sales conversation. What you want to avoid is the dreaded no-man’s-land where it’s unclear either way.
That’s what disqualification is all about. It requires that you start from the mental frame: “You know what? I’m not sure if this prospect is going to be a fit for my solution, so let me ask them some questions to determine whether they actually are.”
This is the absolute best approach to sales qualification—not just for you as a salesperson, but also for the prospect.
Why? Because it conveys massive credibility on your part, while simultaneously helping the prospect determine whether having a conversation with you even makes sense for them.
Our sales data shows that 50% of prospects are not a fit for any given sales offering for one reason or another. Maybe they don’t have the challenges that you solve, maybe they don’t have the money, or maybe they just need something completely different.
And you know what? That 50% is okay. Because it also means that the other 50% of prospects could be a great fit for your offering. What I find is that most salespeople are spending way too much time trying to convince the non-fit 50% of prospects to do business with them. As a result, they’re not able to sell as much as they should to the 50% who are a fit.
So don’t qualify; disqualify.
Next time a prospect asks, “Why should I do business with you?” I want you to respond with something like this: “You know what? I really appreciate your asking me that, and quite frankly, I’m not sure that you should do business with me. Would it be okay if I ask some questions to see whether we’re a fit?”
That’s disqualification. You’ll find that prospects will be drawn to you when you use this approach during the sales qualification phase. Don’t qualify; disqualify.
Create Value Step #2: Know the cost.
If you’ve been following my content for a while, then you already know that “knowing the cost” is a huge passion of ours here at the Sales Insights Lab.
You absolutely must know the cost of your prospect’s challenges.
When you’re disqualifying during the sales qualification phase, part of that conversation will obviously be about the prospect’s challenges, and understanding how those challenges are affecting the prospect’s business or life. But just talking about challenges isn’t nearly enough.
You must also understand the real cost of those challenges to the prospect. Why? Because that’s going to be the value of your solution.
Remember, the value of your solution is not determined by you—and it’s certainly not determined by all the awesome features and bonuses that you have to offer. The value of your solution is determined solely by the prospect, and more specifically by the size and cost of the challenges that they believe you can help them solve.
That’s all the value you have; not a penny more, not a penny less. So you need to help them determine the cost during the sales qualification phase.
This doesn’t mean that you should start throwing out numbers and doing some kind of ROI calculation for the prospect. That’s complete junk. (Our data shows that ROI calculations simply don’t work in sales.) Instead, you want to ask strategic questions to understand the cost of the prospect’s challenges, effectively getting them to articulate the cost themselves.
Say something like, “You shared with me those three challenges, and I appreciate that—what do you think those challenges are ultimately costing the business?” That’s the kind of question that will lead to an answer such as, “Oh, I think it’s costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars.” And you want to pinpoint that actual cost.
The other way you can get to cost is on the positive side, by saying something like, “If you were able to solve those challenges you shared with me, what do you think it would mean in potential upside to the business?”
Keep in mind that even if you’re selling to consumers, the cost doesn’t have to be purely monetary (although in many cases it can be). There are often other costs associated, too. For example, if you sell kitchen cabinets, the cost for your prospects might be that they’re embarrassed to have friends over, they hate looking at their ugly kitchen every day, or they don’t even enjoy cooking anymore because their current cabinets are so unappealing. Those are costs—and knowing those costs is critical to getting the prospect to see the real value in your solution.
The more you know about the cost, the more likely the prospect is to trust you, and to believe that you are the solution.
The goal is that you want to know more about their challenges than even their own spouse does. If you get to that point, you’re going to have a customer.
Create Value During Sales Qualification Step #3: Understand their commitment.
Is your prospect actually committed to solving their challenges? This is one of the foundational keys to a successful sales qualification conversation. Understanding the prospect’s personal commitment to solving their challenges is key.
This is a place where, particularly in the B2B space, a lot of salespeople tend to feel really uncomfortable. Even great salespeople can start to feel uneasy when digging to understand their prospect’s personal commitment to solving the problems at hand.
But you know what? Behind every professional objective is a personal objective. So you need to understand why they personally care about solving their challenges.
Remember, there’s always a personal motivation behind solving any challenges in life or business—so if there isn’t one, then the prospect simply isn’t going to do it. There must be a personal motivation behind why they want to solve any particular challenge.
It’s absolutely critical that you understand their personal motivation by asking a question that sounds something like this: “Behind every professional objective is a personal objective. Help me understand what’s driving you to want to solve this challenge.”
By asking that question and getting them to say, “Oh, well, if I don’t solve this, the company is going to be in trouble…” or whatever the answer is, you’re really getting them personally connected to solving that challenge. The more personally connected they are to solving that challenge, the more likely they are to do business with you. It’s not just professional anymore; it’s personal, too.
And of course, if you’re selling to consumers, then they must have personal commitment in solving their challenges as well. They’ve got to be all in, and if they’re not, then there’s a good chance that they won’t ultimately be qualified to do business with you.
That’s the key to making sure that you turn sales qualification conversations into disqualification conversations.
So there you have it. Now you know 3 steps to create tons of value during sales qualification. Which of these ideas did you find most useful? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section to join the conversation.
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About the Author Marc Wayshak
Marc is is the best-selling author of three books on sales and leadership, including the highly acclaimed titles Game Plan Selling, The High-Velocity Sales Organization and his forthcoming book, Sales Conversations, Mastered.
Marc is a contributor to Inc, HubSpot, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Huffington Post Business. He also hosts a popular YouTube channel on sales strategy with over 103,000 subscribers.
Marc helps thousands of people his data-driven, science-based approach to selling that utilizes all the best tools available to sales organizations today.