Qualifying: The Art and Science of Selling

By Thomas Young

(appeared in the Jan. 20, 1999, issue of inBIZ magazine of central Colorado)

Selling may appear to be a simple process. However, it is actually very complex and extremely important. In fact, the sale of products and services is the driving factor in any economy.

There are basic selling principles that can make the sales process effective and rewarding for both the buyer and seller. Successful sales people develop and learn these approaches until they become instinctual and second-nature. The sales process is divided into four areas:

  1. Prospecting – Searching for potential customers.
  2. Qualifying – Asking questions to determine interest and viability of a sale.
  3. Presenting – Pitching services or products in a way that meets needs or adds value.
  4. The Close – Write the order and conclude the sale.

Prospecting was discussed in a previous article (see “Prospecting: The Most Important Part of Selling”); now let’s examine qualifying. The goal of qualifying is to determine why the prospect should buy. The most qualified person to answer this question is your prospect, but this is not easy. People are not likely to give away their hot buttons; you must qualify the sales potential of each contact. Here is how you do it.

Ask Probing Questions
Create a list of probing questions. They help determine the level of interest in your product or service. Ask prospects about their work and the potential benefits of your relationship with them. Diagnose basic needs and explore options to meet those needs. Check out the budget, scheduling and time issues. Probe the amount of urgency. Ask where they get their information. Ask who makes spending and budget decisions. Make sure you are talking to the right person; if not, find the true decision-maker. Probe and intuit values and loyalties. Inquire about the past, present and future of the prospect and his or her organization. Find out what the customer does and find a way to help him or her do it better.

Keep in mind, if a prospect answers no to any of your questions it could begin a downward spiral that may end the deal. Ask questions that get a “Yes” response. Stay in the question mode, even if a prospect attempts to get you talking. Do not waste valuable time on people who will not buy.

Find Ways to Add Value
People are interested in the value that you and your products or services can bring to their work and lives. They buy based on the benefits they receive from what you are selling. The buyer, not the seller, defines these benefits. Prospects will determine how well your products or services meet their personal needs, usually on an emotional level. It is very important to understand what you are really selling. You are selling how the customer feels after they buy the product or service.

Listen More Than You Talk
If you speak more than you listen, find a career other than sales. Qualifying should consist of 95% listening — or more — by the sales person. Control your emotions and focus on what the customer is saying. Keep them talking and listen behind the words. Empathetic listening is key. Take notes and repeat back what you think you heard. People love to talk about themselves and their company. They also love an attentive audience. This builds trust, a key to successful selling and rewarding relationships. In all parts of your life, let people talk about themselves and fight back the urge to jump in and talk about you. This will build strong relationships and lead to mutual benefit. This adds value!

The sales paradox is that you give of yourself in order to get back the sale. For example, give trust and receive trust in return. People will tell you how you can add value and close the sale if you listen more than you talk.

Get Inside the Prospect’s Head
Get into the mind and thoughts of your prospect and out of your own mind. Focus on the needs of the client and how to best add value. The goal is to be the person whom customers want to hear from and to help solve their problems. If you do not understand where the customer is coming from, then ask. Stay focused on what is going on in the mind of your prospect.

The prospect is thinking – – Are you dependable, reliable, honest, and competent? Can you be trusted? Do I like you or do you like me? Do you know my business? Do I need these products or services? Things are fine the way they are. I do not like change. What are the costs? How will this look to others?

Selling is both an art and science. It is creative and analytical. Develop the qualities of the scientist and the artist as you qualify your prospects. Probe and explore like a scientist and listen and create solutions like the artist. This will lead to successful relationships with prospects and customers — relationships that result in sales.

Tom Young, MBA is president of Intuitive Websites, a sales training and marketing consulting firm helping companies increase revenues. He can be reached at 719-481-4040, or email at  [email protected].