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Qualifying? 3 Bad Questions to ask customers when selling a product

Your time is valuable. Every precious minute you spend with a prospect who will never be a viable buyer is a minute you’ve wasted. You need to qualify prospects to be sure they’re serious and capable, not just price shopping or browsing. The problem is that empowered prospects are impatient with your qualifying questions.

bad sales questionsThey’ve done some research and are talking with you to get their own questions answered. To them, some of your questions seem intrusive or premature. Your sales process and their buying process are not in sync. And the gap may be much wider than you think, as was revealed by the HubSpot Buyer Perceptions Study.  

To gather the information you need without alienating your prospect, you have to strike a delicate balance between understanding their need and qualifying their ability to purchase. Otherwise, you may lose the sale entirely. The number one thing buyers want sellers to do differently is to provide information and answer questions in a relevant and timely manner. If you’re perceived as doing anything less, buyers begin to question your trustworthiness.

As you work to qualify prospects and protect your time, pay close attention to avoid these three types of bad questions to ask customers when selling a product.

3 Bad Questions to Ask Customers When Selling a Product

1. Questions That Seem Self-Serving

There are, of course, certain things you need to know. Is this the decision maker? Who else will be involved in making the decision? What’s the timeline? What’s the budget? What’s the current solution? What other options are being considered?Your questions about the prospect’s needs are welcome and appreciated. Conversely, questions about the prospect’s ability to buy seem self-serving, especially if they come in rapid-fire succession.

There’s no shame in needing this information. But the way you ask matters a great deal. Questions that are buyer-focused signal that you care about the prospect. Questions that seem process-focused, make the buyer feel marginalized. To get efficient and accurate responses without seeming untrustworthy, you’ll need to:

  • Explain the purpose for your questions in a way that shows prospects your desire to help them, too, not just yourself. Say something like “I know your time is very valuable, and I have just a few questions that will ensure the best possible attention to your needs.”

  • Mix your questions up. Start with a broad, open-ended question to understand the prospect’s needs. You’ll get lots of insight and may even get some of your qualifying questions answered, too. Be sure to listen closely and extract all you can. Your opening question will sound something like this: “Let’s get started by talking about your current business needs. What’s going on that led to your interest in (our product)?

  • Roll up your questions so there are fewer of them. Try this: “Tell me about the process and where you are in your process for making a decision about this” or this: “When it comes to all the variables like price, timeline, decision criteria and such, what are the ideal outcomes you’re looking for?”

2. Questions That Instigate Roadblocks for Buyers Because of Your Internal Processes

True story – SDRs for a large, well-known software solutions provider are only paid when they set appointments with the bona fide decision maker who has budget authority and final say. A sure-thing purchase in the high six figures was recently lost when an SDR refused to set up a next-steps meeting with a VP, insisting that the CEO would have to be present. She was unwilling to accept the VP’s explanation that the CEO would take his recommendation and never, under any circumstances, met directly with vendors. This VP went from being a rabid fan of the software to becoming a bitterly disappointed customer of the competition.  

This is a classic case of process interfering with progress.  

If your processes require you to ascertain where the prospect is located, how much the prospect will likely spend, the number of users the prospect is considering, or other bucketing information, consider how this sounds to the prospect. People want to be dignified, not sorted.

Another internal roadblock that erodes trust is when a seller is unable to answer basic technical questions and insists on setting an appointment with someone else. This happens, for example, when SDRs push for demos with the technical team and an account manager. To buyers who only want to get their questions answered, this often seems like a ploy to ensnare them in a thinly veiled sales pitch.

The key to asking questions that adhere to your process and build trust with prospects at the very same time is to explain the reason for your questions in a way that is supportive of the prospect, not driven by processes alone. It also helps to answer the prospect’s questions in a timely manner, providing basic information without requiring a full demo. Use those answers and your questions to build interest and magnify need.

3. Questions That Signal Someone May Not Be Worth Your Time

There’s an inherent problem with the question “are you the decision maker?”

It’s insulting. It suggests that you can’t be bothered with someone who is not a decision maker. For a prospect who has been appointed as information gatherer, it may suggest that you’re about to cut them off without giving them what they need.

It’s a question that buyers often answer in partial truths. Some don’t want to admit their lack of authority. Others have been asked to stand in for the decision maker at this early stage and will represent themselves that way until it’s truly time for a decision. Increasingly, committees of decision makers are appointed but not revealed to sellers until absolutely necessary. It’s not uncommon to have layers of decision making – the person you speak to first truly is the decision maker, but only for this phase of the process. And so on.  

This question really doesn’t do you much good. You risk offending the prospect and operating on incorrect information. Asking someone about their own authority builds barriers between you and makes it more difficult to establish mutual trust.  

Here’s an alternative. Show due respect to the prospect and treat him or her like the ultimate decision maker. Demonstrate that you’re on the same side and that it’s normal and expected for others to be involved. Ask “who else should we keep in the loop as we proceed and how can I make that easy for you?”

The Common Thread?

What all three situations have in common is this: When qualifying, it boils down to how you position what you’re doing. Putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes will help you think of ways to get what you need while also giving them what they need. Explaining the reason for your questions and positioning them to show the rationale for asking helps prospects to be more patient and forthcoming. That makes you efficient and effective in your qualification. It will eliminate bad questions that derail the sale.  

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