Okay, so today we are going to talk about Qualifying and Needs Development.
This can be also called Discovery, and Value Building.
These different terms and buzzwords can very much be over lapping.
The overarching theme amongst these concepts is asking great questions.
By asking great questions, you not only control the conversation, but you are able to uncover pain points.
You will help the customer see a problem he or she may not have realized was there.
you may help the customer realize the significant impacts of a particular problem.
You will also be able to uncover whether this customer is a qualified prospect, and whether it makes sense for the both of you to spend your precious time together at this point in time.
Through great question asking you will also be able to help guide your customer in understanding what is the best solution for him or her.
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Depending on the type of sale, industry, and product, this part of the sale can take anywhere from a few minutes to several months, sometimes even more.
It depends on how much uncovering needs to be done, and how much value and proof needs to be built in order for a purchase to be made.
Because there can be many subtopics written on this topic of Qualifying and Needs Development, I will update this article with relevant content as we move forward.
Everything begins with mindset, or philosophy.
As Tony Robbins likes to say, “Success is 80% psychology and 20% strategy.”
Before we understand the strategy, we must understand the mindset of Qualifying and Needs Development.
As I stated in the intro, Qualifying and Needs Development is all about asking great questions.
Another thing that I learned from Tony is that “Questions are the answer.”
Often times, especially in Hollywood movies, a great salesperson is portrayed as this outspoken smooth talker, who is quick to push a sale down someone’s throat.
“Always be closing,” right?
That’s a huge misconception of a good salesperson.
In fact, the opposite couldn’t be more true.
Great salespeople are often not the ones doing the talking, their customers are.
Why is this the case?
Well, if you think about it…
The archetype of a pushy “Always be closing” salesperson portrayed in the movies…
Would you want to deal with that guy?
Because you probably don’t want to be pressured into doing something you’d regret or something you don’t want to do.
Makes sense, right?
Also, that type of a salesperson might get away with that kind of behavior selling a $2 piece of candy where the pressure applied outweighs the cost of the good.
Meaning, if someone feels pressured in the moment, and buys a $2 piece of candy, it’s really no big deal at the end of the day.
But you can’t really do that for a half-million dollar infrastructure purchase where the prospect needs to go back and make a presentation to his boss, and 4 other stakeholders.
You can’t really “pressure” that kind of sale, because the ultimate decision is made behind closed doors when the salesperson is not around, get it?
So because of this, the best salespeople are often the ones asking the questions, and the prospects are the ones doing most of the talking.
Another reason this makes sense is because people buy for their own reasons, not yours.
By asking questions, you get to uncover and understand what those reasons are.
By asking questions, you get to draw out the responses from within your customers.
And because it’s their responses, and they gave them to you, they won’t be able to combat that, it’s theirs!
They gave them to you!
If you tried shoving your own reasons down the customer’s throat, they’ll probably use an equal amount of force resisting it.
But if you’re asking great questions, understanding your customers, and they are telling you their reasons for buying, there’s no need to force anything, because they are giving you their own reasons for buying.
Truth be told, 60%-80% of the sale is made right here.
Great salespeople are comprised mostly of the qualities listed in this article.
When you talk about great closers, it’s not that they are actually great at closing, but they are great at asking questions, and uncovering/magnifying pain.
Picture the scenario of being at a job interview, and the hiring manager hands you a pencil and tells you, “Sell me this pencil.”
Would you then start spewing facts and exaggerations about how great that pencil is?
I’m guessing most people who are inexperienced in sales would.
An experienced salesperson would turn around and ask…
“So, why do you need a pencil in the first place?”
Controlling the conversation
Another aspect behind the mindset of asking questions is that it allows you to control the conversation.
What do I mean?
Well, in a sales cycle, especially if it’s for a larger or more complex purchase, there are many steps that need to be taken before that sale is made.
Maybe there might be the need for multiple people to be involved to make that decision…
Or multiple conversations need to be had…
Or maybe they need to go try the product out and then report back on the feedback, and see if it was a good fit, etc etc…
Now, in those many conversations, there is a lot of opportunity for the direction of the sale to be derailed.
That is why you, the sales professional, must take the responsibility of taking control of the conversation, or properly guiding the conversation to where it needs to go.
The best way to do this is by asking great questions.
“Hmm, why is that?”
“Okay, Mr. Customer, I absolutely understand that, what do you think about this?”
Just to provide a little bit of background- Why is it that asking questions is so effective for controlling the conversation?
Well… other than literally directing the topic to be discussed, asking questions is incredibly powerful for controlling the conversation because we have been conditioned since birth to respond to questions.
So much of sales, psychology, and persuasion is moving along-the-grain of how society has conditioned people.. and using that!
Leverage the way society conditions people.
Align with it to help your customers.
You see, ever since you were a toddler or a baby you have been conditioned to answer questions.
You’ve been conditioned to answer questions by your parents, and you’ve been conditioned to answer questions by your teachers once you went to school.
“Johnny, how do you spell your name?”
“Johnny, what’s two plus two?”
“Johnny, why did you do that?”
And if you didn’t answer a question what would your parents or teachers say?
“Johnny, look here young man, I asked you a question, and you better answer me!”
You see, we have literally been conditioned to answer questions since we’ve been born.
Try breaking this pattern…
It is incredibly hard to do.
The next time someone asks you a question, try to be aware, and intentionally not respond.
I think you’ll be shocked how difficult of a thing this is to do.
The reflex to answer questions is incredibly deeply ingrained in us.
So often times, the person asking the questions is the person controlling the conversation.
Another piece of the mindset when it comes to being good at Qualifying and Needs Development is curiosity.
To be able to consistently ask great questions, you must be deeply curious.
I am a very curious person.
I ask questions all the time, when I am not sure of something.
Now, I don’t know if everyone is naturally curious
(picture the kid asking his parents “Why? But whyy? But whyy? Whyyy?”)
I do think everyone has some amount of natural curiosity in them.
And I think most kids get it beaten out of them because of the fear of looking stupid, or they are afraid of looking silly.
But either way, it is something you can strengthen and develop through use.
The next time you’re in a training session, or your talking with your friends, if you’re not sure of something, ask!
I think most people keep themselves from asking because of the fear of looking stupid.
Ask because it will not only help you, but it will probably help others as well.
Also it will help you become more naturally curious.
Next time you’re curious about something, ask…
and the more you do that, the stronger that muscle will get.
Yes, it’s helpful sometimes to have a list of questions prepared, but human conversations don’t work like robotic scripts.
The best thing you can do to hone your question asking ability is to ask more questions and be genuinely more curious.
That way, you can pay attention in your conversations with prospects, and naturally ask the right question in the right moment.
I would say for me personally, this is definitely one of my strengths when it comes to selling.
Another aspect of sales when it comes to asking great questions is great listening skills.
This is a huge one for great salespeople.
Like I mentioned previously, the best salespeople are not the ones talking the most, but the ones doing the most listening.
Customers like to talk, and they like to talk about themselves and their problems, and what will help them solve their problems.
It’s human nature to be self interested.
If you want to get good at sales, get good at listening.
One exercise I like to give people to improve their listening skills is the next time you’re in a conversation with someone, pretend like the person you’re talking to is the last person on Earth.
Pretend that you and that person are the only people on a deserted island, and that person is the last person you will ever get to see.
How would you pay attention to that person?
How would you listen to that person?
Would you think about fidgeting on your phone and checking your notifications?
Or would you have your absolute attention on the person in front of you, and what he or she is sharing with you?
Add on top of it..
What if that person was sharing with you something intimate? Or vulnerable?
Something that was near and dear to that person’s heart?
What if they were sharing with you their deepest darkest secret? Or fear?
Or greatest hopes and dreams?
How would you listen then?
Would you give them more of your attention?
Would you give them all your attention?
THAT is the way you should be listening to your prospects.
So often, we’re trying to get to a sale, or figure out what to say next, or get to the next step in the process, that we’re not truly listening.
We’re there, but we’re not there.
You know what I’m saying?
Really pay attention.
Really listen to understand what the customer is saying.
Often times this means listening to the meaning underneath the words that are being said.
Often times it means feeling, feeling what the customer is truly saying.
If you can do that, you will be a great salesperson.
This is really where the sale is made.
Not the closing, not the spewing of features, but the listening, and the question asking.
THAT is where the sale is made.
Another thing that I will touch on is that if you can listen at this deep of a level, how do you think the customer will feel?
How do you think the customer will feel about you as the sales professional if you are able to ask great questions and listen at this deep a level?
That you can be trusted.
And trust my friends, is the currency of ALL transactions.
Just a note on value creation before we dive in to the actual tactics.
I think now you how a good framework and context to how and why asking great questions and listening are really the pillars of great salespeople.
Understand that when you’re asking great questions, you are creating value for the prospect.
What you are doing is you are allowing your prospect to see his problems in ways he did not consider before.
You are helping him recognize ways his problems might impact him or his business in ways he might not have considered before, and that is creating value.
If you are sparking new perspectives, thoughts, and ideas through your questions, you are creating value.
Even when you are deeply listening, and the prospect feels like he is being heard, I mean truly heard, that is creating value.
Do not underestimate the power of this.
Ever needed a good friend to just talk to?
Not for advice, but needed someone to just truly listen to you?
How valuable was that for you?
Or when a therapist lays someone down and has them just talk while the therapist just listens attentively?
All of that is creating value.
Okay, so I think you have a good grasp of the mindset and psychology around asking questions, and how they are done.
Now we will dive into the tactics of how to actually develop those needs and qualify the prospect.
Types of questions – SPIN (needs development through pain and pleasure)
A framework that I like to use is called SPIN Selling.
This was coined by Neil Rackham, a researcher who coined the term in the 1980’s when he researched thousands of salespeople and what made them effective.
Although this was coined as a sales term in the 80’s the underlying concept has been around for centuries.
Taking the therapist example from above, I personally heard and experienced this tactic way before I started a professional career in selling.
In my early 20’s, I was dealing with some drug and alcohol problems.
I had hired a life coach, and did some therapy –
It was there I first experienced the effects of “SPIN Selling” firsthand.
When I say SPIN Selling, all I’m really referring to is asking someone questions about how a particular issue may affect his or her life, and the possible solutions out of it.
There I experienced being asked, “What were my problems?”
“What would happen if I didn’t change, and I let these problems continue?”
“How would that affect my life if I didn’t change?”
And “If I did change, would would then happen?”
Or “What would it mean if I did change my behavior over time?”
SPIN is helpful because it’s an easy acronym to remember and represents the basic idea in a simple to understand manner.
S – Situation
P – Problem
I – Implication
N – Needs Pay Off
Situation – these are the most commonly asked questions by unskilled sales people.
These questions help identify the situation, but don’t uncover or identify the pain.
“How many people are in your company?”
“How many computers do you have?”
“Where is your office located?”
“Who is the decision maker in the company?”
While these questions are important, they don’t provide much value to the prospect or address the most important things that they care about.
Often times these answers could be found through a quick search on Google or LinkedIn.
Studies show that inexperienced salespeople tend to ask mostly these questions, and the more of these questions you ask, the quicker your prospect will tend to feel that you’re wasting his time.
For those reasons, you’ll want to spend as little time as possible here.
You want to do as much research as you can upfront before your call so you won’t have to ask too many of these questions.
Asking too many of these questions will show that you didn’t do your homework, and can tick off your prospects.
Again, these questions are important, but keep them to a minimum if you can.
And if you can Google the answers to these questions beforehand, do it.
It’ll show that you’re a professional, and that you did your homework.
Problem – These questions provide more value.
These questions start to get into the meat of what your prospects care about.
You see, situation questions are typically about you, the seller.
They are asked to clarify things for you, but when you ask problem questions…
While you still might be clarifying something for yourself…
You’re beginning to address something that’s very near and dear to the prospects heart –
The challenges he or she is facing.
Here you might be addressing a problem that the prospect is aware of, or something he or she isn’t aware of.
In the latter’s case, you are creating even more value.
By asking problem questions, this is really where the “meat” of the sale starts.
You are getting to the core reasons why the prospect is even speaking with you.
Any question meant to hint at or uncover a problem can be considered a problem question:
“Has it been an issue that your staff members have been arriving late each day due to bad traffic?”
“What challenges are you guys facing currently in this area?”
“Have you found it hard having to learn a new skill while moving to a completely new industry?”
“Just to understand, how have these challenges developed over time? And how have they changed since when you guys first started?“
“Is that an issue that the company is only at 30% to quota for the second quarter? How so?”
“How much money are you spending on excess employees that are really not producing at the levels they should be?”
So as a recap, these questions begin to uncover problems.
By uncovering problems you begin identify a need, which you will then begin to develop.
You are also creating value by:
- Identifying problems
- Discussing something that the prospect genuinely cares about
- Shining light on an issue that he or she did not know was there
From here, we will be into developing the need further through Implication questions.
Implication – Implication and Need Pay Off questions create the most value for the prospect.
They begin to identify the true pain of the issue, and then a solution that gets them out of that pain into pleasure.
What we’re really talking about here is pain and pleasure, the ultimate motivators for all human behavior.
And this is why this is so important.
Implication questions, along side Need Pay Off questions, create the most value, but they are also some of the hardest to ask.
They are some of the most difficult to ask on the spot.
Usually having a handful of implication questions to help give you a direction of where you want to go is helpful.
You don’t necessarily have to ask those questions word for word…
As a human conversation is never scripted like a robot.
Although having a couple examples of how typical problems your customers face in your industry and the impacts of those problems are helpful to have on hand when you’re selling.
All implication questions mean is “What are the effects of that problem?”
As in, “If you don’t change your behavior, or if you don’t do anything about that problem, what will happen?”
“What effects will that have long term?”
“What will happen 1 year from now?”
“What will happen 5 years from now?”
“What will happen 10 years from now?”
“What will happen 20 years from now?”
In Tony Robbins’ entry level, but 100% life-changing Unleash The Power Within Seminar, he guides the crowd through an exercise called the Dickens Process.
It’s taken from Charles Dicken’s character Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
Basically Tony gets the attendees to identify the areas in life they are not stepping up in…
The areas where they have problems, and get them to emotionally associate what their lives would be like 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 30 years from now…
If they don’t change.
It’s a pretty emotionally intense exercise, for sure.
Highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to get to the next level.
Anyways, the key is to get them emotionally involved with their pain, and the effects that pain will have on the different areas of their lives if they don’t change.
This is the exact same in sales.
Sales (and all human decisions) are made on an emotional basis, and justified with logic.
So in the same way, your job to is help your prospect get emotionally associated to the pain of what would happen if they don’t change or solve this problem…
And help them see how that pain would grow to be unbearable- in all the areas that they might not even have been aware of.
- Impact on costs
- Time wasted by employees
- Not meeting deadlines and quotas
- Opportunity costs of what they would do with additional time/money
- What it would mean in terms of competitive advantage
Here are some example questions of Implication questions:
One of the easiest and most effective ways to ask an implication question is to ask “How does that impact things?”
This should follow a problem statement, or anything that asks the prospect to expand further on that problem.
For example you might first ask, “Is it a problem that your employees are arriving late each morning and missing client calls?” (problem question)
Followed by, “How does that effect things?” Or “How does that impact things?” (implication questions)
“How does that impact your bottom line?”
“How does that effect employee morale?”
“What effect does that have on the company culture?”
“How is that affecting productivity?”
“How does that impact the other employees or management?”
“If you don’t change that, what will that mean for your business X years from now?”
“Would that have an impact on your ability to attract investors if that were to continue? How so?”
So you can see that implication questions are really meant to exacerbate or amplify a problem and its effects.
You can also see that implication questions are built off of problems and problem questions.
These are some of the most powerful and valuable questions you can ask…
Because it often sheds a light on the seriousness of a problem that a prospect hadn’t been aware of.
After you’ve helped your prospect really be associated with the pain of their problem…
You’ll use Needs-Pay-Off questions to help them find a solution to get out of that pressure cooker.
Needs Pay Off – These questions address the benefit for the customer.
After you’ve taken them through the pain, you need to help them find a solution.
These questions are meant to direct their minds to painting a picture of what life could be life if they made a change, and their problems were solved.
You must ask your customer these questions, and they must answer them instead of you telling them the benefits.
The reason is because when your customer answers the question, they take ownership.
They paint a mental picture for themselves in their head, and they subconsciously begin to visualize, feel, and own that vision.
You want to ask them of the the benefits of having their problems solved, the effects of that, and how that would make them feel.
You want to ask them how they would see themselves using this product.
How they visualize themselves with your solution.
At the end of the day selling is an influence of emotion, and you need to make them feel the impacts emotionally.
Here are some example Needs-Pay-Off questions:
“How would you see yourself using this product?”
“How would this help you? Why?”
“If you were able to do ______, what would that mean for you? Why is that?”
“What benefit would you personally get from doing that? Would would it mean for your business?”
“How would it make you feel at the end of the day?”
“What would it mean if you could go home early and see your kids instead of having to manually send out invoices every day?”
“How would that impact your relationship with your kids? And wife? What would that be worth to you?”
At the end of the day, Implication and Needs-Pay-Off questions are the most powerful of the bunch because they get our prospects to emotionally engage with the pain and pleasure of their problems and solving them.
And these two aspects, the carrot and the stick, are the holy grail of influence.
The best salespeople don’t talk about their products out the gate.
They certainly don’t talk about features and do a feature dump on them.
The best salespeople, for the majority of the sales process – don’t talk about their product at all.
In fact, the best salespeople focus on the customer’s world.
They talk about what’s going on in their world.
They talk about their problems, their challenges, their goals, their dreams, desires, pains, and hopes.
They talk about the customer’s world first.
In fact 80% of the conversation should circle around that, and when the time is right, they’ll gently allude to their product.
Which at that time is the only logical next step for the customer.
You see, it’s not about your product, it’s not about your solution, it’s not about your business, and it’s certainly not about your paycheck.
It’s about solving the customer’s problems.
It’s about identifying their pain, exploring the implications of it, and helping them solve their problems to such a degree that their dreams might even come true.
THAT is sales, and THAT my friends, will never go out of style.
Other Types of Questions
You also have other types of questions to help you qualify the deal.
Some of these you can ask once for a transactional deal.
Some of these you need to ask throughout the sales process, across multiple stakeholders – especially for a complex enterprise deal.
Some examples include:
Problem – “Is there an identified problem to be solved?”
Consensus on problem – “Is there an agreement across the group of stakeholders that there is this problem?”
Desire to solve – “Is there a desire to solve this identified problem?”
Timing – “When would they like to solve this problem?”
Budget – “Are they willing to pay money to solve this problem?”
Authority – “Who is the ultimate sign off, and is that person on board?”
Buying Process – “What does the buying process look like?”
Red Flags – “Are there any foreseeable deal blockers or red flags that might stop this from happening?”
Buying Window/Trigger Event – “When are you planning on opening a second office?” Or “When did the organization implement its ERP system?” (These should be questions that uncover events that signal a ripe buying opportunity)
These are questions that further help you cess out whether this is a genuine opportunity.
They also help you understand whether the prospect you’re talking to has the pull (power) to help get the deal across, or if they have the ability to navigate the organization to get it done.
For large complex deals, you often need a mover and a shaker on the customers side to get the job done. This is explained in the book, The Challenger Customer by CEB.
Pretrial closing – gaining commitment and buy in
Throughout the sales process, you should be asking pre-trial closing questions.
These questions are simply check-ins with the prospect to see if the both of you are aligned and on the same page.
They are to ensure that the customer is with you every step of the way, and on the same-page with your train-of-thought.
Some questions include:
“Does this look like something that would be helpful in your situation?”
“Do you agree that is the case?”
“Is that something you would like to see in the business?”
“Is that something you would like or find helpful?”
These questions should be peppered throughout the sales process – and are meant to make sure your customer is bought in.
Natural Curiosity and Presence
Now after understanding the types of questions to be asked – there is a very important aspect that must be understand through practice. And that is actually how to use these questions effectively. Some training programs will assert that you should have a list of questions prepared and attempt to go through them one-by-one down a list. For example, asking your 3 Situation Questions, then your 4 Problem Questions, then your Implication Questions, etc. etc. While I agree preparing intelligent questions beforehand is helpful, anyone who has ever practiced needs discovery will understand that human conversations are not robotic and do not follow a scripted format. You need to be fluid, you need to be able to adapt, and you need to be present. Like Bruce Lee said, “Be Water, My Friend.”
What this means is that it is better to be present and actually respond to what is being discussed in the conversation with your customer than to preoccupy your mind with a list of questions you have to ask. Stay fluid, understand your agenda, but be fluid enough to adapt and change. Maybe your customer wants to bring up a point you had not anticipated, and that path will lead to a much more meaningful conversation. While it is important to rehearse important questions, when you are in the middle of a conversation, you must remain present. Sometimes I mentally throw out any notes I have just to get me in a space where I am 100% focused on the customer, here and now. This is more of an art than a science. I have found that when I am present with the customer, the quality of my questions improve and so do the conversations. This is because I am actually responding to what the customer is saying. And that is not something you can plan.
A great book that explains this is “How to Sell Network Marketing Without Fear, Anxiety, or Losing Your Friends.” This is one that typically flies under the radar when it comes to good sales books. One of the best sales books I’ve read, and when I first read it, I thought it was perfectly articulating what I had felt all along. Be present, listen, and the right response will present itself.
This is more of a side note, but the use of what I call “connectors” enable the execution of question asking to be much more effective. Sometimes I’ll pepper in things like “hmmm, interesting” or “Wow, tell me more” in between my questions. This makes the conversation sound more natural and gives me time while I prepare my next question or response. Simple things that I know have helped me tremendously in conversations.
In conclusion, the ability to ask questions -whether it’s qualifying, needs discovery, or needs development – this is where the bulk of the sale is made. Depending on how sophisticated the sale, ideally you want 60-90% of the conversation to take place here.
That’s because by asking questions, you are putting your focus where it should be – on the customer. Be genuine about your questions, and genuinely care about your customers. They’ll feel it, and it will go a long way.
It certainly helps to be genuinely inquisitive and if you practice being genuinely inquisitive in your everyday life – you’ll find it that much more natural in your conversations with customers.
Good luck – remember that sales is about service. And by asking great questions, you are doing a great service to your customers by helping them clarify and see things they might have have been aware of.
As always, please drop me a note if you have any questions or feedback.