Effectively qualify prospect to stay on track

This is the next article in our seven-part series analyzing the Seven Steps of the Track Selling System. In this article, you'll learn

Step 2: Qualification.

The goals of this step are to determine:

  • Is there a need?
  • Who has the authority to buy?
  • What is the budget?

To get this information, use the questioning techniques we discussed in past columns, such as open-ended, feeling-finding and fact-finding questions, reflective questions and timely pauses.
Remember, you only know what your prospect is thinking when they are talking.

"Dick" is the Los Angeles prospect interested in vacationing in Hawaii and "Gerri" is the salesperson. In our last column, Dick had just asked Gerri, "How much are your Hawaii tours?" Gerri now will ask an important question that moves her smoothly from the approach to qualification and sets the stage for further questions.

You may want to memorize this question and adapt it to your specific selling situation. It's called the approach/qualification transition statement:
"(Prospect Name), I would like to tell you about our (product/service). However, in order for me to do the best job I can for you, I need to ask you a couple of questions. Is that all right?"

Notice Gerri has customized the statement, substituting where necessary.

Also notice how she uses effective questioning techniques and pauses throughout the conversation to continue gathering information.

  • Salesperson: Well, Dick, we have many pricing options, depending on the time of the year and the number of islands you visit. In order to get the best possible price for you, I need to ask you a couple of questions. Is that all right?

    Prospect: Sure.

    Salesperson: How many family members will be vacationing?

    Prospect: My wife and I, our two teenage daughters and possibly my son. He attends school back East.

    Salesperson: Back East?

    Prospect: He goes to Boston College, loves it but often complains about the cold weather. I'm guessing Hawaii's sun might entice him after a Boston winter.

    Salesperson: So you're thinking this would be a winter vacation, Dick?

    Prospect: I know it's the busy season, but I think it's our only chance of having a last family vacation. My son is home Dec. 15 until Jan. 15. So, if it's possible to go between those dates, I think the whole family can go.

    Salesperson: What islands were you thinking about visiting, Dick?

    Prospect: We've never been to Hawaii but hear good things about Maui and Oahu. Which islands do you recommend, Gerri?

    Salesperson: Well, probably the most important thing is to determine what you want in a vacation. There are different activities available on each island, so I need to find out how you want to spend your time. What activities does your family most enjoy on a vacation?

    Prospect: Well, the kids would enjoy the beach while my wife and I enjoy touring native cultures.

    Salesperson: Um hmmm.

    Prospect: We went to Mexico once, before the children were born, and really enjoyed that.

    Salesperson: Mexico, hmmm? What did you like best about that vacation?

    Prospect: Just learning about another culture was fascinating. And the tour wasn't so heavily scheduled that we felt like we had to be on a bus or looking at scenery every minute.

    Salesperson: (Laughs appreciatively)

    Prospect: I also liked not having to make all the plans or being responsible for what to see. How does it work at Happiness Hawaii Tours? Is it heavily structured or is there some free time?

    Salesperson: We have many options, but first let's discuss each of your children so it will be a memorable vacation for everyone. You said your daughters are teenagers. Exactly how old are they? I ask because the beginning and the end of the teens mean interests in different activities.

    Prospect: My youngest daughter is thirteen and our oldest is seventeen. And that's true; sometimes they have very different interests.

    Salesperson: If your daughters could each come away from the vacation with one memory, what do you think it would be?

    Prospect: Boy, that's a good question. I think my thirteen-year-old is interested in understanding how she fits in the world and how the customs and history of Hawaii are different than Los Angeles. My seventeen-year-old is interested in meeting boys and trying to be rescued so she doesn't have to go to college or get a job. She'd really enjoy beach activities.

    Salesperson: How about your son?

    Prospect: He enjoys scuba diving and the beach, so if he could take a few diving trips, he'd love it.

    Salesperson: How about you and your wife? What special memories would you like to take away from this vacation?

    Prospect: I 'd like the entire family to go, enjoy themselves and perhaps start an annual tradition of going to Hawaii.

    Salesperson: I'd like to ask you just a couple more questions so I can help make sure this could be the best vacation of your life. What do you and your family enjoy doing at night while vacationing?

    Prospect: I hadn't thought about that, but my wife likes to go out to dinner when she's on vacation, eating food she can't find easily in Los Angeles. The kids also like the fancy dinners as long as it's a fun atmosphere.

    Salesperson: You said the ideal departure date would be between Dec. 15th and Jan. 15th. Is that correct?

    Prospect: Yes. I don't believe my daughters have that much vacation, but let me check. Just a minute. [After a pause]. According to their school schedule, they're available after Dec. 18, and they return to school on Jan. 5.

    Salesperson: So which would fit best for you, Dick? One week or two weeks?

    Prospect: If we can make it work, two weeks. I'd like some time to relax after the trip.

    Salesperson: What kind of budget do you have for this year's vacation, Dick?

    Prospect: Well, it's important for this to happen, but paying for my son's college has strained the budget. I think this might be the time to dig into that special savings account. If we could do the whole vacation for under $5,000, I would be pretty happy.

    Salesperson: Would your son fly directly from Boston or join you in Los Angeles?

    Prospect: That depends on the difference in airfare. If he knows he's going to Hawaii, he'll probably want to spend every minute he can in the sun.

Here's some things to remember:

  • The goal of the qualification step is to determine need, authority and budget.
  • Use the Approach/Qualification transition statement to move smoothly from Step One to Step Two.
  • Always use the approach and qualification steps when making a sales call.
  • On all future calls, review the information previously covered and remember to ask: "Has anything changed?"
  • If the prospect asks you about price at this early stage, don't answer directly. Instead, use the approach/qualification transition statement to delay answering until the correct time in your presentation.
  • Most -- 75 percent -- of the success of your sale depends on how you perform in approach and qualification.

In an upcoming article, I'll analyze Step 3: Agreement on Need.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.