Qualifying: The Third Step in the Selling Cycle

By Tom Hopkins

When you finally sit down with your potential client, you need to find out whether she’s qualified to be your client. In selling, qualifying your prospects means finding out not just who they are but also what they do, what they have, and what they need.

You don’t have to take on every client who qualifies for your product or service. If Ms. Big Bucks could become your biggest client, you’ll likely be investing a large amount of your time with her. If you can’t stand the woman after your first meeting, consider how well you’ll really serve her needs and whether someone else in your company may be better suited to the potential stress this client could cause you.

If you’ve done your homework and looked up information about the prospect, you’ll know what questions to ask. You’ll eventually have to know a lot of information about her, providing you get the account, so if you’re truly convinced that this is a good match for you, you may as well ask questions now. The more specific your questions, the more impressed your potential client will be with your expertise. Asking pertinent questions now shows that you’re interested in more than just a closed sale and that you’re looking into the future as a valued business partner with your client.

Your prospects will be qualifying you, too. So be aware of what you’re showing them. Most clients are looking for people who are dependable, loyal, trustworthy, intelligent, competent, and even a little fun. Do your prospects see that when they look at you? If you need to communicate a trait that’s difficult to see, figure out a way, short of wearing your Scout uniform, to bring those images to mind in the answers you give to their questions and the information you offer in your discussion of their needs.

The goal of your qualification discussion is to determine how well suited your product or service is to the potential client’s situation — whether she can afford it and who the real final decision makers are. Ask questions to get her talking about what she has now, how it’s not fulfilling her current needs, and how much of a budget she has for making an improvement. These questions are the same whether you’re selling to a business or an individual consumer.