Sales Questions From The 80’s That Still Work

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”  – Francis Bacon

The 16th century English philosopher and statesman was probably not talking about inside sales when he uttered that famous quote four hundred years ago, but he might as well have been. While sales questions might not have changed drastically in the past two decades, their importance has increased. In today’s competitive inside sales landscape, qualifying leads before advancing them through your sales funnel can greatly improve your efficiency and return on investment. Without properly qualifying leads, sales reps could be wasting a great deal of time and energy on unrewarding opportunities. The best way to qualify a lead over the phone or in an email is to ask the right prudent questions. Here are eight inside sales questions from the 80’s that still work today to qualify leads.

“To avoid wasting each other’s time, can I ask you a few questions?”

Asking this right off the bat suggests that you and the gatekeeper on the other end of the line are there to help each other, rather than waste each other’s time with inane conversation. After the initial introduction, establish that you will be asking several questions to gain more insights on how you can help each other. Asking a question about asking more questions can disarm your lead and prepare them subconsciously to give productive answers.

“What challenges and issues are you trying to fix?”

You can’t provide a solution if there’s no problem in the first place. Identifying this pain point and talking about it creates a sense of urgency in the mind of the prospect. Once you have this issue, you can then begin to position yourself as the answer to all of their problems – assuming that there’s a good fit.

“How have you tried to resolve these issues in the past?”

Discussing attempts by the prospect to fix their issues illustrates the futility of past efforts while simultaneously casting your offering as the shining light at the end of the tunnel. This also expresses a level of genuine concern on your end, further establishing deeper emotional connections to the prospect.

“Who, besides yourself, will be involved in the decision-making process / What does your decision-making process look like?”

This question serves a dual purpose. On a basic level, it helps you identify the decision-maker, which is ultimately who you want to be talking to – after all, the best pitch to someone who has no influence will fall on deaf ears. If you happen to already be talking to the decision-maker, that’s fantastic. However, if you are not, asking this question helps raise the sense of urgency to the point where the prospect might be wary of passing up a great opportunity that the true decision-maker would have relished. Adding the qualifier “besides yourself” also lends a sense of importance and self-worth to the prospect, deepening the emotional connection.

“How will you be using our offering?”

The best conversations and connections will ultimately be moot points if your product is of no value to the lead. Asking this question not only establishes the fit but also gives you an opportunity to be an expert, clarifying best practices on how your product would serve this prospect.

“When do you see yourself implementing a solution like this / what is going to change within this time frame?”

Some prospects might have some semblance of interest but, in an effort to get off the conversation, suggest that you call back in 3 months. To put the onus back on them, ask what, if anything, will change within this time frame. A sincere answer might point to an upcoming investment, an expansion of the budget or new management. However, if the answer seems like a canned response indicating a lack of interest, it would be best to disqualify this lead rather than expend more effort pursuing it.

“Here’s the next step (demo, trial, etc.) we will take. Does that sound good to you?”

Once a lead has been qualified, it is essential to advance them through the next step to ensure progression and avoid waffling. Nail down an exact time for the next step, be it a demo or a trial. Keep pursuing this forward momentum and the mutual interest on both sides should eventually lead to a closed deal.

“What obstacles or problems (with the demo/trial) can we expect to encounter as we move forward?”

This is another question that simultaneously advances the opportunity while also positioning yourself as a problem-solver. It is natural for more questions or concerns to pop up during the demo or trial phase. If the prospect has encountered other obstacles in previous attempts to fix their problem, presenting them to you at an early stage might help both parties stave off any future issues.

Listen intently to the answers to all of these questions, as well as any others that might arise during the natural course of conversation. While these questions are a great start toward qualifying your leads, there are a host of other issues unique to the prospect that might crop up. Train your sales reps in the art of qualifying leads by introducing these questions while helping them anticipate answers and the proper responses to them.


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