Great questioners make great salespeople. It’s especially true when salespeople ask questions that guide prospects to understand that they need to act now and buy. Unfortunately, not every prospect will become a great customer. There is a way to increase the likelihood of working with great customers. You can ask questions that uncover useful information about your prospects. The answers will indicate if the customer is one you want to sell to.
A long, long time.
Ask your prospect how many long-term suppliers they have. If your customer either has none or just a few, that should alert you to the fact that the prospect is not a good one. Be concerned if they take bids from their suppliers every year. Prospects who lack loyalty are prospects that will cost you time and energy. Think of your costs to set up the account, maintain inventory, and establish contacts— only to lose the business in a year. That’s an expensive company to do business with. You should try to show these prospects how doing business with you for more than a year will benefit their business. Start the conversation by asking what it will take to keep their business for longer than a year.
Just remember that some business cultures are very difficult to change. You may not be able to change that culture even in a year. Unless you sell them on the idea of establishing a longer term business relationship, you’ll be doing business with an undesirable customer.
Attention Kmart Shoppers.
Ask your prospect when they have paid more than the lowest price for a product or service and why. This tells you about their perception of value and willingness to pay for it. Perhaps your products and services include technical support. Your customer should understand this costs you money to provide. You want your customers to be willing to pay for it, too. Some customers buy only the cheapest products even when they recognize that a more expensive product will provide them additional benefits. A customer who wants your more valuable products and has never paid for service will expect you to lower your price so he can buy. That’s not a desirable customer to sell to. Again, unless your salesmanship includes a compelling reason for this prospect to pay more, this is an undesirable prospect.
Easy does it.
Ask your prospect which of his suppliers are easy to work with and why. You’ll learn what work has to be done to be perceived as easy to work with. Your prospect will expect similar performance from you. That will be a desirable prospect if it’s something you can normally provide. You’ll also find out who is going to be a high maintenance customer. When you find out why a supplier is perceived as easy to work with, you may uncover areas where your company or you are unable to offer comparable service. Be concerned if your prospect is unable to describe any suppliers who are easy to work with. If they can’t name one supplier, what makes you think you’ll be the first? If a prospect says that none of the suppliers are easy to work with, you won’t be either. That will be an experience you will certainly want to miss!
The answers to these questions serve you, the salesperson, more than your customer. That’s the way it should be when you’re qualifying customers. After the sale you’re going to be doing the work of serving your customers. You might as well sell to customers who are more likely to become great ones.