Every good sales person knows they need to ask questions to learn about a prospect. Unfortunately, they often spend a lot of time asking the wrong questions or worse yet talking about their product before they even know if they are talking to the right person.

So what should you be asking? Of course there are the basic question which kick off the conversation. Why did you call me? What are you hoping we can do? What kind of time frame are you looking for? Why now? This is my favorite question because it helps me understand what has changed or what their pain point is. I use this information to match the right points in the service presentation to what they need.

Beyond the basics are the tough questions sales people are reluctant to ask because sometimes the answers make them uncomfortable. But these questions are critical to helping determine if you are talking to a qualified prospect, someone who has the resources, motivation and authority to buy from you. So today’s blog post contains six sales tips. The tough, but important questions:


1. Do you have a budget for this project?

Many of us don’t like to talk about money.  It is actually a cultural thing. We were brought up to feel it wasn’t polite to talk about money. If you fall into that category (and I do) get over it.  If someone is calling to hire you, they know there is money involved. Asking this upfront may provide some surprising responses, including discovering they expect to pay significantly more than you might have quoted.  In other cases, they may have no idea and this gives you an opportunity to give them a price range so see if you are in the ballpark before you spend a lot of time.

The next two questions deal with how important the issue is.  Critical issues with serious bottom line consequences are more likely to get resolved sooner.  If your product or service isn’t on the critical list you will need to work harder to keep buyers engaged and move them toward a decision

2. If you can t make a decision by the date you mentioned, what happens?

Connecting consequences with inactivity will give you a chance to talk to the customer about the cost of indecision and possibly create a sense of urgency around the decision

3. What priorities are higher than the one we are addressing today

It would be wonderful if  what you sold was the most important thing in your customer’s life.  However, that is rarely the case. A new website or a new roof is important, but it may not be the most important thing. Understanding your customer’s priorities will give you valuable insight into all the areas of their business or their life where there are pain points. Again, if you can help them solve the problem with a referral or perhaps a different product or service you offer, which they might not be aware of, it will make it much easier to get them to decide to buy.

4. Who else are you talking with about this project?

It is easy to hide your head in the sand and delude yourself into thinking you are the only game in town, but you aren’t.  It is hard for me to ask this question because I don’t want to bash competitors, but the information allows me to talk about relevant points of difference.

5. How will you choose or what criteria will you use to evaluate proposals?

If price is number one on their list and you know you aren’t the low cost provider, you have some extra selling to do.  Many times potential customers don’t really have criteria in mind. When this happens you have a terrific opportunity to steer the decision.  Kick off the conversation by saying something like this:

Can I tell you how other clients have made this decision?

As we talk to customers the 3 criteria we often hear are….  

Now you focus the conversation on your strengths and the potential client will evaluate your competitors on the standards you have set.

6. What might prevent us from doing business together?

I know what you are thinking, why would you encourage potential clients to think about why they wouldn’t hire you but you need to know. If the owner has a brother in the business or there is someone who has done their work for years, you need to know that sooner rather than later.

That is my list of tough questions I use to guide a sales call.  What would you add to that list?

Think you know everything there is to face to face sales conversations? Good, but now it’s time to put your skills to the test at trade shows. Download our trade show basics white paper to get started: