blog article
Tony J. Hughes
Tony J. Hughes
min read

A life insurance salesman once asked me “Tony, do you love your family and want the best for them?.” I answered in the affirmative with a wry grin and waited for the inevitable zinger. “Would you want to know that they’re being looked-after financially when you’re dead?” Instantly annoyed, I responded “No, I won't be thinking about anything then.” Much like I wouldn't be speaking with him about anything after that call ended.

As sales professionals we must qualify buyers before we invest too much time (our scarcest resource) in them. But often qualification frameworks require the annoying, insulting, or transparently manipulative questions buyers hate. For example, the best known and simplest qualification framework is BANT. It guides sales professionals to focus on the potential buyer's Budget, Authority to make the decision, genuine Need, and a Timeframe for going ahead. It sounds simple, but frequent flyer qualification questions following BANT include the unflattering ‘do you need to involve anyone else to make this decision?’ and ‘do you have budget to go ahead?’

Herein lies our challenge: How do we get the answers we need without derailing the opportunity? Better yet, can the right questions set our deal up for success? 

Blended Qualification and Delivery

The solution is to blend your qualification and discovery processes. This simultaneous approach provides value for both parties from this time, allowing a pivot from closed superficial questions to engaging open questions. This strong Open establishes trust and alignment early, an X-Factor technique for establishing momentum, increasing commitment, and lifting the probability of success. All is takes is identifying right questions to ask. Let's look at how to do it.

Step 1

Sales Qualification Frameworks

Most sellers think of qualification as a series of gates that buyers must pass through to earn their time. This is reflected in the acronymic nature of most sales qualification frameworks, as it makes them easy to recall and sequentially apply. You'll find the most common frameworks below, but without doubt MEDDICC is the best of these for complex enterprise selling.

  • ANUM
    Authority, Need, Urgency, Money
  • BANT
    Budget, Authority, Need, Time-frame
    Budget, Method, Authority, Need, Timing, Risks, Roadblocks
  • CBT
    Can Buy List, a checklist format incorporating BANT plus other elements
    Funding, Authority, Interest, Need, Timeframe
    Money, Authority, Need, Decision criteria, delivery Ability, Competition, Coach, Timescale
    Metrics for ROI, Economic Buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain, Compelling event, Champion / Coach
    Metrics for ROI, Economic Buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain, Compelling event, Champion / Coach, Competition
    A derivation of above with the P being for their Paper/Procurement process
  • NEAT
    Need, Economic impact, Authority, Timeline (hat-tip to Richard Harris)
    Need, Unique, Timing, Cash, Authority, Solution, Enemies
    Opportunity, Resources, Decision process, Exact solution, Relationships
  • ProBANT
    Procurement, Budget, Authority, Need, Time-frame
  • P6
    Professional 6 Risk identifying and pairing six areas of risk.
    Requirement, Authority, Money, Priority, Action, Competition, Timing
  • RSVP
    Right Relationships, winning Strategy, unique compelling Value, strong Process Alignment
    Situation, Competition, Basis of Decision, Timescale, Solution, Money, Authority, Need
  • TAS
    Target Account Selling, 20 questions for sales qualification.
Most objections that we receive during the sales process are the result of pushing too early or seeking progression before having the necessary level of understanding about their situation, process and timing.

Step 2

The Business Case

In any deal, the two most important qualification questions your sales manager will want to know are:

  1. Why will this prospect change the way they currently operate?
  2. Why will they select us as being best value and lowest risk?

In order to answer these, we need focus our sales process on the buyer and thier needs, asking them insightful questions that illustrate why they are seeking change. In addition to uncovering the business case, questions like these identify the trigger, measures of success, and likely risks.  Carefully target your prospects, aiming at the most senior level possible will  typically improve the quality of insight and access you are able to obtain.

The degree to which the customer provides quality information and access to their people is what determines whether the seller should invest time and effort.

Step 3

Build Your Questions

In corporate and enterprise selling, sales professionals and buyers jointly define value, determine priorities, build a business case, secure consensus, and manage risk. To jump start this partnership our questions should aim draw out and clarify the need and possibility of change for both parties. So, once you have identified what you need to know, it's time to build your questions.

To get you started, here are some examples I have used to reliably and powerfully blend discovery and qualification:

  • What’s happened to cause you to look at changing the way you currently operate?
  • What are the improved results expected for the organization and you in your role if you invest in this?
  • What's the business case and how is the project being funded?
  • Where do see the risks in managing change and implementing successfully?
  • Who's impacted internally and who needs to be on-board to achieve consensus?
  • Talk me through your timing and process for making the change?
  • When does this need to be implemented?
  • Why is the execution date important and what happens if it slips?
Our perceived (and genuine) intent is critically important. Rather than pushing to close, blended qualification and discovery creates it a natural and logical conclusion in your buyer's mind.

Blending qualification and discovery creates alignment, genuine intent, and natural momentum towards the business outcome. By incorporating–rather than pushing–deal progression, we make our sales conversation less tense and awkward, and reduce the risks of 'negative surprises' at later stages. However, it's important to remember that you can't win them all. If you have lead with value and insight in a conversation focused on them and their outcomes, but still don't have the accurate information and and access to stakeholders you need, it's time to qualify the opportunity out and move on.

About the author

Tony J. Hughes
Tony J. Hughes

Tony is a co-founder of Sales IQ, committed to elevating professional selling and sales leadership for a Better Business World.

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