I’ve been writing about how to Navigate the Buyer’s Journey for months now (and if you don’t know what the Buyer’s Journey is, read this article now before moving on, or watch my Webinar on this topic). I truly believe that this is the foundation for sales as we move into the future – but I’ve neglected the flip side. My work on the Buyer’s Journey is optimistic (as I am as a person). It begins with the assumption that the Buyer enters the Buyer’s Journey with a true intent to buy from YOU, if the Buyer’s definition of Success is met.
But we all know that it isn’t always that way. Spotting the difference between a real potential buyer and someone just kicking the tires is tricky. Genuine buyers show real interest—they ask relevant questions and want to know more about what you’re selling. The time-wasters, on the other hand, might be more interested in getting information or a better deal without any real intention to buy. So, let’s take a little dive into how to qualify buyers for seriousness – or, as I say, Navigating the Non-Buyer’s Journey.
You need to understand that qualifying the buyer is an area where your questioning skills come to the fore. You can ask these questions in such a way as to turn a real buyer into a non-buyer if you’re careful. Too many sales training “systems” have as their foundation a hefty skepticism – and I’ve seen those types of tactics send a genuine buyer right into the arms of a competitor. My first sales job had a training system that said – repeatedly – “buyers are liars.” I disagree.
It’s important to remember that when a Buyer enters into a Buyer’s Journey, they are probably going to buy SOMETHING from SOMEONE. Whether they buy your stuff from you is the open question. Having a customer that is using you to “keep their supplier honest” is a pain in the ass and a huge time waster. On two different occasions, I’ve had prospects say that exact phrase to me – “I want to keep my supplier honest.” My response was, “If you’re worried about them being honest, why in the world would you keep buying from them?” Both ended up as my customers.
Before we launch into a few guidelines for separating Buyers from Non-Buyers, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Your time has value.
- It’s okay to say no. You don’t have to do everything the prospect asks just because they ask. See #1 above.
- Any Request for Proposal has specifications in it. If you didn’t help write those specs, one of your competitors did – and they’ll probably get the business.
- A Buyer’s Journey is a MUTUAL journey – you should both be proceeding through at the same pace. If your Buyer stops, you stop.
With that said, here are a few questions you should ask to separate Buyers from Non-Buyers.
- The Decision Making Process: Are you talking to the person who will make the decision? The old method of doing this was to ask, “Are you the decision maker?” It’s a personal and confrontational question that would almost always generate a “yes” answer – EVEN IF THE PERSON WASN’T THE DECISION MAKER. A better way is to ask about the process, which depersonalizes the question and makes it safe to tell you that they are not the decision maker. “Mr. Prospect, could you tell me about the process that will be used to make this buying decision?” Remember – most of the time, a salesperson has access to the decision maker. If it’s not you, you’re probably just doing this for practice.
- Priorities: Your normal sales questioning should establish the need – but where that need is prioritized in terms of the overall company big picture is important, too. Even if the need is important to your Buyer, does the Buyer have the horsepower within his/her organization to get it done? Will, for instance, a Marketing project lose to an Engineering project? Don’t just ask about your own sphere – ask about the overall picture.
- Resources: For years, I’ve told salespeople not to ask “The Budget Question.” There are many reasons for this – you’re unlikely to get an honest answer, it opens the door to price pressure, and there are issues beyond money that could prevent you from getting the business, among others. However, I think there’s a place for a question about Resources are more than money – it can include time, technology, personnel, etc. “What resources to do you plan to allocate to solving this problem?”
- Timeline: The “timeline question” is important – and it’s often done incorrectly. Salespeople ask about the timeline for the decision – when in fact, they should be asking for the date the solution is needed. This does two things for you. First of all, it helps the customer envision their problem getting solved – which makes the process about them and not When you ask about the decision, you are a supplicant – “please tell me when you are going to buy from me.” Asking about the solution makes you a partner in the solution. Secondly, asking about the solution timeline allows you to help set milestones for completion of the different parts of the Buyer’s Journey, as well as to guide the post-decision milestones. Ultimately, it gets you toward success for the buyer and for yourself.
The key is this: If you aren’t getting the answers that you need, you must not be afraid to discontinue your participation in the process. Again – your time has value, and you could be prospecting to find someone who will embark on a Buyer’s Journey with you. By paying attention, keeping communication clear, and using these questions, you can tell the difference between a promising lead and a dead end. It’s an ongoing skill that gets better with practice and helps focus efforts where they matter most.