The Importance of Properly Qualifying Customers 

Something to keep in mind before diving in and reading this article: 67% of sales are lost due to poor qualifying techniques used by sales associates.  That’s right, just over 2/3 of customers decide not to buy because they were not properly qualified.  To add more insult to injury, in a recent study where 108 shoppers rated their experience when shopping at independent flooring retailers and big box stores it was reported that less than 3% of all sales associates properly qualified their customers.  What these shoppers encountered was a bunch of sales clerks and very few sales consultants. 

A bit of good news coming out of the consumer study is when the customers felt the sales associate was “friendly and helpful” over 92% said they would buy from that retailer and refer the store to their friends.   That means if sales associates are to take a consultative approach customers are highly likely to buy.  They must find out what the customers pain points are. Why are they talking to them? What solution are they looking for?  Highlight their pain, dream, and make the connection.

So, what do I mean by taking a consultative approach? Well, a consultant is someone who exhibits three qualities at all times:

  1. Has expertise in the relevant subject matters.
  2. Fully understands the customer’s values and needs – especially as it relates to the circumstances they are being asked to consult on.
  3. Always maintains an approach in giving advice that puts the customer’s interests first.

To be qualified as a consultant, a sales approach should follow a simple 4-step process:

  1. Discovery – asking a logical progression of questions that delve deeply into the customer’s situation in order to uncover their desires, their needs, their values and to understand all of the influencing factors involved in their decision-making.
  2. Deliberation – taking time to ponder what you found out in discovery so that you can formulate a series of solutions that can help the customers achieve their goals, fulfill their needs and benefit them in the most holistic manner possible.
  3. Discussion – once you have used your expertise to come up with appropriate and beneficial solutions, you need to discuss things with your customer so that they clearly understand your intended advice.
  4. Determination – together, you and your customer determine the exact course of action that needs to be taken – regardless of any other factors except what is in their best interest. Act as a consultant and have a process, and you’ll soon find that your customer relationships are unbreakable.

Be sure to listen for what customers tell you and listen for what they don’t tell you. Ask them to expand on certain answers, and ask about the past, present and future. Don’t ask leading questions; listen to where they lead their answer.  Find out about their challenges and goals…if sales associates ‘listen’ carefully they’ll probably learn the most important is not the first thing customers tell them it’s the second or third. If customers aren’t talking 80% of the time at the beginning, sales associates are doing it wrong.   Just think, does a doctor prescribe medicine before they have fully listened to your story and symptoms?   Of course not because that could lead to the death of their patients much like solutions without qualification can kill the deal for a sales associate.

Customers distinct personalities require some flexibility and creative thinking by a sales consultant.  While some customers are happy to sit down and discuss their needs many are too busy or not interested in spending any more time than absolutely necessary when purchasing a good or service.  However, if a sales associate wants to reach their true potential they must figure out a way to make a connection, determine needs, and give suitable options. 

One great strategy is to develop a set of questions, by product type, that should be asked prior to presenting solutions.  Practice how you are going to ask these questions to the various personality styles:  those who love to talk, those who are too busy to talk, those that are not interested in talking at all, and those that only talk about themselves.    Figure out a way complete this discovery in three minutes or less.

Sales Associates tend to forget they’re in the people business.  Many get caught up in what they are selling and forget that they're in the people business. The best sales professionals don’t sell; they help their customers buy. Often times sales people jump into a sales cycle and focus on a need that they think is important to their prospect and that their product or service could easily solve. By failing to understand the most urgent challenges that their customer needs solved, they risk pitching customers a service or product that they don’t see enough value behind. As a result, customers won’t buy and the sales associate ends up wasting precious time and energy pitching the wrong service or product.

Think about how simple this is.  All sales associates need to do is turn into sales consultants and stop being clerks.   If they were to just spend a few minutes, before they start showing product, absorbing what customers are saying, asking probing questions and building rapport everybody wins.  Listen, then questions, then solution.  For a flooring owner those three simple things can be the difference between barely breaking even and building wealth.  I don’t know about you, but the second option sounds a heck of a lot better and more fun to me.