Many salespeople think that selling is all about knowing and telling — knowing about your products and services and telling a prospect everything you know. While it is important to be knowledgeable and personable, one of the most important aspects of selling is asking questions that will help you discover your prospect’s wants, needs, desires and ability to pay.

This sounds basic, however most salespeople fail in doing a thorough discovery process. They end up with a prospect who is not qualified make a purchase because either they are not the only or final decision-maker or they don’t have the ability to pay for or finance the purchase. Professional salespeople understand that good basic qualification is a cornerstone to making a sale.

When you become an expert at the discovery and qualification process, it will open the door to having a great walk-around and ultimately generate more sales for your dealership and more commissions for you.

Start the Conversation

When you go to the doctor's office, the doctor probably asked you to come in and said, “How are you feeling today?” You know, that seems like a stupid question. Obviously, if I’m at the doctor’s office, I must have a problem, but the reason the doctor asks you that question is because it gets you talking. The doctor is going through a discovery and qualification process as they work to diagnose what's wrong with you. You know what you're feeling and you most likely know what's wrong with you. All the doctor is trying to do is get you to share the specifics. Then, they can go through all of the knowledge retained from medical school and apply that knowledge to your specific illness.

In sales, that’s basically what we do as well. Just like the doctor, our job is to ask specific questions that will help us discover what the prospect is interested in and through listening, begin to qualify the prospect as to what they want and their ability to finance the purchase. To master the discovery and qualification process, we need to learn what specific questions to ask, what to specifically listen for and how to use that information in our presentation and walk around.

Greet Them

Let’s take a look at how we begin this process. In most cases, if you give prospects time to “settle in,” they will begin to “settle on” what it is that compelled them to walk into your dealership. This “settling” time is important for prospects because it gives them a sense of control. Keep in mind that people build up a natural wall of defense when they walk into a sales situation and the more you allow them to “settle in” and “settle on” what they want, the less you seem like a salesperson, which is a good thing from the prospect’s perspective.

So with that in mind, the first part of the discovery and qualification process is your greeting. What you say at that moment will either build a wall or keep a wall from forming. My goal as a professional salesperson is to acknowledge the prospects, but to let them know I am here to help if needed, but not to “push” myself on them.

I would encourage you to make your greeting as neutral as possible. You might say, “Good morning, my name is John. I work here and if you have any questions or if I can help in any way, just let me know. I will be over there.” At that moment, point to where you can be found, pause for a response and if they smile and say thanks, walk away and leave them alone for a few minutes to let them get comfortable in your dealership and to see what they are attracted to.

If, as you pause they say, “One of our friends purchased from you last week and they just love it. We are looking at upgrading and were curious as to what you have and what the cost might be.” At that point, they have invited you into the discovery process and you can begin to ask those all-important questions. Always remember that when people enter your dealership, they have already decided to buy. By coming into your dealership, they are trying to decide what to buy and if they want to buy it from you.

Discovery vs. Qualification

As you think about the difference between the discovery and the qualification process, it’s important to understand that in both cases it is all about asking questions and listening intently to the responses. Let’s take a look at the art of asking good questions.

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When we go through the discovery/qualification process, understand that there are times when we want people to be very concise with their responses. We are looking for specifics. It’s like the difference between telling the doctor you’ve been “feeling bad for quite a while” vs. “feeling bad for the last two days.” You get this information by starting questions with what, who, when, where or how. You want to avoid asking questions that start with why. “Why-based” questions compress the information you get and begin to irritate the prospect.

For example, instead of asking, “Why did you decide to buy what you brought the last time you purchased?” which immediately puts them on the defensive, you should ask, “What did you like about what you have now when you bought it 3 years ago?” While both questions are similar, you will get much better information that you can use to help sell them on your products from the second question.

If you have ever asked a child to do something, like make their bed, and then found out later they did not do it, you might go to them and ask, “Why didn’t you make your bed?” Their answer is immediately defensive and may sound like, “I don’t know” or “I was going to” or “I didn’t know you asked me.” You get the idea. Instead of asking it in a way that creates confrontation, we need to rephrase our questions to illicit a conversation.

So, instead of asking “why” types of questions, we want to focus on “what” questions. Those kind of questions expand the base of knowledge we are seeking and create a dialogue between you and your prospect.

Tune in for Discovering Your Customer’s Motivation Part 2: 5 Questions to Help Make the Sale