How to Qualify Prospects without Interrogating Them

Qualifying prospects during the initial call is one of the most important things you can do in sales, but for anyone who’s done it, you know that what’s difficult is asking a series of good questions without sounding like you’re interrogating your prospect.  Admittedly, there is a fine line between having a dialogue with someone and asking enough questions to see whether they qualify for your product and service, but how exactly do you do that?

It’s easy if you follow the steps below. Remember to always feel free to customize these questions to suite your personality and your product or service:

Step One: The first thing you need to do is frame an opening question that gives you the right to continue asking questions. Strange, I know, but the key word here is “frame” your question to earn the right to qualify. Here are some examples:

“_________ would it be O.K. if I asked you just a couple of quick questions to see if this would be a fit for you?”


“_________, it sounds like this might work for you; do you mind if I ask you just a few questions so I can find the right fit?”


“__________, I know you’re busy, and I’ll be brief. There’s just a few questions that will help give me an idea of what best to focus on when we next speak – do you have just a couple of minutes for me now?”


“__________ let me get a clear idea of just a couple areas of importance for you, and then I’ll be in the best situation to tailor a demo for you next week.”

“_________, would you mind if I took a few minutes to ask you a couple of questions so I can understand exactly what you might need, and how we can help?”

Framing your qualifying questions in this way always gives you some leeway in where to start and what to start asking. It also sets the right expectation for your prospect, and earns you a window to begin the qualification process.

Step Two: The way to seamlessly continue the qualification process is to use layering questions, when appropriate, to drill down on some of your prospect’s answers. Layering questions are simply questions that tag on to the previous question, and they are used to get even more information on a specific area.

Most sales reps have never taken the time to learn the fine art of the layering question, and haven’t developed the ability to truly listen enough which is a prerequisite for using them effectively. If you’re willing to learn and use them, though, you’ll be rewarded with a wealth of information which will make the closing process that much easier. Here’s some examples:

Question: “And besides yourself, who else weighs in on the decision?”

Layer: “And how do you figure in to that?”


Layer: “And how much influence do they have?”


Question: “In terms of budget for this, how would our solution at (your price point) fit in right now?

(If their budget is tight right now, or they are not sure, then use:)

Layer: “What other department or bucket could you get the budget from if you really liked this?”


Layer: “When you find something that you absolutely must have, where do you borrow the budget from?”


“How have you made something like this fit in before?”


“What one thing can you think of that might prevent you from moving ahead on this in the next two weeks?”

Layer: “And how would you get around that?”


“How have you been able to side step that in the past?”


“And what would you propose to do if that happens?”

As you can see, with the proper use of layering questions, you will not only learn more information about the important qualifying areas, but you’ll also be able to seamlessly continue the conversation. Layering questions allow you to extend the qualification phase naturally as each question is a continuation to the question that was asked previously. This is the way you’ll earn the right to continue qualifying without sound like you’re interrogating someone.

Step Three: Address any Red Flags that come up during the process. One of the biggest problems sales reps run into is hearing possible problem areas come up and not addressing them. Many sales reps just hope these problems will go away or not come up again, but if they’re honest, they know they never do. In fact, the truth about Red Flags is that they almost always come back up and often tend to ruin the deal in the end.

By addressing them when you hear them, you not only have a chance to qualify them, but you also earn the right to keep asking questions while keeping your prospect engaged. Here are some examples:

Red Flag: “Well, I’ll have to run this by corporate.”

Ask: “What has their answer on something like this been in the past?”


“And what do you think the chances of them approving this is?”


“Based on where you see them leaning, what do you think they’ll say?”

And then:

“How can we best get them to approve something like this?”

Red Flag: “We’re getting several quotes on this…”

Ask: “Which one do you like best so far?”


“What does the winning quote have to look like from your point of view?”


“Our price point on this will be X. How do you think that will stack up with what you’re willing to spend on something like this?”


“And what do you think they’ll need to see to pick us?”

Red Flag: “Well, we’re in no hurry on this.”

Ask: “And what is your realistic time frame like?”


“What might change that?”


“What’s going to motivate the decision to finally act on something like this?”

As you can see, asking questions of prospects – without sounding like you’re interrogating them – is easy if you take the time in advance to prepare the right kinds of questions. And don’t forget why you’re asking all these qualifying questions: 80% of the sale is made during the qualification call. If you do this part of the process correctly, then your closing percentage will go up effortlessly. And if you don’t thoroughly qualify, then you’ll likely just continue putting unqualified leads into your pipeline, and you already know how that turns out…

So reframe the prospecting call and learn how to earn the right to ask, and continue asking, qualifying questions without sounding like you’re interrogating a prospect. As you can see, it’s easy if you know how.

Want to download a script book filled with proven scripts to help you cold call and close more sales over the phone?  Click Here and see why Jeffrey Gitomer recommends my “Complete Book of Phone Scripts”!

Want proven scripts like this emailed weekly to you?  Click Here to sign up for my free weekly ezine!