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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Schneider

8 Ways To Qualify Customers

Updated: Jun 4, 2023





Why should you qualify customers?


It is one of the most important skills in sales - qualifying your customers before reaching out to them.

Time is precious and we all only have 24 hours in a day. Hence those of us who will make the best use of these hours will be the most successful in our job.

Time is also non-renewable. Once you have wasted a few weeks chasing the wrong prospects, you will fall behind on your sales and business goals.


The biggest time waster for salespeople is not an extended lunch break or browsing social media. It is time spent with people who will never buy your product, no matter what you offer them.


The more your product can be customized and the less tangible it is, the more qualifying will be important and should the first thing to be done in your sales process.

The clearer you know that your prospect is in the market for your product right now, the more you can ensure you will spend your time with the right prospects.

Better qualified prospects also mean a higher return on investment for each sales representative, more revenue generated and higher commissions earned.

Spending time with the right people is therefore one of the most essential skills for any sales representative.

Before you make any sales call, one of the most important tasks will thus be to first identify who you should target and who could be worth your time.



Different customers need different sales conversations


Some customers who come into your business will want to buy your product right away.

Other customers might just be shopping around.

Again another customer might want to first hear about every nut and bolt of your product before they even consider buying from you.

Others might just want to put pressure on their current supplier and never intend to buy from you at all.


Each one of these potential customers will demand to be treated differently.

Each one will need a different kind of conversation.

And each one will react differently if we talk to them about our product.


So how do you know them apart from each other?

How do you know with whom to invest more time and make one more call, and which prospects have just wasted your time so far?



Simple:

You qualify your prospects before you even begin your sales presentation.

Qualifying will help you to make more sales faster because you will not be wasting time with the wrong prospects.

There are a number of ways you can determine if a customer fits you and your products or not, to give you an instant idea of how and where to proceed.


Here are 8 ways to qualify customers for your maximum sales output.



Market Research


qualifying customers
Find the "juice" your customers will like!


Who should I talk to?

When a customer is in your market, they have demand for your products. If they don't have a demand for what you offer - they are not in your market.


The first step for better-qualified prospect is to research your overall market and the current conditions you will have to keep in mind when selling your product. This should be largely included in your ideal customer profile. It includes who the ideal prospect is and who to talk to primarily.

With these details want to make sure we are targeting the right audience with our sales and marketing approach. However, if you haven't already clearly defined who these “ideal” prospects are, we can start with overall market facts considering your product:



  • Is it a buyer's market or a seller's market?

  • Are you selling B2B or B2C?

  • What steps are necessary to get a customer to buy from you?

  • Are there current trends in the market, and if so will they change in the near future? How?

  • Are there seasons with more demand than usual and other times with less?

  • etc.


Based on these findings you should get a first picture of who your products are suited for and how to find these people. Look at who can really benefit from your product, and why.

Next, you can then look at their individual situation and figure out a way to be as helpful as possible by selling your product. Consider also the customer journey when buying a product similar to yours:


  • Are there multiple stages of the sales process?

  • Is it a complex decision?

  • Or is your product an impulse buy?

  • Trends could be an indicator of how a market behaves, but not all customers follow current trends.

  • Also, observe how “things are done” in your market.


Based on these findings, you can first understand who you should talk to and how to approach these prospects. Then look if it is really only one single market you are selling to.

Maybe you sell specialized parts for the car industry, but there could also be a use for them in the mechanical engineering industry for example.

Many products can be sold in more than one market, or sometimes markets also overlap and reach into another market. Markets can be restricted to data such as different countries, age groups, and the like. Try to see beyond the obvious - maybe there are people who could use your products but are outside of the main market.


Are these customers in my market?


Sometimes markets can also be inefficient or not provide the ideal solution right away.

Look for possible gaps that competitors do not really fulfill, or

Whatever the markets look like, make sure you focus on the people who will really benefit from using your product.

The customers and their individual situations have to be your center of attention at all times since they need to benefit from our products somehow.

Who is he or she, what are their concerns and interests, and what do they do all the time?

Based on this market data you can specify the people who you should talk to, what their background is, and in what ways there is demand for your product.



Focus on the best customers


We want to focus our time and effort on the best possible outcome and spend more time with better customers.

Therefore we have to acknowledge that not all customers are alike.


Some people get along well with each other, and others don't. It is natural and will happen automatically as you come across different kinds of people in your sales job.

You as a sales representative will find some people easier to deal with than others. Those you naturally get along with are those who you will also make the best business with in most cases - we all want to deal with people we like. And the better you and the prospect like each other, the higher the chances for a solid business relationship and thus for a sale.


Even if you are just starting out, chances are you will have some idea of a good customer and a bad customer.

If you don't have any customers yet, look at past customers of colleagues who brought lots of revenue into the business without ever causing problems. Then look at the opposite customers who caused lots of trouble, and complaints and ended up only buying the smallest and cheapest version of your products ultimately.

Try to find similarities between these groups and include those differences in your qualifying criteria to know upfront who might be a better fit.


There are some customers who buy more of your products, faster and in the highest possible configuration and are totally happy with it for years.

Then there are others who buy the smallest possible version, negotiate for weeks to get extra discounts and complain about how expensive it is, and then even demand refunds or free upgrades because something was not as they expected it to be.



Separating both types of customers will be very important for your success in sales.

The more you can tell them apart, the more profitable your business can become in the long term.

If you focus on the customers that are easy, fun, and also profitable to work with, you have done an important first step in qualifying your customers.

Those cstomer who will be left after the selection will be much easier to sell to than the rest.

a good customer


Do they have the budget?


Probably the most important criteria to look for with every prospect you meet is if there is a budget for the product or solution you offer.

After you have made sure they fit into your customer profile, or know from other research that there is demand, the next thing to do is to look if they can afford what you offer.

There is no reason in selling someone an investment with a minimum starting at 50.000$ when that person is deeply in debt and doesn't even have any savings.


Be aware that when selling to large B2B customers they will probably always have the budget. In such cases, the question is more if they have made that solution you offer a priority in their corporation. Check therefore how important the solution is to them, what their main objectives are in the next years, and more.

Also, be advised that many prospects will give you the impression that the budget is tight when in fact your solution simply is not urgent enough for them.


In all other cases when you sell B2C or to small and mid-sized businesses, making sure that the given budget is available is a key criterion.

This can also be included in your customer profile, given that the information is accessible somehow.


You determine the customer’s budget mainly by asking questions and being upfront about the overall pricing of your products.

This should be mentioned after you are sure that there is a real demand for your products.

If you offer premium products in a high price range, for example, say so. You can also mention that if the customer is looking for a cheap solution, you are the wrong person to talk to.


Alternatively, you can ask how much such a solution would be worth to them, and what they expect to pay or directly ask what their budget for this solution is.



Do they have the authority?


When you are sure the prospect has a sufficient budget for your products, the next thing to determine is whether they are also able to make the buying decision. You don't want to waste weeks of your time waiting for the buying decision to be made, only to find out afterward the person never had the authority to make the decision in the first place.

Again we do this by asking questions, such as:


  • If we could provide the solution you are looking for, would there be anything else that stops us from moving forward with this deal?

  • Is there anyone else we need to talk to to make this decision?

  • Who else is involved in the buying process?



In a B2B environment, it might even make sense to ask this question in a written format, such as an email to be sure you will get legitimate information.

If you sell a B2C product that involves more complex buying decisions, keep in mind that the spouses should always be included in the conversation.

In other cases, it could also be that other relatives should be present during your presentation, for example, if a young couple still is financially dependent on their parents.


After determining that the customer is in the market, and has the budget and the authority we have already done the major steps in qualifying our customer.

Now we get into more details.



Readiness to Buy


buyer readiness qualifying a customer
Is your customer ready to move ahead?

One of the best qualifying criteria in sales is to know how ready a customer is to buy right now.


A few customers will have seen your advertising before, know exactly who your company is, have searched only for reviews of your product, and will be ready to buy from the first moment you interact with them.

For this case, you actually need to answer only the questions they have and move to close the sale.


However, a lead that you got from your marketing department which was generated from a landing page online might be quite the opposite.

This person might just have given their contact details because the ad copy made them curious to know more.

When you finally call this person, this is what goes through their mind:


  • Who is this person calling me?

  • Is this business credible?

  • How good is the product really?

  • How will I know I can trust them?



This person needs further information on your offering, data to prove it really worked, a reason to believe that you are credible and much more.

As we can anticipate, this lead will be much harder to sell to than our first example.

With someone who is just looking to get a quote to compare prices, you might not be able to sell them anything at all, because they never had the intention to buy anything from you.

These people are commonly known for wasting a sales rep's time only.

But how will you know who is wasting your time and who is a valuable chance to bring in a new customer?


A first hint could be in the form of your lead generation.

If customers send Emails to your lead form online, they might already explain what they need your product for, or what they are interested in.

If the customer directly calls your office, you can ask questions right on the phone to find out why they called your business and what it is they are looking for.



For example:

Someone who just downloaded your Ebook or free report online might not be convinced enough yet to really buy your product.


The person might be interested in some data or other promise you made on your website or heard that there is good value in it from a friend. Calling this person now to ask for the sale might only push them away instead of leading them to the sale.

Instead, this customer would need a step-by-step introduction to why they can trust your business fully, what further benefits your solution provides, and so forth.


Unfortunately, there is also no approach that will work 100% of the time and absolutely guarantee that it leads to a sale.

A prospect on the phone just looking for a quote to negotiate cheaper prices with their current supplier might tell you just the same thing as someone who is genuinely looking to buy a solution you have to offer.

There is no surefire way to tell them apart right away.


The most important part is to acknowledge and recognize that these customer situations have to be treated completely differently.

If you know what to look for, you will over time automatically start to scan for clues and hints that could indicate a readiness to buy from the customer.


Questions to help you indicate their readiness to buy might include:


  • What was the reason for filling out our lead form / calling us today /etc.?

  • When will you need the product?

  • What do you need it for?

  • What specifications do you expect?

  • How fast would you like it delivered?

  • What size? What color?



The first indication from the source of your lead combined with the answers you get from these questions should give you a clear idea of where the customer is standing at that moment.

Meet the customer where they are.

If you know what situation they are in currently, you will know how to respond accordingly.


Past Buying Criteria


finding out buying criteria qualify customers
These shoes are neat. Have you ever bought some of these before?

Another great way to determine if the customer is right for your business or product is to ask them for their past buying criteria.

It is a very simple and straightforward approach to receiving information about their way of thinking and how they make their buying decisions as well.



To learn about it, you ask the customer a few questions.

These should be aimed at if they have already bought similar products before, how they did go about making that decision, and what was important to them during the process.

Also, you can ask more bluntly what would have to happen in order to buy the products from you.

These are examples of questions you can ask to find out past buying criteria:


  • Have you ever bought one of these before?

  • How was the experience?

  • How did you go about making the decision?

  • In retrospect, what did you like about the product?

  • What would you do differently this time?



You can include all these questions in a random, small-talk-filled conversation with every customer.

While appearing absolutely incidental, a smart salesperson can thereby figure out the exact buying patterns this person has for your products.

You can figure out exactly what triggers buying behavior in this person, what they value about such products, and what they expect from them.



All you have left to do is determine if your company and products can match these required standards. If you can provide them with what they ask for, you have practically made the sale on autopilot.

The past criteria for purchases similar to your product will therefore be one of the hottest and most important qualifying criteria.

On the other hand, if the customer mentions he likes specifications your product can never provide - you will know that further selling to them will be senseless. In such a situation it is best to be upfront and honest about it instantly to neither waste your time or the time of your customer.


On the other hand, the more you can find out about what exactly these customers want to have, the easier it will be to sell to them.

After asking questions about their past buying behavior, you should have a very clear idea if the prospect is qualified to become a customer or not.

If you cannot deliver what they expect, just be honest about it and move on - you would have only wasted time for yourself and the prospect.


Values and believes


qualifying prospects
Saving money can be a motivator. But not for all customers.


The next important detail to learn about your prospect is to learn about their values and beliefs.

Every one of us goes through the world with our own pair of glasses on.


We all have different experiences, and different things we have seen, heard, and learned, and make our decisions based on different ways of thinking.

The area of town you grew up in, the childhood you experienced, the relationship with your parents and family members, your education, that one teacher who mistreated you in school, your job experience and much much more all together make up the gigantic sum of life experiences each of us has individually.


This makes us unique and makes every one of us a little different from others.

Some people, for example, love to travel.

Others hate it.

Some people are interested in politics.

Others would avoid this topic at all costs.

Some people are looking for bargains.

Others love to buy luxury high-priced items.



At first sight, you can never know what the person opposite of you has on his or her mind.

Our looks and clothes reveal hardly anything about what is really going on inside of us.

While it certainly helps to really learn and understand a thing or two about body language, even a superb understanding of it will still leave a lot of guesswork on the table.


The easier way is again to ask the customer a set of carefully selected questions that can help you to find out what their views are on certain aspects regarding your product or industry.

Packaged in a nice, fluent conversation these questions will help you to find out the value and beliefs of your counterpart on the go while you keep on talking.


For qualifying your customers, a clear understanding of how the other person thinks and ideally makes their decision will be critical.

The more you can learn about their buying criteria, the easier it will be for you during the rest of the business relationship. Listen closely and attentively when asking these questions, as the answers will definitely reveal important information.


Some example questions to ask might be:


  • In order to change from your current supplier to our product, what exactly would have to change for you?

  • What would you consider an improvement in this situation?

  • What would the ideal situation look like for you?

  • How do you feel about the decisions you made so far?



As with all questions in a sales conversation, listen really closely and try your best to memorize what you heard. Depending on what you find out you can further qualify the customer with the previously discussed methods and see how your offered solution fits into their world.

As with the other questions already, if you immediately sense that you can’t deliver what is expected, say so and be honest.


However, be aware that you will not directly get clear answers about their values and beliefs all the time. Some people would not openly like to admit everything to a stranger, especially if it is a personal topic.

Instead, you will often get some hint about what they are really thinking, even if it is not always straightforward. As a sales rep your social skills will now be in high demand to determine what motivations really lie beneath the surface. Don't be satisfied with the first answer, but really dig deep to understand underlying opinions and buying criteria.

Even with the best body language skills, there is no surefire approach to guarantee what is going on in their mind.



As you gather more and more hints on what is going on in the other person, you will have a much broader base of information to qualify your customer.

With every additional detail, you can find out, you are one step closer to determining whether that person fits or not.

Ultimately you will have qualified the customer a lot further.



Who is our product for?



Lastly, you have to look at your product and honestly determine who the product is made for.

There is no single product on earth that everybody wants or needs.

The world is filled with products hated by some and loved by others.

Even the best-selling books worldwide on Amazon will have some 1-star reviews with people complaining what a waste of money the book was.



The crucial part to understand is that these products are not bad or useless in themselves just because some people say so. What matters is that there is a small enough group of people to sustain the business who love the product.

Others might be totally upset that such a product only exists and want to see it banned, but as long as some people like it and keep buying it the product will persist.

The product is not for them.



The biggest question to qualify your customers, therefore, is who exactly the product is made and designed for. This is again a part of your ideal customer profile and should be included in the sales process already.

What does the product really do, and what are its advantages compared to other solutions on the market?


Even if your product is made for the mass markets and can be used by a broad number of people, there will be some people who absolutely will not want to buy it.

As important as it is to clearly lay out who can use the products, it is equally important to determine who has absolutely no use for the product.

Both questions will lead you closer to your ideal customer profile and give you a clear hint on who could become one of your best customers and who is a misfit.

If you have not defined your ideal customer profile yet, check out our article on how to do it - it will dramatically help you to qualify your customers.


By producing for a certain niche or customer group, you automatically exclude some other part of the market.

Don’t fall into the trap of being the right fit for everybody.

Such products usually end up being right for nobody instead.


The complexity of Qualifying customers


If sales would be an easy way to make money, everyone would do it.

The difficult part is to find out what to say to whom and in which situation, to get that person to act and eventually land you the sale.

Every person is different, everyone has unique character traits and will need to be treated differently if you want to sell them something.

This alone makes selling such a highly diverse field because what works in one situation with one customer might totally blow the deal with a different customer.



In our article about creating your own sales presentation, we already explained that as a salesperson you are required to adapt to the situation as it unfolds.

Meaning there can’t be a one-size-fits-all sales approach that works every single time and closes every sale.

Rather it demands very high social and emotional intelligence from the salesperson to detect certain clues that might give a hint about how the customer thinks and what is important to him or her.


This is often referred to as having great people skills, and a large part is about reading people and their body language.

However, be aware that even the world's top experts on body language mention that it is never possible to 100% know what is going on in the other person.

Even the top experts on body language mention that the most researched behavioral clues are right only about 50% of the time.

While there are certain traits and gestures that can give a clue about a mood or behavior, there is never a guarantee that this means the same for every person.



For example:

Hiding your palms can be an indication of dishonesty.


If your prospect is now hiding their palms, you might think they are hiding a concern from you.

But what if the person grew up in a household where this was common practice and just uses this as a daily gesture without notice?

Or what if the person has a different cultural background where this gesture is a sign of nothing special?


Hence it is difficult for even the most experienced professionals to really know what goes on in the person across the table based only on what their body does on the outside.

Add to this fact that all people have different values and beliefs and look at things differently.

This already gives us a very diverse cocktail of human personalities where basically anything is possible.


It is up to the individual sales rep to figure out what the customers are looking for, what buying criteria they have, and how they respond to certain questions.


All this makes up the high art of selling and is largely based on good communication.

The complexity resulting from all these various factors is already staggering.

This makes properly qualifying the customer so important if you want to have more success in selling.


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