How to take your qualifying to the next level with THE WHY ONION


There has been more written about properly qualifying sales opportunities than just about any other topic. More than the three other critical sales skills (prospecting, positioning and negotiating) put together. But that’s ok because it is so very important. 

Through the years there have been many very helpful systems developed to help guide you in asking all the right questions. Examples include:

   BANT      - Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline

   CHAMP   - Challenges, Authority, Money and Prioritization

   ANUM     - Authority, Need, Urgency, Money

   MEDDIC  - Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion)

All of these are very good, and it’s worth spending time with your buyers understanding each of the areas highlighted in these acronyms. However, there is one critical oversight I see in each of these systems. 


While it’s true that every business does in fact AIM to make very well considered, rational and defensible decisions, the emotional component in decision making cannot be ignored. Of course no one truly runs their business on their gut alone, but the gut is still there. Emotion is very much involved in every business decision, and especially where money and prestige are concerned. 

The thing to remember is that business decisions are made by HUMAN BEINGS, and are IMPERFECT PROCESSES where all the facts and every possibility can NEVER BE FULLY EXAMINED. These are people accustomed to making personal decisions with a combination of rational logic and human emotion. If this were not the case Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche would be failing entities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Business decisions are a lot more like car purchases than many sales systems want to admit.

We must remember the human dynamic. Tucked within the rational business decision are people concerned about their own world; how they are perceived; and any personal risks involved in these complex group decisions. We must remember that there is always an emotional element to every purchase decision, even those made in a purely business context. 

I like to call this the WHY ONION

It’s something that is revealed through the entire selling process and takes real time, sensitivity and trust to peel each layer. And it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Doing so will create greater customer intimacy and trust that will set you apart from your competitors, and will help you know that the buyer is really serious and motivated to make a change. It will also help you craft a better right solution that satisfies the logical AND emotional buying considerations each buying constituent brings to the process.

Let’s deconstruct the onion a bit, so it’s easy to understand. 

The outer layer is usually a set of decisions and/or assumptions the buyer has already made about what they want. For example, let’s say you sell cloud based accounting software and the buyer has invited you in because they have come to believe that their next system needs to be cloud based. Tucked inside of that layer are multiple assumptions about that decision. It would be helpful to understand those. For example, asking how they came to that decision and what advantages they see in cloud based products may be helpful to understand. It also may highlight assumptions that could be challenged in a helpful way that clarifies some critical areas for your buyer. There are also a few layers about capabilities desired and solution priorities. Good salespeople spend a considerable amount of time here, and well they should, but risk losing out to competitive sales teams who go deeper.

The next layers have to do with their business goals, vision and expectations. What’s the bigger picture? What are they looking to accomplish that they can’t accomplish today? How does this align with stated strategic goals? How will the world be different? How will the business be impacted? Can that be quantified? Why is it important? And HOW important is it relative to other priorities? Very successful salespeople can get to this layer quite often and learn a lot that their competitors never get to. 

But the best salespeople go even deeper.

The inner core of the ONION is composed of the personal and emotional dynamics. It tends to be more individualized.  So while the above questions should ideally be asked of multiple people influencing the buying decision, its critical that these questions are asked of EVERY person involved, if possible. The individual answers will vary more than the practical, business answers. These questions have more to do with how their own corner of the world will be impacted. How will they be perceived? How are they perceived now? How will they personally benefit? How will their life be better? How will their career advance or improve? 

And as important, if not more important, than these personal vision questions are the personal risk questions. What could go wrong in this decision? How would that impact you? How would that reflect on you? What keeps you awake at night?

It’s often these personal risks that sway a deal to a competitor or bring it to a screeching halt.

The thing about the onion is you are never done peeling it. And it takes time! Real commitment to understanding. Gaining the trust of your buyer to get to the inner core takes time and care, so don’t expect to get it all in one meeting. Being armed with these questions and having them at the ready for each individual call or meeting is a winning strategy. And one that helps insure that your solution is answering both WHY’s