As a sales team, the single biggest money and time waster involves sending proposals to the wrong prospects. If the individual receiving the proposal has no need for the product or service you’re offering, then everything up until that point has been futile. The most important thing you can do is qualify – and disqualify – prospects prior to sending a proposal.
The Demand for Accuracy
There’s nothing more frustrating than thinking you have a sales prospect, only to find out they never had any interest in what you were offering in the first place. Unfortunately it happens all the time. Someone sends you a lead, you contact them to set up a meeting, and the two of you grab lunch together to discuss the project. Then, in your conversation, you find out the prospect really isn’t a prospect at all! They don’t actually want what you’re selling.
Bam! Talk about a waste of time.
This is something Richard Coates, founder of a web design firm, is all-too familiar with. When he thinks about his biggest pet peeves, one of them is dealing with unqualified prospective clients for long periods of time without every realizing they’re unqualified.
“I don’t mind talking about how I do things or advising people without a budget how to get a good web presence for free,” Coates explains. “What I don’t like is prospects who tell me they want me to create them the best website possible, perfectly tailored to their business, and are then shocked that I want to charge them more than the price of a pizza.”
You obviously can’t totally screen out unqualified prospects, but it’s important that you find ways to speed up the sales funnel so you find out who’s qualified and who’s not early in the process. Accuracy is the name of the game in the sales business. Are you handling the qualification process efficiently, or is this a major point of contention?
4 Ways to Qualify Prospects Early in the Process
Your ability to qualify prospects prior to sending a sales proposal could very well mean the difference between an average career and a successful career. That’s not hyperbole. Think about how much time you waste on disqualified prospects each week and then multiply that hundreds of times over. Suddenly you’re wasting thousands of hours that could be applied to qualified prospects.
1. Consider the Referral Source
Think about how you got connected to the prospect. Did you find them on a list? Did you reach them via cold calling? Did a colleague send their name your way? Are they a former customer? Were they with a competitor that went out of business?
Generally, the referral source can tell you a lot about where the prospect is in the sales process. If a close colleague who understands what you do sends over a prospect’s information, you can feel confident they’re qualified.
However, the same might not be true if the prospect was sent your way by a neighbor who has a vague concept of what you do for a living.
2. Ask Probing Questions
While you can tell a lot about a prospect by doing your own online research, you don’t know who they are and what they really want until you talk to them.
The first key to having a constructive conversation with a prospect is to ask the right questions. “Good questions are provocative,” says marketer Jami Oetting. “They cause your prospect to think through challenges, and they elicit information you can use to determine if the prospect is a good fit for your company, diagnose their problem or challenge, and decide if you can have a mutually beneficial relationship.”
While the specific questions you ask prospects will vary depending on the product or service you’re selling, how far along they are in the sales funnel, and what your pre-existing relationship with them is, here are a few examples of what good probing questions look like:
What prompted you to accept my invitation for a meeting?
This project is going to cost somewhere between $4,000 and $7,000. Are you prepared to spend that much?
What value do you expect us to provide you/your company?
What’s your single most important priority and why does it matter so much?
What would you say is your company’s biggest strength? What about weakness?
There are dozens of other questions you could ask. This is just a sample of a few questions that typically expose valuable information. Using this information, you can generally get a better feel for whether or not they’re qualified. It’s not a fool-proof practice, but it does add clarity.
3. Determine a Lead Scoring System
Do you have a lead scoring system in place? If not, you need to establish one immediately. A good lead scoring system allows you to rank prospects against a predetermined scale that determines the likelihood of whether a prospect will be high returning. These systems don’t always work, but they do help provide some clarity to the prospect evaluation process.
The key is to develop an accurate lead scoring system. If you mess up the system, you actually risk engaging bad prospects and disqualifying good prospects. Consider following these best practices and avoiding these mistakes.
4. Send Materials Prior to the Proposal
Even after you’ve evaluated prospects and had conversations with them, it’s possible that you’re still dealing with a disqualified prospect without even knowing it. Before investing a lot of time in developing a proposal and determining a quote, send over some specific materials that the prospect can read and respond to. This gives them a better idea of what to expect in the proposal, or may disqualify them on the spot.
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