Sales Qualification:  Ruling in or ruling out the suitability of a sales prospect to become a customer

One of Our Sales Experts shares his own experiences of sales qualification ……

I once knew a trainee sales manager, who never liked to qualify any of their sales prospects. This struck me as odd, as I never liked to waste even one minute talking to prospects who, for whatever reason, could never become a client. Don’t misunderstand me, I am the first person to love to talk with anyone, and most prospects have very interesting businesses, challenges and senior staff, but when I am paid to win sales, remunerated to develop new business, then work time has to be devoted to only potential clients.  So why would anyone “not” wish to qualify their sales prospects or leads?  Whilst mostly “wrong reasons”, I think you will be surprised that sometimes there can be “good reasons” to tread carefully with any qualification process………

Typical “Wrong” reasons not to qualify, and how to avoid this…….

The biggest motivators for not qualifying have to be lack of experience, or a lack of confidence or simply your sales staff are trying to hood wink you.  

Lack of experience: –  If your sales staff have not been trained well, and don’t have years of hard won experience, it can take them far too long to understand, that a client who does not qualify to be a client, will still not qualify after 5 sales meetings, 4 quotations and many wasted man hours. So, its best to know from the get go, if a prospect can’t be a client.

Lack of confidence: – The stronger a prospect contact and the weaker your sales staff, the more likely your staff will pull back from popping the key qualifying questions. Why?  Because they fear a bad reaction by the client, or that they may “upset” the ambiance of the meeting. They need to understand that in not asking pertinent questions – such as “what is your budget”, may avoid a face to face “awkward” moment, but it will result in hours or days of wasted time for them, their employer and their prospect. Also getting the timing right is even harder when you are feeling unconfident.

Hood Winking:-  Lack of experience and lack of confidence are almost forgivable reasons for your sales staff, and with some TLC and professional training they can be easily fixed.  The worst reason beyond all for a lack of qualification is when it is deliberate. For what purpose, you ask, well normally it is an attempt by a poor sales person, or a disinterested sales person, to simply give the appearance of being busy – by attended so many meetings, and working up some many quotations, filling out so many progress reports, and making their sales pipeline look congested!  This pretence is normally a result of the person involved knowing that “this job is not for them”, but their subterfuge enables them to tread water, stall, hide the truth for possibly some six months or more. Whilst they look for a new job, and continue to  take home their basic pay. Your business is carrying an imposter, who is not only wasting your money, but is blocking that vital job position from someone who could be hunting down new sales, fantastic long-term clients and security for all of your staff.  So be very alert to the hood winker, as they are pure bad news and need removing from your sales team at the earliest opportunity.

The occasional “Right” reason not to qualify

Let me give you a real example, that happened to myself and my team. We pitched to win an annual contract from a global giant in a leader in their market.  We did a fantastic job in researching the prospect, understanding what they wished to achieve going forward, and thus developed some innovative strategies and solutions for their business and demonstrated visually, commercially and with passion how we understood their business wanted to work with these people and make a difference to their success.  We won the pitch!  But we didn’t win the business!!  What the hell?    Our prospect, and so nearly a new client, came back with their honest feedback. Our pitch, our prices, our services, our passion were all the best and far out shone the competition, but the only reason the prospect was now looking for a new supply partner, is that the old supply partner had let down the client on many occasions, due mainly they believed to the small size (relative to the client) of the supplier company – and my company was now also deemed to be too small and thus potentially able to fail in the same way.  So, we won the pitch, but the business was awarded to an industry giant, who simply won by default of being “big”.  

What can be learnt from that example?  Many will say  “do your homework” and we should have known why the prospect was looking for a new supplier, and then armed with the “supplier size” issue information, we could have looked to address these concerns in the pitch. I have to agree, that could have made a difference.   But many others will say that part of the qualification process should have included the question “are we big enough to look after you”, and that could have saved us from the weeks of pitch preparation and the eventual heartache.  I have to disagree with that line of thinking. Many suppliers are smaller than their target clients, and for many supplier businesses that smallness enables them to be more passionate, flexible and cost effective is supplying fantastic and effective solutions to their large clients.  Also, and this is a BIG POINT, many small companies can only grow and succeed by getting the “big break” and winning the new giant client. To do this you cannot go into sales meetings flagging that you are a small company, and thus effectively highlighting potential negatives in your prospects mind. So many many times you cannot follow a hard line in asking all of the qualification questions, especially where you may only raise theoretical negatives or sales barriers, especially where in practice they would not exist if a contract was won.  This principle is a hard one to manage, as there is a fine line between avoiding raising a negative objection and blatantly ignoring “car crash causing” factors.

In our own example, it was a harsh lesson that sometimes “size does matter”, but the joy we obtained and confidence that we won in knowing that our work and our pitch was “the best” added greatly to our business strength and helped us on our way to win many other “big clients”. So, thank goodness we did not push the qualification process too hard, and that we did have an opportunity to pitch.

To sum up, qualification should be a science, but it is often an art.  Knowing when and how to qualify comes with years of experience, and even then, the experts can “get it wrong”. But my advice to everyone is to enjoy the process, don’t fear it, and if you work with passion and a pure heart you will eventually find qualification a joy and a great tool to speed up finding the people and businesses that you can really help.

If you enjoyed this article, and would like to have the same business mind working on your company’s sales and with your sales team, just contact us today for an informal discussion on getting your own part time expert.