Qualifying Prospects & Decision Makers4 Apr, 2011 By: David Ramos imageSource
Qualifying Prospects & Decision Makers
There’s nothing more frustrating for sales professionals than investing time,
energy and emotion on a prospect only to have it slip through their fingers for
reasons “unforeseen.” A recent statistic showed a 15% pipeline close rate
efficiency – that means that sales, pre-sales, sales support, sales management &
executive management put time and resources into something that 85% of the
time isn’t going to drive revenue!
Time and time again, we observe that most failures or surprises are avoidable.
In sales, it’s all about how you qualify your prospects early on. Too often the
less experienced sales representative will see a big opportunity, get excited
about it, have a good initial meeting, and begin forecasting the probable sale.
But it can be a pipe dream. Why? The reasons can be many but here are the three
most common reasons of failure:
- Failure to determine the final decision-maker or process.
- Failure to pinpoint the decision-making timeline.
- Failure to determine if the prospect will actually switch.
It often starts with what a sales representative does early on to win the
sale later. So, let’s talk about each of these three.
1 - Failure to Determine the Final Decision-Maker and Decision-Making
Too many sales professionals fail to truly pinpoint the decision-maker and
decision-making process. We throw softball pitches such as, “So, do you make the
final decision on this?” at whomever we meet with. The easiest answer a person
gives of course is, “I do.” Then the sales rep moves forward, taking their word
for it. Big mistake!
In 2011, a starting thought should be that there is no longer a single,
all-powerful decision maker in accounts. Our thinking and language should
reflect this new reality – so a better way to unravel the decision making
process would be to start with:
- “Who else would be affected by the problem we’re discussing?”
- “Who else should I be seeking advice or counsel from?”
- “Assuming you want to move forward, who do you like to run decisions by
The next name you hear now is almost always the real decision-maker. Keep in
mind, the person you’re meeting with might have the power to say no, but not the
power to say yes. Your job is to find that person who can say yes vs. the
gatekeepers which might say no prematurely.
2 - Failure to Pinpoint the Decision-Making Time Line
In an industry where you and your competitors operate in the same local
space, you are gambling with your time and emotion to not explore this in
detail. A customer may like the improvements your product or service offer; may
love working and interacting with you; may be the final decision-maker even; but
the decision can’t be made because of the timing.
You not only need to qualify if a person or company will make a decision
within a specific time frame, but if they can. There have been times I have
gently but assertively told prospects that they/we really need to clarify their
current obligation with their present vendor before proceeding. I do this
especially with prospects that are anxious to make a change. A few questions you
might ask include:
- “Mr. Prospect, how soon would you want to put this in place?”
- “Mr. Prospect, it could take us some time to draw up the transition from
your current vendor, I don’t think we’ll be ready to go for three weeks, how
does that work with your timeframes?”
- “Mr. Prospect, how quickly do you need to reverse that trend with your
budget? You mentioned it’s getting out of hand…?”
3 - Failure to Determine if the Prospect will Actually Switch
What is their compelling reason to make a change? Status quo is your biggest
competitor you will ever face, not the rep from the local or national company
down the street. Think about it. Companies and people have problems. Many of
them can be resolved by simply doing things differently or better on their own.
If a continuing problem involves a vendor, however, many companies (with alas,
low service expectations) think it’s easier and faster to work out the problem
with their current vendor. Maybe it’s the feeling that switching will be costly
or time consuming, or will cause more headaches. Whatever their reason, it can
pose a problem for you.
Your job is to effectively qualify not only whether a company has a
problem you can solve, but also whether they will truly and fairly consider
switching vendors to solve it. Here are a couple of questions you can use:
- “Janice, assuming we can work out the details so that you get
better/faster/more cost-effective results with us, what next can happen
then?” This question not only helps answer #1 above (who the true
decision-maker is), but it also gives you an idea of whether your contact is
taking this seriously and is ready to consider advancing the sales/buying
- “Lisa, what steps have you taken to try to get these types of problems
resolved with your current supplier?” I have asked this question, but only
when I know my contact is VERY frustrated with how things are going.
Otherwise, you could be encouraging them to put the brakes on and work
things out with your competitor.
The bottom line is, save your self the agony, both financially and
psychologically, of losing prospects at the end of a long sales process that
could have been won early on. Qualifying your prospects early on positions you
as a professional and is the best time management tool you’ll implement.
David Ramos is a consultant for Strategy Development, an industry
management & advance sales training firm; includes MPS workshops for the BTA &
InfoTrends. He conducts the workshop “Sell with Success” and is a frequent
speaker at ITEX. At