I’m a big fan of the concept of sales people qualifying prospect thoroughly early in the sales process so that they can conserve their most precious resource, their time.
The sales person invests his time in prospects hoping the return will be a sale and the resulting commission. The art of qualifying prospects gives the sales person the ability to choose intelligently where they make their investments. It’s one of the first fundamental skills I look for in sales people, whether hiring or training them in my own company or helping users of our online CRM and email marketing solution close more sales.
The trouble is that qualifying prospects can be tough. It really is more art than science. Sure, in a highly regimented selling team, the “escalation” of an early stage prospect to the more time intensive steps like presentations, demonstrations, proposals, etc. can be completely contingent on thorough technical qualification. Approved credit applications or other very specific criteria must be met first.
Of course, this takes the decision making out of the hands of the sales person completely. Most sales people make the judgment of a prospect’s worthiness based mostly on instinct. After all, in typical B2B sales, there are many factors that are completely subjective.
Sales people commonly see a stronger opportunity with prospects with which they have a strong relationship, even though the prospect’s company just announced layoffs. It just costs less time to work with that prospect so, the risk is smaller.
In my experience, there is only one method of qualifying a prospect that is virtually guaranteed to be accurate, time after time. Just as the sales person is making their own assessment of the return on their investment, of course, the prospect is doing the same.
Will the investment of their funds yield an acceptable return? Cool features, a strong brand and other sexy aspects don’t always add to the bottom line. Will the purchase save production time, reduce maintenance costs, improve quality, etc. in ways that will increase the bottom line more than the investment? Further, will the prospects investment of time in researching your solution yield a return for them?
As seasoned sales pros know, customers will often spend time with sales people with no intention of ever buying anything. Often, it’s not a malicious effort to extract free lunches, just an aimless search for answers to challenges and problems.
As a sales person, if you can’t identify how the prospect will realize return on their investment, then you can bet that the prospect has not identified it either and will not be making a purchase any time soon.
Yet, most sales people still pontificate on the features and benefits of their solution without ever doing the ROI math for themselves or the prospect.
For every sales person working harder than ever to find qualified prospects and bring home the bacon, it’s a two step dance to success:
1) Can you clearly articulate in simple terms how your product or service yields a quantifiable return on investment to your customers in general?
2) For the prospects you’re working with today and the ones you’ll meet tomorrow, focus your questions and dialog on identifying the ROI equation for each specific prospect. If it cannot be identified, then move on down the road.