You may not have thought about the need for qualifying sales leads much; in fact you may be rather a good salesperson but for the fact that you’ve never focussed on qualification. Qualifying sales leads is a threshold issue: it defines a true prospect, and without paying due attention to it, selling can be an exercise of abject frustration.
Have you ever had the experience where you have been cornered by a salesperson, who has gone on to oversell you, when you had absolutely no intention of buying from him? The salesperson thought you were going to buy and was disappointed when you did not? This is an example of not qualifying the prospect.
Selling nowadays is more subtle and sophisticated than in the example above, but the principle remains the same. Companies invest a lot in setting up an effective sales system to maximise their opportunities and ROI. They will build a sales “funnel” that is fuelled by qualified prospects. If the leads that are tipped into the funnel are not qualified, nothing will work.
We live in an age of super specialised products, each focussed on a particular niche where they can stand out as being the best. There is an abundance of choice available to the buyer. To make a sale there needs to be a good match between function and requirements, otherwise the probability of making the sale is low.
Maximising the probability of the sale is what qualification is all about. With every sales transaction attempt conducted, whether face to face, over the phone or on-line, there is an associated financial and time cost. Minimising those costs is a consideration, making qualification all the more important.
Qualifying sales leads can be achieved simply by following a simple five step process:
Understanding where the product or service fits in the market and defining the ideal customer for the product or service. This will help to most efficiently direct one’s efforts; looking for opportunities where they are most abundant and least expensive
Developing a set of questions aimed at testing the fit between the prospects needs and the product or service’s capabilities. This requires a proper understanding of product capabilities and usage cases. If the customer does not have a clearly identifiable need, then all the selling in the world will not fill it, and no sale will take place.
Some sales can have a long cycle-time and may require protracted effort and negotiation. So it really pays to make sure that the person that is being sold to is in fact the right person – the decision maker, before embarking on the journey. If not, you are effectively delegating the sale to someone else, and surrendering control of the sales process to an agent of your customer. Not good. Qualifying the contacts authority should ideally take place as close to the beginning of the sales process as possible. If the person is not the decision maker, then the sales strategy should reflect this, and the real, hard selling reserved until access to the decision maker is possible.
Clearly, whatever the product or service, it must be affordable to the customer, otherwise no sale can go ahead. Note that budget is not the same as price. Whilst at first glance, the customer may not have the cash, there are always ways to structure a sale to fit the budget constraints of the customer.
Often a prospect will appear, and in all other respects may look like a good opportunity. If their time-line is outside of your parameters, then pursuing a sale is not prudent until there is a time-line fit.
Points 2-5 can effectively be viewed as a Qualification Checklist. Unless all four items check, then the lead is unqualified, and further sales effort will not produce a sale.
Qualifying correctly makes your sales process efficient and un-complicated. Selling to unqualified prospects is demotivating, costly and frustrating. Make sure that all sales efforts are preceded with proper qualification as described above.