Who’s qualifying who?
Prospect qualification is a two-way street. It’s not all about you and qualifying your prospect. The prospect will also qualify you. This bilateral qualification is a key milestone in your sales process because you don’t have a truly qualified prospect until they have qualified you, too.
Qualification doesn’t just mean that the customer is a great fit for your product or service and that you’ve ticked off the usual BANT boxes. What qualification really means is that the prospect is qualified for you to invest your time in selling to them.
Think about what is at stake with qualification (or disqualification as I like to say). If you invest your limited sales time in a prospect that is not qualified to buy your product or service, then all of the sales time you spent on them will have been wasted. These wasted hours can never be recovered and it will leave you with a reduced pool of hours available to sell to other qualified prospects. In other words, sloppy prospect qualification, and disqualification, invariably lead to reduced sales productivity.
A persistent problem I see in my work with sellers is that they defer this investment decision to the prospect. They take the position that as long as the prospect is talking to them, then the prospect must be interested in what they’re selling. Therefore, they are letting the customer decide for them how they should spend their sales time.
And, this extends into the customer qualifying you. You may believe that you have a qualified prospect. You may have gone through your standard qualification process and determined that they were a qualified prospect from your perspective. But, if the prospect doesn’t believe that you are suitably qualified to be a supplier to them, then you’re at risk of wasting your sales time if you continue to pursuing them.
You need to ask the prospect if they’ve qualified you to be a supplier. And, by this I don’t mean that you were able to place your name on their qualified supplier list. Instead, you have to determine if they’ve reached a preliminary internal decision about which suppliers they believe can help them achieve their objectives. If they haven’t qualified you, then there’s a good chance that you’re just spinning your wheels.
To determine if the the prospect has qualified you ask the following question (Please feel free to put this into your own words!): “Do you consider us to be the supplier that is uniquely qualified to help you meet your stated objectives, pre-sales and post-sale?”
This is an intentionally loaded question that typically will generate one of three primary answers.
“No” = Not qualified.
The follow up question is “why.” And, you have to listen very closely and carefully to their answer. You’ll have a decision to make about whether to invest more of your sales time with the potential prospect. If you can determine where they believe that you have fallen short relative to their needs, or the competition, then you have to decide whether you can change their perception of your offering and be given a serious competitive chance to win their business. In most cases, the wise decision is to move on to other opportunities.
“No, but…” = Qualified but not uniquely qualified.
This means that the prospect didn’t buy your value proposition. You’re perceived to be a possible solution but the prospect doesn’t buy that you’re a better option than any of the competition. The prospect likely believes that you’re not offering enough differentiated value to change the status quo. Your follow up question in this instance will also be “why.” You need to understand whether the problem is in your value proposition or in how it was presented.
“Yes, but…” = Well qualified but with some challenges.
The good news is that prospect believes that you are positively differentiated from the competition. The challenge is that you need to be able to substantiate and validate your value proposition. The prospect’s mind could be changed if you can’t deliver the value to validate your value proposition. Your follow up is a “what” question. What additional value (in the form of data, questions, information, insights, context, case studies and so on) do they need from you in order to lock in their perception of your unique qualifications?
To complete your qualification process just ask the question. If the prospect does not consider you to be a qualified seller then persistently follow up with a “why” question(s) until you fully understand their rationale. This will give you the information you need to begin to address any perceived shortcomings in your individual sales performance, messaging or your product/service.
Effective qualification means that there is not a moment to spare for prospects who are not going to purchase from you. There is no way to know the answer to that question unless you ask.