August 11, 2009

How To Get the Prospect To Do Your Prequalification for You

How you allocate your time as a salesperson is key. In particular, maintaining a healthy pipeline requires that you balance your efforts as follows:
- Focusing on closing the most likely deals for this quarter
- Nurturing those prospects with potential for next quarter
- Generating fresh leads to go in at the top of the sales funnel.

To get the balance right can be a challenge.  Key to the efficient use of time is a system for prequalifying those prospects and opportunities on which you are going to focus.  However that is not all you are going to need - because prequalification is too often applied in a blunt manner.

Prequalifying Leads.

With the effort that is required to generate leads, your sales and marketing efforts must be aimed as precisely as possible at those companies - and only those companies - that fit your ideal target customer profile.  Beyond that you need to be careful.

The popular BANT (budget, authority, timing and need) criteria applied too rigorously, for example on the basis of an inbound enquiry, or cold call, could exclude the bulk of the marketplace, including many companies that, don't presently have a budget for your solution, but could represent potential customers.  There are two reasons for this.

The first is that buyers are reticent about sharing information with a salesperson that they don’t know. So, the reality is that any prequalification questions will only elicit superficial answers at the early stages of contact.

Imagine, for example, a salesperson you don’t know calls out of the blue and asks:
- ‘Do you have a budget for replacing front end systems this year?’ Your immediate reaction is ‘that is sensitive information how do I know where it will end up’.
- ‘Who has decision making responsibility for purchases in this area?’ Your thoughts might include; ‘you don’t want to talk to me because you don’t think I am important enough!’, or ‘I am not going to give you a name so that you can ring up and pester them – thereby getting me in trouble!’

The second reason is that you cannot limit your sales and marketing activity to those that have a budget, a well as an immediate and pressing need. That is because those that are ready to buy are but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential for your product.

Indeed those ready to buy are likely to be greatly out numbered by those who have the potential to buy in the future, but are as of yet unaware of your solution, or perhaps even unaware of the need for your solution.

Replacing Pre-qualification with Marketing.

Bottom line, the sales organization must generate, or at least foster and nurture demand for its solutions, while at the same time selling to those who are already actively searching for a solution in the marketplace. That means sales and marketing must work together marketing.

When this happens marketing effectively substitutes for prequalification at the lead generation stage.  While some leads are classified as sales, or sales meeting ready, those that are not ready for the next step are not, as is often the case, left to waste.

The balance of leads while not sales read are marketing ready and can stay in the pot for further nurturing by means of the occasional email with a link to a white paper, an invitation to an event, or webinar, the occasional telephone call and so on.

Pre-qualificaiton of Sales Opportunities.

What about later in the sales cycle?  Well, prequalification becomes more and more important the further along the sales cycle you go and the more time and resources you must commit to an opportunity. In particular, it is essential to ensuring that you don’t spend 3 months chasing a prospect, writing documentation, delivering presentations, etc. to discover that you are wasting your time.  For example there may be no potential for a sale, or the approach you are adopting may be inadequate.

Progressive prequalification – that is asking the right questions – ensures that you can continually adapt your sales approach to ensure you have the maximum chances of success.  That means you will learn fast if you are talking to the wrong people, or addressing the wrong requirements.

Pre-qualification can be a crude term and no customer wants to feel in anyway like they are being pre-qualified, or vetted in any way by you. That is why your approach has to be a careful one.

As an example, one of the popular sales methodologies has an approach which it calls ‘Progressive Questioning Control Technique’ – can you imagine the buyer finding out that you were applying such a term to them.  You absolutely have to ask the questions – questions that will guide the buyer and seller alike - but you have to ask your questions at the right time and in the right way.

Pre-qualification, like all aspects of selling, is not something that is done to, but rather is done with a prospect.  It has got to be a two way process – that means asking the customer what stage he, or she is at and what they want to do next, if anything. It is important to remember that you have to earn the right to ask progressively more direct and searching questions.

Your approach has got to reflect the stage of the buying cycle (if indeed there is one) that you are both at, as shown in the table.
Prequalifying Questions
Seller Questions
Buyer Questions
Sales LEAD:
Should we be talking?
Do you fit the profile to be on our target list? Have I got something that is interesting for you?
I am not sure if this is of interest to you…
Should we meet?
Is it mutually beneficial to meet at this time? What useful information, or insights do I have to share?
Is this an something that is important to your business? Is it an area for which you are responsible?
Sales CYCLE:
Should we explore problems / solutions together? How should we engage?
Are you at the exploration of; needs, solutions, or suppliers stage? What is the need? What is the ideal solution? What is the buying process? Am I talking to the right people? Am I getting the right reaction? Do I have a sponsor? How am I positioned? Where am I strong? Where am I weak?
What is the next step?
Is now a good time to look at this? What are the implications of the problem? Is there a reason why this problem has not been addressed to date? How does it fit with your organizational priorities and strategies? Who else needs to be involved? What would the ideal solution look like? What are the alternatives? What are the constraints? What are the characteristics of the ideal supplier?
Sales ORDER:
Can / Should you buy / buy from us?
What is the business case? What are the selection criteria? Are there any yellow, or red lights?
How strong is our relationship? Can, or should we deepen it?
How are we performing? How well are we working together? How can we help more? What is the sales/profit potential?

1 comment:

Finbar said...

Very useful advice on a topic I have been thinking a lot about recently. Thank you, Finbar Gallagher, Fraysen Systems.