Sales can sometimes be a hard profession to be in. Heck it is often a hard profession to be in. But it is also a very rewarding profession. For the true professional the goal is always to make someone’s life better. When you have passion for what you are selling you have a passion for getting it into the hands of as many people as you can.
Sometimes that passion can be misdirected though. Just because you want as many people to use it as possible doesn’t mean that it will help them all the same.
But the good news is that the world is filled with customers and businesses who are actually looking for your product. Ones who will benefit from it the most. What is important is to recognize and differentiate them from those who wont benefit from it.
In a related post I stressed the importance of qualifying prospects. Today I’ll go into detail about what makes a prospect qualified.
Being able to quickly qualify a prospect allows you to spend more time on those who will get the greatest benefit while spending less time on those that wont.
From my experience there are five criteria that defines a customer as being qualified.
They Have A Need: This is a tell-tale sign that they are qualified. And although it can depend on your product and industry, generally speaking if they are looking, they have a need.
Need often comes from pain. In sales you’re often told to find the prospects pain. Why are they looking? What problem do they want to solve?
The same need can result in different pains for different people. For example in my industry when searching for a new real estate investment software the Director of IT may be looking for something that integrates well with their other systems while the CFO is most interested in the return on investment the new software will bring.
A common trap that sales people fall into is becoming column fodder. This is when a company has already made up it’s mind of what product it is going to go with but to satisfy some company policy reaches out a competitor simply to get a quote or to say they looked at other options.
Don’t mistake that need for pain. Do your due diligence and ask the tough questions. A question I’ve used well when I think this is the case is:
“Competitor A is a great product. Why haven’t you already decided to do business with them?”
If they respond “We want to make sure we are getting the best deal” or “We need to look at at least 3 options” then realize you are column fodder and act accordingly.
They Have The Money: This is obviously a major component to any deal and will likely be a focal point during every negotiations. So this criteria should definitely be part of your qualifying process. Do they have the capital to make a purchase?
The software I sell is an enterprise level solution. We are not like some competitors that have out of the box solutions that appeal to many mom and pop property management companies. Those small business are not qualified for us.
That’s not our business and, as far as I know, not a business we’re looking to get into. The flexibility of our software makes it ideal for companies that have the initial capital to invest in it. And although we provide tremendous value by reducing costs and helping companies better allocate resources, it still requires the ability to make an investment.
Anyone who bases their decision solely on price is not going to be a good customer for you. If price is the only criteria then they probably don’t have the capital to invest properly in your product. This could lead to other problems including late payment for their order.
Again, ask the tough questions up front.
Don’t waste your time on someone who is not ready to make the investment or someone simply looking for column fodder.
They Have The Time: This varies with product and industry but time resources are important to consider when qualifying customers.
Are they OK with your lead time to deliver your widgets, or do they need them in two days? Do they understand that it can take weeks to implement a new system, or are they expecting to sign a deal and download a software?
I’ve run into this in every sales position I’ve ever been in. When I was in corporate sales with Oakwood people would reach out to me in the middle of summer (our busiest season) for a stay in the next week. We were booked solid for the next two months.
Sometimes that would eliminate them as being qualified unless they were flexible with where they stayed. We often had other options that could work for them. But if they were dead set on one location then there was little I could do to help them besides offer alternatives.
Keep in mind that sometimes they are OK with the time resources required to buy from you even if they had other expectations initially. Maybe they thought it would only take a week for delivery but, after you’ve managed their expectations, they understand what a proper delivery and quality product will take.
They Have The Authority: Not everyone you speak with has the authority to sign an agreement. In most companies there are very few people who can enter into legal agreements with vendors.
It’s important to get in front of the final decision maker as early and often as you can. Although Joe from accounting says he is the decision maker, unless he can put pen to paper he is not. Yes, it may be that he gathers all the information and presents it to the CFO to choose from but remember what I said above about the same need with different pains.
Joe in accounting has a pain that is very different from Jill the CFO’s pain. If you’ve spent all your time uncovering Joe’s pain, then you leave Jill’s pain wide open for a competitor to alleviate. Don’t make that mistake.
If you know that you will only get limited time with the signer then focus on finding out what their pains are.
They Have The Personnel Resources: Along with time, personnel is another resource that can impact whether a prospect is qualified.
I’ve run into this a few times recently with current customers. They see the software and love it, understand the investment involved, but they simply don’t have the people available to implement it.
I’ve run into this most during Q1 and Q4. Q1 because many companies are going through audits and preparing for tax season. Q4 because of the holidays. People are out on holiday. Don’t let vacation stall a deal.
Image courtesy of Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net