Training your salespeople to not waste time working unqualified accounts, or building relationships with the wrong people in qualified companies is imperative to the long the term success of our sales team and your company.
By understanding your salespeople’s natural fear of qualifying, you can better coach them to ask the seven critical qualifying questions early in the sales cycle. Their productivity will improve, and you will achieve more sales in less time.
Why Don’t They Qualify?
There are two reasons why even veteran sales pros lapse into working unqualified accounts. The first is tactical. Salespeople, who typically have a highly political style, don’t want to offend a prospect by asking questions about decision making, spending authority, and budgets too early in the sales process. They want to make friends first.
The second and primary reason is psychological. It is part of the typical salesperson’s psychological makeup to want to be liked. And most salespeople are very likable. Unfortunately, it is more comfortable in the short run for the salesperson to build a relationship with the wrong person than to ask questions that may alienate the prospect.
Succumbing to Temptation
The nature of the sales job reinforces this fear of early qualification. Because salespeople face a lot of rejection, they are vulnerable to the song of praise and positive feedback from their prospects.
For the prospect, it can be almost like having a congenial (and free!) employee doing problem analysis and preparing the way for the prospect’s solution. For the salesperson, it provides frequent strokes. And because the relationship is good, it is natural for the salesperson to assume that he or she will eventually make the sale.
Of course, if the prospect is not legitimately qualified, it is only a matter of time before both parties realize that the salesperson’s solution is not a fit. But by then the salesperson has wasted valuable time. Even worse, he or she may have wasted additional valuable resources such as sales and technical support.
Teach Early Qualification
It is reasonable, therefore, for the sales manager to require and verify that the seven critical qualifying questions are answered early in every sales cycle.
By all means, this should be done before your company commits sales support or technical personnel to the sales effort. This is especially important in longer sales cycles or more expensive products.
A good time to do this is during the forecast and review sessions that most managers schedule on a regular basis.
During these meetings, confirm that each salesperson is asking the “W” questions (what, why, when, and who) to qualify both the prospect company and the individuals within that company.
What Will They Do and Why?
1. What need(s) does the prospect have that can be met by your solution? Can your salesperson clearly articulate those needs?
2. Why would the prospect be willing to spend x dollars for your product or service? Has it been budgeted?
When Will They Do It?
3. When does the prospect plan to implement your product or service? For many products and services, implementation – not the close date – is the key because it is the purpose of the buying decision. It also focuses on the customer’s perceived benefits, not the salesperson’s sales forecast.
Who Are The Decision Makers?
4. Who will make the decision to buy the product or service?
5. Who are the decision influences who can bring pressure to bear (positive or negative) on the person who will make the final decision?
6. Who has the budget or spending authority to implement the decision? Don’t confuse decision and spending authority. They may not be vested in the same person.
7. Which decision makers have your salespeople called on? It should be all of them!
Bold, Direct Questions
Given these questions, there are really only two skills that your salespeople need to qualify properly. The first is confidence. The second is questioning skills. Good questioning skills can create confidence.
Prior to making a call on a prospect, you want your salesperson to get the answers to as many of these seven critical questions as possible. Resources could be the prospect company web site or past sales reps who have contacted the prospect company, etc.
The amount of information that can be collected in advance will vary for each prospect. But without fail, once your salesperson is in front of someone in the prospect company, he or she should ask bold, direct questions:
“Do you have the authority to implement this decision?”
“Has this item been budgeted? Does it need to be? Do you have the funds available?”
Your salesperson will not get the answers that qualify the lead every time, but it is better to walk away from a sales cycle that will lead nowhere.
Getting to the Decision Maker
Teach your salespeople to convince the influencer to take them to the decision makers. That retains the relationship with the influencer, while opening an opportunity to the decision maker.
If they must, they should go over the influencer’s head without permission. This will almost certainly alienate the influencer. But if the sale is going nowhere, your salespeople may have to take that risk.
Ask yourself: Can our sales strategy overcome the loss of this influencer? If the answer is yes, it’s a reasonable risk.