Sales Step # 2 – Qualification…

There are two simple goals in this sales step:

  • Can YOU help?
  • Can THEY buy?

It is just as important to disqualify as it is to qualify. Your time is valuable, and you don’t want to waste it chasing low probability leads.

We already touched briefly on the first goal in Sales Step #1.

Now you need to dig a bit deeper. At this point, you are not trying to solve the problem, but rather to make a quick assessment.

As already mentioned, don’t be afraid to turn business away. If it out of your area of expertise, it may be better to refer to someone else.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself.  You can back fill with books, colleagues, or an on-line search. This is also how you grow your experience bank account.

So ask more questions. You want to probe deeper.

Here are some typical questions/answers from my own engineering consulting business:

  • What is the problem? (Equipment malfunctions.)
  • How does it manifest itself? (System resets or hangs up.)
  • Any idea why it happens? (Not sure, but we suspect a power glitch.)
  • How often does it occur? (About once a month)
  • How bad is it? (The power supply once caught fire. Ouch!)
  • How much is it costing you? ($10,000 every time it fails. Double Ouch!)
  • Anything else? (Yes, a major customer is pissed. Triple ouch!)

Assuming you can help, you now know the situation is critical, and the problem is expensive. Since it is intermittent, it may not be super urgent, and it may also be a challenge to isolate.

If you are a business consultant, your questions will be different, but you still want to determine if you can help your client, how much it “hurts”, and how urgent things are.

Now that you have qualified YOURSELF, you are ready to qualify the CLIENT.

Are they willing and able to buy your services?

So probe some more. Here are three client qualifying questions I use:

— Schedule? When do you want to proceed? (Can you come yesterday? If you get this answer, close the deal!)

— Budget? Offer a budgetary estimate. The client is usually dying to know anyway. Don’t ask “How much do you have to spend?” as is sounds manipulative.

In situations like this, I usually quote 4-5 days of time, with the stipulation that the budget will not be exceeded, and that if the problem is still not resoled, we’ll mutually decide on the next step. The latter is like exploratory surgery — we may not know how bad things are (or are not) until we dig deeper.

Give a single number (a not-to-exceed, like $10K..) Don’t be vague or quote a range — the client will assume the lower number.  And never ask for an open checkbook.

— Quote? Offer a quotation. We’ll discuss quotations in more detail later. But at this point in the process, you want to know how serious the client is about fixing the problem.

If they say yes, proceed with the sales process. But don’t quote yet — rather gather more information. The quote should be a summary of what you both agree needs to be done.

If they are reluctant, ask why. But don’t be pushy, and don’t waste a lot of time trying to “overcome objections.” It is OK, however, to ask why several times. Doing so often uncovers the real reason for reluctance.

Offer to follow up if they need to “discuss with the boss.” While some “sales experts” suggest you should only talk with the final buyers, the boss often delegates the initial search to a subordinate. (Very common in the technical world.)

So be polite — while this person may not be able to approve, they can often disapprove. Also, this may be the person with whom you will work.

Assuming you have not disqualified yourself or your client, you are now ready to move on to Sales Step #3 – Diagnose & Prescribe.

P.S. Don’t fret if you disqualify. As a professional, your time is valuable and there is never enough of it. You need to focus on the opportunities with the best chances of sales success.

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