How wonderful would it be if your prospective clients would just hurry up and make a decision about if and when they’ll give you a sale? Even if 80% decline, as predicted in Pareto’s 80/20 rule, think of the time and aggravation that you’d be spared. There’d be no more chasing so-called prospects who either can’t or won’t green-light a sale for you. Your numbers would probably increase, if for no other reason than you’d stop wasting time on lost causes and look for better possibilities.
Getting a commitment to either fish or cut bait in maybe a week or two is a fantasy, but learning how to get better at qualifying prospects is within reach and here are four tips to help you do just that. Implement these tactics and you’ll move prospects through your sales pipeline faster than ever before.
1. Sell to the decision-maker
Is the person who you think is the prospect really the prospect? Does this person have the authority to make the decision and approve the budget? If not, there will be no sale until and unless you get in front of the real decision-maker.
Especially in B2B sales, a gatekeeper or other lower-level employee could be enlisted to find out the details and then report back to the actual decision-maker. Alternatively, the decision could be made by a committee of senior staff members, one of whom may be speaking with you, but s/he alone cannot give the green-light without getting agreement from other committee members.
In either case, you’ll need to get around the stand-in, learn the identity of who has the most influence and focus your attention on addressing that person’s hot buttons, so that the sale can move forward at a faster pace.
Step One in ferreting out the identity of the real decision-maker is noticing the job title of the person with whom you’re speaking. If s/he ranks lower than Director or Vice President, most likely there’s someone in the background pulling the strings. Unless you’re selling office supplies, ask the stand-in if s/he is able to directly approve the budget and if there are others who might like to directly ask you questions about your product, service, or project. Be respectful of feelings, but do encourage the participation in the sales process of the one who can sign the check.
2. Discover what worries your prospect
Get a big-picture understanding of your prospect’s most urgent and top-of-mind challenges and near-term objectives, as they apply to what you can bring to the table in terms of a product or service. What does your prospect think will happen if the product doesn’t get purchased or the project doesn’t get done? How will company leaders feel when the problem is resolved and objectives are achieved?
Learn as much as possible about what your prospect wants and how committed s/he is to achieving goals and resolving issues. Ask “what” and “how” questions to discover these key insights.
3. Confirm that your solution is a fit
Ultimately, all salespeople want to close deals. But ironically, it’s sometimes better to walk away from a potential sale if the product or service isn’t a good fit for either you or the prospect. Pushing for a sale that won’t bring about the best outcomes never ends well and it should be avoided, even when you’re desperate to do business.
In these situations, your objective is about getting to “no” faster. Then you can move on and pursue other prospects who may be better positioned to buy from you. It’s preferable to speed inappropriate prospects through the pipeline and devote the time saved to identifying and meeting with qualified prospects who might say “yes.”
To ensure that your product or service can solve the problem or help the prospect meet a goal, ask pointed questions and listen well to determine whether your solution will produce the best results and be cost-effective in the long run.
4. Learn the prospect’s timetable
Is there an urgent need or deadline that compels your prospect to take action and implement a solution quickly? If you know that to be true, you can most likely expedite the sale (and get the price you want, as well). Ask questions to help yourself evaluate whether the prospect could be ready to do the deal in a week or two, or in months.
One important line of questioning should concern available funding for the proposed sale or project. In some cases, the prospect would sincerely like to move forward, but there is insufficient political support in the organization for his/her agenda.
The information will allow you to adjust your expectations for the sale and decide if you should continue to pursue, pick up the thread in a few months, or close the book on a pipe dream.
Thanks for reading,
Image: Portrait of Evdokiya Nickolayevna Chesmenskaya (1780) by Jean-Louis Voille (1744 – 1806) courtesy of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow