The importance of pre-qualification

If you’re in sales, sales management or business development, here’s a reality check for you: Are you counting on closing a deal or projecting income from an opportunity that isn’t fully qualified?

Whenever we ask sales professionals this powerful question, we often hear an awkward silence in response. Sometimes that silence is because the person, or the team, has many “opportunities” in the pipeline that everyone knows are not properly qualified and, in fact, are highly unlikely to close. And sometimes, that silence is there because the individual works on a team, or in an organization, where there is no accepted definition of the term “properly qualified.” After all, isn’t it easier to label an opportunity as “pending” rather than disqualify and replace it with a more viable prospect?

Why? It’s easy to understand. A “suspect” expresses interest in your product, or service (either because they reached out to you or you prospected them), they ask to see a demo or a proposal and we think that, because they accepted your bid, or listened intently to your presentation, they’re a buyer. But then, they disappear and you get “ghosted” when you attempt to reestablish contact with them. Want evidence? Look in the mirror; we do it all the time when we are shopping for products and services.

Before you submit pricing, a proposal or do a demo, it’s critical that you pre-qualify every opportunity in order to develop a strong pipeline that has every chance of resulting in closed business. That means making sure you have clear answers to all the following questions, before you attempt to close a deal or project income:

Pain: Is the prospect experiencing a critical business problem, or “pain,” that is urgent enough for them to address, sooner rather than later? Is it a pain that you and your organization can solve? How do you know?

Budget: Does the budget exist to fix this problem? If not, can the prospect reallocate or secure funds to address the issue? Are other resources (time, personnel, etc.) necessary to fix it and, if so, are those available?

Decision: What is the decision-making process that will determine when, and how the problem gets fixed? Who will be involved? How will they decide on the most appropriate solution? How do you know?

If you don’t have the answers to those questions hit the brakes, get the information you need and do not project income, or enter this opportunity in your pipeline, until this process is completed. It’s not qualified.

This three-phase inquiry is critical because it allows you to focus your time, effort and energy on motivated buyers who are committed to solving the problem. Motivated buyers move more quickly through the sales cycle and those buyers are your priority.

The principles here are quite simple, even though they may not be what you have, traditionally, used as a gauge for a real opportunity. So, remind yourself (and your team) of these principles regularly. Here they are again in absurdly, simplified form:

• No pain? No sale.

• No budget? No sale.

• No clarity on who makes the decision–and how? No sale.

Post these three simple reminders in a spot where everyone can see them, every day. Why? Because disqualification is as important as qualification. Because you and your team deserve to focus your precious time, attention and resources on the deals you will win.

The secret to pre-qualifying is embracing the importance of disqualifying people, and opportunities, that simply have no business being in your pipeline in the first place. Do that, systematically, and you will find yourself pursuing the most profitable and easy-to-work-with clients. After all, isn’t that ultimately what determines your success?

Jim Marshall is owner, and president, of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or jmarshall@sandler.com.

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