Qualify — and disqualify — sales leads early in process

As a sales leader, have you ever had a pipeline-review meeting with a salesperson and had the same open proposal come up week after week with the salesperson promising, “I’m going to close this one … next week.” In defense of the salesperson, oftentimes their sales opportunities do look legitimate on the front end. The prospect calls or reaches out with an inbound lead. The salesperson does their job and follows up with a phone call or meeting. However, upon closer examination, we find some real problems that could have saved the salesperson a lot of time and energy on the front end.

Want to shorten your sales cycle? Learn how to qualify and disqualify leads early on in the process. Stop chasing leads that aren’t going anywhere. Many salespeople spend an unfathomable amount of time chasing leads who aren’t going to do business with them. People will often get a long-awaited appointment with a prospect, do a well-prepared presentation, and then realize that they weren’t a good fit after all.

If you don’t have enough time to prospect, it may be because you’re spending time on leads who aren’t going to do business with you. You may be in a field where you can’t really avoid at least some proposals, bids, or presentations. But I would encourage you to disqualify leads as early as you can in the process. That way, you aren’t wasting time you could be devoting to building new prospect relationships.

If you’re in an industry where prospects often inquire just for your pricing, quotes or proposals and then compare those numbers to your competition or their current vendor, here’s one way you can cut to the chase and avoid being used for expertise, information and pricing (we call this unpaid consulting, and it’s killing companies in America).

If you’ve been selling for some time, you probably get a sense of when a prospective customer or client is price shopping. Hopefully you’ll run them through a quick pain funnel to see if there really is any point in continuing the conversation. Using that technique is a pretty sure way to see if you have a real prospect in front of you, or just a prospect with the lowest possible buying motivation: “interest.”

The salesperson with a relatively high need for approval (a greater need to be liked by prospects than to make a sale), may have a tough time using this technique at first. However, over time, they will put it in their own words and find success with it. It might go something like this: “Mr. customer, this might seem like a crazy question, but I’m getting the feeling that you maybe just want me to give you a quote/make a proposal to take back to your current supplier to negotiate with them. That’s not happening here is it?”

It goes without saying that the salesperson will have had to build some trust to be in a place to use a technique like that one. If they have, they are much more likely to have an honest conversation with the prospect about what will happen next if the salesperson does, in fact, decide to share the quote or proposal.

One such outcome is that the prospect honestly shares that, yes, there boss has charged them with shopping for a better price. Or, the prospect might share that they haven’t come to any conclusion about who they’re going to do business with yet.  When you’ve brought them through the pain funnel and asked them about their intention, then you’re able to have a real conversation with them, in which case the salesperson can decide whether they want to proceed. Wouldn’t you want to know that before you spend time on a proposal?

At the end of the day, we as salespeople often spend an inordinate amount of time chasing prospects who will never buy and then suffering through time-management challenges when it comes to prospecting new opportunities. For some, chasing is a more palatable behavior than hunting. However, the salesperson who is hunting puts themselves in a much stronger position of control when it comes to building and closing what’s in their pipeline.

Bob Bolak is president of Sandler Training. He can be reached at 303-579-1939 or bbolak@sandler.com.