If only we know which deals would close. As salespeople we often wish we had a crystal ball – so we’d know where to focus our energies and efforts. It’s incredibly frustrating when the deals we are working on don’t progress – or fade away into nothing.
Qualification is perhaps one of the greatest skills you can develop if you are serious about your sales pipeline. Qualifying means asking the hard questions, AND being prepared to listen to the answers. This will help you sort the deals that will progress and close from those that won’t, but can still suck up all your time and energy!
Let’s take the example of a good friend of mine, who was selling solutions to medium sized companies to help manage their expense payments.
Upfront, there were some pre-qualification things he would always want to know. For example that their business was financially viable and that it was the right size and shape for him to do work with. For the expense management solutions he targeted companies with between 50 and 250 employees. Any bigger and they wouldn’t consider doing business with him. Any smaller and they simply didn’t have a big enough problem to warrant his solution.
He also needed to know that they had the potential to buy from him, so he qualified out any that had already outsourced their expense processing to a third party and also foreign-owned companies where their decision making for solutions of this type was handled elsewhere. He just didn’t have the capacity to deal with those things.
Here are the top 10 questions to qualify opportunities, through his lens of selling expense management services:
1. Is expense management (or project/pain area X) an area that you are involved in/responsible for?
He wanted to confirm that he was speaking to one of the right people. If not he would ask them who the best person was (after asking them a couple of questions which could still help to understand the situation better.)
2. Is expense management a recognised problem or pain area for the organisation?
If there isn’t a problem, pain or project, there isn’t an opportunity. You have to create one which is the hardest sell of all and not one he was prepared to tackle. The best you have is a relevant contact that you can add to your lead nurture list but not a sales opportunity for your pipeline.
3. How much is expense management costing you? And what’s the impact of this on your business?
My friend was trying to get a feel for the size of the problem. If it wasn’t a big one, and only took a junior member of the team half a day a month for example then the likelihood of them spending money on an automated solution was slim to none. On the other hand if it wass a major headache involving significant time and effort from people that could be better used elsewhere that was a positive sign for him.
4. Is ‘doing nothing’ an option?
Do nothing is the strongest competitor in any deal. If it’s an option for them then be wary that the deal could slip out.
5. What might change that?
What’s happening in their business that might force them to make a decision? In my friends case he was looking for any reduction in the size of the finance team, (fewer people to deal with expense processing), increase in headcount (more to process) or a board level initiative to cut costs or streamline manual processes, ideally with a deadline attached.
6. Have you considered alternative ways of addressing the problem?
He wanted to find out whether they had looked at similar solutions in the past. Maybe they had but found that the solutions weren’t cost justifiable? His solution was significantly less costly than others on the market, so this would give him an ‘in’. What does your solution offer – is it better/cheaper/faster that what’s been available before?
7. Are you looking at other solutions at the moment? How long have you been talking to (the competitor)?
He needed to know what and who he was up against, and that he had a good chance of winning. If he felt that the competition had been in there for longer and had a closer relationship, he would then have to make a judgement call as to whether he thought he could win. In some cases he would walk away if he thought the odds were stacked against him.
8. If we could arrange a demonstration/meeting/trial who should be involved? Who would we need to convince?
At this stage he was trying to understand who was in the decision making group. If his main contact was low level in the organisation, but unwilling to involve others, this would ring warning bells for him.
9. Is anyone else (board members, consultants etc.) advising you on this area at the moment?
Again – he wanted to know who was involved and what he was up against. Sometimes he’d come across a ‘consultant’ who had been lurking in the background, but who significant influence in the final decision. Forewarned is forearmed!
10. How quickly do you think you’ll be able to make a decision on this? When would you like/do you need to have a solution in place by?
He wanted to get an idea of timescales. For him the latter question was more significant, as he could work back from there. The former could often be a case of wishful thinking.
These are some of the questions that have helped my friend to spot the real opportunities and weed out those where chances of winning were low. If you don’t get the answers you need, you must be prepared to change tactics or walk away and look for other opportunities that are better qualified. Otherwise you may find you spending lots of time and effort on deals that just don’t progress – and that’s not a good place to be.