In the Moment: The Lost Art of Pre-Qualifying Leads

It’s a basic principle. Your business depends on people calling up and saying they are interested in what your company does.  The thing is that most of the folks who call are not what your company is looking for in a client; they aren’t the right fit.

So how do you avoid going out and visiting all those who happen to call?

Define a “Good Client”

You need to have a clear understand of who this client is. And the easiest way to define a good client is to look back at the best clients your company ever had.  What are the common characteristics?

In my company (back in the day) the definition was; they were able to trust us, they were interested in following our process, and they had respect for boundaries.

Build a Lead Intake Sheet

With the information in hand you can create a form that reminds you of what to ask a client.  Here are some of the questions we used:

  • “Who referred you?”
    • We wanted to know this because we could make a judgment about the potential client based on what we knew of the referrer.  We could also reach out to the referrer, if need be, for more insight into the potential client.
  • “Why are you calling our company?”
    • There are so many remodeling companies to pick from.  Why they decided to call you is, again, more insight into what is important to the potential client.  Sometimes you find out that there is not a fit between why they called and what your company does!
  • “Which is more important to you: Price, Quality or Trust?”
    • If they say Price free up their future so they can make other contractors miserable.  If they say Quality they will not be as good a fit as if they say Trust.  Everybody does quality work.  Only a few companies can be trusted and only those potential clients who value Trust are the best ones to pursue.

Follow Your Process

Call all potential clients.  Do a download with each, using your lead sheet every time.  ALWAYS follow your process.  Don’t take shortcuts.

If someone you are talking to does not want to follow your process shout “Hallelujah!” because you just saved yourself from wasting time going to visit them.  They were never going to be your client anyway.

If someone does follow your process, then it makes sense to visit them.

The Art is in the Moment

The thing about qualifying is that it is not a science, although like much of life I wish it were. It takes more than worksheets and definitions to execute successfully.

It is an art.

That means you have to listen and ask lots of clarification questions to truly understand what is motivating the caller.

The art in this is staying in the moment — staying present and thinking on your feet. Any time they say something let them know you appreciate what they said and ask a follow-up question. The more engaged you are when doing this, the more open the potential client will be and the more you will learn.

Why is this worth doing?

Have you ever found yourself driving some distance to an appointment only to realize as soon as you are in the house that you and the potential client never were — and never will be — a fit?  Use that experience as motivation!

Time Kills Deals

Time Kills DealsDon’t take my word for it. Ask any salesperson, entrepreneur, negotiator, or deal maker. The experienced ones tell me the same thing. Or just run a quick search on the title of this post and see what comes up.

I used to think it was the primary responsibility of salespeople to increase their closing ratio. But I’ve come to learn that reducing the sales cycle is much more important. Sandler Training has many techniques about how to control and reduce sales cycle as well as how to deal with and possibly discard those prospects that continually delay. But that is not what this article is about.

Parkinson’s Law – Work expands to fill the time available for its completion

I agree with Cyril Northcote Parkinson. I’ve experienced this phenomenon thousands, if not millions, of times in my own work-life. There is a limit of course – too little time can be equally destructive. But I usually see salespeople allocating way too much time for systematic tasks like prospecting, sales calls, and duration between successive meetings with prospects.

They rarely, if ever:

  • Set time in their calendar to do outbound prospecting
  • Set realistic time constraints for their meetings with prospects. (The successful salespeople always do)
  • Establish rock-solid commitments about the next meeting time and objective with the prospect before they leave the current meeting.
  • Negotiate short time lapses between successive appointments with the same prospect/company. (Their entire sales cycle is longer and their close ratio is subsequently lower)

Ineffective salespeople exclaim that the prospect wouldn’t meet with them sooner or “it wasn’t appropriate to ask them for a rapid response and next meeting”. (It drives me nuts when a salesperson says anything wasn’t appropriate. I wish they would just ask the prospect instead of making an axiomatic judgment.) They refuse to acknowledge that the prospect’s inability to respond rapidly is an indication of their urgency and thus their intent to make a purchasing decision.

So they follow-up with no appointment and play phone tag for days or weeks only to find that some unpredictable occurrence has impacted their prospect.

“They hired a new CEO from Berkeley so everything is on hold.”

“My champion got transferred to San Jose.”

“They were acquired by Google.”

“They went bankrupt.”

I’ve heard all the reasons. So time does kill deals and in respect to the struggling salesperson, there was nothing they could have done about it. Except to shorten the sales cycle and get to a no or a yes faster…

I also have a theory that prospects (the genuine prospects that actually want to solve their problem) pay more attention and take our appointments more seriously when they know they have a time constraint. Their level of engagement with a salesperson during a meeting and their urgency between meetings improves with a deadline or time constraint.

I’m not suggesting you say some lame things like “the price goes up next month” or “we only have 2 left in inventory”. I’m merely suggesting that prospects willing to establish time constraints are just better prospects. No manipulation or fancy techniques are required for the salesperson to figure this out.

Good Selling,

Chip