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By Bill Taylor:
How often have you worked on a prospect for months, spending multiple hours and dollars entertaining the prospect and teaching the client what they need to know for success. Perhaps you even helped the client frame out the RFP document, prepared a terrific proposal, and diligently followed up; handling all their objections. Maybe you went so far as to forecast the engagement with a high probability for success. Only to find out when the final decision came down the prospect “went with another company” or the deal was “shelved for now.”
“How did this happen?” you ask yourself. “I did everything right!” the “buying signals were there” or so it seemed. Taking a deeper look at the situation, we often find that the prospect was not properly qualified and perhaps not a good prospect after all. Let’s look at the four (4) most important criteria to help you qualify prospects and improve your chances of success.
#1 – The decision maker – This is the most important criterion. Are you working with the person who makes the final decision or will you have access to that person early in the process? If the answer is NO – STOP - this is not a qualified prospect. True professionals know that unless you work with or can reach the decision-maker, especially if the engagement has a high price point and/or is “mission-critical”, your chances for success are significantly reduced.
#2 – Is there a match between your expertise/skills and the prospect’s need – Most buyers of products and services prefer to buy from the person who best provides what they need. Buyers are apprehensive about buying a specialty skill from a person whose offering is not core to their business. For example, while a CPA may also offer wealth advisory services to clients, a client may prefer to work specifically with a certified financial planner. While both providers offer the services, the prospect may perceive each to have distinctive expertise. This also applies to other generalists who may provide specialty work. The client must recognize and be confident that your skill is a primary offering versus just something else you can do for them.
#3 – Is there a budget approved for the engagement - Despite the simplicity of this statement it is very important for qualifying a prospect and is often overlooked. Many providers fail to determine if the prospect has appropriate and approved funding for the engagement – and are reticent to ask. After a long and arduous process, far too many promising engagements may be scuttled due to lack of budget or a price quote that exceeded the budget. Ask about budget early on in the process to be sure the prospect can afford you!
#4 – Is the decision expected in a reasonable timeframe - Last, but not least, is timeframe. Your time is too valuable to spend with prospects that may not be able or willing to decide to engage in the near term. It is key, early on in the process, to ask and determine approximately when the prospect expects to make their final decision. Then decide if this time period is reasonable for your business. Otherwise, you may risk spending plenty of your valuable time with a prospect that may not need or want to decide to move forward in the near term. This is not to say you should stop pursuing these prospects, but rather work on them differently than you would a near term deal.
Working to improve your qualifying skills will help with forecasting, save time and money, allow you to spend more time working with decision-makers that have budget to engage you, and close more business.
Sounds good to me!! How about you?