When sales reps qualify a “suspect,” they’re usually of two minds. On one hand, they hope that the person will turn out to be a real prospect. On the other, they’re concerned not to waste time on somebody who’s never going to buy.

You can’t eliminate this mental conflict entirely. It goes with the territory, as the saying runs. But you can make the qualifying process easier on yourself — and more powerful — if you go into it with the right attitude.

Let me suggest, to that end, approaching prospects not as if you were seeking something from them, but as if they wanted something from you — i.e., a “position” as one of your customers.

Your rightful expectations

Think about it this way. An employer can afford to pay only a certain number of employees, and the employer rightly expects that these people will be productive — that they will help the employer make money.

As a salesperson, you’re a lot like that employer. You have only a limited amount of time, and you can afford to spend it only on a certain number of customers. You, like the employer, have a right to expect that potential customers will be productive and help you make money.

So, logically enough, your qualifying approach to prospects ought to look something like a job interview.

What does this mean in practice?

Customer profile

Sales consultant Seamus Brown suggests that you first come up with the equivalent of a job description — i.e., a profile of your ideal customer. Is your very best customer a large or a small company? Is this customer in any particular industry or group of industries? How does this customer deal with procurement and vendor relations? Is this customer more likely to be a mature organization or a start-up?

Sure, you always want to expand your customer base, and you don’t want to rule out prospects with unusual profiles. But it remains a fact that if most of your current customers look a certain way, most of your future customers probably will, too, all other things being equal.

Second, create a set of criteria that prospects must meet before you’ll sell to them. This list might include things like:

  • adequate budget to make a purchase within the next six months
  • willingness to let you meet with internal users like operations people, rather than have to go through a purchasing manager
  • ability to set up a test run of your product or service

Do they measure up?

With your profile and criteria in place, your qualifying calls on prospects take on the aspects of a job interview. Does the prospect measure up? (Of course, you don’t want to be so rigorous that you automatically rule out prospects over small mismatches.) If so, you can go for the sale with confidence that you won’t be wasting your time — even if you eventually don’t get the deal.

If the prospect clearly doesn’t measure up, you have a solid indication that going any farther would most likely get you nowhere. And you can politely bow out without too many regretful backward looks.

You may already have figured out that there’s a bonus to this “job interview” approach: It takes off the board any suggestion, in the prospects’ minds or your own, that you’re asking them for a favor. Rather, the process is designed to see whether they have what it takes to join the elite company of your customer list!

 

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