Entrepreneurs can learn to target "high probability" prospective clients instead of wasting time and money selling to the ones who won't commit
"I have a coaching company and am super-frustrated. I ended up courting a client for a large contract for about three months and then he ended up bailing. I took a big tumble and I want to know, from your perspective, how I could have avoided that." That was a question a business owner asked me in a recent tele-seminar I led. I've heard of similar struggles from other entrepreneurs.
My answer? The prospective client never really was a prospective client. Instead, the person was an expertise-vampire, sucking up time and advice. The owner of the coaching company ended up giving the person three months of free consulting when she should have disqualified him quickly. I realize the term "disqualify" sounds harsh but really, haven't we all chased sales leads only to realize months later that the person never had any intention of buying?
Disqualify these leads. They're not worthy.
The Art of Sales Communication
Too many entrepreneurs waste time and energy chasing sales prospects that have no potential. To increase your sales, you must learn to disqualify sales leads. Though it might seem like a skill better suited for your sales team, you, as an entrepreneur, should master it to get and stay financed.
Sales communication is different from advertising and marketing—it's more personal. Too many salespeople make the mistake of spewing off hype-driven sales talk. But no one likes to feel manipulated, so this approach doesn't work. Some sales people don't even bother to explain the benefits of what they're selling.
The timeless book High Probability Selling by Jacques Werth and Nicholas Ruben does a fabulous job upending conventional thinking about selling. It explains how to identify real prospects and sell to them using benefits they're already seeking. You don't ask annoying rhetorical questions such as "Do you want to increase your profits by 20%?" The answer is obvious, the practice is manipulative, and it ultimately doesn't screen for real prospects. Plus, potential clients usually end up reacting negatively. Werth and Ruben offer a different approach.
Key Points for Entrepreneurs
I've paraphrased their book's key points with entrepreneurs in mind:
1. Be a shrink. We all bring our emotional baggage to every aspect of our lives. We all need to be loved and respected, and to trust others. In selling situations, many of these psychological buttons are pushed. Your sole job as a salesperson is to build rapport. Rapport leads to trust. Trust leads to lasting relationships and sales.
2. Set your objective for prospecting. Shifting your objective from getting the appointment to determining whether the prospect qualifies for an appointment is key. Next, you need to eliminate your fear of rejection. It's easier to do this when you aren't begging for sales meetings. And you won't be begging for meetings. Instead, you'll identify your target prospects using specifics such as price-points, budgets, decision-making ability, and schedules. You'll only make appointments with prospects who need, want, and can afford what you are selling and are willing to buy from you now if you meet their requirements. You'll also learn to embrace the fact that disqualifying a prospect is just as valuable and important as qualifying one—whether you disqualify/qualify him or he disqualifies/qualifies himself.
3. Start separating real leads from unlikely ones. This type of prospecting is essentially a practice of sorting and identifying by talking to as many people as you can in the shortest amount of time. You'll need to avoid the temptation of trying to create prospects—they simple cannot be created. This process involves learning how to disqualify a low-probability prospect and maintain control of the interaction. Remember, whoever asks the questions is in control.
Print out these reminders and tape them by your phone to help you when you call:
I work with high probability prospects only. I disqualify everyone else.
Prospecting is a disqualification process.
I don't waste my resources on low-probability prospects.
No is just as good as yes.
A low-probability prospect is worse than no prospect at all. Remember the opportunity cost.
I end the conversation if the prospect is unwilling to make a suitable commitment.
When in doubt, I disqualify.
I go into each call with no expectation of a result.
True high-probability prospects will not allow themselves to be disqualified.
You can call the same list over and over again and you will get a higher and higher percentage of prospects who say yes as long as you do the following:
Keep changing the offer.
Don't waste prospects' time.
Remember the frustrated business owner I mentioned above? She spent three precious months educating the prospect, who didn't buy because he got the goods for free. Forget the concept of consultative selling. If they want consultations, they have to buy first. This is especially crucial in a business like hers, which is based on professional services.
4. Stay focused. Fear is what keeps most of us chasing sales leads that we know aren't high probability. Here's how to stay on track and further cement this learning into your sales process:
You are training prospects when you disqualify them.
Don't make the same offer twice in a row—you'll jeopardize your credibility.
Deal with discomfort by acknowledging it and pushing through it anyway.
Remind yourself this is the disqualification game.
You have no power to make a high probability prospect. You do have the power to disqualify.
Prospecting deserves 50% of your time. It is just as important as meeting in person.
Twenty percent of the market doesn't like its current supplier and would be receptive to switching.
5. Get to the decision maker when prospecting.
Always try to get to the business owner or decision maker.
When you cold-call the decision maker but get the gatekeeper, treat the person as if he or she is the decision maker.
If the gatekeeper cannot answer your disqualifying questions, ask if he can put you in touch with someone who can, or bring the questions directly to the decision maker.
In my next column, I'll offer some high-probability selling scripts and explain how to use them.