What Counts: Need, Money, Urgency

Don't be afraid to spurn any prospective customers who lack even one of these characteristics. They just aren't worth your time

By Michelle Nichols

My friend Julie is a successful saleswoman and, at age 42, has never married. Her friends say she's too picky, but I think her style of searching for Mr. Right is also one of the keys to her accomplishments in sales.

Julie confessed to me she wrote a list of the important qualities she's looking for in her future spouse. If a suitor doesn't have all or most of these desired qualities, he's crossed off her dance card. As my Great Aunt Lenore used to say, "Don't date what you wouldn't mate."


  Likewise, regardless of your gender, it's a good idea to make a list of the important qualities you want in a sales prospect. This process is called qualifying. It puts the selling odds in your favor and helps you focus on those who are most likely to buy from you. If you get a "blue-bird" (a sale that you didn't expect), enjoy it, but don't lower your qualification standards based on that anomaly.

Here's how I visualize qualifying prospects: I picture a big, broad stream teeming with fish. I imagine letting 100 of them into a side pond. Then I check to see if any of those fish meet my qualifications for a prospect. Let's say two or three meet my qualifications. These will get additional time and attention from me. Then I let the rest of them flow back into the river so I can let in another 100 fish.

Of course, this simple model could be expanded. Perhaps I could refer some of those who are unqualified to another vendor or put them on my newsletter list. The point is, I don't spend any more of my valuable selling time or money with those prospects that don't meet my qualifications.


  I recall a salesman I knew long ago. He was a great, funny guy, but he never reached his selling potential because he wouldn't qualify his prospects. He couldn't bring himself to let those 97 or so fish go back into the big stream.

Instead, he beat each fish over the head, trying to sell to every fish in that first batch of 100. It was "sell or die" for him. As a result, he lost in two ways: He made those who were unqualified feel harassed, and he missed those qualified fish that were streaming by.

I admit, part of the qualification process depends on the number of prospects you have. I once sold large equipment to the large accounts of one industry in one geographic area. All told, I had about a dozen potential accounts, which means I had to sell most of them something, or a few of them a lot, to meet my sales quota. In this selling situation, qualifying whom I'm going to call on was less important than qualifying what I was going to sell them and how.


  On the other end of the scale, perhaps you sell something that a lot of folks can buy, like insurance, printing services, or financial planning. This is when qualifying becomes vital.

As a general rule, qualified prospects must have three characteristics -- a perception of a genuine need, the money to solve this problem, and the urgency to solve it now. Need, money, urgency –- if they have all three, they're qualified prospects.

For example, let's say you met someone who is at the end of his fiscal year, and he has budget to spend. His orders are to "use it or lose it." Yet he doesn't really need what you sell. That means he has money and urgency, but he doesn't have a perceived need.


  If you have a good relationship with this buyer, but you can't find anything in your line to sell him, perhaps you can refer him to someone whose offering will benefit him, and you can get a referral fee. However, this isn't a qualified prospect for you.

If you have a prospect that strongly feels she needs just what you offer, but she doesn't have the money, or access to the money, then she's just a dreamer. Maybe you can refer her to a finance whiz who can buy her receivables or get her a loan. If not, such a prospect is a charity case. This isn't a qualified prospect for you.

If you have a prospect that feels she could really benefit from being the proud owner of what you offer and has the money, but she's in no hurry to move forward, then you have what I call a "should" customer. She should buy from you now, but she doesn't.


  Sometimes such a prospect is waiting for your competitors to announce their new models or see if her promised promotion to vice-president comes through. You may be able to overcome this lack of urgency by leveraging an important date, like an upcoming board of directors meeting or the end of a quarter, or even before she goes on vacation. This isn't a qualified prospect for you.

Bear in mind that just because a prospect is qualified to buy, it doesn't guarantee you'll get the order. You still have to connect and sell the customer on why he or she should buy from you. But if you qualify more diligently, you'll increase your selling productivity, and that will increase your sales. Happy selling!

Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments. Visit her Web site at savvyselling.com

Edited by Rod Kurtz

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