The Changing Nature of Qualification in Sales

A lot has changed in sales over the last couple of decades. One of them is how we think about qualifying prospective clients. Recently, I have seen comments suggesting that one should not use cold calls to schedule a meeting but to qualify a potential client instead. Others have stated that one should “always be qualifying,” the conclusion of which is that when things don’t exactly go as you wish, you disqualify the prospective client and end your pursuit.

There is truth in the idea that you should not waste your time with people who can’t or won’t buy what you sell. Because how we sell has changed to match selling and buying trends, we need to update some of our ideas.

The Negative Value of Qualifying Cold Calls

Of all the possible ways you could create negative value on a cold call, asking the contact a series of questions that you believe would verify they are worth your time has to be right at the top of the list. You certainly aren’t going to woo anybody into a meeting by asking them questions about how ready they are to buy what you sell. What is worse is proposing a series of questions that are so self-oriented and direct that your contact can’t possibly imagine continuing the conversation.

The time you spend sitting in front of your computer and phone waiting for a contact who didn’t show up for a meeting or a demo could put to use trying to understand what behaviors caused the person to bow out of the conversation impolitely.

Much of the time, your contact doesn’t go dark; instead, you turned off their light. Something that self-oriented approaches tend to generate.

Assuming Your Prospect is Already Buying

One of the primary challenges with qualifying is that many of the frameworks assume your client already has a need or a pain point, a budget, well-defined decision criteria, a decision process, a champion, and an executive sponsor. That is all well and good if you are pursuing clients who are engaged in buying, in which case, the fact that they are trying to buy what you sell is good news, as it means that they are very likely qualified. The bad news, however, is that when all these things are true, you are almost sure to find yourself in a purchasing-led process, one in which they need companies to compete for their business.

What about the contacts and companies not actively engaged in buying what you sell? What about the many clients who already have someone providing them with the outcome you would improve for them if given the opportunity? How does qualifying help when they believe they don’t have any pain points, are not actively looking to change out their existing partner, eliminating things like decision-criteria or a decision-making process?

There are two primary mistakes with the way some still qualify. First, your prospective client may not have a budget, and you might engage with a contact that has precisely zero authority to buy. They might not have a specific known need. It is a mistake to believe that there is no opportunity in many cases where these factors are true.

Second, none of these factors are incredibly relevant when growing your sales means displacing a competitor, a focus that many more sales organizations should pursue while also working on greenfield opportunities. A lot of SAAS companies spend too little time pursuing displacement because they overvalue speed, as one would suspect from the Silicon Valley ethos.

Another View of Qualification

A useful way you might look at qualification would be to qualify opportunities by fit. The first question you might ask if trying to determine fit is, “How valuable are the outcomes I sell going to be to this company?” The more valuable the outcomes, the more likely you should move forward in a conversation, something you won’t do if you use the type of questions most salespeople use to qualify. The opposite is also true; when a company does not perceive value in what you sell, then you are not going to find any reasonable path to a deal, in which case, you should move on.

In the industry in which I learned to sell, I disqualified everyone who wasn’t already buying what I sold. There is no doubt that I might have been able to convince some people and companies to buy what I sold. As far as I was concerned, it was better to displace competitors in large clients, eliminating the kind of qualification most companies pursue and instead qualifying them by fit. I was happy to let a competitor take the training wheels off before I approached them. If they were price-sensitive, adversarial, or immature, I avoided them, as they were a bad fit.

Qualifying by fit is useful way you might qualify opportunities. How much will your prospective client benefit from the way you generate results? How willing will they be to pay for better results? What kind of client are they going to be for you and your company on a scale of nightmare client to dream client?

Because you can’t answer these questions without a conversation, you should remove the filters that ensure that you screen out anybody who isn’t already trying to buy what you sell and explore ideas with them before disqualifying them. Even the fact that they are not going to be ready to purchase today should not dissuade you from spending time building and nurturing the kind of relationships that allow you to create opportunities in the future.

If you worry about wasting time, you will do better to eliminate all the things you do that truly waste your time.

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