The Case to Stop Qualifying Your Clients

The Gist:

  • Only calling on clients who are pre-qualified is no longer a good strategy.
  • Expecting your client to be fully prepared to change and buy is a legacy belief that is out of touch with the current reality.
  • You create no value by qualifying your clients, but you create tremendous value by helping them check those same boxes through your sales conversation.

Legacy sales approaches insist that every potential client should be qualified, to make certain the contact is the person who will sign a contract, that their company is compelled to change (need), that they have a budget, and that they’re working on some sort of deadline (time). That idea is both outdated and creates more problems than it solves.

Whether you believe an average client is 57% or 27% into their buying process before they agree to meet with a salesperson, it should not come as a surprise to discover they’ve had internal conversations and may have visited a number of websites. Because they’ve already invested that effort, when the experience of meeting with a salesperson doesn’t create value for the contacts by enabling decisions that lead to better results, a sales call feels like a waste of time.

A salesperson initializes the sales conversation with a terrible opening line

A Terrible Opening Line

There may not be a worse opening line than “are you the decision-maker?”—especially when you follow up with “do you have a timeline?” The experience of being qualified is revolting, repelling, tone-deaf, and worst of all confirms that your whole sales approach is self-oriented. The outcome of these weak questions is to convince your client that they are just a means to an end. In fact, just one of those “negative value” conversations might prompt them to move forward with a new initiative without a salesperson, relying on Google for guidance.

The legacy approach to sales starts with the idea of qualifying a prospective client, in part because it assumes the client is already “dissatisfied.” Why would you waste your time with a prospective client who wasn’t already trying to solve the problem your product or solution was designed to solve? There is a principle here worth retaining: you should not spend time with people who can’t or won’t benefit from what you sell. At the time these strategies came into use, the idea made sense. But that’s just not the world we live in.

Select any deal in your pipeline and test it against an old-fashioned qualifying framework to see how well it holds up. How do you identify the “authority” when a decision is going to be made by consensus? Is the authority the person who signs the contract or the decision-influencer who counsels them on what they believe to be the right decision? Let’s play another round. Select another deal at random and identify the date by which the prospective client company must have your solution in place or risk negative consequences that would irreparably harm their business.

A proactive approach to sales

A Proactive Approach to Sales

The idea that one should not sell until their prospective client company is perfectly qualified takes an inherently reactive view of selling. Waiting for the perfect conditions to initiate a sale, at best, guarantees that your dream client will get farther into the buying process without benefiting from your insight or expertise.

A good number of clients that you call on, no doubt, are not only not yet compelled to change, but also unaware that they have fallen behind and are no longer producing the results they could be. Why wait for the people you hope to serve to discover this weakness for themselves—or for your competitor to help them recognize that they should change? When what you sell improves a client’s results, what is the benefit of waiting until they are unhappy with their results to intervene and offer them your help? Why wouldn’t you start the conversation before the client loses more time, more money, or more customers?

Replace your outdated, reactive approach to sales with a proactive one. The legacy approach starts with the idea that your prospective client is—or must be—already compelled to change. But a modern, proactive approach suggests that the salesperson can help compel change by providing necessary context, so clients can better understand their situation, the factors that should be causing them to change, and why what they’re doing is increasingly untenable. Instead of waiting until the client puts a task force together and identifies an “executive sponsor” with budget authority, a proactive approach would have you already building consensus by meeting with the stakeholders and collaborating on the solution they will need to move forward.

Salespeople discover what their velocity problems are on a whiteboard towards x marks the spot

Your Real Velocity Problems

The first of your very real velocity problems is that you wait too long to begin a conversation with your prospective clients. Instead of worrying about a couple deals slipping out of the quarter, you should worry about the dozens or hundreds of prospective clients who haven’t been contacted for months, quarters, or years. Many of these clients are unaware how much their world has changed and that they could, with your help, improve their results.

The second of your velocity problems is that the legacy approach to sales doesn’t address the need to compel change, lead with insights, build consensus, resolve your prospective client’s concerns, create value by enabling decisions, and provide the certainty necessary to your prospective client to move forward. The longer it takes for a sales organization to understand what is required of a modern salesperson, the longer it will take them to sell effectively in the new reality of B2B sales.

The reason you reach out to your prospective clients is to create an opportunity, both for you and for them. Just because your prospective client isn’t completely sold on the change they need to make—complete with a tidy budget, timeline, and the support of an authority— don’t let that prevent you from meeting with and working with them, to help them acquire the things that are missing from your qualification.

Do Good Work:

  • How many of your target clients are compelled to change and have all the support they need to pursue better results without needing additional conversations?
  • How do you help your clients recognize the need to change and acquire the consensus they’ll need from other stakeholders?
  • What factors should really disqualify a prospective client from an early conversation about better results?

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