Just as the discovery process is best thought of (and most effective) as a two-way exercise, so is the closely-related opportunity qualification process. We can think of qualification as one of the key outcomes of an effective discovery process.
Many sales people tend to behave as if qualification is something they do to rather than with a prospective customer, but we need to recognise that our prospect is also trying to qualify both the nature and seriousness of their problem and our credibility as a potential solution provider.
Just as top sales people have too much respect for their own time to waste it chasing poorly qualified “opportunities” that are either never likely to close or never likely to buy from us, our most valuable potential customers are also trying to qualify whether the problem is worth bothering about and whether we are a credible source of the necessary expertise.
The average sales person’s natural tendency in sales qualification is typically to focus on whether we have a good fit against the customer’s apparent needs and whether an appropriate budget, relevant authority, clear need and realistic timeframe can be established - a set of factors otherwise known as “BANT”.
Whilst these are important questions, and whilst they all need to be answered at some point in the evolution of the opportunity, the over-rigid early application of these four principles can result in a string of time-wasting false positives, and opportunity-wasting false negatives.
In complex B2B sales, initial qualification needs to be more nuanced. The half-dozen key qualifying factors we need to establish early on in our sales conversation include:
- Does the prospect have a clear and obvious business problem?
- Does the prospect have a potentially compelling reason to act?
- How closely does the organisation fit our Ideal Customer Profile?
- Is our prime contact an obvious mobiliser or change agent?
- Is there an obvious and accessible source of funds?
- Is there an obviously urgent need to solve the problem?
If there is any uncertainty about any of these factors (and, let’s face it, there often is), then we need to take focused action to clarify our understanding - or recognise that the foundations of the opportunity are somewhat flimsy.
It’s particularly important that we resist the itch to pitch our solution until we have a clear handle on these factors - once we’ve started down the solution proposal trail it can get increasingly difficult to revisit these foundational questions.
HELPING OUR PROSPECT TO QUALIFY US
But what are our prospects likely to be thinking while we're trying to qualify them? How are they likely to be qualifying both the problem and our credentials as a potential solution provider?
Their considerations are probably going to include:
- What is the true nature of the problem? What are its symptoms and implications? How is it affecting my ability to discharge my responsibilities and achieve my goals?
- Which of my colleagues are also affected by the problem, and how is it affecting them? Are they likely to agree that there is a need to address the issue? Are they likely to want to have a say in whether and how we choose to solve the problem?
- Taking into account all the other priorities I have to manage, is this problem important enough to invest time and resources in evaluating our options and identifying potential solutions?
- What is the business impact of the problem, how much is it likely to cost to solve, how could it be funded and what are the key elements that would be needed to support my internal business case justification?
- Could I solve this problem using internal resources, or will I have to go into the market to identify commercially available solutions?
- What specific potential solution options exist? What do I know of these options, and what do people I trust think of the various potential vendors?
- As I learn about and engage with these potential vendors, do they come across as subject matter experts? Do I trust their advice? Am I sure that they will always put my best interests first?
- Are my interactions with these vendors making my job easier, or more difficult? Are they making it easy for me to get the information I need? Do I have confidence in them as a long-term partner?
Just as we probably can’t have all our initial qualifying questions answered in one hit, our prospective customer probably can’t, either. But we can be sure that their every interaction with us (including some we may not be aware of) is contributing to their judgement about us.
The quality of our direct interaction with our prospective customer is particularly important. We need to go into every conversation with goals and a plan, but we also need to be aware that our prospect wants to get something valuable out of the interaction as well.
We need to listen actively and be prepared to adapt our plans accordingly. We will never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Let’s make sure that we help them to qualify both the problem and our potential credentials as a supplier while we gather the information we need to make a judgement about whether the opportunity is worth pursuing.
Let’s make sure that everyone involved learns something valuable as a result of the engagement. And let’s help them to qualify us!