Qualifying prospects is one of the most critical steps in the sales process. Although it can be tempting to pursue any prospect who expresses interest in your product, the truth is that not all prospects are going to be good fits. It is in your best interest as a salesperson to identify good-fit prospects early in the process. These are the prospects that need your attention.
To qualify prospects the right way, you need to conduct an unbiased evaluation of the prospect. Consider these nine factors:
1) How well does the prospect fit your ideal customer profile?
Review your customer profiles and critically evaluate how well the prospect matches up. You should consider industry, company size, company priorities, and current challenges—among other factors. It’s fine if they don’t fit the customer profile exactly. After all, ideal customer profiles don’t always match perfectly with real-world companies. But there should be at least some commonalities between the prospect and the profile.
It can also be helpful to compare the prospect with your existing successful customers. If the prospect is similar to an existing customer, that’s a good sign. This is a little harder to do if you are entering a new vertical, but you should still look for shared characteristics.
2) Do they have a clear need for your solution?
If a prospect doesn’t have a clear and pressing need for your solution, they are not likely to buy from you any time soon. Accordingly, your top priority should be deducing whether the prospect truly has a need.
To do this, ask questions about the prospect’s current business challenges. What is the magnitude of the challenge? Have they previously attempted to solve the problem? What are the possible consequences if the prospect is not able to adequately address the problem?
The best prospects need your solution now—not six months or a year from now. They want to act soon because a failure to do so will have significant consequences. For top prospects, your product is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
3) Do they have the budget for your solution?
To be a viable prospect, they must have a budget that’s at least in the ballpark of what you’re looking for. Be forthright in asking about the budget. If the prospect is vague, or if their estimation is way under, they’re probably not a viable prospect at this time.
If the prospect is already spending on this issue, or they’ve allocated a budget for a new partner, that’s a great sign. If they’re saying that the “plan” to allocate a budget in the future, that isn’t an absolute deal-breaker—but it may be a sign that caution is necessary.
4) Are they using or considering any competing solutions?
Ask prospects about their previous experiences with products in your category. If they have not used a competing solution, figure out if they need your solution now. If they have used a competing solution, or are currently using another solution, you need to learn more about their experiences. Are they happy with the current solution? What don’t they like about it?
Listen carefully to their complaints. This can help you identify gaps between what they’re getting and what they need. Consider whether your solution will be able to address the issues they raise. If so, great! If not, they might not be a fit. Prospects who don’t give substantial reasons for wanting to switch might not be serious. It’s also possible they don’t quite know how to articulate their problems, so ask lots of probing questions.
5) What problems or trigger events have generated a need for your solution?
The prospects who are most likely to buy are those that have recently experienced a change that necessitates your product. If you go over your customer profiles and existing customers, you’ll start to see common patterns. Identify what trigger events, if any, have caused the prospect to express interest. If they haven’t tried to address this issue previously, why not? Has anything changed to make the situation more urgent?
6) Why is your solution uniquely situated to help them address the problem?
Your solution may be great, but realistically it’s not the right solution for every problem. Based on what you’ve learned about the prospect, objectively assess whether your solution can help address the prospect’s main pain points.
To help figure this out, describe what your product can do and ask lots of questions. Explain, “Our solution can do x, y, and z. Do you think this is something that would help you solve your problem?”
Do not try to move forward if you feel uncertain on this point.
7) How does the prospect define success and can you deliver?
Your idea of what success looks like needs to align with the prospect’s. Ask the prospect, “What does success look like to you?” Drill down to get an answer that’s as specific as possible. You don’t want to base your sales pitch on generalizations such as “we want to reduce costs.”
Based on your product’s capabilities and past experiences, determine whether you will be able to meet their conditions for success.
8) What does the prospect’s decision-making process look like?
Early on in the process, you’re probably only talking to one or two people. Ask them about what other decision-makers will need to be involved in the buying process. Try to find out whether these decision-makers are invested in solving the problem.
In enterprise sales, it’s a given that multiple stakeholders will be involved. But you want to make sure you’re talking to someone who has a clear idea of how the process needs to go and who can connect you to the right people.
9) Is the prospect genuinely interested in moving on to the next steps in the process?
Finally, use your gut instincts to determine whether the prospect seems engaged. If they are receptive to moving onto the next steps in the process, go forward.
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