The False Positives Of Qualifying

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Most people in sales see themselves as forward looking, bright positive people, after all, we make a living helping people, right?! This bias has a direct influence our assessment of situations, as well as how we act on those assessments. The assessment, especially early stages in the buy/sell process, during the lead, prospecting and early Discovery stage; the phases of the sales where sellers like to talk about, and do a lot of ‘qualifying’. But there is a bit of a Catch 22 when it comes to qualifying. While most will not argue that qualifying is a good idea, when you observe how it unfolds in the real world, it often leads to the wrong outcomes.

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The core challenge is that people tend to find – exactly what they set out to find. Their bias going in will dictate what they focus on and what they ignore. They form a bit of a tunnel vision to help them focus on their object, and limit “distractions” from other things. A perfect framework for qualifying, where the exercise is to engage with ‘qualified’ prospects/buyers, and not “waste time” on any others. To help, most organizations have points of qualification, allowing sales people to “easily” identify potential prospects, this in turn frames their tunnel vision.

Add to that another reality of sales, specifically sales people have a preference for the back end of the cycle over the front end. They see prospecting as something they “have to do” because they are told to, not because they see it as a valuable activity. In working with thousands of sales people, the clear majority will tell you that they always have something more important to do than prospect. Personally, I cannot imagine anything more important to a sales person that starting new opportunities. Even when they commit to it in writing, they will find any excuse to avoid it, it is the same “tunnel vision” – “wish fulfillment” thinking that plays out in qualification.

I remember working with a group of wireless sales people, they had Thursdays carved out for prospecting 4:30 to 5:30. While his peers would secure 1 – 3 opportunities, Harold somehow always found a customer who needed a battery replacement, or some such thing. As he explained to his manager, “I know we had our Power Hour, but I didn’t want to lose the account”. Now the reality is that he could have gotten the battery across town much quicker for about $30 (Canadian), his bias kicked in, the call within to avoid the dreaded prospecting, so he set out to find, and indeed found what he set out for, a reason not to prospect.

Man selecting the only green ticked check box from amongst a line of multiple boxes with red crosses on a virtual interface or screen in a conceptual image with copyspace

A much better approach, framework and starting point is to set out to disqualify. Yes, disqualify – get rid of the riff-raff, take out the garbage, and what you have left are the opportunities worth focusing. For those who can still accept numbers in sales, it breaks down like this: if you have a closing average of 4:1, for every four opportunities going in to the top of the pipe, you win one (on average, say over the last 25+ deals/opportunities. The quicker you stop pursuing the three that are not going to close, the more time, bandwidth, and resources you have to maximize the one you will close, usually faster than when distracted by the non-qualifiers. AND REMEMBER – the three you “throw back” now, don’t disappear or leave the planet, you can always revisit them again (and again and again). Leads are recyclable, time is not.

Use those Points of Qualification your company has, but use it properly. Most sales people use them shimmy in or shoehorn in opportunities they know will not close this cycle, or are not yet qualified. Look at most pipeline, and they are full of things that will never happen, or for sure not this fiscal year; and opportunities that three or four of your company’s five Points of Qualification. If you excluded all but those that tightly fit, not loosely, you will naturally spend time with those more likely to close now, than those that will never or for some time. If we take “almost” or “loosely fitting” prospects out of the pipeline, the stark reality of insufficient prospects is hard to ignore.

It is really a case of where “less is more”, where the old cliché everyone touts, but few live by, that success in sales is about quality, not quantity, actually works. Rather than keeping busy working on “all the opportunities” you have in your pipeline, weed out the weeds, and free up space and time for the ones that will grow. You can rid yourself of the work and frustration involved in working with everyone, and reinvest freed up bandwidth and time in the ones that will close.

To answer the question of “How do I know which are the ones to disqualify?”, it will come down to actually reviewing all the opportunities that go in to the top of you pipe, and learn the attributes of those you win, the ones you lose, and those that don’t make a decision. If they look like a winner, work it, if they look like a no decision, or not yet a buyer, park them, and revisit in the future. We use and make available to our clients our 360 Degree Deal Review, it allows to quickly assess current prospects, and how they qualify as potential buyers, while allowing you to disqualify those that don’t.

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For once, it is about the tree, not the forest.

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