Too many salespeople spend too little time selling and too much time doing stuff that either needs not be done or should be done by others. So let’s not make the problem worse by spending the sales time available pursuing bad business. One-way to avoid this problem is to “up” the importance of getting better at lead qualification.
Getting lead qualification right requires a laser like focus on two issues – funding and fit.
Funding. Finding out information about funding can be difficult. Yet you can’t find out if you do not ask and it is okay to ask. But make sure you are talking with someone who knows the answer to the funding questions so you do not get poor information or end up asking the same questions again and again to different people. In general, the more senior the person, the more likely they will have accurate information about funding.
When funding has been budgeted, asking questions about the estimated budget or what the customer has in mind to support the effort is fair and can yield beneficial results. It helps you competitively. Plus, it can also enable you to continue to shape thinking about a realistic price.
Sometimes legitimate opportunities have not yet been funded. These opportunities often turn out to be non-opportunities and salespeople spend a lot of time pursuing opportunities that will never lead to closed sales. However, if there is a real opportunity, salespeople can help their customers seek the right amount needed by carefully determining an estimated cost and pre-selling them on that amount. If done correctly this can be helpful to both you and the customer.
Fit. Next let’s turn to “fit”. Fit is a two-way street. You must objectively determine the degree of fit between the customer’s specifications and preferences, and your capabilities. And, you must obtain the customer’s perception of that fit.
Here are three best practices for analyzing the alignment between you and the customer.
- Get a sense of clarity and priority of the customer’s decision criteria and preferences for selecting suppliers. The criteria can vary from very concrete criteria – such as the extent of vendor experience with the customer – to criteria that are more difficult to define such as the vendor’s capability for innovation.
It is important to develop a shared view of the meaning of the decision criteria and to get a sense about the relative priority on the importance scale. You can’t win if you don’t know how the customer is determining the winner. For example, you may think the right solution requires the company to provide substantial technical support. On the other hand, the customer may place a greater priority on the specification for just-in-time delivery.
Only after you get clarity around why the customer is placing the importance on just-in-time delivery can you assess the degree to which you are able and willing to support the emphasis on just-in-time delivery.
It may also be true that you have an insight not yet recognized by the customer. So gaining clarity can also be about helping the customer develop an awareness or insight about required capabilities the customer has not yet considered. Bring fresh thinking to the discussion that the customer finds of value is an excellent way to differentiate your company from the competition.
- Check the customer’s perception of your capabilities. This best practice seems straightforward. Unfortunately, it frequently is not followed. Customers often has a history with you and therefore they know a lot about your capabilities. But anyone making a judgment about a particular capability may have less than a complete assessment. For example, customers might not know that you have an outstanding service capability.
It is important to find out the customer’s view. If that view is not objectively accurate, then finding a way to correct the misperception is both important for the customer and for you. To correct a misperception, you could reference another customer where you demonstrated that capability or set up a special meeting with the staff in your company that could discuss and explain the capability.
On the other hand if the customer’s perception of a weakness is accurate, you need to find a way to correct or compensate for that weaknesses. The key point is you have identified the need for action versus being blinded sided later in the sale.
- Recognize when shaping is appropriate. There are times where it is appropriate to help customers change their point of view about the capabilities. The just noted example about a misperception of the fact that your company has an outstanding service capability is one case in point.
A second example is when a customer has deemed a particular specification for the work to be extremely important and in your experience that priority is misplaced. This, of course, is a road to walk with care. If a customer would end up making a better decision if the assessment was different, then shaping brings value to the customer and that is appropriate. Obviously, it is not appropriate if the viewpoint shift is strictly in your self-interest
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