Jim had been working on a big deal for four months. Before he gave his presentation, his sales manager asked, “Is this prospect qualified?”
Jim answered “Yes” with total confidence. The next day, however, he learned that a competitor had gotten the deal – because of a very recent change in his contact’s buying priorities. Jim hadn’t picked up on this change.
During his debrief with his sales manager, Jim asked, “What do you think I could have done differently?”
His sales manager thought for a moment and said, “Well -- did you confirm all your information with your contacts before you agreed to make your presentation?”
Jim shook his head. He hadn’t confirmed anything … on a deal he’d been working on for more than a quarter!
THREE BIG QUESTIONS … AND SOME DUE DILIGENCE
There are three big questions you have to be able to answer in the affirmative when it comes to qualifying a sales prospect. They are:
- Is there sufficient pain (meaning an emotionally strong gap between what is expected and what is being experienced) to justify continuing the discussion about working together?
- Is there a budget in place to close the gap and relieve the pain?
- And is the prospect’s decision-making process clear and above board – in other words, do you, the salesperson, know who you need to talk to and exactly what needs to happen in order for you to hear a “yes” answer?
Once you have answered these questions, though, your job is not done. You must still perform some “due diligence” before you present. Assuming you have identified the prospect’s decision-making process, you’ll know how many hurdles you’ll have to clear and how many hoops you’ll have to jump through in order to be in a position to obtain a buying decision. Then, based on the amount of time, resources, and energy required to navigate the process and interact with the people involved, you can make a strategic decision about whether pursuing this opportunity is really worth the investment. If the investments are not commensurate with the potential rewards of the sale or the probability of closing it, abandoning the opportunity and seeking alternate ones may be the best course of action.
And guess what? If you decide it does make sense to proceed, you’re still not yet ready to present!
Once you have discovered the prospect’s decision-making process and decided you should try to move forward, you must briefly review the pain and budget information you previously discovered … and also summarize what you know about the decision process.
You must obtain the prospect’s confirmation of your summary in all three of these areas. That’s an important part of “due diligence,” too, and it’s especially critical in longer sales cycles.
Here's an example of what that summary might sound like:
“Joanne, I’d like to make sure that we are both still on the same page. In our first meeting, you described the three things you wanted to accomplish: One, restructure the processes for your (X) projects; two, replace the existing (Y) inventory; and three, rebuild the (Z) platform for your team. You also said that you’re able to commit $ (X) to the project. Has anything changed? (Wait for a response.) Okay. And today you told me that you want to have the decision made by the end of this month, that you and Bill will be making it, and that to do so you would need to see (A), (B), and (C) from our side. Is that an accurate description of how we got to where we are today? Have I missed anything?”
FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED
If anything has changed since your earlier discussions, you need to find out what it is -- before you begin putting together a presentation. (This is where Jim made his big mistake.) If something has changed, something that would materially impact your ability to deliver a good-fit solution, you need to deal with it immediately. In this selling situation, forewarned is definitely forearmed!
In Jim’s case, if he had confirmed his information just a few days earlier, before his competitor reached his contact, he could have revised his proposal, kept pace with the changing requirements of his prospect, and closed the sale. The moral here is a twofold one: First, qualify your prospects carefully and make sure this opportunity makes strategic sense to pursue. Second, perform “due diligence” by taking the time to make absolutely sure you and your prospect are still on the same page. Summarize and confirm all your key assumptions … before you agree to make a presentation.