Don Quijote by Honoré Daumier (1868)
Emerging salespeople typically believe that all business is good business, and to an extent, I can understand this viewpoint. If you are trying to make a name for yourself, being put under pressure by your sales manager to get "runs on the board" and earn the respect of the more experienced and successful members of the team, it is difficult to walk away from any opportunity if you believe you have the remotest chance of winning it.
However, it is essential that more seasoned professionals fully understand both the value and importance of rigorous objective qualification, not just at the front end but right the way through the sales cycle -especially now.
Qualification is a process not a single event and even internal and reactive salespeople should be fully skilled in asking a small number of basic questions regarding precise requirements, time scales, budget, competition etc, before they are prepared to reveal their price and delivery.
As the value of the product, service or solution increases, the depth of the qualification should increase proportionally.
External salespeople have the opportunity to meet with prospective customers and it is far easier to extract information face to face than it is via the telephone, however, it is vital that some initial answers are elicited prior the that first exploratory meeting, in order to ensure that the meeting will be worthwhile for both parties.
With sales costs spiralling upwards and sales time becoming limited, prudence is required on the part of the salesperson.
During that first meeting, a considerable amount of detail can and should be uncovered e.g. background and history of the company, the key individuals, the composition of the DMU (Decision Making Unit) if there is one, timescales, budget, competition, current suppliers, buying criteria etc.
Only by rigorous questioning will the salesperson be able to answer the following questions when they get back to the office: Is there a requirement/need that my company can satisfy? Is it winnable? Do I want it?
The very best sales professionals will not pursue the opportunity, after proper objective analysis, if the answer to any of those questions is "No". They will rather invest their precious selling time seeking out and closing opportunities that will provide a profitable return on that investment.
At the very highest selling levels i.e. strategic "big-ticket" selling and marketing, clearly, the sales cycle is much more protracted, complex and typically moves through four stages i.e.
- Rigorous oportunity assessment
- Develop a strategy
- Present the solution and re-assess the opportunity
- Gain formal commitment, sign the order and develop
Having a tilt at every windmill that presents itself, is neither practical nor profitable - it wasn't for Don Quixote and it will not be for you. Qualification, is a core competency that every professional salesperson should take on board as quickly as possible.
Working to the maxim that "All business is good business" is unrealistic and totally erroneous. It takes just as long to work an unprofitable opportunity through the pipeline only to lose it at the death, as it does a profitable one - the ability to determine which is which, can have a huge impact on your ultimate success in a front-line sales role.
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