This is an excerpt from my second book, Managing the Sales Process, available on Amazon.com. You can find a series of these excerpts in a dedicated blog category to get a broad overview, post-by-post, of the book (they are listed in reverse order in the category, so start with the oldest).

From Chapter 2 – The Right Skills: Qualification

Qualifying is a high-resistance activity. It should be a “do not pass go” kind of a step in the sales process, and the best salespeople take it very seriously. Imagine that you are paid 100% on commission from your sales (which is true if you are the owner of your own business!). People who succeed in this kind of compensation environment tend to be VERY protective of their time. Every hour they spend on unproductive activity (like selling to unqualified prospects) is time that they are NOT spending in the pursuit of compensation.

For these people, the healthiest way to look at this step in the sales process is one of DIS-qualification. The question in their mind is “why should I bother spending time with this person.” They won’t move forward until they are sure that it is worthwhile. This does not mean that a successful salesperson should be rude or unpleasant during this (or any other) step of the sales relationship. However, there is a certain toughness about great salespeople. They just won’t engage until they know that they are talking with someone who can and probably will take action

So how can you tell if a prospective salesperson understands this? You can try two things ─ the direct and the indirect approach.

In the direct approach, you ask the salesperson to describe qualifying prospects in the past and ask what criteria were used. Again, you want to hear specifics. Anyone can regurgitate or even make up theory, so ask for examples. Ask about times it worked and times it didn’t. Ask about times that it did not work and what happened, then ask how that person moved forward without qualifying properly.

Even most great salespeople have slipped on qualifying at some time. If you do enough deals, most everything happens at least a few times. Listen for stories that seem genuine and that show some humility and learning. It is better to have a salesperson who learned this lesson the hard way while working for someone else and who has the confidence to admit it and is ready to move forward with the lesson learned.

In the indirect approach, use the Stephen Covey tactic and begin with the end in mind. When a prospect is not qualified, the lack of qualification usually results in a lost proposal. So ask your prospective salesperson to describe some proposals that were made and rejected and to tell you why. If the reasons include things that could have been caught in qualification, explore the reasons for that. For instance:

  • The people they were talking to were not the decision-makers
  • The product was too expensive for them
  • They did not have the budget
  • It was not the right time to move forward
  • They got the proposal and decided that they were not interested
  • The problems that were being solved by the product or service outlined in the proposal did not really need to be fixed.

If you get answers like this, ask why these things were not discovered in qualification. Let the candidate describe several failed proposals before you ask this question. If these reasons come up a lot, absent good reasons, qualification has not been a fundamental part of the candidate’s sales process in the past. You should wonder if it will be in the future or not!

If the answers you get tend to relate to a more complex element of the buying process, a competitor’s offer, or the specific offer and the degree to which it matched the need of the client, the sales problem is more likely in the needs analysis than in the qualification.

How to detect qualification problems with your current salespeople will be discussed in the next chapter.

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Authors note (AKA shameless plugs)

So, this 7-step sales process and associated topics…. Yup, I write about that a lot. I’ve been working with it since I developed it about 25 years ago – in my own diverse work experiences, with my teams when I had them, and with clients ever since.

If you would like to develop you own personalized and customized, highly effective and efficient B2B selling system, here are some further steps you can take:

The Salesman’s Guide to Dating is a free or very cheap (depending on Amazon) Kindle book that walks you through the sales process using the familiar analogy of dating. It’s a good, fun and quick way to get your mind around the whole process and how the pieces fit together.

Building Your Sales Process (BYSP) is a free and very thorough exploration of the same 7-step process that will walk you through the development of your own customized, personal B2B selling system. When you are done, you will know exactly what to do to get new business.

The Momentum Selling System® is an inexpensive but very robust online sales training course that is similar to BYSP, but goes deeper into the concepts behind each of the steps, and also helps you develop a plan not only for the 7-step process but also addresses mindset, repeat business and client base management.

If none of that sounds right, I do personal coaching and offer a free 30-minute intake session so that we can both learn if it makes sense to work together 1-on-1. If this sounds interesting, click over to the coaching page on this site and sign up for the free session.

Here’s to your success!

-David