Is the process of qualifying leads, preached by every sales manager since the dawn of time, still appropriate in the highly fragmented, highly competitive B2E space? Are there enough fish in our pipelines to justify throwing some of them back? Today we’ll look at a qualifying technique that in itself will result in more qualified leads.
When a sales manager wants a rep to qualify prospects, they usually mean they want the rep to make sure a lead is one worth spending time on. This is a good sales practice, generally speaking. If you are selling let’s say windows to home owners, you are probably targeting a certain age of home and a certain income level of home owner. You knock on that door and see if you can be of service any time soon. Some percentage of those homeowners will let you in, introduce you to the wife and let you give them your pitch at the kitchen table. He’s qualified. This is the guy that gets your three follow up phone calls. The guy that says, “Leave a quote in my mailbox,” without ever opening his screen door is a lead, but not a qualified lead. He gets a less aggressive follow up treatment.
Sales managers are very fond of qualifying prospects so you don’t waste your time in the wrong places. I’m somewhat in that camp, but I think qualifying can be an easy out sometimes. Good sales reps seem to turn up far more qualified leads than others. How can this be? Officially when qualifying we are sorting out prospects that have the compelling need, funds, and consensus to buy. The law of averages should leave all your reps with an equal distribution of wheat and chaff in their stack of leads. Do some reps simply have a more target-rich territory? Are they simply slower to cut bait? Or do they have a secret way to turn a less interested lead into a qualified prospect no matter what the circumstance? Hmm…
B2E reps, if you begin working a sales conversation with traditional qualifying questions, you are signaling your motivation is to place a product with pre-defined benefits in their school.
- Are you currently in the market for science supplies?
- Do you plan to purchase supplemental reading materials this semester?
- Are you happy with your current LMS?
These sound easy to answer in the negative, don’t they? Making qualifying about what kind of customer is right for your product makes it about you. Making your qualifying questions about what kind of solutions are right for the customer makes it about them. Think of qualifying as a process by which you are matching the macro goals of a school or school system, with the micro or more specific benefits of your product or service. We do this by asking good questions and listening carefully to the customer’s needs. Use my “Tell Me” method to get your client talking openly about their goals.
- Tell me about the district’s move away from textbooks.
- Tell me how parents feel about communications with their teachers.
- Tell me what’s on your plate in instructional technology this year.
Now find out why they agreed to talk. I have a good sales friend that used to always ask prospects, “Why am I here?” In other words, where does it hurt? Why did you think my product could fix it? This could be rephrased:
- Tell me what caught your interest about our solution?
- Tell me how you learned about our product?
- Tell me what you hope you’re about to learn about our offering?
After listening to a prospect address these two lines of inquiry, you should have a clear path to defining how your solution is a micro component of one or more macro goals of the prospect. Rather than pre-emptively deciding they don’t have the time, money, hardware, interest or product gap that makes them just right to put through the sales process, work hard to figure out a way that they are. Instead of qualifying the prospect OUT of your pipeline, qualify them IN.
It’s still a smart practice to narrow your marketing and prospecting focus down to the kind of schools that are a more obvious fit for your product, but many products purpose-built for education are viable for a huge segment of the K-12 market. So be careful that your qualifying process doesn’t systematically walk you and the prospect through the process of deciding you’re not a fit.