Qualifying the prospect is a huge step toward completion of the sales pipeline. At this point in the sales process, you have to make a critical decision: Is the information received in the qualification good enough to continue the relationship or is it time to disqualify the prospect?
There are only three outcomes of a completed qualification. One, the prospect is qualified fully and can move to the next pipeline step. Two, the prospect needs work to qualify, but the opportunity is worth monitoring over the long term. Three, the prospect is not worth keeping around at all.
In thinking back over 20 years of my sales career I’ve met only five kinds of people whose behaviors lead me to believe I should disqualify them as prospects forever. You may have run across them in your work as well. If you sense that your prospect falls into one of the following five categories, you would be smart to walk away before investing any more time in the opportunity.
1) The Shopper
You learn that the prospect is considering two well-known competitors with whom they have a long, successful buying history. You are the last one into the process and the prospect cannot tell you clearly why she would consider an alternative, nor is she willing to allow direct communication with the decision maker. This is a sign she is using you to compare pricing and features.
2) The Snail
A time frame and a budget cannot be established. The prospect is telling you that someday in the future there might be a reason to go forward but nothing can ever be set in stone. Deadlines come and go. This is a sign that while he might be interested there is no urgency. After six months of following up with a prospect, I once had a sales VP say to me, “You know, Colleen, I’m retiring this year and don’t want the expense to hit my budget and reduce my bonus. This project can be my successor’s project!” Some projects are just not ready to be pushed forward.
3) The Hide-and-Seeker
You can’t meet with the decision maker. If you are being prevented from meeting the buyer, this is unequivocal proof that you cannot win the business. A software executive I work with is assertive in this qualification step and states to his prospect, “In order for us to move forward I will need to meet with [name of the buyer].” If the prospect says no, or stalls, he continues, “I’m sorry then, we can’t go forward.” This is a non-negotiable item for the seller. Notice that his position is a statement, not a question, which positions him as a peer, not a subordinate. Subordinates beg to speak to the decision maker; peers tell gatekeepers how the process works. In this example, our seller is successful in getting to the buyer 75% of the time. The other 25% he drops the buyer and focuses his time on the buyers who are serious about doing business with him.
4) The Stacked Deck
The decision criteria are obviously set up for the competition. A number of years ago, an American-based prospect of mine listed as his number one and non-negotiable criteria that the software had to be made in the United States. This was a deal breaker for us because the company I was selling for at the time was based in Canada. Buying something locally made in the United States was more important to the prospect than the best fit. At this point it was better to disqualify the prospect and move on. Why waste time with a prospect who will never buy?
5) The Criminal
The prospect displays signs of unethical, illegal, or subversive behavior. A client of ours was recently asked if her daughter was single during the sales process. She took this as a sign that she should move on! Another business services client (and a Fortune 100 company) recently took a call from a client who had no website, no listing in the phone book, no credit history, and asked if he could pay cash on delivery. Yet another was asked for courtside tickets to a Los Angeles Lakers game before the decision was to be made. Best to walk away.
Editor's note: This post is an excerpt from Colleen Francis' new book Nonstop Sales Boom, and is republished here with permission.
Originally published Jan 9, 2015 8:30:00 AM, updated June 15 2021