Qualifying can help us no matter what our task. Whether you’re trying to convince your girlfriend to go camping or you’re trying to negotiate that million dollar deal, you can save a whole lot of time — and therefore massively increase your ability to persuade — by first qualifying your prospects.
In sales, qualifying is simply evaluating whether a customer is able to buy your product. Whether they need it. Whether they can afford it.
The more time you waste pitching unqualified prospects, the less time you have to close clients who are qualified. The faster and more accurate your qualifying, the more sales you can make.
Qualifying applies to a lot more than sales.
The key that opens the door to qualifying is to understand what a prospect is. We call potential customers prospects. In our camping scenario, your girlfriend is a prospect. Anyone who you want to persuade is a prospect.
We use the term prospect just as we prospect for gold. A prospector mines for gold, separating gold from the dirt. Water washes away dirt and rock until only gold is left.
What prospectors don’t do is turn dirt into gold. Yet this is how most people treat their prospects. If only everyone could be the person we want them to be.
We want to control the way others behave. We want to turn people who can’t afford our products into buyers. We want to turn our girlfriend into a hotter Bear Grylls. We want bad employees to become great employees.
Sometimes we can.
We can become better at persuasion, better motivators. We can even close people that don’t need our product…sometimes.
The problem is that this is way more work than just grabbing the people who are already on board. Even if we are the amazing at what we do, there are still going to be a whole lot of people that just won’t buy. People hesitate. Something holds them back. These are the people who are keeping you from what you want.
You are surrounded by people who cannot see the same future that you see, no matter how obvious that future may be to you.
It doesn’t matter if you can solve their problems. It doesn’t matter if you can make them rich. It doesn’t matter what you say or do, they aren’t coming with you.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t turn the dirt into gold. Our business then is to get rid of everything that isn’t gold, as fast as we can.
One of the problems we have in life is too many options. There’s an unlimited number of choices. We fall into the trap of choosing from just what’s in front of us, and therefore miss out on opportunities that are much better but not as obvious.
The concept of qualifying is a mental shortcut. We can remove broad categories of options from our lives very quickly. We can use qualifying to determine whether anything is right for us.
So how do we qualify prospects?
1. Don’t prospect where there is no gold.
Want to make your life a lot easier? Sell to rich people. Detroit is falling apart. Ferrari is doing great. Ferrari is making more than 60 grand on every car they sell. Why? They sell to rich people.
You want a great job that pays well? Work in an industry, a city, and a company that is growing.
Stop trying to be the very best of the losers. You want to be a mediocre winner. An average player in an easy game.
Every opportunity in front of you has to be qualified. If you start out with bad prospects, if you look for gold where there is none, no matter how much dirt you wash away, there won’t be any gold left in your pan. You will work harder for no pay off.
Ask yourself: are the people who are doing what I’m doing extremely successful on average? We like to think we’re superstars who can control everything, but often we’re not.
Ask yourself: is this group of people the best group to be talking to about my offer? If not, find the ones who are.
2. Qualify people by their actions first, language second.
I’ve been burned by this time and time again. I’m guessing some of you have, too.
When we invest a lot of ourselves in a deal, we want things to work out. It’s easy to convince us that things will be better next time. The check is coming. They won’t drop the ball next time. We are more easily persuaded by promises precisely when we should ignore them.
Don’t do business with people who can’t deliver. They only keep you from getting to the people who can deliver. Much like paying too much, if we hold people to higher standards of behavior, we eliminate so many problems in our lives and in our business.
You sell Ferraris. A prospect pulls in driving a Lambo. Is he qualified? Yes, he owns a Lambo. Action instantly qualifies him.
Do business with your prior clients. Those that bought in the past are way more likely to buy than some new potential customer. Previous actions are the best predictor of future behavior. If you put your effort into existing customers, generally you get more results than starting from scratch. They’ve taken the action to prove they are qualified.
3. Qualify prospects before the stakes are high.
Test people with small tasks before you depend on them for larger ones.
You need to hire a programmer? Having them write you some example code on the spot is more valuable than any interview or resume.
A girl blows you off for a date? Next.
People that don’t deliver on small tasks won’t deliver on larger tasks.
The company that makes you share desks isn’t going to rapidly promote you, pay you at the top end of the market, or retain your services for long. True story from my life.
4. Recognize that we already judge people poorly.
While we’re determining whom to spend our time with, to work with, and to date, we’re already making judgements about who they are.
Most people’s actions are largely dictated by their circumstances. We recognize when our own actions are dictated by circumstances, so we don’t blame ourselves as harshly for mistakes. When other people make mistakes, we can’t see all the circumstances that lead to that mistake, and therefore we attribute that mistake to their personality. This is the fundamental attribution error.
So when we’re qualifying people it’s important to recognize this. We shouldn’t judge people too harshly when we can’t persuade them or when they aren’t qualified. It’s easy to become frustrated or angry when they don’t behave in a way we expect.
Often they are held back by circumstances or they aren’t really the decision maker. Persuasion can’t change their circumstances; only by addressing the actual problem can we move forward.
5. If they aren’t the decision maker, they aren’t qualified.
There’s no point in persuading someone who isn’t the decision maker.
This is tricky. Often the decision maker isn’t the one in power. Even if you’re dealing with the person who writes the check or takes the action, this person may totally rely on the opinion of someone else.
“I gotta talk to the wife.”
Usually this is just a way to stall. It means the same as, “I gotta think about it.” This should translate in your mind as, “I’m not totally sold on this idea.” Perhaps your case is either weak logically or you haven’t persuaded them on an emotional level, so circle back and try again. The wife isn’t going to be mad because they did something fantastic. Make your offer fantastic and the wife isn’t a problem.
However, every once in a while, “I gotta talk to the wife/boss/whomever” really means you’re not dealing with the decision maker. In this case, the person isn’t qualified.
Your elegant pitch, carefully prepared to address the prospect’s objections, will be butchered because it’s conveyed second hand to the real decision maker…who comes with a different set of objections than what you prepared your pitch to address.
Your vision for the future will be blurred as it’s passed along to the real decision maker.
Get the decision maker. Call the wife right now. Set a meeting with the boss. Don’t waste your time with the person who really is not the decision maker.
Other times your decision maker is in the room and you don’t know it. I’ve been that decision maker…often the guy sitting in the corner no one is concerned with. The expert whose opinion matters most in the decision may be the punk kid in sandals. You can only discover who the real decision maker is by being thorough in your qualifying.
6. Pitching unqualified people gives you bad data and discourages your fragile ego.
When we deliver the perfect pitch to someone who isn’t qualified, we get data that suggests our pitch isn’t perfect.
We can’t create that perfect message if we don’t have good data. We can only collect good data on the subset of people who are capable and willing to be persuaded.
If you’re constantly mining for gold where there is none, you’ll begin to believe that there’s something wrong with your mining technique or that you’re just bad at it. You have to mine for gold where gold exists so that you can dial that technique against reliable data.
Getting “no” after “no” kills your tone, your delivery, and your confidence. You must protect yourself from constant rejection by finding the people who have a possibility of saying “yes” before you even pitch them.
The mechanics of qualifying
To borrow from Jordan Belfort: Qualifying is collecting intelligence while establishing rapport. We establish rapport mostly by demonstrating that we know what we’re talking about. Building rapport is well beyond the scope of this post, so we’ll focus on gathering intelligence.
Assuming we know nothing about this person, we start with broad questions.
- How long have you been looking to…?
- What brings you in here today?
- Oh, you like Dostoevsky?
These types of questions give us a general feel for whether this person is motivated. Are they interested in our product, deal, or vision for the future? Do they have a problem that needs solved? How urgent is this problem? Is the lady we can’t stop staring at while at the bookstore generally interested in the shape and tone of our pecs?
As we gather more information, we are then able to narrow our questioning to gather more specific data. As our rapport grows we are able to get away with asking more personal or probing questions…assuming we can deliver in the right tone (the no big deal tone).
- How much do you have in the market right now?
- How liquid is your portfolio?
- Are you still making payments on your current car?
- You want to grab some coffee?
Once we’ve establish that the prospect is interested in our offering, we can then gather data which we will use to build our case.
- What don’t you like about your current…supplier/car/boyfriend?
- What would you change about your current…?
- Is there anything that has held you back from…?
Now, based on this intelligence, you can deliver your pitch that addresses their specific needs and desires. If your product or service doesn’t meet those needs, you can move on without wasting time trying to persuade someone who is unqualified.
Their old car gets terrible mileage and they hate buying all that gas? Great! You can tell them about the Prius instead of showing them a Mustang.
You want to date a dude that watches chick flicks? Let me tell you about my friend Lance, because I’m not the guy for you.
Obviously there is a lot of nuance to the delivery, but that’s it. We determine if this is the right deal for us, or we move on.
Don’t be consumed by unqualified prospects.
What we get in return for this effort is more opportunity to spend time with those who will help us to get where we want to be because we aren’t wasting our lives on people who will hold us back.
Always be qualifying.
Image courtesy fotnmc.
Tell me about a time when you qualifying someone would have or did save you some headache.