This article is based on one of the episodes of my podcast, The Liston.io Show. Click on the play button if you want to listen.
“How do I not waste my time with prospects who aren’t a fit?”
The best way to do this is by qualifying them.
That’s why I’ll tell you exactly how to qualify prospective clients, so you’re not wasting your time with the wrong people.
There’s great news about this, too: qualification doesn’t need to be complicated.
It’s all about filtering before you get on the phone, doing some research, and asking good questions when you finally speak to your prospective client.
What You’ll Learn In This Article
- The Problem Behind Qualifying Prospective Clients
- IBM’S BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timeline) Opportunity Criteria And What’s Missing
- Why Priority Is More Important Than Budget
- Understanding A Prospect’s Decision Process
- The Four Most Effective Ways To Qualify When You Have A Lot Of Leads
The Problem Behind Qualifying Prospective Clients
So…how do you qualify people to see whether they’re a fit to work with you?
Well, being a consultant means you have to spend your time with people to see if you can help them. And the better you are at your personal branding and lead generation, the more likely you are to have lots of people eager to talk to you.
But while some of these people might have a genuine interest in your services, some won’t be a fit to work with you.
So, how do you qualify prospective clients, so you only talk to people who are most interested in your services?
- Have a clear idea of who your ideal client is
- Qualify on observable criteria so you can filter effectively
- Who’s Your Ideal Client?
Can you answer this question?
In my case, I reach independent consultants or small consulting companies and agencies.
Because, typically, CEOs of these companies want to build a repeatable process to generate sales, and they want the skills to make conversations easier and more productive. I can help them.
If someone comes to me and asks for help with operations, they’re not a fit even if they fit the profile I’m after. Still, I’ll keep in touch with them in other ways so I can nurture the relationship, but they’re not a fit to work together right now.
- Are The Ideal Client Characteristics You Chose Observable?
It’s not enough to choose an ideal client (yes, the plot thickens).
We all want clients who can pay our bills on time, are a joy to work with, and appreciate the work we do. That’s a given. But there’s no way to observe these characteristics from the outside.
Choosing a combination of observable and revealed characteristics helps you pre-qualify prospective clients before you ever spend time with them one-to-one.
Before you get on the phone, you need to have a clear understanding of what makes these clients the right fit. And also, you need to know which factors represent a challenge for you to do business with someone.
And you need to do this early on before you waste anyone’s time (theirs or yours).
IBM’S BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timeline) Opportunity Criteria And What’s Missing
In the 1950s, IBM created a qualification rubric called BANT (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timeline). In creating BANT, they created a qualification process that’s the most famous and widely used in the basis for most qualification systems.
What this template asks is simple:
- Does your prospect have the budget?
- Is your prospect the one with enough authority to make decisions?
- Does this person have a clearly articulated need for what you’re selling?
- Does this person want to buy it on a timeline that’s suitable for both of you, and worth actively pursuing the opportunity now?
Even though I love this model, I put my own spin on it. The biggest addition is your prospective client’s goals.
Goals are very closely related to the need, but rather than asking them what they need; I ask them what they want to achieve.
In this way, I’m like a doctor that helps them articulate their desired outcome and diagnose their problem rather than simply giving them the medicine they think they need.
Why Priority Is More Important Than Budget
I was recently reading an article by Jacco Van Der Kooij on Saleshacker.com about the BANT model, and one of the things he mentions is that, in his opinion, priority is more important than budget.
The reason is simple: if you’re selling into the enterprise, they’re always going to have the budget. They’re almost always going to have the funds to try something new, including your consulting services.
The question here is: have they prioritized completing that goal?
And be careful around this because it’s easy for us to assume that our clients don’t have the budget when we’re misinterpreting that the problem is that our service is not their top priority.
(NOTE: If you’re not selling to large companies, this advice largely doesn’t apply. You’ll still need to determine their budget.)
Understanding A Prospect’s Decision Process
If you’re like me and sell your consulting services only to decision-makers and business owners, the authority part shouldn’t be a problem. However, even when talking to the people who call the shots, you need to understand how they reach a decision.
Often they have a committee or multiple stakeholders that contribute to a joint decision, even though there’s a lead decision-maker.
If you can be part of the decision process, you have a better shot at helping your clients decide in your favor.
The Four Most Effective Ways To Qualify Prospective Clients
I know I’ve thrown a lot at you this article, and you might be wondering what the most effective ways of qualifying are. Fear not, I have answers for you.
- Ask People To Fill Out A Quick Form Or Survey Before The First Or Second Phone Call
Making it more difficult to speak to you or someone on your team will always result in fewer leads. If you’re getting too many leads, and especially too many of the wrong kinds of leads, make it more difficult by adding a form or survey.
You can see mine here:
- Do A 15-Minute, Pre-Discovery Call
If you have a long sales process, consider adding a quick 15-minute pre-discovery call to learn a bit about the person and what’s going on with them.
During that 15-minute call, you have to ask the basic questions that are associated with whether or not someone is qualified. During this call, you’d often speak about high-level problems and goals only. Leave the details for a follow-up conversation.
- Do Some Research On Your Leads
Before you ever get on the phone, do some research on your prospect. Go to LinkedIn, check their website, Google them, read their articles. Spend no more than 10 minutes looking up this person, who they are, what they do, and what they’ve been trying to accomplish.
- Ask Them: “How Would You Know If It’s Working”
Challenge your prospects to come up with a concrete way of the outcome of your project. If they can’t tell you, how will they achieve success? Don’t accept a response like “I’ll know it when I see it” because that’s a recipe for disaster.
If they can’t articulate success criteria, try to help them, but if that goes nowhere, they’re not ready to progress through your sales cycle, and they’re disqualified.
Last Words And Key Takeaways
To put your qualification process in place, I recommend you start with a clear idea of who your ideal client is. Try to sniff those things out as quickly as possible.
To do so, start with tools like the BANT process, or something similar, while also uncovering your prospect’s goals and priorities early on.
This is an essential step in building a working sales process.
If you want to avoid getting on the phone with unqualified leads (and who doesn’t?!?), pre-qualify them with a survey, a quick phone call, or a few well-placed questions.
- Lead every conversation to make it as productive as possible
- Every prospect’s decision-making process is different, make sure you understand it
- Have clear criteria for who your ideal client is, and why
- Research your prospects before you talk to them