Qualifying Prospects – How much, and how to?

One of the challenges of being a consultant is how to spend your time wisely. Want to be sure not to waste your time, or other people’s time? Find out if they’re a fit or not, quickly.


Full Episode Transcription:

Hello and welcome to another episode of The Liston.io Show. My name is Liston Witherill and I would love to help you build a better consulting business. Now one of the things that I talk about all the time and I know this is only Episode 8 but you’re probably getting the idea is I am focused so much on sales for consultants. And I told you a little bit about why I do this. I told you a little bit about where I come from. And I think it’s really critical to then start to focus on this other big question that I get all the time and that is how do I spend my time most wisely, translation, how do I not waste time with prospects who aren’t a fit.

So this one is really about qualifying. It’s about asking good questions, it’s about maybe doing some research before you ever get on the phone with someone to understand if there’s someone that you can help or not. That is what I’m going to cover on today’s episode of The Liston.io Show. Before I get into that I want to make you aware of a few things that I have going on that I am really really excited about.

And the first is a 60 day sales plan that I have for you specifically to help you get your sales on track, to help you build a process, to help you understand what’s worked and what hasn’t, to help you always know what to do next in your process. Now I know this is a big pain point for a lot of people which is why I put together this free online seminar, you can take it any time, just head over to 60daysalesplan.com. That’s the number six zero, day sales plan, dot com. Sign up for the seminar. It is pre-recorded. If you have any questions though feel free to shoot me a message within the webinar and I will get back to you over email with anything you need help with. I’d be happy to answer.

The second thing I wanted to mention to you is I now have a Facebook group. I’ve been very resistant to creating a Facebook group but I now have one and it’s called Consulting Power Up and all you have to do is go to Facebook and type in consulting power up, it’s a closed group so you just have to request entrance into the group and I will very gladly and happily add you. In there I post videos and content that you may sometimes see on LinkedIn but primarily the main purpose of this group is to help you grow your consulting business, I would call it a companion to this podcast. And I’ll be revealing things there in that private Facebook group that I won’t reveal on LinkedIn simply because maybe it’s going to be longer form and LinkedIn really isn’t a place for me to post a 20 minute video. So for instance right now if you go into that group I have a video that you can watch that details how to get started with LinkedIn video which is something that I get asked all the time. I have a video in there about how I follow up with people and the tools I use. There’s lots of good content in there that’s going to be different than what you’re going to see from me elsewhere. So I recommend checking that out, it’s called Consulting Power Up and it’s a Facebook group.

OK so on to the topic today and that is qualification. Now I’m currently running the first iteration of Consulting Sales Bootcamp and that’s an online learning experience that I’m running for consultants who want to improve and dramatically increase their ability to sell and gain new clients. Now in Consulting Sales Bootcamp I’ve been asked this question several times and the question is “How do I qualify people to understand whether or not they’re a fit to work with me?” So what’s the problem behind that? And I would say the big problem is that you spend time with people to see if you can help them in the sales process. Now the better you are at your lead generation, the better you are at your marketing, the better you are at your personal branding, the more likely you are to have lots and lots of people anxious to speak with you. Lots of people anxious to potentially work with you. Lots of people really just looking to learn more information about how they can get more involved with you on a professional level. Some of those people may just be attracted to something that you’re saying or doing. Some of those people may have a genuine need or problem that you can solve for them. And what we want to try to do is pick that out.

Now why are you having a hard time qualifying? Well I think there’s two real reasons. Number one is you don’t have a clear idea of who your ideal client is. By ideal client I mean a profile that you can write or say and really clearly communicate this person is perfect to work with me because of X Y and Z. So for example the people that I like to reach are independent consultants or small consulting companies, typically CEOs of small consulting companies and they have been in business for a few years. They probably don’t have a well-documented sales process. They have plenty of leads in place but they want to move beyond the referral and they want a repeatable process so that they’re able to more predictably go through the sales process and reach a yes or a no faster. They want more skills to facilitate these conversations. That’s what my ideal client wants.

So if someone comes to me and says “Can you help me generate leads on LinkedIn?”, I might say “Well I’m working on a course on that but you wouldn’t be a fit for my coaching.” Or if someone came to me and said “Can you help me repackage my services?” That’s not exactly what I do. Maybe I could help them with that but that’s not the primary thing that I solve for people so that’s cause number one is you don’t have a clear idea of who your ideal client is.

Cause number two of why you might be having a hard time qualifying people is that you have a clear idea of who your ideal client is except that you can’t observe those factors externally. I’ll tell you what I mean. I sometimes talk to people and I ask them “Who is your ideal client?” And I hear a response that something like “Well my ideal client is an absolute pleasure to work with and they have the budget to pay me.” OK. I mean obviously right. I totally agree. That’s who I want to work with too. Why is someone a pleasure to work with?. Let’s get more specific on that. So that’s one. The second one is how could you determine if this person is likely to have the budget to work with you or not. Budget’s a tricky one too, I’m going to come to that a little bit more in a second.

But those two factors that I just listed even though you have an ideal client in mind which is they have the budget to work with you and they’re an absolute pleasure to work with, I can’t observe those externally. So there would be no way for me to pre-qualify. So what I would say is that a prerequisite in order to qualify someone before getting on the phone with them is to really have a clear understanding of who that ideal client is. And also you may start to consider which clients have you had a hard time with in the past and why. What factors or characteristics represent a challenge for you to do business with someone and then we want to start to clear those up early on. So let’s get to the meat of this.

You may be wondering now, okay great, I understand the cause. How do I actually qualify. So way way way back when, I believe in the 1950s IBM, that’s right, International Business Machines, that IBM, the one that made Watson, they created this template called BANT, B-A-N-T. And what that stands for is budget authority need and timeline. And so in creating BANT they created this qualification process or template which is probably the most famous and most widely used and the basis for most qualification systems. Basically what it asks is do you have the budget, are you, person I’m speaking to, the one with the authority, do you have a current need for the thing I’m selling and do you want to buy it on a timeline that’s suitable for us to be talking right now. So if they say no to any of those questions we’re going to nurture that person.

The one problem, well actually there are many problems that I see with this, but one big missing piece from this equation is goals. And so the business goals of trying to solve a problem are very closely related to the need. The question that I would ask my prospects though is what are your goals. And from those goals I would make a determination about what their needs actually are. So what’s different about me asking about goals rather than asking the client what do they need is that I the consultant am taking the responsibility on behalf of my client to help them diagnose their current problem and then prescribe a solution. So the way need would work is you would ask someone “Hey you seem sick. What kind of medicine do you want?” And what I’m saying is “Hmm. Is there something wrong with you? Describe to me what’s going on and how you’d like to feel better.” I would also say around the B in BANT, budget. Budget is a very tricky thing.

So I was recently reading an article by a guy named Jacco Van der Kooij. And I really hope Jacco I’m pronouncing your name right. If not, I apologize. But he wrote an article on saleshackerdot.com and it’s linked in the show notes, it’s called BANT and Beyond, Advanced Sales Qualification for SDRs and AEs. And one thing that he points out is that in his opinion priority is more important than budget. So as you get to a certain level in selling your services particularly if you’re selling to larger companies they’re always going to have the budget. They’re almost always going to have funds available to try something new including whatever it is that you’re selling, your consulting services. The question is have they prioritized completing that goal or achieving the goal that you can give them with your consulting services, have they prioritized it enough in order for you to out compete the other things in their budget.

Let me give you a very very obvious example. Some people rent apartments and drive a Mercedes Benz and they spend 1000 or $1500 a month on the lease. Now could they have bought a used Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic and bought a house? Sure, that’s not their priority though. They wanted a nicer car. So when we talk to our prospects it’s easy for us to assume and I would caution you against this but it’s easy for us to assume that they don’t have the budget to work with us when really we’re misinterpreting what’s really going on which is their priorities are not such that our service comes first. So that’s one thing I would think about for you is understanding priorities and the way I get to those priorities are the business goals and then starting to prioritize the business goals. That will get you closer to whether or not this person is qualified to work with you especially are they qualified now.

So I’ve covered the B for budget, I’ve covered the N for need, T for timeline pretty obvious. For me typically I’m looking at a three month time horizon. If someone doesn’t want to get started within three months like now’s probably not the right time for us to talk.

So let’s talk about the A now, authority. Authority is a good one to ask if you’re like me and you’re selling to only the decision maker or a business owner. This really isn’t a question that you need to ask because you’re always talking to the person with authority. A better question though is you could be talking to the authority but they could also be making decisions through committee. They could be making joint decisions that include many different stakeholders and those stakeholders together are going to make the decision. Now why does this matter? Well if you can be part of those stakeholders’ decision process you obviously have a better shot of helping your client make a decision to work with you or not work with you. So understanding that decision process, not just the authority, is really critical. One thing that a lot of people encounter is their potential clients are pushing them around on price. And price a lot of people interpret that as a budget related question but I would like to reframe that conversation to be more about the decision process.

For example if people say “How much is it to work with you?” You may respond by saying “I’d be happy to answer that. Would you mind telling me if price is the most important factor in your decision process?” And if they say no and they almost always will then you’re going to ask “OK. Would you mind telling me a little bit more about how you’re going to make your decision?” So the decision process could involve other people. It could involve other factors. It could involve lots of different things but we want to know what that is when we’re qualifying early on.

OK so I’ve thrown a lot at you and you’re probably wondering what is the most effective way for you to tackle this qualification problem. And I have three answers for you. So number one and these first two only apply if you have a lot of leads and you’re willing to lose a pretty high percentage of them. If you have a problem where you’re on the phone way too much one thing you can do about that is number one ask people to fill out a quick form or survey prior to the first or second phone call.

So let’s go back to the beginning. You have in mind who your ideal client is, you know what characteristics you can observe externally before you ever get on the phone with them and you know what questions you would like to ask them just to be sort of marketing qualified. This looks like my ideal client, if you want to know that feel free to number one send a quick survey or form knowing you’re going to lose some people who won’t fill it out but that’s okay because they probably don’t want to work with you that much anyways.

The second thing you can do is rather than getting on a 30 minute or an hour long phone call right away you could insert a step where you’re only on the phone for say 15 minutes with someone prior to your full discovery session. During that 15 minute call you would be asking the basic questions that are associated with whether or not someone is qualified. Of course you wouldn’t want to dive right into that because that’s rude. That’s all about you, that becomes very one sided right off the bat. What you should do really is focus on kind of their big problems so this N in BANT is for need.

So we want to focus on their goals and their problems and kind of what’s going on. And then maybe ask them some really targeted questions. If you don’t want to lose leads once again you’re not going to send the survey or the form. You can still do a short 15 minute call but you can just go right into your initial call that’ say 30 or 60 minutes and start asking some targeted questions. And what I would challenge you to do is before you ever get on the phone do some research about the person, go to LinkedIn, go to their Web site, Google them, read their articles, spend 10 minutes or so looking up this person, who they are, what they’re trying to accomplish, what they’ve been doing, a little bit about their business. You can learn an incredible amount before you do that but once again back to square one, none of that matters unless you’re clear on who you’d like to work with.

So in terms of questions that you can ask, one of them that I really like to ask is “What are you hoping to achieve with this project?” So I talked about focusing on goals and what I’m trying to do with that question is get people to articulate that better future that they’re after. Once they do that, if they say “Well here’s what I’m trying to achieve with this project” I would always follow up by saying “Great, can you tell me more about how that helps your business?” Now I want to move it up a level. It’s not just about the thing that we’re focused on now. I want a bigger picture of what it is that we’re doing and what it is that we’re working on. I want to know overall how will this thing help and really make a difference and how does that play into the rest of your business. Because of course maybe this isn’t the right place to start.

The second question that I recommend you ask is another simple one. “How will you know if it worked?” What I really want to challenge the person to do is to come up with a concrete plan to measure the work that we’re doing together, to measure the output and if they can’t tell me right now how they’ll know if it worked how in the world are we ever going to achieve success in the project? So don’t ever take this for an answer, “I’ll know it when I see it.” That’s one I’ve heard many times and I promise you it is a recipe for disaster. What you should always do is follow up on that statement with “Well how will you know?” or “Let’s pretend you’re seeing it right now, what do you see?” So if for instance your ideal client is someone who has clarity, someone who knows what their goals are and someone who can communicate clearly and transparently they must by definition be able to answer this question. If they can’t, you can take it upon yourself to help them and you should. But if that goes nowhere I would say they’re disqualified.

So as you can see or hear I think is more like it since this is a podcast after all. As you can hear there are lots of different ways that you can qualify people and I think what really matters is what do you mean by qualification. Do you want to get it to the point where you’re only talking to the people who have the highest chance of working with you and you’re never, I think this is the fantasy of a lot of people, you’re never speaking to anybody who won’t do business with you. My personal feedback on that notion is that it’s a bad idea because you learn quite a bit every time you’re engaged with someone new. What we want to do is over time get more targeted in our lead generation, get better in our research and get more granular and better define who our ideal client is and then when we don’t see that person but they still want to talk to us, we let them know that now might not be the right time for us to talk. And the best way to do that of course is either in a short 15 minute phone call or a survey ahead of time.

If you’re constantly facing budgetary pressure that would be a good question to add to your survey form. “What is your budget and do you have at least X dollars to start this project?” 5000, 10,000, 100,000, a million, whatever it is, whatever you start your projects at. That could be something that you add to the survey form. I would also suggest that looking at company size, number of employees. If you’re working with startups, funding rounds. Are they in Series A B C D. Are they public. These kinds of things also give you some insight as to the likelihood of whether or not someone will have the necessary budget to work with you.

So just to recap. In order to put your qualification process in place what I recommend is really really starting with a clear idea of who your ideal client is and also some characteristics of people you don’t like working with and try to sniff those things out as quickly as possible. I do recommend starting with something that looks like BANT, maybe not exactly BANT, but also uncovering goals and priorities early on is really really critical. And then if you want to avoid getting on the phone with people one thing you can do is ask people to fill out a quick form prior to your phone call and prior to seeing your booking link or insert a short 15 minute call purely to just talk at a very high level. You share what’s on your mind, I’ll tell you a little bit about what it’s like to work with me, we can make a decision if we should continue or not.

That is what I have to say about qualification. If you have any questions for me about any of this please please please do hit me up in the Facebook group, Consulting Power Up. Since you made it to the end of this podcast I would like to ask you for a gigantic favor. Now this podcast is a labor of love and business let’s be honest, I’ll just throw it out there. However I’m trying to give you so much actionable and valuable information. If you found this valuable I would love it and absolutely be flattered if you went to iTunes and left me a review. That will help grow this podcast, get it in front of more people. My mission is to help 10 million consultants just forever change the way that they do business and really help them out in this new and changing economy. And so if you left a review, if you subscribed via iTunes, that would help me on my mission and that would help me get this out to way more people. So please do that if you’re so inclined and share it with anybody you know. Once again my name is Liston Witherill. Thank you so much for listening to The Listion.io Show and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye.