Why do some people seem to get all the best deals? The conventional answers:
- They call more people (it’s a numbers game!);
- They’re taller (yes, we generally do like and pay taller people more than shorter people);
- They’re charmers and really handsome (also a factor in sales success…but certainly not critical);
- They come from money (rarely – the hungrier the better);
- They don’t sleep and work all the time (if that’s the case then I just feel sorry for them because they’re likely wasting life doing useless things. Read this blog to reassure you that being a slave to the office doesn’t mean you’ll get ahead.); and
- They were born into a connected family (connecting is very important, but they’re easily burned if you’re a jerk).
You all know how much I don’t care for conventional thinking, especially when there’s nothing to back it up. And the above list is just that: easy explanations based on faulty logic and predictable platitudes.
The secret sauce to creaming the competitors
Just like the bottom 20 percent of sales people, the top 20 percent understand that we don’t have more than 24 hours in a day. They also understand something that is so trite, but often overlooked: you cannot close uninterested and unqualified prospects who do not need or want your service, product etc. This is true even if you’re charming, good looking, well connected etc etc. So, what do the top 20 do differently? They spend more time dis-qualifying leads than frantically calling anyone and everyone hoping that someone says okay to a meeting (www.MrInsideSales.com).
The Misused Pipeline versus the Inverted Funnel
Top performers are protective about who goes into their pipeline. Not everyone makes the cut. This discriminating approach makes a top performer’s pipeline look more like an inverted funnel with fewer qualified and vetted leads going in one end and a higher number of those leads closing on the other. Compare this with the pipeline of the bottom 80 (i.e. the typical way we think of sales and leads): a cylinder that crams everyone and anyone in, but only leads to pipe dreams.
Warning: It’s Tough to Disqualify!
Being critical of who to work with and the willingness to nix a lead is tough because you have to ask a lot of questions. To avoid coming off as abrasive and nosey, you must have genuine interest in helping the person on the phone. And to help them, you have to understand what they need, the resources they have to solve the need, how long it’ll take to make a decision and if they’re facing any sort of time pressure.
The following six questions are helpful in starting your investigation process, but are not exhaustive. Use these questions to start the conversation, but never read this verbatim or you’ll sound like you’re part of an illicit boiler room:
- Who is being affected by X PROBLEM? If you don’t solve this problem, what will happen?
- Who’s involved in making the final decision? What’s the company’s process to making the decision?
- Has the lead sought out any solutions to the X PROBLEM? Have they contacted other companies as part of the solution process? What other solutions would they be considering considering?
- What’s the budget – both with respect to “hard dollars” and human resources?
- Who will benefit from solving the X PROBLEM (e.g. job promotion??)?
- What are some reasons they wouldn’t buy?
If you’re anxious to ask these questions, start be being honest. Tell the prospect that you’re going to ask a few questions to determine whether or not you’re the right solution for them or if there’s someone or something that could better serve their needs. Your invasiveness is simply the best way to avoid wasting their time and determining if you can help them.
I’ve asked the questions, now what?
The way the prospect responds is critical as to whether or not they fall on your “disqualified list”. Look for these clues which signal that you’re likely wasting your and the lead’s time:
- If they are vague, they’re not interested and the problem isn’t a priority.
- If you can’t get hold of the decision maker or they’re taking forever to respond, disqualify them. The prospect isn’t serious and may just be shopping.
- If the prospect subsequently follows up with several dinner, lunch and cocktail requests to “discuss” your offering, disqualify them. They’re leading you on and taking you for an expensive ride. Ladies, you’re especially vulnerable to this as some men are interested in offerings wholly unrelated to the product or service you’re selling. If you feel bad turning down the prospect, don’t. Because the prospect is not interested in “hiring” – he’s only interested what he can get for free.
- If the prospect’s decision criteria automatically bars you, first determine if the criteria is a preference or a requirement. Then present the benefits to making an exception. Finally, if they still say “NO” get over it and move on. For example, if a company’s mandate is that all products purchased by the company must be Canadian made and all of your products are made in China, you might want to move on. Of course, give up only if you’ve first asked about the flexibility of the requirement and explained the benefits of buying from China (e.g. cheaper, faster etc).
The takeaway is simple: work to disqualify people, not qualify. If you’re not careful you’ll be too distracted by false leads to help those who actually need and want your services.
To put it another way: would you intentionally waste precious time and resources on an outcome that will make you lose more time and resources? Probably not. So learn the art of disqualification.
And, when in doubt, your business philosophy should be similar to your (okay, my) dating philosophy: it’s better to be patient and find the appropriate partner, rather than squander your best years and dollars on loads of garbage.