BOCA RATON, FL - Don’t want your salespeople to waste their valuable time? Then you need to qualify your opportunities, said Wendell Bedell, president and coo of Excellence Alliance University, Nashua, NH, in a training session called “Qualifying Sales Opportunities” at Excellence Alliance Inc.’s National Executive Meeting here.

Bedell noted that qualification of prospects determines their eligibility as customers. The contractor’s sales force studies the pros-pect’s needs and opportunities to see whether they really are potential customers who will generate a profit for your business. This allows salespeople to maximize their time and get only legitimate customers into the sales funnel.

Explaining the sales funnel concept, he said that when a company generates sales leads, they go into the top of the funnel. Qualifying the leads then filters out those who aren’t serious buyers, thinning out the number as it goes down the funnel.

The goal: to have only real buyers at the bottom of that funnel.

Questions to Ask

There are several question groups the salesperson should address. The first category is, “Is the opportunity real?”

To narrow the field, questions under this subject include:

  • Does the prospect need the products or services you sell?
  • Does the prospect perceive a need or problem requiring your products or services?
  • Does the prospect have a sincere desire to fulfill this need or solve this problem?
  • Does the prospect have the financial resources to pay for your products or services?
  • Next you need to ask, “Is the opportunity worth it”:
  • Does the sales opportunity support your company’s objectives?
  • Will this prospect’s business be profitable enough to warrant your time?
  • Are there future opportunities, or is this a short-term investment of your time?
  • Finally the salesperson must ask, “Is the opportunity winnable?” Can you compete in the areas of design, performance, pricing, timing, and installation?

    Also, ask: “Is the competition doing a poor job in some aspect of their delivery? Is the competition too well entrenched here so that it would take too much to try to win this sale?”

    To gain the specifics you need to qualify a prospect, Bedell said you need to ask probing questions. These questions will identify the prospect’s problems or goals, and they will enable you to gather information since the customer does the talking.

    Probing For Dollars

    “You use probes to identify key information needed to qualify and move the sale forward,” he stated. This includes:

  • The scope of the work and price range;
  • When it’s needed;
  • Who is serving the prospect now, and for how long;
  • What it will take for the prospect to make a change; and
  • What criteria the prospect will base the buy decision on.
  • Bedell then reviewed a qualification survey, going over typical questions a salesperson would ask the prospect. To determine whether the opportunity is real, the salesperson may ask, “What concerns do you have that caused you to consider replacing or adding heating/air conditioning today?”

    This probe, noted Bedell, is to uncover energy, indoor air quality, or comfort problems that require review, and helps identify if the customer is aware of any need for a new system or system replacement or involvement with another contractor.

    Another probe is, “What is your highest winter bill? Your highest summer bill?” This uncovers information that will help you later close a deal based on operating cost reductions.

    To find out if the opportunity is worth it, the salesperson can ask, “Would you consider a new or replacement system a good investment of your time and money?”

    This question is designed to uncover the customer’s willingness to work with your firm on a system installation. It allows you to explore how to position your offerings (lease, lump sum, etc.). It also helps prevent wasting “valuable resources on those who are only looking for information,” Bedell said.

    To decide if an opportunity is winnable, the salesperson needs to inquire how long the current contractor has been doing the work, and then ask, “Why would you like to make a change at this time?”

    Some people are just “shoppers,” stated Bedell. They may only be looking to get a better price from their current contractor. They may be collecting sales literature for the future. The contractor must qualify all prospects to find the serious buyers.

    Using the “high-gain” probing questions designed for this qualification process, contractors can systematically qualify profitable sales opportunities and spend minimal time with the shoppers.

    Publication date: 12/25/2000