Sales reps have less access and limited time with decision makers since the growth of virtual selling. It’s more critical than ever for sellers to spend their time and resources on the right sales opportunities. But how do we know which sales opportunities are the right ones?
In the first part of this blog series, we examined the key factors in determining whether sellers are pursuing a qualified opportunity – as well as the keys to ensure that sales reps are getting the information they need to determine if they are serving the right customers or chasing the wrong sales opportunity.
The 4 step process, which we began unpacking in Part 1, helps sales reps develop the ability to qualify their opportunities and gain the insights they need to proceed (or not).
Continuing the 4 Step Process to Determine “Is the Opportunity Real?”
The 4 steps are actually 4 questions that sales reps need to get answered in order to uncover if the opportunity is real. We covered Step 1 in the first part of this blog series, so if you need to refresh your memory, click here.
Here, we’ll give you Steps 2, 3, and 4, so you can make sure you are spending your limited time on the opportunities that will put money in your pocket.
Question 2: “Do they have a budget?”
This question is an obvious one, but it’s critical. It needs to be on your list of qualifying questions when determining if an opportunity is real. The question is, “Is there/ what is the budget?”
If your prospect doesn’t have funds set aside, they’ll have to figure out if and/or how to get them and this bogs down the whole process.
But even more important than the obvious question is the approach you can take to get this sensitive, but important information.
Approach #1: Position the question in an Other-Centered way.
We need this information, but we don’t want to upset the customer with a difficult, almost awkward, question.
To accomplish this, share the “why” behind it, your reason for asking that question. Communicate why it is in the customer’s best interest to answer. You could say something like:
“I don’t want to waste your time, Ms. Customer, and go through a great deal of back and forth, only to find out after weeks of working together that we’re not aligned on what you plan to spend on a solution for your problem. So let’s talk about that now.”
The approach sales reps should take in order to uncover this information is to position the money question positively, in a way that benefits the customer. Otherwise, customers will assume sales reps have a self-centered, self-serving motive for asking about budget. They are afraid that if their budget is $10,000, your proposal will be padded to $9,999. They’ll smell commission breath.
At least have a conversation about budget and price upfront so that both buyer and seller can ensure they’re aligned on expectations and the reality of moving forward.
That’s why this question is so important in determining if the opportunity is real.
Note: Pay attention to their reaction to that question. If you’re in a virtual meeting or on the phone and can’t get a good read, ask a follow-up question: “Is that do-able?” Then gauge their response.
Approach #2: Be confident.
The more confident you are in what you sell, the more people will follow you to the solution.
When you sound desperate or too hopeful, you don’t seem like a leader. You seem like a sales rep just looking to close a deal. Real decision makers don’t want to work with sales reps, they want to work with trusted partners, someone who can help them solve their problems.
Your solution has value. Just because the customer’s budget doesn’t match up with the value of your product or service, doesn’t mean you should drop your price. So be confident in the value you offer. If you act like money and budget don’t matter, it could cheapen your solution in the eyes of the customer.
The more bold and confident you are when having these tough conversations, the better you will demonstrate to the decision maker that you are somebody who’s important to deal with. And if you’re not talking to the decision maker, that person will see that this person is worth bringing into the organization, into meetings, and into the inner circle.
Budget is an obvious question to consider when qualifying an opportunity, but these approaches will help sales reps get the information they need to determine if the opportunity is real.
Question 3: “Is there a compelling event?”
This question is probably even more important than budget. Compelling event means that the prospect/ customer has to do it: they have to implement a solution, they have to purchase something. Regardless of whether they have the funds, this is something they have to do.
A compelling event is something that creates urgency (a directive from the CEO or leadership, something changing in the industry or business, etc).
Not having a compelling event doesn’t mean the opportunity is not real. We’ve worked with plenty of clients who didn’t have to implement sales training, but still did because they wanted to. But the compelling event comes into play particularly when there is no budget. If the initiative or need is urgent enough (because of a compelling event) the customer will come up with the funds to invest in the solution.
Approach #1: Ask “What are the top 3-5 priorities in your organization?”
This is a simple question sellers can ask to uncover quality information. Forget what you sell for a moment – find out what’s on the relevant leader’s whiteboard. It could be the head of the company or the head of the division – but whoever that person is, what are the 3-5 things that s/he told their organization were important and needed to get done.
If you can find out that information, it will usually uncover whether or not there is a compelling event. This question about top priorities is non-invasive and non-combative, it’s an Other-Centered way to get the information you need as a seller. Because if what you sell doesn’t align with something on that list, there is not a compelling event. They won’t prioritize your solution.
In addition, it can help you get into the room with the right people. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know those top priorities, you’re not dealing with the right person at the right level. They don’t have decision making authority. When this is the case, if the person you’re engaging with doesn’t know those top priorities, it’s a great opportunity for sales reps to ask: “Who knows that?”
By asking good questions like this, you’re elevating yourself in the eyes of whoever you’re talking to. They will want to work with you because you know what you’re doing. You’re asking good questions. They will feel confident bringing you into the inner circle with the decision makers.
Approach #2: Conduct an assessment of what is going on within the organization.
If you are not sure if there is a compelling reason to invest, we have to try to create one. Yes, this is a higher level skill and requires some time and effort but it’s worth it.
Dig into the organization, ask to conduct an assessment (if all other factors indicate that the opportunity is real) and show your prospect that there is a problem they may not be aware of.
Show evidence of the problem and you’ll be able to show a compelling event.
The takeaway is this: Pain = Change. If they feel the pain of the problem that you can solve, that will lead to change. That will create the compelling event and the opportunity may become real.
Question 4: “Is there a solution fit?”
In the mind of the customer, do they think that what you offer matches what they’re looking for?
You want the customer to describe what they’re looking for in a solution/ provider, without trying to change their criteria. Ask, “What is it that you’re looking for?”
In this phase, when you’re simply assessing the opportunity to determine if it’s worth pursuing, you want their perspective on what they are looking for and their perspective on how that lines up with what you offer.
For example, if they’re looking for a sports car, and you sell SUVs, that’s not a solution fit. This doesn’t mean that you can’t eventually change their criteria, but it does mean that you, as a seller, have a less qualified opportunity.
Remember, at this stage, that is what you’re trying to determine: Is the opportunity real?
Approach #1: Ask the hard questions and let them speak first.
As sellers, we can be very focused on winning. But at this particular juncture, we need to shift our focus to assessing the opportunity.
To be able to assess the reality of the deal, great sellers let the customer speak first. They don’t try to change their requirements or criteria (yet). They just listen and assess. I’ve heard them say things like:
“Let’s not worry about what I can offer, let’s focus on what you are really looking for and what’s most important to you, because we may not be a good fit and I don’t want to waste your time. And you don’t want to bring me in to meet your team if I don’t have what you need. So let’s spend some time talking about what’s most important to you.”
To go back to the car example, if you discover that they’re looking for a sports car, and you sell SUVs (and you have access to the decision maker and know that a sports car is indeed what’s on their whiteboard), only then you can decide what you’re going to do about it.
After getting their perspective, you can decide if it’s worthwhile to proceed with the opportunity.
You may be able to change their view, but only if you think that they are truly making the wrong decision by using the wrong criteria. Take yourself, as a sales rep, out of the equation for a moment. If you were on their side of the table, what decision would you make? What is truly best for them?
If you believe they’re making the wrong decision, would not do what they’re doing, and believe they are making a mistake, then you may decide to invest time in helping them see what you see.
If that’s the case, if you believe it’s in their best interest to change their decision drivers, it may be worth your time to try to do so.
When that happens, the best thing you can do is to conduct some type of assessment/ recommendation or do a pilot. But you’ll have to invest a lot of time to change a customer’s decision drivers. But that’s a topic for another time… so stay tuned for that upcoming blog!
At this stage, sales reps should be focused on figuring out if the customer is looking for what they offer. Do they have a problem that you can solve?
Ultimately, whenever you have a different perspective than the customer, the first step to being influential is to Take the Trip.
Summing It Up
We’ve hit you with a lot of good information about qualifying your sales opportunities – so to summarize, there are 4 questions that sellers need to get answered in order to determine if an opportunity is real.
- Do you have access to the decision maker(s)?
- Is there a budget/ what is it?
- Is there a compelling event?
- Is there a solution fit?
If you don’t have access to the decision maker, if there’s no budget or compelling event, or if there isn’t a solution fit, then you may be in trouble with that particular sales opportunity.
However, if those things are in place, then you’ve got yourself an opportunity worth pursuing.
And as always, be sure to approach each interaction with your customer’s best interest in mind and at heart. Your goal is to serve your customer. The best part is, by being truly Other-Centered, you will be more fulfilled and find more success in your sales career.
We’ll continue to discuss more ideas on how to qualify sales opportunities further in our upcoming blogs, “Can You Win the Sales Opportunity?” and “Is the Sales Opportunity Worth Winning?”
Do you and your sales team need help learning more strategies to convert the unreceptive and disinterested customer? We’ve designed a program for the toughest challenges in sales.
If you’re interested in reading more, check out our new book, UnReceptive, to help you find, convert and grow more customers by eliminating the hard sell. It ships from major retailers on Nov 9th, so be sure to secure your copy today!