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Monday, 15 December 2014

Is This the Worlds Worst Sales Qualification Question?

Over recent weeks I've seen many businesses fall into this trap and rely on what I think is the world worst sales qualification question. It seems to be especially prevalent in micro businesses and in the creative industries.

In my opinion sales qualification is one of the most important aspects of closing sales. Unfortunately these days most experts seem to concentrate on closing, however proper sales qualification makes sales closing easier. Good sales qualification will help you identify early in the sales cycle those prospects most likely to commit to buy from you, and at the same time help you shorten the sales cycle. Something that we all want. Poor sales qualification, by contrast, results in the opposite leading to a lot of wasted effort and fewer sales.
English: Priit Narusk in the qualification for...
 Priit Narusk in the qualification for the Tour de Ski in Prague.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we come out of our sluggish economy the number of sales opportunities increases as potential buyers prepare to invest. As providers of products and services we enjoy more sales conversations unfortunately this new found wealth of prospects is ruined by one single question which kills time and is our own work creation scheme. On the face of it this question seems quite sensible and for the inexperienced sales person a good one. Nothing can be further from the truth. 

The culprit for this colossal waste of time the question "Can I write you a proposal".

Why? The answer to this question is almost invariably "yes" so off you go thinking that you’ve progressed the sale because they want you to write a proposal. In reality you've done no such thing. Ask anyone if you can write them a proposal, ask your mates, your competition even the bloke on the corner, they'll all say yes because that question means nothing. Knock yourself out, write me a proposal, in fact send me three because that question commits me to absolutely nothing but creates a whole lot of work for you. What you have really asked me for is my permission to let you rush off and write something, so why I shouldn’t say yes? It has not tested in any way at all, my desire to purchase from you.

The result from his single question is many fruitless hours putting together proposals in which your potential buyers have absolutely Zero interest. That's why its such a poor question.

If you can't resist asking this question, then at least have a good follow up question. This follow up question will help you stop becoming a work creation scheme. It goes like this "Thanks for allowing me to provide you with a proposal, can we arrange a short meeting in a couple weeks time to review it"? If and only if they agree to that meeting is it worth your while writing them a proposal.

The next time you are tempted to ask a prospect "Can I write you a proposal?" remember on its own it’s probably the worlds’ worst sales qualification question. So don't waste your or your sales teams’ time pointlessly knocking out proposals, get a commitment from your prospect first.

Exigent Consulting provides specialist services for Managing High GrowthBusiness Turnaround, and Mentoring to the Small and Medium Business. We help business owners improve the profit performance of their business. 

1 comment:

  1. I know Laurence, and his article is excellent and borne out of vast experience.
    I just want to put an 'alternative' slant on 'the proposal'.

    PROPOSALS can be VERY powerful if well written, and Laurence does not denigrate proposals in fairness.

    Not all sales visits are to close the order. They may be to gather all the information, determine the 'hot buttons' (ie the 2-4 things that will be key in the buying process) and to go away and 'engineer a solution' that forms the basis of a proposal.

    My clients for example have to understand in their clients world the following...

    Is 3 phase electricity available?
    How accessible is compressed air?
    What are the location dimensions? Width, Depth, Headspace.
    Measurements of access - can machine be delivered as a whole or partly assembled on site?
    Does the client have the engineering nous to maintain this kit?
    What is the budget?

    All this stuff goes into the proposal. Of course a commitment to meet to review (and close the order) needs to be agreed.

    A well written proposal will bring out USP's (unique selling propositions). Something your solution does that your competitors struggle with. Try to home these USP's into the Hot Buttons identified. If done well your proposal will be a powerful sales aid.

    Clearly Laurence is not undermining the value of a proposal. He is 100% right that when within sight of the 'close', offering a proposal is a cowards way out.

    I was keen to demonstrate that in a world of 'problem solving sales', a process of: "Initial info gathering visit --> Proposal Generation and sending --> Follow up CLOSE visit" still had some real value.