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Rethinking Qualification, Has The Customer Qualified Themself?

by David Brock on March 21st, 2014

The other day, I wrote an article about, “How Much Do You Want To Spend?”  The subsequent discussion has been causing me to rethink many of my ideas about qualifying opportunities and customers.

It suddenly struck me that for most of my sales career, I’ve approached qualification as being about “my company,” or “me.”  I ask the customer about how serious they are about the project, how serious they are about considering my solutions, whether they are willing to pay for my solutions, and so forth.  Every sales person does that.  We’ve even coined acronyms that test this—BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, purchase Timeframe).

So we use criteria focused on us to qualify opportunities and deals.

Fast forward through the deal cycle, look at hundreds and thousands of deals.  We see huge numbers of deals abandoned somewhere in the cycle—they get stalled, the customer loses interest, we lose interest, they may not have been real in the first place.  We see deals in which the customer and we have gone through the entire buying/selling cycle but the outcome is “No Decision Made.”  CSO Insights’ latest research shows 23.5% of forecast deals ending in No Decision Made—these are deals we thought we were going to win!  Think of the number of deals we are carrying in our pipelines, that we haven’t forecast that end up in No Decision Made—those are some of the abandoned deals or the one’s that are stuck getting older and older and older.

We assess 100’s to 1ooo’s of deals every year.  We look at sales people’s qualification criteria (all look pretty much the same with some variant on BANT.)  We do see a lot of bad qualification skills, but it still  doesn’t explain the numbers of deals that are qualified and abandoned, or qualified resulting in No Decision Made.

It seems to me there is something we are missing in our qualification processes.  To me it’s really the focus on the customer and their own desire or need to change.  BANT tries to address it, but since it is ultimately focused on us, it doesn’t completely address whether the customer has qualified themselves on the project.  There are lots of things they like to do, projects they start and never complete, ideas they pursue, but later abandon, initiatives they start that ultimately fail.

They struggle within their organizations, aligning themselves, agendas, and priorities.  It seems before we can qualify whether we want to pursue an opportunity, the customer has to first qualify themselves, their own organization about the need to change, the expected outcomes, the priority of this change over others they may consider, their own ability to make/manage the change.

It also seems, sales professionals can offer a lot of leadership in this.  It’s part of what Insight Selling is really about  —  but more.  With Insight Selling, we are bringing the customer new ideas, helping them understand new opportunities, different ways of doing things, ways to improve.  We are trying to teach the customer.  We are trying to spark interest and a compelling desire to change.  But, we then have to help the customer go further.  We have to help them align everyone involved in a common purpose, a common view of the expected outcomes/goals, and a common compelling view that this is something the organization must do!

Until we have done this–or at least until we have confirmed the customer has done this, it’s impossible for us to ask the “me-based” qualification questions–or at least get realistic responses to those questions.

We still have to ask these questions, we still have to go through BANT (or some variation), but until the customer has gone through all this work, the deal is at risk.

I think customers may not understand this.  In many of our “BANT” conversations with them, they give the best responses they can–but they haven’t gone through that process of aligning and qualifying themselves within their own organizations.  They may think they have, but they really haven’t  (if they had, they wouldn’t have the past history of unfinished, abandoned, failed projects.).  Perhaps as we assess customers and their own qualification, we need to look at their track record of project/change management/initiative success.  Perhaps we can help them increase their rate of success, helping us increase our rate of success.

What do you think?  Have we been missing an important aspect of qualification?

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2 Comments
  1. A soul searching Blog, Dave.
    A lonely road which many of us have travelled since 2000.

    Sometimes it begins [or begs] the question:
    “What’s wrong with Sales Training?”

    We found when investigating the answer to that question,
    that we asked another “What’s wrong with Selling?”

    And, in the early 2000’s we were paid a lot of money, so spent a lot of time and effort answering our Client’s question “What’s WRONG with Buying?”

    The Client asked us to investigate why People did NOT buy, when it was in their own best interest to do so! Sometimes, as CSO reports, the Client ‘Stalled’.
    Other times they made irrational decisions, choosing wrong solutions, which offered poor results.
    Sometimes they exercised their right to stay with ‘safe’, but grossly over-priced ‘preferred’ suppliers.

    Together with Psychologists, Social Scientists, Behavioural Analysts and Statisticians we asked, and answered
    (at least to our own satisfaction) the ultimate Sales Question:

    “Does the whole history of ‘selling’ rest on a mistake;
    the role, and the importance, of the Salesperson?”

    We tested the thesis
    “Does Salesperson A influence Buyer B?”

    A Conjoint Analysis revealed that Salespeople DO
    some things which influence Buyers,
    some things which have no effect (or very little) and
    some things which have a negative effect.
    I.e. the more they do, then the less they sell.

    Sales success is based upon the Salesperson’s Behaviour.

    Using the correct Sales tool is based on both the situation and their competence.

    The “RIGHT” Way is only known in hindsight,
    but NEVER in foresight.

    You can change your Sales results by
    Changing the way you Sell.

    So, congratulations and sincere thanks, Dave.

    Please KEEP on asking these questions about EVERY aspect of How we sell. Speculate, but always test.
    Does it work?

    They say that ‘truth’ is only common sense
    that everybody believes to be true anyway.

    The sceptic’s view is: Things are NOT as they seem!

    Both views should be abandoned when the evidence no longer supports the view.

    If two views on Selling contradict one another,
    then they cannot both be true.

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