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Common Questions and Answers
The sales pipeline is actually shaped more like a funnel. It’s at its widest at the beginning of the sales cycle, where you must feed in many leads for every sale you eventually close. That’s why it is crucial to have lots and lots of leads to play with. The exact number of leads per sale closed will vary based on many factors, including how well targeted your lead lists are to begin with.
Even the best lists will have some leads that aren’t qualified to buy your product. Once you’ve made contact with each lead, you’ll need to ask some questions to determine whether you can class them as prospects or not. The sooner in the cycle you can determine their status, the better — it means you’ll be able to spend more of your time working with potential customers.
The first step in designing your lead qualification system is coming up with the correct qualifications. If you haven’t already done so, make a list of the qualities that would make someone a prospect to buy your product. If you have several products, you can come up with a ‘master’ list that would be enough for someone to buy at least one product and a series of sub-lists that qualify a prospect for the specific product that’s the best fit for him.
Some of these qualifications will be obvious based on the product itself. For example, if your product is extreme cold-weather gear, your prospects will be people who either live in very cold areas or travel to these areas. Someone who lives in Florida year-round will neither want nor need your product. Other qualifications can occur to you based on your existing customers. If all of your top customers have incomes between $80,000 to $100,000 a year, that is an excellent qualification to add to your list.
Once you have your basic list of qualifications in hand, the next step is to rank those qualifications in terms of how important they are in determining the prospect’s potential as a customer. The easiest way to do so is develop a general classification with a few different levels and assign each quality a tag based on its likely value. For example, you might have gold, silver and bronze-level indicators. A more complex method is to assign numerical values based on some formula — for example, you might calculate the likely profit you’ll make based on past experience with customers who have that attribute and assign a number based on that predicted profit. The numerical system is more complicated to set up but gives a very clear view of a given prospect’s potential value as a customer.
With your list of qualification tags in hand, you can now start applying them to leads. Most salespeople qualify customers either during the initial cold call, at the first appointment, or both. If your list of qualification questions is fairly short, you can probably work them into your cold calls. But if you have a longer list of questions, your prospects might not be willing to answer them all during your initial contact. In that case, you might ask just one or two particularly critical questions during the call, and assuming they seem to be qualified at that point, ask for an appointment with the idea of finishing your qualification process there.
Don’t just start asking questions as soon as you sit down with the prospect, because he’ll wonder why he’s being subjected to an inquisition. Before you get started, explain briefly that you want to make sure you can match him up with the best possible product for his needs, but to do so you need to collect some background information. Once the prospect understands why you’re asking all these things — and that the end result will benefit him — he’ll be far more willing to answer.
About the author
My first sales position was a summer job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I continued through a variety of sales jobs ranging from retail sales for a storage company to selling bank products for a Fortune 500 financial institution.
As a small business owner, I now focuses on selling for my own company, Tailored Content, a website content provider. I write on a wide range of topics but my primary focus is sales and how to sell effectively.