Originally published in the Piedmont Business Journal, April 2012

Is your prospect the proverbial “tire-kicker” or a credible buyer? Both can take up a huge amount of your time. As business owners, we’ve all been there: the prospect sounds perfect, a great match for your product or service and the opportunity seems promising. But, before you reschedule your life to fit them in, make sure to carefully qualify this lead to be sure your time is well spent. Use the following four-part qualification process to help assess the prospect:

  1. Need
  2. Authority
  3. Timeline
  4. Budget

Qualifying Your Prospect

Having a conversation with your prospect around these four qualification areas will help you determine how much time to invest. During this conversation, it’s important to think broadly about where in your sales pipeline this prospect may fit.

  • Is he ready to buy now?
  • Does she need more information?
  • Is he waiting for something else to happen before making the purchase?
  • Is buying your product or service a long-term goal, or do they just like to talk?

And, even if the prospect is not serious now, she could become a viable prospect later, or a good referral.

Guiding Questions to Assess Your Prospect’s Intentions

Consider the following guiding questions to better assess the true intentions of your prospect and shape your sales conversation. Questions should be customized to your specific business.

1. Need. The prospect must have a need for your product or service.

  • What would you say is your biggest challenge?
  • Do you have support in that area? If so, how has that support been working for you? What else do you need? (Find out the good, bad, ugly. LISTEN for criticisms: too pricey, lack of response time, too cumbersome, poor quality, not innovative, not respected by staff, etc.) If not, have you considered [whatever you offer]?
  • How important is it for you to find the right match?
  • How do you see this product/service being used?
  • What happens if you don’t find the right match?
  • Would you be open to discuss some potential options? (hopefully yes!)

2. Authority. To close a deal in the fastest time, you must talk with the decision-maker.

  • Are you responsible for purchasing decisions?
  • Are you the person responsible for deciding to move forward?
  • Are there others that we should bring in? Or, who else should we talk to? (Frequently, folks other than the decision-maker greatly influence a purchasing decision.)

3. Timeline. Determine the urgency of the need.

  • How soon would you be ready to start? Or, when would you be ready to buy?
  • What else would need to occur prior to implementation/purchase?
  • Is a purchase requisition required? If so, how long would it take to approve?
  • What could stand in the way of implementation/purchase? (external factors, internal shifts, etc.)

4. Budget. Make sure money is available!

  • Are there funds available to purchase this ____? If not, what would need to happen to make the funds available?
  • What is the price-range you’re considering? What is the current budget? (if they have an existing vendor)
  • How flexible are you on that range?
  • Would you be willing to pay a higher price for increased value/service?

And, if everything is looking good, ask for the sale! Sometimes we get so caught up in the qualification process that we forget to ask for the sale. Offer an incentive to buy now, e.g., special pricing, added value, exclusivity, deferred payment, etc. And if they buy, congratulate them on their purchase and follow up immediately!

Good luck using the four-part qualification process to make that sale – here’s to your success!