Helping Your Sales Team Qualify Prospects with the Budget Question
“I’ve looked at things from both sides now. . .”
There was an article in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal that used Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” as a metaphor for life. It’s what comes to mind when describing my weeks as a purchaser of services. I’ve been playing the part of the customer and the experience has given me some thoughts on new language your people can test and why I think it may open some new opportunities in 2015.
This month’s buying activity is focused on purchasing enhanced market research and lead qualification services. These projects tend to run anywhere from $15-40K depending on their complexity, so the companies I’m calling on have an interest in pre-qualifying my inquiry before passing me on to a sales professional. I’ve consistently bumped into a variation of this language, “We’re a custom research/lead generation firm that partners with our clients very closely. These partnerships typically cost between $40-60K. Please let me know if you’re interested in learning more.”
It’s a question designed to qualify a prospect. If you’re thinking $200 a lead, paying as you go, the thought of $40,000 sends you running, right?
I have talked about how decisions are made a few times. (check here and here) The quick summary is that we run through a predictable process when making decisions. Problem recognition, evaluating solutions, narrowing choices and looking for the best price. What happens if the suspect calling in isn’t at the end of the cycle, but early in the decision process?
Here’s what happened in my case. While evaluating solutions I’m in learning mode. Education is more important than any possible budget constraints, so as a suspect, I’ll agree to anything in order to get more information. I may or may not be qualified. “$40K sounds fine,” I say because it’s just a number. It means nothing at this point. I just want to talk to someone.
I understand the logic behind setting a price up front. When you sell services, it’s a way to anchor value. It’s a polite way of ball-parking to avoid future sticker shock. And I have no doubt that it serves the purpose of putting a wall in front of window and price shoppers which eliminates expensive sales pros from wasting time.
I’m not suggesting you have the pre-qualification team eliminate the budget question but I am going to suggest a tweak to those qualifying questions that will accomplish the same results as the budget ballpark, bring in revenue that tracks closer to the value provided and identify a few new opportunities this year. Let me explain.
In complex sales processes, we focus our business development team on getting their suspects “off the solution” in order to focus on the problem being solved. That’s where the value of the solution lies, inside the problem. With that in mind, I’m suggesting that your pre-screeners qualify on value instead of the price of the possible solution. It could sound like this, “We’re a custom research/lead generation firm that partners with our clients very closely. Our typical client outcomes tend to be valued in the $200K-$2MM range. Please let me know if you’re interested in learning more.”
The language is rough and needs to be tested by your team, but you get the gist. By bringing their attention to the outcome, you’re using the qualification process to help your sales pro take a step towards their initial objective. It gets the prospect off their self-prescribed solution and helps them define the problem. Quantifying the pain or the gain in order to value the solution.
Talking about expected outcomes will do a better job of anchoring value than talking about budget. It’s not as good at avoiding sticker shock, but it’s going to do a great job of keeping your sales pros from wasting time. Why? Because they can start off talking about outcomes and not haggling over budget.
Expect some push back from the sales team because their suspects will need help in defining the value of desired outcomes, but that can be managed. The effort will help identify opportunities your current process may miss in 2015 using the current “budget question” strategy.