The Five Levels of Qualification

Everyone knows that it’s far easier and less expensive to sell the clients we already have and yet very few put in the time to consistently engage and re-qualify their existing clients.

David:                   Hi and welcome to the podcast.  Today co-host Chris Templeton and I are here to talk about all the benefits of engaging and re-qualifying your existing client base. Welcome Chris!

Chris:                     Hi David. Thank you and welcome. I bet most salespeople and business owners feel like they’re doing a pretty good job of engaging their clients, but what is it that you mean when you talk about re-qualifying them?

David:                   Well, it’s a couple of things, and I think probably you’re right. Most business people do feel like they’re doing a reasonably good job of engaging their clients. Some feel like they know they should be doing more or they should be more consistent about it, but most people at least know they need to be engaging their clients. What many of them don’t seem to recognize is that every time you bring a new prospect through the door, obviously you need to qualify them to find out whether or not they are essentially qualified to do business with you. Do they have the need, the desire, the money, the budget, the willingness to spend? And if they don’t have those things, then they’re not really qualified. And the same thing applies to clients. When somebody has purchased from you, it doesn’t mean that they’re automatically going to purchase from you again and again and again. So we need to consistently re-qualify our clients to find out where they are in that process so we can determine when we need to be in touch with them, what we need to be in touch with them about, so that we can continue to advance the process and get them what they need.

Chris:                     But one of the things that occurs to me is that for a lot of people, we take that initial qualification and assume that nothing’s changing. I almost wonder if a lot of us stopped really listening for what’s changed and re-qualifying really would help in terms of seeing what’s new. It’s almost about listening, isn’t it?

David:                   It really is and I think for a lot of people they seem to think that whatever qualification they did the first time around was like a life sentence and it’s just going to stay that way and it’s never going to change. And the fact is that it pretty much changes or resets each time someone orders from you after they’ve gotten what it is that you have to offer. How long is it going to be before they need it again? Is it going to be a minute or is it going to be a month or is it going to be three years? Because the answers to those questions are really going to be determining the ongoing value of the clients you’re bringing through the door and taking the time to re-qualify them.

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Chris:                     Also keeps you aware of what new opportunities are, that sort of thing. But do you qualify an existing client the same way you would qualify a new client?

David:                   You do essentially, obviously your approach is going to be slightly different because you know them better. But really what you need to find out is where they are in terms of the buying process. And one of the things that very few salespeople and business owners realize is that every single prospect you will ever come into contact with will fall into only one of five levels of qualification. That's it. Every single one. A lot of times we just think in terms of well they're qualified or they're not qualified or I'm not sure if they're qualified. Those are not the categories.

Chris:                     Those aren't them?  That "I'm not sure" isn't a good one?

David:                   Well I guess it counts as one, but it's no, it's not a good one. And when you're looking at qualifying your prospects and your clients, what you want to do is think in terms of one of five levels of qualification.  The first is are they ready to buy now? And those are the ones that all the sales people are looking for. So would you like to place an order with me? And very often the answer to that question is no, because there's only ever a relatively small section of the market that is going to be ready to buy right now. So if we're only targeting those people, we're limiting our access. We're limiting our sales ability because it's only ever going to be a few. But that's the first level of qualification “I'm ready to buy now. So glad you called Chris because I really need a place in order.” We love it when it happens, but it doesn't happen as often as we'd like it to.

The second level is those who have specific dates in mind. “No, not ready to buy now, but I would definitely like to do this in November, another 60 days or so and I'll be ready to go.” And so that's the second group. So those people, depending on your turnaround for whatever it is that you're selling, if they actually need the goods in November, then yeah, it's at September. Now, maybe they need to be placing an order, but if not, they may need to place an order in October, which means you need to get them scheduled out for contact at the appropriate time. Or if they say we're not looking to do something until March, then you know, depending on your lead time, again, I need to be in touch with this person in January to talk to them about whatever it is that they are looking to buy for March. So, whenever we have that situation where they have specific dates in mind, we know exactly when we need to be in touch with them and we know exactly what we need to be in touch with them about.  So that's the second level of people who have specific dates in mind.

The third level of qualification or those who are generally receptive. “Yeah, that sounds really good. I like what you're offering. I love your ideas. I think it sounds like something we could use. I'm just not quite sure when.” All right, so these are the types of people that you could be interacting with for weeks, months, years. They may or may not buy, but they're generally receptive.

Chris:                     Right.

David:                   If we determine that someone is at least open to talking with us and they seem to have a need, desire, budget, et Cetera, then it makes sense to remain in touch with them. And essentially what we're doing with the people who are generally receptive is we're staying in touch with them until they either become ready to buy or they have specific dates in mind, at which point they move to that different level of qualification. So, when we understand this, we recognize that it's not just I'm qualified in or I'm qualified out.

Now beyond that, there are two other categories of qualification and these are the ones that salespeople tend to like the least. The fourth is those who are unqualified. I have no need, no desire, no money, no budget, no willingness to spend. And on top of that I'm rude, obnoxious, belligerent, and ornery. Sometimes that happens too. In a sense, they're doing us a favor. They come across like that up front because it's very easy to say, okay, doesn't seem like we have a fit. I'm moving on. But sometimes we don't know. People will not have the money, but they won't tell us that. So a lot of qualification is really determining is this person actually qualified to buy from me or are they not? And a lot of that gets down to the questions that we ask. So a lot of the focus that we have with our clients is on having a qualification procedure that will allow them to identify exactly what level of qualification this person falls into. So that's the fourth, the person who is unqualified or disqualified.

Chris:                     Can I, can I just say that I'm terrified of what the fifth is? If the fourth means that you can be belligerent.

David:                   Okay, yeah. Well the fifth is definitely not belligerent. The fifth is just, it's almost worse in that it's apathy, and these are the people who are unresponsive. You met them at a networking function. Let's say you exchange business cards, you were talking, everything seemed to be going well. They seemed interested, they seemed engaged, they ended up talking with you and you provided them a quote or something like that. And then they go radio silent. They're just gone.  Unresponsive prospects. So, in a sense they're worse than the rude, obnoxious and belligerent ones because you can get rid of the belligerent ones, but you never quite know when you should give up on the ones who are unresponsive.

Chris:                     Right.

David:                   But those are the five levels. And so every single prospect you ever run into will fall into one of those five levels. And the better you get at identifying which level your prospect or client is currently inhabiting, the better you'll be able to serve them. So to answer your question; yes, we qualify our clients the same way that we qualify our prospects in the sense that each of them is going to fall into one of those five levels of qualification. It's exactly the same whether they're a client or whether they're a prospect.

Chris:                     A big piece of this really is also looking at the funnel. I always go back to the idea of the funnel. Where's a prospect in the funnel? And the first three are really the basis of the funnel. The fourth and the fifth can be at the very top, right? But ready to buy now. That's the bottom of the funnel. And really if we're doing our work the way we should as salespeople, we're spending a whole lot of time on at least two, three and four to keep filling that funnel and have them trickle down to the bottom to get ready to buy status. Isn't that right?

David:                   Yeah! And some of our time should also be spent scooping the bad ones out of the top. So the ones who are at a qualification level, four or five, if they're disqualified, they go out of the funnel. If they're unresponsive, at some point they're going to go out of the funnel. And that depends in a lot of cases on your tolerance for pain. How much are you willing to take? How much follow up are you willing to engage in before you say, okay, this person is no longer a viable prospect for me.

Chris:                     So let's just talk about for a second, what are the questions that you think are the most important for somebody who's trying to qualify prospects and existing clients? What are some of the most important questions for them to be asking the client?

David:                   That's a great question and the qualification questions that you're going to ask are going to be directly related to your product, to your industry, to what problem it is that you're solving. So the best qualification questions from my standpoint are those that go directly to the need. Not necessarily talking about the product itself, what it is that you're selling, but talking to them about the results that they're looking to get. Because pick an industry - I mean like if we're talking whatever, if we're talking realtors, we're talking print or promotions people…

Chris:                     Let's go insurance people.

David:                   Okay, so insurance people are trying to determine whether or not somebody is qualified to buy from them. They're going to have to find out whether or not that person is even open to the idea of buying insurance. Now rather than saying, would you like to buy insurance, which is a very easy, ‘No’ answer.  An insurance agent is going to have to look at the types of questions that are going to get to the actual result.  Things like how much have you thought about in terms of planning for your future? How much have you thought about in terms of making preparations for your family in the event that you're not around?  Now, I've never sold insurance, so this is sounding kind of grim to me, but in other words, you have to look at the results more so than the product. And so, if I were working with an insurance agent and if I were coaching them on that, we need to identify what are the types of questions that I can ease into and how can I position myself?  In other words, it's not just I sell insurance, it's I help provide security for families. I help parents feel better about what they're able to do for their children even when they're not around, whatever it is that's going to allow them to communicate the positive benefits of what they do in a way that will get people engaged instead of repelling them.  I don't know that I did a great job of doing or talking about insurance, but you get the gist.

Chris:                     No, you did a great job and it's one of the reasons that I brought it up because I think that when you think about different types of sales, insurances is one that's so tough and has such a poor perception, but what you brought out was exactly my point is what's the result that you're trying to key in versus what is it that you're selling? Because if I'm expressing a genuine interest about what you've done to protect your future as an example, I have somebody who's probably going to be a whole lot more receptive than saying, hey, I sell insurance. Do you want to buy some?

David:                   Right, exactly.

Chris:                     So, you know, one of the things that I think is really tough for business owners and salespeople is the idea of disqualifying a past customer, letting a customer go, what do you think is the best way to handle this?

David:                   It's one of the toughest things that salespeople and business owners really have to deal with because we developed these emotional attachments to people. We feel like this is my client, they're a great client, we get along very well and they're in our world and we're in their world. And so when something changes, when job titles change or somebody, if they're required to start taking bids all of a sudden and the relationship changes, it's very difficult for us sometimes to shift gears mentally. And the reality of the situation is that we always need to look at the reality of the situation. What is the situation now? If they're no longer in a position where they can buy from us, we can still maintain the friendship, the relationship, but maybe the buying relationship is no longer going to be a part of it. And so a lot of it is just facing reality and saying, okay, is there a solution to this?

I've worked with many salespeople who have been working with people for a long time and then all of a sudden, the rules change.  They’re required to get three bids or they're required to ask for price concessions, different things like that. And in a lot of cases they can actually go back to the person and say, “Listen, we've been working together for a long time. Just be really honest with me. Is it likely that we'll be able to work together similarly to the way that we did before or is it really going to be a fundamental change in the way we do business?” And sometimes they'll say, “You know, you know what? I think I can finagle things. I think we can pretty much still do it the way we did before.” and in other cases they're going to say, “No, this is really a whole new thing.”

And when that becomes the case, you've got an important decision to make. Is this the kind of relationship I want to be able to maintain? Because if I'm going to be doing all this work and putting together quotes and it's going to be bid out to four or five other people and now I've got a one in six odds of getting the order as opposed to a one to one chance of getting the order, then you have to decide whether or not you want to participate. So you need to be able to detach and recognize that client relationships don't always last forever and as long as you've got your pipeline full, it becomes less of an issue. Many times it's a bigger issue for people because they don't have their pipeline full and they say, oh no, when I lose this client, I've got to make up for all this additional revenue. And that's a strong argument for making sure that you've got enough prospects in the pipeline to begin with so that it becomes less of a problem

Chris:                     If you're a sales guy thinking that I only want to deal with level one people who are ready to buy now, you're focused on the wrong area. You know, it's all about generating additional pipeline all the time and prospecting in a way that is creating those relationships and taking the time for those relationships to build and for them to move from generally receptive to ready to buy now.

David:                   Yeah, I think that's exactly it and when we look at our client relationships, and this is really where we started off with all this; is that engaging our clients has got to be an important part of what we do. Re-qualifying them constantly has gotta be an important part of what we do and we need to look at our timelines and say with each prospect, with each client that I have, how much contact is too much, how little contact is too little, and then try to find that sweet spot. Each client's going to be different. Some people are just like, okay, the only time I buy is in October for the holidays. I don't need to hear from you in between. And if that's the relationship you have set up, then you can certainly do that. There are other clients who might need to hear from you every week or every day depending on the status of the relationship and what it is they're buying and how often.

So we need to really just gear our approach toward the needs of the client and make sure that we are continuing to engage them in a positive manner and consistently re-qualifying them so that we don't miss the boat. One of the biggest dangers that happens is that when people are not re-qualifying their existing clients consistently, they end up missing out on business and they go back a few months later and I find out that the client bought something from someone else because they either didn't realize that you did it or they forgot that you did it or somebody else reached out in between and they just happened to place the order and didn't think about it. So that's why engagement and re-qualification are so important.

Chris:                     So you know, the other thing to keep in mind is that there's real value in letting go of clients that have become non-responsive, of clients that have become difficult and not any fun to work with. And so I think there's also kind of this freeing aspect of letting go of clients that just are not a good fit anymore. And I think recognizing that has the power to really change how you do the rest of your work. Do you know what I mean?

David:                   Yeah. And I think you hit on an important point. Sometimes the relationship goes south or goes sour and at that point we really want to jettison the relationship. In other situations, the relationship is still good, but the nature of the relationship has changed and that's what makes it difficult for people to let go. So when you're aware of this and when you recognize that people are either qualified or they're not, they're ready to buy or they have specific dates, they’re generally receptive or they’re none of the above - that in those situations we need to recognize the reality and act accordingly.

Chris:                     Yeah, that's a great point. Okay. Let's wrap up with just talking about the process overall of re-qualifying clients. Just run through the different qualification steps and a couple of questions that you think are important.

The 5 Levels of Qualification

  1. Ready to Buy now. Understands who you are, what you sell and is ready to purchase now.
  2. Specific Dates. Not ready now, but has specific dates in mind when they want to buy.
  3. Generally Receptive. Open to buying, just not sure when.
  4. Disqualified. No need, desire, money, budget, etc.
  5. Unresponsive. Prospects do not respond to your contact attempts.

David:                   Okay. So basically the main thing you want to take away from today's podcast is that there are five levels of qualification people who either ready to buy now they have specific dates in mind when they want to buy. They're generally receptive to the idea of buying, they're disqualified or they're unresponsive. That's it. Five different levels of qualification. And the most important thing that you can do to re-qualify your existing clients or to qualify a new prospect is to recognize those five levels and then put together a series of qualification questions that you can ask your prospects and clients to determine which of those five levels they fall into. And if anyone is looking for help with this or growing their business and sales in any way, you can go to topsecrets.com/call, we can schedule a call and talk about the steps that you need to take to grow your sales and profits in your business.

Chris:                     Really well done, David. Really well done. And so let's wrap up with what's our next podcast going to be about.

David:                   Okay, in our next podcast, we're going to be touching on one of those hot button issues that everybody to talk about, it's about getting clients through social media.

Chris:                     I like it. Social media, something that is underdeveloped and has so much potential, especially in sales.

David:                    Exactly.

Chris:                     David Blaise topsecrets.com we will see you next time.

David:                   Thanks Chris.

If you're tired of flat or declining sales and losing business to your competitors, be sure to check out my latest web presentation entitled Programming Clients to Choose You. Who are your very best prospects currently programmed to buy from? Is it you or someone else? If you want it to be, you, visit topsecrets.com/choose and register for the free presentation now. That's topsecrets.com/choose.

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