When Do You Qualify a Prospect?

I’ll never forget the time I sat down to lunch at an expensive restaurant with a “potential BIG customer.” He ordered an expensive entrée and we got to chatting. The lunch and the location, by the way, were his idea.

So we got to chatting, and it turned out he was an IT guy. Meaning this guy will NEVER buy print from me. Now, maybe he can recommend some colleagues or be a part of a solutions discussion, but the truth of the matter is, I got burned by not qualifying him prior to setting up the meeting. Shame on me.

Still, you can also give some share of the blame to a person who would schedule a lunch with a vendor that he knows he has no intentions of buying from—and, in fact, no ability do so. In reality, though, the fault was mine.

It was early in my career, so I chalked it up to a rookie mistake, and took the reaming out from my boss about the expense with no ROI. But in retrospect, I realize now that I needed to qualify WAY earlier.

In today’s selling environment, with as difficult as it is to get a prospective customer on the phone—much less setup a face-to-face meeting—I am going to advocate something a little controversial:

I think you should LEAD with the qualifying.

A wise man once told me that he starts each initial conversation with the phrase, “I’m not sure if you and I should be talking.” He claimed it worked for him often, and succeeded in getting the prospect off balance a bit. It was enough to get the prospect thinking that maybe s/he needed to sell him/herself as a worthy prospect as much as the print rep needed to sell himself as a worthy vendor.

Now working as a consultant, Kelly sold digital printing for 15 years so she understands the challenges, frustrations and pitfalls of building a successful sales practice. Her mission is to help printers of all sizes sell more stuff. Kelly's areas of focus include client recovery, retention and acquisition, and marketing communications projects.
Kelly graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science and, among other notable accomplishments, co-founded the Windy City Rollers, a professional women's roller derby league.

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  • Mary Beth Smith

    Kelly, I consider properly qualifying to be one of the most neglected skills in the selling arsenal. I advocate getting to "no" as quickly as possible – you are 100% right!!

  • aspireforbill

    Works for me, too, KM.

  • Annmarie Lopez-Scottson

    This isn’t controversial – this is common sense!! You have to pre-qualify, if you don’t then you’re wasting your time, their time, and your company’s time by both pursing the wrong contacts and, possibly, the wrong type of business/work that fits your equipment.

    Great article!

  • Steve in the Mix

    The buyer and the influential, always a challenge to sort them out and use your time well. I often say, "If there is someone else in your organization that I should visit with please let me know". I can’t say that until there is clarity regarding why I am calling, but it gives the prospect an opportunity to either direct me correctly or feel more responsible for his/her assigned duties.

  • Kelly Mallozzi
  • Kelly Mallozzi

    It’s the Print Industry Networking Group site on Linked In if that link doesn’t get you there!