You can appreciate how dire the problem is when you realize that most opportunities end up with no action rather than a win or loss. By the time you figure out the deal is dead, you have expanded considerable resources that could have been used to work better-qualified prospects. As one successful VP of Sales said to me: “I don’t mind losing a deal, but I want to lose quickly!”
Always Be Qualifying
How do you avoid this situation? It goes back to the basics of qualifying the prospect. The “Always Be Closing” mantra is out; “Always Be Qualifying” is the new paradigm for success.
I have never been a fan of the BANT approach (Budget, Authority, Need, Time). I think it is too generic and I believe the budget question is out of place in most situations until the value of the solution has been proven.
With that said, I think the ONE question that can help you qualify the opportunity is the timing question. But how you ask the question and how you react to the answer will vary based on the type of solution you sell.
If your solution is in a well-known (post-chasm) category:
For a mature solution category, you definitely want to look for a decision timeframe. If a timeframe has been defined, it means a buying process has been initiated by the buyer. Even if the budget is not yet allocated, the need and the authority are likely well-defined, which should make the sale easier to navigate. If the timing has not been defined, you should continue nurturing the prospect through marketing activities, but you probably don’t want to expand valuable sales resources.
If your solution is in a new (pre-chasm) category:
For a new solution category, you are probably not going to see a defined purchase timeframe. This is going to be a seller-initiated process, which is by far more challenging.
Since the issue is not yet on the agenda, you would have to go high enough in the organization to force a change of priorities. Once you get there, you’d have to prove there is a real need that your solution can satisfy.
Figuring out the need and getting access to authority require a considerable investment, so you would need to allocate your resources wisely. That’s where the timing question comes to play. It can help you prioritize which prospects may justify the investment.
The tricky part: how do you define timing for a new solution category?
In most cases, you will not find a predefined timeline for the purchase of a new solution category. Instead, you need to identify a compelling event that would serve as a catalyst for the buyer to take action (e.g., moving to a virtualized environment, launching a new product, expanding to a new territory). Once you identified the compelling event, you need to find out when this event will take place.
One way or the other, the timing question is THE key to qualification.
That’s why regardless of what you sell, the most important question you can ask in order to qualify your prospects is the timing question—whether it’s the decision timeframe for a mature solution or the timing of the compelling event for a new solution.