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When To Walk Away From A Prospect

For those of you that experienced it, you would probably agree the financial meltdown of 2008-2010 was not a fun time for most in the profession of sales. 

During the meltdown, one of my former colleagues, Tom Brigiotta, Senior Vice President of Sales for Imprivata Inc., reached out to me with a conundrum. He said even though the financial meltdown was in full swing, they were experiencing more leads than ever before, but not surprising, their conversion ratio was progressively worsening. He wondered if I could help them navigate the situation.

After talking to several people on his sales team, we rationalized the uptick in MQL’s (marketing qualified leads) as a combination of their recent investment in better marketing automation and lots of people who now had excess time on their hands. It appeared the economic slowdown left many IT people with more time to research solutions but less budget to spend. Translation: They were getting flooded with tire kickers.

As I’ve reflected on in past articles (No Decision Takes Twice As Long As Wins), a prospect that doesn’t buy actually robs you twice. First because you spent time with them and end up with nothing to show for it, but worse, they rob you of the time you could have spent with a prospect that was better prepared to buy.

No matter how well your organization defines qualification, most sellers tend to view “interest” as the dominant qualification question. Unfortunately, in tough times, every interested prospect seems like a rare commodity so there’s a heightened tendency hang on for dear life to the detriment of the seller. Imprivata was no exception, which meant they were spending too much time with interested contacts who couldn’t buy. As a result we decided to take the opposite tack and implement a disqualification process.

We broke down the disqualification process into these questions:

  • Can the contact articulate the problems they were trying to solve? (Or in the absence thereof, agree that a suggested set of problems were relevant and important to address.)
  • Could the contact articulate the cost of not solving the problems? (Or conversely, the value of solving the problems.)
  • Could the contact articulate the business issues that currently had the attention of their senior executives? (The goal is to align the purchase with the current focus of the senior decision maker, otherwise the chance for a no decision outcome increases, especially in a tight market.)

In the event that a contact could not positively answer one of more of the questions above, we posed one second level question to determine if any more time should be spent on the dialog:

  • Can they bring someone into the discussion who could answer these questions?

If the contact refused to bring another person into the conversation and could not represent any answers to the first three questions, they were to be put back into the marketing lead automation system and the sales person was to move on to the next lead. The goal was to filter out the tire kickers and find prospects who were better prepared to buy in the tough economic conditions.

The result was astounding. Imprivata closed 20% more transactions that year than they did prior to the economic melt down, and their average contract size improved by 19%. My analysis led me to conclude the increase in contract size was due to the contact’s ability to more effectively articulate the value proposition in their internal justification. Even though most sales leaders were biting their nails at that time, Tom told me this experience was the most fun he’s had as a sales leader. 

Currently we find ourselves in a different place economically. But even though the market is much healthier, it’s possible to find yourself with the same problem. Too many leads that seem to be interested, but not enough that will pull the purchase trigger. If that sounds familiar to you, then make note of the questions above and apply a disqualification process to your MQL list. I’m sure you’ll find yourself with a more manageable list of prospects that are ready to buy effectively.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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