Whether you’re in business development at a marketing agency or an independent consultant handling sales yourself, you need to spend time screening new leads. Just because someone says they’re interested doesn’t mean they’re actually going to pay you money for your product or service.
Web designer Eli Van Zoeren has terrific “Contact Me” form that does a great job of qualifying leads. He asks people about their scope, their timeframe, and their budget. I’m sure the minimum price range scares away some of the looky-loos who aren’t willing to pay for his services.
Ask Five Questions to Quickly Screen Your Prospects
I’ve been doing client service since I was 15 years old — everything from small businesses to the Ford Motor Company to a $3 trillion pension-fund trade association. When I’m speaking with prospective clients, I find it helps to ask some qualifying questions:
- What’s your current problem? If they don’t have a problem, they don’t need to hire me to fix it.
- What’s the outcome you expect? If it’s an unreasonable expectation or if I can’t do this, I want to know sooner rather than later.
- When do you need that outcome? Is their schedule reasonable? Can I get it done in that timeframe?
- What’s your budget for doing this? If they don’t have a budget, I might keep them on the backburner until they’re ready. Or if it’s unreasonably low, I might refer them to someone in their price range.
- Are you the decision-maker to approve doing this? If not, who is, and what will they need to approve it? Are they fishing? If they love the idea but their boss won’t commit the money, I’m not going to invest in this as a hot lead.
You should expect corresponding concessions along the way. They should review your materials. They should make time for an initial phone call. They should agree to get their boss to meet with you at the appropriate decision-making stage. Ultimately, you can’t expect people to sign a contract immediately, but if they won’t even commit to a demo meeting, they’re not going to buy.
Bonus Warning Sign: Crazy Unemployed Lawyers Will Haggle Over a Fair Price
Oh, one other warning sign — before they become an unreasonable clients, bad prospects try to get you to lower your prices when you’re already charging a fair price. I made that mistake in high school, as a computer consultant in the Washington D.C. area.
A new client asked for a price break because she was unemployed. She’d been referred by her neighbor in the Watergate Apartments and I figured she’d become a long-term client, too, so I agreed to give her a discount (from $25 to $15/hour) for setting up her new computer and doing some basic technology training.
She turned out to be paranoid and possibly unstable. After I left, she accused me of scratching her computer desk (possibly, but I didn’t see it), so I gave her some complimentary consulting time on the phone. A few months later, she called again to complain that her TV got zapped by lightning…never mind that I’d suggested she plug the TV into her extra surge protector, which she never did. That was the last I heard of her, although I occasionally saw her name as a winner in the Washington Post Style Invitational humor contest.
In retrospect, I should have declined her business, or at least held firm on my price. An unemployed law professor who just moved into a $500,000 apartment with a new $2,000 computer doesn’t need a $10 discount from a high school student. Live and learn.
Question: What do you ask to screen your prospective clients or customers?