B2B Sales: From Always Be Closing to Always Be Qualifying?

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Alec Baldwin’s performance as Blake in the film Glengarry Glen Ross immortalised the “Always Be Closing” attitude that for many has come to exemplify everything they hate about pushy, predatory sales people.

In any sort of complex, high-value sale, particularly one that involves multiple stakeholders, decision makers have become immune to this sort of Neanderthal behaviour.  But what are we to replace the “Always Be Closing” mantra with?

Vote with your wallet, or vote with your feet…

Pushing aggressively for the close at least had one advantage: it may have caused many buyers to vow never to deal with the vendor again, but at least it forced a conclusion.  In an ABC world, prospects quickly vote with their wallet, or vote with their feet.

I come across many situations where the opposite is true; sales pipelines that are clogged up with deals that are going nowhere.  As my friend Donal Daly has pointed out, it takes 150% longer to lose than win.  So clearly just waiting and hoping for nature to take its course isn’t a great alternative.

The discipline of winners…

From what I’ve observed, top-performing sales people rarely suffer from clogged pipelines.  They have the discipline to qualify accurately, and the confidence to politely turn away from deals that are never likely to close or they have a slim-to-no chance of winning.

Contrast that with the behaviour of all too many middle-of-the-road people: they hang on to opportunities that are long past their sell-by date in the mistaken belief that abandoning them will reduce the value of their pipeline.

Of course, the opposite is true: the real-world value of their pipeline, and their chances of beating quota, is diminished rather than enhanced by holding on to these non-win deals.  Better to set them aside, and go looking for better qualified opportunities.

From Always Be Closing to Always Be Qualifying…

In fact, I’m going to suggest that the new mantra ought instead to be “Always Be Qualifying”.  And by that I don’t mean just the classic BANT criteria (Budget-Authority-Need-Timescale) which is hardly relevant in many opportunities where the need has to be created before it can be satisfied.

And I don’t see qualifying as a one-time act at the start of the sales process, either.  My observations of top-performing sales people suggest that for them, qualifying is a continuous process rather than an event.

The art of continuous qualifying…

Let’s accept that the status quo rarely prevails.  Opportunities that looked promising to start with can fade away.  Leads that seemed poorly qualified can be nurtured into winning deals.  But at the end of the day, I’ll suggest that you need to keep on top of two things above all: will they buy, and can you win?

Will they buy is all about whether the problem they are facing is so painful that they have to act.  You need to be continuously qualifying for the economic impact, who else might be affected, and what the consequences of inaction might be.  If the problem turns out to be merely irritating, can it be elevated to important?  And is resolving the problem still a top priority – or has it been overtaken by events?  What would it take them to move forward to the next stage?  And what might hold them back?

Whether you can win is about whether they trust you, more than any other option (including “do nothing”), to deliver them the results they need.  Have you got the support of the people who matter when it comes to making the decision?  How can you elevate your value, and mitigate any risk?  And are you sure that you know what sets you apart – and why it matters to your prospect?

Coffee is for qualifiers…

According to Alec Baldwin, “coffee is for closers”.  But I’d be happy to buy a coffee (or send a Starbucks gift card) for anyone who contributes to this thread with their ideas about great qualifiers.

1 COMMENT

  1. Bob: I agree that lead qualification needs to be done throughout the sales cycle. Salespeople are often faced with situations that radically change assumptions, or invalidate previously held beliefs about an opportunity. It’s important to vigilant about recognizing those conditions, and qualifying as rigorously at those points as at the the beginning of the sales cycle.

    Interestingly, in the sales risk perception survey I completed in March (results to be posted next week), almost 15% responded that their companies do not have a formal lead qualification process. (The survey did not ask about how decisions are made regarding whether to engage in the sales cycle.) Based on that finding–for those companies–I suspect that there is a wide variance in lead quality throughout all stages of the sales cycle, as standards would likely be left to the whim of the individual salesperson. Use of consistent qualification criteria would have a positive impact on financial performance.

    But how do you derive the criteria? I wrote about this in a blog Asking to Send Literature is not Lead Qualification. At the most basic level, qualification is simply a process that includes a set of questions to uncover risks and opportunities–for the salesperson. Keeping risks and opportunities in mind will help any salesperson to devise the most useful set of questions. I’ve included some suggested ones in the blog.

    One note: I look at assessing the likelihood of buying a little differently, as prospects don’t always simply want to run from (or avoid) pain. Some move when opportunity knocks. Similar to salespeople, some prospects are looking at opportunities (e.g. timing a strategic move) that are too great to pass up.

    Thanks for posting this. I love any illustration using Glengarry!

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