This is the phase of selling that most salespeople try to get through as quickly as possible and yet it is the part of the process where you can most effectively improve your chances of success.
So many salespeople in the Financial Services industry skipped this phase for so long, and sold inappropriate products to customers, that in many countries around the world regulators now insist that a standardized profile & needs analysis questionnaire is executed with every customer. Best practice has become a compliance issue that Regulators audit.
Qualifying opportunities well will create more time for you, and therefore contribute to your productivity more than any other sales skill. My view on life is that Time is the only finite resource. Many companies try to Qualify leads before distribution to salespeople, I have always felt that it is always worth doing for yourself.
Qualification is the process where you find out whether the potential customer is serious about buying or whether he is either “tire kicking” or “going through the motions” of a formal competitive procurement process where he has already selected a preferred supplier. The basics of qualification are fairly simple. You need to invest a meeting or two to establish credibility and a relationship, but as early as possible you should confirm with the main customer contact whether there is a budget, a business owner (decision maker), a defined set of actions to evaluate alternatives (a formal procurement process, or a less formal, give us a recommendation by ….) and a deadline when the business needs the solution in place. I also try to get the key contact to articulate the “compelling business reason” for the project. All these questions can be framed within and surrounded by Requirements Gathering questions to make them more palatable. A telesales call that just asks: “Are you serious? Do you have the money?” can be a bit bruising. These questions have to be asked, because if the customer cannot confirm there is a budget, and senior executives are not “business owning” the initiative, and if there is no compelling business need then you may be wasting your time.