You may have heard the old story about the door-to-door salesman who was selling vacuum cleaners way out in the country. When a lady came to the door, he dramatically emptied a bag of dirt onto the floor and boasted, “Ma’am, if this vacuum cleaner doesn’t get rid of every speck of this dirt, I’ll eat it.” She said, “Come on in. We don’t have electricity.”
Although there’s almost no chance that this actually happened, it illustrates the importance of qualifying prospects. Ross, who manages the sales team at his paper, told me they place a lot of emphasis on qualifying the businesses they approach about advertising. “There’s no use to try to sell something to someone who is not is a position to buy,” he said. “So we do everything we can to look at our marketing products from the other person’s perspective.”
Ross sticks to the philosophy that there are two times to qualify a prospect: (1) Before the conversation and (2) During the conversation. That’s much better than getting bad news after making a presentation. Here’s a closer look:
1. Before the conversation. “When it comes to financial qualifying, a lot of information is available,” he said. “If the company has advertised with us before, we can easily search the files for previous budgets and invoices. And if we’ve done proposals for them in the past, we can get plenty of insights there.
“We’ve made efforts to learn the ad rates of our competitors, Of course, it’s difficult to learn about special deals and discounts, but at least we have a general idea of their starting points. If our target prospect is advertising in other media outlets, we can put together a pretty good profile of their expenses.”
Beyond the budget, Ross encourages his team to learn enough about their prospects to figure out what kind of marketing they need. Is this a business that traditionally advertises in print? Do their competitors have a strong online presence? Can their customers be categorized as general interest or business-to-business? Is their marketing based on brand identity or special offers? Do their competitors advertise in Ross’ paper? If so, does the sales person have access to ad response rates?
2. During the conversation. “Through the years, I’ve heard stories about sales people who leave appointments feeling optimistic, but find out later that there was no way the person could buy an ad program,” Ross explained. “At my paper, we don’t want that to happen to our sales team.
“No matter how much we learn in advance, there’s a lot more to discover,” he continued. “So when we have face-to-face meetings, we confirm what we’ve learned ahead of time and ask questions to fill in the blanks. We simply tell them that the more we know, the more we can help.”
Ross makes a lot of sense, doesn’t he? Without the right kind of information to qualify prospects, you might face a big, ugly pile of dirt without electricity.