To prequalify is to lose before you even start

Remember what your mom said: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

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Have you ever walked into a shop and there, before your very eyes, is the technician with a brand new toolbox he purchased from the competition? Not long ago, you had convinced yourself that this guy could not afford to buy his own lunch, let alone a $10,000+ box.

Or worse, you pull into a small, two-bay service station that is always in need of a good cleaning and paint job, and there, staring you in the face, is a new $15,000 piece of test equipment with all the bells and whistles. You had convinced yourself that this was a shoestring operation that could go belly-up at any moment.

Another story that many of us have heard before is the one about the old guy in the beater pickup truck driving around Bentonville, Arkansas. This elderly man was treated like a hobo by most of the people he met. In fact, he was Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart and one of the wealthiest people in the world. Walton just loved his old pickup.

In each situation, either you or the people of Bentonville had negatively prequalified someone, and in your case it cost you money – maybe a lot of money.

We all prequalify situations and people in our own mind, often because of previous experiences, bias, or for no real conscious reason at all; we just do it. Unfortunately, very often this prequalifying mindset has negative consequences or is flat wrong, but we do it anyway.

“He drives an old beat up truck so he doesn’t have any money.” “That shop is always dirty so they won’t invest in new equipment.” “That guy is so cheap he would never buy a new box.”

What can drive you crazy is that sometimes an unfounded opinion turns out to be correct. Maybe this person actually will not buy anything nice and new, or that person who you think can and will buy could easily be up to their neck in debt.

The thing is, you don’t know when you are right or wrong. So how can you tell who is and who is not a real prospect? The answer is simple, but many of us make it hard: just talk to them and ask.

You can learn what’s really happening with someone or a situation by using some simple investigative techniques.

If the technician has an old or small storage cabinet, ask them about it. If the shop doesn’t have adequate test equipment, ask about it. You’ll never know for sure if you don’t just ask.

So, how do you ask?

First, no matter what the person or situation looks, like treat everyone with respect and enthusiasm as you get to know them. Ask lots of questions about their choice of tools and supplies, such as where they get them, why do they buy from there, and would they consider buying from you.

Resist the urge to ask the real question that is bouncing around in your head: “When are you going to replace that rusty old toolbox?”

Soft, non-threatening questions will often get you the answers you’re looking for and not aggravate the prospect.

·        “As your business grows, do you think your current tool storage will handle your additional tools, or do you think you will need to get something with more space?”

o   You’re not saying that his old box is a piece of junk; you’re selling him on the idea of more space.

·         “Are you concerned about the security of your tools in your current tool storage cabinet? New boxes are very secure and protect your huge tool investment.”

o   You are not telling him that his coworkers and customers are thieves; you’re just showcasing the features of newer products.

·         “I’m curious if you are concerned about losing customers whose vehicles have tricky electronic diagnostic needs. If so, we have the best diagnostic equipment at all different price points to help you keep that business.”

o   Let the customer know you offer the latest and most up-do-date technologies.

·         “I have a lot of neighborhood shops who are getting the new easy-to-use test gear to help them keep their current customers, and also grow their business.”

o   Again, you are positing the idea of losing customers … but you’re also explaining that the  equipment is easy to use.

I’ll bet you can sit down right now and write down a list of 15-20 people in your territory that you have prequalified, and therefore not asked about a big purchase. Try to remember or figure out why it is you assume they will not or cannot purchase anything substantial.

Now, take that list, and over the next two to three weeks, speak to every single one of these people about a significant purchase using the non-threatening question technique above. You will be happy with the results.

Now … go sell something.

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