Your phone rings. It's a prospective customer. They'd like you to come out and give an estimate or prepare a proposal. Great -- a fresh prospect!
While it's always good to have customers knocking at your door, let's face it -- not all prospects are going to convert to paying customers. You can waste a lot of time and money answering inquiries and preparing proposals for people who are just looking.
Figuring out how much time and energy to spend on prospective customers is a delicate and difficult balancing act. You need to spend enough time to make a sale to a genuine prospect, but you don't want to waste too much time on those who won't ever buy.
Realistically, you have to be responsive to all potential customers. But there are ways to limit the amount of time, money, and effort you spend on dead-end shoppers.
1. Have general information available.
Most prospects will try to figure out whether a company is a good fit for them before taking up too much of their -- or your -- time.
Let's say you sell and install floor tiles. Do you specialize in commercial or residential installation? Do you serve a specific geographic area? Do you install countertops as well as floors?
That kind of information enables prospects to weed you out before calling. Of course, a great and relatively inexpensive way to provide this information is on your web site.
2. Ask questions of the prospect.
In professional salesperson terms, this is known as "qualifying" the prospect. By asking a few simple, non-intrusive questions, you can get a sense of how serious the prospect is.
Some questions to ask include:
- What's the scope of the project?
- What's the timeframe for the work to be started and completed?
- How soon will you be making a decision on a vendor?
- How many bids are you getting?
- What other alternatives (not competitors) are you considering? (In the floor-tile example, for instance, you might ask, "What other types of floor coverings are you looking at?")
- What's the most important consideration in your decision -- price, quality, or convenience?
Questions like these give you a better sense of whether a prospect is ready to make a decision, whether they're likely to find you a good choice, and how much time to spend with them.
3. Don't get star-struck.
It's easy to get excited if you're approached by a large or well-known company or customer. Don't lose your judgment.
Such customers often take up more of your time, take longer to make decisions, and expect highly competitive bids. Sure, it would be nice to have the biggest company in town or the star of the major league baseball team on your customer list, but is it worth it if you lose money?
4. Give prospects a reason to make a decision sooner rather than later.
It's human nature to put off making choices until the last minute, but that often puts your business in a crunch. If you can, come up with truthful, positive ways to encourage customers to make a decision quickly -- "I've got an opening in my calendar in two weeks, but then I'm booked until May" or "I can get a discount on materials this month."
5. Be cautious of prospects who want too much information.
Some prospects use proposals as a way of getting free consulting services. This is true of both small customers and Fortune 500 companies.
6. Don't count your chickens before they hatch.
It's easy to get excited about a prospect, especially if it's a big one. So, keep a lot of balls in the air, and remember -- a deal isn't really a deal until the check clears.