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Chapter 12: Qualifying Buyers


Many organizations have great difficulty forecasting top-line revenues. We believe that this reflects an underlying problem: Pipelines are full of unqualified buyers. Most organizations have no standard way of accurately assessing which prospects are likely to buy.

Our strong sense—as will become clear below—is that the sales manager should disqualify buyers, based on the best available correspondence between the salesperson and the prospect. The alternative is to abdicate this responsibility to individual salespeople, which almost inevitably leads to unqualified buyers being in the pipeline, resulting in inflated top-line revenue estimates. So how do the sales manager and the salesperson work together to qualify buyers, build pipeline, and develop more accurate forecasts?

A prerequisite is to agree on a standard set of terms describing the Key Players involved in making buying decisions. This facilitates qualifying multiple Key Players who play different roles in a given opportunity. A prospect with all roles filled is a better bet at forecasting time.

We define Key Players as being those individuals whom a seller must access in order to sell, fund, and implement the offering. As you would expect, the number of Key Players is proportional to the size and complexity of what is being sold. Here are our definitions of the Key Players:

In our experience, salespeople tend to avoid their Adversaries, which is generally a mistake. A salesperson's objective should be to convert, neutralize, or eliminate Adversaries. Of course, this needs to be done carefully. For example, a one-on-one meeting can be confrontational, and can further polarize opposing positions. Instead, we suggest including people who are on your side when you meet with Adversaries—preferably, a proponent who outranks your Adversary.

These definitions of members of the buying committee become the basis for discussing and developing strategies for specific opportunities. Look at Figures 12-1, 12-2, and 12-3. In these charts, we've laid out three different sized opportunities and identified the Key Players and their associated titles and goals. (Note that there are occasions where a Key Player plays more than one role.) Also note the emphasis on goals: the starting point of all Customer Focused Selling.

Opportunity Organization Chart, Middleware Opportunity

Figure 12-1:  Opportunity Organization Chart: Middleware Opportunity—$50,000

Opportunity Organization Chart, Sales Process Automation

Figure 12-2:  Opportunity Organization Chart: Sales Process Automation—$500,000

Opportunity Organization Chart, ERP Deployment

Figure 12-3:  Opportunity Organization Chart: ERP Deployment—$3 Million

This may look like a lot of extra work. But given a simple organizational chart software package and a little practice, it should prove relatively easy. And in our experience, understanding, preparing, and updating simple charts like this helps both the salesperson and the sales manager, as they work together to qualify opportunities.

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