To stay in business, people need to buy your products and/or services.
That statement should come as no surprise. Yet routinely, I encounter business owners who have not made any attempt to categorize potential clients in terms of their desire and need to buy. Not doing so means you may be missing your best opportunities.
Categorizing clients can be done in several ways. I like the following method as it removes our natural tendency to focus on those people we feel most comfortable with. Instead, you focus on return. You need to know how your customer feels about these five questions:
- Has the potential customer budgeted for the item/service? if no, does the person have the power to change the budget?
- Does the potential customer have the authority to make the decision to purchase a product or service? If not, can he or she make an introduction to the person who does?
- Do potential customers have a defined problem/need or are they just exploring options? You must be able to give the customer a reason to switch to your product or service.
- What is the potential customer’s time frame: immediate, short term or long term? Can you do anything to accelerate the potential customer’s decision to buy a product or service?
- What is the potential size of the sale? This question must be considered both in terms of an immediate sales and the long-term sales potential.
On each question, award the customer 0, 1, or 2 points (i.e., customer has budgeted for item, has the authority to make the purchase, knows the problem he or she needs to solve (and understands how your product will do just that), needs it now, and looks to but more in the future – this is a 10-point customer). If your customer scores 7-8 points, he or she has good potential and you need to give focused time and effort.
Not only should you, as the owner, be making these calls but you need to train your entire staff in doing the same.
Remember that basic marketing efforts must occur before you reach this stage. Customers must be aware of your business and coming in the door. Basic marketing does that and is a building block for your screening as potential customers learn more on how you can help. They come to you with a sense of the possibilities.
Building a business means getting the most from your resources. Such screening techniques focus on ensuring your sales process does just that. You are simply helping screen the window shopper from a serious buyer. This doesn’t mean you ignore the window shopper as they have great long term potential or may be a great ambassador for your business. It also helps build trust and rapport. But time is a limited resource; use it wisely.
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Glenn Muske is an independent expert on rural small business, working as GM Consulting – Your partner in achieving small business success. He provides consulting, and writes articles for county extension agents and newspapers across North Dakota. Previously, he was the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality.