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Martin Wales

Customer Catcherâ„¢


[August 6, 2001]

Use Your Marketing To Keep People Away, Part II:
Tactics For Qualifying Prospects

You save a great deal of effort, time, and money in your business when you create sales and marketing materials and processes that allow your prospective clients to disqualify themselves. By not dealing with you or your staff until they are qualified, your closing rate increases while your cost of sales and marketing simultaneously decreases.

For more details on this strategy, check out last month's column about the reasons why you should use marketing to keep people away. Now, let's discuss the tactics you can incorporate into your day-to-day activities. The goal is to build "self-service disqualification" into your company.

The Process Of Disqualifying Suspects
There are three general stages for qualification in customer acquisition. First, anyone who has the remotest possibility of needing your services is a suspect. This definition could be as simple as any person with a pulse.

The next stage is for prospects, which involves the actual identification that they are in the market for your solution, but haven't decided on a provider yet. And finally, based on the prospect's evaluation, they become your clients.

You want to have as many suspects disqualify themselves as early as possible. There may be more than one level within this stage. The first level is a visit to your Web site followed by the second, which is subscribing to your e-zine, or electronic newsletter. They may stay here and take free information forever. That's fine -- you're not incurring any additional costs. Some of these suspects may even refer you without ever having purchased anything from you. Ultimately, though, you really want as many suspects as possible to identify themselves as interested in purchasing your product or service.

At this point, you have prospects. Prospects are those willing to clearly identify themselves by filling in a form, questionnaire, survey, or sales presentation request. They show a level of commitment and willingness to enter your sales cycle.

Notice that you still haven't sent expensive marketing materials like high-quality brochures, demo CDs, or your video. Many prospects are comfortable receiving additional information via Web sites with secure password authentication to get specific details, presentations, or an initial consultation. You can have them fill in an evaluation, or audit, describing their current situation to further qualify them.

Essential Disqualification Tools
To reduce the risk of wasting money and time with "tire kickers," you should have the following disqualification tools at your disposal.

Your Unique Selling Proposition
This is often referred to as your USP, or what I call your Ultimate Strategic Positioning. Basically, it is your 30-second company pitch that concisely describes a key benefit from your company and who you serve.

It is an omnipresent disqualification tool. It is spoken on your voice mail system, at networking events, in meetings, and during presentations. It is written into all your marketing materials, on your Web sites, and in any advertising you do. 

An example of a USP would be: "We help broadband firms with their quality assurance by providing independent, third-party testing facilities. This gives their sales people confidence and additional support to offer the company's family of products. In addition, we help them meet any state's certifications and industry standards." A great champion of the USP concept is Jay Abraham.

USPs are the perfect opportunity to enable self-serve disqualification. If a suspect isn't involved in the broadband industry, he'll move on without tapping any of your resources. If he is in this industry, then he may very well desire the benefits you've mentioned.

Specific Qualification Questions
Create a list of specific questions to be used, even if rhetorically, by your receptionist, your sales people, in your marketing materials, and on your Web site. Eventually, you'll know the answers you must hear in order for suspects to become prospects and finally clients.

Asking specific questions upfront saves a lot of headache. Inexperienced sales people often don't ask the questions they should. They fear losing their prospects. They may be working with more suspects than prospects, just to keep the sales manager happy that they're at appointments.

Informational Web Site
Use the content on your Web site to incorporate the points above, like your USP and the questions you ask. The Web also allows you to reinforce your specific message with pictures and graphics. Showing circuit board drawings is interesting to those that want them.

The Internet is a phenomenal tool for serving suspects for little cost and taking prospects through preliminary disqualification tasks. I use automated processes on my Web site from GoldMine software that gives suspects and prospects information without taking my time, effort, or money... and it works 24/7.

Audit Or Self-Evaluation Form
Have your suspects and prospects perform a self-diagnosis. This is easily accomplished through a Web form. Let them gauge their own desire to enter your selling process. If the solutions you're presenting don't incite them to fill out the form, they will not be ready to buy now anyway. Don't waste time selling them, yet. Get them on your e-zine list and stay in touch electronically, but invest little time or money to pursue them at this stage.

Additional Tactical Tools For Disqualification
There are additional proactive tactics you can use to enable self-service disqualification.

Public Relations Strategy
Write case studies and articles for industry or solution-specific publications. Target those you know your best customers read. Focus on your core clients with the highest profitability in your PR materials.

Direct Marketing
When purchasing lists for mail or e-mail, it is better to invest in more highly targeted lists. Some companies still mistakenly believe that purchasing larger lists to hit more contacts will yield greater interest in their product. It may give you more suspects, but it won't give you more prospects or clients.

Acronyms And Associations
Know and use acronyms and associations that are familiar only to your targeted industry. People who don't know what the acronyms stand for, or fail to recognize any of the associations, feel that they are in the wrong place and move on. Prospects in the specified industry feel comfortable hearing acronyms that are second nature to them, and perceive you as a specialist in their industry if you are aware of their associations (joining them is a step better).

Testimonials And Referrals
Positive comments with the name and title of your satisfied customers lead to their peers buying in. Purchasers want social proof that others are making similar decisions -- this gives them additional confidence and reduces perceived risk. One company I worked at had three salespeople all buy the same car model within weeks of each other, based on each other's recommendations.

In conclusion, it is possible to reduce your cost of sales and marketing while increasing your sales effectiveness. Automate disqualification for the thousands of suspects you attract with your marketing. Further use automation and stepped investment with your prospects. As a result, you will have more time for quality prospects, and you'll be able to invest more effort and money in converting them to long-term customers.

Martin Wales, the Customer Catcher, is a business development specialist helping companies win and keep more business with a focus on CRM. He is a technology-marketing specialist, speaker, and facilitator focused on maximum results with minimum risk using a company's existing resources. Contact him at martin@customercatcher.com.

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