Roses… ragweed… daisies… dandelions… sure it’s easy to tell the difference between a flower and a weed when it’s written in black and white. But it’s never so black and white when it comes to qualifying sales opportunities.

Qualifying your sales opportunities starts with having the discipline to ask tough questions. Many don’t want to ask these questions because they subconsciously fear they may have a jarring confrontation with reality. Questions like: Will this client really buy, or are they on a learning expedition? Can I satisfy their needs or would an alternative vendor really be best for this client? Am I being used only for comparison with a vendor who has already been unofficially chosen? Being used as column fodder in an active RFP environment is very common, time consuming, and expensive.

So how will you know if you should “pass on a deal” or choose to not answer the RFP? One key element to consider is the number of opportunities in your pipeline. If your pipeline is full, you can be pickier. Pulling the weeds or eliminating poor opportunities from your garden will allow the flowers in your pipeline to bloom. Conversely, not weeding or not having the discipline to qualify will choke out the best opportunities by you investing time with the wrong client. Weed your pipeline with regularity, confidence, and humility.

You may be asking: How do I know if this opportunity is a weed? A few items you should think about are: Is the opportunity moving along according to schedule? Do I know for sure that there is a strong political champion in the account for the project? Have I had consistent, direct, positive, and meaningful interaction with the “real power”? Is it clear that the RFP was written with great influence by a competitor? Are my client contacts being vague or seemingly uninterested in details? Having the consistent discipline to ask these types of questions will serve as the needed disruptive catalyst to ensure only the highest quality opportunities are pursued. Remember your goal isn’t to be a “finalist”, it’s to win. A second place finish creates a very high opportunity cost. Saying “no” to a client for the right reasons can create opportunities for you to come back later with better odds of winning.

The best way to avoid weeds is to plant your own seeds. Don’t build your business around reaction to demand but rather go create the demand. By doing this you will be assured of the client’s real intentions, potentially keep the deal from an RFP process, and most importantly, be viewed by the clients as valuable counsel. Not every unsolicited RFP is worth an investment of your time. You will need to stop… think… ask the tough questions and have the discipline to act on the answers to those questions, even when it’s painful.

Okay, okay, I still hear one or two skeptics. You may be thinking this sounds easy, but in many instances you just can’t be sure if the opportunity is real. If you still aren’t sure after you have done your qualification, then move the process along and “stay alive”. This strategy requires you to commit to physically getting in the account and in front of the real decision maker to re-qualify. If you use this strategy of “buying time” and don’t get to the decision maker, it’s not a strategy, its malpractice. You’ll need to develop the discipline to walk away after a face-to-face meeting with a client if it’s clear:

  • We don’t have the solution to their needs.
  • We don’t have the political champion.
  • We have better opportunities elsewhere.

You will invest between 150-500 hours in your typical opportunity before it closes. Are you spending 500 hours watering weeds, or will your garden be full of flowers? The quality of your pipeline will be the best evidence of whether you have had the discipline to be a diligent gardener.

Action: Review pipeline, re-qualify as needed, weed where appropriate, share written plan with manager/leader.
Pay Off: Higher quality pipeline. Better qualified opportunities. More wins.