If you work in agency new business, you’re probably aware that agency sales prospects fall into one of two categories: the right ones and the wrong ones. You want to eliminate the wrong ones quickly because chasing down unqualified leads for follow-up conversations is a waste of everyone’s time. Amid agency burnout and understaffing, this is more important than ever.
The seven following steps will help you identify and eliminate unqualified agency sales prospects before they start clogging up your pipeline:
It’s just as important to disqualify a lead as it is to qualify them—and not just to avoid wasting resources on business you can’t win! Remember, “no” is the second-best word in sales. And it works in both directions.
Not all business is good business for your agency. Maintaining a healthy pipeline through a consistent new business program allows you to say “no” to business that isn’t a good fit for your agency, either.
TIP: Without an identified opportunity and pain that your agency can solve — along with an established budget — it’s not a legitimate prospect.
Ask the right questions
Using an effective questioning strategy is crucial when speaking with a prospect. The right questions can set you on an equal playing field, inform later conversations and strategy, and help you qualify prospects as viable leads. Asking the right questions also helps extract the prospect’s pain points to align your agency’s offerings with their needs.
To have a solid questioning strategy, you must understand your ideal client’s profile. You have to know what qualities identify prospects as a good fit to ask the right questions.
Some of the first questions you might ask:
- Are you currently working with an agency?
- If so, why are you looking to change?
- What can our agency do for you that your current agency can’t?
- Why our agency? Why now?
- How many agencies are you speaking with?
- What is your timeline to make a decision?
TIP: If they are legitimately interested in doing business with your agency, they will participate in the process and provide you with the information you need to provide an accurate proposal and move forward. But if they don’t follow up on requests and tasks, aren’t forthcoming, or are very inconsistent in their communication, they are not a real prospect at this time.
Determine the decision maker
When speaking with a prospect, one of the first things you want to do is determine whether they have decision-making authority in the organization. Ask about their decision-making process and who will ultimately make the decision. Most organizations now make decisions by consensus.
If you’re taking the time to talk to someone, you’ll want to make sure their opinion matters. Are they a stakeholder with influence in the process? Are they the budget holder with ultimate authority? Identify their role in the hierarchy and make sure that you are connecting with the right parties. Otherwise, you’ll waste precious time pitching and following up with someone who has little to no decision-making power.
TIP: It’s best to reach out to multiple decision-makers within an organization at once instead of relying on just one contact to be your internal champion.
Imagine spending time and energy going after a prospect only to realize later that they can’t afford your services. (Oops.) Often, publicly available information can help you understand the prospect company’s size, revenue, and prior marketing spend even before the first conversation. Either way, make sure to verify that the prospect has a sufficient budget early on in the process.
How to broach the budget question:
- What are you spending on it now?
- What does it cost your agency not to have this issue addressed?
- Normally we charge between X and Y to solve a problem similar to yours. Is this within your budget?
TIP: When budgets are discussed, be ready to talk about value, proof points, and ROI — if your agency can do so meaningfully and objectively.
TIP: Be ready with flexible options in terms of scope, remuneration, and unbundled offerings at a range of price points, but don’t discount your rates or cut into your margins — it will be nearly impossible to raise them again.
No free consulting
When trying to close a sale, it can be tempting to give away everything upfront. Don’t give away your ideas – you’re not a free consultant! It can do more harm than good as ideas early on may not be fully informed. If this unnecessary risk misses the mark, you may eliminate yourself. And if you hit the mark, they may take your ideas and walk away.
Stick to your sales process and questioning strategy. Lead the conversation. Listen. Be overly prepared, but hold onto more information than you give away. Curate what you share.
Clearly determine next steps
Don’t leave things up in the air at the end of a conversation. You want to be sure that both parties are aligned on the next steps. Get a commitment about the agreed-upon next steps before you hang up. Ask the question, “if I don’t hear from you on the agreed date, what should I do?”
No strings attached
Finally, make sure you employ a healthy detachment. If this opportunity doesn’t work out, there’s always the next. Don’t become so overly invested at the outset that you lose clarity about whether the prospect is even qualified in the first place.
Remember that conversations are simply routes to gauge mutual fit—and might lead to additional connections and opportunities. If it doesn’t make sense for both parties, acknowledge it and politely move on.
As agencies face extraordinary stress on their internal resources, it’s critical to differentiate between business worth pursuing and business that isn’t.
Failure to eliminate unqualified prospects leads to wasted time and disappointing results. That’s why it’s so important to build a process that helps you distinguish between the two.
When you remove the dead weight in your pipeline early on, you can focus all of your energy on winning your right-fit opportunities at every touchpoint.
This blog was updated for accuracy and relevance on September 16, 2021.
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