On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks with sales coach Dave Fischer about how and why agency leaders should disqualify prospects during their business development process. Dave shares great tips and insights as to how to navigate early discussions with potential clients for your agency.
EP 34: How to Disqualify Agency Prospects, with Dave Fischer
Kelly: So, welcome to another episode of Thrive. Today we are talking about how to disqualify agency prospects, which is a very, very interesting and important conversation. Coz a lot of times we focus on qualifying those prospects, but today, we are going to focus on disqualifying them. And today, I am joined by Dave Fischer, who owns a sales training group called Chartwell Seventeen. And they really use the Sandler training methodology at that advisory group. So, I was actually introduced to Dave a while ago from someone who I went through a non-profit consulting institute with, and we had a great conversation, and I thought it would be great for agency leaders to really understand how to disqualify prospects for their agencies. So, Dave, thanks so much for coming on the show. I am really excited to have a great conversation today.
Dave: Same here Kelly. Thanks for having me on.
Kelly: So, in the agency world, as you know, most leaders are what you might call accidental sales people. So, can you set the foundation for us today as to how that actually translates into this idea that we have to qualify, qualify, qualify and we sort of forget about disqualification.
Dave: Sure, absolutely. Many of the client's that I work with are exactly what you just touched on- the accidental salesperson. They need to generate new business. They need to generate clients. They don't view themselves as somebody in that role. If you mention the ugly word sales, it's something they don't want to be associated with. And with every good reason. And, I think what winds up happening is that people take on this mindset of, "Well, if I provide a lot of goodwill to people, if I provide them a lot of information, if I give them a lot of good reasons as to why they should consider enlisting my firm or my services, that should be an effective way to bring on business." And as we know, it doesn't always work.
Dave: I think that's the first thing. I think the second thing is that sometimes they lose sight of the fact that essentially when you are looking to bring on a new client, it should be a mutual process. Meaning, is this person going to be a good fit for our agency. Sometimes people just look at it as, "We need to bring on clients." And as you know, if you bring on somebody that is not a good fit in the buying process, I don't think I've ever seen a situation where somebody that's really difficult in the buying process suddenly becomes an angel.
Kelly: Turns into a sweetheart.
Dave: Yeah. When they are paying you money. So, I think it is also important to have a little bit of a skeptical eye so to speak, a skeptical ear, to ask yourself, "Will this be the right fit for our agency should we decide to be forward with this person or to this opportunity?”
Kelly: Right. And is that what you are talking about when you talk about having a disqualifying mindset versus an opportunity-everywhere mindset?
Dave: Absolutely. I think when you have an opportunity everywhere mindset, the question you won't ask yourself is, "What could go wrong?" or "What would actually prevent this from being an ideal opportunity?"
Kelly: Yeah. It's funny a lot of the agency leaders that I work with who are primarily responsible for bringing in or closing new business, they get really excited at every new opportunity, which I appreciate. I've been in that boat before. But they really don't- many of the agency owners that I’ve worked with don't have that disqualifying mindset. They don't look for "What are the potential risks with this organization? Does it fit within our positioning? Is it a good match for where you are gonna take this organization long term?" They don't think about things like that. So, I mean, very similar to you. I kind of help them. But this is the main focus of what you do. So it really resonates with me. Let's talk about a little bit how we sort of transition that mindset into the benefits to the agency leaders. Creating fewer proposals, increasing their closing rate, things like that. Talk a little bit about that for me.
Dave: Sure. One thing I wanted to just touch on. You mentioned mindset. I think another thing to keep in mind which probably the hardest thing to do, is going into these opportunities emotionally detached from the outcome.
Kelly: Yeah, that’s a good point. Yup.
Dave: If you are emotionally attached, if there is a competitive side of you that kicks in, and a person says, "Kelly, tell me why I should hire your firm?" I think that right there for the emotionally involved person will lead to a whole listing of reasons. Whereas, the person who's thinking about this is a little bit more skeptically, may take a step back and say "Well, I'm not really sure at this point if you should." So just wanted to touch on that, that first piece. Emotional detachment I think is really key. It's going to allow you to really think through this notion of qualification much, much, more thoroughly.
Dave: Now to touch on some of the things that, again, having this mindset of less proposals, absolutely. Higher close rate, definitely. I think another thing that you'll see in this process is less negotiating at the end.
Dave: One of the things that people in my experience don't really qualify or they don't have the discussion around are the financial and time investments required to make the solution work. It's not discussed until the end when the person is seeing the pricing for the first time.
Dave: And that leads to a back and forth, let's negotiate. And again if I am emotionally invested and I want this to happen, well then, what I might start doing is conceding. And in that case, I am giving up profit margins. So, I think another thing you'll see is the ability to retain some more profit margin as a result of brining on the right client.
Kelly: Yeah. You are definitely speaking my love language. So let's talk a little bit about some red flags. I mean you mentioned before, I think that's a great example of somebody says, "Why should we choose your firm?" That's like a pretty loaded question. And it doesn't help the situation. It kind of shows you with the perspective client's true colors are, in a way. So this is maybe a bit of a general question. But, is there like a prospect filtering protocol or some red flag scenarios that you can sort of walk as through as to what those things might be for the business development people at agencies?
Dave: Three comes to mind immediately. I think the first one is if the person is unwilling to engage with you outside of email. So, like I see a lot of times someone will reach out to an agency, "We’re really interested. Why don't you send us over a couple of ideas?" And then they'll be this back and forth on email. And, what I always advise clients is get off email. Get the person on the phone. In a perfect world, get in front of them, face to face. And if the person is unwilling to get on the phone with you or meet with you, then that right there is a red flag.
Kelly: Yeah. And that's pretty low on the list I would imagine.
Kelly: I mean that's a pretty 101…
Dave: So, I'd say the second thing would be if somebody is really pressing you. "Kelly, tell me the reasons why? Tell me why I should hire you? Tell me how you would fix this issue?" And if they are unwilling to engage in a dialogue where you are essentially taking a step back saying, "Well before I can actually start giving you some solutions, I first need to understand what's going on in your world". If the person is unwilling to have that discussion with you and answer questions, I'd say that's another red flag.
Kelly: Yup. Anything else?
Dave: And then I'd say, probably the biggest one would be if they're really leading the discussion right away with things about fees. Right? So off the bat. "Kelly, I was curious to know what you charge for x? I'd like to know your fees." And again, part of the training that we provide our clients is how do we tactfully deflect those questions, letting people know that, we will eventually answer them. However, for us to answer them, we need to have some more information. If the immediate response to that is, "Yeah, but just give me a price." Again, I would start to think of that as a bit of a red flag.
Kelly: Yeah, for sure. And I recently wrote a blog post on prospect filtering protocol which has a checklist and some red flags. So, I’ll put a note to that or link to that in the show notes as well. There was something that the last time we spoke, you talked a little bit about some things that might be overlooked in terms of a macro- versus a micro-view of disqualification. And, I think that the people who are listening and watching would really get a lot of value out of that. So, can you kind of, we’ll pivot a little bit and go into some of that.
Dave: Sure. So, if we look at macro, we can look at it from, there's really three things that have to basically align for if I am the person that is looking to bring on a client, for me to have good confidence, to say that at a time I deliver a solution that this person will provide me with a yes or no. And I think that's ultimately the goal, right? What you want to avoid is the person going into the prospective client’s version of the witness protection program or the perennial let me think it over.
Dave: So, if we look at those things, we would say the first thing to really get a good understanding of this is, what are their personal compelling, and if you can get their ideal emotional reasons why somebody would want to make a change. Ultimately, what we are selling is change. People are in comfort zones. And, really there needs to be something personal, and compelling, and emotional to get them to make that change. And so, within that, we use a terminology in Sandler called pain, figuring out what is the pain that the client is looking to solve. And, that's the first thing. And if there really isn't any pain, if you are not hearing anything compelling, then I think it's incumbent upon you to start thinking that perhaps this might not be a good opportunity. We say, "No pain, no sale."
Dave: So, from there, the second thing would be to have again, mutual alignment around investment. And by investment, I mean, "What are the things that the client is willing and able to invest in the solution?" We oftentimes quickly go to things like fees and budget. However, I think another thing that gets overlooked is really qualifying the person on, "Are they willing to invest the time on their end that would be necessary for the solution?"
Dave: And so, if you get red flags there, another opportunity to think about disqualification.
Dave: And then, so if we look at that, again, first step would be pain. Second step would be investment. The third thing would be really understanding their decision-making process. And I think, this is the part where people get held up. They might have a really good conversation around pain, what we’re trying to solve for. There are some alignment around investment. And then the person says, "Great. Why don't you put together a proposal?” And then you send it, and suddenly you find out after the fact that they need to go and sell this internally or they need to formulate a committee or whatever the case maybe. So it's that third piece of, what is their decision making process? Meaning, when are they looking to implement a solution, whether it's with you or somebody like you? Who besides themselves will be involved in the decision? How do you, as the business development colleague or professional, get them involved in the discussion?
Dave: If they happen to be vetting you plus a couple of other competitors, what is the process that they have in place to evaluate you and your competitors? Will it just be on price, price alone? And, I think the other thing would be is really understanding, have they made this buying decision before? And oftentimes, when people have not, they then decide to hijack the process and they use their non decision making process to buy something that they've never bought before. And I find that, that's the place for the business development professional to move into a consulting role and to say something like, "Kelly, sounds like you haven't done something like this before. Would it be okay if I walk you through the steps that our clients have gone through?” So that they're in a position to make the best decision possible.
Kelly: Yeah. You said a lot of good things in that little encapsulated and yet there. I wanted to back up for a second and talk about understanding the decision making process on the clients end. Because, one of the things is if you are really asking the right questions, yes, you are talking about investment of time and investment from a financial standpoint. You are talking about all the things that you covered. But if you don't understand, who the actual decision maker is, and you don't understand that it's your job as the business development person to help the contact that you're working with to sell it internally, that's a really, really big issue. The other thing that you mentioned was obviously if you send a proposal. I'm a huge fan of never sending a proposal ever, ever, ever. So, if I can't get in front of you to walk you through it, then I am certainly gonna do a screen share to walk through it. And that's even more important if you are not the decision-maker. Because now, I have to basically train you or walk you through it so that you're so comfortable that you can, then in turn, sell it internally if I am not able to be in that room. So there's just so much nuance to this stuff. But all the things that you covered are super important. And I think those three or four things, those are, I mean that's really what it is. That's the game changer for sales in marketing.
Dave: Agreed. And I love, I love that you are advising do not send the proposal. Once you send the proposal, you lose leverage.
Dave: And so, I love that notion. And, if we were to add in another, that right there is another red flag. If the person is unwilling to get on the phone with you to review the proposal and they are just pressuring you to send it, again, I think that you have the ability at that point to make the decision to not send it.
Kelly: Yeah. I actually, in many cases, I'll advise my agency clients that if that actually happens where the client is or the prospect is asking them in a really, really demanding, "Hey, just send the proposal, we’re not gonna meet in person, we’re not gonna walk through it, or we’re asking these five other agencies." I tell them to actually push back and say, "If we can't sit down together and have a conversation so that you understand the value of what I've just spent time putting together on your behalf, it's not a good fit and we’re probably not the right agency for you." I am very strong about that because I think it goes into the abyss and then you're stuck in that waiting pattern that you are talking about before.
Dave: Love it.
Kelly: Yeah. So as we kind of wrap up here, are there some questioning techniques that you think the business development folks can kind of add to their arsenal? Whether it be from the offensive position or the defensive position.
Dave: Sure. I think the first one that comes to mind is the open-ended versus closed. Another way to think about this is asking the verb-led questions versus who and what questions and how questions.
Dave: For example, let's say we're in more of a client servicing role to illustrate the point. If you were my client and I were to say, "Kelly, is there anything that our agency can be doing better?" Usually what happens is the person says, "No, nothing that comes to mind". Or if I say, "Kelly, is there anybody in your network that would benefit from our services?" To which you would say, "Well, nobody that comes to mind. But if I can think of someone, I'll let you know"
Dave: So we can flip those questions into what and who questions. So getting back to the client servicing. "Kelly, what is one thing that we can be doing better for you?" Will elicit much, much more of a productive response.
Dave: "Kelly, who within your network has some of the issues that you and I when we first got together? Right. Who are having some of those issues right now that would benefit from a conversation from us?" So those are examples of using these more open-ended questions. And I also think that, if you are going to, if your goal is to get information, and you lead with a lot of these close-ended questions: is, does, could, should, would; well, you want a receiving end of it will probably shut me down after that third closed-ended question because it will feel like an interrogation.
Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. I could see that.
Dave: I think the other thing to think about from a questioning strategy standpoint is not asking obvious, what I call leading questions. Right?
Kelly: You just made people feel stupid. It's horrible.
Dave: Yeah. Kelly, you're unhappy with your current agency, right? Right?
Kelly: That's why you’re sitting here.
Dave: Like if I start to feel like you are asking me questions that's going to get me into "Gotcha!" moment.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah.
Dave: Then my immediate thing will be to shut down.
Dave: So, that's why adding language, like for example if I was looking to find out when you're looking to make a decision, I might say, whether you are looking to move forward with us or an agency like ours, "When would you like to have this project in place, when would you like to have this solution in place?" It's sounds less like it's a, for lack of a better term, a move, a closing move. Like when you think of the, “So, what do I have to do to get you into this automobile this afternoon?”
Dave: I think that buyers, when they start to hear some of these questions that make them feel like they are being pushed into a close, they shut down.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah. Really, really good stuff. I mean, these are like super actionable takeaways So, I know the audience is gonna love it. Dave, thank you so much. I mean, this is really, really good information. And, really appreciate you coming on the show.
Dave: Great to be on. Thanks again for having me, Kelly.