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The Inverse of Qualifying; Winning by Disqualifying

By XINNIX | June 8, 2022 | Sales

Oftentimes, we as salespeople are reluctant to disqualify an opportunity. We would rather keep believing that we have an opportunity than admit temporary defeat. The impact of this causes much greater problems for the salesperson, their manager, and the company as an opportunity that isn’t there remains in the funnel and forecast.

The salesperson suffers because they spend valuable selling time on a deal that isn’t real. The manager has a problem because he cannot accurately manage a funnel filled with fluff. And the company is challenged because they are planning for resources based on what they believe is in the funnel. This is a triple loss.

Getting a ‘no’ today does not mean that you will get a ’no’ tomorrow. People make new decisions based on receiving new information. Our job as salespeople is to determine when it is a ‘no’ for now and exit with elegance, preserving an opportunity for the future. As a former associate of mine, Brian Sullivan, would say – “Seek an early acceleration or an early exit.”

Matthew sells refurbished diagnostic imaging equipment to hospitals, imaging centers, and directly to certain types of physicians who have x-ray machines in their practice. Matthew had a very large opportunity to provide all the imaging equipment to a brand-new imaging facility being built. He was on the ground floor and believed he had a fantastic relationship with the radiologist who was leading the decision process for the new facility. Matthew provided resources to help with planning, construction requirements, budgeting, and all the specs for the facility.

The radiologist led him to believe that he would be purchasing all the equipment from him, or at least most of it. Matthew spent countless hours working on this project, used a ton of the company’s resources, and believed he had a big win headed his way. Along the way, there were telltale signals that Matthew should have observed and questioned. He knew the other sales reps from the other medical equipment providers, and he would see them from time to time stopping in to see all the doctors in the practice who would be involved in the new imaging facility. Expectations began to change. Communication slowed down and the doctor he was working with was suddenly unavailable.

As an outsider looking in, it’s easy to spot where things went wrong for Matthew. His relationship wasn’t what he thought it was. He probably didn’t qualify as deeply as he should have. For a big project such as this, he should have asked if they were considering new equipment instead of refurbished. And Matthew should have asked if there were other vendors in the mix. And maybe the biggest mistake he made is what David Sandler referred to as “free consulting” – doing a lot of extra work for free and offering specs and pricing with no commitment.

Matthew was still hanging on; he was now in the battle for the business. He wasn’t working on any other deals as this was a multi-million-dollar deal. Two months later, he found out that they had made the decision to go with brand-new equipment and that Matthew and his company would not be getting any of the business at all. Did the doctors string Matthew along? Yes, and that is dishonorable and shows a complete lack of integrity. However, Matthew had multiple opportunities to disqualify this opportunity, and he chose not to. He liked seeing that big number and the commission that might come along with it. And in sales meetings, it felt good to have this big deal that was looming, making the other reps jealous.

Matthews Problems:
  • An empty pipeline
  • Embarrassment in sales meetings
  • Lower self-image
  • Discouraged and demotivated
  • Burned bridge with the radiologist and imaging center
Matthews Manager’s Problems:
  • A discouraged and demotivated sales rep
  • A multi-million-dollar opportunity taken out of his forecast
  • Embarrassment to the executive team
  • A loss in his own override
The Company’s Problem:

• Excess inventory as they bought additional refurbished equipment to have in stock when the deal closed

If Matthew would have qualified harder, he would have recognized that this deal was far from being his. He chose to provide all the free consulting and to be liked by the radiologist and his partners rather than be respected for asking the harder questions. He was afraid to hear ‘no’ anywhere along the way. If he would have exited earlier, disqualifying with elegance, he could have preserved the relationship, and somewhere down the line, they may need him to find replacement equipment.

‘No’ today doesn’t mean ‘no’ tomorrow. Qualify hard, understand what it is going to take to win the business, and if it’s not a fit, do what my friend Brian Sullivan says – “take an early exit,” and live to sell another day.