For many sales professionals, prospecting or qualifying is the least favorite aspect of their job. Often, in the rush to dig into a new account and make a new sale, only a cursory attempt is made at qualifying, and the salesperson ends up spending time with the wrong people, reducing his or her effectiveness.

In this era of hyper-competition and limited resources, how can sales professionals qualify and select the right prospects with whom to spend their valuable time?

Foremost, salespeople must have the right mindset to find and qualify the prospective customer. I encourage salespeople to use the model of a doctor. Thinking like a physician, and asking questions to diagnose the customer's situation, will help the salesperson recognize whether the prospect is truly qualified for the product or solution.

What makes a doctor's protocol of questions so valuable in this qualifying process is that the salesperson focuses on two dimensions of the customer: the external and the internal profile. The external profile refers to everything that can be determined by looking at the customer from the outside: e.g., size of company, industry, number of employees. The internal profile refers to what they are actually experiencing within the company.

Similar to a doctor, the salesperson begins the diagnostic conversation with a prospect that on the surface looks like someone who could use the product or service being sold. The salesperson continues the diagnosis by asking about the things that can't see from the outside—the internal profile. This is what we like to call "extreme qualifying," because we are qualifying based on the physical symptoms of the prospect (their reality) rather than only their external characteristics.

While the external sets the starting point for extreme qualification, all too often it is the ending point for most sales professionals. It is the internal profile that will provide the most telling information and will differentiate the salesperson in the eyes of the prospect.

In traditional qualifying, we have been trained early on to create interest with prospects; however, one of the problems with creating interest in your product or solution is that you can easily create interest in someone who is not qualified to buy. A doctor who talks about open-heart surgery with a 22 year old professional athlete may elicit curiosity and the athlete might even find the discussion intriguing—but there likely won't be any open-heart surgery performed. For the sales professional, this situation translates into time invested with prospects who are not qualified to buy.

So what are the "symptoms" you will look for to use this "extreme qualifying" approach? Focus in on two or three of your most unique and valuable features and ask yourself the question, "What would my prospect be experiencing in the absence of this feature?" and "What are the physical signs or symptoms that they would notice in their business?"

As you can see, this is not about presenting benefits; it is about verifying whether your customer is at risk because of the physical symptoms that your prospects are experiencing and the consequences they will experience in the absence of your solution.

Extreme qualifying is qualifying according to the internal profile of the customer—that is, recognizing the reality of symptoms that represent real risk to the customer. When your customer sees these risks as real and substantial enough to take action and invest money to eliminate them, you will be in a unique competitive position, enjoying a relationship as valued business advisor to your customer.

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image of Jeff Thull

Jeff Thull is president and CEO of Prime Resource Group ( and the author of Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales (September 2006), The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005) and Mastering the Complex Sale (2003).