In Professional Services Firms (PSFs), it's extremely important to ensure that you qualify clients correctly during the sales process.
This is because time is limited, and not all clients will be the right fit, for a variety of reasons. To illustrate this, we've pulled some statistics from our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software we use to track all of our proposals. In the last eighteen months:
- We've had a total of 192 deals in our CRM
- We won 69 proposals (36% win rate)
- We've lost 67 proposals ( 35% lose rate)
- We've declined 56 RFPs (29% RFPs are rejected by us)
While a 36% win rate across all incoming deals is not particularly impressive, if we remove the 56 RFPs (Request for Proposals) that we declined to pitch for, because the project or clients didn't qualify our criteria, then the statistics become more interesting.
- A total of 136 deals that we pitched in the last 18 months
- Our winning rate is 51%
- Our losing rate is 49%.
What's even more interesting is the jump in productivity we have by qualifying clients, because we declined 56 RFPs, we had more time and energy to pitch the remaining 136 deals, and we won half of those, a 42% increase when you compare the win rate across all proposals, not just the qualified ones.
Of course, this is also missing the point that clients and deals that we bring in are higher quality, and so the projects are more interesting, lead to better case studies, and are generally more profitable.
Reasons to Qualify Projects & clients.
- You'll spend significantly less time pitching and writing proposals for projects that will never happen or have a slim chance of being successful. Pitching projects-and clients- that are not a good fit requires significantly more effort.
- You end up with higher quality projects that keep your teams happy with interesting work and clients that are great to work with.
- If you only pitch qualified clients, your sales cycle will be shorter. You'll notice that deals close faster and with less stress and revisions.
- You'll earn more. Qualified clients will understand the value of your services and pay appropriate fees based on that value. Unqualified clients will generally only think about the numbers of hours or effort involved in the work.
- A potential client wants you to jump right into pricing, timelines, and details without first learning about your processes or giving you enough detail and context about the project.
- They've had several failed projects or false-starts in the current project. Yes, there are mediocre professional service firms, but if a client has gone through 3+ firms, then it is most likely an issue with how the client works, not with the firms.
- They start to micro-manage the sales process. If there is a significant back and forth on contracts, details, scope of work, etc, then this normally shows a significant lack of trust. This has to be balanced carefully, as of course good clients will also have high-quality feedback on your proposal, but it will be intelligent and thoughtful.
- Their project has a very tight timeline or need to start immediately. This normally showcases a lack of management planning on the client side. High quality companies and clients will normally plan ahead well and have sensible timelines, or not even have a timeline but look to professional partners to suggest realistic timelines based on previous similar projects.
Our Qualification Method.
At Mäd, we use the BANT Framework for Client Qualification.
BANT is an Acronym that stands for the following:
- Budget. This point is about whether the client is likely to have the required budget to work with you.
- Authority. Is the individual that you are speaking to on the client side the decision maker or reports directly to the decision maker? There is little point speaking with junior team members and then hoping that they will somehow be able to take your elaborate pitch and pitch it internally even 10% as well as you can.
- Need. Is this client coming with a strong need for your services, or are they just testing the ground and figuring things out? You don't want to pitch when you're just a nice-to-have.
- Timeframe. As discussed above, does the client have a sensible timeframe or is open for a realistic discussion on how long the work will take?
By asking key questions around the above four points, this will help you to qualify customers much faster than before, and you can also use the following strategy as well:
Give you prospects work.
It's very easy for the PSFs to run around like crazy creating proposals, and making large amount of revisions, whilst the prospect only needs to review each document briefly to markup and send back.
Because there is little work involved, this means that even semi-serious enquiries can take up a lot of your time. By asking prospects to do some significant amount of work in the proposal, this ensures that they are actually committed.
Some examples from Mäd that come to mind recently are asking for a workshop during the sales process to better understand our customer's sophisticated and complex internal technology systems, and asking other customers to come to our office to have the SoW (Scope of Work) presented.
If a customer denies these requests, then that is also a large red flag because it means that they do not want to invest their time in the proposal, so it is unlikely for this to be a serious enquiry.
We've compiled a series of useful questions to ask prospects during the sales process:
- When is the last time you made a similar purchase?
- How long did the purchase take?
- What are the key factors in your buying decision? Price, experience, quality, speed?
- When is your go-live date?
- Ideas on budgets
- What is your role and what do you do?
- What led you to look at us?
- What are you using now?
- What problems are you looking to solve?
- If these problems are not solved, what happens?
- What issues are you experiencing in any of these areas?
- Where is this interest/initiative coming from?
- What is the timing to purchase?
- What are the requirements you have for this project?
- Do you have a budget allocated to a solution?
Hopefully you now understand why properly qualifying clients is so important. You'll win back more time to focus on high quality clients and projects, and you'll stop being frustrated with dealing with lots of low quality inquiries.
That said, there are some key points that need to be considered.
Firstly, you never want to tell a potential client that they are not a good fit or that their project is not interesting to you. This creates a bad impression and for PSFs word of mouth can make or break a business.
A better approach is to decline based on timelines, by saying that you are fully booked and cannot start work and fit it with with their stated timelines, or by giving a ballpark quote that is much higher than typical so that they decline the project based on price. This second approach is good because it also means that occasionally you'll get a mediocre project that has very high billings, and you can then make a business decision of whether to accept the project or not.
Secondly, all these strategies only work if you have a significant amount of what's called Deal Flow. If you're in a position where you are getting a large amount of enquiries, then your qualification strategy needs to be well thought out. If you're a smaller outfit or just getting started, then you need to have significantly more leeway in the type of projects that you take so that you can build a reputation, experience, and also cash-flows to support future growth.