You have an exciting solution.  Prospects are intrigued.

But how do you know which prospects to spend your valuable time with?  And which are tire kickers?

Here are some questions to ask yourself about a prospect that will help you optimize your selling efforts.

Are you a customer that I want to work with?

First, you sell a customer not a product.  So, understand who that customer is.

I had a systems integrator client who came across a great product that he could sell to small businesses at $99 per install.  The problem:  he did not currently sell to small customers.

He had no way to process a high volume of orders, or service numerous diverse small business owners.  His target customer was bigger businesses that needed a complex software solution.

Can you afford to buy what I have to sell?

Early in the selling process, articulate what the expected order size or billing model is going to be.  Tell the prospect who your ideal customer is.

I worked with a public relations company that noted they did not accept clients who billed less than $15,000 per year.  Understand how much money your prospect might have to pay for your solution.  If you work on a project basis, note the size of your typical project.  This way, prospects can opt in – or opt out.

Ever go shopping for a car?  Many dealers focus initially not on what you’re looking to purchase, but if you can afford to purchase the car.

Are you serious about actually buying?

If you’re selling your expertise, be wary of those prospects who ask to “pick your brain.”  Those prospects are often without money or resources.  That brain-picking experience is just a request for free consulting services.

Develop a model to qualify your prospects.  If I am skeptical of a prospect’s interest in actually paying for my knowledge, I ask that minimally we talk over lunch.  I may not get a contract, but at least I’ll get a nice lunch.

Another way to qualify a prospect is to use an online form.  Typically, a form is used early in the selling process to get a name and other contact information.

Consider creating a more complex form you can send when you follow up.  This form might ask for requirements, pictures, or volumes.  If your prospect completes the form, they are more likely to be ready to buy.  I know of an industrial manufacturer who closes almost every deal where a prospect fills out their form.

What if a prospect isn’t interested in filling out the form?  This prospect is likely not interested in purchasing from you.

Asked to respond to a request for quote (RFQ)?  Before you respond, try to understand what the purpose of the RFQ might be.  I have come across buyers who are using the RFQ process to research solutions with no intention of purchasing anything.

Be wary of prospects who offer little information, or ask you to sign a non-disclosure too early in the sales process.  They may be trying to pick your brain.

Not sure if the RFQ is a free consulting request?  Offer a price for developing the response that you will credit back to the final delivered solution, if you are the selected supplier.  I know of a company that spent thousands of dollars and a trip to California to respond to an RFQ, only to be told, “We’re not ready yet.”

Minimally, the company could have asked to have their travel expenses reimbursed.

Who is the decision maker?

Understand your prospect’s decision-making process.  Often, the person you are interfacing with is not the decision maker.  Ask your contact what their role is in making the decision.  What are the steps needed to close the sale?  Who actually cuts the purchase order?

If you are asked to meet and review your response, ask that the decision maker be there.  No decision maker?  You will need to determine if continuing the process is worth the work.

Do you really want to buy from me?

Once you feel that you have agreement, give your prospect an opportunity to walk away.  Let them confirm your solution is the right one.  This will help ensure commitment to the solution, which increases the likelihood of success.

As you can see, asking yourself these questions can potentially save you from throwing good money (and time!) after bad.

These questions will help you determine where an investment is worth the risk, and where it’s not.