How much time do you waste with unqualified leads?

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Have you ever thought about how much time it takes you to find a lead for your core product? I’ll bet that you have, and that it takes more of your time than you’d really like. (Wouldn’t it be great if they came to you, automatically?)

After you’ve invested so much time bringing in a prospective customer, it’s pretty crushing to find out that they’re not ideal. Somehow, they don’t fit your process exactly, or your product would be okay for them, but it would be super if you made some tweaks and added a piece. You think about how long it would take to get the next lead, and it makes you want to fit them into your process rather than “lose” the time you’ve already spent bringing them to you.

I know that when someone comes to me for marketing, and they’re even remotely close to the kind of client I help best, I’m inclined to take them on. And I really do mean close, but not quite right. I don’t mean prospects with huge red flags – at this point in my journey, I’m pretty good at turning them away. But it’s those almost-there clients – the ones you like but don’t quite pass your qualification questions. The ones that make you re-think some of your questions or want to take on anyway.

Unqualified Leads Suck Your Time

There are two big problems with the not-quite-right leads. 

First, when you pull someone who’s not qualified into your sales process, you’ll spend time getting them on a call or emailing back and forth. You may even start working on a proposal. But the likeliness of this client buying is low. You already know from your qualification process that your product or service may not be the best fit. Or, it may be that this client is perfect, but broke. 

In both cases, you’ll end up spending more time nurturing this client and writing up proposals, and nothing will come of that investment. It’s like throwing good money after bad – you’re destined to lose, but you keep going because of a fear that it will take too long to find another client.

Second, if you do happen to sell a project to this unqualified lead, you will have to modify something about your business processes to accommodate them. You might have to take multiple payments or a different payment method. You may have to add on something to your service that you don’t normally do. One-off clients will suck your time like nothing else. 

Once you open that door, make that exception to your process, then it becomes harder to justify sticking to your process when that client (or others!) ask for a special-snowflake feature. Before you know it, every project has an exception, and is therefore custom. And custom means extra time required!

You Don’t Need Unqualified Customers

Lots of people (myself included) fall into the trap of thinking they need to take on an unqualified customer because they’re afraid of turning them down. But that’s a fear-based mindset that’s fooling you. 

A customer who doesn’t fit the qualifications you’ve already set will take up so much of your time – MORE time than waiting for the right, properly pre-qualified customer. The truth is that I’m still tricked by this sometimes.

When you pass on leads that don’t fit your business, you free up time for those leads that will pass you qualification questions. Nurturing and selling to qualified leads will save you time because you’ll be pitching something that is perfect for them.

This is a win not only for you, but for the leads too. It feels slimy trying to sell someone something that isn’t right for them. And they don’t want to end up with a solution that’s only okay. It feels great to match up an ideal client with your service when it’s exactly what they need to help them succeed.

What to do with Unqualified Leads

So what do you do when you get a lead that has no big red flags, but doesn’t pass your qualification process? You can’t just ignore them – that’s just rude, and you never know who they know! Here’s a list of things you can do to help a lead who isn’t right for you.

  1. If there are red flags with the lead, then kindly tell them you’re not a good fit for their project, and direct them to an online service provider, such as Upwork, Squarespace, Fiverr, or whichever service fits your industry. You don’t want to inflict this person on someone you know, and you don’t owe it to them to tell them why you’re passing either. The less you say, the more professional you will look (and the belligerent types won’t have anything to argue against).

    Now, I know there are a bunch of women out there who will want to talk to this red-flag lead and tell him why he’s red-flagged, and how he can fix that, etc. Please don’t, you’ll just waste time in an unwinnable argument. If you feel this need, write a blog post on how to be a good client, or a guide on hiring for your industry!
  2. If a lead doesn’t qualify for your service, think about your product suite. Are there products that you already have that would serve this client well? Or even better, do you have products that would boost this client up so that she would eventually qualify for your service?

    This is great, because you can even frame your product as part of you solution. As long as it’s hands-off for you and doesn’t take time away from serving your ideal clients. A good example: If you require a lead to have an email list of 100+ engaged subscribers, but a lead comes in with only 15, you can sell them a workbook on building an email list and let them know how/when to get back to you.
  3. And finally, if the unqualified lead looks like a good client, refer them on to a colleague. Every business is different and wants different clients, even within the same industry. Find someone who wants the clients that you don’t want.

    This is another win times 3 – you help the client by finding a provider for them, you help your colleague with incoming business, and you help yourself, even if you don’t get a referral fee! You haven’t wasted time on an unqualified prospect and you now have a colleague who is more likely to send business your way when your ideal client contacts them first.


If we can all get out of the habit of accepting every client that comes our way, we can streamline our businesses. That means more time for ourselves and our family, and it means more time for the right clients.

My favorite way to handle an unqualified lead has always been to refer them on to others. I’m going to keep up with that, but I’m diving into building out some products for those nearly-there leads that always tempt me to ignore my qualification process. 

That qualification process is there for a reason! Do you have yours set up? 

Are you wasting time with unqualified leads?

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