How Pre-Qualification Helps Position You as an Expert

Although I’m working to improve my client pre-qualification process right now, I’ve had a process in place for about a year that includes a questionnaire or worksheet for prospective clients to complete. I had an interesting conversation with one guy who did fill out my worksheet. He said that he was impressed that I’d thought out those questions and that I must be pretty professional to require that of potential clients. And then he admitted that he probably didn’t have the guts to put up a “fence” or “barrier” to leads or clients.

That was the first time that I heard confirmed what I had been learning – having a process at all, and especially a pre-qualification process made this lead see that I was a professional, and an expert in my field. I let him know that surprisingly to me, I actually had more quality inquiries after I put that into place (true). And, I told him that the questions I had listed where actually given to me, and I told him he was free to take my questions and modify them to suit his own business.

Time and Quality Client Leads

As I’ve noted before, none of us has time to take an hour out of the middle of our work time to talk with someone who isn’t going to be a good client for us. It doesn’t even matter the reason why they’re not going to be a good client. It might be that they just don’t have the budget, or it might be that they bad-mouth their last web designer. If we spend time talking with everyone, then the clients we would love to work with will slip by while we’re on the phone with someone who wants you to work for free.

I’m working on this myself right now. I do like talking with everyone, even the very beginners who have no budget at all. And, I know I’ve called people back about fantastic projects, only to discover that they’d already hired someone else. If I had pre-qualified both these leads, the first would have dropped out of my process and I wouldn’t have spent time on the phone with her. And the second would (I think so at least, I didn’t get that far with this lead) have appreciated the fact that I had a process in place, and I would have had time to follow up in a more timely manner.

At first, I was afraid to ask leads to fill out my worksheet because I didn’t want to lose the lead. I thought that if I put too many hurdles in front of a good lead, they would balk and leave. But what it took me a while to realize is that the people I want to work with didn’t see my worksheet as a hurdle. Instead they were happy that I wanted to know so much about their project. They saw this as part of a professional process.

Key Ways Pre-Qualification Will Position Your Business

1. You will appear to be an expert
You are an expert in your field, so you should look like one in your public facing marketing. Who else would pre-qualify incoming clients? If you know the clients you want to work with, you must have done some work and some thinking on how to best help them.

2. Shows you care about clients and their business
People like talking about their project and their business, and they like it when you’re interested in them. They want you to know about what they’re doing. By asking questions, you’re showing that you recognize a potential client has something to say and contribute.

3. You will appear in demand
This introduces a bit of scarcity into the relationship. If you’re busy enough to chose clients, you must be an expert and good at what you do.

4. Exclusivity
Since you are in demand, the client that “makes it through” your process will feel like they’re a winner, and your services/products are positioned as the exclusive prize.

5. Strategic Partner instead of hired help
For me, this is the biggest shift I’ve seen. When potential clients see the types of business related questions I ask, they see me as a consultant or partner instead of hired technical help. Because again, who else but an expert would ask about things like business goals? In addition, it helps clients thing strategically if they have not already been doing so. These days, I rarely attract clients who want to micro-manage. Instead I have been working with people who value the experience I bring to a project.

6. The dreaded budget question
This is a tough one. There are strong opinions on both side of the ask/don’t ask question. I think you do need to ask about an allocated budget. First, it positions not only you, but the general category as something that is an investment rather than an expense. Second, it helps you filter out clients with ultra-low budgets. Some experts advise against this because it makes it harder to price on value of the project to the client. However, at least right now, I’m finding it very useful as a filter.

7. Puts you in charge of the process
Have you ever been micro-managed? It’s no fun at all, especially when you really do know what you need to be doing better than the client. You will know right away if the client is inclined to buck the system if they refuse to fill out your worksheet.

What if Leads…

1. Refuse to fill out your questionnaire?
Say no – these people will never do things your way. They will insist you follow their processes, even if they’re not the best way to get the job done. Then they’ll blame you for a failed project.

2. Only partially fill out your questionnaire, or half-ass the job?
Say no – this group won’t put in the effort to get you what you need to do the job right. They’ll disappear when it’s convenient, and you’ll have to pester them for content. You’ll do your best with what you have, but it won’t be great, and again, you’ll be blamed for a failed project.

3. Answer, but give answers that filter them out (such as super-low budget)?
Say no if at all possible. I understand when you have to pay the bills, but if you can, this is a great lead to pass on to someone else who actually is a good fit.

Next Steps

Think about the last time you hired a professional. Two experiences that I’ve had recently had excellent processes: the eye doctor and picture framers.

The eye doctor made me fill out all types of questions about the history of my eyesight. I hadn’t seen that before, and I thought to myself, this guy is very thorough. I was glad to be asked those questions because I did have some info I wanted him to know!

Now, I had pretty low expectations at the picture framers. But they took me through their process, which had multiple checks that everything was correct – important to me for the custom framing I needed done. If they had just “winged-it” I would have felt worried about how my artwork would be treated and how it would look when I got it back.

Now, keep working on a list of questions and put it into practice!