How to Write Your First Pre-Qualification Questionnaire

Although what I write about pre-qualification is going to apply to predominately online businesses, these ideas and tactics can apply to your bricks and mortar business as well. I’m going to refer to your website and your automations and such, but none of this actually has to be digital.

All of your positioning and marketing materials will act as a pre-qualifying filter that should be set up to attract your ideal clients and repel those that are a bad fit. But one of the more useful pre-qualification tools is the filtering questionnaire that you have potential clients fill out or answer. So, I’m going to talk about how to build that out today.

I suspect we’ve all heard the same thing about forms. If not, here you go: the fewer questions to answer, the more people will actually fill out the form. Too many questions, and you’ll get visitors abandoning ship. However, you’re going to need ask enough questions so that you can identify the gems and sort out the rubble.

And, the truth of the matter is that you have to know whether your ideal client would be willing to fill out an online form. Mine would, especially a form about their own business. My ideal client is excited about their own business and happy to talk about it, even if they’re a little unsure about what to do next.

A questionnaire is also a good place to find out very early whether or not a prospect is going to follow your process. If a potential client can’t be bothered to take a little time to think about their needs and goals and fill out a short form, I’ve decided that I can’t be bothered to chase them down and bend to work their way. I’m just as busy as they are. My time is just as valuable as theirs is.

That’s tough talk, and it’s mostly directed at my own self – my temptation is always to say, “Sure, we can get on the phone…” and then I waste an hour talking with someone who is a poor fit. Or worse, starting out a project by breaking my own processes. I’ve gotten much much better at this, and the truth is, it’s been saving me not only time, but mental energy too.

Start Building

So, let’s get started on building out a questionnaire. I actually started with a questionnaire taught in the WP Elevation course. It’s a fantastic place to start, but now that I’ve been using it, and focusing a little more on online marketing, I want to change it a bit. If you need your own place to start, you can check out my project planning worksheet.

1. Review the work you did thinking about what you really want in a client. Make sure you still agree with your original thoughts.

2. Start listing out questions that would include your ideal people and filter out the ones you don’t want.

3. List out the personal information you’ll need from someone to do an initial contact or discovery call.

4. List out the items that make a project work for you, and then re-write them in question form for the client.
For example, you might only want projects with clients who already have a mailing list of 100+ addresses.

5. Now, go through your list and pare down any questions that are repeats or not really necessary. Your goal is to knock down the list to the essentials. You want to ask enough to know whether you want to talk with the person, but I don’t think you want to be doing too much project discovery here.

6. Route ALL inquiries to those questions. No matter how the inquiry comes in, everyone should be filling this questionnaire out.

a. The easiest, of course, is having it on your website. I’m considering having this be the only way to contact me listed on my site. I’ve had many folks bypass my questionnaire and send an inquiry via my regular contact form. Although I counsel clients to make it easy and obvious how to get in touch with them via their website, I don’t think they have to have 30 different methods. I tell them not to include their phone number if they don’t want calls!

b. Phone inquiries will likely happen, even if your phone number isn’t on your website. So many times, these leads will want to talk through their project then and there, but try to resist! Instead, get their email, send them a link to your form, and then get back to what you were doing. (If you were really busy, you shouldn’t have answered the phone you know…your voicemail could even direct client leads to your questionnaire process.)

c. In-person ambushes are the toughest. I find it really fun to talk about the web and online marketing, but it’s really hard for me to process someone’s project ideas on the spot. So, if someone at an industry event sounds interested in your services, it’s fine to talk in a general sense – that’s often why you’re there. But when he or she starts getting into specific project territory, you can stop them.

Here’s what I plan to do (did you catch that – I don’t do it yet, still a trouble spot for me): Tell them you’d love to know about their projects at a high level, but since it’s impossible to concentrate in [the conference/the party/whatever environment] you’ll have to get the details through your usual process. Then, get their email address and send them a link to your form, just like above.

7. Decide on a scale on which you can rate those answers, and try to do so objectively for every lead.
You know when you’re not being honest with yourself or weighting an answer to get the result you want – don’t do it. If a potential client doesn’t meet your criteria, then you really don’t want to spend the time talking with them. I know you’re oh-so-tempted, but even if you do set up a phone call, it’s unlikely that it will result in a project. If you’ve already determined that you and this potential client aren’t a good fit, don’t waste your time or their time. Do send a kind response declining letting the person know that you’re not right for their project. If you know of someone who might be a good fit, be sure to refer the project on.

Do’s and Don’ts

1. Don’t break your own process.
I am so guilty of this and it bites me every time. Once you put a lot of thought into your process, stick with it. If it’s not working, make a change to the process at the process level, don’t make a “special exception” for each lead that comes your way. Otherwise, it’s just like not having a pre-qualification process at all.

2. Don’t walk through your questions on the phone unless there’s a really good reason to do so.
Like your ideal client isn’t technically savvy enough to fill out an online form. Really? That may not be much of an excuse here in 2018.

3. Do have an automated reply to let folks know you got the questionnaire and what they should expect next.
Everyone hates not knowing what’s coming up next. They fear not knowing what to do. They don’t want to seem ignorant and they don’t want to be embarrassed by doing the wrong thing. So, build a lot of trust and good will by letting them know you got their information, what you’re going to do with it, how you’re going to respond to them, and when you’re going to respond. Not only will this reassure folks, but it will keep you in control of the process.

Next Steps

Get starting on your lists of questions for your questionnaire. I tend to call mine a worksheet because it seems a little more friendly and pro-active to me. Once you have your list, pare it down and put it out there!