We do this to understand what the prospect is looking for, to identify which of our offerings may be most applicable (if any), and to determine how this new relationship should proceed. Basically, we qualify leads to help us through the sales process. Today I’d like to focus on a situation I recently encountered as a potential/returning customer that was handled poorly from a sales perspective because this qualifying step was ignored.
Here’s the Situation: Traveling (unexpectedly) late at night, I had a few more hours to go before arriving at home and I was getting tired. I started imagining an alternative to driving the rest of the way; however, with the holidays just around the corner, I was determined to stick to my budget and decided hotel reservations were only a good option if I could secure a discount.
I pulled over at a mid-range hotel in a chain where I hold priority status.
I asked the person at the desk if they offered any “specials” for arriving after 2AM (the parking lot was mostly empty and, at that point, I imagined it was highly unlikely they would sell out for the night, making any sale better than no sale). He said, “no.”
I mentioned that I had to get to Knoxville and was getting tired. He said, “that’s another 2 ½ hours away – good luck.”
I went to the bathroom (giving him an opportunity to confer with his superiors or reconsider his position, if he wanted to) and then as I walked out, I said “thank you” and he said “good night.”
That was it. As I continued on my drive, I started thinking about this situation from a business perspective and was disappointed that a hotel chain I had grown quite fond of would throw away such a great opportunity to increase my brand loyalty.
The representative’s short and sarcastic tone coupled with his lack of effort through our brief interaction negatively impacted my opinion of this hotel chain.
What should he have done differently?
1. Listen to the question beneath the question I verbalized.
What I asked was “do you have any late night specials?” but what I wanted to know was “can I justify the cost of a room tonight?” If he had listened to my question and the pain point I specified, he might been able to identify a way to help me (and his company). This “question below the question” is a common focus during the qualifying process because many prospects don’t know what they really want; but you, as the expert offering an outside perspective, should be able to discern their true need.
2. Suggest an opportunity that could fit my needs.
Instead of leaving his answer at “no,” this representative could have identified complementary offerings and opened the potential of making a sale. First, he could have volunteered the answer to the question I didn’t ask (the fair price of a room) or informed me of other specials available at his hotel. Then, if that didn’t work, he could have suggested a different hotel within his chain that offers lower room rates. Or, finally, if that didn’t work either, he could have recommended a (competing) hotel in the area or along my route which may have been able to accommodate my request (although this wouldn’t have resulted in a sale for his company at this time, it would have shown that he had my best interests in mind, which would have been likely to pay off in the future).
3. Show compassion.
I can respect that it may have been against hotel policy to reduce the room rate or he may not have been authorized to make special arrangements; however, I’m not sure either of these excuses is true (because I wasn’t given an excuse) or that it even matters. The issue here was that I didn’t feel heard and I didn’t feel valued as a loyal customer. His tone didn’t say that he couldn’t help me; it indicated that he simply didn’t care to help me. Your attitude is your choice. In this situation, the representative could have spoken to me as a person. He could have conveyed his interest and understanding, offered whatever assistance possible or apologized for the inability, and focused on making the best possible impression at that time.
Although disappointing, this scenario is not uncommon – in fact, I imagine you have encountered something similar recently as well (feel free to share your story in the comments section below) – but that’s why it makes such a great educational opportunity…
Think back to your last trade show. An attendee walks into the booth across from yours and quickly leaves. Why? He was either ignored or dismissed promptly without being qualified properly. This is a problem because when an attendee walks into a trade show booth, it means he has a reason to want to meet with that company. In your booth, it is your job to identify that reason and find a way to be helpful.
If your visitor wants something you sell, great; find out if the offering he wants is truly a good fit. If that attendee wants something you don’t sell, less great but still not awful; find out what he really wants and/or if you offer something that might fit anyway. If you can’t help the prospect, represent your company well by kindly suggesting someone else who may have the right solution, reiterating that should his needs change, you will be here to help.
In the future, remember this situation and learn from that hotel representative’s mistakes. If for no other reason, fully qualifying the prospects you meet is an important step in the sales process because it helps you move from stranger to sale without sullying your reputation.
About the author
Robyn Davis was raised by self-employed parents, learning the ins and outs of business…