Improving Your Sales Process With Consultative Selling Skills
Look for the bad things when you qualify your pipeline

Do you Qualify your pipeline by playing the professional devil’s advocate?


Go On. Pull Out

Salesperson Every time I talk to them they tell me how good our competitor is. I am really worried about it. I don’t know what to do.
Manager Do they have a good solution to the customer’s problem?
Salesperson Well, yes they do … but it’s not as good as ours.
Manager I’ll ask again. Do they have a good solution?
Salesperson Yes, they do.
Manager Well in that case there is only one thing to do – Pull out; withdraw your proposal – Tell them you have decided not to bid!
Salesperson No way! We have a much better way of handling the communications network and the reliability of our equipment is demonstrably better.
Manager You have told me that the prospect is not interested in our strengths in those areas. I tell you – pull out.
Salesperson He has to be interested. He must give me the time to look at those areas seriously.
Manager But you have said that he will not give you the time. I tell you that you will lose.
Salesperson He must give me the time. If he won’t, I’ll be wasting my time.
Manager Now you know what you must do to win the business.

Why play Devil’s Advocate?

Salespeople are notoriously optimistic about their opportunities. If they qualify at all they are likely to whiz down the checklist saying to themselves ‘Yes that’s OK, I can do that no problem there, I’m sure I can handle that’ and so on. They then qualify in.

But qualification is about identifying realistically all the hurdles to be crossed. It needs a bit of time to think it through.

No one should qualify a sale alone. Ask someone to play the professional devil’s advocate. Find someone who can dispassionately explore the problems.

Many a salesperson has complained to me that they have been very unsure about a particular opportunity but that their Sales Manager has insisted that they bid. The Sales Manager often is the worst offender in poor qualification. And, of course, people do what their managers say. Salespeople will then bid for the sale half-heartedly.

A far healthier attitude would be for the Sales Manager to openly take the attitude, ‘Convince me that we should bid. I am the devil’s advocate. The record is that we only win one in three sales, so statistically we are likely to lose this one unless you can convince me otherwise.’

As long as both Sales Manager and salesperson are fully aware that this situation is deliberately created to ensure that the sale is well qualified, and the real hurdles are identified, then I am sure excellent results will follow.
Sadly, and conversely, some Sales Leaders take this negative attitude but by failing to explain why they are being negative, they antagonise the salesperson.

The Real Purpose of Qualification Is to Identify Sales Calls measured by customer commitments.

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Mike Wilkinson
Mike Wilkinson
Managing Director Advance - Creators of SCOTSMAN®