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Over the past 20 years, I've met only five kinds of people whose behaviors lead me to believe I should disqualify them as prospects forever. You may have run across them in your work in sales as well. They are as follows:

1. The shopper. You learn that the prospect is considering two well-known competitors with whom they have a long, successful buying history. You're the last one into the process and he or she cannot tell you why he or she would consider an alternative, nor is the prospect willing to communicate directly with the decision maker. This is a sign that the prospect is using you to compare pricing and features.

2. The snail. A time frame and budget cannot be established. The prospect is telling you that someday in the future there might be a reason to go forward, but nothing can ever be set in stone. Deadlines come and go. This is a sign that while they might be interested, there's no urgency. After six months of following up with a prospect, I once had a sales vice-president say to me, "You know Colleen, I'm retiring this year and don't want the expense to hit my budget and reduce my bonus. This project can be my successor's project!" Some projects are just not ready to be pushed forward.

3. The hide and seeker. You can't meet with the decision maker. If you are being prevented from meeting the buyer, this is unequivocal proof that you cannot win the business. A software executive I work with is assertive in this qualification step and states to his prospect: "In order for us to move forward I will need to meet with (name of the buyer)." If the prospect says no, or stalls, he continues, "I'm sorry then, we can't go forward." This is a nonnegotiable item for the seller. Notice that his position is a statement, not a question, which positions him as a peer, not a subordinate. Subordinates beg to speak to the decision maker; peers tell gatekeepers how the process works. In this example, our seller is successful in getting to the buyer 75 per cent of the time. The other 25 per cent he drops the buyer and focuses his time on the buyers who are serious about doing business with him. Not surprisingly, his sales success has lasted over five years.

4. The stacked deck. In this scenario, the decision criteria are obviously set up for the competition. A number of years ago, an American-based prospect of mine said that its number one, nonnegotiable criteria was the software had to be made in the United States. This was a deal breaker for us because the company I was selling for at the time was based in Canada. Buying something made in the U.S. was more important to the prospect than then best fit. At this point it was better to disqualify the prospect and move on. Why waste time with a prospect who will never buy?

5. The criminal. You see signs of unethical, illegal or subversive behavior. A client of ours was recently asked if her daughter was single during the sales process. She took this as a sign that she should move on. Another business services client (and a Fortune 100 company) recently took a call from a client who had no website, no listing in the phone book, no credit history, and asked if he could pay cash on delivery. Yet another was asked for courtside tickets to a Los Angeles Lakers game before the decision was to be made. Best to walk away.

Sales expert Colleen Francis is founder and president of Engage Selling Solutions and the author of the recently released Nonstop Sales Boom (AMACOM) Ms. Francis ensures clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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