How To Double Down on Your Ideal Customer with Sales Qualifying Questions

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most corrugated, folding carton, and retail display manufacturers found that they fell into one of two categories: those fortunate enough to be providing packaging for essential businesses and those that weren’t. Suddenly many manufacturers saw a shift, and they were either overwhelmed with business or saw it drop off. We have heard in the marketplace that companies that weren’t servicing essential businesses have taken a hit ranging from 20% to 32% top line year over year.

Now, as companies are working to build momentum again, many are quoting anything that comes their way to fill excess capacity, whether or not it is a good fit. Using the wrong sales qualifying questions and going after the wrong type of prospects isn’t uncommon. In fact, according to a survey by Sales Insight Lab, 71.4% of salespeople report that only half or fewer of their prospects turn out to be a good fit. If you are wasting efforts with a poor-fit prospect, you are losing valuable time and resources. The sooner you utilize sales qualifying questions to realize they are not a fit and walk away, the more time you save. As busy as your salespeople are, wouldn’t it be great to streamline the lead qualification process, giving them back time to target ideal opportunities?

Strategic Sales Growth Is the Answer

When we talk about “strategic sales growth,” we are talking about growing your business by defining your prospect using a tactical approach so that you weed out those that are wasting your time. When you think of growth, you may be thinking you want to grow X% year over year, by a specific dollar amount, or by expanding geographically or into a new industry. This is a good start. However, there is an additional question to ask: What does strategic growth look like—i.e., how do you define your ideal customer in terms of opportunity to facilitate growth?

Identifying Your Ideal Customer with Sales Qualifying Questions

So, maybe you’ll break out SIC codes, look at the company size and the industries they are in. This is a good first step, but this isn’t enough to weed out the prospects who aren’t a fit. You can have two companies of similar size in the same industry with entirely different packaging needs. One may need a lot of support with structural and graphic design, and the other may use more plastic packaging and prefer off-the-shelf corrugated for the little they do need.

This is why it is imperative that you start with sales qualifying questions that really focus on what your ideal customer looks like. Look at some of your best customers—those who create headaches are not the ones you want to emulate. Some things to consider include:

  • What type of program is in your sweet spot?
  • How many SKUs are ideal?
  • What materials, product size, shape, weight, etc. are preferred?
  • How much consultation and support do they need?
  • What is a realistic lifetime or program opportunity value?
  • What should the average order value be?
  • What is the purchase frequency that fits with your operations?
  • What margins do you need?

You can probably come up with an even longer list of pertinent sales qualifying questions specific to your business. Your ideal customer is likely complex. The key is to focus on the right type of profitable work, move away from quoting, and focus on one order. When you focus this way, you can intentionally go to market, proactively targeting the right type of accounts that will produce the specific opportunities you want.

Equally important to identifying your strategic sales profile is defining what you do not want in an account. When generating sales qualifying questions, be specific about what you are willing to walk away from and why. Don’t be afraid to say no to any opportunity that doesn’t fit, but be sure to communicate what is an ideal fit, and ask if those opportunities exist within that prospect’s organization.

Looking to take it a step further? Evaluate whether your current customers are a strategic fit and plan for growth by defining your target market and developing buyer personas.

This also gives you an opportunity to look at existing customers. As you start gaining customers that fit your exact profile, start weeding out those customers that aren’t a great fit or take up too much time for little return. It is OK to break up with your current customers. It allows them to find a partner that is a better fit for them. This tactic is beneficial for those manufacturers that have been overwhelmed with business in the past year. Replace those challenging customers with ones that fit your wheelhouse.

Benefits of Strategic Growth Planning

Manufacturers interested in strategic growth view the process from a long-term perspective. You are not going to have overnight success. It takes time to build a pipeline in this way as well as shift or change your sales and marketing teams’ behaviors to focus this way.

When your sales team is hyperfocused on implementing sales qualifying questions to identify best-fit opportunities and being more strategic about turning down prospects that don’t fit, you have a greater probability of winning opportunities. On one hand, it is basic math; when you remove those that don’t fit, your win percentage will be higher. But on the other hand, because you have more time to spend with those opportunities discussing how your value proposition benefits them, you will be able to engage them in deeper conversations to learn about the issues that are causing them grief. This type of focus also provides a greater probability of closing higher-margin sales and increasing customer retention.

For a sales process that uses a holistic inbound and outbound approach to optimize volume, count on a partner who understands the data and can implement the best marketing tools for your next goal.