Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

Qualifying is the act of vetting. In a qualifying conversation, the agency vets the lead to see if this prospective client and their project is a good fit for the firm, and the client vets the agency to see if their expertise is a fit for them and their project. That’s how it should work.

In far too many firms the vetting is almost entirely one way, with the client vetting the agency, and the agency—excited to be talking to a human with money to spend—hoping to qualify. This latter dynamic is that of a vendor-customer relationship, with the agency playing the needy vendor, giving all their power away. 

I can often trace many of a firm’s problems back to poor qualifying, where they:

  • Spend too much time on opportunities that don’t go anywhere
  • Needlessly suck up the valuable resources of the firm—the time and attention of senior leaders and subject matter experts
  • Set the wrong tone for the relationship by leaning on passion and enthusiasm instead of being critically discerning of the fit
  • End up doing unprofitable projects with poor clients because they thought they could grow them into something or someone else

Your account managers are charged with qualifying leads from current clients, and that comes with its own set of challenges that I’ll write about soon, but if you are seeking to reinvent your firm one new client at a time then the function of qualifying new clients is a vital one. It should be centralized to one person and that person should be professional, clinical and discerning. Your qualifier is the agency gatekeeper whose primary responsibility is to keep bad fits out. 

If you identify too readily with the problems listed above then your qualifier might need a reboot. Maybe you haven’t properly centralized the function. Maybe it’s centralized to the wrong person. (Maybe that person is you?) Maybe you haven’t identified your qualifying criteria (i.e. the variables that make a client or project a good or a bad fit, and the questions that need answering before others are allowed into a new business meeting). 

The sale is the sample of the engagement to follow. The dynamics of that engagement are set in the first conversation and they are cemented with every subsequent exchange. Your qualifier is the firm’s representative in these first interactions. If they don’t claim the role of the discerning expert, the firm will be relegated to powerless vendor. They can set up a small number of worthwhile conversations with good-fit clients where the important questions have already been asked, or they can load up your calendar with a high volume of wasteful meetings that drive sunk costs and cause you to rationalize a further wasting of valuable resources. 

Qualifying is a more important role than most people appreciate. You want to get it right.

If you want to go deeper into this topic of better qualifying, check out the 2Bobs podcast episode The Agency Gatekeeper.

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Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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Qualifying is the act of vetting. In a qualifying conversation, the agency vets the lead to see if this prospective client and their project is a good fit for the firm, and the client vets the agency to see if their expertise is a fit for them and their project. That’s how it should work.

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