Last Updated May 29, 2011 8:20 AM EDT
A perfect example of this rule just surfaced in a comment to another Sales Machine post. Here's the comment, followed by my response:
As I was reading your article yesterday, I shot off an email offering one of our company's services to a person I had met at one of the conferences. Within one hour, came the reply telling me that at this point they do not want our services and that they will manage the requirement themselves. I liked the immediate response more than the end result. What is your take on this? Is he just a honest prospect ? How do you treat such prospects?To start, I commend you for taking action. Until you took action, the lead was just deadwood in your pipeline. Also, it's clear that you did some prequalification at the conference, because it's clear that the lead actually has the problem that your offering solves. Good work!
That being said, you made a pretty serious error. Two, actually. First, you tried to sell too soon and, second, you tried to sell inside an email.
When you "offered one of our company's services" this early in the game, you simply gave the lead permission to brush you off. What you should have done was to use the email to request a meeting in order to help them clarify the problem and figure out the cheapest way to fix it.
That's not selling; it's qualifying the lead. The simple truth is that you don't know yet whether or not the lead might indeed have a more cost-effective do-it-yourself option. You also don't know whether they've got the budget to buy your offering.
That's the kind of detailed information that only emerges during a conversation. You're not going to get it by sending off emails "offering" your services. That conversation, BTW, is mostly for YOUR benefit, because what you're trying to do is determine whether it's worth your time to pursue the opportunity.
It's only after you've gone through this process that the lead turns into a prospect and is thus worthy of significant time and attention.
Look, half the battle in selling is differentiating between real opportunities and fake ones. Right now, you don't know whether that lead was a real opportunity or not. And you're probably never going to find out, because you tried to sell way too soon.