The Qualifying Competency – Uncovering Client Budgets

The Qualifying Competency – Uncovering Client Budgets

By Joe DiDonato | Chief of Staff | Baker Communications, Inc.

There are many attributes and skills involved in the “qualifying” competency that we look for in the data.  Each one of the gaps we discover leads to the training or coaching we need to provide to improve the individual’s skills in this competency.

Here are some of the many areas we evaluate, before I give you a deep dive into just one or two of them:

  • Is the seller meeting with the decision-maker?
  • Is the seller capable of uncovering the actual budget?
  • Does the seller know the client’s decision-making process?
  • Can the seller influence the decision-making process?
  • Does the seller know ‘why’ they would buy?
  • Does the seller ask about everything?
  • Does the seller feel vulnerable to the competition?

Of the 12 attributes we test for, I thought that I would show you how a consulting arm of a computer and software company might go about uncovering the client budget.  It’s a technique that my team and I came up with when I was running the Branch of a major computer company.  We liked it because it gave both us and the client a real strong path on how we would go about the upcoming implementation project.  It also helped us identify all the stakeholders and systems that we might have to interface with during implementation.

Another important outcome of the practice was that the customer also participated in the development of the document, could attest to its thoroughness, and shared in the ‘ownership’ of the implementation plan.  Even further, if we could start down the implementation path to about roughly the 15% mark, most clients would find it emotionally objectionable to start all over with a competitor.

So here is the strategy.  What we did was to use a simple Task/Subtask project document to describe all the major milestones (or Tasks) of the project. We also included all the subtasks that went with each milestone task.  On the left of the spreadsheet, we laid out the Task/Subtasks, followed by the Start/Due Dates, whether the task was complete (Y/N), and the time estimate for each of the subtasks.  Then we decided who was the best party to be responsible for each of those subtasks, as well as the owner of the milestone task.  In good project management mode, we tried to keep all tasks to 1 week, with a few exceptions that might have to be 2 weeks long if we couldn’t further break it down.

In most cases, these project work plan documents were 50 to 100 pages long, co-authored by the customer’s internal project team and us, and suitable as an appendix in the final proposal.  But here was the magic behind creating the document.  As we went through each task/subtask, we simply asked, “Is this something that you and your team will do? Or do you want us to do it?”

The outcome of that exercise was a comprehensive list of tasks for each party, along with the total hours required by both parties to make the project successful.

So how does that uncover the budget?  Well, the client will look at the total resources they will have to bring to bear, and how many resources we would have to bring to the table.  There was going to be one of two reactions from the client.

The first one might be, “I don’t have the budget to cover your team’s hours.”  To which we would then reply, “Okay, which of the tasks do you want to take over to your team?”  After all, we had an agreement that all of the tasks were required.  When that iterative exercise was complete, we knew the upper end of their budget, and we didn’t leave any money on the table.

The second reaction might be, “I don’t have the people on my team to complete what we need to complete.”  In this case, we would then reply, “Okay, which of the tasks do you want to reassign to us?”  After a few iterations, we once again saw the upper cap of their budget.  And once again, we didn’t leave any money on the table.

Maybe 1 in 20 of these planning efforts was “on the money” from a resource requirement in the first pass at the document.  If that happened, we simply went back and asked, “Are we leaving out anything important that might make the project more successful?”  If so, that would invariably produce another set of Tasks/Subtasks.  At that point, we would again force the issue of lack of budget or lack of resources.  And once again, we wouldn’t leave any money on the table.

The next part of our exercise was to start implementation.  We were selling a manufacturing software system, and the computing power to run it, so there were plenty of things we could do to help influence the decision-making process.  Inasmuch as I was experienced in the world of materials management, I went out on the shop floor to see if I could find anything that would improve the effectiveness of the MRP system we were selling.  As an example, I might discover that they didn’t have their inventory area fenced in.  Not that there were thieves on the shop floor, but lots of time, the floor personnel were more interested in getting the job done than filling out the requisition for the part.  That would mean we were basing our planning on faulty assumptions from a counting perspective.  So, we would start that fence-building process, because it wouldn’t be affected by whatever software and computer they might purchase, but it would show how we added value.

The next thing we would do was to teach what Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) was all about.  That was always viewed as a favorable offer from us.  The reason ‘why’ we did it?  It changed the sales dynamics from vendor/customer to advisor/learner – a definitive way to influence the sale.

And finally, unlike the leading computer and software supplier in this space, we wouldn’t take the client on a referral visit until the end of the training.  Why?  Because at that point, we just bought our “inside salesperson” who had to explain to the CEO why they needed to spend money to take their project team to see one of our installations.  You can bet that they tooted our horn at that point.

Did it work? Our branch had a close rate of 95%, and even though we were in the rural area of Western New York, we finished 2nd in the world for sales generated.

Now you know one more way to excel at the qualifying stage.  If you would like to learn more about using competency data to drive your hiring, training, and coaching efforts, we invite you to watch a recent webinar: How to Implement Data-Driven Sales Enablement. View the webinar for free here: