Not All Clients Are Worth Pursuing: How to Pre-Qualify Prospects

When a prospective client requests a proposal, do you excitedly hop right on it? Many veteran Solo PR Pros have learned that the best course of action is to take a deep breath and carefully probe for additional information first. In this guest post from Solo PR PRO member Karen Swim, she shares her approach to pre-qualifying clients (Solo PR PRO Premium subscribers: see below to download a full questionnaire).

Karen SwimIn my corporate career I spent a few years in sales before moving into marketing. I learned valuable lessons that have helped me in every facet of my career. One of the things I learned is how to pre-qualify prospective clients.

The language you use in your marketing collateral and website, and how you educate your referral sources helps ensure the right prospects become interested in working with you. But that alone is not enough – once a prospect makes contact, it’s important to fully vet the opportunity before you even put together a proposal.

Gathering information on the front-end is critical not only to winning business, but to determining if that business is worth being won. Far too many consultants waste their precious time on dead-end proposals – an ability to spot these in advance is a key to long-term success.

I pre-qualify every opportunity to:

  1. Evaluate if there is a real opportunity
    Sometimes a prospect is on a “fishing expedition,” while other times it's obvious they won't be able to get the needed buy-in internally. Are they trying to leverage information to get a better rate from a current provider? Are they gathering information to determine if PR services are something they may have interest in implementing someday (rather than now)? In the worst cases, a “prospect” has no intention of hiring outside counsel: they're hoping an unwitting PR pro will give them ideas in a proposal they can use without paying for them.  Asking probing questions initially will help you uncover a prospect's motives – if you're lucky, you'll find that they are very interested in hiring you.
  2. Determine fit
    Does the company culture align with yours? Are the expectations realistic? During this pre-qualification phase, prospects often give clues about how organized they are – both personally and internally within the company. You can also ask questions about their goals and how they are measured, which will tell you a lot about their internal culture and what will be expected of you.
  3. Identify if there is a budget
    Many independent consultants feel intimidated to ask this question, but don't be! Budget signals a commitment and allows you to determine the scope of work. “Do you have a defined budget for PR /Communication Services?” is a professional question to ask.

If the opportunity qualifies, and a proposal is requested, I move to a more in-depth pre-proposal interview — this early step ensures that a written proposal is merited. Using this process has allowed me to write fewer proposals, but with a much higher close ratio.

Solo PR PRO Premium Members: Download the full 18-question Pre-Qualification Questionnaire for your use with prospects.

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Karen Swim, Words for Hire, is a writer and marketer with 20 plus years of sales, marketing and management experience. With a unique blend of business expertise, creativity, coaching and cheerleading, she develops marketing communications for organizations and career professionals.