As published on Forbes.com

The Best Way To Know If A Business Prospect Is Worth Your Time

Ron is the CEO of a business services company. He has a team of people who regularly prospect for business by contacting potential clients. Ron’s company has some pretty compelling solutions for their industry. Their pitch is pretty good, so they set many meetings with executives who express interest in their services. The frustration for Ron is that he and his team have almost no sense of which opportunities will turn into good clients, and which ones are not worth their time to pursue. During a workshop with Ron’s team, we evaluated the information each person collected when meeting with potential clients. Uh oh! It turns out that each team member was collecting their own set of information they thought might be important. None of the team members was collecting the same information as another team member. Ron’s team needed to discover the best way to know if a business prospect is worth your time .

Four Quadrants of Information

There are many systems that describe the information you should collect when meeting with potential customers. Many of these systems require a Venn Diagram, an Abacus, and a floating point calculator if you want to truly manage the process. I am a big believer that you need a simple process if you want people to follow it. Of course, just knowing what to capture is nice, but here is a way to keep track of how you’re doing, and some sample questions you can use in that part of the discussion. First, take out a blank sheet of paper. Draw a line down the center from top to bottom creating two equal sides (left and right). Then draw a line that splits the page horizontally into top and bottom. This will give you four equally-sized quadrants. In the corner of the upper left box, write the word “Issue“. In the upper right, write “Impact/Importance.” In the lower left box write “Results,” and write “Others Impacted in the lower right box.

The Best Way To Know If A Business Prospect Is Worth Your Time

Let me explain each one.

Issue

The Issue box is where you take notes about the superficial challenge the client is facing. Ron’s company provides information technology support. So, his potential clients might say that their current systems are not reliable. Ron’s people might start the conversation by asking “What was it that inspired you to meet with us? What were you hoping we might be able to solve for you?” Issue, however, is the tip of the iceberg.

Impact/Importance

Impact and importance provide the justification for any investment or change. Nobody will spend money because their systems are not reliable. It’s the consequences of that unreliability that makes things worth solving. You uncover Impact and Importance by asking questions like “What happens as a result of that issue?” or “Let’s say six months go by and you still haven’t solved it… would anything happen to make it worth solving that issue?” Ron’s clients might say “We lose billable hours and miss deadlines when our systems are down. If this keeps up, we’re going to lose our best client. If that happens, I might lose my job.”  There is a more detailed formula for uncovering Impact and Importance, but hopefully you get the gist.

Results

You might ask the client, “How would you and I know if we successfully solve that challenge six months from now? I’d hate to be going for the high-five thinking we succeeded prematurely.” It’s important that you and your client have a shared vision of success. You need to know you can deliver (if not… walk away).

Others Impacted

One of the biggest frustrations for many sellers is the surprise participant in your client’s organization who inserts themselves into the opportunity in the eleventh hour. For this reason, you need to ask “Who else is impacted by this issue, and who stands to get the most benefit when we solve it?” Or, “The last time you tried to solve something like this, who else got involved? How might things differ this time?” This should give you and the client good information about who needs to be involved.

So How Do You Use It?

As you take notes in your meeting, fill in the respective areas of the sheet. If you are a detailed note taker, you might have a separate sheet for each quadrant. The key is to periodically look at what you have collected. If the sheet is empty, you’ve been talking too much. Often, you’ll realize that one particular area is almost blank (if not entirely blank). Ron’s team noticed that they could easily fill in all of the quadrants for the opportunities that became good clients. Many of the pursuits that did not pan out ended up missing entire quadrants. Now, Ron’s team has a common set of objectives for every meeting. Just like Ron, you can implement this simple yet powerful system to ensure your meetings are productive, and that you have a good sense of which opportunities are a good use of your time to pursue  . If you’ve asked the questions and the Issue, Impact, Importance, and Results don’t seem too compelling, then either the company or the specific contact within that company might not be a good fit for you right now.

It’s Your Turn

When you think of your best clients, could you retrospectively fill out all four quadrants? What information do you collect? Share your answers in the comments.