Are You Pre-Qualifying or are you Pre-Judging Your Clients?

Many years ago I mistakenly applied for a job as a car salesman and the dealership mistakenly hired me. It was a horrible match, no person in their right mind would have hired me as a car salesman. I don’t know how or why I lasted six months except by the Grace of God, because it was NOT a match made in heaven.

An actually important lesson

As a brand new salesman on the car lot, one of the first things I was taught was to pre-qualify the customer without prejudging the customer. At no point was I supposed to decide “They’ll never think it’s worth the money” or “They won’t go for that” or “That’s more money than they have” or even “They look like they can barely afford a cup of plain, black coffee”.

I was told different stories by different experienced car sales people of their own experiences with it. The stories followed a similar pattern, here’s one I remember: There was an older man who showed up on the car lot. He drove onto the lot in his beat-up, run down, aging, mud-covered pickup truck. The man was a mess, his coveralls were covered in mud, they had holes, and looked pretty ragged.

Most of the guys chose to pass on helping him as he obviously couldn’t really afford whatever the popular car of choice was at the time and they didn’t want to go through all the hassle of overcoming his natural barriers, showing him different vehicles, and running the credit check only to find out that whatever he could qualify for wasn’t going to be a huge commission. That was a tremendous waste of time and effort. So they let the new guy, the one telling me the story, go talk to him.

So he went and engaged the man. The man bought a fleet of trucks and it was one of the biggest commissions the salesman ever had.

How is that possible? I forget the industry the man was in, but he was the owner and it involved big equipment and digging up plots of land, which is why he was so dirty and covered in mud. You see, he had taken a break from what he and his crew were working on so that he could buy the much-needed fleet of trucks for his business.

A reminder lesson from the other side

I also know a man who was on the other end, he was the buyer, not the salesman. He was young, was making a very good living, and dressed like a stereo-typical beach bum. He wanted to buy his dad a car, a car his dad had always dreamed of owning: A brand new Cadillac. When he got to the car lot, it was a similar scenario; no one wanted to help him and the salesman he first encountered passed him on to the new, inexperienced guy. The man telling me the story told me how he went out of his way to let the first salesman know that he just bought the Caddy… in cash.

Prejudging and pre-qualifying are not the same

The point of those stories was that there’s a difference between pre-qualifying someone and prejudging someone. When you prejudge someone, you lose.

Prejudging is dumb

The way they dress (or talk, or act) *could* be a reflection of their financial condition *but* it could also just as easily be a style, or a professional necessity, or maybe they’re on vacation, or maybe they’re overdressed and look wealthy because they’re on their way to a wedding. You don’t know and you’re stupid if you think you do.

Yes, I did indeed just now call someone stupid. It may not apply to you, or it may apply to you, I don’t know because I don’t know who you are. But what I do know is there’s going to be at least one person reading this article who prejudges someone by they way they look, dress, or act. And that person is an idiot.

Pre-qualifying is smart

Pre-qualifying someone on the other hand, is a necessity. It’s when you take the time to ask the customer/potential customer, related questions that will help determine what it is they need and what it is they can afford.

Using pre-qualifying correctly

They may desperately need something they cannot afford, you either have to turn them away or refer them to someone or some other product to use that won’t do what they need exactly, but is as close as they can get for now.

On the other hand, just because they CAN afford your $60,000 thingamabob, doesn’t mean it’s what they need and you should, if you’re remotely ethical, steer them to the $200 thingamajig because it’s what they actually need.

The fact is, deciding what someone needs is not your job

Your job is to find out what they need and why they need it and then steer them to the person, product, or service that best matches that need. If you have a couple of flavors, like a Doohickey 2000 and a Doohickey 3000, then tell them about both and let them decide which one they want, their decision may surprise you, but it’s THEIR job to decide that, your job is to offer them the viable options.

I’m going to say that again: It’s YOUR job to present the options that matches their needs; it’s THEIR job to decide which one to buy.

You do yourself and them a disservice (and lose out on potential sales) by deciding ahead of time that they won’t spend that amount of money. That’s NOT your decision, it’s THEIRS.

What you shouldn’t tell them is that they need a full-sized pickup truck when (after pre-qualifying them with proper open-ended questions) you know they only need a hatchback.

Stop yourself from prejudging; instead you pre-qualify and present all the options you believe will realistically fit their needs.

– Jeffery

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