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  • Brad Camp

The Customer Qualification Guide: Saying No in Order to Grow

In our last article, Moneyball for Integrators: The Art of Winning with Data, we suggested your sales team start reporting on the number of consultations performed and proposals delivered each week. Through this exercise, it’s not uncommon to uncover that your team is conducting more consultations than delivering proposals. How can this be?

We’ve all been there. Imagine standing in the living room of a seemingly interested customer – let’s call him Bob – explaining how the nearest “big box” retailer quoted $200 to install his TV. Unable to convince him to invest in your custom installation services, you shake his hand, walk out the door, and try to ignore the time you lost meeting with the wrong customer. While it’s important to focus your sights through the windshield, you shouldn’t completely avoid your review mirror either. It’s moments like the one with Bob that allow us to fail forward and identify better practices, processes, and habits that lead to successful outcomes. In this scenario, one might recognize the opportunity cost where, on a given day, you may only be able to meet with one or two interested customers. By choosing to meet with Bob, you are giving up the opportunity to meet with someone else.

This begs the golden question: How do you avoid Bob? Here are a few effective ways to properly qualify a customer to ensure each consultation turns into a winnable proposal:

Complimentary Phone and Virtual Project Assessments: Integrators should offer a way to engage with new customers without exchanging currency. If you’ve been doing this long enough, you can likely think of a customer (or many) who initially presented quite modestly but ultimately made a significant investment with you. By offering to schedule a complimentary 15-30 minute phone or virtual project assessment, you’ll have the opportunity to ask discovery questions that qualify leads, build trust and establish rapport, and set expectations around your unique sales and design process – all increasing the likelihood of conversion. During this assessment, once you obtain enough information about your customer, quality them using the “BARTS” method:

B – Do they have the Budget you require? A – Do they have the Authority to make a decision? R – Will what you sell them generate enough Revenue? T – Does their Timing make them a relevant customer? S – Will your Solution bring true value to them?

Billable On-Site Consultations: For eons, integrators have promised “free consultations”, so to some, this may feel like rolling a rock uphill. However, charging for a consultation can help to qualify interested customers by setting a clear expectation of value and investment, while also establishing credibility and expertise. More importantly, when someone is willing to pay for your time, it demonstrates that they are serious about their inquiry, indicates that they have a genuine interest in learning more about your services, and are willing to invest time and money to explore it further. Most importantly, consider crediting the full consultation fee towards the project. This is a proven strategy for increasing the likelihood of a sale, improving the perceived value of the consultation, and reducing the perceived risk for the customer.

Design Retainers: Creating a proposal that includes complex engineering, like smart home systems and integrated technology, can be time-consuming and require significant expertise. Charging a design retainer – 4% of the project budget is standard – can ensure that you are compensated for the time and experience required, even if the customer ultimately decides not to proceed. They’re also a great qualifying tool! Asking for a design retainer can help to weed out customers who are simply not serious about the project. Finally, consider offering unlimited revisions and crediting the full design retainer fee towards the project. In our experience, once a customer invests in the design retainer process, they’re making a commitment towards moving forward with the project, so treat the relationship as such.

Improved Marketing: The easiest way to avoid the wrong customer is to stop attracting them. For instance, if you’re an integrator specializing in boutique, luxury projects but your website features a landing page dedicated to structured wiring, don’t be mad when Bob calls you about installing a new Ethernet jack in his office. Instead, ensure your website, social media, and target ad words only represent your target audience. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself frequently weeding the garden and that comes at an opportunity cost.

Learning to properly qualify a customer or, more simply put, when and how to say “no” with confidence is a powerful tool. In fact, Winston Churchill once said, “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” At face value, that may sound a bit prickly, but it carries merit. With each customer interaction, your reputation is on the line, so consider implementing some or all of these proven practices to ensure you're always engaging with your target audience. And when you do have to say “no”, try saying, “It doesn’t seem like we’re the ideal fit for your project, but you may want to consider [insert alternative] instead” to avoid being a dead end. Remember, you want them to look forward to the trip!

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