Have you (or one of your agency’s salespeople) wasted time on a prospect who turned out to be a terrible fit? Fix that common problem by asking clients to complete a sales pre-qualification survey before you get on the phone.
This helps you focus on the right people—and do “fast failure” with those who aren’t.
What kind of results might you see? I recently helped a client overhaul their agency’s sales process. In the first two weeks, they shortened their initial calls by 33% (from ~45 minutes to ~30 minutes), while boosting their salesperson’s close rate on Paid Discovery.
Let’s look at the questions I ask, how to customize this for your agency, and answers to common questions I hear from agency owners about doing sales pre-qualification surveys. [Last updated: April 2023]
For a deeper dive, see my extended article on creating a Fast-Fail Sales Process.
[TEMPLATE] Swipe File: The 11 questions I ask
I call my survey a “pre-intake questionnaire.” With an eye toward digital agency coaching and consulting, here’s what I ask:
- What’s your contact info, so I can match your answers to you?
- Why did you start (or join) your agency? How has that matched up to reality?
- Do you lean toward running a Lifestyle agency (where your goal is to keep running the agency as long as possible) or an Equity agency (where your goal is to sell it in the next 5 years)? If you’re not sure, check out my article on the topic.
- If you could wave a magic wand, what would be different 1 year from now? What about 5 years from now?
- What KPIs (key performance indicators) would you use to track our success in working together?
- Let’s get specific. How fast have you grown your revenue in recent years? And, how fast do you want to grow revenue in future years?
- Successful agency growth requires a strong team. Tell me about your current team: the number of employees, the number of contractors, and their level of quality (e.g., New Rope vs. Wet Twine).
- What’s your target budget? I can typically find something that works for most budgets and client situations. For example … [examples].
- If you’ve worked with a business consultant (or coach or other paid advisor before), what did you like and not like about that relationship?
- Where are you today in your selection process? Your answer will help me customize what we discuss next! For instance … [examples]
- Do you have any questions for me or my team before we proceed?
Most are “required” questions. I’ve considered splitting #4 into separate questions—but keeping the combo gives me a window into the respondent’s thought process.
Be sure to customize the list to your agency’s situation. See below for my advice on how to handle the dreaded budget question.
[Template] How to introduce your sales pre-qualification survey
Once someone reaches out via email or a contact form, my team will reply like this:
SUBJECT: Helping you & <AgencyName>
Thanks for reaching out! From what you described, it sounds like we’re a fit—<BriefSummary>.
As a next step, please take 15-20 minutes beforehand to complete our pre-intake questionnaire. This will help you save time later. Based on that, Karl and I will review your responses, to recommend next steps—e.g., doing an exploratory call or pointing you elsewhere if we’re not the right match for you.
As you can see, we frame the pre-qualification survey as part of a process. I also demonstrate how they benefit from doing the survey.
Should you ask about their budget?
Yes—but don’t be obnoxious. Instead of fishing with “What’s your budget?,” give them an idea of what to expect. For instance, are you doing $5,000 engagements, $50,000 engagements, or $500,000 engagements?
To position yourself as a strategic agency (a “thinker” instead of a “doer”), make a soft ask. Cite your minimum level of engagement, and ask if they’ve created a budget yet. For instance:
“Have you created a budget yet for this work? As a heads up, our clients typically invest a minimum of $100,000 a year. Our initial audit is $5,000, and we can recommend your Phase 2 budget after that.”
Pro tip: If they haven’t created a budget yet, do not do a sales call—and definitely don’t create a proposal. When someone’s at the very beginning of their selection process, share your minimum level of engagement and share a wide budget range:
“Solving that kind of problem tends to run $40,000 to $250,000. I’m glad to discuss further once you’ve confirmed your budget internally.”
If you really want to insist on knowing numbers up front, you should have a drop-down with budget ranges—but I recommend making the question optional. (Some large clients may not want to disclose their budget yet; if the rest of their answers are highly-engaged, you’ll find out soon enough.)
NOTE: Initially, I didn’t ask about budget in my survey because most people don’t have an explicit budget for business consulting or executive coaching. (And I publish budget ranges.) Eventually, I added a budget question, to ensure we weren’t potentially wasting each other’s time. In contrast, your clients should be budgeting for your agency’s help—so ask away.
Send the survey before or after scheduling the sales call?
If you have a high volume of prospects, consider asking people to complete the survey before scheduling them. That way, you can turn-away people who are a poor fit, instead of taking up space on your schedule with a call that you’d ultimately pre-exclude.
If you find people in your target industry vertical are reluctant to do the survey, consider sending the survey after scheduling the call. You might also consider shortening the survey to fewer “core” questions. Be sure the survey’s mobile-friendly, especially if your clients tend to be on the run.
If someone’s initial email suggests they’re a strong fit, I’ll do things simultaneously—schedule the call while asking them to complete the survey.
Is there ever a time to skip a pre-qualification survey?
Should you ever skip the sales pre-qualification survey? Probably not, but it depends on the strength of your sales pipeline. If your pipeline is weak—and you’re willing to make compromises because you need cash—you might skip the survey to reduce “friction” in the sales process.
What if someone is referred to you by a current client or a referral partner? Use the pre-qualification survey with them, too—not every referral is a fit. The key is that you frame it as part of your process—most prospective clients like seeing that your agency has a process.
If your prospects tend to call first (instead of emailing your agency to set up a call), your Business Development Representative (BDR) would ask pre-qualification questions by phone.
What if they don’t fill out the survey?
Worried someone won’t fill it out before the call? In my experience, that’s extremely rare—it’s happened just twice in my several years of using the survey. In one case, she’d missed the reminder about the survey. In the other, one of the three partners had started filling it out before he got distracted. (Sound familiar?)
If someone doesn’t fill it out because they think it’s a waste of time, that’s a good thing—they’ve just proven to you that they don’t value you and your process. Congrats—you achieved “fast failure” by not wasting time on a poor-fit prospect!
Don’t do calls with prospects who skip your pre-qualification survey—if they aren’t willing to spend 15-20 minutes on the survey to share about their business, why should you spend 30 or 45 or 60 minutes on the phone with them?
Applying this at your agency
Ready to create and use a sales pre-qualification survey at your agency? Great! Using my survey as a model, make a list of questions that will help you vet people before the call.
You’ll need to find the right balance on how deep to probe, versus saving key followup questions for the exploratory call. Consider linking the form directly to your marketing automation CRM, to save you a step later.
For a deeper dive, see my extended article on creating a Fast-Fail Sales Process. In short, spend time on the sales prospects who want and need your agency’s help. But don’t let efficiency take over—under the Warmth & Competence model, frame the survey as Warmth for them (you value their time), not Competence for you (you’re in a hurry).
Question: Thinking about your agency’s most recent sales prospect, what do you wish you’d asked before getting on the phone?