In response to last week’s post about walking away from unqualified sales prospects, my dear friend and expert marketer Stuart Baum shared his three-step qualification criteria with me. It’s snappy, just like Stuart, and I think you’ll appreciate his perspective.

Stuart is the founder and president of strategic marketing agency LargerPond Marketing and the author of one of my favorite marketing blogs, Tough Love Marketing. Over the years I have come to rely on Stuart for three things: 1. laser-sharp marketing strategy; 2. brutally honest answers; and 3. an intolerance for BS. Here’s how Stuart qualifies his prospects:

Stuart Says…
I tell people I don’t want to be their first wives. No one ever believes they might be part of the problem the first time around, and their expectations are often unrealistic. If they have never used a marketing or business development firm before, they will likely expect miraculous results… in minutes.

Once I’ve determined they’ve used an outside firm before, I start a conversation with them about their goals. The purpose is to find out their plans and how we can help, of course, but also to uncover answers to three qualifying questions:

Question #1: Have you tried this before and failed?
The desired answer is “yes.” A yes reply means they’ve been down the road before. It also means they must really want this done, since they are willing to go at it a second time.

Best case is when they’ve tried twice before and have yet to succeed. This means they’ll likely appreciate that a real fix takes real time and real effort. And will be far more willing to listen to outside ideas. Even non-intuitive ideas.

Question #2: Do you know how to fix it?
The desired answer here is “no” for the very same reason noted above.

If they know how to fix their problem and want a specific solution, then I refer them to someone or tell them to open the yellow pages. They might be right and if they are, they’ll save money by hiring a tactician.

Also, often a prospect believes they have the fix, but it was their last marketing or business development person who failed to execute properly. This may also be true, but the upshot is that they still believe they know how to fix the problem and then we’re back to square one: I’m not their guy.

If, when discussing their requirements, they use the word ’just,’ that’s a red flag meaning they think it’s an easy fix or that marketing requires no expertise. A disrespect for marketing is likely why they’ve failed before. And why they’ll likely fail again.

Question #3: Do you have any pride of ownership for your marketing?
The desired answer is “no”… the prospect needs to start with a clean slate and an open mind.

If I’m uncertain, I’ll keep pressing. ‘Are you willing to throw away all your current marketing and strategies?’ (Yes.) ‘Every last bit of it?’ (Yes.) ‘Is anything sacred?’ (No, I want success.) Now that’s a client.

A prospect must be willing to throw away all their current marketing materials. Even the logo their daughter-in-law designed. Even the three-year rolling strategic plan they paid a critically-acclaimed expert in their field to create. All of it. In the garbage. And be willing to toss in a match. (If we need it, we’ll take it out and use it … But they have to be willing to burn it all.)

Basically, I am there to tell them that their baby is ugly. And that it might be genetics. If they believe their baby is beautiful, despite all proof to the contrary, then they will always have an ugly baby.

So what can you learn from Stuart’s no-nonsense qualification criteria? How can you hone your marketing, focus your social media and arm your personal network of brand champions to bring you qualified prospects? The answer is to first know what qualified means.