Stop ❌ Unqualified Leads With These 11 Agency Tips
You don’t want to waste hours, days, or even weeks selling to a prospect who doesn’t end up becoming a client, right?
You want to just focus on increasing leads who are qualified.
But avoiding bad leads isn’t as simple as it may seem…
You see, when I first started AutoGrow, I would wonder endlessly about why a lead didn’t buy.
We had good rapport and they seemed interested in what we had to offer—so what caused them to walk away?
The truth was, there were major issues in the way our sales funnel was set up.
Unqualified leads simply made it all the way to booking a call with us when they shouldn’t have because our strategy wasn’t optimized to prevent that from happening .
This is an issue many agencies like yours are still plagued with.
Because growing leads is a hassle, especially when unqualified leads get in the way…
And that’s why I wanted to send you this 11-step guide today…
…to help you spot and prevent unqualified leads from getting through your funnel so that you can focus on attracting the qualified ones.
By now, you already know how to create a sales funnel for your agency. And now it’s time to learn:
- 4 tips for recognizing when you have an unqualified lead in your pipeline.
- 4 tips for avoiding unqualified leads getting in your funnel.
- And 3 tips for dealing with unqualified leads and going through the disqualification process.
Sounds good? Let’s start weeding out those bad leads
How To Recognize Unqualified Leads
Before we get into how you can optimize your funnel to prevent unqualified leads in the first place, we first need to address how you recognize the unqualified leads you’re currently getting.
While some signs of unqualified leads are obvious (it doesn’t take a genius to realize a client who’s in the bouncy castle rental business isn’t a good fit for an agency specializing in software companies), some are a bit more subtle.
And if you keep running into problems with clients who are unhappy with the scope, quality, or timelines of your work, guess what?
You may just be qualifying unqualified leads who aren’t as good of a fit as you think.
Here are four red flags a lead isn’t qualified.
1. They Don’t Have the Budget
On the more obvious end of the spectrum, if a potential client simply doesn’t have the budget to pay for your services, they’re unqualified and aren’t worth pursuing.
This sounds easy in theory, but it can quickly get forgotten when other factors get involved.
- What if they sound perfect in every category except for budget?
- What if they say they will have the budget in a few months, but aren’t in a position right now?
- What if they’re a once-in-a-lifetime lead that is open to your services, but wants to pay $200 less than your usual quote?
Although it can be tempting to make compromises in situations like these, it’s advisable to stick to your guns. If your lead doesn’t have the budget right now, consider them unqualified — and if the situation changes in the future, this can be reassessed.
This is because a compromise on budget can foreshadow other problems. A client who isn’t willing or able to pay your regular price may not:
- See the true value of your services.
- Have a serious business model — which can lead to unnecessary conflicts about vision, direction, and what they want from you.
- Be able to regularly pay you later on.
So, if they can’t pay, walk away.
2. Their Needs Don’t Align With What You Offer
Budget isn’t the only thing that might be out of alignment between you and a potential client.
Sometimes, leads quite simply don’t have problems you’re capable of solving.
This is another red flag that sounds simple in theory but is more difficult to assess in reality.
Sure, it’s easy enough to determine that a lead who needs graphic design isn’t a good fit for an SEO agency — but what about times when you’re almost a fit, like:
- A client that needs graphic design when you do web design. (Maybe your designers could do graphic design, right?)
- A client that’s working in an industry slightly different from your usual — like B2B SaaS rather than B2C.
In these cases, it’s important to learn the difference between a “challenge” client and an unqualified client.
A challenge client is someone whose needs fit in with what you offer, but they push the envelope a bit. They want detailed, thorough work that involves every single thing you can do.
These clients are actually beneficial to take on because they force you to challenge yourself, and they usually leave great reviews and referrals when they’re satisfied.
An unqualified client, on the other hand, is someone who wants something outside of what you offer. They’re the leads who keep saying “Sure, but what about if you could also do this” whenever you explain “No, we can’t do that.”
Unqualified clients only lead to misunderstandings and dissatisfaction in the long run.
3. Their Expectations Are Too High or Unreasonable
Sometimes even when a client technically wants something you offer, their expectations can still be misaligned with what you can deliver.
These are the situations where clients want things like:
- An unreasonably fast completion timeline.
- Endless revisions based on shifting notions on what the final product should look like.
- The expectation is that you can figure out what they want even when they refuse to communicate.
- Extra work that your team isn’t capable of doing.
These clients can be hard to spot because sometimes, their expectations seem in alignment during your initial call. It’s only during the project process that the plan unravels, and you start seeing that your vision for what’s possible isn’t in alignment.
This is why it’s so important to ask clarifying questions during your sales call, like:
- The timeline they’re expecting.
- The scope of work they’re expecting you to include. (Does it involve revisions or services you can’t provide?)
- What their overall brand vision and goals are.
- The level of detail they want in their final deliverables.
- Whether they can provide examples or an adequate explanation of what they want.
If these questions reveal unrealistic expectations, consider the lead unqualified.
4. They Don’t Have Good Rapport or Digital Body Language
While this point may seem unimportant, rapport and communication often play a big role in the success of a project.
While you don’t have to be best friends with your clients, it’s good to have some level of friendly rapport. When a lead is receptive to your efforts to be friendly and amicable, that could be a good indicator that they’ll be easy to work with.
On the other hand, if during an initial sales call, a lead seems:
- Cold and serious — they don’t respond well to humor and friendliness and actively reject attempts to form a personal connection.
- Standoffish or on edge — they get unexpectedly upset or irritated at small misunderstandings and miscommunications.
- To not be paying attention — they don’t remember your core offer or pricing and seem to be going through the motions.
This may indicate that the lead:
- Won’t communicate well during the project process.
- Isn’t a good cultural fit for you and your team.
- Isn’t really interested in your agency — they may just be playing a numbers game by calling 10 different agencies or aren’t ready to take the plunge with anyone.
Likewise, if their digital body language is “off” — such as using all caps in emails, responding to messages with one word answers, or ghosting you for days at a time, this can also indicate some troubling communication issues.
How To Avoid Unqualified Leads
Now that you know what red flags to look for when spotting unqualified leads, it’s time for the million-dollar question: How do you avoid them in the first place?
Here are four key strategies.
1. Ensure Your Value Proposition Is Clear
When you’re not clear on what kind of leads you do want, how could you possibly know what kind of leads you don’t want?
Similarly, if your leads aren’t clear on what you’re offering, how are they supposed to know whether they’re a good fit?
This is why one of the most important parts of avoiding unqualified leads is ensuring your value proposition is clear.
When you’re creating a marketing agency, it’s tempting to look up to the big agencies servicing huge clients with a jack-of-all-trades strategy.
They offer everything from writing and design to development and maybe even business strategy services.
But it’s actually much easier to define a smaller niche that attracts a specific audience.
This niche can be related to your services or audience, but most likely, it should be a mixture of both.
Once you have a distinct, unique value proposition, you’ll start attracting leads who fit that specific mold.
So although it sounds counterintuitive, consider cutting some of your services or audience.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What are my agency’s strongest service offerings?
- What types of businesses and industries get the most value for my offer?
What budget actually makes sense for what I’m offering?
2. Make Sure Your Sales Funnel Clearly States Your Offer
After you define your specific niche and value proposition, the next thing you should do is ensure this is communicated properly in your marketing.
Take a look at your sales funnel and ask yourself whether there are any components that are sending out the wrong message.
Across your website, emails, advertisements, lead magnets, and anything else, do you ever:
- Target audiences you don’t really work with in the hopes of casting a wide net or fail to define and target a specific audience?
- Fail to define and explain the precise services you offer?
- Fail to describe the precise way your product or service is structured?
- Make vague statements and promises that don’t line up with the actual results you provide?
The more clear and precise your copy, design, targeting, and other funnel elements are, the more likely you are to weed out unqualified leads before they even get to the point where they book a call.
Ideally, your sales funnel should be so optimized so the leads who end up calling you only have clarifying questions. They should be nearly ready to buy and just need a final push.
If your sales calls include people asking big-picture questions or being confused on the basics of what you offer, you need to rework the clarity of your funnel.
3. Have Pricing Available Before the Call
This tip is a mistake I made with AutoGrow for years.
In the beginning, I was obsessed with the idea that it’s bad to offer a price until the actual sales call.
This is a common piece of sales advice, and it sounds intuitive — when a price can put someone off, it’s better to sell them first so they’re more receptive to paying more.
However, in reality, all this did was make me waste time by talking to people who simply didn’t have the budget for what we offered.
When we offered a structured pricing page on our website, we saw a huge increase in leads booking calls who already knew they had the budget and were interested in our offer.
So if you’re leaving the price a mystery, consider being more transparent — especially if you’re getting on sales calls with leads who have nowhere near the budget you’re looking for.
4. Don’t Mistake Good Rapport for a Good Fit
Although good rapport can be an indicator that a lead is going to be easy to work with, you need to be careful not to take this idea too far.
It’s very possible to get along amazingly with someone on a personal level who isn’t a good fit on a business level.
Case in point: One time, in the early days of AutoGrow, I got on a call with a woman who ran as a hobby. I had just finished running a half-marathon that weekend, and we hit it off over this shared interest. We decided to move forward with the process.
However, after delivering her first project, I realized her expectations simply weren’t in alignment with what we offered.
This could’ve been something I spotted sooner, but because we got along so well on a personal level, I overlooked it — which ultimately led to an inaccurate assessment of how to move forward.
So, even if you really hit it off with a lead, keep in mind this is only one part of the equation. You still need to ensure their problem aligns with your solution.
How To Disqualify Leads
So the moment has come: you’re on a sales call with a lead, and you realize they’re unqualified — or perhaps, you start wondering whether they’re unqualified. What do you do next?
Here are three final tips for guiding yourself and a lead through the disqualification process.
1. Use the 4 Gateways
If you’re not used to selling, it helps to have a predetermined framework to walk your lead through the qualifying process.
A framework that really helped me in the beginning was the 4 gateways.
These are basically 4 steps you should walk through alongside your lead — if at any point either you or the lead can’t walk through the “gateway,” consider the process over.
Here’s a breakdown of how they work:
- Gateway 1: What’s the problem? — Define the problem your lead has and determine whether you’re capable of solving it. If you both agree that their problem and your solution is a good fit, you’ve walked through this gateway.
- Gateway 2: What’s the timeline? — Do you share expectations for how long it will take to complete deliverables or a project? If the answer is yes, you can walk through this gateway.
- Gateway 3: Who else should be involved? — Ask the lead if they have a business partner, superior, or anyone else that needs to sign off on the decision to work together. If they do, reschedule the call when that person can be involved to continue the sales process. If they say they have the power to make a final decision then and there, keep walking to the next gateway.
- Gateway 4: What’s the budget/scope? — This is your final chance to confirm the price and scope of your agreement. If you both agree on a price, and the lead is capable of giving you the information you need to complete the project, you can walk past the last gateway and close the deal.
2. Rejecting Unqualified Leads: Turn Them Down Politely
Once you’ve decided a lead is unqualified, rejecting them is a delicate but straightforward process.
Simply explain that they don’t seem to be a good fit, and, if possible, recommend someone else that may be able to assist them better.
Or, consider downselling them to an info product or resource. Offering them a lead magnet or a guidebook can help them feel like they still got value from your time together.
Here’s an example of something you might say to turn a lead down:
“Hey, it was great talking to you today, but I value your time, and from what im hearing it doesn’t sound like we’re a good fit for each other right now. I don’t want to waste your time and sell you something that isn’t going to be a great fit for you, so I recommend you go to [Insert website] to find others who may have the solution you’re looking for.”
3. Keep the Door Open for Future Referals and Opportunities
Although it may not work out this time, doesn’t mean that a lead can’t provide you with anything valuable.
Oftentimes, even if a lead isn’t a perfect fit for you, they may become a perfect fit later. They also may know other companies who would be a good fit for you.
So, when you’re rejecting a lead, make sure to leave the door open for referrals or for future opportunities. If you feel it’s appropriate, you can even offer an incentive for referrals.
Unqualified leads are going to be a part of any agency sales process.
But, with the proper tweaks to your funnel, sales strategy, and business model, you can weed out unqualified leads before they even make it to the sales call.
And even if the occasional unqualified lead does make it through, you can still turn that into a value-generation opportunity.
All you have to do is:
- Ensure your value proposition is clearly defined and communicated.
- Know the signs of an unqualified lead so you can drop them before you agree to work with them.
- Reject unqualified leads using tact and professionalism while leaving the door open for future opportunities.
If you want help optimizing your sales funnel so you can weed out unqualified leads or want to delegate other tasks so you can spend more time optimizing your sales funnel, reach out to AutoGrow.
With a dedicated team of marketing professionals, we offer a white label solution that allows agencies to delegate internal and client-based projects without the people headaches of hiring freelancers or in-house team members.
Let me know in the comments below.
Keep AutoGrowin’, stay focused.