Goldilocks and the Art of Qualification

By Colin Harris – Conchcom Ltd

In this article I’m going to discuss a qualification technique that’s proved to be very successful.  I’m not a quota carrying salesperson – I’m more on the pre sales side but pre sales should be involved in qualification.  Once again, thanks to Terry Simpson for the sterling proof-reading job.

I know scores of books and oceans of training have been delivered around the art of qualification in the past and I’m sure they’re all really useful.  However, when it comes to qualifying an opportunity I’ve always asked two very simple questions:

  1.  Are they going to buy anything?  Part of the job of discovery is to find out their needs and understand how they buy – if the need is great enough there’s a good chance they’ll buy something – this article isn’t about this.  But there’s some great articles on discovery out there – check this out for instance
  2. Are they likely to buy something from us? Are they our sort of Customer and have we got a good fit for their needs?  This is what this article is all about.

I’ve used what I call the “Goldilocks Qualification Technique” with a number of companies over the years and it’s a useful tool in helping you decide whether an opportunity is worth progressing initially and also helps with the ongoing qualification as we find out more about the potential client.

In the fairy-tale ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, a young girl called Goldilocks breaks into a house where Daddy Bear, Mommy Bear and Baby Bear live. She tries out various things like chairs, porridge and beds and categorises each – too big, too small, just right; too hot, too cold, just right; too hard, too soft, just right.  The moral of the story being it’s OK to break into houses and steal things as long as it’s only from bears.

The ‘Goldilocks Qualification Technique’ (GQT) uses similar categorisations – you ask yourself “What would an ideal customer for our product look like?”

And then you draw up a table – the rows represent the various aspects of the customer – organisation type, size, industry, reference, competitor, technology etc. (I’ll flesh out some examples later) – and the columns represent various options – with the centre value being just right.  It may be that 3 columns suffices but it may be preferable to have 5 or 7 (an odd number makes it easier to understand).  There might be a case for having sub-rows within a main row – for instance there might be a number of aspects to questions we need to ask around the technology infrastructure – but the example shown is a simple one.

In the example I’ve used later on in this article I’ve come up with 10 different rows – keen-eyed readers might notice that the first letter of each spells out a certain word… Plus there’s 5 columns and the further from the centre column the more concerned we should be.

What you do when faced with a new prospect is fill out your GQT form like this GQT v1

We can see straight away that we are fine for porridge temperature, chair size and bed comfort.  But their revenue suggests they are too small for us.  This might be a potential red flag that indicates we should qualify out.

What this gives us is an easy visual of how close this prospect fits to our ideal – the closer to the centre the better for us.  Conversely, the further from the centre any row is indicates a potential problem that we may well need to address.  And if none of them are in our sweet spot we need to either think very hard about qualifying out, or at the very least put on our wild goose chasing trousers.

Let’s take a more realistic example:

Imagine we are a small software house selling a solution aimed at distribution companies.  Our software is mid-ranged and covers finance, procurement, sales order management and inventory control.  We can either install an on premise solution or run it in the cloud.  We sell it on a perpetual licence basis so we don’t have a Software as a Service (SAAS) offering.

We know, because we’ve thought about where we’ve been successful in the past, that our ideal customer looks a bit like this:

  • Game they’re in
    Our sweet spot is wholesale distribution. We’ve had some success with manufacturing companies where we’re selling to the distribution arm.  If they’ve got a trade counter or sell B2C then maybe, it’s not for us.  If it’s a complex configured product then beware, we don’t have a solution.  If they’re in any other line of business, then no.
  • Organisation Type
    Our sweet spot is independent organisations. We’ve had some success with organisations that are part of a larger group but are autonomous.  We’ve also been successful with publicly owned companies where there’s just one main division.  Selling to larger conglomerates with no autonomy is usually too difficult.  We don’t deal with Governments or charities etc.
  • Location
    Ideally is within a couple of hours of our main office. If they are in a major city we can travel by train.  If it involves flying, then we’d better be careful as our pre sales costs will rise.  If they’re based overseas, then no.
  • Decision Making
    Our sweet spot is where we are talking directly with the decision makers. Slightly less so where our contacts report into a local board.  We get nervous when the decision making takes place remotely.
  • Infrastructure
    They’re comfortable with on premise or a cloud solution. They use our underlying technology.  Next best is they’re technology agnostic.  Worst case is they will only consider an application on a different technology platform or they require a different delivery mechanism (e.g. SAAS)
  • Likely Fit
    We’ve got a great product fit with some uniques. We’ve got a good fit with no uniques.  We can ‘bend it to fit’.  We’ve don’t really do this and our main competitor runs rings around us in this area.
  • Opposition
    We know who our main competitors are – if they’re on the shortlist then that’s fine. We get worried when the prospect won’t tell us who the competition is.  We’d also be very nervous if the competition is either an entry level solution or a massive ERP, we’d be very concerned if the competitor was someone with a completely different sort of solution – say a construction system.  If the main competitor was also the incumbent this might indicate we are there to make up the numbers – to provide an alternative quote – this is known as being in Column B.
  • Coach
    One of the decision makers is coaching us. One of the influencers is coaching us.  A 3rd party is coaching us.  We don’t have a coach.  One of our competitors is best friends with the decision maker.
  • Knowledge of Industry
    Ideally we’ve got a reference customer in the same industry. Next best is in a similar sort of industry or where they’ve overcome similar challenges.  Again we might be worried if our competitors specialise in this industry and have got loads of references – a potential red flag.
  • Size
    They are the right size for our solution. They are a bit bigger than we are used to but they’re not concerned.  They’re a bit small but have got growth ambitions and are buying for the future.  They can’t afford this level of investment.  There’s no way they’d buy from an organisation our size.

What we do is two-fold.  Firstly, we use the form to fill out the information we already know.  We then take a view on whether the opportunity is worth investing in or not.  Secondly we make sure we find out the pieces of information we don’t know as part of our discovery process – perhaps we find out during the first meeting that their ideal solution would be delivered under SAAS – now we don’t do this so perhaps we should test how important this is to them.  If it’s definitely got to be SAAS then we should qualify out, if it’s just a preference then perhaps we can proceed with caution, making sure that the rest of the entries are in the centre.  Now the form isn’t the be-all and end-all of selling – it’s just a guide.   Superior sales tactics coupled with fantastic in-depth discovery leading to a winning presentation may carry the day.  However we’ve all been in the situation where the client has handed us the silver medal with the words “You guys did a great job, it’s just that our policy is that the solution must be …..”

If we’re really clever we’ll have done a GQT Profile for our main competitors (see later) which should give an indication of where we might stand.

Here’s a partially completed GQT form from our fictitious software company as an example:

GQT big form v1

Other Uses for GQT

We can also use the Goldilocks Qualification Technique in a number of other areas:

  • For our marketing efforts
    if we need to create a mailing list we can use some of the rows in order to select suitable companies to go on the list.
  • Competitive Analysis
    How about if we fill out the form as if we were one of our competitors – just remember to be honest, seriously, they must have some good points.
  • New Marketplaces
    Perhaps we are looking to break into new marketplaces– we can create a new form for each potential marketplace and this should help us determine which ones to go for first.
  • Product Direction
    Maybe we’re thinking about product direction – is there anything we can add to our product that would re-position entries in the Game, Infrastructure or Likely-Fit rows, or maybe enable us to win more against our competitors.
  • Expansion
    Should we consider partnering or maybe adding a new location – we can create a GQT form to see what affect that would have on our offerings.


The name of the game is to win more business – And it’s not just about working on more opportunities – it’s about working on the right opportunities.  The Goldilocks Qualification Technique can help – why not give it a try?

Let me know how you get on.