Qualifiers: A Resource, Not an Expense

Good lead screeners make major contributions to the sales process

BrightStar Healthcare took home first-place honors in this year's STAR Awards for Best Telephone Prospect Follow-Up. Shelly Sun, BrightStar's CEO and co-founder, says that using a pre-qualifier to screen leads has been a critical component of her company's rapid growth.

When it comes to having a pre-qualifier, "It's interesting how many people see it as an expense," says Sun. "I think the reason we won in this class is we see it as a resource." In fact, she says, "I see it not as an expense, but as the highest ROI in the entire sales cycle to move an initial prospect to a lead and a lead into a closed sale. As soon as franchisors see it this way, they'll begin to see the success and the results follow."

And when it comes to winning the STAR Award for her company's follow-up to phone calls from prospective franchisees, "It starts with who you have as a qualifier. It's a really important role," she says. "I think it's all about the passion and level of the person on the other end of the phone. That's one of the keys why our phone process works so well: it's the person you choose."

Sun says her company took an unconventional route in filling that position, looking for spouses of employees who could work from home. She wanted "people involved in our business who are really passionate about being involved with our company and our mission: taking care of grandpas and grandmas." The company chose the wife of one of the company's first corporate employees.

One difference from last year: all incoming calls went to one person. Now they ring to multiple lines, with three administrative staff trained as backups. The goal is to give a response call within 4 hours, preferably faster. Prospects, says Sun, "are probably calling others, so as quickly as possible. If they happen to come through email, we reach out three times by phone--a pretty high level of touch. When people who make a conscious choice to call our brand, we want to leave them with a very positive experience. At some point they might become a consumer of our brand."

The biggest thing, says Sun: "The person in that phone answering role is most important and the follow-up process second; I would almost have a passionate person and no process." She has both.

"Phone calls always take first priority," says Sun, with the rest of the qualifier's time spent on Internet inquiries. "Timeliness is key to engaging the candidate and giving a great first impression." She says 80 to 90 percent of calls are answered live. "We all spend a lot of money on leads. We've prioritized our processes to give them a quick and timely experience."

In that first call, she says, "We're trying to engage them, see what they're looking for, have a conversation." The qualification call can range from a minute up to 10 or 15 (more likely), with the goal of getting to know the person a little, get them excited, and check their level of passion before proceeding. "You have to get them into the process," says Sun. If the process goes smoothly, there's a decision within six weeks.

BrightStar uses Process Peak as a to manage the sales process, keep it uniform, and ensure that great results are possible with good salespeople, not only great ones, says Sun. "Our sales people are doing about 18 deals each. Process Peak helps us ensure that consistency." Responses are based on bullet points, not scripted.

The brand currently has 176 locations, with an additional 55 to 60 in pre-opening and sold. Sun says the BrightStar is doing 50 to 60 deals a year. "We're adding about 6 to 10 a month, which is pretty strong growth. Third quarter was the best in income in our history."

Sun is passionate about the importance of the first contact with a prospect. "I think sales qualifiers are great, especially for multi-concept companies. You can't build that complexity into a website: 'We don't have an opening in home care, but might have another brand...' The qualifier can handle that." Coincidentally, BrightStar is launching a new brand in the first quarter, a small-format assisted living concept for families that can't afford 24/7 home care.

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