How to Qualify Your Customers

You love to meet new wholesale buyers – but is the person standing in your trade show booth a “hot prospect” or perhaps not a prospect at all?  


Experienced salespeople in every industry (and that includes artists and craftspeople) know that in order to start the sales process, it’s necessary to “qualify” the prospect first. This means gathering information which tells you whether they are in the position to do business with you.

Here are critical pieces of information that you should obtain by asking the right questions in conversation with your prospects:

  • Are you speaking to the decision maker? It’s easy enough to ask “are you the buyer?” in conversation to establish their authority, which will determine your sales strategy. Sometimes the owner or buyer has an assistant or other employee collecting artists’ brochures or making notes for future consideration.  Buyers won’t give you much time during a trade show because of the large number of exhibitors, so prepare ahead of time. Get business cards, make notes, and have a game plan. This is critical to maximizing sales and new account acquisition.
  • Can the prospective customer afford to place an order for your product line? Ask them about their price point spread in your medium, and the average number of “turns” each year for similar lines. This term refers to turnover, or the number of times a line sells through in one year. 3-4 turns per year could mean the store is a very healthy wholesale account for you.
  • Establish that they have a need for your line. Inquire about the store type, customer profile and seasonality of sales. Are your products a good match for this prospect, or is it a stretch to imagine that they would carry your work? If your products don’t offer value to them, chances are that they will move on.
  • Clearing credit at a show is easier than ….  Ask the buyer if they have a long term relationship with another exhibitor on your aisle.  Your reference check is complete after you ask that single exhibitor. Otherwise, get their credentials, and a credit sheet. Buyers should have these with them as they are expected by new vendors.
  • Are they buying now?  If the prospect is placing orders, get the conversation going on what they like in your line. You can subtly begin to write the order, knowing that this often leads to a signed commitment.   If they question why you’re writing, say “I thought you might want to walk with the notes I’m making about what products you are interested in.”  Chances are you will be surprised that the buyer will actually ask about terms and shipping dates.   Make sure you keep a copy of their order or notes of interest, it will aid you in follow-up at a later date.

It may be that they are searching for lines they will need in the future, and are a long-term prospect for you.  In that case, it’s important that you put them on your contact list and continue to follow up with them in a regular manner.

Most store buyers who are interested in buying your type of art or craft will be making a purchase in the next year. Keep your name and line in front of them with regular emails, phone calls, direct mail and social media contact in a drip marketing campaign.

Use these qualifying techniques to work within a framework you have set up for converting prospects to customers.Know who your target customer is, and be able to ask pertinent questions to determine how closely your prospects fit that model so that you can use your time and effort wisely.


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