The Ultimate Guide to Sales Qualification

Think about qualifying as dating.

Before you put a ring on it, you want to make sure you’re hanging out with the right person. There is probably a dozen of things that you want to ask and understand about the potential mate, and there’s that inexplicable yearning for trust and harmony before you settle down for the foreseeable future. That’s exactly what happens during sales qualification. You engage in a sort of courtship to determine whether a lead is worth pursuing further.

Not every lead is worth your time, energy and money because not every lead is a good fit for your product or service. The process of sales qualification allows you to quickly differentiate between prospects with a mere interest in your business and actual leads that represent a real sales opportunity. Knowing which leads have the potential to become paying customers will help you better inform your decisions, allocate your resources appropriately and often shorten the sales cycle.

Time and time again we are reminded about the importance of talking to the right kind of people. Once a lead completes the qualifying process, a sales rep can predict the closing timeline and forecast his sales revenue more confidently and accurately. By focusing on the leads that are worthy of your attention, you are making the most of your time and resources, which leads to higher productivity and ultimately, a higher return on investment.

But like dating, qualifying is a process that requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. Through years of practice and experimentation, salespeople have constructed and now religiously follow a clear-cut qualification process. Want in on the industry secrets? Then read on, because we’ve got them for you.

The door-opening power of asking the right questions

The door-opening power of asking the right questions

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You don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date (at least we hope you don’t), so you must see the point in choosing your words carefully when the relationship is just unfolding. Asking the right questions is probably the most important element of sales qualification. A good sales rep is first and foremost a skilled listener. Only by getting the customer to engage in an open conversation can you figure out their pain points, challenges and motivations quickly and determine whether they’re a good fit for your product or service.

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Ultimately, the sales qualification process comes down to two simple questions: Can you help them? And can they help you? What seems like a pretty simple task can quickly turn into a nightmarish experience if you fail to drive the conversation in the right direction. Qualifying questions must elicit information that helps you nudge the lead down the funnel and highlight those features of your product or service that promise to solve their problem. Needless to say, you’ll use different questions to qualify leads at various stages and provoke relevant conversations. There is no one simple script to follow here, but we have a list of conversation-starting questions that will give you a good taste of what counts as appropriate.

  • What is the problem or challenge you’re trying to solve? What has triggered your search for the right solution?
  • Why are you acting now? How long have you had this problem?
  • How will it affect your business if the problem is not solved? How quickly do you need to find a solution?
  • Have you tried to solve this problem in the past? Why didn’t it work?
  • Who, besides yourself, is involved in the decision making process?
  • Do you have a budget allocated for this solution? What is the budget signoff process like?
  • Have you thought about a deadline for this project? When would you like to have a solution in place?
  • Are you evaluating any other similar solutions?
  • Based on what you’ve seen so far, do you feel that our product/service can solve your problem?

Discovering your prospect’s challenges and identifying their needs is the most important step in this process. The moment you have the answers you’re looking for, you’ll be able to put the other questions in order and tailor your pitch accordingly.

It’s OK to disqualify (honestly, do it)

Because winning business is so damn hard, we tend to linger over poor opportunities in hopes of converting at least a portion of them. Sadly, that (almost) never happens. The great efforts are usually met with “Thank you, we will come back to you” type of response. So instead of wasting your time on working cold leads, implement a robust qualifying process to eliminate non-opportunities as soon as possible. This will help you to ensure you’re pursuing leads that have potential and have a clearer picture of your sales pipeline.

It’s okay to disqualify leads quickly, really. However, if you notice that your pipeline is mostly filled with poor quality leads and that by the time you’re done asking questions, there is barely anything left to work with, take it as a red flag. Don’t subscribe to the outdated “a bigger pipeline is always better” kind of thinking. It’s not. A tighter pipeline with better quality leads is by far more effective than overinflated but essentially empty one. If most of your leads are coming up cold, then you have a problem in your lead generation process. Understand how and why your product sells, and you won’t need to waste another minute on a non-opportunity.

Develop your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

Develop your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

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Unlike an ideal partner, an ideal customer actually exists. In fact, every business that wants to optimize their sales process should develop an ideal customer profile. It is the one and only way to ensure you’re focusing your efforts on generating high-quality leads. There are three main elements that make up an ideal customer profile.

An ICP is a description of an imaginary person or company that gains great value from using your product and, in return, also provides value to your business. Let’s examine these elements a little closer.

How does this imaginary person or company provide value to you?

The most important point to mention is that they have a need for and are willing to pay for your product or service. But they can also help your company flourish by referring your service to a friend, becoming an evangelist for your company, providing you valuable insights into new opportunities, or giving you access to resources to grow your business. Ideal customers are typically pleasant to deal with and don’t require too much support. They know what they want and are happy to pay for it.

How does this imaginary person or company benefit from using your product or service?

The answer to this question is a key to a fruitful sales process. Knowing what drives your buyers to convert can help you to hone in your pitch and fine-tune your lead sourcing efforts. Buyer motivations vary, but the most important ones are:

  • To earn more money
  • To reduce expenses
  • To increase productivity
  • To solve a pain point
  • To raise morale
  • To improve customer service and experience
  • To become more successful

How real is this imaginary person or company?

Just because it’s imaginary, doesn’t mean it should be plucked out of thin air. The ICP should be based on solid facts and data gathered over time. This means you need to look at your best customers very closely and identify shared traits and characteristics. The customers that have experienced a great success or improvement when using your product or service will most likely have something in common – whether that’s their industry, their company size, their goals,  challenges, or something else – it will give you a better idea where to look for similar leads.

Learn the difference between BANT vs CHAMP vs MEDDIC vs ANUM vs FAINT

Salespeople use qualification frameworks to determine how likely a prospect is to become a paying customer. Although every deal and every customer is unique, all closed-won opportunities have something in common. Methodologies for qualifying sales leads, such as BANT or FAINT, help sales reps to distil the shared characteristics into general traits and use them to qualify leads more efficiently.

Let’s look at the most popular qualification frameworks and how they differ from one another.

BANT

Most sales professionals are familiar with the BANT framework, which has originally been developed by IBM. It focuses on four elements:

Budget: does the prospect have the right budget?

Authority: is the contact in charge of signing off on the deal? If not, who is?

Need: does the prospect have a need for your product?

Timing: when is the prospect planning to buy?

The fundamental flaw of the BANT methodology is that “Budget” comes before “Need”. In fact, “Need” is only in the third place here, while, in reality, the pain point is the first thing a sales rep must identify and qualify.

CHAMP

CHAMP is a more modern lead qualification acronym that focuses on uncovering the prospect’s challenges before progressing any further into the conversation.

CHallenges: what’s the biggest challenge the prospect is facing right now?

Authority: who is involved in the decision-making process?

Money: does the prospect have a budget allocated for this?

Prioritization: how important/urgent is this solution?

Using the CHAMP methodology is a great way to add structure to your lead qualification process, but it’s not enough to merely go through the motions – they key to qualifying your opportunities is to ask questions with genuine interest and actively listen.

MEDDIC

The MEDDIC qualification process is best suited for companies whose average sales price is very high. It is particularly valued for its impact on improving forecasting accuracy.

Metrics: what economic impact will the solution have on the prospect’s business?

Economic buyer: who has profit and loss responsibility for this?

Decision criteria: what are the prospect’s technical, vendor, and financial criteria?

Decision process: what is the signoff process like?

Identify pain: what are the primary business objectives?

Champion: is there an internal champion who can sell your product?

ANUM

ANUM is an updated version of BANT and works in a pretty much the same way. The most important thing for the sales rep to find out is whether they’re speaking to the right person.

Authority: are you speaking to a decision maker?

Need: is it a good fit for your product/service?

Urgency: how high up the priority list is this challenge?

Money: does the prospect have enough money to purchase the solution?

FAINT

The FAINT framework recognizes that unplanned purchases don’t have an allocated budget and better focuses on determining whether the prospect is financially capable of making a purchase.

Funds: does the prospect have the capacity to buy?

Authority: are you speaking to a decision maker?

Interest: does the prospect show genuine interest in your product?

Need: have you established a need for your product?

Timing: does the prospect have a deadline?

Master questioning techniques

Sales Qualification

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Unless you ask the right questions, you won’t know what pains to address. It is vital to learn how to gauge information and prompt your prospects to share their goals, concerns, and objections. However, it’s not enough to cover certain topics to elicit information. There’s a kind of art to asking questions, and you must pay attention to it.

Open questions

Encourage the prospect to elaborate on certain topics by asking open-ended questions. To avoid getting a mere yes or no answer, use the five W’s principle, which uses interrogative words – what, who, where, when, why – to get a full picture.

For example, “What prompted you to look for a solution now?”

Closed questions

Closed questions are often used to follow up open-ended questions and qualify the responses. They can be exceptionally helpful if you’re trying to increase your alignment with your prospects.

A good example of a closed question can be, “From what you’ve learned so far, does it look like the right solution for you?”

Impact, effect, and risk questions

To gather more information about these areas, you must avoid close-ended questions and focus on the outcomes. A simple example can include, “How important is this solution to your business?”

Conditional questions

Conditional questions are a powerful stuff and can cut through the fluff very quickly. They are typically used to leverage deals, as you’re offering on the condition of acceptance, which gives you a certain degree of protection. If you decide to use conditional questions during negotiations, it’s important that you lead with the benefit to the consumer because it becomes the focus of negotiation. That’s the way the brain picks up and processes information. If you lead with the commitment you’re asking for, it will most likely spook and turn the customer away.

An example of a conditional question could be something like, “If I extend a 20% discount for you, can we get the deal signed off today?”

Utilize CRM to help you qualify leads easier

It’s not news that lead qualification can be executed more easily and effectively with the help of a CRM tool. Among the various benefits that come with using a CRM, the most notable ones include better lead nurturing, insightful lead analytics, centralized customer data, relationship building, and reduced churned. These are some serious benefits that can have a tremendous impact on your qualification process and eventually, your bottom line.

Let’s look at them more closely.

Better lead nurturing. A modern CRM is much more expansive, smarter and powerful than in earlier days and can be easily hooked up to other tools, such as email or smart forms on your website. By connecting to other technologies, a CRM can channel and consolidate all lead data allowing you to automate lead nurturing and ensure that the right communication messages go out to the right people at the right time.

Insightful lead analytics. The data analytics capabilities of modern CRMs are fairly impressive. Marketers can immerse themselves in data to search for behavioral patterns and triggers that indicate pivotal points in the buyer’s journey, such as disengagement. The ability to slice dice such a wealth of information gives marketers and sales teams a much better contextual understanding of their funnel and the entire customer base. Since the algorithms are getting more and more clever and the lead scoring becomes automated, you can easily place leads into smaller groups and have a more granular control over how you qualify and disqualify them.

Centralized customer data. Having all customer data in one place and easily accessible makes reporting and decision making so much easier. Anyone in your company can quickly pull up the information they need to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns, address weak points in the sales cycle or identify new opportunities. Since most of the today’s CRMs have apps, it’s easy for people to access all this data and metrics on the go via their smartphones or tablets, reducing the time and human effort required to get everyone on the same page.

Relationship building. Personalization is everything, and with such a wealth of data at their fingertips, marketing and sales teams have a fantastic context to every engagement they have with their leads. It’s easy to gauge the sentiment and preferences and learn about the lead’s previous experiences with the brand before reaching with a new offer or message. Making the communication more targeted and more human increases the likelihood of leads responding positively.

Reduced churn. Because you have a clever algorithm recording data about your customers, continuing to engage the leads that have converted to become customers becomes more manageable. Long-term relationships have the best ROI, so it’s just as (if not more) important to look after closed-won opportunities as it is to generate and nurture new leads. Keeping an open line of communication will help you steer your product in the right direction, collect feedback about new features and identify potential updates that customers would like to see in the system.

There’s a serious data overload that’s bogging down most sales and marketing teams. A CRM is a tool you can use to make sense of all the bits of information scattered across different channels and systems. Getting a realistic view of your pipeline and understanding your funnel better will lead to improved conversion rates and higher return on investment.

Learn how to identify red flags

Lead qualification process can get messy if you fail to notice warning signs. Not all leads are going to convert, we know that already, but if you get yourself involved with lukewarm leads, they’re going to suck you dry and walk away. There are a few red flags you should always look out for.

  • They don’t want to talk to you. Not everyone enjoys talking on the phone, especially with a sales rep, but if a prospect refuses to jump on a 5-minute phone call, you can get suspicious. The discovery call is extremely important and is your only way to confirm product fit, so if you can’t get the prospect to tell you what they need, you most likely won’t be able to make them pay either.
  • They want all the features in the world. Understanding your prospect’s needs and challenges is key, but if you’re getting a sense that the prospect doesn’t really know what they need or they need everything (“just in case”), it is very likely the deal will go cold because of lack of motivation on their side. Educating your prospects about the available solutions is a great way to build a relationship, but it won’t help you hit your targets.
  • You can’t get your prospect to talk about money. Yes, the budget is always the awkward question that no one wants to deal with. However, if the prospect is serious about making a purchase and you have reached the point in your conversation when it’s appropriate to discuss it, the topic should not be avoided. If they refuse to disclose their budget or try to avoid the question, take it as a red flag. They might be window shopping or gathering data rather than looking to buy.

Every deal is different, so you can’t rely on a template to help you spot warning signs. The most important part of selling is listening — pay attention to what and how your prospect is communicating, and you’ll quickly read into the situation.

Key takeaways

Every company’s success rests on its ability to find customers. Your sales qualification process will determine how well and how quickly you can turn your leads into customers, driving your business forward. The ability to source good fit prospects will help you to speed up the qualification process and set your business for growth.

If you take something away from this article, let it be these simple lessons:

  • Make it your priority #1 to learn how to ask the right questions in the right way. You can only get to the truth by provoking your prospects to think through their challenges and using questioning techniques that keep the conversation focused but enjoyable.
  • Disqualify leads quickly. The sooner you do it, the less time you will waste on dead opportunities.
  • Develop your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Define your ideal customer to ensure that all lead generation efforts are aligned with that description. If you target the right type of customers, the qualification process will be a pleasant walk in the park.
  • Apply the right lead qualification framework. Know the methodologies at your disposal to stick to the most effective process and structure.
  • Use a CRM to make lead qualification easier. Using an algorithm to predict which of your leads are qualified and which need a bit more nurturing will improve your prioritization and help you focus on opportunities that have the most potential.
  • Watch out for red flags. Weeding out unfit leads can become easier if you learn to recognize the warning signs early in the qualification process.
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Vytautas Ramanauskas

Vytautas is a marketing specialist. A writer by day and a reader by night, he is passionate about helping people in all aspects of technology, sales intelligence, online marketing, and design.
Find him on Twitter @vytautasram

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