Lead qualification, sometimes known as sales lead qualification, is not a phase, but a process. And it’s a process that can mean the difference between closing fast and efficiently versus wasting time on false starts.
Are you and your sales and marketing teams following best practices in qualifying leads—or are you playing a guessing game? Read on to find out.
Before you can learn the optimal process for lead qualification, you’ll first need to understand why it is so important to ensure that you are only moving forward in a sales process with a “good fit account.”
A good fit account is a company or person who has expressed a strong interest in your product and/or who has direct access to funds. These accounts will be good prospects, or someone who will let you guide them through a sales process and do their fair share in that process. They will put an equal amount of “sweat equity” into a buy decision.
By taking the time to qualify your leads and identify good fit accounts, you will:
- Work on the deals you have a better than 50 percent chance of winning, so you can increase your close ratio.
- Close more deals by eliminating the maybes.
- Force prospects into a decision as to whether they really want to continue with this sales evaluation at this time.
- Stop working the 0 to 50 percent probability deals. Why would you work on these deals anyway? You have a better chance of winning in Las Vegas than trying to close a deal at 30 percent probability.
- Increase the chances for success early in the deal. You have not expended too many resources on this deal yet, but now it is ramping up, and you will be spending time and energy with demonstrations, proposals, and the like. The better you qualify early in the process, the sooner you can make a decision if this is a deal you want to be spending time on.
Now that we understand what lead qualification can do for your time and money savings, we can begin to look into the lead qualification process overall.
We’ll also develop a framework you can use when starting to qualify your leads. The goal of lead qualification frameworks is to give you a better than 50 percent chance of closing the sale—so there’s a lot of money to be made for those who follow the framework closely.
The lead qualification process needs to focus on getting qualification information from the prospect. To get good lead qualification information, sales reps need to ask good sales qualification questions. Sales qualification questions are centered on two probing areas:
It is important to ask your potential leads questions about money near the beginning of the qualification process. If the prospect doesn’t have a way to pay for what you’re offering, why would you be working on a particular deal? Sales reps need to find out if the prospect has money or resources to pay for a product or service. If not, the sales team is wasting its time and missing out on working with qualified prospects.
Marketing and sales teams need to be asking what instead of who questions under the money category. In other words, instead of asking who the purchasing authority is, sales reps should ask questions about the decision process. There is one question for money in sales lead qualification, but it is in two parts. The two parts of the what question are:
- “What is the process for obtaining a budget for a decision like this?”
- “What is the process for making a decision?”
You want to focus on the what questions because “what” is a buyer’s question—buyers ask themselves “what” all the time. For example, an economic buyer might ask,
- “What should we do from here?”
- “What is the process we need to go through to get Jack to sign off on this project?”
- “What do you think we should do first.”
- “What approvals do you think we are going to need to get this project approved?”
- “What do we have to do to get more money if we exceed the current budget?”
Because what questions are the questions the buyers are asking themselves all day long, the only question sales teams should be asking under money is what, for a variety of reasons:
- What is a process question, and companies work in processes. “What’s the process for a budget?” not, “Do you have a budget?” It really doesn’t matter if they have a budget or not. Budgets are fluid at a senior management level. If the value on the investment they are making for your solution is high enough, they’ll go get more budget money from someone or somewhere else. Vice presidents and C-level executives can always find more budget; lower level managers can only spend what their superiors give them. You want to know the process of getting budget money, not what the budget is. If you work to their fixed budget, the prospect’s company is really in control.
- What encourages discussion and gets more information. Who questions limit the discussion to people. What questions focus the discussion on people, process, and who has the power. You can gather more promising leads with what questions.
- What gives you a look at the entire picture. In contrast, Who questions can be answered with one name in an initial discovery call.
- What can include you; who cannot. You may want to know if prospects are including you in their buying process.
- What can be revisited at every call. You can ask about changes to the process and even suggest changes. It is tough to suggest changes while asking your target audience who.
Money questions are overall process questions. Ultimately, these questions should consider: what is the overall process to obtain funds or to make a decision within the organization? You get more bang for the buck (or more qualified leads) with what.
The first M, money, has been addressed, with some examples of sales qualifying questions that will help you determine whether you and your potential customers have a qualified deal.
Method, the second M, focuses its questions on the buyer’s specific process. There is one major question that needs to be answered about method in your lead qualification checklist:
- What is the Implementation Date?
Nothing kills a sale like a maybe. Yesses are great; both you and the prospect win. Nos are great also; they let you know you are doing something wrong, and you can fix it. It’s the maybes that will kill you. A maybe is the prospect’s way of getting and maintaining control of the deal. Further, maybes are a sign of unqualified leads. Therefore, sales reps need to qualify deals to see if they are in control or not. The closing date is less important for the successful customer than the Implementation Date. The prospect wants answers to questions, such as:
- “What date do you plan to start using or implementing what we are talking about?”
- “When do you want to have the solution up and running?”
- “What date does the financial justification start from?”
The Implementation Date is when prospects want what they have ordered on their desk or when they are going to start using what you are trying to sell them.It could be defined as the date they start making money from the investment you are offering, when can they load it on their computer, have it on their dock, or start to implement the benefits that you are offering. The date the contract is signed is secondary compared with the date they have what you are selling them in their possession so they can start doing their job.
Prospects place importance on Implementation Dates more than any other date in the buying process for the following reasons:
- It’s when they promised their boss something would change.
- It’s when they have scheduled other activities to commence (kick-off meetings, training, launch of something else that coincides with your product being implemented).
- Their customer is involved, or their customer’s time line is involved.
- A schedule must be met.
- The company or department will increase their risk if they do not acquire what you are selling them.
- There’s a deadline for another project for which your item is on the critical path.
- There’s political pressure on something that your product/service is a part of.
The Implementation Date is the “maybe killer.” All qualified deals will have an Implementation Date. Salespeople usually know the Implementation Date in less than 50 percent of their current prospecting forecasts. There are three reasons for this:
- Salespeople are focused on the selling process and do not know about a buying process.
- They don’t think like a buyer and therefore focus on selling. They focus on the contract signing as the closing event for both parties.
- They don’t ask for the I-Date, assuming instead that it is ASAP.
In the worst-case scenario, the salesperson tries to juxtapose the buyer’s Implementation Date to match the seller’s Contract Sign Date, which usually happens at the end of a year, the end of a quarter, or the end of a month (no surprise there).
“If you sign by the end of the month, we can give you an additional 10 percent off.”
This is example of an out-of-control sale for two reasons. First, the salesperson is focusing on the Contract Sign Date, not the Implementation Date. Second, because the salesperson cannot think like a buyer, he or she has to give a discount and buy the sale, a costly selling skill deficiency. Instead, a sales and marketing team should say,
“Ms. Meyers, you have stated you would like this up and running by the fifteenth. Is there anything that would prevent us executing this agreement today and therefore giving you a two-week cushion to make sure the implementation goes as smoothly as possible (risk)?”
Thinking about the Implementation Data allows the sales rep to stay focused on the buyer’s concerns, which must always take precedence if you are to win the sale. Let’s see what else is important.
It is important for marketing and sales teams to use sales lead qualification to identify high quality leads.
Rather than focusing on the wants of the sales team, a successful sales rep uses a prospect-centered lead qualification process that probes the prospect and gathers enough information to determine whether the prospect is a “good fit account.”
Only after this information gathering has been completed can a salesperson determine whether to move forward with the engagement—and hopefully, move forward with the sale.
About the author
Skip Miller is President of M3 Learning, a ProActive Sales Management and Sales Training Company based in the heart of Silicon Valley.