Sales qualification is the process a company goes through to determine a prospect’s likelihood of becoming a paying customer.
While sales remains the driving force behind most qualification efforts, companies today must work closely with marketing to properly qualify leads. One of the reasons for this shift is the need to adapt to the rapidly evolving customer journey.
In this post, we’ll cover the basics of sales qualification, why it matters, and how to qualify leads in ways that make sense for your business.
Sales Qualification Terminology
The first step in a lead management process is to develop common terminology. The definitions of lead disposition presented in our previous article are likely a good place to start:
- view: Anyone in your database who has ever shown a fundamental interest in your product or service.
- Qualified Leads Marketing (MMS): Prospects whose activity indicates that they are more likely to become customers based on the prospect’s rating (compared to other prospects).
- Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs): MMS that have been reviewed and sent to sales for follow-up.
- opportunities: Converted SQLs that have expressed their willingness and ability to buy.
For the purposes of this article, let’s add one more thing:
- Unqualified lead: Anyone who does not have a clear need for your company’s products and / or services or meets other criteria for sales qualification.
Your definitions may differ from the above. The main point is to align your teams around a common understanding of the key definitions and what they mean. After all, it is difficult to qualify offers if no one speaks the same language.
Why is sales qualification important?
You may be wondering why a sales qualification is necessary in the first place. Isn’t it the company’s job to make your goods or services available to as many customers as possible?
Not every person who comes to your website or calls your company is a good fit. Prospects realize that they have wants and needs. However, they do not know exactly how your solution can meet these wants and needs. Therefore, sales qualification is an essential process that will help you:
Create order and avoid chaos
A good sales qualification process – especially one that uses lead scoring effectively – makes it easier for reps to identify potential customers who are likely to convert. Rather than staring at a huge database of hundreds of raw contacts, sales qualification shrinks the list to manageable size to ensure your team is working on the best deals.
Increase the return on your advertising spend
Marketers spend a lot of time tweaking digital ad campaigns and website content to maximize engagement. Downloading a whitepaper, requesting pricing, or subscribing to a newsletter are some common options for potential customers. However, not everyone who provides an email address is – or ever will be ready to buy. Sales qualification provides essential feedback for marketers to understand the types of campaigns and initiatives that deliver high quality leads.
Offer a better customer experience
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Imagine you have a need and come across a service that you think fits your needs. They ask to speak to a sales rep who doesn’t ask meaningful questions and then pressures you to make a purchase. This doesn’t create a good customer experience. Hence, sales qualification is a fair and prudent way to ensure a positive experience for everyone, especially the customer.
Scale the business
Processes help you scale and grow. Hence, a sales process that qualifies prospects is critical to attracting and converting the right customers, even as your market share grows. Qualifying a customer is easy. Qualifying 10,000 customers is not easy, but a well-defined sales qualification process can simplify administration.
Framework conditions for sales qualification
Framework conditions for sales qualification create a structured approach for qualifying potential customers. One of the most widely used approaches is the BANT framework, which was developed by IBM in the mid-20th century.
BANT definition: A set of four criteria (budget, authority, need, time frame) that sales professionals can use to objectively assess the feasibility of business opportunities.
With BANT, the interested party is assessed on the basis of four main criteria:
budget: Does the potential customer have a budget and does it fit your pricing model?
authority: Does that particular person have authority to make the decision to move forward?
Need: Is there a real need that your solution could meet?
Timeframe: By what specific date does the prospect hope to solve their problem?
While BANT is arguably the best-known framework for sales qualification, there may be other frameworks that are better suited to your company. Research the framework for sales qualification and find one that makes sense for your industry and business model.
Sales qualification questions
So how do you know that prospects have the right budget, authority, needs, or timeframe? Ask her.
Sales-qualifying questions form the basis for determining whether a prospect is a good fit for your company. By asking the right questions at the right time, you can better understand the person’s situation, challenges, goals, and objectives.
But what kinds of questions should you ask? Should you ask them all at once? Email or phone call?
While there are no one-size-fits-all answers to these questions, here are some recommendations to get your creative juices flowing.
Where can you ask?
Take a fresh look at your customer journey map. How do potential customers typically interact with your company? Does every customer need a detailed demo process or do most customers just want to go through a self-service checkout process? Your business model, product or service type, and your customer buying process play an important role in determining where to ask your sales qualification questions. What other ways than the obvious channels (like phone and email) are there to gather data about the prospect’s needs?
Here are some ideas:
- Optional form fieldssuch as sales size or number of employees
- Chatbot prompts who ask specific questions
- Quit intent banners On your website
- Survey that are powered by automated marketing emails
When to ask
As shown in the previous examples, the sooner you can start creating a unified view of the prospect in your CRM, the better. However, some prospects are less willing to divulge information until someone on your sales force reaches out to them proactively.
Developing an effective lead scoring program simplifies the decision to initiate a contact. As soon as a prospect has shown the right level of “interest” by visiting certain websites or processing a predefined number of emails, a lead scoring system automatically adjusts the prospect’s score to a higher level. Data enrichment integrations and social media detection capabilities in your CRM may provide additional context. Offers that meet a certain threshold are then flagged for further review and forwarded to sales. In this model, data serves as the basis for knowing when to ask.
What to ask
Questions asked through a chatbot can be vastly different from those asked during a 30-minute phone call. Everything goes back to the purpose of the question. At the beginning of the process, you might just be looking for basic insights about the prospect. However, as the relationship progresses, you may have to ask numerous open-ended questions that get to the heart of the situation.
Take my marketing consulting business as an example. Using the BANT framework as a guide, here are some questions I might ask a potential client during an initial consultation:
- What types of marketing programs are you currently running?
- Are you working with another marketing advisor?
- Do you already have a set marketing budget?
- Who else in your company will be involved in this project?
- Do we still need to involve someone in these conversations?
- What goals do you want to achieve?
- What have you tried in the past
- What is your vision for success in marketing?
- How fast do you want to move forward?
- Should we plan to get started next week?
It’s time to build a better sales qualification process
Implementing a scalable sales qualification process can be beneficial for both your company and the people you serve. Your sales and marketing teams will find it easier to identify likely customers and convert them into paying customers. And the prospects who choose to convert walk into the relationship with confidence that your solution will suit their needs appropriately.
Again, advocate for a stronger sales qualification process. Your team and your customers will appreciate it.