B2B sales reps who want higher win rates, shorter sales cycles, and more closed deals can start by improving their sales qualification process.
If you strategically deny entrance into your sales funnel, you can make sure you are spending more time talking with the prospects who are likely to buy your solution, rather than with those who are just looking.
So, in this post, we will go over how to best qualify sales leads with the help of different frameworks and methods.
What Are Qualified Leads?
Qualified leads are people who fit specific criteria that show they have the potential to become paying customers.
These are the leads you have generated who move onto the next phase of your sales cycle. They could come from marketing efforts, cold calling, referrals, or lead generation tools.
The information they provide is the key to figuring out how qualified they are. This could be their job title, industry, budget, or level of interest in your solution.
For instance, if you sell sales pipeline software, a VP of Sales who states an interest in improving their pipeline analytics and is shopping around will certainly earn qualified status.
Meanwhile, an inexperienced rep who is looking for email automation software, something totally different from what you sell, will not be qualified.
The more information the lead gives you, the more easily you will be able to determine if they are qualified.
Of course, depending on your company, the qualification standards will differ.
If you sold expensive enterprise software, you might have a higher qualification threshold than if you sold a $30 dollar/month plugin. That’s because only decision-makers with big budgets and specific needs will end up buying your solution.
The others will just drain your time and fizzle out when they realize they can’t afford it.
When Does Lead Qualification Happen?
Lead qualification usually happens during a sales call. When qualifying a lead, you will ask them specific questions to tease out their intent and ability to buy your solution.
To illustrate, let’s say someone filled out a marketing form requesting a demo of your property management software solution.
The only information they provided on the form was their name and company. But, from your online research, you find that they are a property manager of a large portfolio. You think to yourself — jackpot!
But, hold on, don’t jump right into a demo just yet.
You still can’t assume they are qualified. For all you know, they could be looking for some functionality that your solution does not provide.
Or they could be confused and think your solution is something it’s not — tech can be confusing to some buyers.
From here, you have to give them a call. You will ask some questions about why they reached out and what they need help with. You will also figure out their role in the organization.
If their answers satisfy your qualification rules, you can move them onto the next phase, either another discovery call or a presentation. And if they seem like a bad fit, you winnow them out.
Signs of a Good Lead Qualifying Process
A good lead qualifying process will result in healthy sales pipelines that are stocked full of leads with high likelihoods to buy. You will look down your list and think to yourself, “wow, I have a good shot with all of these people.”
To determine the effectiveness of your qualifying process, look for these traits in your sales team.
- Productive sales reps: If your sales reps have short sales cycles, high close rates, and high sales velocity, your qualification process is working.
- Happy customers: If your customers stick around and are successful, you have done a good job qualifying them. On the other hand, if you have high churn rates or unsuccessful customers, you might be qualifying and therefore selling to the wrong leads.
- Smaller time to close: A shorter lead qualification to close time gap indicates successful qualification. That’s because prospects who are great matches for your solution find fewer objections that hold up the sales process.
Accurate sales forecasting: If you can usually predict how long it will take for a lead to close and how much they will be worth, your qualification process is solid. You know what constitutes the best customers, and your team is asking the right questions.
If you find these traits, you are doing well.
Why Lead Disqualification Isn’t a Bad Thing
Some newer sales reps may dislike the idea of disqualifying a lead. With every new lead, they see money signs.
To them, disqualifying might seem like missing out on a sales opportunity, and they might think, “Hey, I know I can convince them to buy. I just have to show them a really good presentation.”
However, that sales presentation is rarely enough to win over a prospect who just doesn’t need your solution, let alone someone who lacks the funds or authority to pay for it.
And let’s be honest. That single sales presentation usually turns into three presentations, five phone calls, a lot of waiting around and following-up, and a closed/lost sale.
That time you devoted to selling the low-chance buyer would have been better spent on someone who was a better fit.
Disqualifying can be a powerful tool to help you spend more time talking with high-potential prospects.
It’s similar to the way that saying no to something that sounds uninteresting allows you to spend more time doing what you enjoy.
So, if you find yourself forcing a qualification on a lead who meets very few of your requirements, take a step back and think about the next lead in line.
It’s okay to say no to this one. There will be plenty more. The last thing you want is a pipeline filled with time-sinks.
How to Score Leads?
Instead of qualifying sales leads with your gut reaction, you can systematically assess your leads using a lead scoring system.
With it, the system takes in certain information (actions, demographics, behavior) about the lead and delivers a score that tells you their level of qualification.
Their score will determine the action you take.
For instance, anyone below a 4 might stay in the domain of marketing, while anyone above will fall into the hands of the sales team. Here is how to create a lead scoring system.
Develop a Clear Buyer Persona
First, you have to figure out the attributes of your buyers.Here are some questions you can ask to determine those:
- Do they hold certain job responsibilities?
- Do they have potential deal-breakers?
- What problems and motivation do most of them share?
- How senior are they?
- What are their personality traits?
- What are some specific obstacles they face?
- What types of companies do they hail from?
In short, the buyer persona will help you answer the underlying question: Who are the people most likely to buy our solution?
For instance, a digital marketing agency’s buyer persona might be “senior-level marketers from small brands who want to generate more leads using content marketing.”
Once you know what your customers look like, you will be able to pick them out of a crowd.
More importantly, when a lead comes your way, it will be easy to assess their likelihood to buy, and discard those who don’t fit your buyer persona.
When it comes to scoring the lead, those who better fit your buyer persona will receive higher lead scores, and therefore deserve more of your time and energy.
If you are interested, here is how to create a buyer persona.
Understand That Intent Is Not The Same as Interest
A prospect’s intent is another factor that will affect their lead score. Intent is what they want to gain from your service or product — the problem they want to solve or the benefit they want to see.
Someone with the kind of intent that you can fulfill will earn higher lead scores than those with desires for which you cannot completely provide.
If you sell hairbrushes, and a client calls and says they need a hairbrush that helps them curl their hair, and yours is better for straightening, then the client is disqualified.
Remember that intent is different from interest.
A client could be super excited about seeing your product, but that could be because of misinformation or assumptions on their part. Before they actually talk with you, they can’t be certain that your solution does what they wish.
So, it’s important to gain clarity on their needs and to make sure you can meet their expectations.
Do this by asking good questions:
- What results are you looking for?
- What bothered you most about problem X?
- How do you expect this area to look after a year of using our service?
- What day to day changes are you hoping to see?
If their answers reveal that you can help them, then qualify them.
Pro Tip: If their needs are incompatible with your solution, try to recommend another service that will help them.
Analyze Company Information
Besides the person with whom you are speaking, you should also learn about their company.
Company information will also help you score your leads, as some businesses might be better fits with your ideal customer profile.
For example, maybe your business has more success selling to startups than to older, less agile corporations.
You can assess the prospect’s company in a couple of different ways. Do online research, use a prospecting tool like Soleadify, or ask questions during your phone call with the lead.
Firmographic information, or attributes of the company, could be any of these categories:
- Size of the company
- Number of employees
- Industry type
Your highest scoring leads will come from companies that have ICP-matching attributes in these categories.
For example, maybe you sell mostly to NYC (Location) property management (Industry Type) companies with 10-100 employees (Size) and 1,000,000 – 10,000,000 in yearly revenue (Revenue).
Those are the companies that get the best ROI from your solution.
Engagement and Behavior
Behavioral scoring stems from the actions the lead takes. Some actions might indicate a higher chance of buying than others.
If they interact with your blog content, reply to marketing emails, and watch your product videos, they are probably deserving of a higher lead score.
Since you probably have a lot of marketing activities, you should have a lot of different behavior indicators:
- The lead liked your brand’s Twitter post.
- The lead read a piece of content.
- They replied to a marketing email.
- They attended a webinar.
- They downloaded a white paper or a case study.
The list goes on to cover all of the potential ways they can interact with your marketing content. Here’s an example of other behaviors you can track and their weights.
Each action will contribute to their lead score. And different content should be weighed differently.
Someone who read a case study about your solution is probably more interested in buying your product than someone who read 2 blog posts about a trend in the industry, since the former is more connected to your actual product.
Effective Lead Qualification Frameworks
Lead qualification frameworks will aid you in your qualification. Each one gives you a method to follow and boxes to check when qualifying sales lead. Let’s go over how each of them works.
Then, depending on your customer and product, you can choose the one that best fits your needs.
Keep in mind that each of these methods prioritizes certain attributes. The level of importance falls as you move right on the acronym.
For instance, in the FAINT framework, Funds are the most important element, followed by Authority.
Here are the attributes in the FAINT framework:
- Funds: Through research, figure out if they have enough money to pay for a solution like yours. The larger the account, the more likely they can pay.
- Authority: Figure out if they are a decision-maker who can make the purchase.
- Interest: Ignite interest in the prospect by telling them how the solution can help them solve their problems.
- Need: Learn about their needs and see if your solution can actually solve them.
- Timing: Get the lead to tell you their time frame for purchase. When are they looking to implement the solution? Look for sooner rather than later.
The RAIN Group recommends this framework because it takes into account the strategy of the modern-day B2B buyer.
As you can see, this method leaves the budget out of the initial conversation. It assumes that the B2B prospect has not yet allocated a certain sum of money to the project.
Instead, having Funds simply means that they have sufficient revenue to pay for the solution, something one can usually discern by the size, type, and success of the prospect’s company.
Therefore, this method works well if you are using the value-added selling approach.
You can focus on building their interest in the product. If they find your product valuable, later on when you reveal the price the prospect will make the budget.
As you will see, it is possible that the creators of this framework felt that their sales reps would much rather enact the CHAMP framework rather than CAMP. It just sounds more powerful.
Here are its attributes:
- Challenges: Learn your prospect’s challenges and see if your solution can help overcome them.
- Authority: Is this person the decision-maker? If not, can they at least influence the decision-maker to look at the solution?
- Money: How much money is the lead willing to or capable of paying for the solution?
- Prioritization: Figure out how seriously your prospect is taking this initiative. Is it something they need or is it just a nice-to-have?
This method focuses on your ability to solve the customer’s problem.
It assumes that needs are what drive the purchase, which makes sense.
Even your prospect is a CEO with money to throw, they will still only buy your solution if they have a problem that needs solving.
Therefore, CHAMP is best for sellers using the solution-selling methodology.
With ANUM, you focus first on the power of the prospect:
- Authority: Can the lead make the purchase decision?
- Need: How badly do they need your solution?
- Urgency: How quickly do they want to make a purchase and finish this project?
- Money: Do they have the funds to buy?
This framework cares first about the authority of the prospect.
The logic goes that if you aren’t talking to a decision-maker, you are going to be in for a long sales cycle. Worst case, you will put in a lot of work to sell this lead, but, in the end, when they try to sell their manager, the manager will say no.
The ANUM method works best for companies who want short sales cycles and sell low-ticket items.
These companies want to spend their time speaking to buyers who are ready and able to make the purchase as soon as they learn that the product fits their needs.
On the other hand, the GPCT framework takes a consultative selling approach to qualification:
- Goals: What are they trying to accomplish with this product or service?
- Plans: Figure out their current business plans and strategies to achieve those goals.
- Challenges: What challenges are in the way of accomplishing their goals?
- Timeline: When do they want to finish this purchase?
In other words, during your first call with the prospect, you will go over their business goals, plans, and challenges.
This will not only provide you with a full picture of how or if you can help them, but it will also grow your relationship with the prospect.
While fielding all of your questions, they will feel as though you truly want to understand and help their business.
Once you have a firm understanding of their business needs, you can ask them about their timeline for achieving their stated goals. Logically, a lead with a longer timeline will take longer to close.
The NEAT framework, developed by Richard Harris, seeks to tease out a buyer’s true pain points and completely neglects budget:
- Need: First, figure out if their core needs align with your solution.
- Economic Impact: What will be the prospect’s ROI for this purchase? The higher the better qualified.
- Authority: How influential are they in making the purchase decision?
- Timeline: How quickly would they like to make this purchase?
The first step in the method is to discern the core needs of the prospect. Do this by asking a lot of questions about why they reached out to your business for help.
Then, once you understand their pain points, you can start to think about the economic benefits that your solution will provide them.
Harris favored economic impact over budget because modern buyers, especially those in SaaS, have flexible budgets. If the ROI is big enough, the buyer will make room for the purchase.
Also, while you discuss the potential economic impact with the buyer, they will begin to feel excited about the purchase. So, you are both qualifying and selling them at the same time using the NEAT framework.
Lead Qualifying Questions
When qualifying sales leads, you have to mine out information from your prospects. And to do so efficiently, you need to ask the right questions — better questions are, so to speak, sharper pickaxes.
In any qualification call, no matter which framework you use, you usually want to dig up three things: their needs, authority, and timeline.
The following three questions will help you do just that.
1) What Are the Top Challenges Your Team Is Currently Facing?
The purpose of this question is to learn about their needs. It gets to the heart of why the prospect reached out.
Their answer will tell you exactly what pain points or problems the prospect wants to solve. From there, you can think about whether or not your solution is a good fit to help.
Not to mention, once you know their main challenges, you can better position your product in the next phases of the sale.
2) How Does Your Decision Process Usually Work for Purchases Like This One? (And What Role Would You Have in the Process?)
This question enables you to discover their level of authority.
When you ask them about their buying process, they will lay out a lot of information that will help you assess the difficulty of making the sale.
For one, you will learn the level of authority of the person to whom you are currently speaking.
If they say they are a decision-maker, then you know that you are closer to the final sale than if they are only there as a scout.
Also, you might learn about other decision-makers.
Maybe there is one who signs off on the operational soundness of making a purchase, but then another person has to determine whether it is financially feasible.
With that information, you can cater your pitches to each individual in the buying process.
Here is how to find the decision-makers at any company.
3) By When Do You Want a Solution in Place?
This question gives you intel on their timeline for purchase.
If it seems like they are acting with a sense of haste or urgency, you know that solving this problem is a top priority and that they have a high level of interest.
You can also infer that they are shopping around for other solutions like yours. Don’t be afraid to ask them about that search.
If they tell you they are looking at a competitor’s product, you can use the right differentiators for the rest of the sales process.
Even if they have a long timeline, just make sure it lines up with your desired sales cycle length.
It might seem disappointing to dismiss someone who called you to learn more about your solution. However, it is part of the sales game.
Potential buyers often lack complete information until they talk with a sales rep, so some just might end up being bad fits who thought your company was something it isn’t.
When you start making an effort to qualify every lead, you will reap the benefits of a healthier pipeline, which makes each sales process more fruitful — not to mention more fun.
So, try to enact a framework or a lead scoring system. If nothing else, ask them the three questions above.
Either way, you will be able to dedicate more time to talking to those for whom you can truly make a difference.