Pop culture would have you believe that the most important part of any sales journey is the art of closing a deal. Equally important, however, is how you open it. Pursuing only the most viable prospects with the need, authority, and budget to purchase your product is a winning recipe for securing new accounts.
Lead qualification is an essential part of this recipe. But what exactly is it, and how do you do it?
In this article, you’ll learn how to qualify a sales lead from the moment they first visit your website all the way through to after an initial discovery call. With the information you gather, you’ll be able to effortlessly determine which prospects are worth pursuing and which aren’t, saving you time and money.
Use the links below to navigate to each section:
- What is lead qualification?
- Why lead qualification is important
- How to qualify a sales leads using lead scoring
- Lead qualification frameworks and questions
- When to move prospects forward
What is Lead Qualification?
Lead qualification is a process of marketing and sales teams working together to forecast the likelihood that a prospect will ultimately make a purchase. It occurs at every stage of the sales journey and ultimately decides if the prospect will be funneled down the pipeline.
The first step of lead qualification happens during the inbound marketing stage. At this stage, your company’s marketing team captures contact info via site visits, email subscriptions, or social media, then decides if the lead fits the profile of your company’s ideal customer.
This qualifies the prospect to move on to the next step, which is a discovery call from a sales rep. The sales rep leads a conversation that reveals the prospect’s needs, project timelines, purchasing authority, and any budgetary constraints.
Information gathered during a discovery call further determines if the prospect is viable of the time it takes to craft a proposal, or if you’re better off pursuing someone else’s business.
Why Lead Qualification is Important?
Lead qualification is important because it saves you time, energy, and ultimately your bottom line. It occurs very early in the pipeline, ideally when you’re making initial contact or even beforehand. It helps you determine:
- If the prospect is in the right industry and territory to benefit from your product
- If they have a need your product can solve
- If the person you’re talking to has the budget and authority to make a purchasing decision
- If there is some way you can provide value over your competitors or the prospect’s current vendor
If the lead doesn’t meet your criteria for what makes a qualified prospect, then you can disqualify them. Disqualification may sound like a bad thing, but in reality it saves you time and allows you to focus on more promising contacts.
Bottom line, lead qualifications allows you to quickly assess whether or not you’re talking to a person that has any real intent in buying what you’re selling. This can also help make sales reps more efficient, productive, and motivated. Without it, you could waste time talking to people who will never close, and no one wants to feel like they’re just spinning their wheels.
How to Qualify a Sales Leads Using Lead Scoring
Lead scoring is a process of assigning a point value to a prospect at or near the beginning of the sales pipeline. It often happens before a sales rep ever makes a discovery call. In fact, it may inform whether or not a call is worth having in the first place. This ensures that reps spend their time talking to only the most promising leads.
Before you can calculate a leadscore, you’ll need to gather the following data about a prospect:
Does this prospect fall into your target industry and territory? Do they fit the profile of your ideal customer?
To find out, you’ll need to include fields in the forms on your landing pages that gather the relevant information. Anyone tasked with this level of qualification — be it a sales rep or a marketing team in charge of identifying prospects — should always keep the company’s ideal customer profile in mind.
From there, you’ll be able to award points to leads whose answers align with your buyer profile and take away points for those who don’t. You can also award points for those who fill out fields that were otherwise listed as optional on the form, as this demonstrates additional interest on behalf of the prospect.
If you’re a B2B organization, then knowing the size of the prospect’s company and its contact information is essential to qualify the lead. You can add or take away points depending on how the size of their company relates to your ideal customer profile.
The more time a prospect interacts with your site, the more likely that they’re interested in your product. Tracking page views, length of visit, downloads, and frequency of visits over a 30, 60, or 90 day period are all good data points to start with.
Just because someone signed up for to your email list does not necessarily mean they’re ready or even interested in buying from you. Open rates and click-through rates are a more meaningful indication of interest.
Social Media Engagement
Tracking Facebook or Twitter likes, retweets, shares, and click-through rates from your posts are all ways of tracking social media engagement. The more engaged a prospect is, the higher their leadscore should be.
Using all lowercase letters when filling out website forms is a red flag that the prospect may be a bot. The use of a Gmail or Yahoo email address instead of a company email address may also indicate that they don’t fit your buyer profile. These indicators can subtract points from the prospect’s leadscore if it doesn’t disqualify them altogether.
Now that you have a set of data, you’ll need to interpret it in a way that immediately communicates how qualified a lead is. To manually calculate an actual point value or leadscore, follow these steps:
Step 1: Set Your Benchmark
To do this, divide the number of new customers acquired by the number of all leads generated. This conversion rate is your control, which you’ll use to compare to other characteristics.
Step 2: Choose the Most Valuable Characteristics
Which characteristics did your highest quality leads exhibit? In addition to going with your gut, consult your sales reps, marketing team, analytics, etc. for their insights.
Step 3: Calculate Close Rates
As with setting your benchmark, divide the number of customers acquired by leads generated that exhibited certain qualities. Do this for each characteristic.
Step 4: Compare Characteristics
Which characteristics showed significantly higher close rates to your benchmark? Assign higher point values to those characteristics. For example, if leads who downloaded a certain whitepaper have a close rate of 25%, you might assign that characteristic 25 points on future leadscores.
Once you decide how you’re going to calculate leadscores, you can save yourself time and energy by investing in a lead generation and sales tool. Many will capture all the data you need, then automatically calculate it. Software dashboards are usually visual, easy to reference, and quickly identify who is the most promising prospect to pursue.
Here’s a look at how you can customize different characteristics or information in LeadBoxer to automatically calculate a lead score for potential prospects:
After a lead has been gathered and qualified with a leadscore by the marketing team, it’s time for a sales rep to step in and make a discovery call.
Lead Qualification Frameworks and Questions
At this level, sales reps determine whether or not the prospect has any real need or desire for the product. This is done by asking the right questions during a discovery call.
Several thought leaders and top sales reps have spent decades developing multiple frameworks for their lead qualification processes. The method you chose to follow will ultimately depend on your industry and the average size of accounts you typically work with. Your personal conversation style and comfort zone might also play a role in what framework you reference.
These questions have the added benefit of encouraging potential leads to open up about their needs, frustrations, and pain points. Should you decide that the lead is qualified to move forward in the process, you can use this information to tailor your pitch and deliver a more effective proposal later on.
BANT stands for budget, authority, need, and timeline. Although the brainchild of IBM, it’s the go-to framework for qualifying leads in a variety of markets and companies. Some relevant questions to ask during a discovery call would include:
- Budget: How much of the budget is set aside to address this challenge?
- Authority: Are you in the position to make a purchasing decision to address this challenge?
- Need: What challenge are you dealing with and why hasn’t it been dealt with before?
- Timeline: How soon do you hope to solve this challenge?
Strengths: BANT is simple and straightforward. For anyone with a low-stakes or lower priced product with no existing qualification framework in place, it’s a good option to start with and develop from there.
Weaknesses: BANT’s questions don’t follow a logical order. It would be a bit daring to open a discovery call by jumping straight to a question about money. Plus, according to CEB’s research, 5.4 people are involved in B2B purchasing decisions. When considering authority, the answer is likely that multiple people are involved and should therefore be brought into the conversation.
CHAMP was developed as a solution to the seemingly backward sequencing of BANT so that the more important questions are asked first for both the buyer and the qualifier.
- Challenges: What problem needs solving in your business? What challenges are you still faced with that your current solution still does not solve or address as effectively as you would like?
- Authority: In addition to yourself, who else is involved in this purchasing decision? Should we bring them into the conversation? What are the organizational relationships that influence the decision?
- Money: What are your expectations for the investment necessary to purchase the solution?
- Prioritization: When do you plan to implement a solution to your problem? Are you looking at any other possible solutions?
Strengths: The ordering of questions follows a more natural trajectory of conversation. For those just beginning to explore qualification frameworks, this may be the easiest to keep at the back of your mind during a discovery call.
Weaknesses: As far as conversations go, CHAMP is still a little shallow. For one, it doesn’t get into how a prospect would measure the success of the project. This leaves the sales rep ill-prepared to fully demonstrate value further down the pipeline during the proposal stage.
Hubspot developed what is certainly the longest acronym in sales, but they swear by it. Although they break down their framework into more detail than this, in a nutshell GPCTBA/C&I stands for:
- Goals: What’s your top priority right now?
- Plans: How do you plan to achieve that goal?
- Challenges: What difficulties do you foresee with your plan?
- Timeline: When do you hope to solve this? If you don’t buy at this time, what remedial actions do you plan to take?
- Budget: What have you spent on achieving this goal so far? What additional funds can you allocate towards it?
- Authority: How does your company purchase products of this type? Who else is concerned with this buying decision and what are some of their concerns? What ego or ownership issues come up that need to be managed and respected that I need to be mindful of?
- Negative consequences: What happens if you don’t reach this goal? What will it cost you and your company if you keep things the way they are today?
- Positive Implications: What can you achieve next if you do reach this goal?
Strengths: In an era when multiple solutions to a person’s problem are just a Google search away, it’s more important than ever to get clear on how relevant your product is to their needs and how closely they fit into your niche. This framework gets into the nitty-gritty and can quickly indicate if a prospect is truly viable. Plus, it was developed by a SaaS company, so it likely translates well to other SaaS providers.
Weaknesses: Sales reps unfamiliar with this framework will likely need to practice holding a conversation that touches on all these topics in a natural way. Otherwise, you risk hosting a discovery call that comes off as more like an interrogation.
Dick Dunkel and Jack Napoli developed MEDDIC in the mid 90’s while at PTC corporation. The framework was developed for enterprise-level B2B sales. It stands for:
- Metrics: How would you measure the success of a project?
- Economic Buyer: Who’s in charge of the budget for this project? How would they define success?
- Decision Criteria: What are the technical criteria for making a purchase decision?
- Decision Process: How does your company make the decisions to buy? Who else needs to be brought into this process? What’s the timeline for making a decision? How does the process differ for larger purchases?
- Identify Pain: What needs fixing? Why haven’t you fixed it yet?
- Champion: Who has the most vested interest in solving this problem? Do they have influence in the decision process?
Strengths: MEDDIC is ideal for companies with accounts that are in the range of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. These accounts likely jump through significantly more hoops during the decision process. A qualifier needs to be clear on the criteria to meet before moving forward with a proposal.
Weaknesses: The line of questioning posed by this framework might feel clunky to a sales novice. Practice or drafting questions tailored to their specific offering is likely necessary to hold a more natural conversation.
ANUM assumes that the most important thing to know first is whether or not the person you’re talking to has any real power.
- Authority: Are you in charge of making purchasing decisions? Who are the people typically involved in this decision making process?
- Need: What’s the biggest hurdle you hope to overcome?
- Urgency: How soon to hope to overcome it?
- Money: What funds are available to allocate towards overcoming it?
Strengths: ANUM attempts to make sure you’re talking to someone with spending privileges from the get-go, presumably saving you time and energy.
Weaknesses: Sometimes the case is that different people within a company are in charge of making different purchasing decisions depending on the function of the product. The person you’re talking to might not know if they have the authority to make this particular decision until it’s clear what challenge needs addressing.
It’s possible that there are questions relevant to your product or industry that aren’t covered by any of the frameworks above. In that case, you’ll want to tweak your approach so that you’re covering all your bases.
Some additional questions worth considering are:
- What are the concerns or roadblocks that could come up down the road and get in the way of us working together?
- What are the timely and relevant issues that are going on internally?
- What is the overall mood of the company and its leaders towards this problem?
- What internal resources can you leverage to try and resolve this issue on your own?
- How will your current vendors react to the possibility you’ll buy from us?
Whatever framework and sets of questions you go with, don’t overload the person you’re speaking with by asking them too many. The idea is to engage them in meaningful conversation, not convince them that you’re an interrogator.
When to Move Prospects Forward
After making a discovery call, you’ll need to make a decision about whether or not to continue the sales process. Some good signs that prospects are ideal candidates for moving forward include:
The prospect clearly identified what challenge they have and talked about it at length. It’s clear this is an issue that is a top priority and needs to be solved soon.
During the conversation, the prospect was certain on measurable goals and outcomes. This shows that they’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the challenge and will be receptive to solutions that propose to meet those goals.
Overall, the prospect knew the ins and outs of the challenge or project like the back of their own hand. This shows that they likely have sway over the purchasing decision if they’re not in charge of it themselves.
However, if you encounter some of these signs during your discover call, you might want to consider stopping the process:
Whether it’s because they don’t have the time to talk, they haven’t thought about their challenges in detail, or they don’t have a pain point you can address, this is a clear indicator that the prospect isn’t interested.
Conflicting responses are an indicator that the prospect might not have that much influence over the project, or it’s not enough of a priority that they’re willing to find a solution just yet. In either case, you’ll want to save your time and pursue other business.
Qualify Leads and Close More Sales
An optimized leads qualification process serves two main functions: to forecast whether or not a prospect is worth the time and effort of a proposal, and to help reps tailor that proposal for maximum effectiveness.
The first step to qualifying a sales lead is to generate a leadscore based on their engagement with your website, emails, and social media posts. The second step is to make a discovery call to determine their needs, purchasing authority, and budget.
While this may seem relatively straightforward, there’s a lot of data and elements that need to be taken into consideration in order to calculate a leadscore. Thankfully, there are several different kinds of lead generation software out there that can gather, analyze, and calculate that leadscore for you. In no time at all, you’ll be filling your pipeline with qualified prospects and winning more accounts.