One of the most important tasks sales people have is to qualify their sales leads.

Achieving your sales targets is about the efficiency and effectiveness of your sales journey. And the qualification stage is a crucial step in excellent sales enablement. The prospect must be a good fit for your product or service or you will end up wasting time and or having a customer whom you will never please. Qualifying your sales leads allows both parties to move forward with the relationship, or respectfully part ways.

Sounds straightforward. However, the path to take is not always straightforward. So what are the fundamentals of sales qualification? We have created an extensive guide below, use the quick-links to help navigate:

What is a qualified sales lead?
Why disqualifying is good for your business
What is a qualifying question?
BANT framework
HubSpot's GBTIQI framework
The qualification process  

What is a qualified sales lead?

You might think that the discovery call is where you might do your qualification, however it isn’t where qualification starts or ends.

There’s a hierarchy to sales lead qualification. That is, sales people should qualify leads at three different stages -- “organisation-level,” “opportunity-level,” and “stakeholder-level” sales qualification.

Organisation-level qualification

It all starts with the easiest level of qualification.  Organisational-level qualification is essentially the point at which you decide that you should or should not do more research - starting with your company’s buyer personas. Does the buyer match the characteristics of your company’s buyer persona?

Typical questions you should ask at this stage are:

  • Is the prospect in your geographic territory?
  • Do you have relevant experience selling to their industry?
  • Is the company size a good fit?
Opportunity-level qualification

This is where most people start. Opportunity-level sales qualification is where you work out whether your sales lead has a need or opportunity you can match and whether it’s a good idea for them to buy your product or service. Again, your buyer persona, should provide insight into opportunity-level characteristics and whether a sales lead could benefit from your offering.

Typical questions you should ask at this stage are:

  • Does my product/service solve a pain/gain point for my buyer?
  • Am I acting in my own vested ‘sales’ interest or do I genuinely have the customer’s best interest at heart?
  • Can you genuinely help the prospect beyond making the sale?
Stakeholder-level qualification

It’s one thing to qualify for the above stages however, the big question will be… Can your customer actually ‘pull the trigger’ on a purchase decision?

To work this out try asking the following questions:

  • Does this purchase come out of your budget?
  • Is there anyone else involved in the decision?
  • Is there a ranked criterion for this purchase decision? And who defined the criteria?

Why disqualifying is good for your business

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to disqualify prospects and in the process shrink your pipeline.

Our natural instinct is to pursue as many sales leads as possible, yet this approach is highly inefficient and in the long run less effective. It’s a case of quality of leads more than the quantity of leads.

As a salesperson, time is your most precious asset and it’s better to spend it on your best prospects rather than spreading yourself thin across dozens of leads. Attempting to close all deals that come in can result in extended and unsatisfactory sales journeys with poor fit prospects, while the prospects that are likely to buy are neglected.

Best practice is that unless a sales lead can be qualified on all three levels, you shouldn’t advance them in the sales journey. For example, if you ask your sales lead about their strategic goals and they’re unable to answer, it’s a good indicator that they’re not close enough to the decision process and lack influence. You should disqualify this contact at the stakeholder level, even though they look good at the opportunity level.

Questions, questions. What is a qualifying question?

Qualifying questions allow you to workout your sales lead fit for any one criterion ranging from the need, budget, authority, urgency, or another criterion.

A qualifying question should be open-ended. A close-ended question like “Is this urgent now?” boxes the buyer into a yes or no answer, which is limiting. An open-ended question could be "Where does this fall on your list of business priorities?" Because you are not leading the sales lead to an answer, the response can be more expansive, honest and revealing.

Two qualification frameworks to consider:

The BANT qualification framework

BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) is a well-used framework at many companies and has been applied across a variety of market sectors.

First developed by IBM, BANT covers all the questions for opportunity and stakeholder-level qualification.

BANT will help you find answers for the following information categories:

  • Budget: Is the sales lead capable of buying?
  • Authority: Does your sales lead have adequate authority to sign off on a purchase?
  • Need: Does the sales lead have a business pain you can solve?
  • Timeline: When is the sales lead planning to buy?

Here are a few examples of BANT questions in the context of a sales lead conversation:

Budget

  • Is there a budget set aside for this purchase? What is it?
  • How important is this initiative and is it enough of a priority to allocate funds toward?
  • What else are you spending money on?
  • How do competitive forces and seasonality affect your budgets?

Authority

  • Which budget will this purchase come out of?
  • Is there anyone else involved in the purchasing decision?
  • How have you made purchasing decisions for products similar to ours in the past?
  • Are there any objections to this purchase that you anticipate encountering? Do you have any advice on how you think we can best handle them?

Need

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • Do you know the source of that pain, and why do you feel it’s worth spending time on?
  • Is there a reason why it hasn’t been addressed before?
  • What do you think could solve this problem? Why?

Timeline

  • How quickly do you need to solve your problem?
  • Is there anything else a priority for you?
  • Are you reviewing any other similar products or services?
  • Do you have the capacity to implement this product right now?

BANT might still be a popular sales qualification framework however; IBM developed it back in the 1960’s - pre Internet days. So if you thought the BANT acronym was silly, try GPCTBA/C&I!!

HubSpot’s GPCTBA/C&I qualification framework

Yes, it’s a ridiculous acronym. HubSpot created the qualification framework, GPCTBA/C&I (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Budget, Authority, Negative Consequences and Positive Implications) in a response to changes in buyer behaviour. Buyers now come to the sales process informed, so salespeople need to add value beyond product knowledge to be in the game.

The goal is to be seen as an advisor, exploring beyond the scope of the micro problem that your product or service solves. This means understanding a prospect’s strategic goals, their company’s business model, and how the specific issue you’re discussing fits into the larger picture of their professional life.

Here are some of the questions you should ask at each step:

Goals

You are asking these questions to find out your sales lead’s quantitative goals. You can help them set goals if they are vague or if their response isn’t specific.

  • What is your top priority this year?
  • Do you have specific company goals?
  • Do you have revenue goals for this quarter/year?

Plans

Upon understanding your sales lead’s goals, discover what initiatives they’ve already done to achieve them. See what’s worked and what hasn’t, and make recommendations for improvement.

  • What are you planning to do to achieve your goals?
  • What did you do last year? What worked and what didn’t? What are you going to do differently this year?
  • Do you think XYZ might make it hard to execute your plan?
  • Do you have the right resources available to execute this plan?

Challenges

Defining your sales lead’s challenges and emphasizing what they’ve already tried isn’t delivering is key. Unless they understand that they need help, a sales lead won’t become a customer.

  • How do you think you’ll be able to overcome this challenge now, even though you’ve tried in the past and it is still present?
  • Do you think you have the internal capabilities to deal with these challenges?
  • If you realise early enough in the year that your current plan isn’t solving this challenge, how will you change things up?

Timeline

Time is your most precious asset. If a prospect doesn’t want to buy now or in the medium future this isn’t a lost cause, however they should drop down on your priority list.

  • When will you begin executing this plan?
  • Do you have the resources to execute this plan now?
  • Would you like help thinking through the steps involved in executing this plan, so you can figure out when you should implement each stage?

Budget

We’ve all fallen for the trap of asking… “What’s your budget”? And it isn’t a question likely to get you valuable direction or even insight.

Instead, you could setup the budget question:

  • Are we in agreement on the potential ROI of [product or service]?
  • Are you spending money on another way to solve the problem we’ve discussed?

Then rephrase the budget question this way:

“We've ascertained that your goal is X and that you're spending Y now to try and achieve X. However, we’ve established that it's not working. To use us, you will need to invest Z which is pretty similar to Y. You've said that more confident our solution will get you to your goal, so do you believe it makes sense to invest Z to use us?"

Authority

Qualifying for authority under this framework isn’t just about trying to work out whether your contact is a decision maker. They might be an influencer or a coach, who can give you detailed facts regarding the decision maker’s thought process.

If your sales lead isn’t the financial buyer you can ask them:

  • Are the goals we’ve discussed important to the financial buyer?
  • Amongst their priorities, where does this fall?
  • Can you anticipate what issues they might raise?
  • How should we go about getting the financial buyer on side?

Negative Consequences and Positive Implications

In this part of the qualification process, you’re finding out what the impact would be if your sales lead does or does not achieve their goals. This gets to the very heart of the pain and gain points of your sales lead. The closer your solution can be in helping them avoiding consequences and enhancing positive outcomes, the better the sales value proposition you have.

Here are some C&I questions to ask sales leads:

  • What happens if you do or don’t reach your goals? Will it affect you on a personal level?
  • When you resolve this challenge, what do you plan to do next?
  • Could you get promoted or receive more resources if you hit your goal? Would you lose responsibility or be demoted if you don’t?

The key benefit of GPCTBA/C&I is that is ensures salespeople gather a large quantity of information. This framework suits a product that is complex, highly differentiated and is likely to help your product/service becoming an integral part of your prospect’s strategy. In involves stepping into the sales lead’s world and in the process becoming helpful advisors and business partners.

GPCTBA/C&I is not for every sales force. Depending on what you sell, such detailed qualification may not be necessary.

Qualifying leads: The qualification process

When it comes to sales qualification it is not only what information your sales lead provides you with but also (and sometimes more importantly) their tone of voice and delivery can reveal the story underlying the story they are telling you.

Here are some signs to listen out for when qualifying a sales lead, which will help you, figure out whether to move the sales journey forward or disqualify.

Good signs to move a sales lead forward

Excuses

Excuses are everyday occurrences that come about in many cases to help resolve cognitive dissonance – the mental stress we have that’s caused by holding conflicting beliefs. Excuses help resolve our actions with who we want to be.

During a sales conversation, you want to establish if their pain is real, so you should listen carefully to hear if your sales lead attempts to explain away previous inaction regarding their business pain. You will learn that either the excuse is legitimate, or your sales lead had hoped they had done something about it earlier and are attempting to explain why they didn’t. Either way, it creates certainty that their pain is real.

Specificity

Specific answers to questions such as “What are your goals?” and “When do you need to see returns?” are gold. It means that your sales lead has thought carefully about their problem. You should be listening for sequential plans, thought-out explanations, and statistics. Specifics also indicate that your prospect feels real pain and that they’ve given extensive thought as to why they exist and how to address them.

Of course, specifics must be underpinned by reality. A prospect who says, “I want to quadruple revenue in the next two weeks,” is using specifics to demonstrate that they don’t have strong business acumen.

Knowledge

A good knowledge check is your best way for qualifying at the stakeholder level. Actual decision makers will have detailed knowledge of company goals, challenges, and needs. A contact that doesn’t have access to this information isn’t going to be valuable in the sales process.

Bad signs in the sales process

Inconsistency

Contradictory answers are likely from one who wants to be helpful, but struggles because they don’t possess adequate knowledge. This isn’t a deal breaker however – continue to push them to tell you who does know the answers, and continue qualifying the opportunity with another contact.

Short answers

True business pain is obvious to see in an organisation. If you give the perception that you can help alleviate the pain, prospects will want to talk to you. Simple as that!

A sales lead who’s giving you one-word answers isn’t someone who feels there’s basis for a dialogue. Perhaps the problem is a non-issue, or the contact isn’t clued in enough to feel its severity. At this point it is time to disqualify or moving onto another member of the organisation.

Summary

Your sales success depends on effective qualification. Your ability to find good fit prospects is fundamental for the success of your business. Sales leads that turn into happy customers are your revenue source, your word-of-mouth, referrals, and the possibility of cross- or upselling. So it’s important that you start qualifying your sales leads.

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