You get to work in the morning. Your favorite CRM overflows with the names of people who signed up for your product recently. You can also see everyone who’ve been using it for a while. Sound familiar?
And so, you begin. You start calling and emailing all those leads frantically. Perhaps you go through the entire list one name after another or focus on the leads that you think are the most likely to close now.
But, eventually, reality hits you. You realize that you’re wasting time. Your efforts generate zero traction, and you start suspecting why. You’re reaching out to the wrong people!
What’s worse, you have absolutely no idea who the right ones would be. You begin second-guessing everything you do, and it’s a downward spiral from then on.
Unfortunately, I see this happening to SaaS inside sales teams over and over again. They get the leads and plenty of them. It’s just that they have absolutely no idea which of those people are worth their time and effort.
Now, before I show you how to solve it – and the good news is that you can – let me give you a bit more context on the problem.
Why you have no choice but to qualify leads and identify hot opportunities upfront
No leads are the same, and I’m sure you know that already. According to some research studies, even up to 50% of them might not be a good fit for your product.
But do you know the real cost of not telling those people apart?
You cannot reach the best opportunities at the right moment. You don’t know who they are, after all! But with timing being such a critical factor in sales, the cost of this is much higher than just missing out on a deal or two:
You dilute your brand and trust in the process.
I always illustrate this problem with a company I use to run Refiner. Its software helps us manage the key marketing channel. However, as we use it for ourselves only, we have little or no need for many features on the product’s higher plans. Hell, our usage levels don’t come close to the plan’s limits.
Yet, every week we get automated emails asking us to hop on a call, book a demo or blatantly giving us discounts to upgrade.
It was fun watching their efforts at first (“Look, they don’t score users, clearly. They haven’t asked us a single qualifying question! Maybe we should reach out to them too?”) Eventually, however, it has become irritating, to the point of starting to consider switching vendors.
You waste time processing low-quality leads. I think this goes without saying. With around half of the leads not being a good fit, the chances of you focusing on low-quality ones are quite high.
You burn out quickly. This is particularly true if you have to process all inbound leads – free trial signups, freemium users, top-of-the-funnel marketing-qualified leads, etc. – without considering their quality.
I’ve seen startups reaching out to every newsletter signup with a direct sales message, actually - no nurturing cadence or pre-qualification. None of the company’s salespeople loved this approach, of course, and the staff rotation was always ridiculously high.
You could, potentially, close bad deals and harm the business. In the amazing guide to lead qualification, Steli pointed out rightly:
Sometimes you might successfully sell to people who shouldn't buy your product. This isn't just bad for the customer whom you persuaded into a bad buying decision—selling to the wrong customers is also bad for you and your company.
It’s true. You can be so good at selling that you’ll convert a low-quality lead. But will that benefit your business in the long run? I doubt it.
Without qualifying, you cannot assess or measure the lead quality. You have no way to identify how many good leads do you generate, on average, in fact.
You cannot build any scalable processes for processing leads either. You have to rely on the team to process all leads or use the gut feeling to spot potentially high-value opportunities.
Finally, you have no idea how to make the conversation relevant. With little or no context, besides the person’s name and other basic details, you will, most likely, have no idea what to talk to them about or how to start the conversation to make it relevant to them.
When you qualify leads, particularly, if you follow the system I’ve outlined below, you will know their context. You’ll know whether they’ve been logging into the app often, or how many of their employees use it, or whether they’ve been inviting new people over.
Insights like these offer a great opportunity to kick start a meaningful conversation. But you need to uncover them first, of course.
So, let’s talk about that.
How to qualify and score SaaS leads
Compared to other businesses, your SaaS company receives an incredible variety of leads.
A law firm, for example, would get business inquiries, mostly. True, some firms might offer lead magnets and other lead generation assets. But even then, their efforts are geared for connecting with the customer quickly and making the sale.
SaaS, on the other hand, gets freemium users, free trial signups, demo requests, direct pre-sale inquiries, RFPs, in the case of enterprise products, newsletter signups, lead magnet signups, content-generated leads and a whole lot more.
It’s crazy, actually…
Another difference is the difficulty to become a lead. When you reach out to a law firm, you most likely have some sort of a problem that requires legal assistance. It would be impossible to engage with such a firm otherwise, wouldn't it?
But what’s stopping someone from signing up for your free account or even a trial? All they have to do is type their name and email and they’re in. Unfortunately, this means that they can do it on a whim or out of sheer boredom too.
I hear these challenges echoed by many SaaS founders.
They tell me how demo requests and sales inquiries generate relatively good-quality leads. But trials, freemiums, and other lead sources deliver a mixed bag of opportunities.
Some of these people can become clients, of course. But many of them have signed up without any intention to use the product for longer.
Now, I understand why SaaS offers a low barrier to sign up. It’s a numbers game after all. But it doesn’t make your job any easier, doesn’t it? It’s up to you to identify those best people and convert them into paying customers.
But how can you figure out their buying intent easily, or tell whether someone is a decision-maker at all?
Enter lead qualification and scoring
I’ve been using both terms – lead qualification and scoring – quite often in this guide so far. So, before we go any further, let’s define them quickly.
Lead scoring is a process of ranking inbound leads on a scale based on their different characteristics and behavior to determine their interest in a company’s products or services.
Lead qualification, on the other hand, helps to determine whether that person indeed matches your ideal client profile (ICP) and whether they are worth processing by the sales team right now.
Both form one process, with lead scoring happening first, followed by qualification to identify the biggest fit.
(A quick note: In this guide, I’m assuming that you know who your ICP is. If you’re not sure, check out this amazing ICP guide from Steli.)
What information do you need to collect to score and qualify leads?
- Explicit data collected during the lead generation process from the lead directly (i.e. signup form, asking for their name, and email.)
- Implicit data your company has uncovered about them (through enriching customer profiles, for example.) This might include the company size and other information about it, the person’s title, their location, and many other characteristics.
- Behavioral data revealing the person’s interactions with the product and their engagement as a user.
Combined with the other two, behavioral data helps you track the purchase intent signals (i.e. inviting more people in the company to the app, high usage levels, etc.).
Scoring leads using the insights above
The biggest factor for your scoring success is knowing which characteristics identify your ICP.
To develop the scoring model, you assign values, both positive and negative, to each ICP characteristic that you can uncover with the insights above.
Take the email address for example. If you sell to customers, the quality of the email (i.e. whether it’s on a free domain or a business account) may not matter that much to you. But if you want to work with SMBs or mid-market companies, any signups from Gmail accounts might indicate lower purchase intent.
Depending on your ICP you could assign negative values to all signups from free email accounts.
(Note: email quality might not discount the person as an opportunity. Their usage levels might reveal a serious intent. However, it might be an indication of their value.)
The same goes for other explicit, implicit, and behavioral data – job title, company size, location, product usage, engagement, etc.
Based on the scores, you can divide leads into different categories, and know whom to reach out to and when. How you divide them depends on your ICPs, product, pricing level, and many other factors.
Here’s one example of lead qualification criteria and how to act on it. I’ve used sample numbers below but they should give you a good indication of how to develop a similar framework.
- Score 91 or higher: Notifying the sales team about those opportunities to process immediately.
- Score 71-90: Gathering more information or product usage data about other leads to gain clarity about their intent.
- Score 61-70: Manually evaluating to look for signs that they could still be worth processing. This might mean leaving them out for now but watching for any signs that their score could go up regularly.
- Score 60 and below: Discarding as low value.
Wrapping it up
Sometimes you have just too many leads to process. When you go through the list one by one, the first thing you realize is that most of the time you’re reaching out to the wrong people anyway.
Among other things, qualifying those people beforehand allows you to:
- Focus on the biggest opportunities only, and do so at the right moment.
- Maximize your productivity and output.
- Improve your overall lead quality
- Make each sales conversation more relevant to the lead.
I hope that this guide has helped you realize the value of lead qualification, and outlined how to get started doing so.
About the author
Moritz Dausinger is the founder and CEO of Refiner.io, a lead scoring and qualification tool helping B2B SaaS companies with a self-service model to go upmarket by identifying their high-value opportunities on autopilot.