4 Factors to Qualify Prospects (With a Proven Qualification Process for Salespeople)
Qualifying is all about gathering the insights necessary to make a sound judgment.
Should you sell to a given prospect? How close are they to making the purchasing decision? What is the best course of action for sales to close a deal? Does your prospect have pain points your product or service can address?
Only after you've qualified someone can you really know whether it's worth investing your time and effort into trying to sell to this prospect.
However, many inexperienced salespeople jump to the pitch too quickly without properly understanding their prospects. Let’s learn how to integrate qualification into your sales process to get a higher return on your time spent with every lead. This is our ultimate guide to qualify prospects today.
Download your free list of 42 B2B qualifying questions to start asking prospects the right questions.
What is Prospect Qualification?
Qualifying prospects involves evaluating a lead against your ideal customer profile. It helps you identify sales leads that are a good fit for your product or service. Your team can close more deals by prioritizing selling to qualified leads.
Let’s step back and understand how qualifying fits into the sales process. When people express an interest in your product or service, they are referred to as prospects. Then they are run through the lead qualification process to evaluate their attributes against your ideal customers.
A common framework used in sales qualification is BANT. The acronym stands for four of the most important factors in a prospect’s buying decision: Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing.
Qualified prospects advance in your sales pipeline. You can then schedule meetings with them and try to close deals.
Why is it Important to Qualify Prospects?
Qualifying is crucial in sales prospecting because it:
- Prevents sales teams from spending time on bad leads: Everyone that expresses an interest in your solutions does not deserve your equal time and effort.
By asking relevant sales qualification questions, you can find your prospect’s budget, understand where they are in the decision-making process, whether they find your offerings valuable, etc. It ensures your team doesn’t waste time on bad-fit prospects.
- Lets you offer a personalized selling experience: Once you have a smaller segment of qualified prospects, your team has the luxury of spending more time on each of them. They can understand your prospect’s challenges and craft custom pitches to persuade them.
- Gets you more ideal customers: Qualifying buyers ensures you onboard the right kind of customers that derive value from your solutions and don’t churn down the road. Instead of short-term wins, such ideal customers help your long-term profitability.
A sales CRM such as Close lets you mark lead statuses depending on your sales process. You can even bulk edit statuses if you change criteria.
Depending on your needs, you can consider integrating relevant sales prospecting tools with Close.
The Aftermath of Bad Prospect Qualification
Poor prospect qualification (or worse, none at all) will hurt the performance of your sales team. Here are the dangers of not qualifying leads.
Waste of Time
If you're not qualifying your leads properly, you'll waste a lot of time following up and attempting to sell to prospects that aren't a good fit for your company.
Spend this time on qualified prospects, and you'll close substantially more valuable deals.
Some of your best prospects (as indicated by your buyer persona or ideal customer profile) might only become customers if you invest a certain amount of effort into getting them on board. If you don't know who those high-value prospects are, you'll miss out on the chance to sell them.
Closing Bad Deals
Sometimes you might successfully sell to a potential client who shouldn't buy your product. This isn't just bad for the client whom you persuaded into a bad buying decision—selling to the wrong customers is also bad for you and your company.
Not Knowing How to Sell to Them
What are their pain points? What's the context in which they evaluate your solution? What kind of person are you dealing with? What is the type of organization? If you don't know the answers to these questions, then you can't customize your sales pitch for your potential customer.
More Deals Lost in Later Stages
What's their buying process? How long does it take this company to buy a product? What's the deal value? Not knowing these things can lead to bad "surprises".
Most surprises you'll encounter in sales aren't actually surprises — they're just a result of a sales rep not qualifying a prospect properly.
4 Components of a Successful Prospect Qualification Process
To qualify leads efficiently, sales professionals on your team need a repeatable prospect qualification process. Below are the four aspects you can consider for planning its specific steps.
1. Find an Ideal Customer Profile Match
How well do their demographics (such as company size, stage, etc.) and other attributes match your ideal customer profile? How big is the company? What industry are they in? Where are your ideal customers located? What's the ideal use case? Which tools have they used in the past? What kind of ecosystem are they playing in?
When qualifying prospects for our sales pipeline management software, we ask people how many leads they usually have in their pipeline. If it's less than 100 a year, we recommend they not buy our solution and instead just use a whiteboard or a spreadsheet.
2. Understand Their Needs
What are this customer's needs? Is it about reaching certain goals in revenue? What are the needs of the individual, the team, and the company?
When I interviewed Gary Vaynerchuk on how he sells to Fortune 500 companies, he dropped some interesting insights on how B2B sales is fundamentally no different from B2C: you're selling to people, not companies.
You have to know how to fulfill their wants and needs. What are the results they want to get? And how will those results affect them, their team, and their company?
3. Learn Their Decision-Making Process
How do they make buying decisions? Is there a single person who controls the budget and has the authority? If there are multiple people, then which departments are involved? What's their typical buying process like? How much time does it take them to buy a product?
For instance, some organizations may lack a sense of urgency. They may have a 12-month purchasing process. If you need to close deals in three months, that will not work for you.
4. Explore the Competition (and Position Your Value Proposition)
Who are your competitors? Which other vendors have they worked with? Are they evaluating your solution vs. building their own solution? What are the criteria they base their decision on?
If you know all these things, you'll have a really great idea if someone is a qualified prospect or not.
While this may seem complicated, effective qualification can come down to two data points. For example, marketing leads for Close rely on a simple form asking a couple of questions. They are sufficient to decide if a lead should talk to our sales team or continue through self-service channels.
How to Identify Red Flags During Qualifying
During the qualifying stage, there are several red flags you want to watch out for. Here’s how to spot them.
Ask Smart Qualifying Questions to Spot Incongruencies
Sometimes the answers you get from prospects don't paint a coherent picture. Some of the things they say don't fit together with other things they say, and you can't make sense of it. Often, they're giving you BS answers. Sometimes a prospect won't be completely forthright with you. You need to know if they're not being honest with you.
Here's a common example:
A prospect will tell you that it's really important that your solution is scalable to many millions of customers. Later, you find out that their "team" is only two people (nothing wrong with that, been there, done that), they don't have venture funding, they don't have growth, and they don't have customers.
A bit of a disconnect to put so much emphasis on scaling to millions of customers, and not having any right now. Maybe they are clueless and inexperienced. Maybe there's something they are trying to hide.
Whatever it is, watch out for conflicting responses. Does their story make sense?
If it doesn't, then bring it up in a polite and honest way: "I struggle with this little point — why is scaling so important if you are still small?" Or: "I'm struggling with this one piece of information: most of our customers who say XYZ don't have this constraint. Why is this thing important to you?"
Just asking them to clarify will often be enough to bring up real information.
Here are a few qualifying questions with a brief description of the insights they can uncover about your prospects.
- How did you hear about our product or find us?
This question reminds the prospect of their motivation to learn about your solution. Their answers can also reveal their wants and needs, paving the course for more targeted follow-up questions.
- What is your company’s top priority right now?
This can lead your prospects to articulate their top goals and challenges. If some existing customers achieve similar objectives through your product, you can share their example.
- What features are a deal-breaker vs. ones that are nice to have?
Having specific information from your prospects is generally nice, but you need them to clarify their priorities. The above question helps to identify their wants vs. needs.
- Who are the decision-makers involved in the buying process?
The question can reveal the stakeholders who are involved in the purchasing process. You can then plan to engage them in the sales process.
- How much have you spent on similar solutions?
This will reveal the predetermined budget your prospects have in mind for your solution.
- Are there any obstacles that could prevent this deal from happening?
Asking this question can better prepare you for the next steps in the sales process. You can then put your best foot forward to address roadblocks along the way.
Psst… Want more qualifying questions to gather relevant info about your prospects? Check out our list of top qualifying questions that will enable you to sell better to each prospect you encounter.
Pay Attention to Context, Not Just Content
Don't just listen to what prospects say, but also to how they say it. If they tell you they're super excited about implementing your solution, but their voice is flat and muted ... maybe they're really not super excited.
When you notice this, give them opportunities to clarify things. Don't grill them: "Oh, you say you're super excited, but you sound totally bored. Obviously you're not being honest here!"
Simply say something like: "Hey, a lot of times, implementing a new solution is really hard. What are some possible issues you might encounter?"
The point is to stimulate a real conversation, to get real information, and not just to comfortably cruise along the surface level.
Build Trust With Reluctant Prospects
Sometimes prospects will exhibit an unwillingness to provide you with substantial information. They'll repeatedly respond to your questions with "I don't know". Their answers will be so general and unspecific that they contain no valuable information.
If you're encountering a prospect like this, you're either talking to the wrong person and they're clueless, or they don't trust you.
Call them out on it. Tell them: "We only deal with customers who become real long-term partners. To do that successfully, we both need to be open. I really need to understand what you need in order to even judge if our solution is a good fit for you or if I should point you in a different direction to make you successful."
(For more on building trust in sales, read, How to sell to "nonbelievers": Turn doubt into trust.)
4 Signs of a Good Qualifying Process
There are certain things you can look at in your business that will be an indicator of how well you're qualifying prospects. Here are four telltale indications.
Productive Sales Reps
50 percent of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting. If your sales leaderboard shows that your team is making a lot of productive sales calls, your qualification is probably working.
Bad fit customers won’t find value in your product, and they can harm your business. Happy customers like your product and don’t mind paying for it every month.
However, you want more of the third kind of customers. Those who can derive value from your product that far exceeds the price they pay you. These are successful customers. A streamlined lead qualification process can ensure you get more of them.
Here’s a table showing the differences between happy vs. successful customers at a glance.
Time to Close
Enterprise companies might have a slow and complex buying process. However, you can shorten the sales cycle by asking relevant qualifying questions earlier in the sales process — starting from your first phone call. It can give you a virtual roadmap of steps involved in the buying process, reducing the time required to close a deal.
Accurate sales forecasting is crucial for making sound business decisions. To get good forecasts, sales funnel reports in Close CRM are helpful — but nothing beats high-quality data. An effective qualification process can predict the deals that will close and their value for your business.
What if Many of Your Prospects Don't Qualify?
Sometimes the vast majority of people you talk to simply aren't a good match for your product/service. If that's the case, you're probably casting your net too wide, and you should consider a more focused and targeted lead generation approach. There's no point in spending most of your time with prospects who will never buy.
Want to optimize your qualification process? Use Close to set up Custom Activities for your team. Then, your team can follow a structured process and add data in a manageable way for the whole team to see.
Want to see how it works in the wild? Watch our on-demand demo to get a full intro to Close CRM.