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How To Qualify a Sales Prospect & Mistakes to Avoid

What’s the most challenging part of the sales process? Is it finding prospects? Closing deals? Well, if you’re like 22% of salespeople, then it’s qualifying leads.

Having a problem like this doesn’t seem like a big deal, especially when you have a ton of leads coming in. But it’s an efficient (and ineffective) way to manage your sales funnel. You’ll end up with too many prospects in the pipeline that don’t fit your target customer. 

Not only does this waste the time of your SDRs — it also hurts your bottom line. Numbers show at least 50% of prospects aren’t a good fit. And 77% say their company only generates at least 25% of their leads. 

This means other channels are doing all the heavy lifting (social media, content, ads, etc.). So what can you do to make your sales qualification process better? That’s what we’re going to dive into today. 

So let’s jump right in.

What is a Qualified Prospect in Sales?

A sales-qualified prospect is a lead that closely matches one of your target customer personas. They have pain points about your product or service addresses. And they’re actively looking for a solution like yours. This makes them a high priority because they have higher odds of converting. 

It’s impossible to qualify sales prospects if you don’t know what your target customer looks like. Your salespeople will focus too much attention on the wrong leads and potentially allow great opportunities to slip through their fingers. 

Let’s review how you can identify qualified sales prospects.

What Are 5 Requirements for a Lead to be Considered a Qualified Prospect?

The worst thing you can do as a salesperson is to attempt to convert unqualified leads. These individuals don’t understand (or care) about the issue you’re trying to help them resolve. So it’s a waste of time for both of you. 

To make your sales teams more productive, they should zone in on the following sales-qualified prospects.

1. Aware of Their Problem

If a prospect is unaware they have a problem, how will you convince them to buy your solution? It’s a dead-end road no salesperson should travel down. So avoid prospects that have no idea they have an issue that needs resolving. 

If they show interest once you bring it up, feel free to educate them a little on the problem. You may just spark a fire that could result in full-blown interest. It doesn’t always happen this way, but it’s a possibility. Just don’t spend too much on a lead if they’re not biting after shedding light on their problem.

2. Has Decision-Making Power

Speaking to a lead at the bottom of an organization’s hierarchy isn’t a complete waste of time. But it’s critical to be aware of the prospects’ buying power or authority. This way, you don’t waste too much effort on someone who can’t say yay or nay

When your sales team connects with someone with little to no authority, they should ask about the decision-makers. Figuring this out early in the conversation will save time and enable your teams to determine if the lead is worth chasing.

3. Has a Sense of Urgency

Just because a company is aware of a problem doesn’t mean they’re ready to resolve it. This brings us back to the awareness qualification. If you shed light on an issue they were unaware of, and they ask questions — great. But if it doesn’t create a sense of urgency to resolve it, then it could turn into months of back-and-forth with nothing to show for it in the end. 

Be sure to pre-qualify sales prospects based on their urgency. Ways to determine this is to ask how soon they’re looking to find a solution. Or you can request to book a call or schedule a demonstration and see if they’re ready to go. If not, then they may need a bit more nurturing from marketing.

4. Trusts You and Your Company

Salespeople haven’t always had the best reputation (thanks to media and sleazy sales tactics used in the past). And this is why your sales teams need to work hard to build trust and rapport before going in for the strike. 

Meeting with prospects is like a first date. You have to woo them, which means lots of listening and not as much talking. When you do speak, make it all about the prospect — ask questions to show your interest in their needs and situation. 

It’ll also give you insights into whether or not they’re a hot, cold, or warm lead.

5. Listens to You Willingly

A prospect that cares about your advice will listen to what you have to say. And they’ll follow up with questions. This shows they’re interested and may decide to purchase now or in the near future.

 Also, if the lead matches the other criteria, then it’s worthwhile for your salesperson to pursue them.

Why is it Important to Pre-Qualify Leads?

Time is the greatest resource salespeople have. So when it’s wasted on prospects with no intention of converting (ever), then there’s a problem. Your sales teams may have quotas to meet and close ratios to improve. 

This is impossible to achieve when they’re constantly chasing after dead-end prospects. By pre-qualifying sales prospects, it eliminates this concern. And boosts the odds of closing more deals.

The goal is to focus on leads with budgetary constraints, interest, and awareness for your solution. This way, it takes less convincing to convert them. 

Here’s a look at some of the reasons why sales qualification is essential:

  • Sales teams know when it’s time to move on from a lead
  • Salespeople can focus on a specific, smaller segment of buyers and offer more personalization
  • Sales teams can learn the customers’ challenges and provide the best solutions to resolve them. 
  • It enhances the odds of getting an outcome that enhances revenue. 
  • Sales teams can create different sales qualification processes and pitches designed for each persona and their unique problems. 
  • It eliminates problems down the road, such as refunds, complaints, and dissatisfaction from customers who were a wrong fit for your solution. 

All it takes is a simple discovery call to learn about a prospect and whether or not your solution aligns with their business needs.

What is the Lead Qualification Process?

The lead qualification process is simple, but it requires the right framework to make it work. Here’s an overview of how the sales qualifying process operates:

  • Leads are directed into the lead qualification framework to be verified.
  • Qualified leads move on through the funnel and connect with a sales rep.
  • Disqualified leads are either no longer pursued or placed into a nurturing sequence (i.e., email marketing campaign). 

Now, five types of leads will come through your funnel:

  1. Unqualified leads: those that don’t match your buyer personas or need further nurturing). 
  2. Marketing qualified leads (MQLs): those suitable for receiving marketing communications, like content offers, email campaigns, etc. 
  3. Sales qualified leads (SQLs): those ready to talk to a sales rep and go on to the next phase of the sales funnel. 
  4. Product qualified leads (PQLs): those with a high interest in a product or service (like signing up for a free trial or freemium plan). 
  5. Conversion qualified leads (CQLs): those that completed a call to action (submitted a form or signed up for a free trial). 

How a lead is qualified determines where they go next in the sales funnel. For example, disqualified leads are fed into a nurturing marketing campaign. Once they warm up, they’ll become sales-qualified leads and will push through to the next stage in the journey.

How Do You Qualify a Sales Lead?

There are multiple frameworks sales teams use to qualify sales leads. The most popular is the traditional method known as BANT:

  • Budget: Can the prospect afford your solution?
  • Authority: Does the lead have decision-making power to purchase?
  • Need: Does the prospect have a pain point your solution addresses?
  • Timeline: How soon is the lead looking to buy?

Here’s a framework designed by HubSpot called MEDDICC:

  • Metrics: What’s the solution’s economic impact?
  • Economic Buyer: Who’s responsible for the profit and loss for this?
  • Decision Criteria: What are the vendor, technical, and financial criteria?
  • Decision Process: What’s the process for validation and approval?
  • Identify Pain: What are the top priorities for the company?
  • Champion: Who’s going to be the seller for you?
  • Competition: What companies are we competing against and why?

Other frameworks you can consider using include CHAMP (Challenges, Authority, Money, and Prioritization). 

And GPCTBA/C&I (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Budget, Authority/Negative Consequences, and Positive Implications).

What Basic Questions Should You Ask to Qualify a Prospect?

Every sales prospect qualifying process should include a list of validating questions. This places your salespeople in control by enabling them to steer conversations and dig for valuable information. 

By asking the right questions, your sales teams can quickly identify which leads to target or pass to marketing for nurturing. 

Here’s a breakdown of how you can create a list of qualifying questions based on the BANT qualification framework.

Questions About Budget

You need to qualify leads that have a budget for your product or service. So here are several questions you can ask to weed out the best prospects:

  • Is there are budget set aside for this solution? If so, what is it?
  • Is this a high-priority solution you’re planning to allocate funds for?
  • What other initiatives are you currently spending on?
  • Is funding affected by seasonality?

Questions About Authority

Next, you need to determine if who you’re speaking with has the authority to make a purchasing decision. If not, you’ll need to find out who does. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Which department is responsible for funding this purchase? 
  • Who will be involved in making the buying decision?
  • How did you make buying decisions for products/services like ours in the past?
  • What are the objections you’ll likely face when it comes time to purchase? How do you plan to manage them?

Questions About Needs

You don’t want to waste too much time on a prospect who has no need for your product or service. So ask these questions early on to determine if they’re a good match:

  • What issues are you currently dealing with?
  • What’s the root of the problems and why do you feel it’s worth fixing?
  • Why are you just now addressing the issue?
  • What can possibly solve this issue and why?

Questions About Timeline

The more urgent a prospect is to make a purchase, the better. This means there’s a higher likelihood of closing a deal soon. Here are several questions to help gauge a lead’s timeline:

  • How fast would you like to resolve your issue?
  • What other priorities do you have?
  • Are you considering other similar products or services?
  • Do you have the time and budget to implement this solution at this time?

Red Flags to Watch for When Qualifying Sales Prospects

Recognizing red flags during the qualifying process can save your team time and effort. Sometimes, asking questions isn’t enough — so you have to look out for context clues that clarify the lead’s intentions (or lack thereof).

So here are several warning signs to watch for throughout the sales prospecting process.

Look for Inconsistencies

Ever had a lead interested in a solution they claim to have a budget for — only for them to complain later about a product similar to yours being too expensive? This is an inconsistency that can showcase the truth. 

So be on the lookout for things that don’t match up. Not all prospects are forthcoming with salespeople and will waste their time in the process. The red flag here is conflicting responses that don’t make sense. 

But before you completely dismiss the prospect, ask a few follow-up questions. For instance, if a prospect is a small business owner and says they want a service that’s scalable to millions of customers, yet they only have a five-man show, ask why this is important to them. 

You may find out they’re getting venture funding soon and are planning to scale quickly.

Watch for Important Cues

It’s not always about what a prospect says — it’s about how they say it. For instance, a lead may say they’re interested, but their tone sounds hesitant. You want to listen for excitement in their voice and pay attention to whether they’re actively listening (asking relevant questions and repeating back information). 

When you notice a lead is sending conflicting vibes, don’t grill them. In fact, don’t even mention that you notice the contradictions. Instead, you should ask a question around it. 

For instance, if they appear reluctant to schedule a demo, ask what possible hurdles prevent them from moving forward.

Beware the Reluctant Lead

Some level of reluctance is to be expected. But if a lead doesn’t want to provide enough information for you to go on, then you have two options:

Continue to ask a few more questions to see if they open up. Or move on.

You should do the latter if the prospect repeatedly responds with “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” It’s impossible for your salespeople to gauge a prospect’s needs or how to assist them if they don’t give ample information.

So don’t waste more time than you have to on these leads.

Mistakes to Avoid When Qualifying Sales Leads

Qualifying sales prospects is easier when you have a flawless strategy. This should include the right questions to ask (at the right time). And avoiding pitfalls that can ruin the prospecting process. 

Here are several mistakes your salespeople should avoid.

Not Clearly Defining Qualified Sales Prospects

We touched on this earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again. Be sure your sales teams have a clear definition of what a qualified sales prospect looks like. The best way to do this is to develop unified buyer personas and educate your salespeople about them. 

This way, it becomes a no-brainer to spot the best prospects to target.

Not Marketing to the Right Audience

Marketing plays an integral role in the sales qualification process. If marketing campaigns are targeting the wrong groups, then your sales funnel will clog with disqualified leads. These are the worst kind because no amount of nurturing will turn them into prospects (let alone customers).

Not Having a Strategy from the Start

Don’t allow your sales teams to jump into qualifying sales leads without a strategy. They need to have goals, tools, and methods in place to help them succeed. Ensure they have the personas to target, sales qualifying questions to ask, and tools to make converting leads easier.

For example, they can use email outreach, demos, or even marketing content to push leads through to the sale. You can also employ methods like corporate gifting, which is now a common tactic for enticing leads to book calls (or even make a purchase).

Not Offering a Clear Next Step

Calls to action (CTAs) aren’t just for marketing teams to implement. Your sales teams also need to provide clear next steps to prospects each time. So after a discovery call, your sales reps can ask to schedule a demonstration. This can work whether the lead seems reluctant or highly interested. 

The idea is to keep the prospect engaged. A free trial offer is another great way to snag a lead who is interested but needs more convincing. Other CTAs you can use include:

  • Whitepapers
  • How-to videos
  • Case studies
  • Ebook 
  • Checklist
  • Guide
  • Webinars

You can send these via email, text, or other communications, so it’s easier for the prospect to convert to the next step.

Improve Your Prospect Qualification Process Today

With this guide in-hand, you can begin making improvements to your sales prospect qualification process. But don’t stop here. Continue iterating the steps and tools to see what works best for your sales teams. 

You may find your customers respond better to demos instead of a free trial. Or that they are more visual and prefer to watch webinars and how-to videos. 

Keep testing, even when you find your sweet spot. Because what works today won’t always work tomorrow. 

If you’d like to learn more about building a solid sales strategy, then watch the on-demand webinar “How Siteimprove saw 15x ROI from a single campaign” today!

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Peter Tarrant, Account Based Marketer, Tipalti

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