A Step-by-Step Process for Qualifying Sales Leads
Sales teams can sometimes be a little… shortsighted.
Consider this: prospecting is the number one concern for sales professionals. On the face of things, that’s entirely understandable – after all, the more time you spend speaking to prospects, the more deals you’ll close, right?
Not necessarily. The best salespeople understand that prospecting is only one side of the coin. In reality, identifying promising leads earlier in the sales process – and then converting them into sales – should also be a top priority. Too often, it just isn’t.
That’s why you need a tried-and-trusted process for qualifying your sales leads. Here’s how to do it:
1. Create a Crystal-Clear Buyer Profile
Ever tried your hand at the whole online dating scene?
Most online dating services ask you to share a few preferences. On a basic level, they want to know the area in which you’re looking to meet people. They might also dig a little deeper – what shared interests are you looking for? What qualities do you find most attractive in a partner?
In other words, they build up a profile of the sort of person you’re hoping to meet. While that profile might not result in you meeting the love of your life, at an absolute minimum it makes it more likely that you’ll at least be able to hold a decent conversation over dinner and drinks.
Sales is no different. If you don’t take the time to understand what you’re looking for in a buyer, how can you realistically expect to find them? Start by asking yourself the following:
- What specific niche does my buyer operate in?
- How senior are they?
- How big is their organization?
- Where are they located?
- How much do they understand about my service?
- What is their budget?
Once you know exactly who you’re looking for, it becomes far simpler to qualify leads that meet your profile – and to discard those that don’t.
2. Not Scoring Your Leads? Get Started!
So you’ve drawn up a buyer profile. That’s a good start – but it’s only a start.
Sadly for salespeople, not everyone who meets your profile will actually be in a position to buy right now. They might not have the budget. It might not be a priority at the moment. Or they might just have bought from one of your competitors.
That’s why the next step in the process is to start scoring your leads.
Lead scoring is about assessing the quality of a prospect based on the way they engage with your brand. After all, a lead who has clicked on your latest blog post is giving off fewer buying signals than someone who has read every one of your case studies and followed your business on LinkedIn and Twitter.
The more a lead interacts with your content and website, the higher their score. Once they reach a certain level, it’s time to give them a call.
3. Filter Out the Time-Wasters
While the first two steps will help you to identify the prospects who are most likely to buy from you, that can still leave you with a lot of white noise to cut through. You want to focus your energy on high-priority leads, but you’ve got a pipeline packed with dozens of potential buyers. There are only so many hours in the day. What do you do?
Looking out for red flags can save you a lot of wasted time down the line.
Your specific red flags will naturally vary based on what your business does and the scale at which it operates. But a few common examples include:
- A lack of engagement with your content
- Partially (or almost entirely) fake contact details
- A location that you would struggle – or be completely unable – to serve
- The wrong company size
- An industry where your solution isn’t that strong
4. Check Your CRM
In some professions, customers might be flattered to be served by multiple people. It’s never a bad thing when you’re in a bar or restaurant and more than one server asks if you have enough drinks, right?
Sales is different. No one wants to deal with multiple salespeople from the same organization – especially if they’ve already opened a dialogue. Best case scenario, it’ll make you look disorganized. Worst case, it might annoy them so much that it costs your company the deal.
Fortunately, it only takes a minute to check your CRM and ensure that none of your sales team are currently speaking to anyone else at the target company – or, indeed, with the same lead you’re about to contact. If they are, make sure you pass that lead onto the right person for follow-up.
5. Review Their Website
This is such a simple step, but a staggering number of salespeople don’t bother with it. Or they do, but they don’t really understand what they’re looking for in the first place.
Just as a TV salesperson speaking to someone in a Patriots jersey will inevitably highlight how fantastic it is to watch football in ultra-HD and with full surround sound, you need to find your own “in.”
Let’s say you’re selling an email automation service. Does your prospect’s website already have an autoresponder set up? Does it appear to tie into their wider marketing funnel, or are there some potential leaks that your product could plug? Are there any other quick wins you can share to get the prospect onside?
A lead is never truly qualified until you’ve taken the time to properly understand their current situation.
6. Understand That Interest ≠ Intent
As salespeople, it’s all too easy to leap to conclusions.
We want more leads, so we sometimes see opportunity where none exists.
This is a bad habit. The sooner you cut it out, the sooner you’ll be able to focus your attention on the real opportunities.
The simplest way to do this? Ask the right questions at the right time (and the right time is almost always “as soon as possible”).
For instance, if your prospect tells you that they normally buy from one of your competitors but that they’re interested in seeing your information, ask them:
- What would make you decide to switch vendors?
- When did you last buy from your current provider?
- How many other companies have you bought from in the last six months?
As with many of the other steps in this process, it’s all about using your intuition – and as much information as you can gather – to separate the non-buyers from the red-hot leads.
7. Know Your Competition
If you don’t know who you’re up against, it’s much harder to craft a compelling message that ultimately persuades a prospect to buy from you, rather than someone else.
Don’t be afraid to ask who you’re competing against. Which similar vendors has your lead worked with in the past? How recently did they last work with them? Or are they evaluating your solution against taking things in house?
What do they love about their current setup? What do they hate?
And, most importantly, what criteria will they be using to ultimately make the decision about whether or not to buy from you? Is it about price, timeframe, features, or something else?
When you drill down to what they’re really interested in, and who else could be doing it for them, you’ll be in a much better position to sell your product in a way that resonates with your prospect.
8. Clarify Their Decision-Making Process
Once you’ve been through the other steps in this process, you should be left with a lead that’s almost qualified. But not completely. Unfortunately, a prospect can tick every other box, only for their decision-making process to let them down.
So why is this such a key factor? Think about it this way…
- If I’m selling a low-price, low-margin product, I probably can’t afford to attend a whole series of proposal meetings and pitches with different parties.
- On the flip side, if my product is complex and requires a lengthy lead time, it’s doubtful that I’ll be able to sell to a prospect who needs a solution right now.
Find out as much as you can about the decision-making process. How many stakeholders are involved? Do they work together, or are they based all over the world? And how long does it typically take them to make their mind up on a purchase? Keep all of this in mind as you plan how (or whether) to move forward.
Better Qualification, More Deals
Sure, that can seem like a lot to run through every time you find a potential prospect.
But this isn’t about making your prospecting more difficult, or about driving a wedge between your sales team and the marketing department who pass on all those leads.
It’s simply about ensuring that your salespeople are spending their time in the right places, and that they’re concentrating on those leads that have the best chance of closing.