I’m not sure if you know this about the internet, but you can find A LOT of opinions on it.
Whoa-oh! Mind-blowing, right?
In the corner of the internet that houses sales knowledge and sales gurus, you can find a ton of people sharing their thoughts and ideas. You don’t have to go too far down that particular rabbit-hole to figure out that the advice and viewpoints there can sometimes be contradictory.
Take, for example, lead qualification.
One sales thought leader: BANT is dead!
A sales consultant: Long live BANT!
Another sales coach: You don’t need a lead qualification framework at all!
And so on.
This division tells me that, while there are best practices, there are no hard and fast rules. Do what works for your sales team and your company. You do you, even if it seems odd to other people.
For instance, you can, like me, prefer Grease 2 over the original. No judgment. (But if you’ve never seen this so-bad-it’s-good sequel, Keri Russell is definitely judging you.)
How to boost your lead qualification process in your own way (with some expert guidance)
There’s always going to be a new trend, another sales hack. Someone peddling cheap tricks, cheats, and get-there-faster schemes.
What will actually provide results is keeping to the fundamentals, with an openness to new ideas. These new ideas won’t be quick switch-outs or shortcuts. Instead, they can incrementally lead to better iterations of essential sales processes.
So, with that in mind, here are some ideas from sales thought leaders to help you look at your lead qualification process with fresh eyes.
Define lead terminology on your own terms
How do you and your team talk about your leads and lead qualification?
There are pages and pages of information about what makes a lead qualified and how to define a marketing qualified lead or a sales qualified lead. The secret is that the actual terms and definitions don’t matter too much.
The real key is having everyone on your sales team and the marketing team on the same page about them. (We’ve talked about the importance of having alignment between sales and marketing before.)
What if your lead qualification process diverges from “the norm”? You might need different language to go with it.
For example, in SaaS lead generation, not every visitor is going to fill out a form or watch a demo. So, the folks at Drift switched to using the term ‘conversation-qualified leads’ (CQLs) as a way to identify and move qualified leads to sales as quickly as possible.
Here’s Drift’s definition of their new term: “A CQL is someone who has expressed intent to buy during a one-to-one conversation with either A) an employee at your company, or B) an intelligent sales assistant (bot).”
Thinking about and following what will work best for your workflows, your sales team, and your buyers is ultimately better than trying to conform to standard definitions.
Sales-ready vs. change-ready leads
The leads coming in should be of fairly good quality. Your lead qualification process shouldn’t be an onerous task. The top-level process should weed out the glaring misfits.
From there, it will be hard to qualify or disqualify based on database info, like company size, industry, etc.—these will give you an idea but not the whole story.
Some lead qualification processes will be focused on sales readiness—how primed a lead is to buy.
As B2B sales coach Brian Iannarino points out, what buying a new solution really means is making a change. A more precise way to qualify for readiness lies with the questions, Is this lead ready to make a change? Are they ready to solve a pain point for the first time or move to a new solution?
“Disqualifying before you discover whether or not the client has a compelling reason to change is a mistake. And it is a fallacy to believe that you can discern this information from looking at a name,” says Iannarino.
When selling to businesses, getting buy-in on change can be hard. Qualifying based on change-readiness and then helping lead that change through the sales process could be a vital mindset shift.
Beware of temporary lead qualification blindness
Have your reps start off the qualification process with good questions and active listening. Don’t let them get ahead of themselves. Selling is the heart of it, but you have to put in the prep work before you start.
If it’s a big account or dream client, one that you would love to have on your client roster, qualifying is still important. Excitement is great, but knowing how to use that enthusiasm constructively is what’s going to close.
As author and sales thought leader Jill Konrath will tell you, even she got blinded by a big-name company lead. She once put way too much work into a phone call and proposal before she realized the deal was going nowhere fast.
On reflection, she should have taken a minute to calm down from the excitement of potentially landing a huge client. She should have stuck to her qualification process and asked the tough questions, even if she knew she might not like the answers.
From Konrath: “It’s good for both you and your prospect to dig in and ask the hard questions. At first, they often feel inappropriate, especially when you feel like you should be ‘selling.’
But in reality, they are exactly what you should be doing—helping potential clients make the best possible decision for their business.”
How can you harness excitement on big accounts to qualify better and help your sales reps be more efficient?
Let leads disqualify themselves
Have sales reps walk through the situation or pain point with the lead. Get the lead, not the sales rep, to confirm whether your solution will work for their business.
Let them know upfront that you won’t try to force the issue if it looks like there’s not a fit. “We’re not for everyone” or “This might not be a fit for you” are powerful phrases in sales.
Leads will appreciate the honesty and know that you’re not selling snake oil or a one-size-fits all solution. There will be cases where your solution won’t work and that’s okay.
There are other ways to give leads an opportunity to bow out gracefully, like asking questions that point at disqualifying factors. Possible questions could include: Does this sound like something you’d use regularly? What features are non-negotiable in a solution like this?
Your salespeople can filter the lead based on their answers. Maybe they have a pain point that hasn’t hit the critical mass required to use your solution successfully. It could be that your solution doesn’t offer a feature the lead has identified as crucial.
Or, test out their level of commitment. Are they serious or are they just kicking tires? Try micro-commitments or micro-steps, as author and sales consultant Mark Hunter suggests:
“One of the fastest ways to begin the qualification process is to ask the lead to make a small commitment. I call them ‘micro-steps.’ The objective is to begin understanding if the lead really is a valid prospect.
One micro-step might be that the lead is willing to meet with you in person or on a conference call. If the best the lead will do is read your email, we have to question if they’re worth pursuing.”
Your salespeople are probably already using micro-steps in their sales process, but maybe not thinking about them that way. Using commitment level as another qualifying factor could be a way to strengthen your lead qualification.
Automate without losing your humanity
Think about the state of your team’s sales automation:
- Does your CRM automatically give you info about a lead company to give you a qualification headstart?
- Do you have forms that ask the right questions to get you the answers you need to qualify?
- What about auto-responders?
- Do you have instant chat on your marketing website to get lead questions answered right away and with minimal sales rep time?
The true beauty of all this is when you have your tech do the tedious stuff. This could be calculating how many touch points a lead has had with your company or filtering out ‘no-go’ leads, such as ones with fake contact info or non-decision-makers, like students or interns.
Automation can help your sales reps become more productive and efficient. At the same time, though, it can’t take the place of empathetic, helpful sales reps.
An algorithm isn’t going to ask a lead about how his recent vacation went. Well, it could, but it would come out exactly like... a robot asking about someone’s vacation.
Steli Efti, CEO of Close.io, has a great analogy and approach for how companies should incorporate sales automation:
“I like to think that automation for sales reps is kind of like the Iron Man suit for Tony Stark. The suit on its own doesn’t do much, but it when it’s combined with Tony’s wit and talents, it becomes an unfair advantage.”
Go beyond your CRM when analyzing lead data
To improve your lead qualification process, look at the kinds of previous customers that have churned or current ones that are not a good fit. With the benefit of hindsight:
- Were there any warning signs?
- Why were they not profitable as customers/clients?
- What were their biggest internal pain points they were trying to solve?
- What were their biggest complaints about your product/service?
Okay, now what about the leads who left your sales funnel before buying?
- Do these leads have attributes in common?
- Where are these leads coming from?
It’s a good idea to analyze the numbers, yes, but don’t forget about another important source of data: your team. Talk to them about lead qualification, the quality and quantity of leads they’re receiving, and any challenges or opportunities they’re seeing.
As sales consultant Jim Keenan suggests, sitting down with your sales reps and just chatting about how things are going will give you insight that goes beyond the data. No agenda is required, and no expectations. Just a dialogue.
Keenan explains, “We look at data from the CRM everyday; average time to close, pipeline, win loss, average deal size, and lead conversion rate. We look at quota attainment, customer buying habits, lead scoring and lead generation. But, the best data goes beyond the numbers. The best data rests not in your CRM but in your sales people and it can’t be put into a dashboard.”
While it might be too big of an undertaking to implement all the ideas and strategies outlined here, they are a perfect jumping-off point for making your lead qualification more accurate and efficient.
Lots to think about, cool rider.