Talking to a lead could be a waste of time. If there is no chance that they turn into a customer, no matter how well they hypothetically fit into your business model, you shouldn’t spend resources pursuing them. Since we can’t know for certain who will be and won’t be a customer, we need some sort of standardized process in order to estimate who we should or shouldn’t pursue. This is known as lead qualification.
All prospects were at one time leads, but not all leads will become prospects. So, how can we determine which leads are most likely to become customers – and thereby qualify them? Typically, sales teams will do this through a discovery call. By asking a series of questions to the lead, we can ascertain whether or not they are in a position to buy and open to the idea of doing so.
Asking the right questions during such a call or meeting is essential to earning the lead’s trust and determining whether or not to proceed. If done properly discovery shows the lead the unique value that your company stands to offer them. Every firm should have a standardized process for this. A lot of people within sales advocate for SPIN selling today. Without writing an entire article on that, it can be summarized as a method of strategic questioning that leads to the potential customer making the case for your product to themselves, rather than you selling them on it.
There are a number of well-known factors that go into whether or not a lead should qualify, thereby becoming a prospect. At BIG, we see qualification as a sliding scale rather than a binary. It can be thought of as a percent match to an ideal. Some leads are more qualified than others, but there is not a “yes” list and a “no” list. You may be familiar with a standard list of questions asked of leads to determine whether or not to qualify them. Most small businesses have a vague idea of what questions to ask but do not do it in a systematic way. If we are going to get the most out of our qualification process, it needs to be systematic and consistent. One common method is called BANT. Think of the letters representing the 4 key qualifying factors, and not necessarily a sequenced barrage of questions. Just like the sales process we are leading into; the conversation should be natural and not an interrogation. Below is the order we suggest but be flexible.
Authority – Qualifications starts with a persona. This is the template against which we can match a lead. The more closely they resemble our ideal customer, the more qualified they are. When qualifying leads, it is important to remember that the better the match – the more qualified the lead, the higher probability of conversion. If our persona is a high level executive a CEO is a perfect match, a mid-level manager is a decent match, and a secretary is not a match at all. However, the persona is not the end of our qualification process.
Need – Next, we need to see if the lead has a problem we can actually solve. If the answer is no then there is little point in wasting either parties’ time unless there is the possibility for a referral. Speaking of secretaries and mid-level managers, our next consideration is the role of the lead. Just because someone is not an exact match does not mean they don’t have influence over someone who is. Secretaries and assistants can have a major impact on decisions that are made, so they should not be immediately discounted.
Timing – A natural transition out of need is timing. Yes, there may be a need but how urgent is addressing this need within the organization among other priorities? Gaining an understanding of the urgency around the need and an anticipated timeline, you can better assess how likely the lead is going to convert into a customer. If it is a priority, then it is also more likely to be funded, which naturally leads into…
Budget – If it still seems probable that there could be a conversion here, then we can start considering more objective concerns. The first is budgetary. Even if you’re talking to the perfect lead that is in love with your ideas, if they can’t pay it isn’t a sale. Somehow, the transaction has to be mutually beneficial. It’s important to remember this isn’t just a one way deal. You have to offer something worth more to them than the money you’re asking for it. Likewise, the product or service has to be available within a timeline that works for the customer. If you are only able to solve a problem tomorrow that they want solved today, this lead may not convert.
These are the sorts of questions that have to be asked during discovery. While directly asking the lead what their budget is may not be the best technique at all times, organizations need to develop ways of gathering this information. Without it, you are chasing leads in the dark. Once qualified, we will want to transition into the sales process itself, by digging a little deeper into the need and helping the prospect see how your solution will address their need. You need to get a lot of precise information in a short amount of time without it seeming like you are grilling the prospect. There are a number of techniques for this, but we will be discussing one in particular that works in almost any situation!