Qualification is an essential skill for professional sales people. It doesn’t matter how well a salesperson can overcome objections, ask questions or go for the close – if the opportunity wasn’t properly qualified, none of those skills can turn a non-opportunity into a closed deal.
Qualification and what that means in sales is a heavily debated topic. Therefore, there is no one definition of what sales qualification is. Every single sales team and organization also has unique qualification criteria. The ideal customer profile is not the same across companies. Still, certain best practices are agnostic across all organizations and industries. Here are 5 tips that you can start implementing right away to improve your qualification process.
One of the biggest mistakes salespeople make is that they qualify their prospects once in the beginning of the sales process, then never qualify them again. The buyer’s world is constantly changing and what is true today, may not be the case weeks or months down the road. What might be frustrating them today, may not be true when the salesperson speaks to the buyer next.
To counteract this, sellers should always be evaluating whether the opportunity they are working on is still a winnable opportunity or if the buyer’s needs have changed and the opportunity no longer exists.
Every sales leader wants sellers focused on the most winnable opportunities. If sellers qualify buyers throughout the sales process, only real, viable and qualified opportunities remain in the sales funnel.
In a perfect world, a buyer would move linearly across sales stages and make decisions in a predictable and logical manner. If you’ve been in sales for a few months, you know that the buyer’s journey isn’t linear at all. In fact, buyers move forwards, backwards, and skip steps when making a purchasing decision.
If the buying journey isn’t linear, then why do sellers tend to only move opportunities forward, and not backwards? This goes back to the point raised earlier - one of the reasons this happens is that sellers still view qualification as a step in the process, not as the whole sales process itself. Sellers also have an expectation that deals always move forward.
That expectation is not in line with reality. If sellers can recognize that decision journeys are not linear and that qualification is a process, it forces sellers to constantly reevaluate the health of an opportunity. This leads to better prioritization of opportunities and higher close rates.
Think back to a time that you personally made a big decision and purchase – new car, new computer or home, etc. Did you suddenly decide to start looking for one of those things or was it a result of a change in your life that prompted you to start looking?
B2B buyers act in the same way. Buyers make a purchase based on a change that happened in their world and as a result, are looking to fix, accomplish or avoid something. Buyers don’t always immediately reveal the change that prompted them to look.
Change is not, “I want to get more accurate data” or “I want to avoid high turnover of my workforce next year” – those are examples of a successful outcome. Sellers need to peel the onion back and find out what is actually driving a buyer to make a purchase. For example:
“We just acquired a company that runs completely different systems than ours, it is nearly impossible to get accurate insights.”
This is a change that requires immediate action. Once the seller uncovers the change in the prospect’s world, they can more effectively qualify and drive the opportunity. If there is no change, it may not be a viable opportunity and may need to be disqualified.
There is nothing groundbreaking about the fact that at any given time, only a small percentage of your market is in an active buying cycle for your solution. However, salespeople tend to forget this fact when they engage with a prospect in qualification. Just because they agree to speak with you, does NOT mean they are actively buying.
The prospect may just be looking to gather information, curious about your solution or is just now beginning to feel frustration with their current situation. It doesn’t mean that these prospects should be ignored but they certainly need to be approached differently than someone who has already made up their mind about going through a buying cycle.
One of the quickest and most effective ways to determine if a prospect is in an active buying cycle or not, is to determine what, if anything, has changed in their world. If that change was impactful enough, then there is probably an active opportunity. Without change, there is no opportunity.
Giving a demo to a prospect hoping that they see something they like in the presentation is not qualification – that’s blindly throwing darts at a wall hoping you get a bullseye. Qualification requires a conversation to discover if the prospect is in an active buying cycle, what has changed in their world, and uncover the outcomes they are trying to achieve.
Only after you determine those things is it appropriate to give the prospect a demo of your solution. Giving a demo before they are qualified may lead to your sellers pigeonholing themselves. True qualification requires asking questions and uncovering key information about the prospect, not just giving the demo and hoping something sticks.
There are many more elements of qualification than just these 5 tips. Good sales qualification processes are based on the behavior of the buyer. Whether prospecting, qualifying or closing a sale, placing the buyer’s journey and behavior at the center of your sales efforts will ensure your opportunities are qualified and most likely to close.