The Beginner’s Guide to Sales Qualification

Sales qualification processes

The destination of every sales journey is converting the client. However, to do that you must know whether your business and the prospect are a good match. This typically happens during the discovery call. That’s the tricky part. And that’s where sales qualification can help.

Sales qualification is the process where a sales representative decides whether a prospect is able to become a buyer. People in sales use an ideal customer profile as a reference in judging whether to pursue a prospect. Therefore, posing the correct questions to your prospect will help you see if you should pursue the relationship, and in what manner. This guide covers not only the essential aspects of a sales qualification process, which includes proven frameworks on which you can rely. You will also learn when to disqualify prospects and what to listen for in conversations. Not every lead can be converted into a customer, despite the best efforts of the salesperson.

Evaluation at Every Step

The sales consulting company Inflexion Point maintains that the qualification process is hierarchal in nature and happens at 3 levels:

  • Organizational level
  • Opportunity level
  • Stakeholder level

Your sales team must engage in a qualification process at every level in order to effectively evaluate prospects.

Organizational Level

At this elementary level, you are deciding whether you should continue looking into the prospect. Hopefully, your business uses customer personas which your sales rep can refer to during the qualification process. Find out if the prospect fits your customer persona. What’s the size of the prospect’s company? Do they work in an industry which you target? Are they located in your company’s area of interest? These are some of the questions that will help you in further qualifying the prospect.

Opportunity Level

The sales qualification process at this stage identifies a particular pain point which your business can alleviate. At this stage, you discover whether the prospect stands to gain from your product/service.

Stakeholder Level

Once you’ve reached this phase, it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of the qualification process. The first thing you should learn is whether the prospect is a decision maker who has the authority to make a purchase. Is someone else a part of the decision making process? Can their budget afford the purchase?

A good way of gauging whether a prospect is a decision maker is by inquiring about the company’s long-term goals. If they can’t give you a straight answer, then chances are that they can’t pull the trigger on the sale.

Filtering Out the Unqualified Prospects

Disqualify prospects by starting out at the organizational level and then move forward. So, for example, if an individual doesn’t match any of the boxes on your customer persona’s checklist, then you can disqualify them immediately.

If they aren’t close to your ideal customer, then don’t spend resources trying to market to them.

In a similar vein, even in cases where a prospect meets every criterion of your qualification, if there isn’t an issue that they need solving then you should cut them loose.

Only if your offering meets their needs should you move them into the sales process.

Disqualification is an Integral Part of Qualification

Sales representatives instinctively hate to remove prospects from their lists. This is a mistake because quantity over quality is paramount when qualifying leads.

Investing time trying to convert every prospect is not only impossible; it’s also a waste of resources. Resources that could be better spent attending to prospects that are more likely to make a purchase.

The Importance of Questions

Qualifying questions are the way a sales rep decides whether a prospect meets the criteria.

Try to make your questions open ended because this will help prospects to be more open and informative. On the other hand, if you frame your questions in a close-ended manner, for example, “Will our service will be useful for you at this moment?” you push the prospect up against the wall.

Instead, ask “How high on your list of priorities is this service?” The response you get will be more informative revelatory.

Most Important Qualification Frameworks

A sales qualification framework is a methodology used by sales reps to help them rule out prospects that are highly unlikely to become customers. Qualification frameworks contain aspects which all successful deals share which guide salespeople in their qualifying.

Let’s take a closer look at the most popular and effective qualification frameworks in sales qualification.

BANT

BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline is a staple of sales qualification. This framework was introduced by IBM and is used by various companies in many different fields.

As the name indicates, it’s used to learn the following:

  • Does the prospect have the budget to make the purchase?
  • Does the prospect have the authorization to make the purchase?
  • Does the prospect have the need for the product/service?
  • When will the prospect make the purchase?

Let’s take a look at the most common BANT questions that help sales rep identify possible opportunities for making a sale.

When determining whether the prospect has an adequate budget, the sales rep typically asks:

  • Is this service/product important enough that you set aside funds for it?
  • If so, what is the size of the budget allocated for this product/service?
  • Are there any other investments that you’re making?

The next set of qualifying questions help a sales rep learn whether the prospect has the authority to sign off on a purchase:

  • Is there someone you need to run this offer by?
  • Did you personally buy similar products/services in the past?
  • Whose budget will be used to buy this product/service?

Even if the prospect can make the purchase, if they don’t have a need for your offering, then there’s no point in engaging them further. These questions identify a need for your product/service:

  • With what issues is your business struggling?
  • What’s the cause of these problems, and how important is it for you to solve them?
  • Why haven’t you solved the problem by now?

And finally, when is the prospect ready to make the purchase:

  • Are you able to use the product/service immediately?
  • Do you have any other concerns?
  • How quickly do you need a solution?

Even though this framework has received a fair amount of criticism, much of it is unjustified. Many sales reps make the mistake of treating BANT as a list of questions with which to interrogate prospects.

And ultimately this “checklist approach” will not produce the intended results because the sales rep is not really paying attention to the responses.

When using this framework, you have to fight the urge to quiz the prospect by firing off a series of questions, and instead ask questions that expand and dig deeper.

Let’s take a look at an example of the “checklist approach” to understand the dangers of using BANT:

Sales Rep: “Do you have funds set aside for this solution?”

Prospect: “Yes.”

Sales Rep: “Excellent. And who is authorized to sign the deal?”

Prospect: “I am.”

Sales Rep: “Ok, great. And it seems the system you’re now using is difficult to use and impossible to scale.”

Prospect: “Yes, it is.”

Sales Rep: “And do you have a specific date in mind for when you want to implement the solution?”

Prospect: “I’m not yet sure, but I think in a couple of months”.

Sales Rep: “That sounds good. In that case, I suggest we organize a demo so that you can see how well the solution fits in your organization”.

Prospect: “I’d like to first do a little bit more research on all the available solutions on the market. I’ll get in touch with you in a couple of weeks.”

The sales rep made a mistake about not fleshing out the important qualifying information, and instead stuck to a script. The rep didn’t learn anything about the prospect, the decision making process or the reason for implementing the solution in a couple of months.

The point about decision making is very important today because there are several stakeholders necessary to close a deal. An entire team is involved in the process. Therefore, you need to drill carefully until you identify the job titles, priorities and contact information of all the stakeholders. The more information you have on them, the higher the chance that you’ll close on the opportunity.

Therefore, in order to deploy BANT properly, think of the framework is a general guideline and not like a checklist. For instance, there isn’t a particular order according to which you should ask questions. BANT is meant to help establish a dialogue which will help the sales rep get all the necessary qualifying data.

What to Keep in Mind with BANT

There are a few other issues when using this model in today’s marketplace. Firstly, focusing too much on the prospect’s budget is less important now than it was a couple of decades ago.

If you are a SaaS company, then there is no reason to focus on budgetary questions because these companies today ask anywhere between $40 to thousands of dollars per month.

Therefore, the budget doesn’t really present for their clients because the returns will more than make up for their subscription.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t hold true for other industries – like real estate for example.

The next thing you should keep an eye out for is determining how important the problem is to them. And how quickly they want to solve it? In your conversation, try to see whether there’s anywhere issue which is presenting with difficulties. Instead of focusing on the budget, your qualifying process will be more effective if you can figure out how urgently they need to solve the problem.

And finally, try to learn about the pace of decision making in the prospect’s company. Knowing whether you have to wait for months of paper pushing until a purchase is approved or if you can convert the prospect with a single pitch will better prepare you for closing the deal.

MEDDIC (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion)

This framework was popularized by the technology company PTC, and demands that a salesperson gets down to the nitty-gritty of the prospect’s purchasing process.

Ideally, the sales rep should try to learn if there’s someone within the prospect’s organization who is willing to sell your product/service in house.

As a result, this framework was effective in predicting the likelihood of closing deals. MEDDIC gives you an in-depth understanding of how and why your prospect buys, which is vital information in the qualifying process.

MEDDIC is great if your product/service is either expensive or will cause a disruption in the prospect’s company if implemented.

FAINT (Funds, Authority, Interest, Need, Timing)

This framework is based on the fact that a large number of purchases are not planned for. That means that most purchases won’t be factored into a budget.

Therefore, the priority of the sales rep is to identify companies that have the potential to make a purchase. Another feature of this framework is generating interest in your solution. In other words, convey to the prospect what their reality looks like when they implement your solution into their organization.

Last Word on Sales Qualification

When you’re on the sales call, pay attention to the tone of their voice and not just what they’re saying. Also, some people won’t flat out tell you that they are not interested. You will have to be on the lookout for some red flags.

If a prospect’s answers are inconsistent, then this could mean that they either don’t have sufficient understanding of the matter. In these cases, try to have them hand you off to someone who is more familiar with the topic.

Short answers present another red flag. Much like in other types of relationships, if the person is genuinely interested in having a conversation with you, the dialogue will flow naturally.

If the prospect is responding with short answers, it could either mean that they aren’t interested in your solution or are wary of your offering. Try to speak to another employee if at all possible, or disqualify them and move on.

A successful deal doesn’t only result in revenue, but it could mean referrals and the ability to upsell in the future. This is why your sales qualification process must be as accurate and effective as possible.