The Ultimate Guide To Sales Qualification
Before we get going looking at the finer details of sales qualification let’s just be clear on exactly why this is such an important aspect of sales.
- It stops us spending time on deals we can’t win
- It helps us channel our time towards deals that will close this month
- It ensures we’re dealing with the correct people with authority to make decisions.
- It prevents inaccurate forecasting and falsely setting others expectations
What is Sales Qualification?
In it’s simplest form, sales qualification is a questioning strategy. We use strategic questions to qualify specific aspects of a sale.
We sometimes refer to these questions as ‘tough’ questions because genuine buyers can answer them easily, yet tyre-kickers and time wasters will tend to struggle with them. The longer we leave it to answer these questions the harder it can become to ask them.
What is the Criteria?
I’m sure you’ve probably heard of BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing) but I’m going to show you how to improve this.
The top performing Sales People use a more effective sales approach. Try working your opportunities like this, conduct your sales qualification thoroughly and you’ll instantly see the benefits.
Champion, Need, Money, Authority, Timing
Here is how it works and further along in this article, we’ll show you how to use this method to qualify your sales pipeline and help you define ‘next actions’ to move your accounts forward, qualify them out or get them over the finish line…
What is a Champion & Why are they included in sales qualification criteria?
A Champion is someone who likes you and your product or service and sees a value in your solution. I’ve lost deals in the past where I’ve been outsold by a better Sales Person whose Champion was more senior than mine. Ideally, your Champion will have a significant degree of authority or be the MD within your target business but just remember you can have multiple Champions on any one account. A similar principal to key account management in that the more contacts you have the better. The simple fact is, you should work on the assumption, you cannot win a deal without one.
Champions are critical because:
- They can help you navigate accounts from the inside
- They can be your voice when you’re not there
- They provide access to authority when you might struggle otherwise
- Without one you will struggle to win that deal
How Do You Use Champions To Win Deals?
The idea is to align yourself with your Champion and gently help them understand that yes, you’ll likely get a sale, but there will be a direct benefit for them if they collaborate with you to achieve this joint goal.
For example, if you have programming automation software, the Buying Authority might be a Technical Director but your Champions would likely be the programmers themselves, as your offering a solution that removes headaches from their daily work.
How to identify a Champion
It’s all about the language we use to communicate with each other. Listen for the signals. Collaborative wording such as ‘we need to’ or ‘let’s try’. The interesting thing is that by instigating these kinds of discussions you should be able to gauge how strong a Champion this person could be.
I recently collaborated with a Champion to produce a business case listing training outcomes and key learning points for a Telesales team. We won that deal working together.
Why does a Champion feature first in the criteria?
Because it helps you focus your attention on creating great relationships and stops us focusing so much on the transactional nature of the engagement at the beginning. In this day and age we should be very relationship-centric with our sales approach. You need to build a Champion as early as possible.
Establishing, Qualifying & Developing Need
It’s a fact, until you have successfully qualified ‘Need’ you have no opportunity to handle so there’s no point in trying to progress as you’ll simply be unsuccessful. You need to establish that if you can provide a solution to a challenge or increase profits or productivity for a company that they would have an interest in pursuing that line of enquiry.
So how do we qualify need? Well, it’s about questioning again. Your ability to craft great open questions can play a big part in defining your success as a sales person. Good conversations are formed on good questions. Here’s some different types of questions you can use:
We use open questions to get elaborate responses and this means avoiding asking questions that will leave us open to an early ‘No’. The simplest way to handle this is to prefix your questions with the following words:
- Who are the key people involved in making a decision like this?
- How long has that been an issue for?
- What was behind that choice?
We use closed questions to qualify the responses we get from our open questions to help qualify our own understanding and increase our alignment with our Prospects.
- Is that kind of investment going to be a problem?
- Is it going to be a problem this month?
- Will it work for you if…
Drilling Down 3 Times:
As Sales People we tend to be optimists and in the sales environment, we’re frequently told what we want to hear. This in itself is dangerous so best practice says we should drill down through three levels of questioning before you can say you’ve done a great job with your sales qualification.
Again, avoid closed questions here and focus more on outcomes.
- What effect would/did that have on your bottom-line?
- What happens if you do nothing?
- How have you addressed this in the past and what effect did that have?
Conditional questions are in fact closed questions and can be very powerful indeed as they tend to cut through the fluff and get to the point very quickly. Essentially a conditional question provides a degree of protection for a Sales Person. They are usually used to leverage deals and move them forward.
- If we can do that for you, would you go ahead today?
- If we offer a 10% discount, will you raise a PO today?
The great thing about conditional questions is that you’re offering on the condition of acceptance. This stops us negotiating before we have a deal agreed in principal and prevents conceding unnecessary ground early on. These incentives are not offered unless accepted.
The important thing is to always lead with the benefit to the customer. Why? It’s because of the way our brains process information. If we lead with the benefit that’s what they will focus on yet if you lead with the commitment you’re asking for that will remain the point of focus and the question is less powerful.
Keep it simple
There is such a thing as death by questioning! Put significant thought into your questioning strategy and you’ll notice you’re having better conversations which are easier to steer the way you want them to go. Here’s some more thoughts on crafting questions to get you going.
It’s a common misconception that qualifying authority in an account is just about identifying Decision Makers. In reality it’s about gaining a full understanding of the decision making process. This means who signs it off, escalates it, authorises it and who writes the PO? Also consider if legal or procurement involved
This is important because if the person that signs it off, signs it off, but the finance person who raise the PO isn’t there for 2 weeks which take you into next month, it could play havoc on your forecasting and leave gaps in your target.
In my opinion talking budgets can present challenges of it’s own.
If you’re a new business hunter, proactively seeking new opportunities, it’s very unlikely the people you engage with will have a budget for your product or service (as they most likely didn’t see you coming in their crystal ball), so asking “What’s your budget?” will probably not get you the response you’re hoping for.
Instead, we should discuss Money. Why? Because we make buying decisions emotionally but we justify them intellectually. What does that mean? It means if your prospect is really seeing the true value in your offering, they’re likely to find funding from somewhere as opposed to asking you to call back in 6-12 months when budgets are reset and you’ve missed them again.
You have not qualified Money until you have agreed a deal in principal at that value. Don’t forget you need to be drilling down and qualifying responses at this critical point.
Too many of us focus our discussions around start dates for projects or dates to get going with work. I think there’s a far smarter way to approach this. You see, by instigating conversations about go live dates, or project completion dates, it enables you to maintain far better control of your sales process which means you can advise on lead times and create a bit of urgency when required which can be incredibly helpful.
Making Sales Qualification Work For You
Ok, so this is going to be your Game Changer. This is so easy to use and effective that I can explain it quite quickly. First, draw a grid that reflects your sales qualification criteria with a section for recording next actions like this:
It’s simply a case of putting ticks in the boxes. If you have any hesitation at all, the safest thing to do is put a cross in that column, go back and re-qualify this aspect of the deal as a next action to move it forward. This can never do any harm. Kidding yourself that you’ve done a great job when you haven’t will.To really make this work hard for us, we need to ensure we’re inwardly honest ourselves when we review our pipeline or open deals. Remember, if you’ve really qualified any aspect of this deal you’ll have been thorough and drilled down 3 times with your questioning.
Sales Qualification Exercise
This is the exercise that will help you buy into this method of qualification. Look at the last 5 deals you were involved in that you won and do the same for the last 5 deals you lost.
Again, I can’t stress the importance of being honest and disciplined with yourself otherwise you’ll end up with a false sense of security and probably a disappointed Sales Director when your forecast falls to bits.
Analyse those opportunities against these criteria and you’ll notice 2 distinct trends:
- 99% of the deals you lose will have 3/4 ticks or less
- 99% of the deals you win have all 5 sales qualification criteria ticked off.
Sales Qualification for Sales Managers
The exercise above can be an exceptionally good tool for Sales Managers who want to conduct weekly or monthly, pipeline or deal reviews with their team members.
Guess what? It’s not just prospects and customers who tell you want to hear, your sales team does it too!
Sales people can put a lot of effort into creating opportunities so some may become defensive about poorly qualified opportunities in their pipeline. Expect it because it happens
The key thing is to get your team sharp with qualification and focusing on the deals that they can win this month, while proactively seeking new opportunities.
The best practice for this would be to incorporate your qualification criteria into your CRM system so you can track opportunities far more effectively. We advocate salesforce.com but this can be done on any CRM system. Start using our sales qualification tips today and you’ll be unconsciously competent in no time.
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