The SDR + AE's guide to sales qualification

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Copper Staff

Contributors from members of the Copper team

According to the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP), the quality of a lead is the top concern of most sales teams and sales reps—and up to 67% of lost deals stem from a rep not qualifying a prospect properly.

And according to Marketing Sherpa, 57% of B2B companies say that converting qualified leads to paying customers is a top priority.

A qualified lead is a quality lead that can quickly move through the sales funnel. In this article, we’re going to teach you what a qualified lead is and how to move through the sales qualification process quickly, with easy-to-implement processes for a customer journey.

First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what a qualified lead is.

What is a qualified lead?

what's a qualified lead?

Qualified leads are prospects (potential customers) that:

  • Express interest in your product or service. That could mean they expressed it verbally to you, maybe at a trade show. Or these days, it might mean they’ve downloaded a product guide on your company’s website.
  • Need what you’re selling. It may seem obvious that a qualified prospect has a genuine need for what you’re selling. They know your product/service can help them and other potential customers. But it’s just as important that you’re sure that what you’re selling can truly help them. They may have a broad idea of what your product can do, but you should make sure that they’ll really see benefits based on your (more in-depth) knowledge.
  • Have a budget for your product or service. If your prospect can’t pay for what you’re selling, then you shouldn’t waste your time trying to qualify them, even if they’re the most qualified prospect in the world. Disqualify leads that can’t pay.
  • Have the power to purchase. Typically, a sales rep should speak directly with the decision-maker. This is the person who has a company credit card or who can pull the trigger on a purchase. Sometimes, sales reps need to go through a prospect who can encourage a decision-maker to make a purchase. For example, if you sell SEO software, you might speak directly with the SEO Manager who reports to the VP of Marketing. The VP needs to make the purchase decision but has limited SEO knowledge and will probably do what the SEO Manager recommends.

These are the two primary types of leads.

There are generally two types of qualified leads: A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

  • A Marketing Qualified Lead is qualified by the marketing department. This typically happens via inbound marketing (like website content, an ebook, or an email drip campaign). For example, a prospect who visits your blog and requests more information is a marketing qualified lead.
  • A Sales Qualified Lead is a lead qualified by the sales department. Our example above of a sales rep meeting a prospect at a trade-show is an example of an SQL. Another example for the sales process would be if your manager gives you a list of numbers to cold call, and you qualify those prospects during a cold call.

Use BANT to qualify leads.

use B.A.N.T. to qualify leads (budget, authority, need, timeline).

BANT is a popular acronym sales reps use for moving leads through the qualifying process, and it refers to many of the traits of qualified buyers above. Let’s take a look at how you, or a sales team, could use it to help qualify your own leads:

Budget

Like we mentioned above, if your prospect doesn’t have the budget for your product, then they’re immediately disqualified in the sales process.

It’s essential that you spend your time focused on qualified sales leads who can pay for your service. Going back and forth with a prospect who can’t pay anyways is a colossal waste of your time and energy.

Authority

Next, it’s vital that you speak with a person who can make the purchase decision or influence the decision-maker (like with the SEO Manager example above).

If you aren’t speaking with the decision-maker or an influencer, then you’re wasting your time on an unqualified prospect—you should be speaking to the person who can make the decision to buy.

Need

Your prospect must express a need for your product or service. In addition to their own expression of need, over time, you’ll learn which prospects are best to reach out to based on certain criteria representing “need.”

For example, let’s say you sell a payroll solution for restaurants. You discover that you typically sell to restaurants with 10 or more employees that don’t currently have a solution.

You can take that need and use it to qualify prospects in your initial outreach. Open-ended questions tend to be the go-to when selling to potential customers,, but yes or no questions have their place too.

You might qualify need with a question like this:

How many employees do you have? And, are you currently using a payroll solution?

Timeline

It’s important to know your prospect’s buying timeline for several reasons:

  • You can use your CRM to set follow-ups during long sales cycles, so you don’t miss out on an opportunity.
  • You want to know if your prospect needs a solution quickly. And, you want to know if they’re considering other vendors. This means you need to be on this lead until it closes and pay extra care to qualified leads who are looking to make quick decisions.
an example of a home-buying timeline.
For example, the lead qualification timeline for a homebuyer would look very different from, say, someone shopping for a new pair of shoes.

Qualifying questions and how to ask and write them.

A qualifying question helps the salesperson determine their prospect's fit for one criterion. That might be need, budget, authority, sense of urgency, or another customer journey factor.

Qualifying questions are usually open-ended, meaning they require more than a yes or no answer.

Here are some qualifying questions that can help you move prospects through BANT.

  • Budget: Is this project important enough that you’ve set aside a budget for it?
  • Authority: Who will make the purchase decision?
  • Need: Could I ask what pains you’re having that our product/service might alleviate?
  • Timeline: How fast are you looking to decide on this product/service?

Use these pro-tips to qualify a prospect.

You don’t want to waste time on prospects that won’t lead to a deal. So, it’s best to qualify (or disqualify) a prospect in the sales funnel ASAP. Check out these two pro-tips to qualify leads quickly during conversation:

1. Prospects express concern or are hesitant.

    Contrary to what might seem like a bad thing, it’s actually good when prospects start to question, complain, or make excuses when going over potential marketing qualified leads.

    Why?

    Because what they really want is for you to alleviate their worry. They want to be certain that your product or service can help them. That’s why they’re double-checking.

    “Yeah, but how will you really improve my email open rates?” Your answer to a question like that can move the deal to the next stage of lead qualification.

    2. A prospect’s answers are thought-out.

    If you ask open-ended qualifying questions and your prospect answers with statistics, metrics, or other specific goals/KPIs, then they’ve given this purchase a lot of thought.

    When and how to disqualify a lead.

    Part of the sales qualification process is disqualifying leads. It should feel as good as spring cleaning or getting rid of that 10th pair of shoes you never wear.

    How do you know when it’s time to pass on a prospect for qualified sales?

    1. When a prospect is inconsistent.

    When prospects contradict themselves. For example, they state one budget and in your next call it’s suddenly lower, or there’s no budget—this back-and-forth is a red flag.

    2. When a prospect doesn’t know what the company wants or needs.

    If a prospect doesn’t know what the company truly needs, or what pains the company has, then they’re probably not the decision-maker or a serious prospect.

    3. When the prospect doesn’t have a budget in mind.

    If a prospect, or possible qualified lead, doesn’t have a budget in mind, then they haven’t given much thought to the purchase. And if they aren’t the decision-maker, then they haven’t sought approval or a budget to make the purchase either. Red flag.

    Always be qualifying.

    If you take anything away from this article, let it be that sales qualification should be a top—and relatively straightforward—priority.

    • Ask the right questions to move your prospects through the BANT (budget, authority, need, timeline) process, and move one step closer to marketing qualified leads.
    • Know that when prospects express concern, it shouldn’t disqualify them; on the contrary, it signals interest.
    • Disqualifying leads, as painful as it might be to remove leads from your pipeline, is actually beneficial to meeting your sales goals—you’ll spend more time on prospects who are likely to convert.

    Take some time this week to practice qualifying (or disqualifying) a lead quickly—your payoff will be less time spent on poor leads, and more time spent closing valuable prospects.

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