The Qualification Process: How to Focus on Deals That Can Actually Close

Qualification is the systematic process within the sales funnel to verify whether a sales lead is deemed worthy to continue into the formal opportunity/deal pipeline.

At the end of a successful Qualification process, a lead that meets the criteria for becoming an exceptional long-term customer is called a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

Proper Lead Qualification is a crucial component of making the most out of your sales resources and gathering data about which list building and marketing channels are most effective, and the process is owned by both Sales and Marketing since both departments can benefit from sourcing better qualified leads, though the tactical grunt work is handled by Sales.

Qualification should be viewed as the final step before the more resource-intensive elements of the sales funnel such as dedicating an Account Executive or Founder’s time to a deal. Whereas research, lead generation, and list-building can be done relatively easily at scale, effective lead qualification requires more of a finer touch to properly evaluate a prospect.

Your Qualification process determines how valuable a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) is.

Effective Qualification ensures that every lead that enters the Demo and Proposal phases is on average more likely to turn into a customer than the leads you’ve previously built in the list building phase of the funnel.

An ineffective and leaky Qualification process will fail to filter out leads that simply won’t close on a reasonable timeline, costing you both sales resources and time.

The following article will walk you through how to qualify leads properly and how to fine tune your qualification process.

How to Qualify Leads

Lead qualification starts with having specific Ideal Customer Profiles and Buyer Personas, which we’ve previously discussed in our list-building article.

In order to be deemed worthy of the next steps of the sales process, your leads must meet the criteria of your Ideal Customer Profile and Buyer Persona. The output spent in developing specific ICPs and Buyer Personas will be directly translated into the criteria for proper Lead Qualification.

While our list-building process primarily focuses on the volume of prospects, the qualification process focuses on – you guessed it – the quality of those prospects.

Once you’re clear on what a lead worthy of the more resource-intensive parts of the sales funnel, the process is fairly straightforward.

The Psychology of Selling

You must understand how an individual thinks to better understand what decision they’re likely to make, and how you can present them the right information to influence the outcome positively in your favor.

DISC, for example, is a psychological model to explain human behavior that evaluates people on four key personality quadrants:

  1. Dominant

  2. Inspiring

  3. Conscientious

  4. Supportive

These quadrants are cut by an X-axis (Task-driven versus people-driven) and a Y-axis (extrovert/active versus introvert/passive).

As an individual is graded on the X and Y scales based on their behaviors, a personality archetype begins to reveal itself.

For example, in the above image, the individual is dominant in the “Inspiring” and “Supportive” quadrants. Each personality characteristic has strengths and weaknesses.

For example, a largely dominant individual has the strengths of being decisive, committed, and strong willed, but also the weaknesses of being impatient, intolerant, and stubborn.

So, in our example above, this individual has a basket of strengths such as being open, sociable, accepting, and harmonizing, and a corresponding array of weaknesses such as impulsiveness, too yielding, and too understanding.

You’re selling to another human being with desires, fears, and goals. The DISC Model aims to truly understand the individual so you can motivate them properly. A clearly defined DISC Model analysis will help you adjust your sales pitch and attitude to increase your chances of influencing your key decision maker positively.

The Give-Get Matrix is a guide to move through the funnel by giving something, but always receiving something in return. Your “Gives” help remove friction and motivate your prospect to continue the conversation, and your “Gets” are things you can receive that will help nudge the deal to a close.

For example, sending a prospect a high-quality guide on something relevant to his industry (if he asks for it), but getting the next appointment in return. Give-Gets allow you to create win-win situations: your prospect gets some valuable information, and you lock in the next meeting.

Is the lead a buyer?

First, you’ll want to determine whether the lead has decision-making power and budget control.

To further qualify leads into this category, use a qualification framework such as ANUM that meets your needs.

For example, ANUM ensures a candidate passes the following criteria:

  • Authority - Are you the person who can sign off on this?

  • Need - Is there a business pain + interest?

  • Urgency - How quickly can we move on this?

  • Money - Do you have a budget?

ANUM generally works best for one to three month sales cycles.

However, note that these conversations are exactly that– conversations, not interrogations. Make sure to remember you are a human speaking with another human.

The tactical aspects of lead qualification will involve asking the right open-ended questions to gain information on whether or not a lead matches your criteria.

Try to learn more about what stage of awareness the prospect is of their problems; confirm that they are actually experiencing the pain that your solution can solve before sending them off in the pipeline. Set your mentality to probe for pain points and understand what problems the lead is experiencing. Prospects that are able to give specific answers to questions such as “what are your goals” or “how do you quantify results” are generally aware of their problem.

Your questions should aim to qualify the lead as a stakeholder capable of making a buying decision. Their answers will generally express intimate knowledge of company challenges, needs, and goals.

Other frameworks tend to vary on the degree of specificity and can impact the type of questions you will want to ask: BANT, PMAP, MEDDIC, MEDDPIC, and MEDDPICC,

MEDDIC, for example, is a B2B sales methodology developed in the 1990s that focuses on: Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identifying pain, and Champion. This framework not only wants to understand whether the prospect is the decision maker with real pain, but also whether they are prepared to champion your cause in a larger enterprise organization. MEDDIC is better suited for longer sales cycles, of six months or greater.

The more specific you get with your Qualification Frameworks, the better sorted the end-product will be. However, if your framework is spending time collecting information that’s otherwise not useful for the remainder of the marketing sales process (or as feedback for the marketing process), it may be better to simplify on what matters most for your leads.

Is the lead a buyer right now?

A lead may fit your ICP, Buyer Persona, and pass your framework, but if they’re not in the market for a solution or are otherwise following an untenable timeline, they likely won’t be of value in your sales process.

In this part, you’ll want to focus on whether leads meet a fair and reasonable timeline to close. 

For example, Groupon (highly transactional), has a sales cycle between 30 to 45 days for its vendors. Bigger enterprise companies, like Oracle or SAP, have a sales cycle that can take longer than 12 months.

Is the Lead a Fit For Your Qualified Opportunity Pipeline?

If the answer to either of the above questions is a “no”, the lead should fall into the “Not a Fit” category. This category is still useful, as it can inform the marketing department if any specific marketing channels are bringing you bad fits.

If the candidate passes both questions above, they will fall into the “Definitely a Fit” category and are deemed worthy of the remainder of your sales process. Their contact information should be placed on a list or in your CRM with the appropriate information and pushed along the sales funnel. At the end of your call, if the prospect is in the “Definitely a Fit” category, book a demo or next step of your sales process.

This category should also be fed back to your marketing team so they can focus on the channels that bring you good fits.

Final Thoughts

Qualification is the most important section of the sales process– it’s the great equalizer.

Without proper Qualification, sales teams will waste their time, energy, and resources, as well as sacrifice the opportunity cost of entertaining otherwise close-able closing deals. Further, entire marketing channels can be disrupted as the feedback loop on effective marketing channels becomes muddied with noise.

Performed correctly, Qualification will help you eliminate deals that will not close so that you and your team can focus all your attention on deals that actually will and ultimately streamline your organization for maximum efficiency and revenue...and save you countless hours of consternation and frustration.