If business is treating you well and your marketing team is doing their job, you should have a pipeline filled with sales prospects. But just because you have volume, doesn’t mean you have quality — and this is a fact many sales teams struggle to understand.
When too many prospects are swimming around your pipeline, and your reps aren’t evaluating or prioritizing them in a way that brings structure to the situation, you could amass a large number of under qualified prospects that dilute your prospect pool and make your biggest opportunities difficult to identify.
Don’t panic! This is actually a good problem to have. It means people are showing interest in your products or services. But make no mistake — a phone call or website click does not mean they are ready to buy. Your prospects are just doing their research, so don’t get ahead of yourself.
If you want to catch the big fish, you need to qualify your prospects.
Qualifying prospects means determining whether a contact is worth the time and effort it will take to convert them into a customer. It’s also the process of weeding out any prospects that you deem un-opportunistic.
If you have a list of 10 people, and 5 of them will never buy from you — wouldn’t you want to know that information upfront so you can focus your attention on the remaining 5 that may actually give you a sale? And furthermore, wouldn’t you want to prioritize those remaining 5 so you give the greatest effort and attention to the prospects that represent the largest sales potential?
This is what qualifying is all about, and those who do it well see a higher return on their investment and higher close rates.
How It's Done
Before you can pick through the prospect pipeline and start ranking, you need to have a deep understanding of what your best and worst customers look like. Otherwise, how will you know who to move to the top of the list and who to move to the bottom, or strike from the list completely?
Revisit your buyer personas and the information your CRM has collected on each prospect. If you haven't created buyer personas yet — get with the program. Take a long hard look at your top clients or customers. What do they have in common?
Next, pin down some information about the people on your prospect list. Use LinkedIn to dig up more information about them, or use prospecting tools like HubSpot Prospects or Sidekick. At base level, you should know:
- Company size
- Industry or market in which the prospect is involved
- Cultural philosophies
- Competitive climate
- Mission or value statement
- Challenges they face
Do these align with your ideal customer profile?
Finally, you need to ask the right questions: vexing questions that challenge your prospect and encourage them to share key insight with you. This will help your ranking process by making ideal opportunities boldly obvious. Here’s a list of must-use criteria for evaluating a sales prospect, and why you should include them in your qualification process:
Must-Use Criteria for Qualifying Prospects
1. Specific Pain Points: Find out what issues your prospect is trying to resolve. If your product or service isn’t a strong and viable solution, don’t waste time trying to convince them otherwise. Inbound sales is about trustworthy and honest customer/brand relationships.
2. The Trigger for Their Outreach: Why is the prospect choosing now to resolve their issue? What prevented them from seeking resolution sooner? Knowing this will help establish just how big a problem they have, and how soon they are looking to make a purchasing decision to solve that problem.
3. Budget: Ask upfront if the prospect already has a budget set aside for their investment with your brand. Their budget doesn’t need to be spot on to qualify them, but it should be reasonably close to the cost of your solution. If it’s not, they likely aren’t going to close any time soon.
4. Current Spend: You should also find out how much (if any) they’ve spent on the issue already. This will help you understand how serious they are about investing in a better solution, and will serve as a benchmark for how much they’re willing to spend for the right solution.
5. Decision Maker(s): Find out who signs off on the final budgeting decisions. This will help you determine if there are other people you need to connect with to make the sale.
6. Product/Service History: Ask if the prospect has ever used a product or service like yours before. If the answer is no — you just created an opportunity to talk about your offering. If the answer is yes — you created an opportunity to ask about their experience and find out if they’ve worked with a direct competitor. You can also use this as a segue to talk about how your product or service is different or better.
7. Forseeable Roll-Out Issues: If your product or service involves some hands-on integration, ask the client if they foresee any issues that could derail the project. The more you know ahead of time, the better able you will be to develop a successful plan of action. And if there’s a long list of reasons that will prevent your solution from being a good fit, you can discount the prospect altogether.
8. Other Considerations Being Made: Find out exactly who your competitors are. Knowing what you’re up against will be a quick way to determine if you have any competitive advantages and whether your solution is capable of beating out the rest. Ask your prospect openly and honestly about how your solution ranks with them. If you’re top of the list — you have a real shot. If you’re bottom of the list, the time and effort to rise to the top may not be worth the value of the sale.
9. Their Idea of Success: What does your prospect envision when they think of a successful outcome? Is their vision something your solution can help bring to life? It’s important to know this upfront so you can determine if the relationship between your brand and the prospect has the potential to work well.
10. The Next Step: There’s no point in playing coy with today’s modern consumer. They see right through your sales tricks and will have much more respect for transparency. Ask them straight up what they’d like the next step to be. Maybe it’s a phone call after they bring in the decision maker, or a presentation. Either way, you’ll leave the conversation with shared expectations in place.
If, after your qualifying communications, you decide a prospect isn’t top of list material you have two options:
- You can refer them another company or solution. Doing so will fortify your brand’s reputation as a respectable and trustworthy provider without wasting time on a prospect that won’t make an ideal client.
- You can feed them back into marketing's lead nurturing cycle until they indicate they are ready for more serious sales discussions
Step up your prospect qualifying game and you won’t just get more business, you’ll get the right business from the right customers. That’s a recipe for a strong customer/brand relationship that’s more likely to evolve into brand advocacy, referral and repeat business. Don’t forget to share your findings with marketing so they can refine campaigns and fill your prospect pipeline with even more high-quality prospects!