In an ideal sales world, you’re selling your product to as many people as possible as often as possible.
However, we live in a less-than-ideal world that requires specific techniques to filter out those ready to buy from those who aren’t.
Time is money and in order to save you a little of both, your sales cycle needs a process of sales qualification.
In this brief guide, we’ll look at:
- Why sales qualification is critical to your sales cycle and when to start
- The difference between lead scoring and lead qualification
- The difference between an MQL and a SQL
- 5 of the most important sales qualification methodologies
What is sales qualification and why is it important?
Sales qualification is the process of evaluation where you determine if a lead is worth investing the additional time, energy, and resources it takes to move them through the pipeline.
Effective sales qualification validates if a buyer is right for your product or solution.
While it usually takes a meeting to verify if a prospect is likely to buy, the sales qualification process should start sooner.
Early stages of relationship building via either social selling or more traditional cold outreach can expedite their movement through – or elimination from – the sales cycle.
For the sake of your ROI, you don’t want to waste time on the wrong leads. This is why it’s important to implement this time-honored vetting process as soon as reasonably possible.
Besides, in segmenting leads through your sales pipeline by who is most likely to buy, you’re also learning what it takes to win them over.
You get a better look at their personal challenges and can make adjustments to your product to better suit your ideal buyer persona.
To clarify precisely how sales qualification works, let’s move through some of the key terminology and strategy below.
Lead scoring v. lead qualification
First, let’s clear up some of the tricky jargon associated with sales qualification. We’ll start with the methodology of lead scoring.
Lead scoring is a tool used in the process of sales qualification. Though it takes the form of slightly different methodologies, it remains a system of ranking leads.
For example, one version of lead scoring is the ICP (Ideal Customer Profile). Sitting atop your sales pipeline, the ICP uses attributes like industry, company size, and job title to filter leads into a representation of your ideal customer.
Both lead scoring and lead qualification seek the same result. But where lead qualification uses a process of qualifying, lead scoring uses one of quantifying.
Think of lead scoring as a points-based system that assigns values to leads to determine how far they’ll travel through the sales qualification process.
Whichever model of lead scoring you use depends on the priorities of your organization. Use one that best fits your unique sales cycle and uses the data most relevant to their qualification.
MQL v. SQL
Speaking of sales jargon, no review of qualifying leads would be complete without mentioning MQLs and SQLs.
These two abbreviations are the bread and butter of marketing and sales teams, and they are frequently used to qualify and nurture leads through the sales pipeline. Each is a kind of qualified lead at different stages of the process.
Let’s take a look at an MQL first.
MQL stands for marketing qualified lead, and if you haven’t guessed already, it’s an inbound lead that marketing approved to move down (or into) the pipeline.
Marketing prequalifies this type of lead by monitoring how they interact with either your website or marketing content. Actions like clicking a link, downloading an ebook, or even requesting a demo can qualify a lead as an MQL.
An SQL is a sales qualified lead the sales team has approved. It’s the stamp of approval you hope to give as a result of sales qualification.
As such, it appears at a later stage in the sales pipeline and may or may not come from marketing. It’s not uncommon for an MQL to turn into SQL, but SQL designation is not limited to inbound efforts.
Simply put, it is someone who the sales team determines has the intent and capability to buy.
Sales qualification methodologies
Forecasting and defining the stages of sales teams’ specific cycle depend on the characteristics of the organization doing the selling.
However, there are some classic methodologies that are still used as a framework for the qualifying process.
The following is a list of the most popular that is by no means definitive. Additionally, these should be adapted to the needs of your sales team rather than be used as an end-all-be-all formula for success.
The first and oldest of sales qualification rubrics is BANT. This relatively bare-bones qualification method was developed in the 1950s by IBM and has been used as a failsafe in qualifying leads since.
It has admittedly fallen a little out of date in our complex, digital era, but it’s still a good introduction to basic methodologies.
It stands for:
B – Budget – Does the prospect have the budget for the product or service?
A – Authority – Are we speaking to a decision-maker?
N – Need – Is there a need for the product or service?
T – Timing – Is this the right time to speak?
Next is ANUM.
This framework is a lot like the former except in how it places greater emphasis on the A for authority. Also, like BANT, it is seller-centric and uncomplicated.
A – Authority – Are we speaking to someone with buying power?
N – Need – Is there a need for the product or service?
U – Urgency – Is there an urgent need for the product or service?
M – Money – Placing less emphasis on budget, Money considers the other stages of developing rapport first; also, there may not be a fixed budget.
One of the longer and stricter methodologies, MEDDIC is again seller-centric and more thorough in its qualifying process.
It holds a focus on the value your product or service provides rather than discussing the money on the table. It also places special emphasis on creating a reputation for your product or service within the buying company.
M – Metrics – What are the quantifiable benefits and value the buyer gets from your product or service?
E – Economic Buyer – This is another name for the decision-maker, whoever signs off on the purchase.
D – Decision Criteria – How does your prospect set their decision criteria? What conditions need to be met?
D – Decision Process – What does the decision-making process look like in the company that’s buying?
I – Identify Pain Point – Instead of addressing a need, how would your product resolve a pain connected to your prospect’s business objectives?
C – Champion – This is your internal resource and person who will sell (and most likely use) your product or service within the buying committee.
Similar to ANUM, CHAMP begins with identifying challenges rather than authority. That said, it places the customer first.
Ch – Challenges – What are the unique obstacles your prospect faces?
A – Authority – Who is the right person to speak to?
M – Money – How much are they willing to pay to overcome the challenges discussed?
P – Prioritization – Is this a priority for your prospect?
FAINT begins with a conversation about money but doesn’t dwell on it.
It’s best left to your prospects with the deepest pockets and no set budget.
Its appeal is to companies who seek to fulfill a certain need without sweating too much about the price.
F – Funds – To whom is money no object?
A – Authority – Who makes the final call on the purchase?
I – Interest – Not only does this ask the question is there interest, but also what is your team doing to generate it?
N – Need – Like BANT and ANUM, is there a need here?
T – Timing – Same as the frameworks before it: is this the right time?
It’s critical your team qualifies the right prospects to devote their attention to those who are most likely to buy.
While your SDRs will be the first to segment prospects according to the right companies and decision-makers, when it comes to outreach, the idea is to generate interest.
There are several ways to do this but chief among them is to make your prospect curious and approach them in a conversational tone.
This is particularly important when speaking about complex, tech, or SaaS solutions. You can’t rush sophistication and you risk scaring a prospect off if you drop a text of indecipherable technical jargon into their inbox.
Regardless, you still need to learn about your prospect’s needs and budget as discussed in the methodologies. One of the best ways to do so is through qualifying questions such as:
What are your priorities this year?
What solutions are you currently using?
Who would be using this product or service?
May I follow up at a later date, like DD/MM/YYYY?
Any of the questions presented in the most common sales qualification frameworks will work here. Just remember that you’re looking to build a relationship and create interest from your interactions.
With this in mind – along with the methodologies best suited to your company’s objectives – you’ll have a productive and efficient qualification process that practically runs itself.