Lead qualification criteria is a method of determining if a lead is worth pursuing. In a consultative selling situation, the costs associated with working an opportunity can be
high. Salespeople should prevent inefficiencies by screening out unwinnable deals at an early stage of the sales cycle.
Similarly, when an organisation’s sales process includes generating qualified leads to be passed to salespeople, those who qualify should work towards meeting the following criteria.
The first stage of lead qualification must be to understand the problem. If a prospect is going to spend a considerable amount of money with you (or someone else) you can be pretty sure they are looking to solve a problem. The problem may be obvious or it may be masked but rest assured, one does exist. Figure 1 below outlines different problem types with related selling activity and people who suffer the problem. Can you identify with one or more of these categories?
Strategic level problems are not so obvious but if a manufacturing company for instance is considering outsourcing production or investing in new plant to be more efficient, they are doing so probably to avert a competitiveness problem.
Understanding the problem means understanding the pain suffered and who the sufferer is. The greater the pain and the more senior the sufferer indicates the seriousness of the problem and how likely the prospect is to invest in a solution.
Solution providers by their very nature are problem solvers, so technically minded salespeople tend to dive in to solve the problem because it is a challenge. STOP right there, overcoming challenges is not what you do, you solve Business Critical Problems and lead qualification demands that there is a business driver behind the problem.
You have to ask yourself, why is the prospect willing to spend such an amount of money on solving this problem? How do they justify asking their Finance Director for funding? Most large projects require resources other than finance such as personnel, time, access, permissions etc., so how does the prospect justify asking for these from the relevant managers? In other words, what is the business driver behind solving the problem?
Is the problem having a detrimental effect on productivity or sales? Is it preventing the organisation from functioning as intended? Does it affect day-to-day operations and most importantly, is it having a negative impact on the balance sheet? If by solving the problem, these negative impacts are reversed, then yes, you have a business driver.
If you are finding it difficult to identify the business driver, you might want to question the validity of the opportunity. Is it that the initiative is the hobby horse of an engineer who is driven by overcoming challenges as opposed to solving business critical problems? Push hard on your questioning on this issue, if you fail to unearth a business driver and continue to pursue the opportunity, it would be prudent to have a plan B!
Central to lead qualification is the decision maker or authority. Every project is owned by somebody, but that somebody is not always evident, especially in larger organisations. According to Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman (1985), there are 4 buying influences:
The economic buyer is the one who has the authority to make a decision, the only one who can say Yes (all others of course can say No!). We need to identify who the Economic Buyer is and eventually gain access to them and involve them in the sale.
Chances are you are dealing with the Technical Buyer, the one tasked with making sure that your solution meets technical requirements and who screens out alternatives. It is important to understand that each member of the buyer circle has a part to play and you must acknowledge this. Your objective is to identify each player and to satisfy their objectives. Point of caution: Be wary of the Technical Buyer masquerading as the Economic Buyer!
It is well researched and documented that buyers are 70% (or somewhere in this region) through the buying cycle before engaging possible vendors. During this time, buyers are researching the problem and various methods of solving it, and they begin to form opinions on which solution is best for them.
The chances are, when you get in front of a buyer, they will already have a predetermined position. It may be in line with your solution or possibly not, so you need to ask the question to determine what their view is.
The importance of determining this position is underpinned by the 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal who wrote “People are generally better persuaded by what they have discovered themselves than by the thoughts and beliefs of others.” Pascal explains that in order to change a person’s position, you must firstly acknowledge their view and agree that it is correct. It is only then that you can begin to highlight shortcomings and warn of potential problems, slowly moving to an alternative position.
If you exercise the above stages of lead qualification you will become highly efficient at managing opportunities and streamlining your sales process. It is very difficult for a salesperson to walk away from a seemingly valuable opportunity but due diligence pays. Walking away from an unqualified lead is better than facing a month or quarter end shy of target.