Since time is one of the most valuable resources for any business, it is especially critical for startups to ensure its sales team is focused on pursuing prospects that are most likely to become a potential customer. Simply put, sales reps must become experts in how to qualify a sales lead to make sure they are a good fit and have a high likelihood of converting into a sale.

The key to a successful sale is creating alignment between the solution that you are offering and the needs of the potential customer. Since making a sales pitch to a poor fit prospect is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it is necessary to do the early research and ask the right questions to find out quickly if a prospect has legitimate potential to complete the journey to becoming a customer.

We'll explore some best practices to engage a prospect and qualify a lead as a possible customer. By weeding out bad fits and focusing on only the most qualified sales leads, you’ll be able to increase your sales velocity and close more and better deals, faster and more frequently.

Key Takeaways

  • Start with a focus on the quality of prospects rather than quantity. Better prospects equate to more sales qualified leads and increased sales efficiency.
  • Lead qualification can be broken down into the steps of research, introduce, qualify, and learn.
  • Move the qualification conversation into a direction that makes it possible to address their problem, which opens up an opportunity to do business together.

Learn With Deep Research

There are many channels to find and research sales leads, with some methods more attuned to specific industries or company sizes and structures.

Social media can offer a deep well of background on a lead, especially if your prospects are typically active on LinkedIn. Pay special attention to what types of content they are sharing with their business colleagues and peers, and look through the discussions they are having to get a sense of their temperament and what kinds of challenges or motivations are at play in their professional life. Twitter can also be helpful for this same purpose - though conversations there tend to be more personal and casual - and YouTube is also valuable for finding news coverage, panel discussions or other content of interest to the prospect, all of which can be used to start and further the qualification discussion.

Other means of research include looking up any online interactions looking for recommendations or referrals that might be indications of need or intent to buy. Also look for substantial events within the prospect's company that could change their needs or create other triggers, and look for current customers who have similarities to the prospect so you can offer proof of success for a potential competitor. Pro tip: setup some Google Alerts with specific search terms or strings and look to see who may be quoted or referenced in the feed results.

Finding The Sweet Spots

Struggles and successes are the main ingredients of the engagement process when it comes to how to qualify a lead. Begin the outreach with an informed presumption that you know or believe to be true about the prospect’s current state or situation, and ask them what services or products they are using that could compete or overlap with what you have to offer them.

Find out how their current approach or solutions are working for them, what they would like to change or improve if they had options, and then go deeper to learn about the successes and challenges that are most at play in their current role at the moment. This will let you get a feel for their metrics for success, and what they consider to be the most important criteria they need to meet, either individually or as part of a larger team.

This will be the phase when it will be most apparent if the prospect has the pain points that fit your solution, and if they are properly empowered to make a buying decision. Even if they don’t have the ability to enter into a deal, the lead you’ve worked with so far could become an advocate, influencer or a champion for you within the company, and create a pathway to others with the proper authority to make a purchase or execute a contract.

The most important considerations for whether your lead is qualified to be a customer comes from answers to questions like:

  • Do they know they have a pain point or a problem?
  • How big or impactful does that problem feel to them?
  • Do they have the right perspective on how to best solve the problem?
  • Are they close enough to the problem to make its resolution a priority?
  • Do they have budget, clear intent and motivation to make a decision at this time?

Move The Qualification Conversation Forward

It is important to remember throughout the lead qualification process that what you are doing is very different than pitching. Qualification conversations are exploratory in nature and focused on discovery, but they can very easily move from the customer journey to a buyer journey once the problem-solution fit is established. That transition needs to be clear and transparent in nature, and can sound like:

“This is what I heard and understood about you. If I could improve that situation, is there an opportunity for us to do business?”

Simply and genuinely, you have moved the conversation to its next productive phase without creating the pressure to book a demo, sign up for a trial, send a quote or other advanced sales activity. By taking the steps that begin with top-of-funnel prospects and marketing qualified leads, and going through an effective lead qualification process, you’ve made it all the more likely of creating a sales opportunity that will result in a win for both sides.

Ready to refine your sales process and win more business? Consider a fractional sales executive to spearhead your growth.