One of the questions I like to ask at the beginning of our HubSpot Sales and Marketing Alignment training is: “Is every lead a good lead?” The unanimous answer I receive every time is “Not at all!,” and we all agree on this point. The idea that someone is ready to convert into a paying customer just because they filled out a form on your website or downloaded one of your gated offers is a big misconception that many businesses are now fully aware of.
However, while many companies are nowadays aware of the importance of bridging the gap between sales and marketing teams and creating a unified definition of what an MQL should look like, the debate is still quite open when it comes to further qualifying MQLs into leads who are now well informed and ready to buy—in other words, those precious SQLs.
Although not used as consistently as the MQL stage, the sales qualified stage represents a crucial fork in the lead’s lifecycle path, as it aims to assess not only those fit requirements that define your target demographic profile, but most importantly all those buying signals that will help sales people determine whether the relationship should continue and which steps should be taken.
Asking the Right Qualification Questions
Unlike the process that leads to the qualification of an MQL — which can often be automated through well-designed nurturing workflows and lead scoring systems — assessing the sales readiness of a lead requires a much deeper personal input and a strong focus on asking the right qualification questions during discovery calls.
When it comes to asking the right questions, several frameworks have been developed to help sales professionals gain insights on the urgency of their leads’ projects, the authority they have in the decision-making process, and of course their budget limitations. The BANT framework (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline), for example, is probably one of the staples in any sales person’s qualification strategy, but the debate over its efficiency in the modern selling landscape is now more heated than ever.
Although it addresses the main factors used by companies to define the potential of their leads, the BANT framework falls short today on authority and timeline aspects. In the modern uncertain selling environment, it becomes quite rare to deal with a buyer who already has a clearly defined project and a set budget and timeline, which are prerogatives for the BANT framework to work successfully.
For this reason, qualification frameworks such as ANUM (Authority, Need, Urgency, and Money) and CHAMP (Challenges, Authority, Money, and Prioritization) have started to gain more ground among sales professionals. These frameworks propose a new approach to the qualification methodology, one that uses metrics such as authority and timeline to assess the dynamics between decision-makers and influencers. Leads are nurtured with educational resources until they’re mature enough, rather than rejected straightaway as a BANT approach would suggest.
So, what are those strategic questions that can provide insights on where exactly your leads are in the buying process? Let’s review some examples from the four main assessment metrics shared by most lead qualification methodologies.
“I want to deliver an amazing sales pitch to somebody with zero authority to sign off on a purchase”, said no sales person ever. Authority questions are crucial to map out the organizational set up of your leads and gain insights on internal power dynamics between influencers and decision makers. The purpose of authority questions is not to discard those prospects who simply act as influencers, but to map out all the relevant stakeholders in the process and secure their buy-in for appropriate stages.
Authority questions to ask:
- How do you typically make purchasing decisions in your organization?
- Who was involved in purchasing decisions for products/services like this in the past?
- Other than you, is anyone else involved in the decision-making process that would benefit from joining these conversations?
- Which potential concerns about this purchase do you anticipate? What would be the best way to handle them?
- Which do you think is the most effective way to get the end buyer on board?
While urgency is certainly a huge qualification factor, just because a lead is not ready to commit to the investment right now does not mean that they are a lost cause and should be rejected. You should certainly keep track of this in your CRM, maybe creating a custom property such as rejection reason and adding them to a re-engagement queue to follow up again with them when times are more mature.
Timeline questions to ask:
- How urgently do you need to solve this problem?
- Where does this challenge sit in terms of priority and urgency?
- Which other priorities do you consider equally urgent right now?
- Are you currently reviewing any other solution similar to ours?
- How quickly can you start implementing this plan?
- Do you need to involve other people in the process to implement this solution? Do you have any insights on their bandwidth and availability?
Now that buyers come to the sales process already well informed, sales people are expected to act as business consultants, helping companies assess whether a specific product or service is the right match for them. Retention and churn prevention are now two crucial KPIs for sales people, hence the growing interest in assessing buyer’s need thoroughly to close only quality deals that will guarantee a continuous revenue stream in time.
Need questions to ask:
- What issues are you currently struggling with?
- Can you tell me more about your current business pains and why you feel it's worth dedicating time to solve these problems?
- Has this issue ever been addressed before? What was the approach that was used on that occasion? Why didn’t it work out?
- How long has the company been struggling with this issue? Why has it only become a priority now?
- What do you think could happen if you don’t take any action to solve this problem?
Regardless of the qualification framework you prefer to use, budget will always be a crucial area to ascertain whether your leads have the financial power to afford your product. However, simply asking what their budget is will not give you any real insights into how this investment will fit within the company’s bigger goals, which should be instead the actual point to clarify through budget questions.
Budget questions to ask:
- What do you expect your ROI to look like for this type of investment?
- Are you currently spending money on a similar product/solution to solve this problem?
- In terms of priority, how important is this issue to allocate budget to?
- Is your spend capacity affected at all by seasonality?
- Which are the other initiatives/tools you are currently spending money on that could potentially affect your budget?
Baking Sales Enablement Into Sales Teams’ Routine
While many sales people may be already familiar with these qualification frameworks, what could encourage them to bake them into their daily routine is being able to access these questions quickly and seamlessly from their CRM while on the phone.
You can now do precisely that with HubSpot's playbooks tool by creating a library of sales enablement resources and up-to-date training assets that sales reps can access on the fly while on the phone with their prospects.
Available right in the CRM, playbooks can be used to guide sales reps while on calls so that they can access the frameworks and best practices they need directly from their contact records and quickly log notes about the call simultaneously.
The way I like to think of playbooks is basically sales enablement on steroids: training and resources delivered straight to reps’ CRM to ensure consistent, up-to-date knowledge shared across the entire sales team for more meaningful conversations with prospects and more efficient data logging.
In the modern sales process where buyers can easily access most of the information they need online, the role of the sales person is to add value, diving deep into buyers’ challenges and needs and going beyond the scope of the issue that their product can solve. In such context, knowing which qualification questions to ask and having an efficient system to retrieve these questions becomes not only a requirement for sales people to succeed but also an opportunity for businesses to deliver a fulfilling sales experience and build meaningful conversations with their buyers.
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