Prospect qualification is a critical sales activity to ensure reps aren’t wasting their time on leads that will never buy. In this sense, qualification is a useful exercise.
But too much qualification too early is not. In my opinion, it’s always better to underqualify leads initially and then overqualify prospects during a first conversation.
Qualifying too much too soon in the process can actually have the opposite effect of the activity’s intended purpose. Reps who overqualify up front can narrow their perspective to the point that they’re missing viable opportunities and working on bad leads.
Here are four specific areas where bad qualification practices can lead salespeople astray. Steer clear of these qualification errors to improve the health of your pipeline.
1) Fixating on Titles
Salespeople tend to make assumptions about the amount of responsibility a person has and the type of work they do based on their title. For instance, if a rep sells supply chain management software, they might assume that the head of operations controls all supply chain decisions. And from there, they infer that people with any other job title -- facilities manager, finance specialist, etc. -- are unqualified prospects. They zero in on people with one title, and toss all other potential buyers aside.
Something similar happens with inbound leads. Reps often reach out to inbound leads slowly -- or not at all -- because they don’t have the exact job title they’re looking for.
But there’s just one problem -- not everybody with the same title has the same responsibilities. Even though the head of operations might control supply chain software choices at one company, the facilities manager might at another. Or these two could work in tandem, or as part of a larger team.
In terms of inbound inquiries, C-level executives rarely download whitepapers -- but their colleagues who influence their decision-making processes do. Overqualifying in terms of title often causes reps to miss prospects hiding in plain sight.
2) Misunderstanding Needs
Let’s say you sell a software tool that keeps websites from crashing. What companies would you target? Those whose websites crash regularly, of course. They have a compelling need that your product can solve. Seems like a no-brainer.
Except for the fact that there’s an entirely different type of prospect you’re missing out on. It’s equally if not more pressing for companies with websites that are performing well to prevent crashes. Maybe the business leaders even have some ideas for how to grow the website, but they can’t because they don’t have adequate crash protection. They’d love to get a call from you, but their phones just aren’t ringing.
When identifying needs, don’t use tunnel vision. Think about every likely scenario that would compel a prospect to buy your product. Don’t be too quick to disqualify a prospect for having the “wrong” problem. You could still provide the right solution.
3) Obsessing Over Budget
I would argue that B2B budget qualification is almost irrelevant. Unless the company you’re selling to is going out of business, they have money. The funds might not be earmarked for a specific project, but it’s there.
What’s far more important than knowing if they have the perfect budget is knowing if they have the ability to buy. For example, if you’re selling consulting services to an organization that has never hired a consultant in its history, you have to sell on two fronts. First, you have to convince them that using a consultant at all is a good idea. Then once the baseline value is established, you have to convince the prospect that your consultancy is the best on the market. Getting through both of these stages is tough.
It’s much easier to sell consulting to a company that has bought these types of services before. This prospect is much more able to buy than the other opportunity, even if they both have the exact same funds.
Knowing a prospect’s buying history is far more informative for qualification than knowing their budget. Seek this information instead of a specific dollar amount.
4) Too Many Criteria
What lead scoring produces in accuracy, it costs your sales team in time. And in my opinion, speed always trumps criteria.
Think of it this way. The time spent scrubbing a lead and evaluating it on several different points lengthens the span between when a salesperson receives the lead and when they send an initial message to days instead of hours. And the longer you wait to contact a prospect, the less likely you’ll be the first seller on the scene and enjoy the associated benefits. Plus, the time you allot to overly thorough qualification detracts from the time you have available to close.
The bottom line is that more salespeople and leaders should get comfortable with underqualifying early and overqualifying later on. Casting a wider net won’t necessarily result in more chaff -- it could also help you reel in more customers.
Want to get more information on avoiding sales prospecting and qualifying mistakes? Register for Jeff’s upcoming Why You? Why You Now?™ workshops: 2/4 in San Francisco and 2/23 in Boston.
Originally published Jan 27, 2015 10:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016