Sales isn’t just about selling; it’s also about carefully choosing who to sell to.

When you use lead qualification to sort out your options as they come in, you’ll always know which leads are closest to buying from you, letting you target them specifically and score more sales.

This is a tried-and-true method for high-performing salespeople everywhere; it’s estimated that 67% of lost sales come down to the lack of a proper lead qualification process.

If you want to keep your sales high, you’ll have to get good at doing this – and the first step to honing this skill is to understand the 5 easy steps we’ve laid out below.

The Three Types of Qualified Leads

Before you can start qualifying your leads, you have to understand what a qualified lead looks like.

There are three levels to the lead qualification process:

qualify leads at eventsMarketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) - An MQL is someone who your marketing department thinks is more likely to become a customer than your other leads. They determine this by looking at the lead’s engagement with whatever marketing materials they’ve put out (emails, video, written content, etc.). This is the most basic type of lead.

Sales Accepted Leads (SALs) - SALs are the next stage in the lead qualification process. These leads are MQLs that meet a defined list of criteria that makes them good candidates to move on to sales. Every organization has its own specific criteria for this, but the general criteria that an SAL must have, are: valid contact data, a budge, authority to use, and intent to buy.

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) - SQLs are considered the ultimate leads. They have the highest probability of buying and are ready for more intensive sales tactics. SALs become SQLs when a salesperson has reached out to them and spoken to them for long enough to figure out that they have a very real chance of buying soon.

As a salesperson, MQLs will probably not be of much use to you when they first come in. Few of them will be ready to become SALs right away. Your marketing department should be working on those leads on their own before they send them to you. Through a process called lead nurturing, they can turn them into SALs that you can eventually take over.

Related: How to nurture leads with content marketing?

At that point, it’s up to you to get your leads to the next stage.

You can do this by initiating what’s called a discovery call – a one-on-one chat you use to confirm some vital bits of information about each lead, feel out how ready they are to buy, and hopefully encourage them to move further along the sales pipeline.

If all goes well, the SALs you speak to will become SQLs who are highly likely to convert to customers in the near future.

How To Do Your Part in the Lead Qualification Process – Step by Step

Now that you know your objective – converting SALs into SQLs – it’s time to look at what you can do to get there.

We’ll be going over the whole process step by step below

Know Your Leads’ Different Profiles

The first place to start when you’re doing anything involving leads is to check out the existing data you have on them.

You should already have quite a bit of information on all your leads stored away in your CRM, so open that up and give the profile for the lead you’re focusing on a more thorough look.

You should have a list of data points that includes their name, several pieces of contact information, a job title and company name at the very least, since this information is generally required for a lead to make it to SAL status.

You’ll want to make sure just in case, though, since 42% of B2B marketers claim that poor data quality is their biggest lead generation problem. If any of these data points is missing or inaccurate, your lead is already disqualified, and you should probably consider investing in some sort of lead capture tool to help make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.

Related: Don’t Let Bad Data Stand in The Way of Closing a Deal

Once you’ve confirmed that the basics are in order, you can start looking at the juicier details in your lead profiles.

Extra bits of information like age, gender and location can all tell you a lot about how to sell to someone. Your recorded website data on each one is another goldmine of useful knowledge. You may even have some miscellaneous notes that you or another person have taken on some of your leads at some point.

At this stage in the process, you don’t want to worry so much about what all this data actually says. You just want to confirm that you have it in case you need it later on. Only 46% of salespeople actually use data like this to help them do their jobs, but 85% of those who do say that it helps a lot.

qualify leads at events

Related: Why does contact data quality matter?

Score Their Performance

By now, you should have some idea of who your most promising leads might be.

To confirm those suspicions, you’ll want to use a process called lead scoring. This technique lets you figure out how all of your leads stack up against each other in terms of how profitable they could be for you.

To do this, you’ll need to take a closer look at your leads’ attributes.

Each of these attributes gets assigned a numerical value beforehand – the more promising an attribute makes a lead for you, the more points you should give it. You should pay special attention to attributes that match your ideal customer profile. Then, when you go over each lead, all you need to do is tally up the final score that all their attributes get them.

There are two main types of data you might look at when lead scoring: explicit and implicit.

We’ll start with explicit, which can include data points like:

  • company size
  • company revenue
  • industry
  • where you got the lead’s information

Data like the lead’s age and gender (as we mentioned above) could also fit here, if you have that information. Explicit data is easily available and easy to score, since it’s mostly a black-and-white concept. A CEO of a well-known company that fits your ideal customer profile perfectly should obviously score much higher than a secretary for a tiny company in a niche industry.

Once you’ve done that, you can move on to looking at implicit data, which includes but is not limited to:

  • whether or not a lead has subscribed to your marketing content.
  • what content they’ve viewed and for how long.
  • how many forms they’ve completed.
  • how many events your representatives have met them at in person.

This information is harder to score than the explicit kind because it has to do with logical assumptions and behavioural cues, but it can still be done. A lead who has visited your pricing page and spent ten minutes watching videos demonstrating how your product works is much more engaged than one who clicked on your site once and immediately left, for example. Because of that, they would get a higher score. qualify leads at events

You’ll want to score your leads like this in three different ways:

  • as an individual lead.
  • as an account (looking at them as a representative of their company and calculating all of its potential sales over time).
  • as an opportunity (a specific instance where you can make a sale, as opposed to the many potential sales a lead might bring you over their lifetime).

It’s a lot of work, but it will bring rewards eventually.

Companies who figure out how to do lead scoring well can look forward to a 77% increase in ROI for their lead generation activities.

Related: Why lead qualification is becoming a priority for marketers?

Develop Your Qualification Questions

Once you’re certain of what you already know about a particular lead, you can start to think about the pieces of their story that are still missing.

There are sure to be things that you don’t know about them that would be very helpful to you during the sales process. You can ask about things like the main problems your lead is having that your product could solve, what features they would like to see in the solution they choose and even what competing products your lead might already be using.

These kinds of questions can clarify what your lead needs from you and help you to determine if they really are a good fit for what you’re selling.

Keep in mind that lead qualification doesn’t just mean serving your own interests. You should consider the topics your leads want to cover during your call with them. According to HubSpot’s research on the topic, leads taking part in a discovery call are most eager to talk about:

  • pricing (58%).
  • how the product works (56%).
  • what their organization is trying to accomplish with their purchase (47%).

They are least interested in discussing things like:

  • their budget and who controls it (24%).
  • their company’s timeline for the purchase (24%).
  • who is ultimately responsible for the purchase (15%).

What you should take from this is that leads want to take a more active role in the conversation than they are normally allowed to do.

Notice how some of their top concerns cover the same ground as some of the things they don’t want to talk about; for instance, discussing either their budget or the price of your product will ultimately allow you both to figure out if your lead can afford it or not.

The difference is that the former approach (asking about the budget) keeps you, the salesperson, in control of the conversation.

The other empowers your lead by letting them take in new information and make a decision based on what they’ve learned.

Making sure that your lead feels like they are learning something and being heard during your call can encourage them to share more information and fosters positive feelings toward your product.

Arrange and Structure Your Questions in a Sequence

Now that you have your questions down, you need to figure out what order you want to put them in.

If you keep jumping back and forth between focus points during your conversation, you might look disorganized and poorly prepared – almost like you aren’t taking this opportunity seriously.

That’s something you want to avoid at all costs, since an estimated 68% of B2B sales are lost because of perceived indifference or apathy.

On the other hand, if you come into the discussion with a neat and logical framework to follow, it’s much easier to make a good impression and have a productive conversation.

Some questions will naturally lead into each other in a conversation; for example, when you’re asking what problems your lead needs to be addressed, it only makes sense to follow that up by asking what problems others (colleagues, customers and other stakeholders) have brought up as well. You should also always put questions about things like pain points and product fit before ones about things like budget or eagerness to buy.

Put your lead and their needs first so you can prove that you’re interested in helping them out, not exploiting them.

Finally, take some time at this point in the process to step back and make sure that you aren’t going overboard. Even if you meant to keep things short and sweet when you were drafting your questions, it’s easy to lose track of just how much you jotted down.

Every bit of information is potentially valuable, sure, but each question you ask also drains a little bit more of your lead’s time and patience. You don’t want them to run out before you can get to the questions that really matter.

Studies have shown that somewhere between 11-14 questions is usually the most effective number for a salesperson to ask. Regulating your questions like this will help make sure that your lead doesn’t get bored or frustrated with your advances. It should also help to give you enough leeway to talk over each question in detail without taking up too much time in the process.

Create a Conversation Around Your Sequence

The final step to a good lead qualification process is figuring out how to camouflage your true intentions.

You’re doing this entirely for information, but your lead still should not feel like they’re being interrogated when they sit down to speak with you. Being confronted with a laundry list of questions can be very off-putting, especially when it’s as unexpected as sales calls often are.

Instead, keep things relatively light and be sure to give your lead some time to speak too. Try to work in some of the details you already know about them when you can. Demonstrating familiarity like this will help your listener understand that you are engaged with this conversation and value having the opportunity to win their business. It will also prove that you have a sharp memory and a good understanding of who they are and what they need.

Ideally, you should also try to incorporate a story structure into your conversation; 63% of people remember stories when they are told as part of a presentation, but only 5% remember exact statistics.

Give specific examples of how other customers used your product to solve their problems and describe how happy they were with the outcome. Putting things in relatable terms like this helps people to connect with what you’re saying and understand how it applies to their own issues.

You definitely want your leads to come away from your call remembering you and your product, and this is a great technique to make sure you have that impact.

Lead Qualification Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult

Lead qualification is a necessary part of sales success, even if it seems daunting at the outset.

Learning how to do it effectively and efficiently will make you a much more capable salesperson.

Practicing the 5 steps we’ve listed above is a great way to help you get used to qualify your leads before you start to actively pursue them.

Get started today and you’d be surprised how easy this task will soon become.

We know you’re always on the lookout for ways to improve your sales technique, and we’re here to help.

Check our blog for more updates in the near future, and join us to get access to even more information about how to use data to reach your full potential in sales.