Four Steps to Establishing a Reliable Lead Qualification Process

Getting your sales organization to operate like a well-oiled machine can be a significant challenge. This is because most sales organizations are comprised of people with different educational backgrounds and experience levels. Unlike your accounting department, where people are highly trained and certified in their field, salespeople come from many walks of life, from teachers to engineers who may have changed careers to those who have had professional sales training.

The challenge here is that each one of these people thinks differently, hears things differently, and makes assessments about a new prospect based more on experience and gut reaction than anything else. It's not unusual to learn that someone one sales representative considers a highly qualified prospect may seem completely unqualified to another. Don't believe me? Here's a simple way to test this.

Outline a set of criteria about a potential new lead or prospect that has contacted your company. Ask your sales staff to determine if the opportunity is highly qualified, needs to be vetted more, or is not a qualified opportunity. Don't be surprised if you get all three answers.

If you do, this means two things. First, your sales team does not have a process for properly qualifying new business opportunities, and, second, they may be wasting valuable time and money chasing tire kickers versus qualified buyers.

Can you fix this? Absolutely, and with minimal effort. My recommendation is to get your sales team together and agree on a set of qualifying questions that will be asked of every prospect before any sales representative gets further engaged in the sales cycle.

Four Questions to Ask Prospects

  1. Does the prospect have a strong need for your product or services?
  2. Does the prospect have a sufficient budget?
  3. Are the decision makers engaged in the sales process or at least identified?
  4. What is the prospect's timetable for a decision?

Establishing and following a process like this ensures that every sales representative in the organization is qualifying new leads based on the company's criteria rather than on gut instinct. This enables your staff to be laser-focused on the most promising opportunities, and will reduce sales cycles and improve close ratios. You may also want to consider automating this process with a CRM system that offers this level of automation.

Today's CRM software solutions not only allow you to track and manage leads, but also do a whole lot more. For example, establishing a lead qualification process is going to help you classify new leads into three categories. Let's call them A, B, and C leads.

The A leads are highly qualify based on your criteria, and your sales team will be immediately engaged with them. The B and C leads, however, have not met the criteria, so what do you do with them?

Traditionally, management assumes that your sales team follows up with B and C leads on a periodic basis, but if after one or two calls they have not made contact, those leads more often than not simply fall through the cracks.

A good CRM solution will enable you to place those leads in what is commonly referred to as a drip marketing program. Drip marketing simply means that you can automate the follow-up process while your sales team is focusing their energy on the most qualified opportunities.

The B leads may have indicated that they do have an interest in your product or service, but have no plans to make a decision for three to six months. The C leads are just starting out and have no timetable for a decision at all, but you will still want to follow up with them. They contacted you for a reason, so you want to make sure your company and product is in front of them on a periodic basis so that when they're ready to make a decision, you're the one they think of. In this scenario, you can have your CRM system automatically e-mail the prospect so that you can send customer testimonials or promotions on a predetermined basis, perhaps monthly or quarterly. The system will also generate activity reports illustrating what has transpired with the prospect. Have they responded to the mailers, have they now met the criteria for sales engagement, or are they still an unqualified lead? This can of course be done manually as it has for many years, but there are some very good CRM software solutions that are designed to make this a whole lot easier.

Larry Caretsky is president of Commence Corporation, a provider of online CRM software for small to midsized businesses. He is the author of Practices That Pay—Leveraging Information to Achieve Selling Results.

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