The Complete Guide to Sales Qualification
There’s a big difference between a good lead and a bad lead, right? If your sales team could spend more time on the most highly qualified prospects and rule out unqualified leads early, your sales pipeline would be much more efficient.
That’s why your sales qualification process is so important.
Even if the prospects in your pipeline are interested, that doesn’t mean they’re a true potential customer. Continuing to sell to those people leads to wasted time, unnecessarily long sales cycles, missed opportunities, and bad deals.
By nailing your lead qualification process, you can identify these issues early and save frustration on both sides.
Let’s explore some sales qualification frameworks that you can use to effectively qualify prospects.
What is sales qualification?
Sales qualification is exactly what it sounds like — the process of finding out more information about a prospect to see if they’re able, willing, and would benefit from purchasing your solution.
The sales qualification process looks for a good fit on both sides. Qualified prospects are just the type of customer you want, and you offer just the type of solution that they want.
Think of sales qualification as a job interview. Both sides want to determine if it makes sense to work together.
The importance of sales qualification
What makes sales qualification important?
Your sales reps will naturally be able to qualify prospects as they learn more about them in the sales process.
However, expecting each sales rep to identify and rule out those unqualified leads means that your team spends a lot of time talking to people that can’t or won’t make a purchase. Qualified prospects slip through the cracks in the meantime.
Those hours that your sales professionals waste on deals that will never close are what make the process of qualifying prospects important.
With the right lead qualification frameworks, you’ll see:
- Higher closing rates
- Better customer satisfaction
- Increased customer retention
- Happier sales reps
When your qualification process works well, people who aren’t good customers drop out of the buying process early.
You can much more easily employ lead and account scoring to prioritize the prospects that fit within your ICP, and your reps have the time to take a personalized sales approach to maximize those deals.
All of this adds up to more sales success.
What is a qualified prospect?
If qualified prospects were obvious, no sales rep would ever invest weeks of work into a deal that ultimately falls apart because of a poor fit.
To identify a qualified prospect, you should first understand that there is a difference between someone who is qualified to talk to a sales rep and someone who is ready to move forward with the sales process.
Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are ready to talk to sales but not necessarily ready to go through the entire process. These prospects have indicated some interest, perhaps provided a little bit of basic information, and they’re ready and willing to talk to a sales representative.
Sales qualified leads (SQLs) are prospects who have talked to someone in your sales department, and the information you’ve gathered confirms that they are a potential customer. They’re ready to enter your pipeline.
These distinctions come into play during the handoff from marketing to sales.
In most organizations, the marketing team only does some very basic filtering. While they might filter out people who aren’t interested and some of the people who need a different type of solution, it’s up to the sales team to qualify those leads.
In general, a qualified prospect meets all of these criteria:
- They have a reason to buy your solution. You know their pain points, they know their pain points, and your offering can resolve them.
- They intend to make a purchase on a specific timeline. There’s a big difference between someone who’s kicking tires and someone who’s ready to get behind the wheel. While information-gathering is fine, the most qualified prospects are those who are ready to buy and want to do it soon.
- They have the budget to make a purchase. It’s a good idea to talk about budget expectations upfront. If they don’t have the budget to afford your solution, then they’re not a qualified prospect.
- They have the authority to make a purchase decision. Identify the decision-maker and any stakeholders who have a say in the decision-making process. Are you talking to a gatekeeper, an influencer, or the person who makes the final call? Odds are good that your prospect is not the only one involved in the final decision, but they should be influential to be considered qualified.
- They are a good customer for you, and you are a good provider for them. If there’s not a good fit on both sides, your prospect isn’t qualified.
As you can imagine, your sales professionals don’t necessarily learn all of these things during the discovery call. That’s why there are different levels of sales qualification to help your reps sort and prioritize leads.
Levels of sales qualification
As your sales reps learn more about a prospect, they use that information to qualify them at one of these three levels:
- Organization-level qualification
- Opportunity-level qualification
- Stakeholder-level qualification
Organizational-level qualification is the lowest rung on this ladder. These prospects meet your basic requirements and look like good potential customers based on your buyer personas.
You probably already have this level of qualification built into your sales cycle. During the discovery call, your reps ask about factors like company size, industry, and other key buyer data points, right?
At this level, your reps should ask any basic sales qualification questions that apply to your company. If you only serve certain geographical areas, for example, you should confirm that the prospect is within that range. If you sell an add-on for a specific software tool, make sure that the prospect uses that software already.
Opportunity-level qualification comes next. At this level, you’ve confirmed that this potential customer is a good fit for your sales goals, and they need what you sell.
Some of this information may come from the discovery call, but much will be determined in the next steps of your sales process.
To get a prospect to this level of qualification, the sales rep should find out what problems their prospect wants to solve, what research they’ve done on other products, and how they intend to use this solution once they make a purchase. The goal is to identify a good fit on both sides.
Stakeholder-level qualification is the most robust. A prospect at this level meets all of the criteria we’ve already discussed, plus they are in a position to make a purchase decision.
If the person with whom your sales rep has connected is the ultimate decision-maker, an economic buyer, or another stakeholder with the influence to choose whether or not to buy, great. You’ve got a stakeholder-level qualified lead.
However, your sales team doesn’t always get to connect with the decision-maker until you’ve convinced some gatekeepers. Does that mean your lead should be disqualified?
When to disqualify prospects
The lead qualification process is poorly named. It should actually be called the lead disqualification process because that’s what your reps are doing — disqualifying prospects at every step.
Use the three levels of sales qualification as a step-by-step disqualification tool.
First, look for that organizational-level qualification. If the prospect doesn’t fit there, it’s safe to disqualify them. There’s no need to keep asking about what other software they’ve shopped or who makes the final decision.
If they are still qualified, check them against the opportunity-level criteria. You need to know that there’s a good fit on both sides before you care about the next step.
Look for stakeholder-level qualification only after you’ve confirmed the first two levels.
At the stakeholder level, you should disqualify anyone who doesn’t have the authority to make a decision.
Often, these prospects have good intentions, but they don’t have the background information they need to make an informed decision or the influence to get your product in front of a decision-maker.
Some of these choices will be clear, and some will require a judgment call from your sales rep. Having a clear ICP and buyer personas will help a lot.
How the sales qualification process works
You know that your sales reps are responsible for qualification, and you know the types of qualifications they’re aiming for.
Obviously, lead qualification doesn’t just happen automatically in the sales cycle. It takes an intentional approach to filter out disqualified leads and move forward with only qualified prospects.
How does this process actually work?
The sales qualification process hinges on your sales reps asking the right questions at the right times in the sales cycle.
Based on the answers your sales reps find, they either qualify or disqualify a prospect at each level mentioned above. When a lead is disqualified, the rep lets them know that this solution isn’t the best fit for them, and the sales cycle is over.
If they are qualified, the next conversation comes with new questions for the next level of qualification.
13 sales qualification questions you should ask
Since the entire qualification process hinges on asking the right questions, let’s explore some of the things sales professionals should ask.
Pains, needs, and challenges
Finding a prospect’s pain points, discussing their needs, and understanding where they are in the process of solving these problems is a big part of qualification. Add these questions to your qualification process to help.
- What problem are you trying to fix?
- Have you tried to address this problem before?
- What are your top priorities in a solution?
It doesn’t matter how much someone needs your solution if they don’t have the budget to buy it. Ask these questions:
- Do you have a budget allocated for solving this problem?
- How much have you spent on similar solutions in the past?
That stakeholder-level qualification can only happen when your sales reps know who makes the decisions. Here’s what to ask:
- Who is involved in the decision-making process?
- How have you made decisions to purchase products similar to ours in the past?
- What other solutions are you considering?
- Are there any potential roadblocks that could halt this deal?
- What happens if a decision doesn’t get made?
Timeline and urgency
The most qualified prospects are planning to make a purchase in the near future. These questions help you determine that timeline:
- Why are you looking for a solution now?
- What does your ideal timeline look like?
- How quickly are you hoping to see results?
Sales qualification frameworks
Depending on your business model and priorities, different sales qualification frameworks might work better for you.
It’s a good idea to use a standard framework so that your entire sales team operates on the same principles. When all of your leads are qualified by the same standards, your pipeline will stay cleaner, and you’ll close more of the deals you want.
Here are some of the top sales qualification frameworks to consider.
BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline.
- Budget – Can the prospect afford to buy?
- Authority – Does the prospect have influence or decision-making power?
- Need – Is your offering a good fit for the prospect?
- Timeline – Does the prospect intend to make a purchase in the near future?
Sales reps don’t have to determine these answers in a particular order. It’s okay to ask about the need and the timeline before discussing the budget, for example.
This is a standard framework that lots of businesses use. It’s popular because it hits all the high points of lead qualification in an efficient way, and it’s a great choice for sales teams with simple sales cycles.
However, if you sell a solution that has a more complex product-market fit, you’re selling to companies that have a multi-layered approval process, or you generally work with customers that purchase and implement on a flexible timeline, BANT might leave you with some qualification gaps.
CHAMP is another acronym that stands for Challenges, Authority, Money, and Priority. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s very similar to BANT. CHAMP guides your sales reps to find these answers:
- Challenges – What are the problems that your prospect is trying to solve?
- Authority – Who is the person that makes the final purchase decision?
- Money – Can the prospect afford to make this purchase?
- Priority – How important is it for the prospect to solve this problem?
This framework is great at identifying prospects that are a good fit for your business, especially if you have a clear ICP that focuses on specific pain points. It’s a great alternative to more traditional frameworks like BANT that don’t focus as strongly on the buyer’s motivation.
The downside of CHAMP is that it leaves some qualification gaps.
Remember that just because someone wants your solution, that doesn’t mean they’re always a good fit. You might need to add some extra questions to determine if your solution is the right one for this prospect.
MEDDIC is a framework specifically for B2B sales teams. It stands for:
- Metrics – What are the prospect’s ROI expectations, and how will they measure results?
- Economic buyer – Since the approval process is likely multi-layered, are you talking to the person who is likely to make a purchase decision?
- Decision criteria – What are the important technical and business criteria that will inform the buyer’s decision?
- Decision process – What’s the process to get through all the layers of approval and make a final decision?
- Identify pain – What problems does this prospect want to solve, and how can your solution help them?
- Champion – Can you connect with someone who will advocate for your solution?
The MEDDIC framework is much more thorough, and it’s an excellent choice to help your sales reps qualify higher value B2B buyers.
The main drawback is that it takes extra time to go through every item on the list.
That’s not necessarily a problem if your sales cycle tends to be a little longer, but if you’re actively trying to shorten the time to buy, you may want to consider a framework that focuses more on efficiency and less on detail.
SPICED is a five-step sales qualification framework that guides your sales reps to answer these questions:
- Situation – What are the circumstances and background details of your prospect?
- Pain – What’s the problem that your prospect wants to solve?
- Impact – What will your product do to solve that problem?
- Critical event – What’s the deadline for your solution to achieve that impact?
- Decision – Who makes the final decision, how does that process work, and what are the decision criteria?
Like so many other proven sales strategies, the SPICED framework is focused on identifying your potential customers’ problems and sharing how your solution will help them achieve the outcome they want.
The five steps of SPICED give your team plenty of opportunity to fully explore qualification criteria. Each point is open-ended enough that your reps can dig deep and fully qualify that prospect.
At the same time, this open-ended nature can create a disconnect.
Some salespeople may be comfortable asking lots of follow-up questions to get the qualifying information they need, but other reps will need more guidance to effectively qualify their prospects.
GPCT is a modified version of BANT that focuses more on understanding the prospect’s priorities. The full name is GPCTBA/C&I, which stands for:
- Goals – What are the short- and long-term goals the prospect wants to achieve?
- Plans – How is the prospect already working towards a solution?
- Challenges – What are the biggest obstacles that the prospect sees in the way?
- Timeline – When does the prospect want or need to meet their goals?
- Budget – What does the prospect expect to spend, and how flexible is that number?
- Authority – Who is involved in the decision-making process?
- Consequences & Implications – What is the best- and worst-case scenario?
For teams who like the simplicity of BANT, but feel like they need a more modern approach to selling, GPCT can be a great fit.
It’s excellent for buyer-focused teams who prefer to spend more time getting to know the prospect instead of trying to make the sale quickly.
Companies that have a very specific ICP may find that GPCT takes too long to disqualify leads who aren’t good prospects, though.
If your product is only a fit for a narrow subset of potential customers, it’s better to use a framework that focuses more on your ICP.
FAINT is a sales framework for teams that specialize in unplanned purchases. If it’s not appropriate to disqualify your leads for lack of a dedicated budget, this might be the right framework for your sales team.
It looks like this:
- Funds – Even if the buyer doesn’t have a budget, do they still have the financial resources to make a purchase if they feel strongly about your offering?
- Authority – Who gets to make the decision about allocating funds?
- Interest – Can you generate enough interest from the prospect?
- Need – What latent or less-than-obvious problems can you solve for your prospect?
- Timing – Can you establish purchase intent and a timeline to make that decision?
Most of the sales frameworks we’ve discussed so far are appropriate for sales teams who work with buyers that are actively seeking solutions. FAINT is tailored to teams who work with buyers that don’t necessarily know they need this type of solution yet.
It’s a great system if you work with a new-to-market offering, luxury items, or other purchases that the buyer wouldn’t have planned.
This might not be the best framework for sales teams who handle mostly inbound sales or those whose customers are actively shopping with competitors.
The discovery questions you use in FAINT can make the buyer feel like this is a hard sale, and that might be a turn-off if they’re looking for more information instead of a sales pitch.
ANUM is designed for sales teams that already do some lead pre-qualification before the prospect reaches the sales team. From there, this framework qualifies leads based on:
- Authority – Is the lead with whom you’re speaking the decision-maker?
- Need – What does the prospect need to solve, and can your product be that solution?
- Urgency – How soon is the prospect going to make a decision?
- Money – Can this prospect afford your product or service?
The top priority in ANUM is making sure that you’re connected with the right person from the start. From there, you check for a product fit and then determine if and when this deal is likely to close.
One of the biggest advantages of the ANUM framework is that it helps keep your sales cycles short and your pipeline clean. If you know that your deals tend to fizzle if they take too long, this might be a framework to consider.
The drawback is that you might filter out some prospects that would have made a purchase.
Often, purchase authority is distributed among multiple people in an organization, and many high-value buyers rely on gatekeepers to do the research on a product before they consider buying anything. If your ICP includes larger organizations with this type of structure, there are better choices for sales frameworks.
SCOTSMAN moves away from the binary of qualified vs. disqualified to give sales reps more flexibility to decide if a lead is worth pursuing. It stands for:
- Solution – Does your offering solve their problem?
- Competition – Who else is the buyer considering?
- Originality – What makes your offer unique or better than the competition?
- Timescales – Does the buyer have realistic expectations for implementation, and can you meet their timeline needs?
- Size – What is the size and scope of this deal?
- Money – Can the buyer afford your product, and do they have realistic expectations about how much a solution will cost?
- Authority – Who makes the final decision?
- Need – Does the prospect understand the problem they’re trying to solve, and is your solution the best way to fix it?
These criteria are not qualification steps. Think of them more like lead scoring.
Being weak in one area — for example, not having a clear advantage over your competition — does not necessarily disqualify the deal.
Rather than guiding a rep to make a yes or no decision, this framework allows sales professionals to assess the lead, identify potential obstacles, and decide individually if it’s worth trying to overcome those roadblocks.
Teams that use a bidding strategy are particularly likely to benefit from SCOTSMAN.
This is a great framework if you don’t want to disqualify leads too soon and your sales reps want a chance to win tougher sales.
If you really need to clear low-quality leads from your pipeline to give your reps time to focus on quality deals, though, this is not the best choice of framework.
NEAT is another framework that was developed to modernize classic approaches like BANT. Instead of creating a linear qualification system, it offers flexibility and keeps your reps focused on empathy and active listening to really get to know prospects. It includes:
- Need – Can the prospect benefit from your offering?
- Economic impact – Can you quantify the actual financial benefits the prospect will get from implementing your solution?
- Access to authority – How do you connect with each person in the decision-making hierarchy?
- Timeline – What is the prospect’s preferred timeline to make a decision, and what happens if that deadline isn’t met?
Sales reps should continue asking about each of these points throughout the sales process. Instead of looking for step-by-step qualification, they need to seek a deeper understanding of all of these points each time they have an interaction with the prospect.
The NEAT framework is excellent for B2B sales, especially for big-ticket items that are likely to have a long sales cycle.
Since this framework is so flexible, though, it’s not ideal for teams that need to filter out weak leads as quickly as possible.
Streamline sales qualification with Weflow
Notes taken with Weflow can be synced to Salesforce CRM automatically, while note templates can be set up to include all the relevant questions that need to be asked and answered as a part of the sales qualification framework you’re using.
Here’s how you can create a note in Weflow:
From the Weflow dashboard, click on the Notes menu item, and then click the New note button.
You can also create a note from a pipeline view by hovering over a record and clicking the Create note icon.
Add a title for your note and associate it with a record (if it’s not associated with one already). Also, choose an activity type and decide if you want to make the note private or not.
You can now start typing a note from scratch or use a template by clicking on Use a template.
You can also create a new note template from here by clicking on Use a template and then on +New template.
From here, add a name for your template and fill out the note section. Once done, click the Use template button.
No matter how you choose to qualify (and disqualify) leads in your pipeline, it’s crucial that your entire sales team operates using the same framework and standards.
The good news is that your reps are already doing something to qualify leads, even if it’s not a formalized or efficient process. Filtering out unqualified leads is a natural part of the sales process. Your team will probably welcome some additional structure that helps them close more deals.
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