What is lead qualification?
Salesforce defines qualified leads as “leads that have been determined to have a good chance at converting into customers.” This means that lead qualification is the process of determining which leads are most likely to convert into paying customers.
Lead qualification, which is also sometimes called sales lead qualification, sales qualification, or lead scoring, involves capturing relevant data to make informed decisions on a lead’s likelihood of conversion.
The Salesforce definition goes on to say that “Determining a lead’s level of interest in, and fit for, what you’re selling helps you decide whether or not to pursue that lead, and where to prioritize it relative to other leads.”
Is lead qualification essential?
Sales resources are limited. Teams have a fixed amount of time to pursue leads because sales quotas are calculated for a specific, fixed period. As a result, it makes sense to focus nurturing efforts on leads that are more likely to yield revenue.
Without lead scoring, sales teams would treat all leads equally. They would call all of them. They might even miss out on leads that are more likely to convert because they have no prioritization criteria.
With lead scoring, sales managers can do away with the kind of cold calling that both sales reps and call recipients dread. The kind where you’re selling something completely irrelevant to someone who is completely indifferent.
Lead qualification vs sales prospecting – are they any different?
Although the terms are used interchangeably, there are actually subtle differences between sales prospecting and lead scoring.
In our article about sales prospecting, we differentiated between lead and prospect as follows:
Leads are people who have engaged with your marketing efforts via social media, website, email, or offline communication methods. Sales prospects have either engaged with the sales team or fit the ideal customer profile, thereby increasing their chances of converting to a highly qualified sales opportunity.
Lead qualification stages
There are 3 to 5 stages in lead qualification, depending on how you look at it. These stages might also be called a lead qualification checklist, because they offer a sort of ready reckoner on what points need to be checked off at each stage.
At this point, your leads are just names and numbers on a spreadsheet.
If your organization has a distinct marketing department, then marketing qualifies these leads before passing them on to the sales team. Alternatively, you qualify them if they respond positively to marketing efforts. Maybe they clicked on an ad, or downloaded a free resource, or opened all your emails.
For a lead to be product-qualified, they should have shown some definitive interest in your product. Perhaps they have spent a lot of time on your pricing page. Maybe they’ve gone so far as to opt for a free trial or ask for a free demo. Or maybe they posted a very specific question about how your product works to your chatbot.
When a lead offers contact details and welcomes a conversation with your sales team or agrees to a meeting, the lead can most often be labeled as interested in your product. That’s when you refer to them as conversion-qualified leads.
Now you can see where the term sales qualification (sometimes used in place of lead qualification) comes from. Sales qualification is the culmination of the lead qualification process. A lead becomes sales qualified after a discovery call with the lead. The lead is now a prospect and identified as having high potential. The sales team can now go ahead and nurture the lead.
Lead qualification questions
Since most of the lead qualification process takes place before an actual conversation with the customer, there are some questions here that you need to ask yourself before allowing the lead to progress to the next lead qualification stage. These are:
Passing the lead from stage 1 of lead qualification to stage 2:
Has the lead responded positively to any marketing efforts?
To what degree has the lead responded?
Does the lead match my buyer persona?
Some sales teams provide actual scores based on the marketing effort responded to and the degree to which the lead responded. For example, clicking on an advertisement might receive a higher number of points than downloading a cheat sheet.
You also check about whether the lead matches your buyer persona to ensure that they’re in the right geography to be serviceable. You typically also want to focus your efforts on leads with decision-making authority and within a sector that truly derives value from your product. You can get basic information about your lead from LinkedIn or sometimes a company website and compare it with your buyer persona
Passing the lead from stage 2 to stage 3 of lead qualification:
Has the lead shown any concrete interest in your product?
What is the intensity of their interest?
The goal of the questions at this stage is to eliminate students, competitors and others who might read your content out of general or academic interest.
Passing the lead from lead qualification stage 3 to stage 4:
Has the lead welcomed a conversation around the purchase or a conversation with the sales team?
Was the lead’s interest in meeting sales a proactive or reactive decision?
At this stage, you want to find out if your lead desires your product in general or if they actually intend to purchase.
For instance, a business owner might desire AI-powered research someday, and might like to know more about it. He is unlikely to fix a meeting with a sales rep for something he wants someday. However, a lead that intends to purchase within the quarter will be keen to meet with a sales rep, ask questions and negotiate.
Identifying leads as sales qualified – passing the lead from stage 4 to stage 5:
At this point you make the first of (hopefully) many sales calls to come. Here are some questions that you could ask on your first sales call:
What are your business goals and business challenges or business pain points?
How are you currently resolving these pain points? What was your experience like?
Have you considered <your product> as a possible solution?
Are you in the market for a solution this month/ this quarter?
When are you looking to make a purchase decision?
What budget have you allocated for a solution to these pain points?
What criteria are you judging possible solutions by?
Who is involved in the decision-making process?
These questions tell you whether your product is a good fit, what boxes you need to check and what you need to avoid. You also know what timeline you’re looking at and whether you’re talking to the final decision-maker.