Where does qualification fit in your sales funnel?
According to Amit Kashyap in a series of LinkedIn blogs he wrote last year, qualification is the second step in his seven-step sales process.
Check out the MaRS guide for a five-step process, meant to give startups and entrepreneurs a jumping off point when they build their own sales funnel. There, qualification is step three.
If your sales funnel looks anything like these, you may need a new one. Why? Because qualification isn’t a step in the process at all.
It is the process.
What does that mean?
Traditionally, we think about qualification as a step unto itself. It’s the point where you take a pool of leads and start digging into their needs – and whether your product or service is a good fit. It usually comes after prospecting and before a more formal presentation. At the end, you have a collection of really good candidates who are likely to buy.
To move ahead and close a sale, you need a set of criteria. You may even have a framework to keep those criteria consistent across all customers and reps.
And we can all agree on why qualifying matters. Focusing only on the few who make the cut is a much better use of your time than spreading yourself thin over 20 or 30 who aren’t right (or aren’t there yet).
But there’s a problem with treating it as one step in a multi-step process, and it comes down to performance and forecasting.
“When we dug in and tried to understand what the top performers did differently, two key patterns emerged,” writes Bob Apollo for Inflexion Point. “They saw qualification as a process, not an event, and they qualified deals at multiple levels.”
Qualification belongs in the sales process, for sure. But it belongs at every step of the process. You shouldn’t be allowed to move a deal forward through the funnel unless the prospect has met criteria at each separate stage.
It’s not just stage-related questions. It’s reassessing and revisiting the basics along the way – like how pricing and budget align, who’s making the final call and whether there’s a solid purchasing date – at regular intervals, like a quality assurance check.
The main benefit? You’re not left with predictions like, “It’s a $100,000 deal, in stage 5, with 90% confidence” when the VP with purchasing authority hasn’t seen the pricing.
Situations like that lead to inaccurate sales forecasts, which is a big deal considering high-quality forecasts lead to better year-over-year revenue growth and teams more consistently hitting their quota, reports HubSpot.
And it helps to make sure you’re putting your time and energy into not just good deals but the best deals. Otherwise, you’ll frequently miss targets, and you’re more likely to bring in customers that aren’t a good fit (and deal with more returns as a result).
Putting the process into practice
In terms of your sales calls, meetings and presentations, implementing continuous qualification means asking — and re-asking — questions before moving customers to the next stage.
Apollo suggests moving from the general to the specific, working through three layers, to make sure you’ve captured:
Organization-level qualification: Look at your best customers and learn what makes them your best. Then compare that to your new prospects. Is this a company you want to do business with? How do they measure up to your personas? How similar are they to your best customers? What’s the potential for long-term business?
Opportunity-level qualification: Here’s where product-need alignment appears — probably what you think of when you hear “qualification.” Does your product satisfy a specific customer need? Is it feasible for them to implement your solution?
Stakeholder-level qualification: At the most specific point, you’re thinking about the people involved in the close: who the final decision-makers are and anyone else who might be involved. If your contact doesn’t have the power to make change happen, you’ll want to make sure you influence the person who does.
If they fail to meet any of your criteria along the way, it’s time to seriously re-evaluate whether they’ll make a good customer.
Just like it’s time to seriously re-evaluate whether your sales funnel is as good as it could be.