Developing a Lead Qualification System

Hot leads, qualified prospects, warm bodies ready to buy. Every salesperson wants those leads. Few of us like to spend our selling time talking to tire kickers and the idly curious, those inquisitive souls who ask dozens of questions but never actually place an order.

But how do you know the difference?

Most salespeople develop a sort of sixth sense about lead qualification, confident that they know how to judge the good from the bad, the hot leads from the cold. Yet few of us get it right every time – we inadvertently spend too long on some low-potential accounts, and abandon a future big spender before we should, having assumed the buy isn’t going to happen.

The really great salespeople focus significant energy on perfecting the qualification process, but most salespeople are less scientific than that, preferring to believe that any account not closed was a poor prospect. This ego-preservation instinct is normal human nature, and nothing to worry about, as long as sales management doesn’t fall into believing it.

Instead, invest the time to come up with a qualification process that is not salesperson-specific, so that your sales intelligence is based on some level of reality.

What’s the key to an effective qualification process?

  • Objectively examine running accounts for like characteristics, lots of them.

  • Do the same with accounts not running with you; be as thorough as you can.
  • Develop hypotheses as to what are the differentiating factors between accounts that buy and those that do not.
  • Test those hypotheses, one by one, with current accounts and prospects.
  • Be rigorously honest with yourself about whether these hypotheses capture the real distinction points.
  • Experiment with third-party research techniques and simple, on-phone questions that can identify those characteristics in new prospects right away.
  • Track your results to make sure you have hit on the factors that make the greatest difference.
  • Never stop testing and tracking because you never know when market conditions will shift the factors involved in buying.

Okay, we know the above checklist is a little abstract, but that’s because every situation is different. So let’s go with some specific examples…

  • If your site’s strength is in reaching business users, screen out advertisers after broad consumer markets.

  • If your site appeals to teenagers, make sure that the car manufacturer agrees with you that first-time owners/new drivers are the perfect audience.
  • You may love that pitch, but if they are targeting 30-somethings, your approach is not likely to work and will waste everyone’s time. You can work on reassessing the target segment, but know that is a longer, slower and more complex sales task.

If you sell considerably more to clients directly than to those who work with agencies, you either need to rethink your approach to selling ad agencies or start screening out agency-handled clients (the latter being a very short-sighted approach). If you sell a lot to buyers who appreciate the premium value of your specialized audience, don’t spend too much time pitching advertisers who buy only on price.

We don’t mean to imply that any account, given enough time and resources, can’t be sold. Of course you can choose to hang in there and sell it, and if it’s a strategically important account or one that represents major business, that’s exactly what you should do. But every little account is not worth the same effort, and you cannot successfully manage a growth territory if you chase blindly after every lead.

By planning where the time is best invested, and screening out those accounts that are a less good fit, your sales will go up, along with your close ratio and satisfaction level. It takes some real effort, from both the sales team and the sales management, to design a great qualification system, but we have consistently found it to be worth the effort.

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