Today's post is by Donal Daly, CEO of The TAS Group.
Effective qualification, as an integral part of the sales process, is a supremely valuable tool not just for the sales organization but for the company overall. Remember, there are really only two reasons why you lose a sale: 1) you shouldn’t be there in the first place, i.e., this is a deal you should not win, or 2) you were outsold. If marketing and sales are aligned when outlining the profile of the ideal target customer, then a lot of the pain associated with the first reason goes away. You’ve targeted the customer correctly; so, yes, if there is an opportunity, the salesperson should have a good chance of winning it, unless he or she is outsold by a competitor. But winning the sale is not about just identifying the right customer profile. We also need to understand whether there is really an opportunity to win. (This is one of the four key questions that are part of TAS from The TAS Group.)
Unless you have a crystal ball, you cannot forecast accurately if you don’t qualify properly. Poor qualification leads to missed numbers and surprise sales losses. If internal resources are allocated based on your pipeline, your credibility is seriously damaged, and your customers will slip down the priority list when internal resources are allocated. Then neither sales nor marketing knows where to spend time.
Link precise qualification with your sales-process stages and pipeline management, and then you know what’s going on. (If you need to create a new sales process, or optimize the one you currently use, you can create a customized sales process for free at Dealmaker Genius.)
Depending on the questions you ask and the information you glean, you can determine how likely the sale is to close. Consider the following list of questions. Depending on how you structure the interaction between sales and marketing, whether you use inside sales or telemarketing, and how you define a qualified lead or opportunity will all help you determine whether these questions should be asked by marketing or sales.
- Does the customer have an identified project?
- Is budget allocated?
- Do you know the compelling event that will motivate the customer to buy?
- Are all of the influencers identified?
- What roles do those influencers play?
- Have you won this type of business before?
- Can you win this one?
- What’s your source of information?
- Are there any competing projects?
- Is there a date by which this project has to be completed?
- Is this a competitive opportunity, and what is your competitive advantage?
- Do you fully understand the buyer’s needs?
- Can you meet those needs competitively?
- Does it matter if the project slips a few months? (If so, you might question whether it is worth the time now.)
- What’s the downside for the company if it doesn’t proceed with the purchase of a product such as yours?
Qualification is not an event. It’s an ongoing process. As buyers evaluate you, you must continue to qualify them. If you are a value creator during the evaluation, you’ve earned the right to probe deeper into the opportunity. The qualification process involves establishing the rules of engagement and laying the groundwork for control of the sales process. You must make sure that you question for objective and accurate answers. Ask the same question of different influencers in the account, and you will be surprised at what you learn about the perspective of each role. You need to be sure that you’re working on a real opportunity.
One of the main benefits of disciplined qualification is a pipeline that’s credible and a forecast you can stand over and deliver, and this is where sales and marketing need to be totally aligned.
When does a target become a qualified prospect that warrants extensive sales effort? Marketing can put in place a rigorous lead- or opportunity-qualification process, agreed with sales, so that the salesperson is truly motivated to quickly pursue targets that marketing identifies.
How many qualified prospects do you need at each stage of the pipeline to meet your quota? When you know sales quota and the rate at which deals progress through the funnel, examining the current value of each stage in the funnel can provide indicators of when a shortfall exists.
What is the specific evidence you need to determine whether a deal is likely to close? Marketing and sales need to work together on the verifiable outcomes in each stage of the sales process, and marketing must consider what sales tools are required to help the sales team achieve those outcomes.
As you are getting to that final negotiation stage, what’s the impact of poor qualification on your ability to strike a good deal? What sales and marketing effort do you need to make to ensure that risk is minimized at this stage of the deal?Qualification is a shared function between sales and marketing, and that recognition tends to focus the activities that marketing undertakes beyond just throwing a lead over the fence.