You can automate new lead generation, but qualifying them is usually done manually. To qualify a lead, you will need to make some research, have a quick phone call with them, look for clues, and make a judgement.
Who Does the Qualifying?
Disqualifying a lead can be a difficult decision.
It costs money to bring in new leads, and the money you have spent to bring in a disqualified lead is essentially money lost, since the sales team will not even try to sell to them. The marketing team may be biased towards qualifying a lead when they are not sure, because disqualified leads decrease marketing efficiency metrics.
On the other hand, salespeople rely on new leads to generate new sales. If new customers are scarce, they too will be biased towards qualifying leads when in doubt. After all, when a lead is disqualified, it is almost certain nothing will be sold to them, but there is always a slight chance that a marginally qualified lead will become a customer.
In reality, the sales team has limited resources to engage customers, and any time spent to convince low-potential leads is time taken away from higher potential leads. Assuming marketing is doing a good job of supplying a sufficient number of leads to keep the sales team busy, it is always better to work with high-potential leads, instead of trying to sell to low-potential ones.
In a best-case scenario, a team of impartial experts (sometimes called Sales Development Representatives) do the qualifying. For that, they would use a set of objective criteria consistently over time and over all leads. Once they qualify a lead, the sales team can take over.
In practice, it may be difficult or impractical to have a different team responsible for the qualification of leads.
You must decide who will do the lead qualification in your company. Just be aware of potential biases and practical problems while making that decision.
Salespeople can be overly optimistic about their chances of closing a sale. They can waste a lot of time engaging potential customers who never end up buying. A good way to prevent that waste is to have an objective lead qualification criteria applied before the sales team starts to spend time with potential buyers.
The purpose of the lead qualification process is not to determine who will eventually buy, but to find out those most unlikely to buy. So the question is: What are the most common and easy to discover characteristics of low-potential leads?
The answers can vary for each industry and business, but some commonly used questions are the following:
- Can you deliver what they need?
Devise a set of questions that helps you discover what your lead needs, and if you can provide it. In some industries, specifications are clear and needs can be defined easily. If your lead is looking for a residential air conditioner and you only sell industrial units, you can disqualify right away, because there is no point in trying. In other industries, things may not be as clear. You may need to dig deeper and see what the lead’s challenges are, and if you can come up with a way to help them.
- Are you talking to the right person?
When selling to businesses, it is important to understand the authority of the person you are talking with. Is she the person who can make a purchase decision? Has someone who can make that decision asked her to look for a vendor? Can she at least help you reach someone who can make the purchase decision? If your lead looks like a dead-end, you will want to disqualify.
- Can they afford you?
This can be tricky to find out, but if your lead does not have the budget, you are probably better off spending your time with someone else. You will want to devise clever methods to detect clues about purchasing power, if it is not appropriate to ask this question up front.
- Is this a high-priority purchase for them?
Buyers tend to decide quicker and bargain less if the item they are buying has high priority. You will end up spending less time, simply because the buyer has less time to look for alternatives. Low-priority items on the other hand get pushed forward easily, without any negative impact on the buyer’s business. They will use the extra time to negotiate with multiple vendors, increasing the time cost of your sales, decreasing your chances, and reducing your final price. You would rather avoid buyers like that.
Come up with a set of qualification questions appropriate for your business. Note that seeking answer to a qualification question is not same as asking the question to your leads. Whenever possible, use other research methods to get clues without asking.
How Long Should It Take to Qualify a Lead?
Remember that the actual selling doesn’t start until a lead is qualified, so you want to do it as fast as possible. Taking too long may give your faster competition an edge.
Depending on the nature of your business, an acceptable time for qualification can be anything from minutes to weeks, but most businesses try to keep it under a few days from the time the lead enters the CRM system.
To make the best use of the time you allow yourself to qualify each lead, you will need to devise an efficient method to research and talk with your leads, and also decide what to do if you can’t reach them or get all the answers.