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How to Qualify a Sales Lead beyond the Ideal Customer Profile

When qualifying sales leads, the first lens to look through is the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). We discover whether potential prospects are the right size, in the right industry, and are located in the right geographical location. We might also have additional qualifying information, such as marketing data, like digital footprints from websites, and white papers they downloaded.

But just because a prospect checks these boxes doesn’t mean they will buy from you. In order for a sales team to succeed in their role to help potential buyers commit to a meeting, they should not be spending time and energy with unqualified leads. To avoid this waste, we must introduce a system of disqualifying leads based not only on hard criteria defined by the ICP, but also softer criteria that define whether they should be added to our pipeline and help us increase sales effectiveness.

What are "Qualifiers?"

Qualifiers in sales can be seen as information to help determine whether a lead is “qualified” for salespeople to spend their valuable time helping. In order to identify the ICP part of the equation, we need to figure out facts like:

  • How big is the company?

  • What industry are they in?

  • Are they in the right geography?

  • Do they have problems and initiatives we can help them with?

  • What role(s) do we need to engage with?

Great sales teams ask questions that go beyond the ICP to discover (at least) four key factors that determine whether the prospect has the potential to buy from you.

Four Types of Qualifying Questions to Ask Beyond the ICP

The four key types of qualifying questions your salespeople need to ask will help them discover:

  • Whether they have a problem or initiative you can solve

  • The timeframe in which they need to solve it

  • The urgency with which they need to solve it

  • How well they are aligned with your company

Qualified Prospects Have a Problem or Initiative You Can Solve

Most of the time, a prospect won’t even talk to a salesperson if they don’t have some kind of problem or initiative they are looking to address. But just because they have a problem or key initiative doesn’t mean it’s one you can solve. And sometimes, they might not even know what problems or initiatives they should prioritize until you enlighten them…

Too many salespeople, eager for the sale, try to cram any problem into a shape they can claim to have a solution for. But buyers whose problem or initiative doesn’t actually fit your solution are not likely to buy in the end, anyway, nor are they likely to be satisfied customers if they do.

Train your salespeople to dig beneath the surface of the problems their prospects talk about to discover the roots of the problem and teach them the criteria for problems and initiatives that your offering is the ideal solution for. Disqualify any prospect that doesn’t fit.

Qualified Prospects Have or Can Develop a Clear Timeline for Solving Their Problem

Problems and initiatives that don’t have a timeline don’t get solved. Train salespeople to ask questions that determine whether the prospect already knows their timeline or, if they don’t already know it, helps them to define it. Problems and initiatives that need to be solved sooner rather than later are more likely to end in a win, faster.

But that doesn’t mean you should disqualify prospects whose timeline is longer. It just means you need to know how to align your own timeline with theirs to make the sale. Or, if you are very skilled and understand their problems and initiatives well enough, the other way around :)

Qualified Prospects Feel Urgency to Solve the Problem

Prospects who have no urgency around their problem, are much less likely to close than those that do feel urgency. Urgency is a “soft” quality, and hard to pin down–but you can train salespeople to ask questions to get to the heart of it.

In cases where there is no existing sense of urgency, a well-trained salesperson can help to create urgency by asking probing questions about the current situation and future state, and the cost of doing nothing, compared to getting things done.

By uncovering and/or creating urgency, the salesperson increases the chance of winning the business. When urgency isn’t present and can’t be created, the salesperson can stop wasting time and re-engage at a later time, and reclaim the time saved for more eligible prospects.

Qualified Prospects Will Align with Your Company on Important “Soft” Factors

Some companies are just a better fit than others. Many of these factors can’t be defined by size, or vertical, or who is involved in the sale, or the nature of the problem. In fact, sometimes the factors that impact whether a prospect is likely to buy aren’t “obvious.”

Now that we know this important qualifying criteria, we can go after prospects most likely to be ramping up many salespeople and add qualifying questions to our process to unearth this information early in the process. This enables us to increase win rates and be more accurate in our forecasts.

Other soft factors that can influence wins are cultural fit, company structure, their overall vision, their attitude toward your product type as well as your specific product, what competitors they are considering, other investments they’re prioritizing, key initiatives, and much more.

Identifying these “soft” qualifying factors and developing qualifying questions to identify them can help you become laser focused on your prospecting, so that your salespeople spend time on the right prospects and don’t create bloated pipelines and missed forecasts.


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