How To Qualify a Lead in 6 Simple Steps

Maddy Martin

Knowing how to qualify a lead when in a sales position for your company is a great way to raise overall revenue and ensure that your time and money are being best spent. When making outbound calls, it can be easy to overlook this process, but in the end, it’ll only help you make the right decisions when it comes to selling your product or service. Keep reading to learn more about the lead qualification process and how it can help your business grow. 

What does “qualifying a lead” mean?

Leads are either consumers or businesses that would benefit from your company’s products or services. While you might think that your product or service would be a great fit for all, many different factors could exclude a consumer or business from being a great fit for your company at the present time.  

For one, if you sell a product, you might find out that the lead you’re calling has already entered into a contract with a competitor, or that they are releasing a product that is quite similar to yours. In this case, this lead is not the best fit to pursue and therefore would not be qualified. 

The process of qualifying a lead, or making sure that they are a good fit for you to sell to, helps your company avoid spending both time and money on prospects that aren’t 100% aligned with your offerings. 

6 Steps to qualify a lead

Qualifying a lead doesn't need to be complicated; keep these steps in mind while deciding if a lead is worth pursuing. 

6 steps to qualify a lead

Step 1. Do your homework 

The first step to qualifying a lead is to do some research on your prospective point of contact. This not only lets them know that you are serious about selling to them, but it saves time during the initial cold call and can help you during your pitch; after all, who wouldn’t be impressed if you came to the call with information instead of questions?

You can use social media sites such as LinkedIn to start building your portfolio of details. Vital information such as current role, business information, their interests, and any current pain points can help you navigate your first call with them with confidence. Even more, taking some time to look at your lead’s website and current product offerings and upcoming events will help put you in the driver's seat for leading the conversation. 

Step 2. Identify the business problem

While some customers might reach out to your business due to needing an immediate solution, your effective marketing skills might also be bringing in many prospective leads. With this in mind, you might have to do some work to determine the business problem that they have to best assist them with your product or service. 

Understanding the pain points of your prospective customers is key to understanding how you can best assist them. During your initial call with your lead, ask questions to help identify the business problem they are currently facing. Is this a recurring problem, or a one-time problem? Have they previously had a working solution to the problem? If so, what happened? 

Identifying the main pain points of your lead is a great way to learn if your product or service will be able to help them reach their goals. If so, you can continue through the lead qualification process. If not, this might be a good time to disqualify them as a lead, either for right now or entirely. 

Step 3. Inquire why a solution is needed now

Once you’ve identified your lead’s business problem, it’s important to identify why a solution is needed now. Has your lead used a competitor in the past? Has there been a market shift or a change in the company where a solution is just now needed? Whatever the case, it’s crucial to have this conversation with your lead to determine why a solution was not implemented before, or if there was a prior solution, what changed to make it no longer feasible. 

While determining why a solution is needed now, it's also important to determine how badly your prospective customer needs a solution. Some other questions to ask include:

  • What does success look like after implementing this solution?
  • Would you be the daily user of the product or service, or would it be used by many?
  • Is there a current solution in place?
  • Is the timeframe that your product or service is needed right away, or will this be needed in the future? 

Asking these questions, whether during a sales call or a larger sales meeting, can help inform you even further if the lead is a good fit for your business’s solution and can even determine which solution would be best if you have multiple offerings.  

Step 4. Discover the working budget 

Even though the budget of your lead shouldn't determine if they are qualified or not, determining this can offer insight. For example, knowing if there is an allocated budget for your company’s service or not can help inform you if there might be a future disagreement on pricing. For this reason, it might be beneficial to determine the price of your product or service before pursuing a lead, that way you can ensure they have the room to pay it. 

Be aware when discussing pricing with a customer who already has a solution to their problem but is instead looking for an upgrade, perhaps from a competitor to your company. Do your research on their current budget; you might be able to negotiate them spending a bit more than what they currently are to obtain your better product. 

Step 5. Locate the decision-maker 

As you’re working through the lead qualification process, you might be speaking with many different people. After all, business decisions on average involve 6.8 people, and with this many ideas and opinions, it’s important to solve any questions or problems that come up in the meantime.

It’s important to discover who the decision-maker is (or are, if a larger company) as soon as possible during the lead qualification process to ensure that the most important questions are being answered to help speed up the sales process. Also beneficial is to find out where your point of contact falls into the decision-making process; are they part of the direct process, or do they just report to the actual decision-makers? 

Similar to the working budget, finding the decision-maker is not a make-it-or-break-it step of the process, but it does help in keeping the conversations productive and being mindful of everyone’s time.   

Step 6. Work out any complications 

Even if you’ve checked all the boxes this far, it’s still possible to not qualify a lead this late in the process. If they meet the criteria that is a “perfect” customer for your business, if they need a solution you can provide, or even if they have a budget that fits your costs but they cannot (or will not) implement the solution you’ve offered, this lead might not be fully qualified after all. 

Offering the product or service is not enough; in order to have a full working relationship, the lead must be able to put in the effort for your solution to work for them. Otherwise, the customer will not get the expected results, which might cause turbulence in your relationship in the future. 

Before fully qualifying a lead and signing a sales agreement, it’s imperative that you set forth the expectations that you have for them. For example, if you sell insurance, you might want to ensure they understand the obligation of payment and what that timeframe is. If you sell a product such as a printer, you might want to outlay the expectation of servicing and replacement of ink and toner. If your lead cannot agree to your terms, it might be time to consider disqualification now.  

Qualifying a lead FAQs

While understanding how to qualify a lead is essential to the process, there are many other questions about lead qualification that are too important to not mention.

When do I qualify a lead? 

Qualifying a lead can happen as soon as you place a cold call to the prospective customer. By asking basic questions, you can immediately know if this lead is worth investing your time and money in. If you happen to speak to a lead that refuses to answer a question or two to see if you’re a good fit, it might be best to move forward without them. 

In addition to qualifying a lead during the cold call process, you can also ask deeper qualifying questions during a sales pitch or presentation.  

Why should you qualify your leads?

Qualifying your leads helps determine if they will actually benefit from and purchase your product or service and see if they are a good fit for you. This will ultimately help you and your company save time and money; after all, you wouldn’t want to spend your time making initial and subsequent follow-up calls to a customer who won’t benefit from your offerings. Instead, it’s better worth your time to call those who will be interested in what your company is selling.  

In addition, qualifying leads can help you:

  • Improve close ratios
  • Upgrade your sales process
  • Easily move on from a disqualified lead without spending unnecessary time on them
  • Focus on smaller segments of buyers, therefore allowing you to deliver a personalized experience 
  • Ensure that your day-to-day tasks lead to a positive outcome for revenue and performance
  • Avoid selling a product that is a poor fit for the customer, resulting in a return or negative social media attention 
5 reasons why you should qualify leads

When should I disqualify a prospect? 

There are times when you should disqualify a prospect and abandon your efforts of converting them from a lead to a sale. 

First, if this customer doesn’t fit your buyer persona, that is, the representation of your “perfect” customer, based both on real data about your existing customer and market research, you should disqualify them. This is not to say that they wouldn’t fit into your profile later, but for now, there’s no reason to try to sell to someone who wouldn’t totally benefit from your product or service. 

Keep in mind that if your company goals do not align with those of your prospect, it might also be time to abandon this potential partnership. 

What questions should you ask to qualify a lead?

Beyond the example questions listed above for qualifying a lead, you can also ask additional questions to see if they are the best fit for you. You'll want to ask more precise questions based on the industry. See a few examples below. 

Law firm:

  • Are you currently working with an attorney?
  • Who are the other parties involved?
  • Are you prepared to pay an attorney to assist you with this matter?

Childcare services:

  • How many of your children are you looking to enroll?
  • What are the ages of your children?
  • How would you describe the temperament of your children?

Flooring company:

  • Will these services be for a residential or commercial property?
  • What is the square footage of the space where flooring is needed?
  • What is your desired flooring type? 

Life insurance:

  • What is the composition of your household?
  • What is your employment status?
  • How old are you?

Travel agency:

  • What is your #1 goal for this trip? 
  • What is your budget for this trip?
  • When would you like to travel?

Once you have a customer base, you’ll be able to see trends in the data that make the “best” customer for you. This could be a quality such as owning a home, having pets, or traveling frequently. 

How Smith.ai can help 

Qualifying a lead doesn’t need to be stressful. Virtual receptionists can handle lead qualification and new client intake calls,  and our virtual agents can help make your outbound calling process nice and easy. Several lead generation tools can streamline your processes and help bring in qualified leads faster.

Don’t feel that you have to qualify your leads alone; we’re here to help. You can schedule a consultation to find out how Smith.ai can help you with lead qualifications.

Knowing how to qualify a lead will ultimately help you and your company invest your time and money effectively, opening the door to increasing your closing rate and (hopefully) increasing your revenue. 

Source: Harvard Business Review

Maddy Martin

Maddy Martin is Smith.ai's VP of Marketing. Over the last 15 years, Maddy has built her expertise and reputation in small-business communications, lead conversion, email marketing, partnerships, and SEO.

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