Increasing sales productivity – 7 steps to improving lead qualification

Let’s assume you’re a sales manager and the VP of Sales has just suggested that something needs to be done about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of your sales team, ending with “seeing some results in 3 or 4 months would be great.”

Lead Qualification

What might you do?  Well, there are several possibilities, but let’s explore one that’s often overlooked – getting the team better at lead qualification.

A good starting pointing is recognizing that different people in different customer organizations play different roles in any particular type of opportunity.  Depending on the role and perspective, the players will have a different sense of value, different concerns and different challenges.  And, they may have a different view of your capabilities.

Because all the different role players impact the decision, it is useful to have a structure for making sure you have touched all the necessary bases.  The most straightforward structure for organizing the roles in the buying process is to think in terms of decision makers and influencers.

  • Decision Maker – This is the person or persons that makes or approves the decision.  The Decision Maker is concerned about the final results and the overall impact of the final selection on the organization.  They look at the decision from an overall technical and financial perspective.  In addition they are concerned that the selection process is fair.

When it comes to lead qualification, it is equally important to turn attention to influencers.  There are four distinct types of influencers:

  • Advisors These are the internal people who support the Decision Maker.  The degree of influence an Advisor can have varies tremendously.  In some cases it is even difficult to identify all the people who are playing this role.  Here, it is useful to discuss with colleagues who know these people to determine how they have historically interfaced with the Decision Maker.
  • Gatekeepers These are the contracting officers and other administrators that control money and procedures. They are concerned about following the rules.  Often, they are not in a position to say yes, but they can say no.
  • Users – These are the people who actually use or manage the solution.  Their primary concern is about specifications. Their influence can vary significantly.  Sometimes it is a behind the scenes type impact and in others, it is more direct.
  • ExternalsThis group is composed of the wide variety of external people or groups of people who may influence the decision maker either directly or indirectly.

The stage has now been set. What are the implications? Regardless of the person with whom you are meeting, it is important beforehand to gather intelligence.  When it comes to planning and conducting qualification discussions with any of the role players, there are some overall perspectives to keep in mind:

  • Review the overall status of your current relationship with the customer. Are you in a situation with the customer that lends itself to you closing a future sale?  Do you have a related effort not going well that should be recovered and completed before pursuing this, or might you be “on a roll” where the halo effect increases your odds?  Or, are you an unknown?
  • Determine if you have been instrumental in crafting the scope of the opportunity or are you just responding to someone else’s design. The earlier you can be engaged, the better. If you have been involved in generating the need and have helped scope the desired solution in a way that favors you, the odds of success are much stronger. The later you learn about an opportunity, the greater the chance a competitor has established a position with the customer you would have to overcome.
  • Judge whether the opportunity is something you can do well. Customers have choices.  Does it appear that you can offer a clear differentiation on some dimension of value to the customer, e.g., in expert resources, product specifications, project management, speed of implementation, etc.?
  • Assess if winning will deny resources for a more attractive alternative. Any sale may appear to be profitable, but it must be compared with other opportunities to avoid undesirable opportunity costs. This is particularly important in certain industries like consulting and other professional services.  Once resources are committed it is difficult if not impossible to reassign without significant cost and lost customer approval. If you commit to a project with marginal profitability, you might be denying the use of the resources for a “better deal” – so it may be bad business.
  • Assess whether this opportunity leads to related work. Sometimes a sale may have as much or more value in the future, than the present. Is this an opportunity for a similar but perhaps larger project in the future that you might not win without demonstrating your capabilities first?
  • Assess how large and profitable the opportunity is. It is always useful to look for ways to obtain an initial estimate of the size of the opportunity and the potential profitability. Also, if a customer mentions a particularly challenging requirement – take note.  Such a consideration may impact your probability of success and the profitability.

  • Determine if competitors are better positioned for success on the opportunity. Sometimes an opportunity meets all of the parameters for size, timing, fit with your resources, and profitability but is better positioned for a competitor. Or, the competition may simply “be in line” for getting a sale. Or, someone may have determined that having more than one vendor to serve their company is to their advantage. None of these situations, it must be noted, is a reason to abandon an opportunity before it starts, but they must be considered as factors.

The larger the sales being pursued, the more important is the issue of lead qualification.  In many major B2B sales the sales cycle is an extended process and in some exotic industries the cost of pursuing a customer opportunity amounts to 100,000’s of dollars.  Hence the cost of getting it wrong is devastating and the payoffs of getting it right substantial.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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