Qualifying Sales Opportunities with an Opportunity Scorecard
As a sales professional, your time is your most precious and valued resource. Time is the currency with which you purchase your success. The key of course is deciding where to invest your time by choosing which customers and sales opportunities offer the greatest potential return with the least risk or downside. This is accomplished through sales qualification.
The purpose of qualifying sales opportunities is to determine the quality or "close-ability" of each deal. When done properly, sales qualification enables you to better prioritize your efforts, more accurately forecast revenue and properly allocate resources. Investing in the most highly qualified opportunities allows us to leverage our time and effort to maximize our sales results.
Despite this being common knowledge for most, many staffing firms are struggling to prioritize their efforts and as a result are spinning their wheels on opportunities that are going nowhere, thus wasting the time of their delivery teams.
There are four main reasons why salespeople don’t win business when working an opportunity or a "a live job order." They include:
- Salespeople not investing enough time in understanding the opportunity
- Salespeople not understanding the key elements to build an effective statement of work (job order) that will get both candidates and recruiters excited about the opportunity
- Salespeople failing to understand and ask the right qualifying questions
- Salespeople failing to acknowledge when they should walk away from opportunities
Qualifying sales opportunities is NOT simply a step in the sales process that gets "checked off" as a yes or a no. Sales qualification is the process. Thoroughly qualifying a sales opportunity usually takes multiple conversations with the customer and preferably with multiple people. As conditions change through the sales cycle, an opportunity can be qualified one day and not qualified the next day. It's a fluid situation.
Determining the quality of, and qualifying your sales opportunities requires that you understand why your customers would buy including how your customers think, how they make decisions and what drives their buying behavior, and how they buy.
To be clear, the quality of your sales opportunities has nothing to do with the job description or the candidate's day-to-day responsibilities. What you really need to understand about each sales opportunity is why they would buy and how they would buy from you if they could.
In this post I'm going to share with you the value of qualifying sales opportunities with an opportunity scorecard and how it serves as a powerful qualification tool. I will discuss the criteria including the underlying principles for each qualification element. Finally, I share with you the sales qualification opportunity scorecard at the end of this post
The Opportunity Scorecard
An opportunity scorecard is one of the most valuable tools a salesperson can have. It's an evaluation tool based on a set of specific criteria which can be used to qualify every potential sales opportunity. An opportunity scorecard serves several purposes including:
- It provides a set of standard and objective criteria for evaluating each opportunity which enables a scalable, repeatable and systematic approach to sales qualification
- It helps salespeople determine the likelihood of each opportunity to come to closure so they can more easily prioritize their investment of time and effort (this goes for recruiters too)!
- It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each sales opportunity which enables salespeople and sales managers to craft better strategies and it guides their efforts to improve the quality of every deal
- It offers a method for measuring the probability of sales opportunities which leads to higher sales win rates and more accurate revenue forecasts
- It gives sales managers a common language with which to strategize and talk about sales opportunities with their sales teams
The opportunity scorecard is made up of 20 criteria in which to evaluate every sales opportunity. The qualification criteria correlates to why the customer would buy and how the customer would buy.
Each criteria is used to score the sales opportunity on a scale of 0-5. When added together they produce a total possible score of 100 that represents an estimate of the probability that the opportunity will close.
This is not an exact science. We know that circumstances and situations can change. We also know that a score of zero on urgency or financial approval can easily offset a high overall score. However, the accuracy of estimating probability with this approach far exceeds the more common system applied by many sales managers, gut instinct.
Qualifying Why Customers Buy
In our sales training programs, we explore how effective qualification goes far beyond the simple question of "when do you want them to start?" That question might be fine in light industrial staffing or some other highly transactional type of sale. But in a more complex selling situation with longer sales cycles and a higher price tag involving multiple influencers and approvers, this question hardly scratches the surface of what we really need to know.
We need to understand why the customer would buy by examining the factors that drive our customer to leave their current state and arrive at their desired future state. Here are the key elements to understanding and qualifying why customers buy.
- Current State
- Desired Future State
- Compelling Event
- Urgency/Level of Commitment
- Consequences (of taking no action)
- Solution Fit
The first question you should be asking yourself when qualifying a new job order or sales opportunity is, is this job order worth pursuing? Here are just a few questions to ask to assess the strength of your relationship and level of consideration with your customer.
- Is your customer willing to invest their time in discussing the details of the job order?
- Is your customer willing to schedule interview time slots upfront, at the time of taking the job order?
- Is your customer willing to give you effective and timely candidate feedback after submitting candidate resumes and candidate interviews?
- Are you able to communicate directly with each of the team members who will be interviewing your candidates?
We all talk about how the staffing industry is "all about the relationships." Well, a vital part of building strong customer relationships is understanding your customer's business. Most customers will not feel comfortable doing business with a salesperson or company that doesn't understand their industry, market and specific challenges they face.
When you get in front of your customer you should be asking questions that help you understand their perspective. Your objective is to start conversations so that you can ask more questions. What you are looking for is a situation that you customer wants to change. The idea is to lead a discovery conversation in the direction of a disparity between where they are now and where they would like the business to be in the future. The less comfortable your customer is with their current state, the more likely they are to buy what they need to change it.
Sample questions to uncover your customers current state and why they would want to buy include:
- How happy and content are you with the quality of your product and/or service?
- What challenges are you trying to resolve to improve the quality of your product/service?
- What is your level of satisfaction regarding your team’s performance and their results?
- What is your level of satisfaction regarding the progress of your projects?
Desired Future State
It can't be overstated for how important and essential it is for salespeople to clearly understand what business results their customer is trying to achieve. You can't properly position your service offering including your candidate or team of candidates (consultants) without first having a clear understanding of the business results your customer is trying to achieve. Ultimately, you want to paint a better picture of a better future that they can create using your product or service or partnering with your company.
To get your customer to talk about their desired future state you can use these sample questions.
- What goals and objectives are you trying to achieve?
- How are you measuring success?
- What changes would you like to see for the better of your team, project, customers, department or company?
- What improvements do you wish to see in your team, projects, department, products and services?
They key is to get your customer talking about how their current state could be improved and what their desired future state would look like.
Once you have identified your customers current state and desired future state you need to understand and qualify their motive or compelling event driving their behavior to buy. The purpose of qualifying the customers compelling event is to uncover WHY they would make the investment of time, energy, resources and money to leave their current state and arrive at their future state.
A Compelling event is a direct response to moving away from a business pressure or problem that has an economic value associated with taking no action to resolve the issue. The action taken to resolve the problem or arrive at their desired future state is expected to deliver a significant business result that is quantifiable such as money saved or an increase in revenue or profitability. If your client can’t articulate to you the pain or problem they need resolved and how NOT resolving the problem would negatively impact them financially, then the the likelihood of the customer making the investment to solve the problem is unlikely.
Sample questions to qualify your customers compelling event:
- What would compel you and your organization to take action on this and address this issue?
- What is the compelling event driving the need to resolve this issue, hire this consultant or achieve this goal?
One of the most important action drivers that moves your client to buy is urgency. To gauge your customer's level of urgency ask questions like:
- "When do you need to start seeing results on this project?"
- "By what date is your client expecting to see results?"
- "By when is your CFO expecting to see an ROI?"
- "By when do you need to have this problem solved?"
If your customer doesn't have much urgency to move forward than it is likely because they have not yet clearly defined their desired future state that offers enough payback or justifies the investment. Without a buyer who has the urgency, your opportunity can drag on for months and even longer.
Level of Commitment
The decision of “do we have to buy now” is by far the most important decision your customer must make because if they can’t arrive at a decision none of the other decisions they must make matter. Top down initiatives being driven from board or C-suite- begin here. And because every buying decision ends here, determining if your customer must buy now is the single most important thing you must uncover about your customer when qualifying sales opportunities or job orders.
If the customer is not personally committed to taking action by leaving their current state and doing what needs to be done to arrive at their desired future state then everything you have discovered thus far is meaningless. The customer has to personally commit to achieving the goal or solving the issue and implementing the solution. Talk is cheap.
Have you ever put off fixing a nagging little issue for a few weeks even though you knew you needed to fix it? Of course you have. Think about weight loss. People put off going on a diet or going to the gym for years before they finally reach a point in their life where they commit to a healthier lifestyle.
Your customers are no different and are assessing whether or not they and others who will be impacted by the solution are committed to making the change and leaving the status quo. They have to consider whether or not they can commit to implementing the solution and can get other stakeholders to buy in and commit to the change as well as begin to coordinate the process for working with you and your firm and hiring a consultant. Doing that all requires time and energy. This is why you need to qualify your customers level of commitment.
Sample questions to qualify your customers level of commitment include:
- How long has this been an issue?
- What steps have you taken thus far to resolve the issue?
- Have you and your boss and the other stakeholders committed to taking action and solving this?
- What steps and action items are you and your team committed to talking?
Consequences of Taking No Action
Even a customer who has a clear vision of their desired future state and has a strong compelling event to get there will put off making any purchase until they absolutely have to. As part of your qualification process you should always look for a consequence that would drive your customer to take action within a certain time frame.
Consequence questions allow you to take your customer’s goal, objective, problem and/or compelling event that you’ve already diagnosed and qualified and explore its effects or consequences. The purpose of consequence questions is to make the customer eager for a solution. Smart consequence questions make the customer and salesperson identify for themselves the effect and impact of that problem going unresolved.
Sample questions to qualify consequences include:
- What would happen if things just stayed the same and you took no action?
- Why not just keep doing things the way you're currently doing them?
- What if you put this hire off another 30 days? 60 days?
- What would the financial impact be if you took no action on this and let the position go unfilled?
Payback/Return on Investment
Another major factor that affects your customer's willingness to invest in a solution is the potential payback or return on their investment. If your customer believes they stand to earn a substantial profit from their investment they are more likely to buy. Asking questions like "how many hours could you save each month if..." "What if you could accelerate your time to market by 90 days, how would that impact your revenue stream?" Asking questions like this helps you qualify whether or not your customer really understands and appreciates the potential return, not just the investment.
No matter how strong your customer's sense of urgency and level of commitment, your customer can't buy if they don't have the money. Your customer must have the money to buy your solution, and the resources to support (train, onboard, manage) your solution in order to achieve their desired future state.
To qualify your customer for resources and budget you can ask questions that look like this:
- How would you go about staffing a project like this?
- Who would be involved in approving something like this?
- Who and what would be involved in getting funding approved for something like this?
- What sort of investment are you prepared to make in order to solve the challenges and achieve your project goals?
Excessive risk is another common reason why customers don't buy. If your customer thinks that the results they will achieve by arriving at their desired future state are not worth the risks in getting there, they will probably stick with the status quo. It is important that salespeople ask questions like:
- What is the downside of starting this project right now?
- What are your perceived risks of moving forward with this project/candidate?
- What do you see as some of the risks if you were to hire my candidate?
Another key criteria for gauging the probability for closing a sales opportunity is solution fit. Your solution is not going to be a perfect fit for every situation. You always need to be asking your customer to share with you their vision of the ideal solution. It's not your opinion of how well your solution fits but your customer's perception that matters.
If you ask the right questions your customer might tell you exactly how to position your product or service to be the perfect fit. They could also describe a solution that is completely wrong or that resembles a competitor's offering.
Sample questions you can ask your customer to intelligently position your offering include:
- What kind of company would you like to partner with on this project?
- What are the characteristics of the types of companies you like to do business with?
- What elements of value are most important to you when evaluating a new partner?
- What are the things that matter most to you in your vendors?
- If you could waive a magic wand, what would the perfect solution entail?
Asking questions in this context helps your customers clarify what is important to them which helps you understand the characteristics and criteria in which they will evaluate you as a vendor. While it is important that you understand what is valuable and important to your customer, what is far more important is that you understand why it is important and valuable to them. After you uncover what is important to your customer and what they value in a vendor, it is critically important that you ask why those characteristics are important to them. Sample follow up questions may include “Why is that the first thing you say?" Or, "why is the vendor’s reputation so important to you?”
Qualifying How Your Customers Buy
Depending on the size and complexity of what you sell, your customer's buying process may involve several different influencers and approvers and dozens of decisions that could take weeks and even months from start to finish. Selling inexpensive, transactional products and services is challenging enough, but the more expensive and more complex your solution, the more people and the more steps are involved in the customer's buying process.
The steps and stages of your customer's buying process will depend on several factors including:
- Are you a selling a product or a service?
- Are you selling to an existing customer or new prospect?
- The corporate structure of the company you are selling to
- The size of the financial investment and the impact of your solution
- Legal ramifications from implementing or adopting your service or solution
I have identified the nine most common elements that are part of an organization's buying process for purchasing professional services (staffing services). These nine elements make up criteria 12 through 20 of the sales qualification opportunity scorecard. We should anticipate that our customers will have to work through each of these steps or approvals before they are ready to buy. Here are the key elements to understanding and qualifying why customers buy.
- Project Prioritization
- Organizational Alignment
- Staffing Implementation Plan
- Interview Process
- Decision Making Process
- Hiring Process
- Financial Approval Process
- Contract/Legal Approval Process
Determining who will own and provide oversight for the successful use of your product or solution-your candidate(s) success-and the achievement of the desired results is essential. This is typically, but not always, the hiring manager. This may be the responsibility of one person or multiple people. We need to ask key questions such as "who will be responsible for overseeing the work and performance of the consultant/project?" Or, "who will be responsible for earning a profit on the staffing resources that have been invested in?
Until someone in your client organization steps up and accepts responsibility for managing your proposed candidate(s) and ensuring their success and the project(s) they're associated with, your sales opportunity is very unlikely to close.
Companies don't have unlimited resources. They have to prioritize how they use their money and their people to pursue their desired business results. Your customer will always have more good projects to invest in than there is time, money or resources to invest. They can't afford to take action and invest in every viable project. Therefore, a line has to be drawn. There are projects that are so important that they get funded and staffed, and there are other projects that are not as important or not a priority that cannot get staffed and funded.
Understanding the other projects your customer is considering and how highly they prioritize the project you are part of is an important aspect of qualifying any sales opportunity.
Before a company will make a buying decision, a number of stakeholders will have to agree that it is the right thing to do. Jim will have to believe you are the best vendor with the best solution and Joe, Jim's boss, will need to be ready to take responsibility for the project. Joe's boss, the COO, must provide final approval for the project and Barb, the CFO must be convinced the project will deliver the return on investment promised.
A certain level of cooperation across the organization is required for any buying process to result in a purchase. Our job is to do the selling required to get all the stakeholders, influencers and approvers aligned and committed to moving forward.
Many organizations can't get purchases approved until they have first developed a staffing and implementation plan that details how whatever is being purchased will be used, implemented and supported. Your customer may need to produce an implementation and staffing plan for the project your solution is associated with before they obtain all of the approvals needed to make the purchase.
Some companies put this off until they have gone through an elaborate evaluation and selection process. But the COO or CFO may not sign off and release the funding until the project plan has been created and a feasibility study is completed. You need to start qualifying early in the process if they've got the people and the bandwidth to take on the project that your solution is associated with.
In order to put yourself and your consultant in the best possible position to win the opportunity, you need to qualify your customers interview process. Neither you nor your recruiters can be expected to properly prepare your candidates for a client interview without first qualifying the customer’s interview process. Qualifying the interview process entails asking your customer questions like these.
- Who will be interviewing the candidates?
- What role will each person or interviewer play in the interview process?
- What is the interview process?
- Will there be a phone or video interview? If so, how many and with who?
- Will be there a face to face interview? If so, how many and with who?
- Will the candidate do a panel interview?
- Will the candidate be required to do a presentation?
- Will the candidate be required to whiteboard a solution or engage in any other problem solving activities?
- Will the candidate be required to submit a work sample such as code?
Decision Making Process
How will your customer make their final decision? For example, will the interview team meet as a group collectively to discuss the candidates or will the hiring manager meet with his or her team members individually to discuss each candidate? Or, will the hiring manager take feedback from their team but make a decision on their own without collaborating with their team members? What if three of the team members recommend your candidate but the hiring manager is not high on your candidate, how will your customer reach a decision in this scenario? Your job is to get into the details and understand exactly how the customer will arrive at their final decision.
Before a company hires an employee or consultant there are a number of steps they must complete. Many of these steps are completed prior to extending the job offer but there are often steps that still must be completed as either contingent of a job offer or post job offer. Contingencies include:
- Background check including criminal or drug screen
- Credit check
- Reference checks
- Procurement and build of a laptop and workstation
- Procurement of a security badge to enter company property
The point of qualifying the hiring process is for the salesperson to :
- Sell beyond the offer and acceptance stage
- Understand all of the steps the customer and candidate must still complete before the candidate can begin work
- Compel the customer and the candidate to complete the remaining steps in the hiring process to ensure the candidate can begin work on the intended start date
Financial Approval Process
Assuming you do get the final approval and the customer selects you and your firm and/or your candidate, you still may need to go through purchasing or procurement if you haven't already. This can be a tricky process as procurement can sometimes take things in a totally different direction. We have to be careful not to assume that just because we are the vendor of choice or that the hiring manager has selected our candidate that we are still the vendor of choice when the purchase order request arrives in procurement.
Don't wait until you get to this point to begin building a relationship with the purchasing manager. If you know the deal has to go through purchasing eventually, start early with meeting the people who work in the purchasing department.
It is crucial that you understand the process your customer must go through to obtain budget approval and funding approval. Understanding if your customer has an approved budget is far different from understanding your customers budget approval process. In many instances, you and your recruiting team will be working job requirements BEFORE budget has actually been approved. You need to understand the planning and approval process for how and by whom the budget gets approved.
To fully qualify an opportunity we have to understand everything that has to happen before they can buy. We need to learn the answers to questions like these.
- Is there an approved budget? What has been approved?
- When will the budget be approved?
- Who approves the budget?
- Is the funding currently available to make this investment?
- Who else besides yourself approves the funding?
- What is the process for releasing the funds?
- Who releases the funds?
- Has a purchase order been cut?
Getting your customer's legal department to review your contract can be tedious, but failure to plan for this and anticipate potential objections can severely slow down the process and even be fatal.
Start early in your sales cycle to ask about the legal/contract approval process and how to get your contract through their legal department. Offer a sample copy of the terms and conditions to be looked at long before you get to the end of the buying process. Knowing what and who is involved in getting contract approval is an important element of sales qualification.
Qualifying sales opportunities requires asking lots of questions. We can't sit down and ask our customer 100 questions in row like it is some interrogation. Instead, we must learn to weave these questions into casual conversations. In fact, it may not even be appropriate to ask just one person all of these questions regarding each of the different qualification criteria.
You might want to ask the project owner or hiring manager about current state and desired future state and the economic buyer about payback or return on investment and resources/budget.
How are you qualifying your sales opportunities? Try using our sales qualification opportunity scorecard and see if it helps you and your team improve your sales win rates.