Three Levels to Sales Qualification
One of the most important sales activities is qualifying. This is where the rubber meets the road and the sales rep has to decide if if pursuing the company, contact and/or opportunity makes sense. The salesperson is weighing their investment of time and energy against the potential reward. The challenge is making a "go" or "no go" decision because they answer is not always obvious.
But, by asking the right qualifying questions salespeople can determine whether or not it is worth the time and effort to pursue the relationship. Having a sound sales qualification methodology can help IT staffing sales reps shorten their sales cycle and avoid wasting time and frustration. Let me share with you the three levels to sales qualification that I think are most important for IT staffing sales reps and a qualification methodology for executing each.
Qualifying at the Accounts/Company Level
When hunters go hunting they typically don’t grab a gun or their bow and go out hunting willy-nilly. Good hunters, well prepared hunters, know exactly where they want to go to hunt and exactly what it is they're hunting for. Can you imagine grabbing a bow to go hunting and discover you’re in Grizzly country? That's like showing up to a gun fight with a knife.
Like hunters, when it comes to new business development, salespeople need to know exactly what is they're hunting for. Regardless of how small of a market you reside in sales reps will have thousands or even 10’s of thousands of companies to choose from and call on. How does a sales rep know where to start? How does a rep know which accounts to call? Which not to call? I think we would all agree that going through the phone book alphabetically is not an efficient use of time. Randomly picking accounts to call on from LinkedIn or Indeed isn’t much better either. And leaving it up to your reps (and especially your new sales reps) to figure it out on their own is also an inefficient use of time.
What sales people need in order to make their prospecting efforts efficient and fruitful is a clearly defined target market. Have a clearly defined target market provides a 'bulls eye' for sales reps to know what they're hunting for. Without a 'bulls eye' to aim for sales reps will prospect aimlessly and ultimately waste their time on the wrong prospects thus extending their sales cycle.
Chances are your best customers have common traits or characteristics. Whatever those traits are, they should go a long way in shaping your target market and defining your 'bulls eye. Here are some qualifying questions to consider when defining your target market.
- What industries have you had the most success with?
- What size companies have you had the most success with?
- What types of customers have you struggled with in the past? What are their commonalities?
Qualifying at the account level is important because opening new accounts is no easy task. It takes time and patience and a well designed new account acquisition campaign. The barriers to entry are often really high and gaining access to the decision makers can be difficult. So before you go hog-wild prospecting into a new account you should first try to figure out if the account is even worth pursuing and gauge how likely you are to be successful if that new account were to become a customer. Here are some questions to ask to qualify new accounts.
Account Qualification Questions
- Annual IT Staffing Spend: What is the annual IT staffing spend? (is this account worth pursuing)?
- Competitive Landscape: How many vendors does the account currently work with (can you compete if the lead gave you an opportunity)?
- Hiring Process: Will you be able to work with hiring managers directly and influence the outcome of your opportunities or will a gatekeeper/process limit or withhold your influence?
- Pricing Model: What pricing model and terms will the account expect you to work under and will it allow you meet your target GP margins?
- Access to Decision Makers: If there is a vendors list, do you have access to the decision makers?
- Skill Set, Solution Fit: Does the account hire IT consultants in a skill set or niche your team has had success with in the past
Qualifying at the Contact or Lead Level
Most organizations get leads from many sources. Chances are you're using LinkedIn and maybe some other tools such as Zoominfo that provide leads for you. They provide the name of the person, company name, email, phone number (maybe) and perhaps some additional information on their job title and responsibilities.
A lead (for those selling IT staffing) is an individual person who has not done business with you or your company but may be interested in your service offerings. Leads are individuals who could be converted to a contact or qualified hiring manager (QHM) in your CRM or ATS after they have been qualified.
What is important to understand is that leads sit at the very top of your sales funnel, not IN your sales funnel. By that I mean, you need to qualify and convert your leads before they become a contact and a QHM in your CRM/ATS and receive any sort of lead nurturing campaign. And you certainly wouldn’t want to waste your time meeting with leads who you know nothing about. Ideally you want to qualify your leads over the phone before you schedule your valuable time for a meeting.
Most salespeople in the staffing industry make the mistake of assuming all their leads (which many refer to as their contacts) are qualified buyers or qualified hiring managers but this is simply is not the case. Just because a person has a big fancy job title and manages a large team does not mean they engage IT staffing firms. When speaking with a lead (or contact) for the first time you should be asking them qualifying questions. Below are some sales qualifying questions to qualify your leads including IT hiring managers.
Questions to Qualify Sales Leads
- Does the lead engage (hire) IT staffing firms?
- Does the lead hire IT consultants in your niche?
- Does the lead own his/her own hiring budget?
- Do you have access to the lead?
- Does the lead have a hiring process in which you will you be required to work with their admin, gatekeeper or another third party such as an MSP or VMS manager?
- How much business opportunity (volume) does the lead have to offer annually (is the lead worth pursuing)?
- Competitive landscape: How many vendors does the lead currently work with (can you realistically compete if the lead gave you an opportunity)?
Now you might be saying to yourself, where do I get this information? You get this information by asking the leads who you are calling on directly in your phone conversation. Despite all the wonderful lead generation tools in the market place, none of their leads are qualified. You still need qualify these leads to ensure they meet your lead qualification criteria.
Qualifying at the Opportunity Level
This form of qualification is most likely what you thought this entire blog post would focus on. Opportunity-level qualification takes place when the sales rep must determine if their prospect has a specific need or challenge that they need to resolve and whether or not he or she (and their team) can resolve it for the customer. When it comes to qualifying opportunities or qualifying job orders, there are a few qualifying questions to consider. Here I lay out those questions for you.
Qualifying The Customer’s Pain
Hiring managers only hire consultants when they absolutely must. They only buy out of necessity. Even if they determine they have to hire a consultant to solve a problem they will still put that commitment and investment off until it becomes absolutely necessary. To qualify your customers pain and whether or not they must buy now, ask them:
- What exactly is the issue or issues that you need resolved?
- What technical or business issues are you trying to resolve by hiring a consultant?
- Can you give me an example?
- What goal is it that you are trying to achieve by hiring a consultant?
Uncovering your customer’s problems to be resolved and getting them to admit their pain is just one step to qualifying an opportunity. After you identify the problem to be solved you have to uncover WHY they would make the investment of time, energy, resources and money to solve those issues. You have to qualify their compelling event.
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 admitted pain is expected to deliver a significant business result that is quantifiable such as money saved or an increase in revenue or profitability. Questions to qualify your customers compelling event include:
- What is compelling you to take action on this and resolve this issue?
- Notice that this question is structured to focus resolving the customer’s admitted pain, or issue and not on hiring a consultant.
- Who besides yourself needs this problem resolved and why is a resolution so important to them?
- Why is achieving this goal or resolving this issue so important to them?
There are additional questions to fully qualifying an opportunity, but if the customer doesn't have a legitimate and qualified pain point(s) to be solved and compelling reason to act, the rest of the qualifying questions are moot point.
Asking effective sales qualification questions at all three levels is the key to sales success. People who know me have heard me say (on many occasions) that you can be an average sales rep (skill-wise) but if you are good and diligent with qualifying at all three levels you will have plenty of success. Your ability to identify and qualify good fit prospects and opportunities will make or break your sales success.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.