Three Levels to Sales Qualification
One of the most important conversations sale professionals have with their prospects is the qualification call, AKA the discovery call. And this of course also typically happens in the initial and often, cold call. This is where the rubber meets the road and the sales rep has to decide if it makes sense to pursue a relationship or not. But it is not always obvious. By asking the right qualifying questions sales people can determine whether or not it is worth the time and effort to pursue the relationship . Having a sound qualification methodology can help IT staffing sales reps shorten their sales cycle and quickly scale their business. Let me share with you the three levels to sales qualification and a qualification methodology to follow 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 and hunt and they know exactly what it is (species) they are 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 prospecting-hunting-sales people need to know exactly what is they are 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. A target or a Bullseye if you will. Without a Bullseye to aim for sales reps will prospect aimlessly and ultimately waste their time on the wrong prospects. 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 Bullesye. Here are some 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 shiny new account were to become a customer. Here are some questions to ask to qualify new accounts.
Account Qualification Questions
- 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?
- Is there a vendors list and if so do you have access to the decision makers?
- Skill set and niche: Does the account hire IT consultants in a skill set or niche your team has had success with in the past
Qualifying at the Lead Level
Most organizations get leads from many sources. Chances are you are using Linkedin and maybe some other toolssuch as Data.com, Zoominfo or Discover.org that provide leads for you. They provide the name of the person, company name, email, phone number 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 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 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 sales people 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 questions to ask to qualify your leads.
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 conversataion. Despite all the wonderful lead generation tools in the marketplace (Data.com, Discoverorg.com, Hoovers, etc.) none of those 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 (qualifying job orders or projects) 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 there are a few questions to consider. Here I lay out those questions for you.
- Is there an opportunity? The way to figure this out is by uncovering what the pain point(s) or compelling event is that is compelling the client take action. If the customer can't convince you they have a real problem that needs to be resolved than you don't have an opportunity. Additionally it is also a good idea that sales people find out what if any impact or consequences the client will experience if they do nothing and their situation remains unchanged (they take no action to solve the problem) In other words, how are they impacted if they stick with the status quoe? This is important to uncover because companies learn to live with and work around problems everyday. They don't have the resources to solve every single problem.
- Does the client have a budget to fund the project or hire the consultant? Are the funds available? Who controls the budget and releasing the funds? These are key questions the sales rep must ask. Do you (the sales rep) have access to this decision maker?
- Client decision making process. Do you know who the decisions makers are? Do you have access to all of the decision makers? Do you know what criteria each decision maker will apply in making his or her decision? If a group or committee decision, how will the group come to an consensus? Who is the one person who can say yes when everyone else says no? Studies show that most decisions in corporate America today are made by committee. This means sales reps must learn to sell to multiple decision makers.
Effective qualification at all three levels is the key to sales success. People who know me have heard me say (on many ocassions) 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 will make or break your business.
How do you qualify leads, accounts and opportunities? Let's start a conversation in the comments section below.
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.