One of the key things that separates great salespeople from the rest is their commitment to rigorously qualifying every potential opportunity. They have the confidence to disqualify weak opportunities early on the cycle before they have wasted significant resources on a lost or losing cause, because they know they can reinvest their energies in finding and winning more promising opportunities.
Compare that to their less confident, less effective colleagues, who are often inclined to cling on to weak or poorly qualified opportunities for fear that disqualifying them will make their pipeline look smaller. This isn’t just the salesperson’s fault, of course: sales managers have to bear a large amount of the blame for weak qualification and the wasted sales cycles that inevitably follow.
I was very pleased to recently share the stage with Annette Behrendt of PDAGroup for a deep dive into the critical subject of sales qualification. I’ve included a link below but wanted also to share some of the key topics we covered...
Without accurate, consistent qualification it’s hard to generate reliable revenue forecasts, or even to work out which opportunities deserve to be allocated the largest share of sales resources. In the absence of accurate qualification, resources and management attention tend to be spread thin, often compromising the chances of winning the most promising opportunities.
Other symptoms of inconsistent or weak qualification include close dates regularly being missed (often several times), win probabilities being wildly optimistic, the failure to achieve sales forecasts at both the individual and collective level, and a host of other negative consequences.
It shocks me to see how many sales organisations still use BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) as the basis of opportunity qualification. It dates back to a bygone age when steam-powered IBM mainframes ruled the world of computing and makes the implied assumption that if the customer has an active project, they are likely to end up buying something from someone - the only question being what and from who.
Nothing could be further from the truth in today’s discretionary B2B buying environment, where the most common outcome (and therefore your strongest competitor) is not another vendor but the prospective customer deciding to do nothing and stick with the status quo.
Your customer’s value story
In today’s climate salespeople need to qualify whether their customer actually has a strong enough value story to drive change, by answering every prospective customer’s four key questions:
- Why do they need to change (rather than continue on their current path)?
- Why should they choose you (rather than any other option)?
- Why should they act now (rather than later)? And
- Who is going to benefit from the change (and how)?
Call for a MEDDIC
If this value story represents the external face of qualification, the internal face of qualification needs to be something more appropriate than BANT, and MEDDIC, MEDDPICC and (my own particular favourite) MEDDPICC/RR all offer far more accurate approaches to the challenge of opportunity qualification.
You can read more about MEDDPICC/RR in my guide to opportunity qualification, which you can download here.
A continuous process
In any complex sales environment with lengthy buying cycles, qualification must be managed as a continuous process, not a one-off event, for obvious reasons: it’s likely to be impossible to collect and interpret all the key qualification information in a single interaction, and both internal and external factors can change - often significantly - as the sales cycle progresses.
Assumptions kill opportunities. And yet I still observe many weak salespeople behaving as if qualification is a “tick box” exercise that needs to be completed as quickly and painlessly as possible, without regard for the accuracy of the judgements they are making. The rule is simple: if you don’t know, don’t guess, and never assume. Every qualification judgement must be backed by observable evidence.
The manager’s role
I wrote recently about the critical role of the sales manager in inspecting the quality of qualification. Managers must act as “devil’s advocates” - they must stress test the salesperson’s understanding of the opportunity, and they must uncover and challenge any unverified assumptions. If they fail in this responsibility, they are simply storing up problems for the future.
As you watch the video, I’d encourage you to take three things away and resolve to put them into practice in your own organisation:
- Define a clear and consistent qualification process, stick to it, and expect it to be followed
- Have the confidence to qualify weak opportunities out early, rather than wasting valuable sales resources on them
- Be brutally honest with yourself and your performance, and don’t allow yourself to rely on untested assumptions
That’s my experience, and my perspective: what’s yours?
About the Author
Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales, a founding contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation, a recognised Sales Futurist, an active member of the Sales Experts Channel, and the driving force behind Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading proponents of outcome-centric selling.
Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob now works as a strategic advisor, mentor, trainer and coach to ambitious B2B sales organisations - teaching them how to differentiate themselves through their provably superior approach to achieving their customer's desired outcomes.