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Is Your Sales Qualification Criteria Doing Its Job?

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You probably have salespeople working overtime right now on deals your company does not want. that's because they'll be:

  • bad business if you win them (too much trouble, not worth the revenue)
  • lost to a competitor
  • lost to no decision

If you’ve been around professional sales for a long time, you already know that poor salespeople ignore qualification criteria; good salespeople, and their managers, obsess about it.

You also heard the acronyms. BANT, for example: Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe. Unfortunately, lots of companies who apply this approach still suffer from erratic close ratios and unpredictable deals. Funnels are stuffed with deals that don’t close. And sales people have little choice but to spend enormous amounts of time and money pursuing every deal they can.

What can they do if the wrong prospects happen to be in their sales funnel?

Not much, unless you help them. Unfortunately, most companies make three big mistakes in their qualification criteria. They are:

  • Myopic: driven narrowly by what the seller wants
  • Remedial: used primarily to correct “poor sales performers”
  • Static: market forces change, yet qualification criteria don’t

If these apply to you, there is a more productive approach. Just do the opposite of what you've been doing:

  • Define value to the customer:
    if you've nailed what the customer really wants (at all levels), they're less likely to make no decision.
  • Enable learning:
    qualification criteria are for improving the selling system, not individual salespeople.
  • Dynamically change for the better:
    use qualification to make observations that enable you to improve your sales process.

 

The Basic Role of Quality in Production

The quality of  raw materials, tools, and work processes greatly impact what a manufacturer can produce. For example, if a poor quality of clay is used to create a brick, it cracks when heated in an oven. The output has to be scrapped.

Had the quality of the clay been detected in advance, the energy and time spent in the oven could have been avoided. Productivity would have been higher.

In sales the raw material are people in the market – those who have the specific problems and needs you can solve.

 

Characteristics of Customer Account Relationships versus Sales Opportunities

Obviously, some prospects and account relationships are better than others. It is crucial to define the relevant context. For example, you can have a good sales opportunity with a lousy account, or vice versa. You might consider breaking down these categories as follows:

  • Account relationship
    Who do you know in the account?
    How many people do you know well, versus those who's names you barely know?
    How well do you know their business, and their objectives, strategies, and issues?
    Are your contacts coaches/sponsors (can they and will they help you?), or gatekeepers (can they and will they block you)?
    Do they recognize and pay for value, or do they always seek the lowest bidder?
    Is their business expanding? How well do they pay their bills?
    Is your company/offer a good fit for them? How do you know this?
    What is their track record for meeting milestones they have agreed to meet with you?
  • Deal/opportunity characteristics
    How do you know there is an opportunity?
    What is their urgency? What happens if they do nothing?
    To what extent do they have pains and problems you can uniquely solve?
    Can you win the opportunity? How do you know this?
    What is their decision making process?
    How well are you aligned with their decision makers?

Each of these descriptions merely indicates the direction you might want to explore. And brainstorming the things you want to know in this manner is an important step for your discussions with your sales team. That’s because every business must be honest with itself about the value it is receiving from customers – as well as what value customers are receiving from them. The business’s largest customers may actually be costing it money. The so-called “strategic accounts” may be going nowhere. Big profitable deals may be overlooked.

The goal is to end up with a series of questions that enable your team to record the presence or absence of observable things they believe have an impact on a customer’s behavior. You want to set up what in manufacturing are called “check sheets.” Their purpose is to represent your theory of what makes high and low quality accounts and sales opportunities, so you can check the realities your salespeople are dealing with against them.

Here is an example of a commonly used qualification criteria for evaluating part of the quality of an account relationship:

  1. Customer connections and coaches (a coach is someone who wants you to win, and can help you win.)
    1. I have no coaches
    2. I have a contact with no decision making influence
    3. I have a coach who can influence some decisions
    4. I know why my coach wants me to win, and they have influence with the decision maker.
    5. The Decision Maker is a coach.

With this format, the alternate answers are arranged in a sequence from lowest likelihood of making a sale to the highest. This format is valuable for a variety of reasons.

    • First, it enables salespeople to select the answer which most closely resembles their situation. There is no pressure on salespeople other than to tell the truth.
    • Second, since the higher the score, the higher the quality (or likelihood of closing), a series of questions like this creates a natural framework for focusing salespeople’s attention. If they have no coaches, they starts working on how to create one. If their coach has no influence, they start working on how to develop relationships with someone who can influence the decision. In other words, it implicitly drives an account or a deal strategy.
    • Third, by defining the qualification “checklist” in this manner you are removing loads of ambiguity. Salespeople’s answers can be easily converted into a number from one to five. In other words, when salespeople compare their observations of quality characteristics to the standard of the check sheet, they are measuring the quality of their accounts and opportunities.

The data collected in this manner is powerful. Like an X-Ray machine, it will reveal inner workings of your sales process and sales funnel that cannot be seen any other way.

For example, the biggest complaint salespeople and managers have about process improvement is that it adds to their work list. Proper qualification generates hard evidence telling them which of their accounts are least likely to buy. Prioritizing their opportunities according to the quality scores (rather than intuition) is more reliable.

There will be accounts they think are important, yet the quality scores are low. The real, measurable progress made by the sales team every day can be traced by the improvements in those quality scores over time. If they can’t figure out how to raise the score of a given account, it likely does not belong in the sales funnel.

Walking away from poor quality sales opportunities is a great way to increase sales productivity and reduce sales workloads. In businesses requiring an engineered proposal, it is the only means of ensuring the company’s resources are focused on those customers who are most likely to provide a return. One client told me this simple practice alone improved their margins by 1% - without raising prices.

 

Conclusion

This approach counteracts the human tendency to focus on our own narrow interests, by bringing the customer’s perspective to focus. It creates an evidence-driven theory that can be tested in every customer interaction. And, it becomes the standard that enables people to improve the precision of their experiments regularly, by refining and improving the criteria in use.

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