Qualification criteria are the observable characteristics of your sales opportunities that make them more or less likely to buy from you.
Sales teams benefit greatly when they work out qualification criteria in great detail. Ideally this means they are put in the form of questions salespeople can score on a five-point Likert scale. This scale is used to observe or assess each sales opportunity. This turns the qualification criteria into a check sheet for examining sales production work.
The idea is that each salesperson understands the ranges of observable facts in areas such as:
1. How do we know there is an opportunity?
3. What is the value to us?
4. Can we win the business?
Completing these Likert scale questions accomplishes a number of valuable objectives:
• Focuses attention on the facts of the customer rather than on what the salesperson (or the boss) wants the truth to be.
• Provides a repeatable checklist or strategy for how to handle accounts/opportunities
• Captures useful data about the accounts/opportunities (parallel to how a check sheet is used in a production plant)
We have found in our work with clients that the effort to develop those qualification criteria systematically and to use them in every deal offers dramatic payback.
For example, it is common for a sales team to need to define the observable characteristics of their coach network within a given client. After all, the stronger your relationships with people in your customer’s business who can help you, the more likely they are to buy from you. However, as the team elevates its understanding, these definitions can (and should) change. For example, one client realized that data collected from their Likert scale qualification questions indicated their customers were more likely to buy based on a low score on the coaching question, rather than a high score. On investigation, they found the confusion: the salespeople were recruited from clinical positions, and were not professionally trained salespeople. They attached a different meaning to the word “coach” than did professionally trained salespeople.
Once they discussed the topic and agreed on a new, more precise definition, and the operational definition (in the form of the Likert scale question) was changed to match the improved definition, their forecast accuracy and close ratio actually improved, because accounts were being handled in a more consistent manner. Operationally defining qualification criteria provides a more precise language for understanding their opportunities and account situations. It enables salespeople to discern what they can and cannot control and to improve their chances of winning a deal by designing their strategies around what they can control. It also gives them justification to walk away, eliminating wasted effort.
Further, it standardizes the way the organization prioritizes its pursuit of opportunities, elevating the predictability of the whole system. Finally, it becomes possible for deal quality scores to be used as feedback for the effectiveness of lead generation campaigns. The data this type of approach provides can be priceless – an enormous competitive advantage.
Avoid the blunt instrument approach to sales qualification. Define your terms. It works.