Best Practices for Lead Qualification

Posted: 6/5/2012 by Leslie Sutherland

In our previous blog, 5 Ways to Capture a Lead, we delved into best practices for lead generation in your target markets. Now that you have the leads, what do you do with them? Lead qualification is a good place to start.

The goal of lead qualification is to sort through and prioritize leads so that you can concentrate your direct and partner sales teams on the leads with the highest value. High value leads are:

  • -  Easy to close
  • -  High Margin
  • -  Have a higher likelihood for repeat sales
  • -  Generate greater customer satisfaction (because you have met the customer need)

 Lead Qualification

Below is the three part process for qualifying a lead.

  1. Collect the lead from the prospect.
  2. Qualify the lead. Your lead form should contain specific lead qualification questions. We recommend some top criteria (see the next section "Lead Qualification Criteria"). Or, you may choose to have a telemarketing group call the prospect to do further qualification of the lead.
  3. Rank the lead. A lead qualification process ranks leads by viability based on a set of qualification criteria. Leads qualification processes assign a weight to each criteria and then rank the leads in order. The leads with the highest ranking get the most focus from the vendor. Side note: Qualification of leads through partners should map to the same criteria a vendor uses for direct sales. This prevents confusion and manages expectations both on the vendor side and on the partner side. It also establishes trust between the parties.

 Lead Qualification Criteria

Every lead qualification process should gather the following information in order to better evaluate and rank leads by value.

  1. Budget. Is there a budget? It's a fundamental question, but it's surprising that many times the question isn't asked until a lot of cycles have been spent with the prospect. Better to ask the question up-front and rank the lead accordingly.
  2. Timeframe. Is the deal set to close today? This quarter? Or is it an enterprise sale? If it's an enterprise sale, the prospect may have a sales process in place that manages deals and pipes them through an established sales process. This may take some time. In enterprise sales it's not uncommon for a deal to take nine months or more.
  3. Access to Decision Makers (Executive Sponsorship). Access to the decision maker influences how quickly and easily the sales process will proceed, and should be one of the top selection criteria of any lead qualification system. Is the partner speaking with the decision maker? Or are they the person doing the work? Do they have access to the decision maker? Do they have executive sponsorship? Will the sales process require competing with other vendors for access to the decision maker?
  4. Solution Fit. This can sink a deal - so many times both vendors and partners desperate for a deal engage with a prospect before thinking through their ability to solve the problem of the customer. Do both the vendor and the partner have the solution that the customer is looking for? If not, how difficult would it be to come up with the solution?

 Lead qualification is just one aspect of the deal capture process. If it is able to support the best practices we've outlined here, you'll be better positioned for adoption by the sales force and to realize the business advantages of a lead qualification process.

About our Guest Blogger

Leslie Sutherland, CA-AM, Marketing Practice Lead, is a veteran marketing executive with specialties in global, partner, and corporate marketing, as well as marketing communications. Leslie is actively involved in best practices formation for marketing and partnerships. From 2005 - 2008, she was a global board member of the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP), where she headed the strategic growth and development committee. Leslie is actively engaged with (and is a past-president of) the Silicon Valley/Northern California Chapter of ASAP, and is also a past board member of the Silicon Valley Chapter of the American Marketing Association. 

Responses to Best Practices for Lead Qualification

Mike McDowell

Very true! All leads are not built equal - qualifying them is a must. Nice post.

Eric Moss

Leslie, your pragmatic advice is absolutely on target. Too often we forget the objective sales qualification principles and get caught up in the enthusiasm of chasing every lead that comes our way. I suspect that Alliance folks are especially guilty of this behavior because "leads from partners" is one of the measures that is looked at when assessing the health of the relationship rather than "qualified leads from partners". It takes a seasoned professional or enlightened management to recognize that "qualified leads" are what we should strive for and have the discipline to follow a lead evaluation process such as the one you have outlined.One of the lessons that I have learned is that the art of assigning weights to the criteria is enlightening in and of itself. You suggest that "Qualification of leads through partners should map to the same criteria a vendor uses for direct sales". I agree that the criteria could be in common but I suggest that the weights may be significantly different because the business drivers are significantly different between the partners. If the weights are different then the prioritization will be different and the allocation of resources will be different. These differences can lead to friction down the line unless we, as Alliance Professionals, step in early in the process to help our Partners understand how our organization is likely to allocate resources to an opportunity based on the weights we assign to the criteria. Similarly, our organization needs to appreciate how our partners choose allocate resources to opportunities in order to avoid misalignment of expectations that can lead to disillusionment with the relationship when looking at the sales pipeline.You rightly point out that time frame is an important criteria that everyone will care about. I suggest that there is a correlation between time frame of a well qualified deal and the size of the deal. An enterprise deal will likely be bigger but take longer to sell and require more resources than a departmental deal. This is neither good nor bad, but the consequences can be significant if one organization is seeking to optimize deal size while the partner is seeking to optimize quick wins. The Alliance Professional is the one who should be able to see both sides and help get our respective organizations properly aligned to create "both win" outcomes. Our ability to "keep two sets of books" for opportunity prioritization (one for our organization and another for our partner) is one of the tools we should have in our arsenal to help create alignment and foster successful relationships.

Gianluca Marcellino
http://biz0gianlucamarcellino.wordpress.com/

Thanks Leslie, New, eager partners with little teaming experience and limited understanding of the other partner's true strengths will often propose each other underqualified leads.Qualification criteria that are based on knowledge of the other partner's strengths are a key tool to help new partners build a strong joint track record.Your fourth criterion is a great starting point to grow mutual acquaintance between partners.

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