Here’s How to Qualify to Unclog Your Sales Pipeline

With buying processes becoming increasingly complex and more challenging to navigate, no decision rates are extremely high. Rather than resulting in simple win or loss outcomes, many potential opportunities end up in limbo with no real sense of what went right or wrong.

While there are a number of contributing factors to the rise of no-decision outcomes, poor qualification remains to be one of the leading causes for clogs in sales pipelines. With better qualification habits that are aligned with today’s complex deal cycles, you can prevent some of these clogs.

Adapting Qualification for Today’s Sales Situations

Sales qualification is widely known as an assessment of whether or not a buyer can purchase. Does the buyer have the authority? The money? A need for your solution? Traditional qualification methodologies are designed to recognize potential risks in areas like these.

If you can determine that a prospective buyer won’t be able to purchase for any reason, spending additional time on the opportunity would be more or less a wasted effort. Qualifying is as important as it’s ever been, but it needs to adapt to the way buying is done now.

In a modern, buyer-centric sales approach, qualification is no longer just about determining whether or not a buyer can buy. Instead, modern qualification also requires an understanding of how a number of key factors influence the complex buying process. When you account for these factors throughout the sales process, it’s easier to stay connected with qualified opportunities and see them through to purchase.

Need and Solution Alignment

Traditional qualification methods universally look for a need. However, for a buyer to feel compelled to purchase, your solution must also align to their needs. It must be able to close the gap between their current state and the future state they want to get to. If the solutions you offer don’t align with the buyer’s need, you will likely not make a sale. That’s why we teach more than just the “need” in the qualification methodology in Modern Sales Foundations. We call it “NASA”: Need And Solution Alignment.

Even in situations where there is a compelling need, salespeople lose deals when their solution isn’t aligned with what the buyer needs. As a seller, when you don’t have NASA, you probably want the sale more than the buyer wants the purchase… and the buyer’s preference always prevails in these situations.

Get Your FACTs Straight

While a need is necessary for a buyer to purchase, it won’t always make a purchase happen on its own. As a seller, you also need to account for other important facts – or FACTs as we call them (yes, it is an acronym).

FACT stands for Funding, Alternatives, Committee, and Timing. Each of these are not only qualification criteria, but they also influence the way the purchase will (or won’t) eventually be made. For that reason, you need to understand each component of FACT so you can adapt your approach to account for them.

Funding: Can They Pay for It?

In many of today’s situations, qualifying is no longer a matter of whether there is budget for the purchase, or whether the person you’re dealing with can sign a purchase for the dollar amount required.

While there are certainly potential clients that will not be able to pay for your solution, the reality of modern buying is that funding is not so black-and-white. It’s not necessary to know that a customer has a check ready to write today before continuing with a sales conversation. However, it is important to understand that the customer ultimately will be able to afford your solution, and the buyer(s) you are directly working will be able to arrange the funding for the purchase.

Alternatives: What are You Up Against?

Salespeople often make the mistake of only considering their direct competitors to be a threat. In reality, there are other types of alternatives available to your buyers; they can choose to:

  • Work with you
  • Work with your competitor
  • Go with a different type of solution
  • Do nothing (status quo or “no decision” status), or
  • Do it themselves (depending on the problem they’re solving and potential solutions)

With buyers able to research and discover solutions to every problem they encounter in today’s connected world, your solution is rarely being considered on its own. Most problems buyers seek to solve can be done through a variety of solutions with different pros and cons.

On top of that, status quo is always a formidable competitor. After all, if it’s what they’re doing now, it probably hasn’t resulted in anyone getting fired. Making a critical mistake that disrupts the status quo and causes problems could pose risks to the individuals who make that purchase decision. Never underestimate the status quo.

When uncovering and evaluating the buyer’s alternatives, know what you’re up against. If you feel you have a decent standing against the alternatives, move forward but be sure that your sales process effectively positions your solution against the other options the buyer has.

Committee: Are You Working with the Right People?

Some traditional qualification models (looking at you, BANT) focus on whether a buyer you are working with has authority to purchase. In years past, when more sales opportunities involved one primary buyer, this was fundamental. If your buyer did not have direct authority to purchase, it didn’t matter how well you communicated value; eventually the buyer would take all the information you shared and go share it with their boss, or the actual decision maker.

Ensuring that you are working with a buyer who has the ability to make a purchase decision matters as much today as it always has. What has changed is that the average B2B purchase now includes between five and eight influencers and decision makers, depending on the study you reference.

Today, qualifying the buying committee isn’t just about authority. Naturally, when multiple individuals are involved in a decision, you’ll encounter a variety of interests in, and attitudes toward, your solution. Some might have a lot to gain from the purchase of your solution; some might have a lot to lose. Almost all decision makers and influencers will have certain things they need to see in order to recommend a purchase.

It’s up to you to learn as much as you can about the influencers and decision makers involved in a purchase as early as possible. Your knowledge of the committee can’t stop with confirmation that they have the authority to buy. You must understand the committee and craft your strategy to account for its many specifics.

Timing: How Soon Do They Need a Solution?

If a prospective customer’s timeline for needing a solution is reasonable with your ability to deliver, you’ve qualified the opportunity when it comes to timing. However, if the customer’s timeline is too aggressive or the problem is put on the back burner in favor of other priorities, then the timing might not be quite right.

Timing might be considered the “softest” of the FACTs; and poor timing doesn’t necessarily disqualify an opportunity. If the prospect’s timetable is too aggressive, it might not be realistic to implement any solution and the customer will have to reconsider the expectations. In this case, you could still have an opportunity, you’d just manage the process accordingly.

On the other hand, if there are competing priorities and relatively low urgency to purchase a solution like yours, you’ll want to focus more on nurturing the opportunity rather than attempting to actively push it through the sales pipeline. After all, if they’re not ready to buy, they won’t.

Keep in mind that urgency can change in an instant. A compelling event could happen, which suddenly makes purchasing your solution a much higher priority. Keep tabs on your opportunities to make sure you are fully aware of timing and urgency.

Is this Opportunity Qualified or Not?

There is a lot of nuance to modern sales opportunity qualification, but all of these factors must be understood and considered to know that a buyer is capable of buying. It’s also important to know that you will be able to align your approach to the buying process.

A qualified sales opportunity is one where you have clear Need And Solution Alignment (NASA) and an understanding of the FACTs, none of which would suggest that you should disqualify. Coming out of qualification, it is important to account for all that you learned about the buying process – how funding will work, what alternatives you are up against, who the decision committee includes, and what the timing looks like. These concepts help unclog your sales pipeline.

If you mold your sales approach to meet each of the qualification criteria and ensure your solution meets the buyer’s needs, you are on track to successfully win the deal.

Image Credit: Shutterstock | ZoranOrcik
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