Lead qualification in B2B sales is key to assigning the appropriate resources and time to advance sales opportunities. Maintaining a customer-centric approach to this process can boost your win rate. Bob Apollo, the founder and COO of Inflection-Point Strategy Partner, was invited to sit down with Annette Behrendt to discuss the details of a modern, more holistic approach to your sales qualification process.
The Basics of Lead Qualification
Qualifying a sales opportunity is a continuous process of assessing two different phenomena. The first (and most obvious) is whether a lead is likely to purchase your offered product or service. However, Apollo also proposes assessing the probability that a customer will act to change or improve their business. This consideration is equally as decisive as their decision to buy from you.
It isn’t likely that your salespeople will unearth the results of these two critical questions during the early qualification stages, regardless of whether the process takes weeks or months. Therefore, your sales team needs to periodically gauge the situation and deduce if it is reasonable to continue investing their time and effort into an opportunity. Some of these questions may include:
- Are we able to satisfy their needs and treat their pain points?
- How likely are they to take action?
- Is this the type of customer we need?
- Can we profit from this deal and business relationship?
- Can we anticipate that they will act in our favor?
Unify your qualification process by distributing clearly defined criteria amongst your salespeople
Sales processes in the B2B world tend to become increasingly complicated, leading to a similar effect on the qualification process, which occurs in tandem. In addition, factors such as recurring sales negotiations and relationship building with decision-making units imply that salespeople require ample time for developing their leads. Therefore, we emphasize the importance of establishing well-defined qualification criteria to guide sales teams towards evaluating opportunities the same way.
Setting universal qualification standards amongst salespeople can be advantageous throughout the sales process. It provides a benchmark to judge whether to continue interacting with a customer. Alternatively, if the projected outcomes of the opportunity aren’t worthwhile, it can signal when to consider politely withdrawing from negotiations. These qualification standards will also align your sales team’s perspective when seeking opportunities during the early stages of the process.
Out with the Old (BANT) and in with the New (MEDDPICCRR)
The shift in B2B buying behavior and expectations has altered our sales activities, including the lead qualification process. We should be moving away from the BANT qualification framework, which reviews a customer’s budget, authority, needs, and timeframe. The model presumes that the customer knows what they need to complete a fully funded project. Per Apollo’s advice, all technological companies or organizations that cannot guarantee a customer’s commitment should steer clear of this mindset.
Apollo has witnessed the original MEDDIC qualification model expand from the technology sector into other industries throughout his career. It has since grown more detailed, with Apollo himself introducing two more elements that he recommends for navigating a complex qualification process. Altogether, the final result amounts to MEDDPICCRR:
Metrics: Salespeople need to understand the metrics qualified leads use to measure their current pains. More importantly, we must fully comprehend how they might measure their future gains and accomplishments. Throughout the sales and qualification process, build a stark contrast between the measure that reflects where they are today and where they aspire to be.
Economic buyer: Identify the difference between the enthusiastic and economic buyers in the decision-making unit. An individual who is passionate about your product or service may not necessarily influence the buying decision. Pinpoint the person or group that decides which offer to acquire and make them your target.
Decision criteria: Like your defined qualification criteria, customers also have a list of requirements before agreeing to a deal. Extract information from your interactions and research to decipher these needs. The best salespeople seek ways to influence the customer’s decision criteria and adopt an active approach to further qualifying them.
Decision process: What is the customer’s procedure for making decisions? How do they determine whether to pursue a project with you or with another company? This element of the MEDDPICCRR model relates to the two phenomena analyzed throughout the qualification process.
Paper/Approval process: How does the customer handle the paper or approval process after signing the deal? Your sales team must know the events that follow a closed deal, as it may pose a danger of being misled. For high-value and complex sales deals, ensure that the allocated sales representative(s) understands the subsequent approval steps.
The Intensity of pain: Gauge the urgency behind the customer’s project. If a lead is hesitant to change the status quo but suits your qualification criteria, reminding them of the need to implement this new plan with you may work in your favor.
Champion: Do we have an individual promoting us amongst key decision-makers? Beware of falling into the similar ‘enthusiasm’ trap from the previous Economic buyer criterion. Check whether your champion is advocating for the project instead of trying to sell your company and offering.
Competition: Who constitutes an alternative for the customer’s project? How do our relative strengths and weaknesses compare?
(The aspects of MEDDIC until this point serve as a good foundation for qualifying your sales leads. Still, Apollo warns to avoid overengineering your qualification process and only suggests incorporating the last few aspects if it helps dissect complex multi-layered deals).
Relative priority (Apollo’s addition): How does your confirmed project with the customer measure against their other business activities? Sometimes a project may fall through even after receiving approval since it likely had a low relative priority compared to other activities. Gain awareness of the importance of your deal within the grand scheme of the customer’s organization.
Risk factors (Apollo’s addition): Think back to previous sales opportunities with similar characteristics and identify what went wrong. Curating a list of possible risk factors and methods to mitigate them can help avoid repeating red flags.
When choosing which configuration of the MEDDPICCRR qualification criteria to integrate into your sales organization, Apollo encourages you to rely on real-life experiences. Though behaviors and companies are subject to change, historical data can help determine a customer’s actions and your chances of winning their business. Create your qualification criteria by focusing on areas where you lost with previous accounts.
"Customer-centricity is absolutely critical" - Bob Apollo
The MEDDPICCRR model ensures that salespeople are mindful of the various factors influencing the customer’s perspective on their decision. It covers a diverse range of factors that develop a holistic, customer-centric view amongst your sales team on the buying process, decision group, and more. Leveraging this information will enhance both the qualification process and subsequently improve the overall success of your sale campaigns.
Being in tune with your customer’s perspective allows salespeople to set aside a few moments throughout the qualification process to decide whether to continue committing their efforts to this opportunity. There is no ‘one way’ to qualify a lead against these criteria. You will uncover information during various stages in the sales process, so periodically ask yourself questions related to the qualification standards, such as:
- How intense is the customer's current pain?
- Can I consider the individual I am talking to as a potential champion or economic buyer?
- Are there any risks that seem familiar which I can mitigate?
While qualifying a lead, make partial evaluations along the way to judge whether to continue pursuing this lead or not. You will reach a critical point in the process once you have resolved all qualification criteria with evidence. At this moment, step back and observe the entire situation and decide once again to follow through with the opportunity based on your confidence that the customer will make a decision and if you will be their chosen partner.
Contributions of the Sales Manager to Improving Your Qualification Process
From his experience, Apollo describes sales managers as the best guide to reinforce behavior and routines around transparent and concise lead qualification. The best-case scenario is a manager that instills common standards, language, and best practices but also honors creativity towards reaching ambitious goals.
Sales managers could go one step further and play the ‘devil’s advocate’ when addressing qualifying skills. Coaching sessions or sales updates allow managers to dive into why a salesperson believes that a particular opportunity is well-qualified in certain aspects, hopefully backed with evidence gathered from their sales calls and research. These conversations may be grueling and uncomfortable, but they are bound to improve your sales organization’s effectiveness.
Coaching has an undisputed impact on improving sales readiness, qualification included. The best sales managers will investigate the underlying obstacles hindering a salesperson from better qualifying their leads. Furthermore, it can raise awareness around the proper approach to improving an individual’s sales and qualifying techniques.
How to Integrate Technology into Sales Qualification
An appropriate system will guide your sales force through your lead qualification’s structured and standardized stages. Apollo appointed Membrain as a prime example of a modern approach to digitalizing sales since you can adapt your qualification activities and communication according to a customer’s behavior. Decide upon a system that is easy to use to secure acceptance and usage amongst your sales organization.
Though we shouldn’t rely entirely on algorithms and machine learning for qualifying our customers, collecting sufficient intelligence can be an asset for identifying patterns amongst accounts (the smart decisions you will make). It can strengthen your choices, especially if the overall process aligns with successful deals from the past. A data-driven guide is particularly relevant for complex B2B sales deals involving multiple stakeholders from your and the customer’s side. There is no perfect formula that will work every time. However, storing the data from past deals may act as a guide to keep you on the right path.
Final Tips from Bob's Experience
- Settle on a standard process guided by a coherent set of qualification criteria for your sales organization. Ensure all members are viewing opportunities in the same way.
- Don't try to fool yourself. Be honest with yourself and your manager about your progress and the state of the deal (from both perspectives).
- Be prepared and confident to disqualify an opportunity that doesn't meet your qualification standards. Don't cling to opportunities if your analysis categorizes them as unachievable or impractical.
About Bob Apollo
As the founder and COO of Inflection-Point Strategy Partner, Bob Apollo has a passion for supporting technology start-ups to build their own scalable and predictable business model. His company is one of the leading advocates of outcome-centric selling, with opportunity selling being a critical part. Bob is also majorly involved with the International Journal of Sales Transformation and the Sales Experts Channel.
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