Lead Qualification Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

February 2, 2021

Sales lead qualification has always been a time-consuming and intensive process. Generating leads is a challenge in itself, then you must determine if that lead can be qualified as a sales prospect, which takes time, research and often connecting with leads directly. 

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The good news is there are a number of strategies, techniques and frameworks that can make the lead qualification process a bit less daunting and help you score, qualify and move leads through the sales cycle more efficiently.

In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know to qualify leads, including lead qualification frameworks and strategies, qualifying questions, and tools that can make your life easier.

Here’s a quick look at everything we’ll cover in this article:

 

What is lead qualification?

Lead qualification is the process of determining the likelihood that a lead will become a customer.

If a lead matches your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and is deemed likely to convert, they’re considered “qualified,” labeled as a prospect, and moved to the next stage in the sales cycle.

 

A step-by-step guide to lead qualification

So, how exactly does the lead qualification process work? We break it down step-by-step and introduce frameworks and strategies that can help better assess if a lead should be qualified.

 

Establishing an ICP

Before getting started qualifying leads, it’s important to know what attributes you’re looking for in a potential buyer. The best way to do this is by identifying what your ideal customer “looks” like. 

Think of your ICP as the type of company that would benefit the most from your product or solution. Your ICP should be defined using firmographics, such as technographic data, funding or IPO status, company size, revenue, industry and location.

Understanding this information before you start the lead qualification process is critical — it will help you make better decisions about which leads are worth moving forward in the sales cycle, and spending precious time and resources trying to convert leads into customers. 

Pro Tip: Using the Edit Preferences’ option in Crunchbase, you can input your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) or territory and personalize your experience.

 

Lead scoring

A lead scoring system or model is essentially a prioritization tool that will help you determine 1) if a lead is qualified, and 2) when to reach out. A lead scoring model will assign different point values to different lead actions such as visiting a certain webpage or opening an email. 

lead scoring model example

Source

An accumulation of these points will help you determine what stage of the sales cycle a lead is in, and therefore, help you better identify an opportune time to reach out. In the example below, you can see how the lead score on the left-hand side correlates to how close a lead or prospect is to making a decision.

lead scoring awareness stage funnel example

Source

It’s important to remember that each company’s lead scoring model will be different, as the score assigned to each indicator depends greatly on company priorities, what you’re selling, and how you’re selling it. 

While the number of points per lead action, and the threshold at which your team considers a lead is ripe for marketing qualification, sales qualification, and outreach will vary, the basic principles of lead scoring will help you better prioritize your leads and make more informed lead qualification decisions. 

 

Three steps to lead qualification

After you’ve defined your ICP and established your lead scoring model, there are three main steps to qualify a lead:

  1. Research
  2. Outreach
  3. Qualification

Sounds simple, right? As you probably guessed, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Let’s dive into each phase of the process and unpack what you need to do.

 

1. Research

These days, there’s a plethora of information out there about everything and everyone, and as a salesperson your job is to find it. In B2B sales, there’s even more you can uncover related to a company’s current situation that can help you determine if it’s a lead worth qualifying.

The information you should be looking for in your initial lead qualification research (and recording in your CRM) relates to the company/organization rather than the individual lead. This organization-level information can also contribute a great deal to your lead score. 

Here’s what to look out for in your initial research:

  1. Company funding information

Understanding a company’s funding status is one of the easiest ways to determine if it’s a viable prospect. If it just raised a huge round of funding, odds are the influx of cash means it’s more likely to be able to make a purchase. 

  1. General company information
    1. Number of employees
    2. Locations/HQ
    3. Mission statement/the problem they’re trying to solve
  1. Positive growth signals
    1. New leadership hires
    2. Launching new products
    3. Actively hiring employees
  1. Negative growth signals 
    1. Layoffs
    2. Lack of company funding

Tools like Crunchbase Pro can help you find this company-level information and more. But  there’s more to learn about a lead before you can qualify it, and this information often requires connecting with the lead directly to ask qualifying questions.

 

2. Outreach

Some information just can’t be found by even the most diligent sales reps without connecting directly with the lead. In this stage of the lead qualification process, you’re aiming to gather much more specific information about the lead regarding its current situation, needs and plans for the future.

Examples of qualifying questions to ask your leads:

  1. What problem are you hoping to solve?
  2. Do you currently have another solution to solve this problem?
    • If not, why are you trying to solve this problem now?
  3. What goals are you trying to achieve with this solution?
  4. What is your ideal timeline for implementation?
  5. Who is the person who would make the final decision about this purchase?
  6. What is your budget for this solution?

This list is certainly nowhere near exhaustive, but a quick Google search will supply you with hundreds, if not thousands, of qualifying questions. 

As you’ve probably noticed, these questions center around a few main themes, such as budget and timeline and who the decision-maker might be. These themes comprise the many frameworks that sales professionals have used over the years to better understand which leads are really worth qualifying and will provide the most ROI.

 

Here are a few of the most popular lead qualification frameworks:

 

BANT

Although its current relevance is hotly debated in the sales community, we’d be remiss not to mention the BANT framework. Despite this recent debate, it has held up well over time as a starting point for prospect research.

Here’s what BANT stands for and how it can help guide you in your qualification process:

B = Budget

Determining if a company has the budget to purchase your product or solution is no doubt an important factor in determining if they’re qualified. 

With Crunchbase Pro you can understand a company’s funding status at a glance on company profile pages, and get alerts when a company you’ve saved to a list or your CRM, gets funding. Using Crunchbase Advanced Search, you can also narrow down your search by last funding date, type, or amount of funding raised.

A = Authority 

Another crucial element in the lead qualification process is determining if your lead is the person who will ultimately make the decision or will be involved in the decision-making process. Although it’s not always easy to determine who you need to reach out to at a company, watch out for changes in leadership or management to ensure your contacts are up to date. 

In Crunchbase search, you can filter companies by those with leadership hires within a specific date range to find the ones that are growing. If a company has recently hired new executives, dig into the news context on its company profile page to identify new decision-makers.

N = Need 

Need is certainly an important, if not the most important, aspect in determining if a lead could convert. If they don’t have your solution, or they’re using a competitor that your services can beat, there may be an opportunity for your product or service to help.

Company Tech Stack from G2 Stack data tells you what technology a company is currently using, along with previous providers, so you can easily identify if a company could benefit from your solution.

T = Timeline

Most B2B deals take three to four months to close, but larger deals may take six months or more. For your team to be successful in predicting revenue, you’ve got to understand a company’s true timeline.

Real-time acquisition and IPO alerts from Crunchbase Pro can help you better understand a company’s timeline by alerting you when a company makes a move that will greatly impact its buying power. You can also filter your search by M&A and IPO status using Crunchbase’s Advanced Search functionality.

 

CHAMP

CHAMP is often deemed a more current version of the BANT framework because it places more emphasis on the lead. 

CH = Challenges

The CHAMP framework begins by focusing on the challenges a prospect is currently facing.

A = Authority

As in the BANT framework, it’s important to understand who at the company makes the final decisions/will be involved in the decision-making process.

M = Money

Again, similar to BANT, the CHAMP framework also includes determining if the lead has the budget for your product or solution.

P = Prioritization

A key element in the CHAMP framework is prioritization, or how urgent the lead’s need is. If your solution is considered a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have” this could present problems. 

Generally speaking, where there is priority, and budget, an accelerated timeline soon follows.

 

MEDDPICC

Created by Enterprise Sales Director at Outreach (and Crunchbase contributor) David Weiss, the MEDDPICC framework is a more detailed deal framework that covers the entire sales process and can help salespeople qualify leads and determine the true likelihood a deal will close. The framework is adapted from the popular MEDDIC framework developed in the 1990s.

M = Metrics

In the MEDDPICC framework, metrics represent the true value your solution can bring through numbers; think revenue implications and bottom-line impact. Understanding critical metrics will help you determine the true value your solution can provide to a company.

E = Economic buyer

Economic buyer is all about determining not only who has the ability to spend money, but also who has the ability to create a budget. The economic buyer is the ultimate decision-maker, and you need to know who that is.

D = Decision criteria 

Decision criteria is about understanding what you will need to do to win the company’s business. What are you being measured against? What boxes do you need to check on your prospect’s wishlist?

D = Decision process

This comes down to clarifying how decisions are made. Understanding the decision process will help you understand when a deal will actually close.

P = Paper process

If you’re in B2B/enterprise sales, odds are a legal team is going to be involved in the deal. Before you can truly understand a deal timeline, you’ve got to understand what the legal process looks like. Who’s involved? Does the company have inside or outside legal counsel? What’s their realistic timeline? Understanding these aspects of the legal process will help you more accurately predict when a deal will close.

I = Identify pain

Truly understanding a prospect’s pain point is one of the most important elements of the MEDDPICC process. Don’t make assumptions based on previous conversations, or what you know about a company. You’ve got to understand their pain points from all angles. Why are they searching for a solution now? What happens if they don’t solve the pain point? 

Weiss mentions that this step in the MEDDPICC process is a great complement to  the metrics step; while metrics help you sell rationally, identifying the pain point will help you sell emotionally.

C = Champions

According to Weiss, your champion is your ally on the inside of the organization you’re selling to. A champion is the most important person to have a good relationship with. Be sure to arm them with information they need to advocate for you, even when you’re not in the room.

C = Competition

Identifying, understanding and being able to differentiate yourself from the competition is critical. Weiss recommends using unbiased honesty when addressing your competition, rather than talking bad about them.

Now it’s time for the final step: qualifying your leads.

 

3. Qualification

Armed with lead qualification frameworks and strategies, lead scoring techniques, and qualifying questions that will help you determine if a lead is likely to convert, you’ve got all the information you need to determine which leads are worth qualifying as prospects and moving through the sales cycle.

But, even if a lead isn’t ready to be qualified at this time, don’t completely discount it. Circumstances, priorities and timelines change. Rather than throwing unqualified leads out the door, keep an eye out for any changes in their circumstances that might signify a new ability to purchase, such as funding rounds or acquisitions.

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Tools that can help you qualify leads faster

 

Crunchbase Pro

Crunchbase Pro’s firmographic company data can help you qualify accounts without the manual research. Find high-level company data like location and employee count, and dive deeper into funding data, tech stack, buying signals, company leadership changes and more on company profile pages. 

You can also set up automatic alerts so you’re the first to know when a company raises funding or is mentioned in the news. Then, save prospects, along with basic company information, directly to your CRM and personalize your outreach.

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Want to learn more? The Crunchbase Blog is chock-full of information about finding new prospects, personalization techniques, and tips and tricks that will help you close more deals.


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