How to Accurately Qualify Opportunities

June 11, 2015
Author: LaVon Koerner
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Ever stayed in an opportunity too long, misjudged its realness, or won and later wished you hadn’t? All three of these outcomes are bad endings to good intentions. Knowing when a deal is qualified is one of the most challenging decisions a sales professional has to make—and make often. While salespeople tend to think they can qualify effectively, most follow their intuition instead of relying on more objective means.

It’s easy to get emotionally invested in an opportunity or over anxious because your happy ears hear only what you want and don’t pickup on verbal clues you weren’t listening for. Like Kenny Roger’s The Gambler, “You’ve got know when to hold ‘em; Know when to fold ‘em; Know when to walk away; Know when to run.”

Opportunity qualification matters more than you might think. Sales leaders covet five areas above most else yet often fail to connect their success in these areas to a standardized opportunity qualification process.

  1. Resource Allocation: If a sales leader does not have a reliable, objective, and standardized method for opportunity qualification, it is nearly impossible for them to know in which opportunities they are over-invested and in which opportunities they are under-invested. The reason is simple; without a science-based opportunity qualification process, the opportunities in a pipeline can't be prioritized for resource attention.
     
  2. Acceptable Win-Rates: If a lead is not qualified, the chances of winning them as a client goes down dramatically. The best way to avoid losing is to disqualify them early and immediately abort the pursuit. The first and most basic way to improve win-rates is to not chase unqualified leads.
     
  3. Profitability Margins: What makes “bad” business bad is that the potential opportunity is not qualified or doing business with this customer would not enable us to make a fair profit. No sales leader wants every customer; the quicker “bad” customers and deals are identified, the better.
     
  4. Pipeline Management: Achieving a healthy pipeline for the company begins with answering two questions: 1) “Is it right?” and 2) “Is it real?” Without this front-end qualification, forecasts cannot be accurate or reliable.
     
  5. Coaching Effectiveness: Just as a doctor can’t administer the right prescription without the appropriate testing beforehand, a sales coach can’t apply the right coaching without the guidance of a proven qualification process being administered. In the absence of standardized qualification, coaching attention will be reactive to the “squeaky wheel.” A sales coach can’t prioritize their coaching investment without a standardized approach to prioritizing the opportunities in their pipeline.

For a solid foundation in these five essential areas, your opportunity qualification decisions need to rely more on actual deal science rather than gut feelings. It all begins and ends with considering criteria that falls under two categories: Should We Sell? and Can We Sell?

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All of us instinctively know that there are opportunities that we can sell but shouldn’t. Likewise, there are opportunities that we can’t sell but should. It is here that science kicks in and enables us to set our emotional entanglements aside and make decisions made on proven science.

Just as you’ve known “single issue” voters in politics, it’s common for well-intended sales leaders and sales professionals to make snap decisions based on one or two issues that have their disproportionate attention. It’s imperative to use some sort of qualification tool to objectively and consistently evaluate all important criteria in your opportunities. As an example, Revenue Storm’s Qualifier Tool weighs scores on the 14 criteria to produce the following diagram.

Qualifier_Tool

Here you can see that the sales professional increased the attractiveness over time as they evaluated the opportunity on three different occasions. It is this type of science that tells you where and on what you should be focusing your attention. If you can’t move the “Conditionally Disqualified” to the upper right corner, then the opportunity must be removed from the pipeline and the organization’s attention should be refocused on higher priority business opportunities.

Once you’ve added deal science to a standardized opportunity qualification process, you can start spending your limited time and resources on the right opportunities. Getting bad deals out of your pipeline earlier will not only improve your win-rate but also enable you to build and sustain a strong and productive sales organization. 

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