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One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I first started in sales was spending too much time chasing leads that wouldn't close. Many sales people are eager to start talking to customers and start making sales – but the more effort you put into the upfront work of qualifying sales leads, the more success you will have in closing deals. The better job you do of qualifying a sales opportunity, and finding out more about the customer’s needs and whether they’re a good fit, the better you’ll spend your time. 

Unfortunately, qualifying sales leads is a complex process, and many B2B companies are making mistakes by not qualifying sales leads correctly.

Here are some of the most common mistakes in qualifying sales leads – and ideas on how to do better:

1. Not Enough Qualification

One of the main issues that I come across are companies not putting enough thought into what really qualifies as a strong opportunity.  Their goal is to get as many leads a possible, so often ask all the qualifiers needed to weed out any “weak” opportunities.  As an example, I recently worked on a B2B lead generation project for a client that did energy efficiency audits. Their goal was to get as many sales leads as possible, and as far as they were concerned, the only qualifier they wanted to know was whether or not the prospect had upgraded their lighting outfits in the past 5 years. I had concerns about this strategy – I suggested to the client that they were being too broad in finding a pool of sales leads; just because someone hadn't upgraded their lights in 5 years, does not make them a candidate for an energy audit. A prospect needs to also feel that this type of solution would be an enhancement to their business’s cost savings operations. But the client insisted on moving forward with those broad parameters, so we did. The lead generation program started developing an amazing amount of leads, however, most were unqualified. The client’s sales team started complaining to me that they were spending too much time chasing down opportunities that weren’t closing. You are better off putting all your focus on highly qualified opportunities than spinning around trying to create interest that isn’t there to begin with.

2. Asking the Wrong Qualifying Questions

You need to understand what makes a good lead for you, and ask prospects the right questions that will help hone in and identify the underlying business needs that are most relevant to what you sell. For example, if you are an Internet marketing/SEO firm, a major qualifying question to ask is, "How does internet marketing fit into your overall marketing strategy?" You want to find out how “important” your services really are to this company. There needs to be a real "need" for you service. Just asking if they are using services like yours, or asking if your services would be an enhancement, doesn't mean it's important for them.

3. Asking About Budget

Many B2B companies make the mistake of asking “Do you have budget for this (type of service/solution that we sell?)” This is a mistake – especially so early in the process on a lead generation call. For example, if you are calling a prospect about a new ERP system, there is no way it has been budgeted for, since the company might not have seriously thought about it or even known that this system existed. Even if a prospect is unsatisfied with their current solution, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to buy a new one – asking about budget is presumptuous and might put your prospective customer on the defensive. Instead of asking about budget, do your research first to figure out which companies are the right sizes to support the solution that you sell. Spend time talking with the client about the ROI they can expect to see if they buy from you.

4. Assuming They Already Know Your Product

Another common mistake is asking qualifying questions that assume the client is already well-versed in the details of your solution. For example, I’ve seen clients make the mistake of asking forward-looking questions like, "As you look into 2014, are you planning on having a new mobile platform solution?" This type of question is fine if you sell a category of products and services that is commonly recognized and budgeted for, but if you sell something that is cutting edge, you can’t assume that customers are already “speaking your language.” Instead, spend time educating your customers. Talk to them more broadly about how your solution can help solve problems – even if they don’t understand (yet) exactly what your solution is or what it does.

5. Only Looking for "Short-term" Sales Leads

Too many companies make the mistake of only doing lead generation when they’re having slow sales. If you’re desperate for immediate sales results, your clients will notice – and they’ll be reluctant to buy from you. Low-hanging fruit is great, but the best sales results come from a longer-term process of building relationships and nurturing sales leads until they’re ready to buy from you. Don’t discount the long-term value of a sales lead just because they say “no” today. To have a strong pipeline, you need both long-range and short-range opportunities.

Making sales is not just about “closing” – every sale starts with the upfront work of learning more about the prospect and building a relationship, starting with the first round of qualifying questions to help qualify your sales leads. This stage of the lead generation process can be time consuming and sometimes slow going – but if you get better at qualifying your sales leads, you’ll make better use of your time through the rest of the sales process, and you’ll get better sales from better-informed customers who are a better fit for what you sell.