Lead qualification is an essential part of any sales prospecting strategy. But how do you exactly qualify leads? What's the best way to do it?

Essentially - sales prospecting is based on 4 important segments:

  • Finding potential customers
  • Qualifying them
  • Finding contact information
  • Sending outreach campaigns

Even though lead qualification is the second step of any sales prospecting process, it’s crucial for the success of your campaign.

Poorly done lead qualification can ruin your entire campaign. Let me put things into perspective.

Sales prospecting results without lead qualification:

Campaign results without lead qualification

Sales prospecting results with lead qualification

Campaign results with lead qualification

This is the real power of doing lead qualification.

You can have an email list of 32 or 232, the number isn't as important as it is to qualify all the people in them.

Now let’s dive into the complete guide on lead qualification.

What is lead qualification and why is it important?

Lead qualification is the process of identifying prospects that are more likely to buy from you.

There’re two things you need to have before you start the lead qualification process:

  • Prospect list

Here’s how lead qualification works:

  • You go through your prospect list and find the most qualified leads
  • To do this, you’re using a mix of techniques such as looking for right data, asking questions, lead scoring, discovery calls, and so on

There’re many ways to qualify leads. In this article, we’re going to mention those that are working great for us and some people we've talked to.

When it comes to the importance of lead qualification, its implementation won't just give you better results, but it will also:

  • Save your time - no need to spend time working with people who will never convert
  • Save your money - no unnecessary meetings, no wasted resources
  • Help you close more deals - qualified leads are more likely to convert

Let's start at the top.

The vast majority of companies are using two main types of leads:

  • Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)
  • Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)

Both of them are equally important.

MQLs vs SQLs - what’s the difference?

Not all leads are created equal, especially when you're doing inbound prospecting. Inbound buyer journey has different stages and those leads that are at the beginning will naturally be less likely to convert than those at the end.

Buying process

In the inbound buying process, we can find:

  • Subscribers - these are leads that are least engaged with your brand. They know who you are, they probably read a couple of your articles and they decided to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) - these are the more engaged leads. They fit your “ideal buyer persona”. They downloaded your lead magnet (such as ebooks). When it comes to the buying process, they correspond with the “evaluation” stage of the funnel. They understand the solution of your product, but are still not ready to use it.
  • Sales qualified leads (SQLs) - When the marketing department considers an MQL ready to be moved towards the “purchase” stage, they are sending that MQL to the sales team. Once the SQL is in the pipeline, sales starts working to convert them.
  • Opportunities - Opportunities are the “advanced” form of SQLs. Those people already had a couple of calls with your sales department, they know the product and can see the benefits of using it.

How do you know when some MQL is ready to become the SQL?

For example, if they subscribe to one of your webinars, it means they’re still in the research phase. In this case, you should provide more value and only a tint of promotional content.

There're many ways we as a team do sales prospecting and lead qualification.

But one of the most effective strategies, especially when it comes to qualifying leads into MQLs and SQLs, is through our community.

We might consider someone to be an MQL when they start seeking help with cold emails or sales automation in our Facebook Community.

For example...

Lead qualification in community - research phase

Ilya took care of this one.

Warming leads in community

When our MQLs are in the research phase, we’re sending them in-depth and value-first guides that give them actionable advice.

If you take a closer look at our content, you will notice that it’s packed with value and our product is a dope solution for the problem.

Warming leads in article

Plus, they can also see proof that lemlist is working for many people.

Happy leads in our community

When the MQL is aware that lemlist might be the right solution for them, they might sign up for the trial version or ask for a demo.

Once our MQLs create a trial account, they inevitably become SQLs. They go through onboarding and our sales team is paying close attention to help them achieve their goals.

That’s just one way of doing lead qualification for inbound sales prospecting.

But it’s not the only one.

Below, we’re going to cover several lead qualification best practices and processes that will help you to qualify both inbound and outbound prospects.

But first, let us see another crucial element of every lead qualification framework - lead scoring.

What is lead scoring and how to do it?

Lead scoring is a way to “visualize” the process and make it easy to qualify leads.

It’s based on asking different questions about your prospects and, based on the answer, assigning scores to each prospect.

In the end, the leads are more qualified if they have a better “overall” score.

How would you do lead scoring depends mostly on your industry, product, target audience, and of course, your preference.

For example, the vast majority of companies are rating their prospects from 1-5 on different questions.

You can score your leads on various explicit elements:

  • Demographic
  • Job role
  • VC funding
  • Team size
  • Technology budget
  • Technology used

Or on different implicit attributes:

  • Email click rate
  • Did they register for your webinar?
  • Did they attend your webinar?
  • Did they schedule a demo?
  • How many times did they visit your website?
  • What web pages are they visiting?
  • Did they register for the free trial?

As you will see, some things you can find through research, others via discovery calls.

But once you create your lead qualification criteria, it’s time to determine what score is enough for you to consider them as qualified leads.

For example, each lead that has an overall score of 50 or higher might be considered as SQL. From that point, your sales department will start investing more time into converting them.

What are the discovery calls and how to do them?

There’re two types of calls you can make:

  • Discovery calls - the goal of it is to gather more information about your leads so you can qualify them better. During discovery calls, you should ask different “qualification” questions and let your leads speak.
  • Demo/sales calls - if, after a discovery call, your lead is qualified, you continue with a sales call. The objective is to present your product/service as the desired solution and try to convert.

Questions you can ask during the discovery calls are various. At some point, they might differ from industry to industry, from target audience to target audience.

But there’re certainly some “frameworks” you can follow, as we will see in the chapters to come.

Do’s and don’s of discovery calls

Sales discovery calls might be a great way of qualifying leads or a complete disaster.

There’re certainly some things that you should follow for the smoothy discovery calls:

  • Research your lead before taking the call to identify where to focus most
  • Don’t just bump questions in front of your lead, they might feel like they’re in the middle of a police investigation
  • Avoid asking questions that lead to Yes/No answers, the goal is to make them speak as much as possible
  • Smile as much as possible and be kind... super important
  • Try to really understand your customers’ needs and desired solutions

Adam Hempenstall, CEO and Founder of BetterProposals, shared this mind-blowing tactic with me:

“During discovery calls, our main goal is to understand what the customer actually wants, because it’s frequently not the thing they say they want.

For example, I used to sell automation software back in the day and I would prospect to busy entrepreneurs.

They would tell me that they need to make their business more efficient, but in reality, they would need more time they can spend with their families.

When I prepared a business proposal for them, I focused on the thing they really wanted - more time with their family.

I would get their business almost every time, just because I focused on their actual needs and desires.”

Best lead qualification processes [with frameworks and questions]

We’ve collected the best lead qualification processes and have broken them down into everything you need to know about them.

BANT lead qualification process

At some point in your sales/entrepreneur career, you probably heard of BANT.

BANT stands for:

  • Budget
  • Authority
  • Need
  • Timing
BANT lead qualification framework
Image source

Originally invented by IBM, BANT is one of the most-known lead qualification processes.

Essentially, it’s meant to address:

  • How big the budget your lead has?
  • Who’s the right decision-maker in the company?
  • Does the prospect really have the need for our solution?
  • Is it the right timing for the prospect to buy our solution? If not, when will be the right time?

It’s important to understand that BANT is the most basic and simplest lead qualification process out there.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. In fact, a lot of companies are using it today.

GPCTBA/C&I lead qualification process

Without any doubt, I think that this is the longest sales acronym in history. :)

GPCTBA/C&I is the lead qualification process invented by Hubspot.

Let’s see what are the lead qualification criteria used in this process and questions you can ask to determine them.

GPCTBA/C&I stands for:

  • G - Goals - What are the leads’ top priorities?
  • P - Plans - How do they plan to achieve those goals?
  • C - Challenges - What challenges they faced?
  • T - Timeline - When are they planning to solve this? If they don’t decide to buy right now, what actions are they planning to take instead?
  • B - Budget - What amount of money they spend on achieving their goals so far? What are the additional funds they can allocate?
  • A - Authority - How do their companies decide to buy products like yours? Who are the other decision-makers beside your prospect?
  • C - Negative Consequences - What happens if they don’t reach their goals? How much will it cost them and their companies if they keep things the way they are?
  • I - Positive Implications - What can they achieve next if they reach their goals?

One of the main strengths of this framework is its’ ability to quickly identify whether your lead is qualified or not.

In other words, it’s one of the great frameworks you can use to “deeply” qualify your leads.

On the other side, its weakness lies in its complexity. Less experienced sales reps and entrepreneurs might lose themselves trying to implement it. The conversation might seem unnatural at times.

You don’t need to follow the strictly designed lead qualification frameworks I mentioned above. You can design your own that fit your needs the best.

Cody May, Partner at Studioptbo invented his own lead qualification process:

At our agency, we have a Facebook Ad Lead Funnel that is generating leads for about $8 per lead.

We then have an Inside Sales Agent that calls every lead to check into seeing if they have any interest in speaking further with our sales team.

If they do, we send them to a booking application survey to fill out a form. The form has multiple choice conditional logic element on it.

If they say they are broke and maxed out, it forwards them to a page saying that we are reviewing their form to see if they are a fit.

On the other hand, ff they fill out the form saying they are willing to invest in their business it sends them to our booking calendar.

Our sales team implements a 2 call sales process. The first call is a discovery call to help us identify if we feel like we can help them reach their goals. It’s a 45-minute call that uncovers their sales process, current marketing plans and business goals.

If we feel like they are a fit we book the 2nd call to go through an audit of their current marketing, our process and investment options.”

Lead qualification framework that brought Glorify $1M in first 5 months

This is a story from a dear friend of mine, Ognjen Vukovic. He currently operates as the CMO at Glorify.

Glorify is a design tool for e-commerce.

So far they've gained 12K users in 9 months, making just over $1M in the first 5 months and achieving 150% MoM growth.

Their secret sauce?

Yup, carefully planned and executed lead qualification strategy.

One of the ways that they've been able to qualify leads is through targeted advertising.

Obviously, you always want to make sure that you have the right people looking at your ads.

So you can do lead quotes like pre-qualification or lead qualification depending on what interests you're using in your campaign. That's going to help you go very narrow.

One of the ways to pre-qualify  leads through advertising is to retarget people who already visited your page and show them the ads that are relevant to the pages they've visited.

For example, somebody that's visited your pricing page is probably more valuable than somebody that just went through the home page for a couple of seconds.

There's a lot of different ways to pre-qualify people like that with specific targeting.

For example, you can identify high-intent audiences. People who are visiting your page for over 30 seconds or they're scrolling more than 50% of the content. Then you can retarget them knowing that these people are definitely interested in that specific content.

Another way to do this is to create lookalike audiences of people that have purchased your product in the past, and you're using thousands of different data points that are being pulled directly from Facebook, LinkedIn or Google.

In this case, you're able to find more people like the ones who are already proven to be qualified in some sense.

Last but not the least, one of the most powerful ways to prequalify individuals, is by simply using killer copywriting and irresistible offers in your advertisements.

One of the tricks you can use is putting your price in your offer and copy. This way, you're automatically eliminating people who don't have the right budget.

These are just a couple of ways we did a lead qualification through paid advertising in the past that helped us to close $1M in sales during the first 5 months.

5 sales professionals share lead qualification techniques

During the research for this article, I also interviewed some sales professionals on their best tips for lead qualification.

I asked them to share with me:

  • How are they doing lead qualification at their company
  • What is their number one tip for lead qualification
  • How are they doing lead scoring
  • How are they doing discovery calls

Here’re the best answers I’ve got.

“I spend most of my time trying to disqualify people. I don’t believe pressuring unwilling buyers is a good long term strategy.

The first thing I’m doing is making sure they meet the baseline qualifications. For example, if they’re on a Medicare Advantage plan and they’re looking to switch to a Medicare Supplement, there are only a few specific times they’re allowed to do that. It doesn’t matter how motivated a buyer they are if I can’t legally sell them something, I’m wasting my time.

Next up I want to know the customer intent.

A large percentage of people I talk to are only trying to price shop, so I’ll be straight up and ask if they’re looking to make a decision today.

If not, I don’t pressure them, I just try to build trust, explain the value of what we do, and answer any questions they have, then if they’re still not ready to move forward I send them some info and follow up a couple of days later.

If they’re able to buy and ready to make a decision, I get into the nitty-gritty details of their health and what they can qualify for.”

Alex Kirby, Owner of SeniorBenefitHelp.

We have a two-stage approach to our lead qualification which streamlines our sale process significantly.

The first thing that we did was to create a prospect fit matrix. This has three definitions and puts our leads into primary, secondary and tertiary categories:

- Primary are those that we actively target and are marketing is targeted at
- Secondary are those that we can still help and will accept as customers
- Tertiary are those that are not a good fit and we walk away from.  

When we receive a lead, we assess them against the prospect fit matrix.

If they fit the criteria where they are a primary or secondary lead, we mark them as an MQL - Marketing Qualified Lead and they are passed to the sales team.

The sales team then reach out and try to find out:

- Do they have a problem that we can help with
- Do they wish to find a solution
- Do they have a budget and authority to buy

Once we identify this, we consider them to be SQL and move further down the funnel.

Trevor Nicholls, CEO of Klood Agency.

“We use job sites to look for companies that are hiring SEO’s, digital marketers, social media and link builders. These are the services we offer and this matches us up with people who are looking for help in those areas.

We offer them temporary help - to fill in gaps before they hire in house, or permanent if we make a convincing enough sales pitch and proposal.

If the job ad indicates immediate starts, then they are prime to hit up as they are desperate for someone to start asap.

We can offer to hit the ground running and fill in the gap until they recruit the right candidate.

When it comes to lead scoring, we use a hot, warm, cold system to keep it simple. The variables we use to categorize a lead are also fairly basic - to help keep the system running and not overthink leads.

These are some of our lead scoring criteria:

- Digital Employees at the company - the less the better
- Job Advert - start date & how long been posted - the more urgent the better
- Company Budget - we use listed accounts to check their budget to see if/how much budget they’ll likely have for marketing”

Brett Downes, Founder at HaroHelpers.

We use a few very basic questions to qualify our leads as to whether or not they are truly in need of our services.

If they can’t answer the questions with the lingo and jargon of the industry we almost always cut it short right then and there.

Sometimes it’s someone so new on the other end we have to walk them through it, usually, it’s someone looking to get something for free and we close those down pretty quickly for the most part.

After having answered the sales calls and emails for the last 10 years on and off I would say the number one tip is whether they know the lingo and jargon for the industry or not will tell you a lot about their true intentions.

Ben Walker, Founder of Transcription Outsourcing.

At Great Vancouver Homes, we get roughly a 50/50 mix of organic and paid (PPC) real estate leads.

Regardless of the source, our team pre-qualifies each lead with a series of questions, as any sales organization would.

However, we strongly emphasize a multi-channel approach (calls, email, and texts). We find our response rates are best when we reach out to prospects in several ways.

One of the most important questions we ask a lead, very early in the process, is whether they are working with another agent.

In particular, whether they have a signed representation agreement with another Realtor. If so, the lead is tagged and put into a separate, low-key lead nurturing campaign.

This is the number one tip for sales qualification: identify disqualified leads early and handle them differently.

Conserve resources and pour more time and energy into nurturing leads who are still able to work with you.

Tony Mariotti, Owner of Great Vancouver Homes.

Lead qualification checklist

This lead qualification guide wouldn’t be complete without a nice checklist in the end.

We wanna help you achieve your goals, so here’s the last bonus we’re prepared for you.

Make sure to “tick” all of this “to-do” boxes for successful lead qualification.

[] I understand who is my ideal buyer persona

[] I created the sales prospecting strategy

[] I’ve decided what lead qualification process I’m going to use/test (BANT, GPCTBA/C&I or the custom one)

[] I created a lead scoring sheet

[] Based on my ideal buyer persona, I created a lead scoring system based on explicit and implicit criteria (team-size, job role, engagement with your brand, etc.)

[] If the lead is qualified enough to pass the basic criteria, I created a cold email sequence asking for a discovery call

[] Based on the lead qualification framework I’m using, I prepared my discovery call questions

[] I researched my lead in-depth before the discovery call

[] I’m positive and I wear a big smile on my face during the discovery call (very important)

[] I’m not asking questions that require yes/no answers.

[] During discovery calls, I’m not pushy and I’m not bombing my lead with different questions. Instead, I’m following the flow of conversation and listening to what he has to say

[] I’m carefully writing down everything he says and giving different scores

Now, how are you planning to implement these lead qualification frameworks and strategies?