Table of Contents
What is Sales Qualification?
Sales qualification is the process of determining whether a lead is a good fit for a business’s product or service. Preliminary qualification starts with analyzing the lead’s profile (e.g., industry and company size). Throughout the qualification process, sales reps ask leads open-ended questions to learn more about their goals and challenges to evaluate their candidacy for a specific offering.
Practically every company has a sales qualification process. It’s a critical part of the sales process, as it helps sales reps prioritize leads and focus on those that are most likely to convert. With well-defined qualification criteria, reps can easily narrow down their leads list and spend their time more strategically.
- Qualifying sales leads
- Lead qualification
Importance of Qualification in the Sales Process
Qualification is perhaps the most important part of the sales process. Without it, the sales team approaches every new lead engagement completely blind. This is not only inefficient, but ineffective — it wastes time and causes reps to close deals that won’t last long-term (since they won’t actually realize much value from using the product).
Nowadays, the typical sales rep only spends 28% of their time selling. Most of their day is filled with updates to CRM, prospecting, and deciding which leads to prioritize (among other activities).
There are two problems with this:
- It leads to a hurried sales process.
- Sellers have a lot less time to hit quota.
Qualification doesn’t exactly give reps more of their selling time back. But it does help them maximize the limited time they have. By figuring out whether a product is ‘probably’ or ‘probably not’ suitable for a sales lead, reps can focus their energy on deals that are more likely to close — i.e., the ones they’d have a better chance of moving to Closed Won.
Beyond time and energy, qualification also helps sales reps identify opportunities that have actual potential for growth, not just short-term wins. Reputable companies should be looking for relationships with customers where there’s a real value exchange in the long term.
Sales Qualification Stages
The exact sales qualification process varies from company to company. But each includes these five stages:
A sales lead or prospect is anyone who could potentially end up buying the product. This doesn’t mean they’re actually qualified. It only means that, on the surface, the customer looks to fit the profile of a potential buyer.
During sales prospecting, reps look for leads that meet the basic criteria for qualifying leads. This is usually firmographic information (MRR, headcount, industry), technographic information (which software they already use), or demographic data (location, decision-maker profiles).
Although narrowing down potential buyers and only using outbound to target certain individuals is an excellent way to maximize efficiency, a sales prospect isn’t qualified until it passes the next stages. In many cases, the seller hasn’t even talked to the lead at this point.
Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is anyone who could be interested in your product or service — either by filling out a contact form, going to your website, joining an email list, and so on. MQLs can come from various sources (e.g., advertisements, referrals), but they all have one thing in common: the need for further qualification.
Demonstrating interest doesn’t guarantee a lead is actually qualified to buy. They may find content on the company website to be interesting. Or they could have downloaded a pricing document. These are good indicators of higher purchase likelihood, but engaging with marketing materials is still a one-sided conversation.
Sales Accepted Lead (SAL)
At this stage, the sales team has already reviewed the lead’s profile and decided they show real potential of buying. A sales accepted lead (SAL) is an MQL that has filled out the correct paperwork, responded to questions, and passed all necessary checks that follow once they click “Book a Demo.”
In other words, they’ve proven they are willing and able to buy your product. And their situation suggests they might be the right fit for it.
Unlike MQLs (which are just interested in marketing collateral), SALs have been explicitly qualified by a series of questions or criteria. A company’s website or appointment booking form often handles this automatically and returns the data to the sales team. Sometimes, a team member reviews their MQLs and sends further questions before making the judgment themselves.
A sales accepted lead is not guaranteed to buy the product. They’re only qualified to sit for the sales demo.
Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
A sales qualified lead (SQL) has gone through a demo and proven they need your offering and can afford it. This is when reps decide if the lead is worth pursuing further or not.
By this point, the sales rep will have asked multiple questions to learn more about their challenges, goals, budgeting parameters, decision-makers, timeline — anything required for accurate qualification.
Usually, an SAL becomes an SQL once they move past the first sales call. There may be multiple touchpoints involved, however — for example, when getting buy-in from several decision makers on different schedules.
An opportunity is a customer you are actively trying to close. At this stage, reps focus their time and energy on creating urgency for the sale and nudging the buyer towards signing up.
To qualify as an opportunity, a lead must show real intent of buying in the near future. They are actively looking for a solution, have gotten along with previous sales reps, and aren’t shy about indicating they are ready to sign up.
Once sales reps qualify a lead as an opportunity, they can focus their attention on the final stages of closing the deal. This usually involves objection handling, pricing negotiation, and getting the contract signed.
10 Questions to Ask to Identify Qualified Sales Leads
To make the qualification process easier, here are 10 questions you can use to identify qualified leads:
- What challenges are you facing that led you to look for a solution like this?
- How does your organization measure success, and how quickly are you expecting results?
- Who else is involved in making decisions regarding purchasing this product?
- Is there an existing budget for this purchase?
- What made you interested in our product/service?
- What other services or solutions are you considering?
- How soon do you need to make a decision?
- Who will be using the product and what are their top priorities when using it?
- Do you have any objections or potential roadblocks that could prevent us from working together?
- What is the best way for us to follow up with you?
These questions help sales reps assess how qualified a lead is before setting up a demo or answering further questions. With the right answers, reps can decide if it’s worth investing more energy into pursuing that particular lead — or if they should move on.
Sales Qualification Frameworks
There are tons of different sales qualification frameworks. The best one for your company depends on the product, customer profile, and many other factors.
FACT (Fit, Alignment, Competition, Timing)
FACT is a variation of BANT. It’s best used when the company offers a solution requiring complex changes — such as enterprise sales or full-scale agency work.
The key differentiator between FACT and other types of sales qualification frameworks is the Alignment stage. Most methods of engaging with a potential prospect are inherently one-sided. FACT prioritizes two-way collaboration (between the buyer and seller).
- Is the prospect’s criteria aligned with our value proposition?
- Are our team and their people a good fit for this project?
- What kind of competition do we have in this market?
- Are there too many bidders for the buyer to engage with us?
- Does the timeline match our resources and capabilities?
To be a qualified prospect using FACT, potential customers need to show more than just interest. It’s more about finding a path to a win-win opportunity. With a traditional one-sided approach, this is quite difficult in complex sales (which often have as many as 10 different decision-makers).
BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time)
BANT is one of the oldest frameworks in the book. Thousands of companies use it as the basis for their sales methodology because it’s straightforward and effective.
The primary goal of BANT is to ensure reps spend their time talking to qualified leads. By focusing on the 4 elements of BANT, reps can quickly identify which prospects are most likely to buy.
- Does the lead have a budget for this purchase (or will one be provided)?
- Do they have the authority to make a purchasing decision?
- Are they an influencer in the buying decision process?
- What are they trying to accomplish using your product?
- When do they need to close the deal?
With BANT selling, ‘Need’ is the most important factor. It’s the foundation for selling any product.
Budget and Authority are important to knock out first, but it’s ultimately the buyer’s current situation that will influence the sale. Why they’re looking, where they are in the sales funnel, and what type of customer they are (e.g., industry, business structure) are all indicators reps can use to craft a personalized offer if they are qualified.
SPIN (Situation, Problem, Implications, Need Payoff)
SPIN selling is Sales 101. It’s less of a structured sales qualification framework and more of a method for asking the right questions at the perfect time.
- Situation — Gathering information about the prospect by asking questions around why they’re looking, what their current process looks like, and who else is involved.
- Problem — Pinpointing actual problems the customer is experiencing (and, on the sales end, mentally preparing a tailored product and sales pitch).
- Implications — Looking into the consequences of not addressing these problems (both short-term and long-term).
- Need Payoff — Helping the buyer reach the conclusion that, based on their problem and how your product solves it, it is the right solution for them.
SPIN selling works well in a variety of scenarios because it focuses on the customer’s needs and feelings rather than hard data. With open-ended questions that keep the conversation moving, it allows reps to better understand their customers, create personalized solutions, and engage buyers more effectively.
However, sales reps also need to remember that during the sales qualification process, they also need to demonstrate capability at the right time. SPIN selling works like a charm when a seller can turn pain points into a personalized solution. It doesn’t work if the sales pitch comes too early. So its success relies heavily on the rep’s ability to seamlessly transition from investigating to demonstration capability.
ANUM (Authority, Need, Urgency, Budget)
ANUM is a sales qualification framework that focuses on the 4 Ps — People, Product, Process, and Price. This helps reps understand what resources are needed to close a deal quickly and effectively.
- Authority — Who holds decision-making power? How many are there?
- Need — What problem needs solving? Can our entire solution fix it, or do they need additional products/services?
- Urgency — How soon do they need it? What could happen if they don’t fix it by then?
- Budget — Can they afford our solution? Is pricing a decision-making factor?
With ANUM, sales reps can quickly determine whether or not the person they’re talking to could sign a contract. As a way to prioritize their time, it’s best to only move prospects through the sales pipeline if they have decision-making power.
FAINT (Funds, Authority, Interest, Need, Timeline)
FAINT is similar to BANT, but it’s more focused on the buyer’s interest and engagement with the seller. It’s a great framework for understanding how to engage prospects and move them through the sales cycle.
- Funds — Do they have the budget? Are there any restrictions?
- Authority — Who holds decision-making power? Is there one decision-maker or multiple stakeholders involved?
- Interest — How interested are they in the product or service? Are there immediate factrs that could prevent them from working together?
- Need — What kind of problem are they trying to solve? Is it urgent?
- Timeline — What is their expected timeline for completion, implementation, and user adoption?
FAINT adds an extra layer of complexity to the sales qualification process since it requires a deep understanding of the buyer’s needs. It also ensures reps don’t spend too much time on prospects who are just window shopping and encourages reps to focus their attention on prospects who have an immediate need for their product or service.
MEDDIC (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champions)
MEDDIC is the ultimate sales qualification approach. Focused on account-based selling, it helps reps target and qualify potential customers while leading with value. It’s a lot more fleshed out than most frameworks since it requires extensive research and conversation with buyers. But it also creates a better buying experience because reps spend more time on the numbers and facts (and waste less time on chit-chat).
- Metrics — Concrete evidence of the solution’s business benefits (as they pertain to the customer)
- Economic buyer — The person within the organization who will make the final Yes/No decision
- Decision criteria — The predetermined criteria against which each decision-maker will evaluate the product
- Decision process — Details about the approach, timeline, and collaborative effort the decision-makers will take to evaluate and select one solution over the others
- Identify pain — In-depth understanding of the customer’s pain points (e.g., industry, competitive landscape, and/or budgeting constraints)
- Champions — Internal influencers who will help advocate for your solution (i.e., “sell on your behalf”)
MEDDIC allows reps to build a comprehensive understanding of their prospects and develop relationships with them throughout the sales cycle. Unlike other sales models, it encourages the seller to take a strategic approach by considering everyone involved in decision-making and evaluation, not just the ones who sign the dotted line.
GPCTBA and C&I is a B2B-oriented sales qualification model. It assumes the prospect already has a basic understanding of the product in question — they need higher-level information to fully grasp it.
- Goals — What is the customer trying to achieve?
- Plans — How does the customer plan to get there?
- Challenges — What challenges are they facing on the way?
- Timeline — How soon will they need a solution?
- Budget — Do they have enough funding for it all?
- Authority — Who holds decision-making power, and how many are there?
- Negative consequences — What is the downside of not buying the product?
- Positive implications — What are the long-term benefits of buying this product?
With GPCTBA and C&I, a qualified sales prospect is someone who is both knowledgeable and capable of buying the product. To use this model effectively, reps have to drive home the negative consequences and positive implications with concrete evidence that aligns with the customer’s goals and plans.
CHAMP (Challenges, Authority, Money, Prioritization)
CHAMP is well-suited to startups and SaaS companies because it’s simple and focused on the customer’s needs. It requires reps to think about the challenges their prospects are facing, who holds decision-making authority, how much money is available for a product or service, and which solutions they will prioritize.
- Challenges — What obstacles do buyers need to overcome?
- Authority — Who has the power to greenlight purchases?
- Money — Does the customer have enough budget for this?
- Prioritization — Is solving these challenges an actual priority for the prospect?
Startups don’t often have mature products, so they’re more concerned with whether the customer can afford it and really cares to solve their problem with it. CHAMP helps reps qualify prospects quickly by cutting through the noise and focusing on those two factors.
Ways to Improve the Sales Qualification Process
No matter which qualification process you use, there are a few strategies to help reps hone their skills and become even better at it.
- Research ahead of time. Before jumping into a conversation with a prospect, research the company first. Learn who their decision-makers are, how they make buying decisions, what challenges they’re facing in the industry, and other pertinent information.
- Ask open-ended questions. Once you’ve done your research, use it to come up with open-ended questions that lead to deeper conversations about the customer’s goals and needs. This will give you better insight into their buying process and help you assess whether they’re a qualified sales prospect.
- Listen. During the conversation, listen more than talk (this is easy when you ask open-ended questions). The prospect should feel comfortable opening up about their whole situation. All you need to do is mentally prepare a tailored solution for them.
- Ditch the pitch. If you don’t know whether or not your prospect can buy from you (or is interested), pitching them will only cut the process off before it ever progresses. Just because a potential prospect wants to buy doesn’t mean they want to be sold.
Offer the right solutions at the right time. A great seller knows how to segue a conversation from opening -> investigating -> demonstrating capability -> obtaining commitment. Sales qualification is part of a much larger puzzle, and all the pieces need to fit together perfectly.
People Also Ask
How does sales qualification work?
Sales qualification is the process of assessing whether a potential customer is worth pursuing. It involves researching the customer, their business operations, and their buying processes to identify any needs that align with what you offer. Sales reps use various frameworks (such as FAINT and MEDDIC) to qualify prospects by understanding their pain points, timeline for completion, decision criteria, and more.
What are the 5 requirements for a lead to be considered a qualified prospect?
Every business has its own set of criteria, but the five main considerations are: interest, budget, timeline, pain points, and decision-making ability. Before anyone can purchase a product, the seller needs to know they’re talking to the right person, that person is actually interested and capable of buying their product, and the product itself can actually solve the challenges they face.