Accurate opportunity qualification is perhaps the single most important foundation for success in complex B2B sales environments. In the absence of an up-to-date and accurate assessment of the specific circumstances of each of their active sales opportunities, sales people are doomed to waste significant amounts of time and energy pursuing deals that they are never likely to win, or are never likely to do anything, or would not be worth winning.
As a consequence, many sales organisations have attempted to implement a standardised approach to qualification. But creating qualification guidelines by itself isn’t enough. The criteria must be consistently, thoughtfully and honestly applied, and not regarded as a “box-ticking” exercise.
An inadvertent typo (“qualifiction”) in a recent client opportunity review session served to remind me that qualification must always be based on fact and not on fiction or – as seemed to be the case on that occasion – on comfortable but unjustified assumptions.
It’s clear to me that first line sales managers have a critical role to play here. If qualification isn’t done thoughtfully, and if it isn’t based on evidence, then it’s hardly worth doing at all. In this regard, as in so many other aspects of sales effectiveness, hope is not (and should never be) a strategy.
I shared some of my recommendations about qualifying complex B2B opportunities in this recent blog, and I hope that you’ll find it worthwhile if I spend a few moments on the qualification process itself.
Firstly, qualification must be evidence-based. If you’re guessing any of the criteria, and if you have no way of validating your assessment, then you are much better off acknowledging that the situation is unknown or uncertain rather than making an unjustifiable assumption.
Second, sales people need to be honest with themselves and with their sales leadership. An unjustifiably positive outlook is most likely to result in disappointment later on in the process – sometimes only when it is too late to do something about the situation, or after significant energies have been wasted pursuing a pipe dream.
Third, qualification needs to be regularly re-assessed, most particularly before advancing a deal from one stage to the next, and whenever there are significant changes in the customer’s circumstances, including whenever key stakeholders join or leave the customer’s decision group.
Finally, and particularly when considering whether to respond to an unexpected RFP, you need to think about adopting a “disqualification as a default” position. In other words, instead of qualifying in as the default position, qualifying out should be the default position unless you have evidence proving that key qualification factors are positive.
Whenever sales people adopt a careless approach to qualification, several bad things are likely to happen:
- Pipeline values will be distorted, often significantly
- Sales forecasts will be inaccurate, often catastrophically
- Scarce resources will be misallocated, often to the detriment of the deals that really need them
- Win rates will be lower than they could have been, often dramatically
- Sales cycles will take longer than they need to, often avoidably
You can perhaps think of a few more negative consequences.
My conclusion: you need to separate fact from fiction in your pipeline. You need to insist on evidence rather than supposition. You need to challenge comfortable or lazy assumptions. And you need to make it clear to your sales people that wasting resources – and particularly their colleague’s time – because of failures in qualification is unacceptable.
Hope is not a strategy!
Here’s that blog again: A Progressive Approach to Sales Opportunity Qualification [that isn’t BANT]
What are your experiences?
A version of this article was first posted on LinkedIn.