What Is Qualifying a Lead in Sales?

A salesperson meeting with a qualified prospect and discussing designs shown on a laptop.

Austin Distel/Unsplash 

Qualifying is the process that allows you to find out whether a lead is actually a prospect. A prospect is someone who has the potential to become a customer. Leads, on the other hand, are just potential prospects.

If you don't qualify a lead, you may be wasting your time with someone who literally can't buy from you.

Qualifying Questions

Qualifying usually starts out with asking a few basic questions. These questions are designed to identify the necessary qualities that any prospect will have. Obviously, those desirable qualities will vary depending on what you're selling. For example, if you're selling education savings plans then people who don't have children and don't plan to have them aren't prospects. So in that case, your qualifying questions should be designed to quickly identify childless leads.

Find the Decision Maker

Another detail you should establish early on by qualifying is whether or not you are speaking with a decision-maker. If you sell B2B, the first person you speak with at a particular company might not have the authority to buy. You'd be wise to qualify on that detail early on so that if you are indeed not speaking with the decision-maker, you can find out who the decision-maker is and get in touch with that person promptly.

Determine Interest

Establishing a lead's ability to buy is the bare minimum for qualification. Many salespeople like to qualify further before they spend any more time with the prospect. A deeper level of qualifying might determine how interested the prospect is, how much money he could spend on a purchase and if there are any other impediments such as an existing contract. How deeply you decide to qualify prospects will vary depending on your preferences.

When Qualifying Happens

Qualifying can take place during the initial cold call, during the sales presentation, or both. Some salespeople like to do basic qualifying during the cold call and then qualify further during the sales appointment before they start their presentation. Others prefer to do more qualifying during the cold call, reasoning that they don't want to waste time on an appointment that isn't likely to yield anything.

During the Initial Cold Call

It's wise to do at least a small amount of qualifying during the initial cold call. That way, you won't end up booking a ton of appointments with people who aren't even prospects. Few prospects will mind answering two or three simple questions during a cold call. And if you do get a prospect who refuses to answer a single question during the cold call, you probably don't want to bother trying to sell to him.

If a prospect does complain about your questions, you can simply explain that you want to make sure your product would be interesting for him, so you don't end up wasting his time. That's usually enough to sweeten a prospect's mood. Another option is to qualify a customer under the guise of an account review. This approach usually works as follows: you offer your advice as a subject matter expert to go over his current set up with another provider to help him optimize his account.

Stock Questions

Qualifying at the basic level probably relies on a few stock questions, but if you decide to qualify more deeply, you may need to come up with more customized questions to ask. This is particularly true if you're selling more than one product and you want to determine which product is the best match for a given prospect.

One of the best sources of qualifying questions is your current customer base. Look at your very best accounts, the ones that you wish every customer was like. Search for commonalities in those accounts. For example, you might look at your half-dozen best customers and realize that they all own their homes. In that case, that's an excellent question to ask during qualification.