This is the fourth part of this series of posts that is intended to set out the core issues that need to be addressed in each part of the buyer / seller interaction so that the complementary activities of sales and marketing can work in harmony.
Where sales and marketing are integrated, it is a beautiful thing. Focused activity becomes the norm, sales forecasts are more accurate, revenue increases, and an uncommon organizational alignment is achieved, resulting in true collaborative success.
You can find the earlier posts here:
- Blueprint for Sales and Marketing Alignment – Part 1
- Select the Customer: Blueprint for Sales and Marketing Alignment – Part 2
- The Buyer’s Perspective: Blueprint for Sales and Marketing Alignment – Part 3
Effective qualification, as an integral part of the sales process, is a supremely valuable tool, not just for the sales organization, but for the company overall. Remember, there are really only two reasons why you lose a sale; (1) you shouldn’t be there in the first place, i.e. this is a deal you should not win, or (2) you were outsold. If marketing and sales are aligned the profile of the ideal target customer, as outlined in the second post in this series, then a lot of the pain associated with the first reason goes away. You’ve targeted the customer correctly; so yes – if there is an opportunity – the sales person should have a good chance of winning it, unless he is outsold by a competitor. But it is not all just about identifying the right customer profile. We also need to understand whether there is really an opportunity there to win. (This is one of the Four Key Questions that is part of TAS from The TAS Group.)
Unless you have a crystal ball, you cannot forecast accurately if you don’t qualify properly. Poor qualification leads to missed numbers and surprise sales losses. If internal resources are allocated based on your pipeline, your credibility is seriously damaged, and your customers will slip down the priority list when internal resources are getting allocated. Then neither sales nor marketing know where to spend their time.
Link precise qualification with your sales process stages and your pipeline management, and then you know what’s going on. [If you need to create a new sales process, or optimize the one you currently use, you can create a customized sales process of your own company for free at DealmakerGenius.]
Depending on the questions you ask and the information you glean, you can determine how likely the sale is to close. Following are some questions you might consider. Depending on how you structure the interaction between sales and marketing, whether you use inside sales or telemarketing, and how you define a qualified lead or opportunity will all help you determine whether these questions should be asked by marketing or sales.
- Has the customer an identified project?
- Is budget allocated?
- Do you know the compelling event that will motivate the customer to buy?
- Are all of the influencers identified?
- What roles do they play?
- Have you won this type of business before?
- Can you win this one?
- What’s your source of information?
- Are there any competing projects?
- Is there a date by which this project has to be completed?
- Is this a competitive opportunity? What is your competitive advantage?
- Do you fully understand the buyer’s needs?
- Can you meet them competitively?
- Does it matter if the project slips a few months? If so you might question whether it is worth spending the time now.
- What’s the downside for the company if they don’t proceed with the purchase of a product such as yours?
Qualification is not an event. It’s an ongoing process. As buyers evaluate you, you must continue to qualify them. If you are a ‘value creator’ during the evaluation, you’ve earned the right to probe deeper into the opportunity. Part of the qualification process involves establishing the rules of engagement and laying the groundwork for control of the sales process. You must make sure that you question for objective and accurate answers. Ask the same question of different influencers in the account, and you will be surprised at what you learn about the perspective of each role. You need to check that you’re working on a real live opportunity.
One of the main benefits accruing from disciplined qualification is a pipeline that’s credible and a forecast you can stand over – and deliver; and this is where sales and marketing need to be totally aligned.
- When does a target become a qualified prospect that warrants extensive sales effort? Here marketing can put in place a rigorous lead or opportunity qualification process, agreed with sales, so that the sales person is truly motivated to quickly pursue targets that marketing identifies.
- How many qualified prospects do you need at each stage of the pipeline to meet your quota? When you know sales quota, and the rate at which deals progress through the funnel, examining the current value of each stage in the funnel can provide indicators of when a shortfall exists.
- What is the specific evidence you need to determine whether a deal is likely to close? Marketing and sales need to work together on the verifiable outcomes in each stage of the sales process – and marketing must consider what sales tools are required to help the sales team achieve those outcomes.
- As you are getting to that final negotiation stage, what’s the impact of poor qualification on your ability to strike a good deal? What sales and marketing efforts do you need to make sure that risk is minimized at this stage of the deal?
Recognizing that qualification is a shared function between sales and marketing tends to focus the activities that marketing undertakes beyond just throwing a lead over the fence.