Lead qualification shortens your sales cycle, helps convert more loyal customers, and prevents resource wastage.
However, creating an effective lead qualification process is no easy feat. If anything, it takes:
- Knowing your target audience well
- Understanding that there are multiple steps to identifying the best-fit prospects
- Regularly optimizing your process based on changing customer needs and pain points
If that sounds complicated, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
In this guide, we make it easy for you to qualify leads by taking five proven easy steps. We also share lead qualification frameworks to try — all backed with expert advice for identifying potential customers before you add them to your sales funnel.
Let's dig in.
What is lead qualification?
Lead qualification is the process of identifying how well a prospect fits your ideal customer profile (ICP). In other words, if they’re a good fit for what you have to offer.
It involves reviewing how well a potential buyer’s characteristics like their budget, organization size, and pain points align with your ICP. If they’re a good match, it means you can move forward with confidence. But if they’re not, you can save yourself time and effort by prioritizing a lead who’s a better fit.
Why is sales lead qualification important?
Sales lead qualification ensures you’re nurturing and dedicating resources to the people who are most likely to convert. In doing so, it saves sales teams from wasting time on deals that won’t close and leading to more successful sales.
Lead qualification also:
- Speeds up your sales process
- Helps you close more deals
- Ensures you’re reaching out to ideal prospects before competitors do
On top of this, sales lead qualification not only allows you to engage your most likely-to-convert leads but also those who are best fits. In turn, this ensures you’re targeting people who will make loyal customers.
What are the different types of leads in sales?
Lead qualification starts with reviewing a pool of leads for how well they match your ICP. These leads can come from different sources based on the lead generation strategies you implement.
For the most part, leads can be segmented into groups based on how they were acquired. For example, through marketing, sales, product, conversion, or unqualified.
Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs)
A marketing-qualified lead is a lead that the marketing team brings in and qualifies as a lead worth pursuing based on the ideal buyer profile the sales team shares with them.
Sales-qualified leads (SQLs)
Sales-qualified leads are leads that the sales team qualifies and adds to the sales cycle. These could be leads that they reach out to themselves or that the marketing team passes to them.
Product-qualified leads (PQLs)
Product-qualified leads have experienced your product’s value first-hand. For instance, by signing up for a free trial or using your limited feature model.
Conversion-qualified leads (CQLs)
Conversion-qualified leads have taken action on your website by sharing their contact information in a form, joining your newsletter subscription, or requesting a demo or free trial.
Unqualified leads are exactly what the name suggests — leads that don’t align with your target buyer persona. This could be because they don’t have a big enough budget or because your tool doesn’t solve their problem.
Pre-lead qualification steps
Before we give you a rundown of the steps you should take to qualify potential leads, it’s essential to build a strong foundation for your lead qualification process. Start by keeping these pointers in mind:
1. Make sure you know who your ideal target buyer is
“The first step is to have a solid understanding of your ICP. You need to know who buys from you, why they buy, and what foundation it takes for those who do buy to be successful,” says UserGems’ Sr. ADR, Kenny Powell.
Put simply, be clear on your ICP’s pain points, motivation, and role.
“With this criteria in mind, you can have an honest and authentic conversation with the lead about whether it would make sense to move forward, not just in terms of fit, but also in terms of the value they would receive from your product or service,” Kenny explains.
2. Understand that lead qualification will vary for each account
Meaning: some leads may be ready to buy right away while others may be a great fit but need more time before they’re ready to commit.
This doesn’t mean you should disqualify the lead that isn’t ready to make an immediate purchase. Instead, leverage different nurturing approaches while using readiness to buy as a lead prioritization factor.
Here’s an example from the WriteCream team of how the approach could vary. Their Founder, Krittin Kalra says, “We have different marketing funnels for different channels. So, there is a separate funnel for leads coming via Google Ads, and a different one for those who find us via social media. We further segregate leads into what I like to call ‘child marketing funnels.’ These are parts of the parent marketing funnel.”
“Let me explain this with an example,” Krittin adds. “In the case of Google Ads, each keyword has a different child marketing funnel. Those Google Ads keywords that have high intent terms like ‘buy’, ‘purchase’, ‘order,’ etc. are usually indicative of customers who are ready to buy. These child marketing funnels are usually small as the customer has already made up their mind to make a purchase.
“Other child marketing funnels are longer. These will usually have informative keywords like what, why, versus, etc. For such funnels, we have to nurture the prospect and get them to the lower stages of the funnel. This is done via emails, calls, ebooks, and other sources. We track each stage of the funnel. So, when the prospect gets to the final stages of the funnel, we know they are ready to become a paid client.”
3. Lead qualification happens at various stages
As much as you’d like to, you can’t determine how well a lead aligns with your ICP in a single round of lead qualification.
If anything, it will take a minimum of 2-3 rounds to identify a potential prospect, connect with them on social media, reach out to them via email, hop on a short call together, and so on.
That being said, you should still assess a lead’s potential during each round to minimize the time you spend trying to convert them.
B2B lead qualification process
It’s hard to qualify leads if you don’t have a process in place. And even though the specific tactics you use for qualifying leads will vary based on your product and ICP, the most successful lead qualification processes include the following steps:
Step 1: Gather detailed lead information
Regardless of your lead source, start putting together details like their contact information, industry, and company goals.
Blaise Bevilacqua, an Enterprise AE with UserGems shares a qualification checklist packed with details to gather, such as:
- “Company Size
- Industry Vertical
- Seniority of the contact
- Funding Round or Public Company
- Who am I speaking with?
- Past Relationship (if any?)
- LinkedIn Content (if any?)
- Google News — find something new or relevant to talk about”
When it comes to finding this info, you have two choices. You can either manually search for it, or you can use a B2B lead generation tool to gather it for you.
Step 2: Qualify leads against the checklist
In the early stages, this involves running your lead’s information against the qualification checklist you create.
“If you’re able to check the boxes off based on the contact’s background, there’s typically a higher likelihood the deal will close, you’ll have a more productive conversation, and the prospect will become a long-lasting customer,” says Blaise.
This early qualification tactic is “hyper-efficient and doesn’t need any second-guessing about whether the lead is a good fit,” Blaise notes. “It also standardizes the qualification process with the team.”
One downside to it, Blaise warns, is that it “gives you bias before heading into a call” since you’ll start your discovery call believing the lead is most likely a good fit.
Step 3: Build your relationship with the lead
Before you reach out to potential leads, it’s important you engage with them on social media such as LinkedIn.
Instead of targeting and engaging with just one person from the company though, connect and build rapport with multiple people from the same organization. This tactic is known as sales multithreading, and it delivers two main benefits:
- You wouldn’t have to start from scratch if your only contact at a target account changes jobs.
- Your solution becomes a company-wide initiative as modern purchase decisions aren’t made by 1-2 stakeholders but by multiple people sharing their opinion about the solution.
As you engage with and connect with target leads, you can also try this tactic that James Matte, Owner/CEO of BuilderChat & Higher Standard Sales Consulting Inc., and Partner/Client Success Manager for EmergentQx, uses: “I will typically provide something; information, promo materials, samples, a light service, etc. and see if the client is willing to give something in return — time for a meeting as an example. If not, this can be a clear signal they either aren’t serious or they’re freebie hunting.”
Step 4: Ask qualifying questions
This is yet another round of qualifying B2B leads where you “test for client fit by asking the right questions,” as James puts it.
And it happens as you reach out to potential leads — either via a warm outreach email, a discovery call, or even through a direct message on social media (if that’s where you’ve been building your relationship with the prospect).
The idea here is simple: understand the leads’ interest, intent, and process.
The aim? “[To determine] if your product or service can solve your lead’s problems or provide them enough value, and if they’re someone you actually would like to work with,” shares James.
To this end, UserGems’ Kenny Powell asks leads the following questions:
- “What sparked your interest in evaluating a tool like UserGems? Is this something new that you are looking to do, or is this a process that you're trying to improve?
- How many contacts exist in your CRM today?
- How many accounts is your team targeting/interested in monitoring?
- What does the lay of the land look like for your tech stack today... Salesforce shop?”
Note that lead qualification questions vary from company to company based on what you’re selling.
At NoContractVoIP, for instance, Loni Lilly Ice, the Head of Sales and Marketing, shares they ask the following questions: “[…] our salespeople ask multiple questions about the state of the lead’s current phone system, and what exactly they’re looking for in terms of their own and their customer calling experience.
“We are very interested in how much technical knowledge the lead has. If they have sufficient technical knowledge to run their own business VoIP system well, we aren’t their best option. If, however, they don’t want to have to learn anything to keep on the cutting edge of business telecom and their business isn't big enough for a full-time IT department, that's our sweet spot.”
Asking these client-fit questions comes with lots of benefits. For instance, Kenny shares they can:
- “Get you a stronger understanding of the lead’s world
- Provide you with an understanding of their tech stack and any competitors you may have to go up against
- Let you make the next call as impactful as possible based on their specific situation
- Develop rapport with the prospect through an authentic, laid-back conversation
- Deviate from a robotic qualification script to gain a deeper understanding of the lead’s situation and the problems they’re facing that are bringing them to us in the first place”
However, there’s one downside to this process. “Taking up too much of their time in qualifying might deter them from being interested in a tool because it seems like they have to jump through more hurdles to get a demo.”
Luckily, this is a disadvantage you can avoid. By being mindful of a lead’s time and getting straight into asking questions, you can keep your call short and to the point.
You can also determine leads’ intent by reviewing their behavioral activity in your CRM. This is particularly useful for leads that the marketing team brings in.
Study how they’re interacting with your website (the pages they’re visiting, for example) and your marketing and sales content (the emails they’re opening, the links they’re clicking, the assets they’re downloading, etc.).
The more information you can learn about them before a call, the shorter you can make your conversation over the phone.
Pro tip: Host conversational calls.
Step 5: Score leads
The last step before you add qualified leads to your sales funnel: score leads or assign them a grade denoting how well they match your ideal buyer criteria.
These scores can be numerical or category based. For instance, Ling App from Simya Solutions categorizes leads.
The Co-Founder, Simon Bacher, shares, “We categorize leads into low, moderate, and high, depending on the degree of interactions based on website behaviors and direct correspondence via email, phone calls, social media messages, and our chatbot.”
At the same time, the CEO of Fix The Photo, Ann Young, points out they assign numerical values for lead scores. “I use a lead scoring system that assigns a numerical value to each lead based on factors such as their demographics, behavior, and engagement with my brand.”
You can always manually score leads or use your CRM to do so as well. Typically, CRM software determines a lead score based on:
- The lead’s activity on your site
- The lead’s engagement with your marketing and sales content
- How closely the lead matches your past, successfully converted leads
Another tool to use for pipeline generation is UserGems. The tool tracks customer job changes, immediately notifying you when an ex-customer switches jobs. You can use this info to reach out to your past (and hopefully happy) customers (read: warm leads instead of cold ones) to consider using your tool at their new company.
The team at Mixpanel took this approach to source 30+ opportunities via UserGems within 13 months — getting 14x ROI from them.
Once there’s a score in place, sales reps can determine which leads to pursue immediately and which one’s to nurture before encouraging them to take a demo.
Common lead qualification frameworks
How you qualify leads will depend on your product or service and the type of leads you target. For example, you may focus on anything from budget and authority to goals and timing in your framework, while others may prioritize challenges and champions.
And while there are a bunch of generic frameworks to choose from, remember to only use them as a guide. Pivot, adjust, and optimize as necessary. And review your qualification criteria regularly.
Testlify’s Founder, Abhishek Shah advises, “Customer needs and pain points can change over time, so it’s important to stay up-to-date and adjust the qualification process as needed. I also [suggest] balancing efficiency with accuracy — it’s important to gather as much information as possible, but not to the point where it becomes overly time-consuming or tedious for the lead.”
With that in mind, most B2B leads can be assessed using existing lead qualification frameworks like BANT, FAINT, MEDDIC, CHAMP, and GPCTBA/C&I.
1. The BANT framework
This acronym stands for Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline.
BANT is a simple and easy-to-use framework, which is great for selling expensive products or B2B SaaS tools that need significant consideration before purchase.
Here’s what you need to find about a lead when using this framework:
- Budget: Does your product or service fit in a prospect’s budget?
- Authority: Does the lead have the purchasing authority to buy from you or can they influence the buying decision?
- Needs: Does the prospect really need your product/service or are they only exploring?
- Timeline: Is the prospect ready to purchase?
2. The FAINT framework
FAINT stands for Funds, Authority, Interest, Need, and Timing.
It’s similar to BANT but with the addition of the ‘interest’ metric and is best used for prospects who don’t have any product/service awareness.
Here’s how it works:
- Funds: Does the prospect have the budget to buy from you?
- Authority: Who is the decision maker? What is their job title?
- Interest: How interested is the prospect in your solution?
- Need: Does the prospect have a real need for your solution?
- Timing: How urgently does the prospect need your solution?
3. The MEDDIC framework
MEDDIC stands for Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, (pain point) Identification, and Champion.
It’s ideal for selling premium software that has a low sales volume. Here’s what it covers:
- Metrics: What ROI is the prospect expecting from your solution? (X% increase in revenue, for example)
- Economic buyer: Who is the decision-maker?
- Decision criteria: How does the lead make their purchasing decision?
- Decision process: What is the decision-making process and who is involved?
- Pain point identification: Which challenges does the lead want to solve using your product/solution?
- Champion: Is there someone on the lead’s team who can speak in your favor?
4. The CHAMP framework
CHAMP stands for Challenges, Authority, Money, and Prioritization.
Like the BANT framework, it’s also easy to implement. But it’s best applied in cases where prospects are unaware of the problem and how your solution can solve it.
It focuses on the following information:
- Challenges: What itch does the lead want to scratch by using your solution?
- Authority: Who makes the decision?
- Money: Do they have the budget to meet your pricing?
- Prioritization: When can the lead start using the solution?
5. The GPCTBA/C&I framework
GPCTBA stands for Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Budget, Authority, Negative Consequences, and Positive Implications.
It’s helpful for selling to the modern buyer and its focus is more on the leads’ goals than their needs. For example:
- Goals: What are the prospect’s goals?
- Plans: Does the lead have the resources to implement the plan to achieve their goal?
- Challenges: What are the prospect’s current challenges?
- Timeline: When is the prospect looking to achieve their goal/implement the plan?
- Budget: How is the lead using their budget to solve the problem?
- Authority: What would decision-makers say about implementing the plan?
- Negative Consequences, and Positive Implications: What are some positive or negative implications of achieving this goal?
Increase sales with lead qualification
To summarize, lead qualification is essential for investing resources in best-fit leads and for closing more deals, faster.
You can always use a lead qualification framework to determine which prospects are the most likely to convert. Or you can modify and optimize the framework to best suit the needs of your sales process.
Don’t forget, using the right lead enrichment tools helps you beat sales pipeline anxiety and generate more leads.
UserGems, for instance, finds champions at your target accounts, helping improve your closed won rate.
UserGems is a pipeline generation software that helps revenue teams generate and protect revenue efficiently. With UserGems, companies can track and automate outreach when their champions change their jobs, and capture the buying groups to find the warmest path into every account.
Companies like Mimecast, Greenhouse, Medallia use UserGems to reach their revenue goals, quickly and efficiently.