Monday, April 12, 2010

 

Four requirements for qualifying a sales opportunity

Your sales pipeline is only as good as it is qualified. If you have deals represented there that aren’t real, and aren’t moving, then you’re just plain lying. You’re lying to yourself that those deals will close, you’re lying to your sales manager that your pipeline is healthy.

At this point in the month and quarter, an accurate assessment of pending sales is critically important. But unless there’s a common definition for what a qualified sales opportunity is, this kind of assessment is next to impossible.

So what makes for a qualified sales opportunity? In a B2B setting, I believe you need at least four things:

  1. Engaged Decision-Maker: This is someone in the organization who is qualified to make a purchase decision. They may need to get approval from a CFO, or have someone underneath them do an assessment, but you need the primary decision-maker engaged. Leads can come in from anywhere in the organization, but if that lead doesn’t have decision-making power, then your deal isn’t ready to move.
  2. Identified Budget: If you’re replacing an incumbent product or service, this is a little easier. But if you’re introducing a new expenditure, you’d better be sure there’s money for it. Ask the hard question and get explicit confirmation that there are dollars to spend on what you’re selling.
  3. Strong Tie to Organizational Objectives: This is the difference between “nice to have” and “need to have.” There are many many things that your prospects will think is cool, but that will ultimately be priority #16 (which means they won’t get funded, approved or implemented anytime soon). But if what you’re offering ties to an existing, published objective (at least for the department, but ideally for the organization), then you have a chance. If what you have can help your decision-maker and organizational target achieve or exceed a publicly-stated goal, you’re far more likely to get attention, get your project at the top of the list, and get more people inside the organization rallying behind the purchase.
  4. Mutually Agreed-Upon Purchase Timeline: Many sales professionals will put an “expected close date” next to prospective sales opportunities. But that close date is only real if the buyer would give the same timeline. To make a sales opportunity real, there needs to be a timeline in place. The buyer needs to be working concurrently with you on the same path. Just because you want a deal to close by the end of the month, or the end of the quarter, doesn’t mean your buyer has the same urgency.

Every sales situation is a little different, so your qualified pipeline criteria may differ. But it’s critically important that you at minimum create common expectations and definitions across your sales organization, so that the sales pipeline you’re looking at (good or bad) is accurate.


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