Developing a Lead Qualification Process: A Step-by-Step Guide
A successful business can have a thousand potential leads at the top of their sales funnel, but only a small percentage of those leads will become customers.
The process of filtering through those thousands of leads to find the best fit is called lead qualification. Without a lead qualification process, your marketing and sales teams won't be able to prioritize their activity and will waste time on unqualified leads who will never convert into customers.
Over time this may result in the sales team ignoring leads coming from marketing entirely, which obviously would be a huge waste of time, money and resources.
A lead qualification process helps your teams find the best quality leads, fast. However, how do you know if your current lead qualification process is effective?
Qualifying leads can be tough, but it’s even tougher when your marketing and sales team are unaligned on this process, which we’ll talk about how to avoid later.
We’ll also walk you through what a lead qualification process is, why it is necessary, and the three steps to creating an effective lead qualification process.
What is a Lead Qualification Process & Why Is It Important?
A lead qualification process is the steps you take to determine whether a prospect fits your ideal customer profile (ICP), is ready to be contacted by sales through their actions, and is passed from marketing to sales effectively.
Choosing to not clearly define your lead qualification process can create unalignment between your marketing and sales teams, ineffective time management, and poor conversion rates.
Once this process is defined, marketing will begin to prioritize their efforts around the activities that are generating qualified leads and stop the activities that are generating unqualified leads. Your sales team will know which leads they should prioritize, which will ultimately increase your conversion rates (sales growth).
The Three Steps to Creating a Lead Qualification Process
There are three steps needed to create an effective lead qualification process.
- Create an ideal customer profile
- Determine what constitutes as sales readiness actions
- Combine the ideal customer profile together with the sales readiness action
Once those three steps are taken, you can start to outline who will be responsible for what, which will create clarity and ownership in your marketing and sales funnel.
The Ideal Customer Profile
According to HubSpot, an ideal customer profile is “a checklist of the most basic attributes someone needs to have to be successful as your customer.” In other words, it’s the attributes agreed upon by marketing and sales that deems a lead as qualified or unqualified.
For example, at digitalJ2 our ideal customer profile is companies that are located in the U.S. that have at least 1 marketing professional and 3 sales reps with annual revenue of $5+ million.
The attributes we have stated in our ICP are easily understood and most importantly quantifiable. Either a prospect fits this ICP or does not.
Other ICP Examples
If you’re a B2B company, your ideal customer profile might look like this:
- Industry: Manufacturing
- Size: <1,000 employees
- Location: UK or France
- Other: NOT publicly traded
If you’re a B2C company, it might look more like this:
- Age: 65+
- Income: <$75,000
- Location: Miami, Florida, USA
- Family situation: Married, no kids at home
In most cases, your ideal customer profile will be five or six checkboxes, but it can be more or less, depending on what your marketing and sales teams decided.
When you take the time to create an ICP, you will be able to target the right people better and generate more qualified leads. It also will help end the tension between your marketing and sales teams as they will work together to agree on what attributes actually qualify a lead.
To learn more on how to create your own ideal customer profile, read our blog article Creating an Ideal Customer Profile for B2B Companies.
Measuring Sales Readiness
In addition to identifying what makes someone a good fit for your product or service, you also need to know how your prospects demonstrate that they’re ready to talk to sales.
A prospect can be a good fit for your product or service, but if they aren’t interested in talking to you, you need to leave them alone.
To measure sales readiness, you need to identify the actions people take that are correlated with purchasing your product or service.
These actions could be interactions with your website, email engagement, social media engagement, online and in-person event attendance, etc.
When you take the time to create a sales readiness framework, you’re poised to have your sales team contact your ICP at the right time rather than annoying them by contacting them too soon.
To learn more on how to create your own sales readiness framework, read our blog article How to Measure Sales Readiness in Your Online Leads.
The Lead Qualification Matrix
Once you have defined your ideal customer profile and deemed sales readiness actions, you’re ready to combine these two frameworks to build your lead qualification matrix.
Take your ideal customer profile and define the cut-off between good-fit and bad-fit leads.
How many boxes need to be checked off for a lead to be deemed a good fit?
If you’re having trouble with this, talk to your more experienced sales team members about the criteria they use to qualify a prospect to be sales ready quickly. Agree on the good-fit and bad-fit criteria with the sales team and use this as a starting point.
Over time, conversion data and on-going collaboration with the sales team will help you fine-tune these criteria.
Now, you’re ready to use the below lead qualification matrix framework.
Your ideal customer profile good-fit and bad-fit attributes are located on the Y axis, and your sales readiness actions are located on the X axis.
Now, In each box of the matrix, write either “Sales” or “Marketing” to indicate which team is in charge of the leads.
Handling All Lead Types
Once your lead qualification matrix has been built, you need to develop a strategy for how you handle these leads and help them make progress in your marketing and sales funnel.
Here are some questions to discuss with your marketing and sales teams:
- Nurturing: How should marketing nurture unready leads to get them sales ready?
- Qualification: How do you know when a lead has moved from being unready to being sales ready?
- Notifications: How does marketing notify sales when a lead becomes sales ready? How frequently are sales notified (immediately, once a day, etc.)?
- Unqualified Leads: How do sales send leads back to marketing?
- Lead Details: What information needs to be included when marketing sends a lead to sales?
- Data: What data do both teams need to input for the appropriate reports to be run?
Now that you have a lead qualification process outlined, it’s time to align your tech stack (marketing automation platform, CRM, etc.) with the new qualification rules.
Once you start implementing the steps outlined in this blog, you will find that your marketing and sales teams will be better aligned, your team’s time management is more effective, and you're maximizing your sales efforts and every marketing dollar you spend.