If you work in sales or marketing, you are most likely under pressure to generate a given volume of leads. However, your ultimate value to the business will depend on the quality of leads as well. The right person, at the right company, with a clear intent to buy.

That’s why an integral part of a modern sales team is a robust qualification process. It’s the proverbial fork in the road for you and your lead. Either they’re a good fit for your product or service and you can move forward with the relationship, or it’s time to part ways.

This guide will walk you through the fundamentals of sales qualification, a few different frameworks you can use and how the rise of messaging and intelligent chatbots can open up a fast lane for your hottest leads and give them a direct line to their sales reps.

To continue learning about qualifying leads, and gain access to all future guides, enter your email below.

Why qualification matters

Ok, so you’ve done the hard work and attracted lots of traffic to your website. Nice job! But getting traffic is only half the battle. Visitors aren’t automatically going to convert to customers. There’s a lot of work to be done before that and it all starts with qualification.

Every lead your website generates will need to be qualified before you can consider signing them up or passing them on to your sales team. Why? Because signing up a customer that your product isn’t suitable for is a waste of both parties’ time and money.

Qualification isn’t just about deciding who is a good fit for your company either; it also involves deciding who on your sales team is the best fit for this lead as well. If you have multiple people on your sales team, it’s likely that they have specialties, like someone who works mostly with SMEs or someone else who likes dealing with enterprise customers. It’s all about making sure everyone in the relationship is suited to each other.

This makes sure that as well as getting the best solution, the lead is also getting the best treatment.

Why is it so important to qualify your leads?

What it boils down to is discovering if you are a good match for them and they are a good match for you. You should be qualifying every opportunity before you expend any significant effort on it.

Think about how many times you might have missed a good deal because of bad timing. Or how much time you have wasted with leads who could never have afforded your product in the first place. A simple qualification process would have saved you the hassle and frustration.

Consider your leads to be people knocking on your front door trying to get in. Your first job is to get a general sense of who they are and what they want or need. From that, you can then decide who’s suitable to come inside because you can’t let everyone in. That’s the process of qualification.

In business, the key is to make your call early on in the process to save everyone time and money. Think of qualification as a race to "no."

Your qualification process needs to be effective so you know who to prioritize and who to devote your 1:1 time to. This starts by deciding preemptively who you want to talk to, talking to them like humans (with or without a bot) and aiming for fast responses while interest is high.

On the Sales Development Representative (SDR) team at Intercom, lots of time is spent talking to website visitors who have engaged with the team through our messenger. Volumes are high, and so we need to qualify these leads before bringing them further down the funnel.

Our SDR team are quickly able to identify our hottest leads and those who maybe aren't a good fit, or need a little longer in their evaluation.

From there, only the hottest leads will be passed to an account executive, who can act as a more consultative seller and better identify the pain points that Intercom can potentially solve for the lead. The information collected by the SDR will have dictated which account executive the lead is assigned to.

There are multiple ways you can go about qualifying your leads and they can all be equally as effective when done right.

  1. You can use a bot, like Intercom’s Operator, to ask questions on your behalf, based on the data that’s most important to your business.
  2. You can manually qualify your leads on your website as they engage via your messenger or live chat.
  3. Of course, it’s not a case of using one or the other. Many of our leads are qualified using a mixture of both methods.

Before you do either, you’ll need to define the qualification data that’s most useful to collect about your leads. The data you add should help your sales team quickly identify and focus on promising prospects.

Qualified lead | Noun

A lead who’s taken some action — or set of actions — that signals that they have a higher likelihood of becoming a customer compared to the norm.

Frameworks for qualifying leads

Learning how to properly qualify a sales lead can be the difference between landing a juicy new business deal or wasting lots of energy – and money – barking up the wrong tree. Accordingly, there are a number of well-established sales qualification frameworks, which outline not just the qualification criteria, but also their priority in the sales process. Read on to find the right qualification framework for your business.

Frameworks for Qualifying Leads

Click a card to see more...

BANT

ANUM

CHAMP

FAINT

MEDDIC

Budget

What is the prospect's budget?

Authority

Does the prospect have decision-making authority, or is she an influencer?

Need

What is the prospect's business need?

Timeline

In what time frame will the prospect be implementing a solution?

Authority

Establish whether you are talking to the key decision maker.

Need

Does your product solve the pain point felt by the prospect?

Urgency

Is the prospect likely to come to a decision fast?

Money

Rather than focusing on the allocated budget of your prospect, this puts a very different priority on discussions around money.

Challenges

What challenges are your prospects facing and what problems can you solve?

Authority

Determining the authority of the person you’re dealing with shouldn’t be a blocker, but instead a call to action to assess their structure and hierarchy.

Money

What are your lead’s expectations for the investment necessary to purchase the solution?

Prioritization

Discover how important is solving this problem relative to your lead’s other priorities?

Funds

Focus initially on organizations and buyers that have the financial capacity or funds to buy from you.

Authority

Focus on finding the individuals who have the authority to make decisions on how to use funds.

Interest

Generate interest by teaching the buyer what's possible and how to achieve a new and better reality than the one they have today.

Need

Uncover specific needs, often hidden beneath the surface, that you can solve.

Timing

Establish purchase intent and a specific timeframe for doing so.

Metrics

What is the economic impact of the solution?

Economic Buyer

Who has profit and loss responsibility for this?

Decision Criteria

What are their technical, vendor and financial criteria?

Decision Process

What is the process to define validation and approval?

Identify Pain

What are their primary business objectives?

Champion

Who will sell on your behalf inside the company?

BANT

Budget

What is the prospect's budget?

Authority

Does the prospect have decision-making authority, or is she an influencer?

Need

What is the prospect's business need?

Timeline

In what time frame will the prospect be implementing a solution?

ANUM

Authority

Establish whether you are talking to the key decision maker.

Need

Does your product solve the pain point felt by the prospect?

Urgency

Is the prospect likely to come to a decision fast?

Money

Rather than focusing on the allocated budget of your prospect, this puts a very different priority on discussions around money.

CHAMP

Challenges

What challenges are your prospects facing and what problems can you solve?

Authority

Determining the authority of the person you’re dealing with shouldn’t be a blocker, but instead a call to action to assess their structure and hierarchy.

Money

What are your lead’s expectations for the investment necessary to purchase the solution?

Prioritization

Discover how important is solving this problem relative to your lead’s other priorities?

FAINT

Funds

Focus initially on organizations and buyers that have the financial capacity or funds to buy from you.

Authority

Focus on finding the individuals who have the authority to make decisions on how to use funds.

Interest

Generate interest by teaching the buyer what's possible and how to achieve a new and better reality than the one they have today.

Need

Uncover specific needs, often hidden beneath the surface, that you can solve.

Timing

Establish purchase intent and a specific timeframe for doing so.

MEDDIC

Metrics

What is the economic impact of the solution?

Economic Buyer

Who has profit and loss responsibility for this?

Decision Criteria

What are their technical, vendor and financial criteria?

Decision Process

What is the process to define validation and approval?

Identify Pain

What are their primary business objectives?

Champion

Who will sell on your behalf inside the company?

Frameworks for qualifying leads

The right framework for you will depend on the specifics of your business. For example, a software company selling to early-stage startups will likely have more success with one framework than a HR business selling to the enterprise. Nonetheless, these frameworks are a useful launchpad to establishing the right qualification process for your company.

Furthermore, with sales people increasingly dealing with prospective leads in conversations over live chat, the specific order in which you ascertain qualifying criteria has never been more fluid. The question of qualification priority does not also determine the order in which the qualification process is carried out.

Let’s dive into the different frameworks that can help you qualify your leads.

BANT

Originally developed by IBM in the 1960s, BANT is the most widely practiced sales qualification framework and has been ubiquitous in the sales environment for many years. In many senses, most other frameworks are variations on this one, making an understanding of BANT critical before you determine which method is best suited to your business.

However, BANT is not necessarily suited to all companies, and elements of it are becoming outdated in an era of selling through live chat.

Above all, many leading sales thinkers point out that BANT appears to deprioritize a customer’s “need,” suggesting it is less important than establishing a lead’s budget or authority. This is one of the main reasons that BANT has fallen out of favor for many sales teams in recent years.

ANUM

At first glance, ANUM seems to merely be a remix of BANT, but the difference in priority is significant - establishing a prospect’s position in their company is seen as the key to the entire qualification process.

Conversely, by placing discussion around finance and budget at the end of the qualification process, ANUM dramatically re-prioritizes the qualification process - rather than starting off by determining whether a lead is worthwhile for you to pursue, it emphasizes establishing a relationship with a key decision maker, learning about their needs and timeline, before building up to discussing money. This way, rather than dismissing a prospect who hasn’t initially allocated an adequate budget, from your perspective, you’re able to construct an argument for why they should spend the requisite amount on your solution.

CHAMP

In an era of intense competition between SaaS companies, and with customers able to scrutinize multiple options at once via discussions over live chat, it’s never been more important to establishing the lead’s needs over any other criteria.

In placing “Challenges” at the top of the hierarchy of qualification criteria, this approach foregrounds the needs of the potential customer above all else. In the words of its creator, Zorian Rotenberg, CEO and founder of sales management software company Atiim, “Need – the pain, problem or challenges that the company is facing – is really the first area that sales reps must qualify.”

Also, Rotenberg suggests that we adjust our perception of “authority” as a qualification criteria: “Authority means you must ask your prospect questions that help you map out their company’s organizational structure.”

FAINT

Another variation on BANT is this method, devised by the sales consultancy group RAIN. As RAIN president Mike Schultz explains, focusing on budget can preclude potential customers who have the funds, but have not necessarily allocated it to buying your product.

Instead, Schultz advises that “Unplanned purchases, including most demand-driving products and services, won't have a budget allocated...if you just think about BANT, you will miss the majority of opportunities that are actually out there for you and your company.”

Schultz also makes a distinction between generating interest and identifying needs – the former is quite different from the latter, and it’s important that sales teams don’t just rely on a prospect’s existing interest in your solution, but actively work to generate even more awareness while also identifying pain points you’re in a position to solve.

MEDDIC

This framework is in many ways the least similar to BANT, in that it places complete emphasis on the prospective customer’s purchase process, so it’s worth outlining each point individually.

Developed by Jack Napoli when he was at technology company PTC, the framework foregrounds the decision making process so that a salesperson can best understand the required steps towards making a sale, rather than assuming the process is common across different companies.

The Champion - a person at a prospective company who will advocate for your solution - highlights the importance of establishing a trusting relationship with your contact. Turning a lead into a champion can make the difference between making a sale or seeing it go elsewhere, and that is increasingly the case in a live chat sales environment.

Qualifying leads through live chat

When it comes to qualifying and prioritizing new leads, everyone has their own process (and set of sales tools) that is unique to their business. At Intercom, we’ve built a live chat product that has helped our team (and thousands of our customers) spend their valuable time talking to website visitors who fit your ideal customer profile.

The process of qualifying leads through live chat is a bit like dating or finding the right job. What it boils down to is discovering if you are a good match for them and they are a good match for you. Here’s our six-step process for doing that through live chat:

1. Define the characteristics of your ideal customer

The first, and often the most neglected, step to effective lead qualification is identifying the characteristics of an ideal lead. Of course, this will look different at each company, so set some time aside to thoughtfully narrow this down (hint: it’s not “everybody”). At Intercom we used these questions to guide us through that process.

  • What’s their goal for using your product? Beyond simply asking about their use case, it’s important to understand why.
  • What’s their level or title? For example, are they a CEO or a summer intern? This could shed light on their decision making potential.
  • In what industry do they work? Is it B2B, eCommerce, or B2C?
  • How many employees work at their company?
  • Where is their business located?
  • At what scale do they want to use your product? For example, if they have a B2B messaging service, do they hope to send over 50 messages a month?
  • When do they want to implement your product?
  • Are there any products or services your customers require to use your product?

Once you have a high-level sense of the types of leads you want to talk to, your team can select the most important qualification data you need from each prospect in order to filter the most promising leads.

2. Define the right qualification data for your business

Once you’re clear on who you’d like to prioritize chatting to, it’s time to choose your qualification data. Essentially, these are pieces of information about your lead that you’ll be able to determine either manually or automatically (by using a bot like Intercom’s Operator) through a conversation with your lead.

Qualification data usually falls into two primary categories:

  • Behavioral data such as how the lead arrived at the site (link, search, direct), the pages they viewed, the content they downloaded and whether they signed up for a newsletter or demo etc.
  • Demographic data such as the industry they are in, the size of their company and their role within the company etc.

The qualification data you choose will depend on your ideal customer profile (see step 1!) but at a bare minimum we recommend collecting data such as:

  • Name
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Company name
  • Company industry
  • Company size
  • Company website
If in doubt, leave it out

Asking your leads a large volume of unnecessary questions will turn them off. Only add data that’s absolutely required to help your team understand whom each lead is and whether they’re a good fit for your business.

3. Manually qualify your leads as you chat to them

While it can be tempting to automate as much of the qualification process as possible (less time asking for email addresses, more time for making $$$), there are some very real benefits to eliciting information in a personal 1:1 conversation.

However, it can often be tricky to stay personal and friendly while promptly getting the information you need. Here’s how to strike that balance:

Answer your lead’s question, before asking your own

It’s a good rule of thumb to only ask a lead a question after you’ve given them a new piece of information. Always answer one question, before asking another. When your lead receives genuine help, they’ll be more receptive to answering your questions.

Ask valuable questions

Your leads are tight on time, so make every question count. Only ask questions that help you understand what your lead needs and whether they’re a good fit for your business. Each answer you receive should help you add new qualification data to your lead’s profile.

It’s also important to only ask your leads for details they’ll be comfortable giving you over chat. If you’d like to know your lead’s revenue, for example, give them a multiple choice of ranges, instead of asking for one figure.

Highlight the benefit of answering questions

While efficiency is key, don’t lose sight of their needs. Whenever you ask a lead a question, let them know how answering it will help them. They’ll be more likely to provide an informative answer when they know it will help them get what they need.

Disqualify leads in a friendly way

If someone’s not a good fit for your product, be upfront about it. Don’t try to sell them a solution that’s not for them; they’ll quickly churn. Instead, be transparent about the limitations of your product. This will save your sales team time, allowing you to focus on more promising opportunities. People will also trust your business more, and appreciate your honesty.

Website visitors are 82% more likely to convert to customers if they’ve chatted with you first.

4. Automatically qualify leads on your website

That said, automation can play a great tactical role in collecting data from potential customers while they are live on your website. When we talk about automation, we’re not talking about forms. Nowadays, bots can get all of the information that you would have had to require on a form, but without the friction and cognitive load that you get when you’re staring down a form with 11 required fields (yes, that really is the industry average).

Operator, our bot that automates simple tasks, qualifies your leads so you can spend more time focusing on having conversations with them. It asks your leads questions to qualify them, and then takes the follow-up action you choose, like assigning your leads to a specific team (more on that later). So we decided to share three different ways we’re currently automatically qualifying leads through our bot, Operator.

1. Qualifying leads on our homepage
Imagine you walked into a store and all the staff ignored you. Pretty rude, huh? That’s exactly what it can feel like for your customers when they land on your website. However, it’s simply unrealistic to have a member of your sales team greet everyone manually on a 1:1 basis. An automated welcome message that contains a friendly greeting and a few qualifying questions means that your website visitors aren’t just sitting idly on your homepage and will help you understand whether they’re a good fit for further conversations.
2. Qualifying leads on our pricing page
If people are interested in your pricing, there’s a high chance they’re also interested in becoming customers. By creating an automatically triggered message that only appears to people on your pricing page, you can become laser-focused on having conversations with only people who are likely to buy. Automatically qualifying leads where the intent to purchase is high will improve the quantity of high quality conversations coming in.
Visitors are actually 45% more likely to convert on pages where the intent to purchase is high, like your pricing page.
3. Getting qualified meetings
Live chat can also play a strategic role in marketing nurture campaigns. For instance, if you’re offering a promotion on an external website like Product Hunt, prompt a unique message to visitors coming in through this site that automatically offers them a VIP service, like a one-to-one Skype call.
By targeting your messages to your most valuable marketing channels, you’ll be able to make the most of your hard-earned promotional tactics and get better quality meetings as a result.
Conversations assisted by Intercom’s bot, Operator, convert 36% better than those that are not.

5. Automatically route conversations to the right team

Once a lead has been qualified, the question now becomes: How and to whom do we route those leads in order to nurture them through the sales funnel?

Manual routing is one solution but depending on lead volume, it can become a huge bottleneck in the organization. As your company grows and your sales team matures, assigning leads manually doesn’t scale. What was once five minutes a day becomes a full time job. At Intercom, we’ve found that automating lead rotation saves precious time and bandwidth, allowing sales teams to stay focused on what really matters – their customers. Here’s how we do it.

Firstly, imagine you have a large chocolate sundae to share with your five friends, but you’ve only one spoon to use. Naturally, you need a system to make sure that everyone gets their fair share. The same is true in sales. You need to make sure that all of your team gets their fair share of qualified leads. At Intercom, we assign conversations with leads ‘round robin’ style, so they’re assigned on a rotating basis to available teammates.

Once our bot Operator has automatically qualified our leads, you can create a rule to automatically share these qualified leads evenly among your team. Just choose the specific team you want to assign it to, select ‘by round robin’ to conversations will be assigned in a circular manner and in alphabetical order to available sales reps.

For example, you could assign leads who work in companies with over 500 employees to your VIP sales team.

Start PLaying Listening 

Only after you've qualified someone can you really know whether it's worth to invest your time and effort into trying to sell to a prospect. However, many inexperienced sales people jump to the pitch too quickly, without having first gained a proper understanding of their prospect.

Nobody knows this better than Steli Efti, CEO of Close.io. With nearly 20 years of experience in sales and entrepreneurship, he has also trained thousands of founders, sales directors and sales reps to find qualified leads that deliver sustainable and predictable revenue.

We sat down with Steli to ask him about the most successful qualification tactics he’s found in his career to date.

“When you don’t qualify leads you become a crocodile salesman – big mouth and no ears.” - Steli Efti