Why the sales qualified lead (SQL) stage is vital to your sales and marketing teams

A sales-qualified lead (SQL) is a prospect identified by your B2B lead generation team, who has progressed from marketing-qualified (MQL) to someone who can be converted to a customer. Sales qualification as a process will determine whether a prospect (lead) is a good fit — or not — for your product or service. SQLs enable your sales representatives to focus. 

Without SQLs your sales team would be swamped with leads that might not be relevant to your product or service, or even to your business. They would be on the phone all day long talking to potentially hundreds of leads and have little or nothing to show at the end of it.

Effective qualified leads steer the process to get deals done faster. Find out why the SQL stage is vital to your sales and marketing teams and get ready to significantly boosts your chance of success. 

Improve the close ratio

Sales qualification significantly and effectively improves the close ratio. The sales qualification strategy for sales representatives is a process of elimination, where the sales rep will ask a set of direct questions and make the decision to pursue the prospect, or end the conversation there and then — and move on.

There are several steps to follow. Obviously these steps will be tailored to your particular vertical but they should loosely be based on a similar process to the one we describe in this article. 

You might, for instance, follow the tried and trusted BANT method of qualifying leads:

  • Budget
  • Authority
  • Need
  • Timing

It’s both practical and memorable but some consider it a bit old-hat. It’s suggested reversing that approach for SaaS sales can work well, because today time is the most important lead-qualifier – you need to beat your competitor to market! In fact, you might have a list of different pitches to suit different verticals but still manage to keep them sounding personalized, as suggested by HubSpot in their ultimate guide to sales qualification. Whatever works, use it, but we offer some suggestions, starting with lead generation and marketing.

Identify and qualify from the B2B lead generation stage

Quality over quantity is the name of the game. Anyone can throw a wide net into the ocean of prospective customers. A quick boolean search on, say, LinkedIn will return hundreds of names but to put them all into a pipeline and begin to message them is simply spam. Lame and lengthy pitches or stabs in the dark are fruitless. Plus the headache of a “cannot see the wood for the trees” set of results to deal with.

Better to identify first the criteria, where, importantly, significance is given to the details and so begins the creation of your SQL strategy. It takes on average 12 points of contact to nurture a tech prospect and close a deal. Using an outsourced sales agency for your B2B lead generation will provide you with a highly-personalized multi-channel B2B lead gen team. Only the very best SQLs in Europe will reach your field representatives. That makes sense.

Prospective leads that need the product

It sounds obvious but you need to be ruthless when it comes to which leads have a genuine and immediate need for your product or service. If they don’t really need it then they are not a prospect for a SQL. An immediate need is important because you don’t want a pipeline full of customers who “might be interested another time” or “when we have reviewed our budget, call back in six months”. That’s a very loose lead at the outer edge of business development, keep them on the radar, sure, but don’t clutter your focus with tyre-kickers either. That’s pipeline bloat.

Always pick the low-hanging fruit first, or your competitors will be there before you, filling their own carts. Identify the prospects who have that real need right now, so you can step in and become their solution.

Who has shown interest in your tech product or service?

If your marketing is up to scratch then enquiries will be coming in. These prospects are showing interest in your product or service so they need to be followed up and sifted through to see if they qualify. Their initial enquiries can be from several sources:

  • Advertising - Strong ads that stand out from the crowd, powerful images, and wording that makes people sit up and notice all elicit responses. 
  • Chat function - 24-hour chat facilities in a local language geared to answer questions day or night are useful for enquiries and can redirect interested prospects to leave details to be called back if applicable.
  • Lead generation forms - Pre-filled with customer details, lead generation forms such as the ones available for use on LinkedIn are worth their weight in gold. The responsive leads will return the forms to you and they are captured as SQLs for your pipeline.
  • Landing pages - Links where prospective customers can click and be involved in, for example, a free trial of a new product, a time-sensitive discount, or to simply leave their details if interested as per the lead gen forms.

Remember though, that interest is not enough. A true SQL needs to be more than interested in your vertical. They need to be committed. This is the right time for inside sales and marketing to ask the questions to qualify the leads ready for the sales team. They can also at this point map out the relevant decision-makers and connections of note. The sales team can then go on to call them and ask what made them interested in your brand? Discover their challenges and concerns, and suggest solutions. The more interactions with the right people at this stage, the better, and decisions often come down to a group of people rather than an individual. It’s all about insight at this stage and that works two ways. Insight into the customer and their needs, and insight into your brand and your business for them.

Do the prospects have the means to buy?

Don Norman, an American researcher, once said “Having the best product means nothing if the people won’t buy it.” 

But, the people also need to be able to afford it. Don’t waste your time and theirs if the funds are not readily available. If they want it they have to possess the means to buy it, otherwise it’s wishful thinking on both sides. Thanks, but no thanks. It’s unproductive to spend time trying to convert a deal if the budget is not there or is not available. A real buyer, another potentially qualified lead, will be already shopping around, have the required budget and will be ready to spend it, and you will lose them.

Does the prospective customer have the ability to say no?

It’s also important when a sales representative builds a relationship with a prospect that they can ask them to be upfront about saying no, at any stage of the game. John Barrows from Sales Hacker advises getting this one out of the way right at the beginning, rather than letting the process go too far if your vertical is really not the right fit for them. Perhaps the prospect is avoiding you and not returning calls at the close of the deal. Awkward. Nobody likes to be ghosted, BUT, nobody really likes to say no either, and it’s best to air that question early. Taking a long, drawn-out time to lose a deal is worse than just losing a deal. Best to walk away than waste your time.

Sales qualification for solution-selling in Europe

Scaling up into different European countries means understanding the different needs and issues that international buyers face. Lead generation services for the European market are different from the rest of the world. Successful sales qualification will build your brand and your organization reputably as a solution-seller. By having that qualifying conversation with a customer and asking the right questions, your international sales representatives should be able to glean insights to the prospects' challenges and then go on to tailor solutions to fit. Your sales representatives will ask what problems the prospect is facing, what has prevented them from doing anything about those issues until now, and what can be done. There can be nothing more satisfying than supplying exactly what the customer needs. And hopefully they will tell everyone else. What would happen if you didn’t have that call? Selling the wrong product to a customer might have them telling everyone a different story, and that could ruin your reputation in a new market before you have even properly unpacked.

The SQL process brings refined results

Your aim is to build and keep building on your business. To sell with predictable repeatable revenue that allows you to plan for the year ahead. This is why the sales qualified lead process is important for both your sales and marketing teams. It brings refined results. Yours will be the most desirable, best-fit customers for your vertical, a stronger brand reputation with the possibility of cross- or/and upselling — and that equals success! Good luck at getting more sales qualified leads and turning those SQLs to deals in Europe!

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