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How to Qualify a Lead Over the Phone in Less Than 10 Minutes

Sales prospecting is the process of going through your pool of leads to identify prospective customers or clients. By the end of the exercise, you want to have qualified leads. 

Yet as any sales rep knows, this can be a time-consuming process, and – in some cases – is a complete waste of time for both you and your prospect. 

That’s why having a solid – and ideally rapid – qualification strategy is essential. 

So how can you quickly and efficiently identify leads, without wasting either their time or yours?

Train a laser-sharp focus on discovering the following three things:

  1. Do they have a problem that you can solve?
  2. Do their budget and timeline realistically work for you?
  3. Are they someone you actually want to work with? For example, do you want to work in their industry? Have they treated you politely?

By gaining answers to these three golden questions, you’ll be able to figure out how well this lead matches up to your ideal customer profile. 

Here’s how to qualify a lead over the phone in less than ten minutes.

Minute 1: What Issue Is Driving Their Reason to Call?

To avoid wasting time during prospecting, the moment you pick up the phone for a sales discovery call, you need to find out the single most important piece of information. 

Will your product or service truly solve the challenges your contact’s business is trying to overcome? 

How should you go about this?

Minute one of your call should be full of questions surrounding the problem or problems they are facing. 

You then need to make a lightning-fast decision on whether your product or service can genuinely help to solve this issue. It’s safe to say that this gets easier with practise. 

While you’ll dig out more specific information later on in the call, the first 60 seconds should give you an idea as to whether you’re in the right ballpark. 

If you are, then great, move on to your next set of questions. 

If not, you can talk a little about your product or service and explain how it won’t necessarily address their issue. 

This may uncover further information about their problem that indicates that you could help them after all – or you may simply want to refer them on to the right company for their needs. 

Minute 2+3: Find Out Their Goals and Timeline 

So you’ve confirmed you’re in the right ballpark. Fantastic. Now it’s time to dig down into the specifics a little more.

During the second and third minutes of your call, you should extract top line information about the prospect – we’re talking goals and timeline here. 

Ask them about their overall business goals, as well as their financial, operational, and customer-related goals. 

When does this problem need to be solved? Why? 

Who is going to solve it? 

What timeline do they have in mind? 

Has this timeline been signed off by stakeholders, or are they at the beginning of the process? 

Pro Tip: If their timeline is delayed because they’re not ready to buy, or the company is too premature for your solution, see if your prospect would be open to keeping in touch via text messaging or receiving video marketing content surrounding your products via email. These are some of the most effective ways to build a high-quality relationship over a long period of time. 

That being said, a common obstacle is that some salespeople don’t want to give out their personal cell phone numbers. In order to keep business separate from personal, try utilizing a virtual phone system to spin up a completely separate business phone number purely for maintaining relationships with your prospects. 

Minute 4: Will They Need a Product or Service to Solve Their Problem? 

Once you’ve established the basics of the challenge, who is tasked with addressing it, and when it needs to be solved by, you need to find out how your prospect sees a product or service fitting into this plan. 

Will they definitely need to purchase a product or service to overcome this issue, or is it possible to solve it without this? 

Once you have deduced that the problem will be impossible to address – or much harder to solve – without the help of an external product or service, you know that you simply need to ensure that your offer is stronger than that of your competitors. 

Minute 5+6: What Roadblocks Is Your Lead Going to Have to Overcome? 

Why hasn’t the business already solved the problem? 

This question should form the basis of the discussion for minutes five and six of your cold call

This could be for regulatory or governance reasons, such as that your prospect is having trouble getting the board of directors to give any plan the green light. 

Perhaps other senior staff do not realise how urgently the problem needs solving, or the scale and potential consequences of the issue.

Jack Wilson, Head of Sales at Right Inbox has found that “often this part of the conversation will take you in a financial or structural direction”.

What could your product or service do to help overcome these issues? What can you do to help your prospect smash through these roadblocks?

This is a key part of the discussion: you don’t want to have the prospect sign on the dotted line, only to find out their plan is unworkable on day one, and they actually have no use for your product or service. 

Minute 7: What Budget Are They Working With?

During your seventh minute of the call, you need to find out not just what their budget is, but also where it’s coming from. 

How legitimate is this funding? Is already in the bank, or is it merely a pipe dream?

Who signed off on the funding? 

While in an ideal world, every discovery call would include the decision maker, sales reps know this isn’t always possible. 

Our job would be a lot easier if it was, right?

It’s your job to find out as much as you can about the person holding the purse strings whether they’re present or not: remember, you’re going to have to convince them too.

It’s also worth asking how invested the decision maker is in solving the problem, as well as how convinced they are that a product or service is necessary to do so. 

This will give you a good idea of any hurdles you’ll have to jump over in order to close the deal. 

Minute 8: Are They Talking to the Competition? 

This can be an awkward part of the conversation, but biting the bullet and asking which other competitors – if any – they’re considering could save you a lot of time in the long run. 

Is your product or service going to be better at solving your prospect’s problem than those of the competitors they’ve named?

Are they talking to five or more other brands? 

The answers to these questions should factor into whether you qualify your lead or not. Do you realistically have a good chance of winning the business?

If not, sometimes it’s better to cut and run, freeing you up to close more likely deals.

Minute 9: What Is Your Lead’s Ideal Scenario?

What does a good outcome look like for your lead? 

This is where you add more value, and put yourself head and shoulders in front of your competitors. 

Often, our leads will have ideal scenarios that are simply unrealistic, and we will need to manage their expectations. 

While it’s tempting to nod along with their perfect outcome, as an expert on your product or service, you’re going to be adding a lot more value by telling them the truth. 

This will also contribute to whether you qualify your lead. After all, there’s little point taking the time and effort to shunt your lead along the sales cycle, only for them to then realize that you’re unable to help them in the way they want you to.

Minute 10: Pursue a Sale or Walk Away

It’s crunch time. 

As the clock ticks over to minute ten, you should have worked out whether your prospect is a good fit or not. 

If you decide to qualify your lead, it’s time to go through the next steps, and push them along the sales funnel to close a sale.

If, on the other hand, this deal isn’t going to work, just be open and honest. 

Explain that your product or service is simply not a good fit for their service. Where appropriate, build some good faith by referring them to a company that could help them. Now they know about your product and service, and you’ve added value, you may find they return to you down the line. 

There you have it: how to qualify a lead over the phone in less than ten minutes. 

Sure, it’s a lot to remember, especially the first couple of times you try out this framework. 

A great way to nail it every single time is to write a cold calling script for your next call, aligning your script with the steps above, and simply work your way down through each question.

So say goodbye to wasting time with unqualified prospects, and get dialing.

Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures & co-founder of Mailshake. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.

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