Lead Qualification Criteria, Process, & Tools

Lead Qualification Criteria Process

Cold vs. Hot lead qualification is dead.

It’s time to move on.

The lead qualification stages of cold, warm, and hot are too simple to keep up with the modern tools and strategies that sales development professionals use to secure meetings. You need a lead qualification rating system that replaces and surpasses it, something that will give you better transparency and visibility from the top down.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into lead qualification criteria, process, and tools that will grow your company. Because at the end of the day, proper lead qualification will:

  • Reduce the number of opportunities lost
  • Waste less time for your salespeople
  • Drive sales pipeline growth

Lead Qualification Criteria

Lead qualification criteria are characteristics that indicate whether a prospect is ready and willing to buy.
Sale development discovers and nurtures these criteria, getting the prospect prepared for a sales meeting if a good fit.

Instead of cold, warm and hot criteria, our sales development team is looking for who, what, where, why and when. These are the questions they need to ask to qualify their prospect for a sales conversation and move the ball forward (we elaborate more on this in our post Best Cold Calling Scripts for Software Sales).

  • Is the right company?
  • Am I talking to the right person?
  • Do they have an apparent need for my product and service?
  • What is their time frame

While the framework can be applied to most situations, we recommend you develop your criteria to align with your industry.

Difference between lead qualification questions and discovery questions:

It’s important to realize that lead qualification questions and discovery questions are used for different reasons and should be treated that way. A lead qualification question such as “are you the website administrator for your company” is used to qualify the prospect against specific criteria. We use that information to move the conversation to the next step and navigate towards a closed meeting.

In contrast, discovery questions are used to further understand the prospect after they have agreed to set a meeting. For example, when selling web security software we use discovery questions such as “how many endpoints does your company have” to understand the prospect’s environment more and fill out our lead summary for our sales team.

Lead Qualification Process

Now that we have established a lead qualification criteria to compare our prospect against, we next want to develop a process for qualifying our leads as they move closer to a sale. A crucial part of lead qualification is having a consistent rating system for documenting the level of interest in prospects. You can think of it like stages, each rating level in lead qualification represents how ready the prospect is to have a valuable meeting with sales.

The problem with traditional lead qualification isn’t that it’s one dimensional, it’s that it lacks the granularity and visibility of a more comprehensive description. In a traditional database, you’re putting all of your contacts into three buckets: cold, warm, and hot.

Cold/Warm/Hot Lead Qualification

What if you had a contact who won’t be ready to buy for a year, is he warm or cold?

This process doesn’t clearly define what each bucket represents and lack granularity when trying to evaluate a database. You need an efficient lead qualification system that explains precisely where every lead is in the sales lifecycle. This is where a modern lead qualification system comes in.

Our Approach

Our lead qualification approach—which we have dubbed the EBQ Rating—expands on cold vs. hot while taking into account the additional dimensions of modern lead qualification. The idea here is that we have a standardized process for our entire sales team that documents interest and shows how close they are to closing.

EBQ Rating



Next Steps

0Sales Qualified LeadResearched and vetted decision maker that has set a meeting.Close, close, close.
1Very Interested, Closing On MeetingA decision maker who has expressed interest in meeting and who meets the criteria for your offering but the meeting hasn’t been booked yet or is in reschedule status.Push for setting or rescheduling a meeting date.
2InterestedAn interested decision maker who meets the criteria and asked for more information but isn’t ready to arrange a meeting.Pass along information and warm them up.
3Warm Lead, Not Yet Spoken ToEntry Point: Warm leads come from marketing, typically as an MQL, but have not been spoken to.Discover why they converted and evaluate if they’re a fit.
4Point of Contact, Not Yet Spoken ToYour contact passed you to another point of contact in the company to discuss your offering.Call and mention who referred you, and evaluate if they’re a fit.
5Follow up Short TermA prospect who’s not ready to meet, but could be in 2-12 months.Use a cadence cycle and apply touches over time.
6Follow Up Long TermA prospect who’s not ready to meet, but could be in a year or more.Use a cadence cycle and apply touches over time.
7Cold CallEntry Point: A name on a list, no one has called them. You don’t know much else about this contact other than publicly available information.Call and discover. If they’re not the decision maker, find out who is.
8UnsubscribeA person who has given a verbal or written request to be removed from your database.Remove this person from your call lists and emails. There are severe legal and financial penalties from ignoring these requests, such as CAN-SPAM.
9Referral ContactA contact who was not the right person to speak with but has passed you to the correct point of contact.If they could provide you with the right contact, make sure that you mention them when engaging with the new contact.
10Unqualified CompanyThis company doesn’t meet the project criteria. For Example, you sell Pardot training, and they use Hubspot.Don’t delete the company and contact from your database. You need to know not to reach out to them again about that offering.
86Bad Contact InformationBad work phone and email, or they are no longer with companyRemove the wrong information and put it in the comments for that contact. Comment if they’re no longer with the company.
99Relegated Contact
  • Wrong contact, no pass or referral
  • Non-priority title
  • Already working with or set a meeting with point of contact
  • Completed all cadence touches without response
Once a contact has been relegated you can safely leave them alone.


Our SDR is reaching out to a target account, ACME. He’s made sure that ACME has roughly five contacts and he’s identified each as a decision-maker. At EBQ, we recommend keeping at least five contacts per account to keep your database healthy and allow for multiple entry points.

First Touch (Mark, 7)

The SDR reached out to Mark and finds out that both his email and phone number are out. He checks LinkedIn and sees that Mark moved companies.

Mark goes from a 7: Cold Call to a 86: Bad Contact Information

Second Touch (Angela, 7)

Calling Angela, our SDR learns that she isn’t the decision maker. However, Jorge was promoted to Mark’s old position and that he should be the decision maker.

Angela goes from a 7: Cold Call to 9: Wrong Contact

Jorge goes from a 7: Cold Call to 4: Point of Contact Known

Third Touch (Jorge, 4)

The SDR has a call with Jorge. Jorge has a need, but it’s lower priority than the more significant projects he’s working on. He may be ready soon and isn’t sure.

Jorge goes from a 4: Point of Contact Known to 5: Follow up Short Term

Fourth Touch (Jorge, 5)

During your cadence cycle, Jorge downloads one of your ebooks which turns him into an MQL.

Jorge goes from a 5: Follow Up Short Term to 3: Warm Lead

Fifth Touch (Jorge, 3)

The SDR connects with Jorge on a regular basis, passing along information as needed. Jorge appears to be getting more interested but isn’t quite ready to set a date for a meeting.

Jorge goes from a 3: Warm Lead to 2: Interested

Final Touch (Jorge, 2)

After a few more weeks, the SDR speaks with Jorge and sets a meeting.

Jorge goes from 2: Interested to 0: Sales Qualified Lead.

You might be wondering if this system is just classification. You’re not wrong, all we’re doing is segmenting our prospects based on where they are in the sales development cycle. However, that’s what makes it so useful; it’s a simple way of seeing how your contacts are doing. Moreover, when applied to a database, we can measure the health of your sales pipeline.

Lead Qualification Tools

Now that we have a process for qualifying leads, let’s take a look at some tools we can use to make lead qualification easier. These are the tried and true tools that we use on a daily basis to drive efficient pipeline growth:

Sales Cloud CRM

There are dozens if not hundreds of CRMs out there. However, we prefer to handle all our sales development from within the industry standard-bearing: Salesforce.com. It’s a robust CRM that’s equally valuable in both sales and sales development. We create a field in Salesforce for EBQ Rating where we can log where our prospect is in the lead qualification process. That way we can quickly filter and segment our database. Also, we have other custom fields added as needed to manage industry-specific information.

Whatever you use, make sure it has the flexibility to work with your pipeline and will help you stage your prospects for effective nurturing.

Marketing Automation Tools

Marketing automation tools are incredibly useful for nurturing many prospects will little upkeep. For example, we use our Pardot for email automation, landing pages, forms,  gated content, and more. We have another point system in the background that adds together point values for the different actions people take on our site. When they cross a certain point threshold, they’re converted to an MQL and automatically mark them as a 3 in Salesforce.

While there are dozens of Marketing Automation tools (and almost all of them integrate with Salesforce), we recommend Pardot as it has the deepest integration with Salesforce and one of the most powerful platforms in the industry.

Interested in Pardot? Our staff of experts and consultants have handled dozens of Pardot implementations for our clients, learn how we can help your business grow with Pardot.

Evaluating database health with lead qualification

Evaluating your database health isn’t about the database itself as much as it is about understanding how your pipeline is performing. With top-level visibility from EBQ Rating, we can see how well everything is working.

Here are three databases that are segmented using our lead qualification strategy:

New Cold Database

Cold Lead Database
You’ll notice that this database has a large number of 7s (cold calls). Remember that 7 is an entry point, these are a list of names that have not been contacted by the company.

This database is relatively fresh and will need to go through a few sales cycles to process these 7s.

Healthy Database

Healthy MQL Lead Database

Similar to the previous database, this is a database with a large number of new prospects. 3s (MQLs) are a lot like 7s, as they are an entry point, except that 3s have already shown interest in your company.

These 3s will require an aggressive cadence cycle to keep warm.

Unhealthy Database

This database shows us that something is very wrong with the sales pipeline. It has a large number of 3s and 7s, but not many other active entries. Most of the other prospects are inactive, meaning that they are above a 7. Most notably, there are a large number of 86s (bad contact information) which suggests that there’s an issue with the data source.
Unhealthy Unqualified Lead Database

As you can see, using a modern lead qualification process won’t just help you understand where a prospect is in your sales pipeline, it will also help you diagnose your database and discover problems with your sales development strategy, database or messaging. EBQ has a great deal of experience working with companies’ databases and evaluating their database health. We’re always willing to have a conversation and take a look. If you want to look deeper into analytics around appointment setting, read our post SDR Metrics That Will Make Your Team Successful.



We know that these lead qualification criteria, process, and tools have made a difference in our business, and now it’s time to apply these strategies to yours. Take the time to evaluate your lead qualification pipeline, and see how our proven tactics will help grow your business.

If you’d like to learn more about sales development and appointment settings insights, read our Ultimate Guide to B2B Appointment Setting.

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