Opportunity Qualification Process and Criteria

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Opportunity Qualification Process and Criteria

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Your opportunity qualification process and criteria validate whether a prospect has a need for your offering and is likely to purchase. As the first stage measured in your sales pipeline, qualification is where you narrow down which prospects are intent on continuing their buying journey. 

The qualification process can be complex, and there are many different methodologies out there. In this chapter, we’ll explore some of the best methodologies and qualification criteria to use. 

We’ll start by breaking down the difference between sales-qualified leads and sales-qualified opportunities, and how to accelerate the qualification portion of your sales pipeline.

What is a
sales opportunity?

A sales opportunity is a prospect or account that’s actively engaged in your sales process and has been qualified as a potential buyer. Once a prospect has been categorized as an opportunity in Salesforce (or your chosen CRM), you can measure them as part of your sales pipeline.

Many sales teams make the mistake of waiting until a buyer is fully qualified to categorize them as an opportunity in their CRM. We suggest entering buyers into your pipeline earlier than that, in order to get more insight into the beginnings of your pipeline.

Instead of starting pipeline measurement at sales-qualified opportunity (SQO), create the opportunity and track the pipeline journey in your CRM starting at sales-qualified lead (SQL).

SQL vs. SQO - Prospects and Qualified Opportunities

B2B companies often use sales development reps (SDRs), a specialized sales role, to prospect and qualify SQLs on behalf of their closing sales reps. In fact, SDR teams are the biggest pipeline drivers in world-class companies, generating 57% of overall pipeline on average, according to the Sales Development Benchmark Report by sales research firm TOPO.

An SDR reaches out to cold and inbound leads to generate interest and set sales meetings for the closing rep. Once an appointment is set, the lead becomes an SQL.

An SQL can be created once the most basic criteria are met — this is the right contact at the right company. You might not have all the information about their budget or timeline at this point, but you know they are willing to engage further with your sales team. 

An SQL is an opportunity, in the literal sense of the word. They’re an opportunity for a sales rep to have an exploratory conversation to learn more about the prospect and how your product or service could meet their needs. This is why we suggest associating your SQLs to an opportunity in your CRM.

Having an SDR team speeds up sales cycles by shortening the path between qualified lead and qualified opportunity, and by allowing your closers to focus on prospects further along in the pipeline. Find more information about how an SDR strategy can fill the top of your pipeline in our Ultimate Guide to B2B Appointment Setting.

Once you’ve got an SQL in your pipeline, your salesperson can start the consultative sales process, nurture the relationship, and qualify them further as an sales-qualified opportunity.

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How to qualify
an opportunity

Qualify an opportunity by determining if the buyer meets the qualification criteria you’ve established for your product or company. You can assess whether they meet your criteria by performing prospect discovery to learn more about the buyer’s environment.

We’ll discuss prospect discovery questions, do’s, and don’ts at length in the next chapter, but right now we’ll focus on setting up an effective qualification process and criteria.

Your qualification criteria should reflect your sales process and your ideal buyer persona. For example, one of your criterion might be timeframe — how soon does the prospect want to implement a solution? A buyer who plans to purchase within the next 6 months could be considered qualified for your company. Other companies might only qualify prospects who give a timeframe of 2 months or less.

It all depends on your typical sales cycle and what you decide makes a buyer qualified for your offering. 

Qualified
Once you’ve determined that a prospect does meet your opportunity criteria, enter them into the qualified stage of your pipeline. According to the pipeline stages we outlined in the last chapter, this means you can forecast a 25% probability that the deal will close.
Unqualified
If they don’t meet your criteria, the prospect should drop out of your pipeline forecast (for now at least). Some prospects might have a need for your offering, but won’t have the budget until a time outside your required timeframe. Don’t measure these people in your current pipeline; enter them into a relationship cycle instead. Your salespeople can continue to check in and nurture those prospects down the line, but they shouldn’t be considered a sales-qualified opportunity.

After that first conversation between an SQL and your sales team, the rep should have the discovery information they need to qualify or not qualify the opportunity, predict a closing probability of 25% or 0.

So, how do you choose the right opportunity qualification criteria for your company?

Sales qualification
methodologies

Sales methodologies provide a standard framework for how your salespeople should sell. You can use the popular sales methodologies outlined below as a shortcut for defining your opportunity qualification criteria.

BANT Sales Qualification

Opportunity-Qualification-BANT
Perhaps the most famous qualification methodology is BANT: budget, authority, need, and timeframe. Originally developed by IBM in the 1950s, this methodology has been around for a long time. It gets down to the fundamentals:
  • Does this prospect have the budget?
  • Do they have the authority to make a decision?
  • Do they have a need for what I’m selling?
  • What is the expected timeframe for implementation? (Or should they be left out of the pipeline for now?)

We think the BANT methodology is a solid place to start for any company. This standard model is especially suitable for products on the assimilation end of the adoption curve, whose buyers typically plan and budget for the type of purchase.

But it’s worth exploring some newer, alternative approaches to qualification to see if there are any criteria that better fit your offering or sales process. 

Many new-age sales methodologies broadly advise how reps should approach the task of selling. For example, the popular Sandler Selling System advocates the role of salespeople as trusted advisors, focusing on the buyer’s success and assisting them in finding the right solution. 

Other broad methodologies include solution selling, customer-centric selling, and target account selling. Models like these offer sound advice for how sales reps should conduct themselves, and we recommend looking into them But for now, we want to focus on sales methodologies that give you a concrete qualification framework you can use for the qualified stage of your pipeline.

MEDDIC Sales Process

Opportunity-Qualification_MEDDIC
The MEDDIC methodology is a popular framework developed in the 1990s by enterprise software company PTC. It provides a more layered approach to buyer qualification. MEDDIC relies on salespeople obtaining thorough discovery information about a company’s internal needs and processes, in order to identify the most winnable accounts.
  • Metrics: What quantifiable gains will your buyer see from your solution? Identify the specific metrics they care about, in order to convey the potential ROI and economic impact of your solution.
  • Economic Buyer: Who in the prospect’s company has the profit/loss responsibility for this purchase? Find out who creates budgets and has access to funds. Speak to them directly if possible, or ask your contact about the economic buyer’s priorities and decision making process.
  • Decision Criteria: These are the technical, financial, and vendor criteria a company uses to compare potential providers. Common criteria include ease of implementation, budget restraints, and ROI. Learn how a prospect’s company will evaluate your solution before purchasing.
  • Decision Process: What are the key events and timeline in the prospect’s purchase approval process? Determine how the prospect’s company finalizes a contract to assist through any roadblocks, such as pushing to complete all necessary paperwork.
  • Identify Pain: What are the business consequences of not implementing a solution? Identify the primary pain point and how it’s linked to the prospect’s KPIs and business objectives. 
  • Champion: Identify the person in the company who will advocate for implementing your solution. The champion uses their influence on decision makers to sell on your behalf. 

There are a few variations of MEDDIC. MEDDPIC puts an extra emphasis on the buyer’s internal paper process, while MEDDICC uses an additional C for Competitors and advises salespeople to learn about the prospect’s status with your competitors. 

You can see that the MEDDIC methodology is much more detailed compared to BANT. This methodology is best suited for enterprise sales and can be a smart choice for company’s with long, involved sales processes and high-dollar offerings.

The main benefit of MEDDIC is more certainty early on about which prospects are likely to purchase. The earlier you can learn about the buyer’s internal decision making process, the better. But the question at hand is: do your reps need to identify all of these criteria prior to qualifying an opportunity?

You might allow your reps to obtain this additional information later, after qualification, in the negotiation stage. Again, look at your past sales cycles and pipeline data to decide whether you should use more complex criteria or keep it simple.

FAINT Qualification Framework

Opportunity-Qualification_FAINT
The FAINT qualification framework, designed by The RAIN Group, is similar to BANT. It’s commonly used by companies with offerings that are not typically budgeted for. This might be a product or service category in the early stages of adoption, one that most buyers don’t plan to purchase — they aren’t aware of the challenge it addresses or the potential solution.
  • Funds: Instead of focusing on budget, focus on whether the prospect’s company has the financial capacity to buy.
  • Authority: Identify the individual(s) with spending authority, those who could allocate and sign off on budget approvals.
  • Interest: Generate interest from the prospect in learning how to solve the pain point that your offering is meant to solve.
  • Need: Identify the specific business challenges the buyer is facing. This might take some digging to uncover a need your prospect hasn’t consciously thought about before.
  • Timing: Establish the timeframe in which the buyer could feasibly implement the solution.

One of the primary differences between FAINT and BANT is the focus on potential to buy, not just the planned budget

The other main difference is the requirement to generate interest as a part of qualification. It’s worth pointing out: if you use a specialized sales development team to qualify SQLs like we discussed earlier, you’ve already generated interest in learning more by the time prospects get to this stage.

CHAMP Sales Qualification

Opportunity-Qualification_CHAMP
The CHAMP sales methodology is another modern day version of BANT, intended to prioritize the prospect’s needs above the sales rep’s requirement to qualify them.
  • Challenges: Start by identifying the challenges your prospect has that you can solve.
  • Authority: Determine who is involved in the decision-making process.
  • Money: Find out whether the prospect could budget for this purchase.
  • Prioritization: Determine how urgent the prospect’s challenge is — their expected timeline in relation to other priorities.

The main thing that differentiates CHAMP from BANT and other methodologies is it’s focus on challenges first

CHAMP advises salespeople to first understand why the prospect would want to buy, in order to sell them on the value of the solution. Then, conversations about paying for it and approving the deal are much easier to navigate. That’s why CHAMP places the “money” criteria third on the list, instead of upfront.

Another difference here is CHAMP’s use of “prioritization” in place of timing. This framework not only looks at how soon the solution could be implemented, but also how urgent solving this challenge is for the prospect and their organization. 

This gives you a more accurate picture of the timeline to purchase. And it allows you to leverage urgency to close the deal later on, making CHAMP a strong alternative to BANT for many sales teams.

Perfect your opportunity
qualification process.

You should refine and perfect your opportunity qualification process and criteria until you’ve gotten it down to a science. Sales is process driven. And qualification is one piece of the process that can make or break your sales efforts. 

Though some people consider the BANT framework to be outdated, it does provide an excellent place to start. But you should always keep an eye out for ways to improve and customize your sales process.

At EBQ, we don’t subscribe to one specific qualification framework. Instead, we use a blended approach, applying elements from BANT and other frameworks to create a unique process tailored to the product or service we’re selling and its buyers. Having worked with a variety of clients and offerings, we know there’s no one-size-fits-all framework. 

Choosing the right process and criteria depends on your particular needs. Base your framework on past sales cycles and the data you’ve collected over time for the most accurate view into pipeline progress.