Nothing Sells Until You Qualify. Here’s How:

The CEO of a mid-size manufacturing company invited me to speak before his annual sales meeting early next year on how to close more business faster.

I asked why he thought this subject was timely and what triggered his interest.

He said the company’s sales pipeline was filled with solid opportunities but, for reasons he didn’t understand, the leads were not closing.

Of equal concern, he worried about the loss of limited company resources in the attempt to close these opportunities.

Sound familiar to you? Perhaps, your company is in the same position.

I had him explain his sales process. Then I recommended we do a quick assessment of his salespeople by examining four opportunities at the bottom of each of their sales pipelines.

Not surprisingly, these opportunities, along with 80 percent of the pipeline, were premature. They should have been pushed back up the pipeline by one or two levels.

The bulk of leads were not qualified properly, and the prospects never committed to fixing their problem. Both conditions are common problems among salespeople. And a major frustration to business leaders attempting to forecast revenues.

Qualify on the Discovery Call

While you need to begin qualifying your prospect on the discovery call, that’s not where it ends. At every step of the sales process, you must continuously evaluate prospects for more and more specific characteristics. You’re drilling down, getting to the essence of the need.

This process is multilayered. First, compare your lead to your Ideal Customer Profile to determine if it is a good fit in the first place.

If you have not produced a profile, get your sales team together and come up with five prospect characteristics that matter to you, rating each one with a plus or minus a number. Think not only demographics but psychographics, as well.

Next, determine if the prospect’s need matches one of your solutions. Even more important, confirm if your prospect is committed to fixing his or her problem.

Fix or Not Fix Stage

In his seminal book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore introduced us to the Technology Adoption Life Cycle which, as you see below, begins with innovators and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

Notice the chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. This chasm is the shining moment of truth when early adopters make sacrifices to gain first-mover advantage in the larger market; the early majority waits to see evidence of proof-of-concept and justification for claims of productivity improvements.

The ability to narrow and cross this chasm challenges marketers mightily; however, the reward of doing so pays off with accelerated adoption across every segment.

What happens when we apply the chasm concept to complex sales?

Another chasm opens, creating another bright moment when the prospect commits to change. Or not.

This chasm crosses the most critical element of the prospect’s buying cycle. Most salespeople overlook this event in their sales process. In part, that’s why 60 percent of all qualified sales pipeline opportunities end up in “no-decision.”

This no-decision black hole is the precise problem my CEO manufacturing client faced with his team’s sales pipeline.

In my MERGE sales process, you’re directed to identify the prospect’s need (what he wants to fix, accomplish or avoid) and ensure he acknowledges it. Then, an interesting dichotomy grips his mind.

On this side of the chasm, the prospect will readily admit that, yes, he does have a particular problem or issue you have uncovered. And your solution seems to be a good fit.

Unfortunately, he will just as readily tell you that, no, he does not want to do anything about this problem at this time. Or worse, he continues with you through your sales process, watching you leap over the chasm, leading you to believe he wants your product or solution to address his problem or issue.

In actual practice, prospects approach the chasm, show concern for their problems and issues, peer over the edge, then jump back to the safe side of status quo.

Meanwhile, salespeople tend to jump over the chasm without the prospect and continue the sales process (alone), which ends up in no-decision.

Here’s the right focus:

The most critical step in your sales processfirst identify need, problem or issue. The most critical decision step in the prospect’s buying journey boils down to “fix or don’t fix the problem.” Mastering these two steps will catapult the quality of your prospect qualification.

Multiple Methods to Qualify

In my client travels to solve revenue challenges, I find sales teams use multiple ways to qualify prospects through their pipelines. These techniques are often described by elaborate acronyms. BANT. CHAMP. And a whopper of an acronym, GPCTBA/C&I, used successfully by Hubspot.

Many sales professionals say they still stick to BANT, the old IBM-pioneered approach to sales qualification, which stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline.

In short, BANT gives you a simple framework to learn if the prospect can afford your product or service; if it fits his need; if the person to whom you speak holds the authority to make purchasing decisions; and if your product delivery timeframe works for both parties.

But BANT is a bit worn around the edges. It couldn’t account for the rise of the internet and the paradigm shift of sales control to buyers, who now don’t contact salespeople until they’re more than halfway through their buying cycle.

Whether or not you use BANT, always begin with need (issue/problem/challenge) and commitment, as discussed above. So let me contemporize BANT with an infusion of the MERGE process. Then we can look to BANT to confirm or look beyond the initial need to the need-behind-the need.

Budget. Traditional sales training suggests you ask the prospect, “What is your budget?” I wince a little when people ask me that question, especially early in our discussion. In my opinion, it’s the wrong question.

Many times, you will uncover a need for a prospect who has no budget, so you need to do a cost analysis to show the impact. The company decides it wants to fix the problem, but hasn’t formally budgeted anything. But, if the problem isn’t fixed, it will cost them a lot.

Oh, you can ask about the budget. That may work for some products. But if you are in needs discovery, the budget question doesn’t fit. For example, this summer when I was enjoying the weather in Maine, my housekeeper in California called and told me: “Your air conditioning unit needs to be replaced, according to the repairman I called for an inspection.” The repairman did not ask me, What is your budget?” He gave me several options and told me when he could fix it. With the hot summer weather, I needed it fixed quickly. I knew the cost and consequences of not fixing it.

Authority. It is critical early in the sales process to understand the decision-making process and the role your prospect plays in the process. Don’t assume you know who makes the final decision. Your contact might not be a decision maker. Do your research. And always acknowledge the prospect’s role.

Also, delineate the influencers and others who may impact the decision. Make them feel as valued as the person designated to make the ultimate decision. Map out decision makers and the roles they play (technical buyer, end-user, economic buyer, coach). Your immediate goal? Find out who holds the final sign off on your solution. I ask questions early in the engagement, so I can outline the decision-making process, determine the impact on each person, then do the work to understand everyone’s personal win.

Need. You not only must uncover the need, but you must also sell the problem and the attendant risk of the prospect remaining with a status quo situation. Demonstrate to your prospect that the status quo is unsafe.

Beyond the revealed need, understand the need-behind-the-need and what triggered the urgency to fix the problem now. A question like, “I understand lowering cost is a priority, what triggered this discussion internally? Why did it become a priority?” The answer will give you the need-behind-the-need.

Timing.  Everything in sales can be linked to timing. When do they need to achieve their goal? A sense of urgency is one of the best qualifiers. If your prospect doesn’t have the resources to deal with his issues or his more important goals take precedence, your deal may never get done.

Determine whether you can help him at this time or not by asking questions like, “How quickly do these results need to be achieved? When will you begin implementing this plan? Is fixing this issue a priority right now?”

In the End

Ultimately, all the qualification processes in the world will not matter if you fail to master two communication skills:

  1. The ability to ask sequencing questions during the prospect conversation and quickly formulate additional and relevant questions in response his answers, a skill which guides the prospect to his decision;
  2. The ability to listen actively with respect, empathy, and genuine curiosity.

I first heard the statement below uttered by Dev Patel in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It seemed so appropriate to sales and life, I researched it more and discovered the legendary John Lennon first uttered these words.

A little hope goes a long way in our business. Enjoy.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

News Alert

MERGE 2.0, read my latest book, now released by the publisher and available on Amazon to purchase.  Learn everything you need to know to book revenue in the new realities of B2B professional selling.

And, if you’re not a reader and prefer interactive learning, take our MERGE 2.0 online learning course.  Go here for more info.

Thoughts and Comments

Copyright PleinAire Strategies, All Rights Reserved

Please accept our free offer for the entire 14-module MERGE 2.0 Sales Training Course (Retail value $495) for the next 60 days.

Use promo code free2020

Register for Free Now