How To Qualify A Lead: The Hot Tub Test

I recently observed an inside sales rep (I won’t name names) spend a lot of time on a lead. As they went through their sales process, I noticed something was missing — qualification questions. This rep did not know how to qualify a lead. It’s a question I’m asked a lot, so let’s take a look: How do you qualify a lead quickly?

Lead qualification is one of the most important parts of the sales cycle. Before I jump into how and why you need to focus on qualifying a lead, let’s talk about what exactly it means to “qualify” a lead with a simple example.

The Hot Tub Testapollo-hot-tub

Last year I really wanted to buy a hot tub. I saw an article in the paper for a “hot tub” show, so I threw my son in the car and off we went. When I got to the show, there were more shoppers than salespeople. Whenever you have more shoppers (sales leads) than salespeople, the sales rep needs to be sure they are not wasting their time on someone that is not ready to buy.

Keep in mind, this was a hot tub “show” so the sales reps were looking for buyers that could at least put down a deposit by the end of the day. They didn’t have the luxury of following up.

Pay attention to the short exchange we had, which most would pass off as small talk:

Rep: Sooo… does your wife know you are here today?
Me: Yes, of course
Rep: And did she give you permission to buy a hot tub?

See what he did?

Asking a husband if he has permission from his wife to do anything can throw some guys off. The sales rep took this small risk, but he also knew that if I was truly a buyer I would have permitted (or not need it). If I was “just looking,” he could move on to another lead at the show without wasting his time.

That sales rep may not have asked every guy that walked into the show if he asks permission from his wife, but he sized me up quickly — Single Dad with a young child — I suspect, in his experience, newborns don’t exactly signal a new hot tub buyer. Having experience in sales, I was straight with him… I would not be buying a hot tub that day.

How To Quickly Qualify A Lead

In business-to-business sales, your approach should be a bit softer when you attempt to qualify a lead, but you do need to start the qualification process from your first interaction. Here are some tips on how you can qualify a lead (without coming off like a hot tub sales guy).

  • Try to figure out what they are doing now, instead of using your product. If you sell software, are they using a competitor? If you sell a software as a service product you don’t want to get into doing an hour long web demo if they signed a 2 year contract with a competing solution last week.
  • Try to find out if they are the decision maker, or how far they are from the decision maker. You don’t want to demean the prospect by asking to talk to their boss on the first call. After all, in large purchases, the beginning of the purchase cycle is often done by someone doing research. That being said, you can ask questions such as “have you bought any software before for your department?”, or “what was your last big project?”
  • Learn as much about their buying process as you can early on. New sales reps are often worried about their sales cycle, but your sales cycle doesn’t matter if the buyer’s budget gets locked up in November and you are talking to them in January.

The Value In Quickly Qualifying A Lead

You don’t need to completely qualify a prospect on your first interaction, but it should always be on your mind. Set a goal of getting one qualification question answered on each and every interaction. Your time is precious and the next best thing to a yes, is a quick no [Tweet This!].

Looking for a job in sales? I’m currently launching an app that looks to match talented salespeople with their ideal sales jobs. You can set up a profile and get early access here!

Any questions for me? Happy to connect! @shaunricci

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Shaun Ricci

COO at Ideal
Shaun Ricci is a Canadian entrepreneur and the Co-Founder of Ideal. Shaun served as Co-Founder and COO of Field ID until it was acquired in December 2012. Shaun’s accomplishments include spots on the Profit Hot 50 and Deloitte Fast 50 Companies-to-Watch lists as well as the 2012 Ontario Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Shaun is also an active writer, documenting his wins and losses while building his startup sales team.