I spend a lot of time on the road meeting with sales leaders and because of what I do, we’re often talking about improving sales productivity. Inevitably, the topic of qualification comes up in conversation. So many organizations struggle with defining this process and then getting people to follow it once it’s implemented.
I think there are three main reasons why qualification is a consistent problem in organizations:
1. We are too focused on the current forecast
Over and over again, I find that sales organizations are having qualification conversations much too late in the quarter or in the buying process to have any impact. It happened when I was leading a sales team and it’s happening in your organizations every day. We’re so caught up in driving the current quarter's/month's number, we don’t even ask whether or not this subset of deals should even be in the forecast. Then, we’re in a position where we can’t impact the deal as much and we can’t be honest with ourselves because guess what? It’s in the forecast. So it becomes this never-ending cycle of just looking at and driving the forecast.
As leaders, we need to have the courage to hold ourselves accountable to having the tough conversations early in the deal process. (i.e., when we’re on the second call with the prospect, not the 15th)
2. We aren’t talking the same language
There is an overall inconsistency around how we are defining what’s qualified and how we’re talking about deals. What one person or one team is doing doesn't match what others are doing. Account leaders are saying one thing. The team is saying another and leadership has a third language. No one is truly clear on the language they need to be using, so we don’t know what it means to be qualified. If my definition is different from my colleagues, neither of us know if the forecast number is accurate or not.
3. There is a lack of the right type of coaching
This topic is a big one. We haven’t enabled our managers to diagnose and coach. They don’t know how to rip a deal apart with the intent of helping the account team put a deal back together. The reason this gap happens is because we consistently minimize the importance of teaching managers how to coach.
Managers need to be enabled to communicate “the how” to others. Just telling your rep he/she needs a champion isn’t going to help. Managers all qualify, but they need to be taught how to provide the "how." It’s a scary proposition for a lot of leaders – taking managers away from helping selling in order to coach, but I promise if you, as a leader, take the time to enable your managers you will see a return on your investment ten times over.