Commercial Qualification

On the borderline between marketing & sales, your qualification methods are fundamental to ensuring that your sales teams focus on where they generate the most value. Find all our tools, best practices, and guides on the subject here.

The more qualified a lead is, the greater the chances that your company - via your sales staff - will succeed in turning it into a customer. This shows how important lead qualification is to a company's commercial success - especially in the B2B sector.

This is what you will find out in this guide:
  • The definition of a qualified lead
  • The different levels of qualification of a lead.
  • The vocabulary used by CRM / PRM.
  • The main lead qualification analysis grids: BANT, CHAMP, MEDDIC and GPCTBA/C&I
  • The attitudes to adopt in your commercial exchanges according to the signals (positive or negative) sent by your contacts

Definition of a qualified lead

To qualify something is to assign characteristics to it, to define it by attributes. You have a "qualified" lead when you have managed to collect enough information about a contact. You know who they are, what their problems are, their expectations, their needs, their budget and their purchasing potential. Qualifying a lead allows you to define the best sales approach and therefore maximise your chances of converting the contact into a customer. The more qualified a lead is, the higher your chances of turning it into a customer.

The first telephone contact plays an obvious role in the qualification of a lead. But this is not where the qualification process begins, or ends. At each stage of the sales process you need to evaluate your prospects on increasingly specific characteristics. Qualification goes through different stages. Bob Apollo, the founder of the Inflexion Point consulting group, has defined three levels or stages of qualification:

  • The "Organisation" level, the most basic. It consists of determining whether the company you have contact with is likely to be interested in your offers, whether it corresponds to your "buyer personas", and, ultimately, whether it is worth doing business with.
  • The "Opportunity" level. This is the level you first think of when you talk about "lead qualification". It consists of finding out if the contact has a specific need that you would be able to satisfy and to what extent your offer would suit them.
  • The "stakeholder" level. At this stage, you know that your offer is a solution to your lead's need and that your lead is your target customer. Now it's time to get down to business and decide, in consultation with the stakeholders, how to approach the company.

The main idea is that there are different levels of qualification, as qualification is a multi-stage process. The term "qualified lead" therefore has several meanings.

The five classical levels of qualification

It is common to define five levels of qualification. What are they? How do CRMs refer to them (what vocabulary?)?

5 fairly standard qualification levels

The five classic levels of qualification, which correspond to the different stages of the qualification process, are as follows

  • Level 1: All contacts are considered leads, including those about which you have virtually no information. At this level, leads have not yet been qualified. The mistake would be to pass these unqualified leads on to sales. However, it is estimated that a quarter of all leads are passed on to sales in this raw form.
  • Level 2: You know that the contact is the right person and that they work in a company that may be interested in your offer. In other words, you have researched the lead (e.g. via LinkedIn ), you know what their job is, what company they work for and what the company does. About a quarter of all leads are passed on to sales at this qualification stage.
  • Level 3: Following an initial telephone contact or the filling in of a form, you have been able to identify a specific need of the lead - a need that your offer could meet. 25% of leads are passed on to the sales department with this level of qualification.
  • Level 4: Not only have you identified a specific need, but you know the level of expectation and the conditions of the lead. Sometimes, in the context of a tender for example, this information and conditions are known from the start. If this is the case, it is up to you to adapt, otherwise you may never convert the lead. Leads are only passed on to sales with this level of qualification in about 10% of cases.
  • Level 5: Your contact meets all the qualification criteria of the BANT method. Clearly, it is rarely appropriate to wait for all the boxes in the BANT framework to be filled before passing the lead on to sales. However, it is estimated that 10% of the leads passed on to the sales team are qualified to this level. We will come back to the BANT qualification "method" in more detail in a moment.
Going further
In addition to reading this guide, we invite you to discover how to build a lead scoring strategy.

The vocabulary used by CRMs

CRMs have integrated these different levels of qualification into their system and use a technical vocabulary that is worth knowing. In particular, there are three standard concepts to be aware of:

  • Marketing Qualified Leads(MQLs): these are all leads that have shown an interest in your offer. For example: contacts who have downloaded your ebook, who have returned to the site several times, who have signed up for the newsletter, etc. The CRM uses analytics data to build this segmentation.
  • Sales Accepted Leads(SAL). When the marketing team considers that the lead is sufficiently qualified, it passes it on to the sales team. The role of the sales team is to obtain additional information about the lead. Then a decision will be made whether to accept the lead and continue qualification, abandon it or send it back to the marketing team for re-marketing. Sales Accepted Leads" are, as the name suggests, leads that have been accepted by the sales team.
  • Sales Qualified Leads(SQL): Accepted leads are further qualified by sales staff. The aim is to determine the real value of the leads, using for example the BANT model (which we will discuss in a moment). At the end, the decision is made whether or not to validate the lead. Validated leads, which will be the object of a commercial action (telephone contact typically), are called "Sales Qualified Leads" in CRM jargon. Note that SAL & SQL can be reverted to MQL status to be integrated into lead nurturing scenarios

Email enrichment allows you to complete your database with additional information on your customers or prospects, in exchange for their email address. If you are interested in this subject, we invite you to read our article "Email Enrichment - How it works".

The classic lead qualification analysis grids

Lead qualification analysis grids allow salespeople to evaluate the quality of a lead (scoring) and to estimate the probability of conversion. The best known is the BANT method. But it is not the only one. In recent years, alternative methods have emerged that address some of the shortcomings of the BANT framework.

The BANT framework

Originally developed by IBM, BANT is the most popular framework. BANT is used by a large number of companies around the world, in a wide variety of sectors. The name of this model is an acronym for Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline, and it defines the four categories by which salespeople score their leads. Let's go through them:

  • Budget. This is the lead's budget. Can the lead afford to buy what you are planning to offer?
  • Authority. This is the decision-making authority of the contact, which depends mainly on his or her hierarchical level within the organisation, but also on his or her area of expertise. Does the lead have the authority to make the decision and sign the contract?
  • Need. This is about assessing the nature and reality of the need. Does the lead have a need to which you would be able to provide a solution?
  • Timeline. What is the lead's schedule? When might they sign the contract and buy your product/services?

As part of a BANT approach, the salesperson will need to ask (or be asked) several questions for each category of the model. Here are some examples.

Budget :

  • Do you have a budget available to buy our offer? What is your budget?
  • Is it a priority for you to allocate a budget for the purchase of our offer?
  • What other projects/initiatives have you invested money in?
  • Does seasonality impact your financing capacity?

Authority :

  • Who is in charge of allocating and managing the budget?
  • Who else, apart from you, will be involved in the purchase decision?
  • How do you usually manage purchasing decisions for similar offers?
  • What obstacles to contracting do you anticipate? Do you think there are ways to manage and overcome them?

Need :

  • What are the challenges you face?
  • What is the origin of the problem you are experiencing? And why do you think it is important to spend time on solving it?
  • Why didn't you solve the problem earlier?
  • What do you think would solve the problem? Why or why not?

Timeline :

  • How soon would you like the problem to be resolved?
  • What are your other priorities?
  • Are you prospecting for other similar products or services?
  • Do you have the capacity to implement the product now?

All these questions give a very clear picture of the expectations and needs of the leads. This framework is relevant, but has some shortcomings, the main ones being

  • According to the BANT model, the question of budget comes first. In reality, however, it is the question of need that comes first. We need to talk about "needs" before we talk about "budget". In our opinion, a more relevant order would be: Need, Authority, Timing, Budget (NATB).
  • It is increasingly rare for a buying decision to be made by just one person, even a senior person, which sometimes makes the authority part of the process insufficient. When several people are involved in the buying decision, you need to get to know and build a relationship with each of the stakeholders, and not just focus on the initial contact.
  • The Timeline section can lead to bad practices, such as leaving a lead dormant that is not ready to buy until next year.

Other frameworks

To remedy the imperfections of the BANT method, other lead qualification analysis grids have appeared. We will discuss three of them: CHAMP, MEDDIC and GPCTBA/C&I.

CHAMP (Challenges, Authority, Money and Priorization)

CHAMP stands for Challenges, Authority, Money and Priorization. This grid is based on different categories and a different order than the BANT model. Needs are replaced by challenges. In the age of the internet, it has become relatively easy for anyone to identify their needs, by doing some research on search engines, through blogs, etc. In the qualification process, everything starts with the challenges, i.e. the combination of a need, a problem and a motivation. The first questions should be about identifying the prospect's challenges. This will allow you to find the most appropriate solution and move the qualification process forward quickly. If your offer is not able to meet the challenges of a lead, you know immediately where you stand.

Authority is the second step in the CHAMP grid. It is usually the least understood step. Many people think that the aim is to disqualify leads that do not lead to sufficiently senior or influential contacts. This is not the case. The objective at this stage is to ask your lead as many questions as possible to get a clear picture of the company's organisation and structure. It doesn't matter if the initial contact has little "authority": he or she can help you identify the decision-makers (CEO, CFO, CMO, manager, etc.) and put you in touch with them.

Then (and only then...) comes the "Money" stage. Money is a key factor in any purchasing decision. This goes without saying. If your lead cannot afford your product or service, you will not be able to sell it to them... Once you know what your leads' challenges are, what their needs are, it is time to ask them about the financial investment they are willing to make to solve their problem. Have they planned a budget in advance? A maximum budget? Who is in charge of managing the budget? If they cannot afford it at the moment, do they plan to find other sources of funding? What other projects have they invested in recently? It is in this phase that you need to tell them about the ROI of your product (or service), to demonstrate its value.

The last step is prioritisation. This is the last stage of the BANT grid, the "timeline". When a lead tells you that he wants his need to be met within three weeks, this means that it is a priority project for him. The timeline represents an order of priorities. During this last stage, you will be asked questions such as: "Are you already under contract with another provider? Are there any termination fees? When do you plan to start deploying the solution? When do you plan to make a decision at the latest/ideally? What timeframe do you have in mind? Do you have other priorities? etc.

MEDDIC (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion)

MEDDIC was developed by a man named Jack Napoli when he was working at PTC, a technology company. This lead qualification framework focuses on knowledge of the company and its buying process. This framework is particularly suitable for handling very high-value leads - i.e. those that can lead to multi-million euro sales - but also for projects that involve a radical change in the organisation of the potential customer-company. The following is a brief outline of the steps in MEDDIC's analysis grid:

  • Metrics: this involves assessing the earning potential for your company, the ROI and the quantified benefit of your offer for the company to which the lead is attached.
  • Economic Buyer: this identifies the person capable of making the purchase decision. This step is roughly equivalent to the "Authority" step in the previous two grids. This question is also about budget and timing.
  • Decision Criteria: this involves determining the criteria (economic, technical, etc.) for decisions that are important to the company.
  • Decision Process: this defines the decision-making process used within the company for the type of contract you are targeting.
  • Identify Pain: more traditional, this stage consists of determining the company's problem and deducing its need.
  • Champion: Finally, it is a question of identifying the person who is best able to promote and defend your solution within the prospective company.

To find out more about this qualification grid, we recommend this well-designed and concise slideshow.

GPCTBA/C&I (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Budget / Authority, Negative Consequences & Positive Implications)

This slightly barbaric acronym was developed by HubSpot. It is broken down into six parts, and is developed by taking the company's business objectives as a starting point:

  • Goals. What are the (quantifiable) goals of your leads? Make money? Save money? Limit risk? You may need to play an advisory role at this stage, helping leads to clarify and, more importantly, quantify their goals. Examples of questions to ask at this stage are: What are your priorities for the current year? Have you set specific targets? Have you published revenue targets for the coming quarter/year? What are your other business objectives?
  • Plans. This is the action plan that the company intends to implement to achieve its objectives. It is a question of asking the company about the method it intends to use. Has it already been tried and tested? Why does your lead think this is the best solution? Do they have a back-up plan? This is an opportunity to showcase yourself and suggest alternative methods.
  • Challenges. What are the lead's challenges? The success of the sale depends to a large extent on your ability to help your lead and his company to overcome the challenges.
  • Timeline. We have already discussed this step in the analysis of the previous grids. There is no need to come back to it, you have understood.
  • Budget / Authority. Again, this part has already been covered extensively above. What is the budget and timing of the lead? You need to know the answer to this vital question. It is from this point on that you must insist on the ROI of your product/service.
  • Negative impacts and positive implications (C&I). This last step is very interesting. It is missing from the lead qualification models discussed above. It involves asking the lead about the negative repercussions that would occur if the objectives were not met. Conversely, the lead should be asked about the positive consequences of achieving the objectives. The aim at this stage is to highlight your product and its ability to limit the risk of failure and increase the chances of success.

This model allows you to obtain a large amount of information about your leads and also to more easily and quickly put forward your value proposition. This framework is particularly suitable when you are marketing complex products or services. The GPCTBA/C&I grid allows you to achieve a very high level of qualification.

The lead qualification process

In the lead qualification process, you always have to ask yourself: is it on the right track? We would like to conclude this article by giving you some tips on how to interpret and react to the different signals - positive or negative - that your leads may send back to you during qualification.

Positive signals (which encourage further qualification)

Let's start with the positive signals:

  • Pretexts. Psychology teaches us that pretexts are sought to resolve cognitive dissonance, a mental stress due to a contradiction between beliefs. In your business dealings, you should pay close attention when your lead tries to justify why he has not done anything so far to solve the problem he is trying to solve with you. Either their justification is legitimate or your lead wishes something had been done earlier and tries to rationalise why they haven't done anything. In both cases, you have confirmation that the lead has a real problem. Pretexts should therefore be interpreted as positive signs (from your point of view).
  • Precision of answers. If your lead is able to give very precise and specific answers to the questions you ask (such as "What are your objectives?"), it means that he has thought a lot about it beforehand and therefore really wants to find a solution to his need. Listen to all the information they give you, and record it.
  • Knowledge of the subject. It is important to test your lead's knowledge of the subject matter. Real decision-makers always have a clear and intimate knowledge of the company's objectives, challenges and needs. A contact who stalls on several questions, who is imprecise, is probably someone who does not have access to all the information and who will not play a decisive role in the sales process.

Negative signals (which are to be considered as warnings)

Let's move on to the signals that should alert you, if not worry you:

  • Contradictions. When a lead gives contradictory answers, it means that he or she probably does not have in-depth knowledge of the subject. This is not a problem: subtly encourage them to put you in touch with a more competent contact and continue the qualification process with another contact.
  • Short answers. When a company encounters a real problem, it runs through and impacts the entire organisation. Managers can't sleep, employees have to deal with it every day (we're just exaggerating...). If you succeed in demonstrating that you can provide the company with a solution, the person you are talking to should be interested and ask for details. If you only manage to get a few words in reply, there is a problem. Either the problem facing the company is insoluble, or the contact is not aware of its real significance. You have two solutions: disqualify the lead, or try to find another contact in the company.

The success of a business lies in its ability to generate sales - and this requires lead qualification (especially in a B2B context). We hope to have answered some questions you may have had for a long time about the lead qualification process and to have introduced you to some models you didn't even know existed!

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  1. Axel

    Thank you very much for your comment! You're right about the popups, it's hard to find a good balance, we'll see what we can lighten up. Don't hesitate to subscribe to receive two similar articles per week.

    Frankly, this is a very interesting article. For once I really felt that I was being given value. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to use it for my own purposes, but I'm sure I will. Keep it up!

    Thank you for this article.
  4. maxime

    It's been a long time since I've seen such interesting articles :) Bravo and thank you!

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