While generating demand and engaging your visitors in real-time conversations increases the number of people who are potentially interested in your products or services, this results in putting more pressure on your sales representatives that have to quickly assess their needs and decide if they are the right fit for your business. Luckily some strategies and tools can help you elicit the right information and improve the qualification process.
If you don't take the time at the beginning of the sales process to qualify prospects, then it could lead them down a path they weren't expecting and might not have been prepared for. In this article, we'll discuss how important it is to qualify leads by understanding their needs and determining what they're most likely going to purchase so that you can save time by not spending it on people who don't express the potential to become your customers.
What's Sales Qualification?
Sales qualification is an early stage of the sales process in which you as a salesperson need to decide whether or not a person you are talking to is a good fit for the products or services your company has to offer. The goal of sales qualification is to ensure that a person not only wants to buy your solution but also is then able to derive predictable value from their purchase.
Sales Qualification Checklist
- Your offering meets their wants and needs
- They have the budget to afford your product or service
- Their expectations regarding the lead time match your availability
Why is Sales Qualification Important?
Sales qualification has a direct impact on the bottom line by maximising the outcomes of your sales efforts. Qualifying a prospect early on in the sales cycle lets you save time by not engaging with people who are not interested in what you have to offer. It also allows you to channel your energy better, spend more quality time and improve relationships with people who are more likely to buy.
How to Score Your Prospects?
While collecting behavioral information about your potential customers can help to uncover objective facts about their intent it's important to remember that the qualifying process is highly subjective. To prevent potential inconsistencies, you need to develop and implement qualification guidelines for each of your products and services that will help to make unified decisions.
Life's not just black and white, it's also many other colours. The same is true for the qualification process. You shouldn't think of its results in binary terms: "qualified" or "not qualified", but also distinguish the subtle differences between prospects that exist anywhere in-between, and adapt to their needs. To unify the understanding of prospect's potential to become your customer it's worth applying these guidelines:
This is someone who either doesn't have specific needs that your company can fulfill or doesn't have the purchasing power to afford your products or services, so they don't show much potential of becoming your customers and it's usually best to let them continue with their research using self-service options.
Good lead asks questions about topics relevant to your offerings and is eager to learn more. You can picture this person as a window shopper, they show early signs of interest, but there's only a slight chance for them to become your customers at this stage, so it's best to guide them on their journey by providing useful resources.
People from this category have the attributes of good leads, and also ask specific questions about the details or pricing. They might prefer to talk to a salesperson to discuss questions that require complex reasoning, or subject matter expertise to help them understand how to use your services for their specific use case.
This is someone interested in your products and services, has the authority and budget to purchase what your company has to offer, and their lead expectations align with your availability. In other words, this is someone highly interested in your value proposition and has the biggest potential of becoming your next customer.
You should be able to score prospects during one-to-one conversations and use it to take action and either route them to the next available sales representative for further assistance or let them proceed with a fully automated sales process. This will enable your company to save human resources and provide an exceptional customer experience at the same time.
What Questions to Ask During a One-to-One Qualifying Conversation?
While specific questions you need to ask will vary depending on the industry you're in, the products or services you're offering and the customer segments you're targeting. After you've greeted someone and introduced yourself you'll need to start asking questions that will help you establish whether a person you're talking to has the potential to become your customer.
Although the SPIN methodology has been created over 30 years ago, it's still one of the best techniques to ask the right questions specifically during the qualifying period. It's based on a flexible questioning model that enables salespeople to gain a better understanding of where their potential customers are in the sales cycle, and what they need to move forward. Let's see how it works:
Situation questions enable you to understand the current situation of your potential customer. You might want to ask about products or services your prospects use at the moment or have used to understand what problem they face and how they tried to solve it in the past. You could ask something like this: "How do you currently generate demand for your products or services?".
Ask questions that will help you identify customer jobs, pains, and gains. These types of questions should help you not only to uncover problems but also clarify them, and set the foundation for developing the needs that will help you drive them to change. For example: "Does your business suffer from a shortage of potential customers interested in your products or services?"
While problem-related questions can help you understand the challenges, the focus of implication-type questions is all about the results of inaction. These questions should raise awareness of the consequences the problem might have on their future. You might do this by asking something like: "How long will you be able to stay in the market if the shortage of potential clients continues?".
This is when all the previous questions come together and drive the prospect to a realisation that the consequences of not changing are too significant to be ignored. Now it's time to ask questions that will prove the value of your solution and justify the implementation costs. To do that you might ask something like: "How would a steady flow of customers change your business and how would it make you feel?".
Asking these questions will help your customer to understand the risks of inaction and the benefits of services you provide and help you to influence their actions towards the offerings that not only bring value into their lives but also impact your bottom line. Unlocking these insights will help to personalise the conversations you have with potential customers and better evaluate their needs.
How to Scale Sales Qualification Process?
The traditional sales qualification approach used to take hours or sometimes even days, but today customers aren't patient enough to wait that long and expect immediate responses instead. Companies that deliver on that expectation increase their competitive advantage and chances of winning new business while others that lag to adapt risk losing customers to the competition.
Although enhancing your sales efforts with live chat enabled you to have more conversations the number of incoming messages can quickly overwhelm your human representatives. Of course, you can engage in two or even more conversations simultaneously, but humans don't handle well context switching especially in parallel conversations at the same time.
This puts humans at a disadvantage in comparison to chatbots that break no sweat while handling multiple simultaneous conversations on various topics. Therefore the key to an effective sales qualification process lies not in overloading human agents but in the effective combination of human and machine efforts where one complements the other. Let's see how this cooperation can look like:
- When a good prospect reaches out through a digital channel a knowledge base chatbot engages them and offers answers to common questions.
- A better prospect that requires human attention is routed in an instant to the next available salesperson who saves time on prequalifying them.
- The best prospect can take advantage of the completely automated sales flow and book the relevant service without interaction with a sales rep.
How to Build Sales Qualification Chatbot?
When you integrate your website with a chatbot to engage visitors in a real-time conversation some of them will progress to the qualification stage. To teach your chatbot how to qualify them you can create custom criteria for each of your products and services and let the chatbot ask relevant questions instead of relying solely on your staff to repeat the same process over and over again.
A chatbot isn't just some passive tool that only collects information, but it proactively engages visitors in conversations and tries to understand if they might be a good fit for your business, just like any sales representative would. It's worth noting that its purpose is not to deceive people that they're talking to a human but to provide an engaging and useful buying experience even when your human reps are not available.
Here's a four-step qualification process you need to follow to build a successful sales qualification chatbot:
- Ask qualifying questions
- Respond with relevant follow-ups
- Connect responses to actions
- Decide on the Call-to-Action (CTA)
Which Questions to Transfer to a Sales Qualification Chatbot?
While coming up with questions and responses for your sales qualification chatbot might sound daunting at first, it's just an exercise in modeling conversations with potential customers. Although specific questions will vary across industries, products, services, and customer segments you probably already have everything you need to get started either in a form of a sales script or a website form.
You need to structure all the questions your customer-facing staff has already been asking your customers to assess their needs, and then follow up with relevant responses that will help you narrow down their interests and get into the finer details of each of the problems they're experiencing to find out if your company is going to be well suited to solve them. There are two main types of questions:
It's a good idea to start with a simple "How can I help you?". Although it sounds just like a simple greeting, don't underestimate the power of this question because the answer can provide you with all the needed information about the customer's intent that will enable you to understand their needs at a high level and respond with a useful follow-up that will steer the conversation in the right direction.
While it's good to start small, it's vital to transfer all the relevant questions that will help you assess your customer wants and needs and let your qualification chatbot or a small fleet of chatbots that target different products and services ask them in a logical sequence, because in addition to asking questions providing tailored responses is what makes all the difference in providing an engaging experience.
How to Respond With Relevant Follow-ups?
There are two main approaches when it comes to delivering follow-up responses after getting answers to qualifying questions from potential customers. Although it probably doesn't make sense to talk about all the technical details it's worth taking the time necessary to understand how each of them works at a high level to use them effectively in relevant scenarios.
Respond Using Phrase or Word Proximity Matching
The first approach is about using a phrase or word proximity matching algorithms that work well in anticipating answers for open-ended questions. To use this approach you'll need to come up with answers that your customers can use to respond to your qualifying questions and let the algorithms decide if their answers align with the responses you've predefined within an acceptable level of certainty.
Although guiding people with your questions can help to steer the conversation in the right direction and increase the chances that your chatbot will be able to provide a relevant response, it might be difficult because every conversation is different, and while there are going to be many similarities between them there's no way you can come up with a custom response for every single thing a customer might say.
This is especially true at the beginning when you haven't collected enough data and you have to rely mostly on the past conversations you've had with your customers face-to-face. When using this approach it's best to anticipate the most common responses and check the matching results to add new or modify existing phrases that better align with what customers say during real conversations.
While this process will help you improve the quality of responses over time there's no chance for you to come up with a custom response for every single way a person might respond from the get-go, so you need to prepare for a situation when a customer responds with something you haven't anticipated. To do that you can create a default response that will act as a safety net.
This could be something like: "Hm... Not sure if I got that. Would you mind rephrasing your last sentence?". It mimics the way people ask for clarification during normal conversations, so it's natural for people to comply and reply with a response that is formulated differently giving you another chance to match their response against a set of anticipated answers.
Respond Using Suggested Answers
Another way of doing that is to suggest relevant answers in the form of buttons that appear on the screen after asking the question. While it's not as natural as allowing people to use natural language, suggested answers allow a faster qualification process, because you can restrict the potential answers to a predefined list that you can control.
Instead of asking an open-ended question and hoping for a match, you can ask the same question while presenting buttons with predefined answers that can be just pressed. This is a more predictable way to customise responses that are linked to these answers and can increase accuracy while saving time for the customer by letting them choose the relevant option instead of having to phrase their answer.
Choosing Approach in Common Scenarios
Both phrase proximity matching and suggested answers come with their unique pros and cons that might indicate their usefulness in some scenarios. There are some situations where one approach is superior to the other, while in others an intelligent combination of both can bring the best outcomes. Let's take a look at the most common scenarios:
Button responses can be useful especially in the early stages of conversation when your chatbot needs to gain a basic level of understanding and steer the conversation in the right direction to efficiently differentiate potential buyers who would like to schedule an appointment or talk to a sales rep from those who are just looking around.
When the conversation gets into the finer details it might be better to ask open-ended questions to uncover more granular tasks, pains, and expected gains. This is especially useful when the chatbot qualifies a prospect for a chat with a salesperson because it can collect answers to deeper questions upfront so that a human rep can quickly come to a conclusion and offer relevant advice.
Another scenario implies using a combination of both approaches. It starts with open-ended questions, and when the answers don't match what you've anticipated, you can ask the prospect to rephrase the question as we described earlier, and if this doesn't help, send warm apologies and suggest a list of possible answers presented in the form of buttons.
How to Connect Responses to Actions?
To create an effective qualifying process, the questions you choose need to form a logical sequence with the responses that follow. To do that you need to specify the next action every step of the way. Otherwise, your qualifying chatbot won't know how it should proceed. When someone answers a given question according to plan, your chatbot should acknowledge that and move to the next one to keep the conversation going.
On the other hand when a person provides an answer that indicates that he or she is not a good fit to purchase your products or services you should politely finish the conversation. You can create a custom message that is going to let the other person know why you think that they're not the right fit. It might be something like this: "Sorry, but based on your response it appears that our service isn't right for you.".
To verify who might be the right fit and proceed to the next question every answer they give should tick at least one of the boxes. Based on the responses you've created your chatbot needs to select the relevant action, which is either moving to the next question until you reach the last one or sending the disqualifying message and ending the conversation.
How to Decide on the Call-to-Action (CTA)?
By this point, you should have a foundation of a chatbot that identifies people who are more likely to purchase some of your products or services, engages them in conversation, and encourages them to answer a few qualifying questions. When it succeeds in all of these steps and identifies a person that is a great fit to buy, the next question that probably comes to your mind is: "What should it do next?".
After successfully qualifying a potential customer a chatbot marks the conversation with a score and can automatically display a call-to-action. CTA you decide to use should help you accomplish your goal, which in most cases is going to be a prompt that persuades a qualified lead to continue using an automated sales flow to check your availability and book an appointment.
5 Tips to Create More Engaging Qualifying Conversations
By setting up questions, and tying them with relevant follow-ups and actions you'll have the mechanics of a lead qualification chatbot, but it's only half of the battle since the ultimate goal is to make an engaging and useful buying experience that customers enjoy. This is the only way to achieve all the benefits mentioned earlier. Here are the five best practices which will help you to make it a reality:
1. Be Transparent
It's important to remember that chatbot isn't there to deceive people but to help them go through the qualification process quicker. From a copywriting perspective, you should be completely transparent about using a chatbot. To do that you can start a conversation with something like: "Hello, I know that I'm just a chatbot, but I'm here if you need any help".
2. Ask Simple Questions
When you ask simple questions you'll likely get simple answers, so when complicated questions come to your mind, try to break them down into a sequence of simpler ones. This will help to keep people engaged and focused, increase the chances for their answers to match your predictions, and make them progress through the qualification process faster.
3. Provide Answer Options
While it might be beneficial to ask open-ended questions to gather information before the live chat session, in general sending answer options along with your questions is going to increase the levels of engagement since your customers won't have to phrase them themselves. This will also ensure that chosen answers are going to be handled correctly.
4. Consider Every Scenario
It's normal to focus on the best prospects at the beginning, but you also need to improve the process for people who don't end up being qualified. By ensuring that they also have an enjoyable experience you increase your chances for them to become your customers later. Think about all the possible goals people might have and leave them with a positive impression.
5. Test it Out
It's vital to test your lead qualification chatbot first on a smaller audience, so instead of rolling it out to multiple channels at once, choose one and see how the conversations unfold. Check if people are giving you answers you haven't thought of, or maybe they're stuck at some point? After some time you'll be able to identify gaps and make essential improvements.
When you use one-to-one conversations to qualify prospects, scalability can quickly become a major concern. Luckily this is one of the biggest challenges that can be efficiently solved by chatbots with little to no human attention required. A lead qualification chatbot can engage in conversations with potential customers and help you not only during your off-hours when clients might have just slipped away but also during normal business hours acting as a buffer that controls the volume and quality of people who are transferred to human representatives.
Chatbots can help to streamline the qualification process and improve customer experience by reducing the time it takes to assess their needs and check if your company offers suitable services. They can also check your availability and book an appointment or connect to a sales rep in an instant instead of waiting for a follow-up email or a phone call. This saves human representatives time and energy and lets them focus on prequalified prospects, and adapt their content to better engage them in the future further amplifying the benefits.