Qualification in Enterprise Software Sales

Qualification is simply the transition from [unqualified] prospect to [qualified] opportunity. In the pipeline/funnel, this means that all the things that are needed for this prospect to want/need/desire our product and services are there.

More specifically, qualification involves an opportunity possessing all of the following:

  1. Access to the buyer
  2. The prospect knows, and agrees to, what they are buying from us
  3. The prospect knows, and agrees to, the approximate cost of the solution or DSO (Discreet Sales Opportunity)
  4. There is DRM (Date Related Motivation), or what some people call a “pending event”
  5. [optionally] An identified project or budget line item set aside for the proposed solution


Access to the Buyer

This is just what it sounds like. The sales rep needs to have direct access to the buyer so that meetings you are having are providing a compelling reason to purchase to the right person. In strategic selling (another article) we’re concerned with selling top down (pushing the elephant down the stairs), so having the sales rep shoot high (CxO) above the line will ensure we are introduced to the buyer from above. The buyer is identified as someone who is concerned with wanting something they don’t have.

Pushing the elephant up the stairs is tactical sales, and involves selling/presenting to technical/tactical resources at a company that are concerned with having something they don’t want. These are sysadmins, technical/operational managers and supervisors, and basically anyone tactical that has no budget. Selling below the line is hard, as large ticket IT/IS solutions are far beyond the purchasing power of the people that are welcome to have a vendor buy them lunch. In addition, these low level resources are not able to make sweeping, enterprise-wide decisions as to standards and practices that large ticket software demands/dictates.

They Know What They Want

The prospect knows, and agrees to, what they are buying from us” means that they know what we do/sell/offer, and they see value in the attributes/features we’ve presented. If they agree to nt only our product, but the way we want to implement it, then this portion of qualification is complete.

Too many times I’ve supported sales reps that got a prospect all hot and bothered over the vision of the product only to be cooled down when a Sales Engineer had to bring them down to earth with what we really do.

They Know How Much It Will Cost

The prospect knows, and agrees to, the approximate cost of the solution or DSO” means that they are beyond the “Is it free?” discussion. Under the covers, though, this means that they have established value in their minds, and that the discussion is continuing based on this understanding. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been brought in to a sales call where the following has happened:

Rep: “I’m glad you like our solution, and feel it will meet or exceed your needs.”
Prospect: “So how much is it?”
Rep: “One million dollars.”
Prospect: (back from floor) “Oh. How much of that can you do for $5,000?”
(sound of my footsteps)

This is why breaking the deal into bite sized chunks is so important. The smallest size to break a deal down into is a DSO. A DSO is a Discrete Sales Opportunity. Discreet means single, or sole. In other words, “A single installation for 4,000 users” instead of “Make my company more successful”.

It is impossible to break a deal down without it being thought of, and spoken to as, a DSO. The sooner the deal gets down to actual deliverables the faster it will close. And as we all know, you spend the same amount of time on a $5,000 deal as you do on a $500,000 deal. As Sales Engineers are commission (or performance) based, it is easy to see which one we prefer.

I’m all for big ticket software, don’t get me wrong. But in the words of a wise sales rep I worked with at Sprint, “Do one, small piece of business-well. then try to close the big one.” There is wisdom here for the Sales Engineer out there that is tasked with mentoring their reps. If you shoot for the moon at first, you risk losing the entire deal to a slightly better perceived competitor, where there is little risk with a small deal. Take that small, quicker to close, deal and give perfect customer service, thus creating the perfect initial customer experience.

Date Related Motivation

DRM (Date Related Motivation), or what some people call (slightly incorrectly) a “pending event”, is the most important of all requirements-especially as the price of the deal increases beyond a few hundred thousand dollars. Without this sense of urgency (tied to the calendar), the prospect is just shopping.

Urgency related, or tied, to DRM can be described in one of two ways:

1. Something (bad/undesired) will happen if there is no action (inaction) by a defined date, or…
2. Nothing will happen on the defined date, but an opportunity (usually financial/budget related) will be lost if a solution is not installed or at least in place.

This is tangentially related to one of my other methodological tenets, whereby DSOs always fall into one of two categories:

1. They have something they don’t want, or…
2. They want something they don’t have.

(You’ll quickly learn that to keep my methodologies easy for sales reps and Sales Engineers to remember, I keep them as simple as possible)

A Project

[optionally] An identified project or budget line item set aside for the proposed solution. I won’t lie to you-I’m not a big fan of this requirement, and I urge you as Sales Engineers to not stand on this one. I include it here for a variety of reasons I won’t get into. Some feel that every deal needs to be as the result of an identified project, and I’m tipping my hat ever so slightly to those Sales Engineers and sales reps.

In my 10 years, I haven’t seen any single point in qualification pull the others to the finish line. It is a combination of all of them-hopefully at an even rate as the deal progresses. But there are no two deal alike, and that is why I’m i this line of work instead of commuting to a cubicle with gas at over $4/gallon.

Keep your sales reps on task with regard to qualification. Letting them bullsh*t their way into telling the Sales Manager/VP of Sales that a deal is qualified, stand firm and make sure you are only spending considerable time on qualified opportunities.

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