Your 6-Step Process for Qualifying Leads

Most businesses have a system in place for generating leads. In fact, companies spend over three billion dollars per year on lead generation…just in the US alone.

Where they drop the ball is qualifying leads, which can be defined as the actions a business takes to determine which leads are the most likely to become customers.

Neglecting lead qualification means you have no idea who these people are and are more likely to waste valuable time and money. Embrace the process and you can not only prioritize your limited time and budget, but will be able to implement more precise (and effective) communication with the most promising leads.

Keep reading to learn how best to qualify leads and which tools we recommend for a smooth process.

  1. Understand how lead qualification works
  2. Determine qualifying questions
  3. Use lead scoring to rank sales-readiness
  4. Determine a point threshold that makes a lead “qualified”
  5. Use the right tools
  6. Disqualify leads when necessary

Tips for effectively qualifying leads

Understand how lead qualification works

To understand lead qualification, it’s first important to understand that not all leads are the same. As you see in this image, lead qualification can be broken down into a few important steps:

The lead qualification process

Let’s say you have a fitness blog, for example, and you sell customized workout plans from your website. The potential process for following up with a lead that’s already qualified is relatively easy to understand. They come to your website, download a lead magnet, and then get put into an email sequence designed to sell one of your workout plans.

But if they aren’t qualified? In this case, the nurturing that turns them into a qualified lead looks quite different. This is a process that can take weeks, if not months, and can include a number of different actions from your company.

  • Creating and sharing educational blog posts on the benefits of different workouts
  • Sharing inspirational exercise videos on Instagram along with breakdowns of the correct technique
  • Sending a weekly newsletter with actionable health advice

In addition, you should know that leads can come from numerous sources (email, social media, and SMS messaging are just a few examples). This means that lead qualification also takes various forms. The social media equivalent of an email lead who opens most of your emails, for example, might be somebody who regularly comments on your business’ Facebook posts.

The main takeaway? You have to adapt your lead qualification processes to your own business model. The next steps in this post will help you.

Determine qualifying questions

What exactly makes a lead “qualified?” While our next section on lead scoring will give you some more background, asking questions right at the beginning can be a great strategy. Certain “qualifying questions” can give you an idea of the type of lead you’re talking to and their potential business needs, which helps you more quickly guide your prospect through your lead generation funnel.

You can ask these questions directly before a chat , on your signup form or even in a “pre sales” call.

Questions to ask prospects
Cience recommends using NOTE for asking questions at each stage of the qualifying process.

Companies will often vary in the questions they find most valuable. That’s why it’s important to sit down as a team and come up with your own list of qualifying questions. Still, here are three that can be useful for most businesses:

  • “What’s your budget?”
  • “How did you hear about us?”
  • “What problem are you trying to solve?”

Notice that the answer to these questions will either disqualify someone right off the bat (question one) or give you valuable background on how you should move them through your funnel (two and three). The fact is, while some leads will fit your customer profile perfectly, others will be a complete mismatch.

For example, if they are looking for a solution like yours but aren’t willing to pay even your minimum price, they will likely never become a customer. Best to move on to better prospects. Check out this post by Mailshake for more ideas on qualifying questions you might ask.

Most often, though, leads will be somewhere in the middle. It’s your job to educate them about their problem and how your company can help.

Lastly, creating buyer personas and customer profiles is a good idea before deciding on your qualifying questions. A buyer persona is essentially a representation of your typical customer. You get this information by looking at the demographics and lifestyle of your most common buyers (age, job title, interests, and family life are just a few you might consider).

Using several buyer personas is a useful strategy because it helps you refine how exactly to approach leads and what to do once you have them.

Example image a buyer persona
An example of a buyer persona from ThePowerMBA.

These personas will clarify who your audience is, what factors of your business matter most to them and how to serve them better.

Use lead scoring to rank sales-readiness

The main part of lead qualification comes with lead scoring. This is a system in which you assign a certain value to leads based either on their actions or demographic details. The usefulness of this is that a lead’s gradual increase in score over time typically corresponds to a higher willingness to buy.

These days, there are many different ways to track the behavior of leads, including web tracking tools and behavioral lead scoring software. We've found that engagement with marketing materials (e.g. emails) and visits to the most important pages on your website (e.g. service pages or the pricing page) are the best signals of qualified leads.

Katheriin Liibert Head of Marketing at Outfunnel

Just like initial qualifying questions, a lead scoring system will differ between companies. That said, there are many data points (across both actions and demographic detail) that can either increase or decrease a lead’s score. Here are just a few:

Increase a lead’s score:

  • Subscribes to your blog
  • Opens an email
  • Works at a large company
  • Requests a trial

Decrease a lead’s score:

  • Signs up to your list with a personal “Gmail” account
  • Rarely visits your website
  • Doesn’t sign in to their free account for weeks
  • Has a low email open rate

With so many possible data points to score, a business’s lead scoring system should be adapted to fit its own business model. For example, maybe there is a whitepaper download you only offer at the end of a long email sequence. Anybody who gets to that point has already proven a fair amount of interest, and they should be scored accordingly.

Stacks of dollar bills

As for a whitepaper that is available to everyone that visits your site? Because there is less qualification happening in this example, leads should probably be scored lower.

You can make your lead scoring as simple or complicated as you want. One recent development, for example, is the emergence of predictive lead scoring. However, keep in mind that there is usually a healthy balance in between. Too simple and you probably aren’t accurate enough; too complicated and you waste valuable time on measuring data instead of acting on it.

Determine a point threshold that makes a lead “qualified”

There will be a certain point where your lead’s score is high enough to consider them “qualified.” For the purpose of a profitable lead generation system, this usually means that they are ready to be sold to.

This value will look different across businesses. Regardless of your own threshold, however, the purpose is to narrow down who your business targets.

Ben Johnson for UseProof breaks down three different models you can use: manual lead scoring, probability-based lead scoring or predictive lead scoring.

Lead scoring model

While deciding where exactly this threshold is should be a team effort, your sales team will have valuable insight on when a lead is “sales ready.” Check out Pipeline’s guide to improving communication between marketing and sales.

Especially important at this stage is your email marketing. This is typically how you stay in contact with your leads over time with valuable content and it can give you valuable insight into who your most promising prospects are. After all, your most valuable leads will be on your email list, so it’s essential to track which subscribers are the most active and score them accordingly.

Use the right tools

Effective lead scoring is really only possible with the right tools. While there are numerous options you can use, here are a few of the most effective that will get you up and running:

Live chat. This tool is one of the best ways to better reach and understand your audience and refine your lead qualification process. After all, what’s more personal than chatting with somebody while they are on your website? Live chat is even more effective when you pair it with other strategies like targeted ads.

CRM. A good CRM makes it easy for you to stay organized with the leads that are constantly coming into your pipeline. This improves your customer relationships and gives you more options for successful lead qualification along the way. For our own personal recommendation, check out Lime.

Chatbots. Want to help your leads 24/7? Chatbots are not only there for questions around the clock - they make lead generation easier, too. Learn more about Userlike's Logic Bot and sign up for a consultation if you’re interested in using automation.

Email. A good email service provider (ESP) is essential in lead qualification. Your email list is where the majority of your leads will go, and it’s where you will do most of your lead nurturing.

Our parent company Lime, for example, makes it easy to visualize automated email flows. Setting up lead nurturing automations, then, is both quick and easy. Check out the Lime product page for more information.

Screenshot of email flow by Lime

Regardless of the ESP you decide to use, always remember this: value first. Just like the rest of your strategy, you always want to provide as much value to your list as possible. This is what gets leads to open your emails and start building the relationship over time.

Disqualify leads when necessary

Just as the majority of your site visitors won’t convert to a lead, the majority of leads you score won’t reach the “qualified” stage. Assuming you have determined what your point threshold is, the point will come when it’s time to delete (or “disqualify”) certain leads.

The reason this step is so important in lead qualification is that leads that never convert to customers cost you time and money. By pursuing sales opportunities with these contacts, you are simply wasting limited resources. Effectively disqualify them and you can redirect that effort to the leads that matter most.

Beacon home page
Focus on warm leads so that you’re not wasting time and effort on customers who likely never would buy from you.

This post from Freshworks is a good primer on lead disqualification, but here are some actionable tips to identify a lead that’s no longer worth your time:

  • Take your initial qualifying questions seriously. There’s a reason you are asking them. If you know straight from the start that somebody likely will not (or cannot) buy from you, don’t invest too much time in them.
  • Look at how inactive they are. Has it been months since they last opened one of your emails? Create target messages to try and re-engage them. Still no response? You might consider removing them from your list.

One last thing to remember: often, one of the most important factors in somebody becoming qualified is time. Be sure to give somebody at least a few months before you decide to cut them from your list.

Live chat: your new lead qualification hack

Userlike website messenger

The entire purpose of lead qualification is to understand more precisely who is worth your time to pursue. Live chat is a great tool in gaining this knowledge because you play an active role in shaping your prospects’ view of your company.

Here are just a few of the features of Userlike that let you qualify leads effectively:

  • Pre-chat survey: This acts as a “screening mechanism” so you know important information about the lead before the chat begins.
  • Sticky chat: Allows you to see the entire conversation history with a lead to see the development of the relationship.
  • Intuitive analytics: See not only how many chats you are getting but where your leads are coming from.
  • Easy integration with your existing CRM: Userlike helps you earn leads, which get stored in your CRM to help you further nurture them.

Getting started with Userlike is quick and easy. It’s also free, so be sure to sign up for a trial. Once you do and start looking around the software, you’ll notice not only how user friendly it is, but just how easy it is to manage your leads.

And if you need even more actionable advice? Check out our article on how to get more live chats , or start a chat anywhere on our website for a full demo of our product.