Qualifying Target Customers and Pinpointing Their Core Needs

December 04, 2017
Posted by Victoria Brown on Dec 4, 2017 10:08:08 AM

THE most important conversation a salesperson has with their target persona is the discovery call. It is in this moment you are determining whether to dedicate time and effort to take the next step, or making the decision to part ways. The decision, however, is not always an obvious one. This is where sales qualification peeks its head out at you. Today’s buyers can be difficult. Decision makers are constantly on the go and usually pressed for time. With their inboxes and voicemail boxes being flooded by sales pitches, naturally they can be uncertain about sharing information. So when you finally score a chance to have a conversation with a decision maker you should be able to bring value to the conversation with open-ended, quality sales questions. This article will show you:

  • How to 'Dissect a Qualified Prospect', with critical questions at multiple levels
  • When to hit 'Eject' and Disqualify a Prospect
  • Different 'Qualification Frameworks'
  • And, key elements of the 'Qualification Process'

Dissecting a Qualified Prospect

While the discovery call is essentially the meat and potatoes of your qualification, the process of qualifying target customers does not start or end there. Bob Apollo, the founder of sales consulting group Inflexion Point, describes the qualification process as if it were a pyramid. A sales rep should qualify prospects at three different levels : “organization-level”, “opportunity-level”, and “stakeholder-level”.

Organization-Level Qualification

Being the base of the pyramid, this level is simply answers if this prospect fits into your company’s ideal buyer persona and whether you should advance with more research.

Questions you should be able to tick off include:

  • Is this prospect in your territory?
  • Do you sell to their industry?
  • What is the company’s size?
  • Do they fit into your company’s ideal buyer persona?

Opportunity-Level Qualification

This level of the pyramid is where your discovery call takes place. This was probably what you were thinking of when you read the title of this article. You are getting to the proverbial ‘meat and potatoes’ of the organization and figuring out your prospect’s needs and challenges, and whether it is feasible for your company to satisfy them. By the end of this conversation you should know a good chunk of how this company operates. You should also be able to answer these crucial questions to pinpoint your prospect’s core needs:

  • What are your short-term & long-term goals?
  • What does this purchase mean to you and your company?
  • How does your company evaluate the potential of new products and services?
  • Who has your business now? Why did you choose that company/vendor?
  • Where would you put the emphasis when it comes to price, quality, and service?
  • What level of service are you looking for?
  • What do you like best about your present vendor? What would you change?
  • What do you look for in companies that you do business with?
  • What do you like best about your current system and what would you change?
  • What do YOU think your needs are?
  • How soon can we begin?
  • Do you struggle with (common pain point for that industry)?
  • Are you looking to cut costs, save money, or increase productivity?

Stakeholder-Level Qualification

At this point, you have had a successful call and dub this prospect as a good match. Now it’s time to talk numbers and criteria, but can your point of contact actually pull the trigger on a purchase decision? There’s nothing worse than the feeling of being on the cusp of closing a deal only to find out that your contact has to get permission from higher up, essentially starting your sales process from scratch.

To avoid this, ask the following:

  • Does this purchase come out of your budget?
  • Who else is involved in the decision-making process?
  • Do you have criteria for this purchase decision?
  • Who defined said criteria?

When to Hit “EJECT” and Disqualify

The vast majority of people in sales loath the thought of disqualifying prospects. Seriously, many of us cling on to the most miniscule aspect of a client just to keep them in our pipeline. While natural instinct in sales is to keep quantity, this is not the most effective approach. As the old saying goes, “quality over quantity”. Thanks to the age of information and communication constantly being at our fingertips, the most precious asset to a salesperson is their time. Trying to close a deal with every prospect that comes your way is only going to result in dead ends and neglected relationships with prospects more likely to buy.

The three levels previously discussed are also the order in which you should use to disqualify a prospect. For example, if your prospect is not even in the realm of your company’s buyer persona, it is a safe bet that you should go ahead and cross them off your list. Maybe one day, you will be able to serve their type of prospect, but today is not that day.

Likewise, your point of contact could be the CEO with complete budget authority and is a stakeholder-level’s dream, but if there’s no problem for your company to solve then there’s really no reason to pursue that CEO.

Unless a prospect can be qualified on all three levels, you should not advance them in the sales process.

Qualification Frameworks

While every prospect and sale is different, all closed deals share similarities. Here are a few sales qualification frameworks that sales reps can look to when qualifying.

The BANT Qualification Framework

Originally developed by IBM, BANT covers the following four piece of information

  • Budget: Can your prospect buy?
  • Authority: Can your point of contact sign off on a purchase?
  • Need: Does the prospect have a problem your can solve?
  • Timeline: When is the prospect planning on making a buying decision?

Even though BANT addresses most of the opportunity-level requirements, it still has its flaws. A recent study from CEB discovered that it now takes an average of 5.4 people to make a buying decision, so the deciding buying authority could actually be multiple people. To prevent heartache, make sure you engage all relevant stakeholders early on and secure their buy-in.

While BANT is the most popular framework, it’s not the only one worth taking a look at. My two personal favorites are MEDDIC and CHAMP Sales.


Jack Napoli coined the term MEDDIC (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion) while working with PTC. This framework requires a sales rep to understand every aspect of a prospect’s purchase process. It is incredibly valuable for increasing forecasting accuracy, crucial to companies that sell to enterprise companies. This framework helps you understand exactly how your prospect buys, why they would buy, and who’s backing you internally.


CHAMP (Challenges, Authority, Money, and Prioritization) places challenges ahead of authority. Zorian Rotenberg, founder of Atiim, Inc., was quoted “Your prospect buys things because they have a challenge. [Challenges] are the first fundamental part of sales qualification.” CHAMP also has authority as a call-to-action versus being a roadblock. Just because your point of contact is not a decision maker doesn’t mean you should hang up the phone. Rotenberg suggests “ask your prospect questions that help you map out their company’s organizational structure” in order to figure out who to reach out to next.

The Qualification Process

“It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” How many times have you heard this one? It’s extremely relevant to those in sales. You can almost get more information by a prospect’s voice tone and delivery versus the words they actually say. Here are some tip-offs to listen for to determine whether to continue on the qualification process or to hit that “EJECT” button and disqualify.

Positive Signs to Move Along in the Qualification Process


Did you know we make excuses to resolve cognitive dissonance? Excuses help resolve our actions with who we want to be. So if you hear your prospect explain away previous inaction regarding their business challenge, listen up! This means a.) the excuse is legitimate, or b.) your prospect wishes they had done something about it before and are now trying to rationalize why they didn’t. Either way, it confirms there is an issue somewhere.


Prospects who can give well thought out answers to questions like “What are your goals?” have thought carefully about the direction they are wanting to go in and have thought about their company’s issues. Keep your ears perked for statistics and sequential plans. Specifics can show you that your prospect is facing a particular challenge; people without issues are not going to spend time thinking about how to address problems they don’t have.


Knowledge is power. This is how you check your stakeholder level. Decision makers are knowledgeable about goals, needs, and room for improvements. If your point of contact doesn’t have this information, they more than likely will have zero buying power.

Red Flags to Look for Along the Qualification Process


If your point of contact is contracting their statements, more than likely it is due to a lack of knowledge.

Short Answers

If a prospect is giving you one-word answers, then they don’t feel like there is a basis for a conversation. This could be that there isn’t a need at this time or even that your point of contact isn’t knowledgeable as to what is going on in the organization.

As a salesperson, your success depends on effective sales qualification. This WILL make or break your quota and/or business. If you are finding prospects who fit your company’s ideal buyer persona and qualifying them properly, then you are making your clients take part in a mutual selection process which will more than likely result in happy customers and word-of-mouth referrals.


h_whatisinboundmarketing.pngOnce you have qualified prospects in the sales funnel, one of the best ways to cultivate them to buy is through Inbound Marketing. To learn more about this methodology, download our introduction to this approach in our eBook "What is Inbound Marketing?".

In this eBook, you'll gain valuable insight into the basics of Inbound Marketing such as:

  • the 5 stages of buyers in the inbound process
  • 4 reasons why the 'old' marketing playbook is broken
  • the core elements of inbound marketing

Learn More