Qualifying sales leads over the phone: Here’s how to do it!

One of the challenges with using social media and content marketing to generate leads is that the leads aren’t always well qualified. Just because someone really liked your blog post or got connected to you on LinkedIn doesn’t mean that they are the “right” prospect for your business.

qualifying sales leadsWhen I get a referral from someone I know—who has likely done a great job qualifying sales leads for me—I’ll try to get a face-to-face meeting with that person, since I find I’m more likely to close the deal face-to-face. Web leads are different. I want to start out by qualifying a web lead over the phone.

What do I mean by qualifying?

Not all leads are of equal value. Some prospects come to you knowing exactly what you do and how much that costs. Normally, when you get referrals from past clients or close business partners, they have done the work for you of educating the prospect about your capabilities and cost. So referral leads often come well qualified. People that find you through the web may have a looser understanding of your skills and abilities and may have wildly varying ideas of what those skills are worth. So before we take the time to drive out and meet with them, we need to make sure that they want what we sell—and that they can afford it! The best way to do that is with a quick phone call.

How to qualify a sales lead

When you get an unqualified lead, offer a quick 30 minute phone call as a first step. In that phone call you want to establish:

  • Do they have a problem that you can solve?
  • Do they have a reasonable budget and timeline for you to accomplish it in?
  • Are they someone you want to work with (e.g. not a jerk, or in an industry you don’t like, etc.)

To do that, start off by getting permission to ask some questions. Never start off with your “pitch”. Instead say, “I’m happy to tell you all about our services, but first let me ask a few questions to make sure that I can help you, or that I can refer you to someone who can…” You aren’t wasting their time, you are offering them value whether you can help them or not.

To qualify them you want to ask:

  • What lead you to call? What issue is driving your search?

    Let’s make sure that their presenting issue is something we can help with. Hopefully, we will uncover more issues during discovery; but for now, are we in the right ballpark? If not, I usually stop and talk a little about what we do and how it’s different from what they are asking for. They may still be attracted to your services, but just didn’t have the right words for it, or you might confirm at this point that you need to refer them on to someone else.

  • Who else are you talking to?

    If they are talking to 5 or more competitors, it might not be an opportunity that is worth pursuing. All things being equal, you have a 20% chance of success. What is unique about you and your firm that makes you stand out among those competitors?

  • What’s your process for making a decision?

    This is an important question, especially if they are talking to more than one provider. If they don’t have a process I usually try to talk them through what a typical process looks like—while being clear about what steps in that process really help them to decide. In other words, I try to coach them into a process that works for me (e.g. not an RFP process). If the prospect doesn’t know how they will make a decision—or even who the people are who are involved in it—then it’s likely to be a long and convoluted process that I don’t want any part of!

  • What’s your budget/timeline?

    This question can be tricky. Most buyers don’t want go first when it comes to talking about price. I might say, “Our projects typically start at $2,000 – $5,000. We’d have to talk much longer to get a specific price, but how does that range sound?” You have to make sure you are at least talking about the same number of zeros!

Don’t have the whole new business meeting on the phone, just qualify

Be careful. You don’t want to have the whole discovery call over the phone (assuming you close better face-to-face). So don’t go into all the pain questions you’ve carefully coached yourself into using. You just want to scratch the surface so that you can decide if it’s worth investing the 2 hours it will take to drive over and have the whole discovery conversation. You are not selling a contract here, you are selling a discovery meeting.

You can qualify on your lead form too.

If this is a big problem for you, and you find that you are generating a lot of unqualified leads, it’s time to start looking at your website. Specifically, you want to check out the page on your website where your lead form is located and add some text to help it to qualify leads for you. You could add a question about budget (don’t just ask for a number, but give ranges that they can check). You could create a paragraph to describe more specifically what leads are perfect leads for you, or what problems you are great at solving. Remember, the goal isn’t to get more leads, the goal is to get more business! By better qualifying folks on your lead form, you can discourage some of the unqualified leads and encourage your ideal prospects.

What do you do to make sure you are qualifying leads?


Photo credit: Dai Lygad

Brad Farris

As principal advisor of Anchor Advisors, Brad Farris has experience leading businesses & business owners into new levels of growth and success. Through his work with over 100 Chicago area small businesses he has experience in guiding founders and business owners through the pitfalls and joys of growing their business. Prior to joining Anchor Advisors, Brad spent over 10 years managing business units for a family-owned conglomerate with sales of $2 million to $25 million.  When he's not working, Brad enjoys cycling, cooking and the NFL. He is married with 5 children and lives in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with him on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.


  1. So many people and businesses are so focused on acquiring MORE leads that they forget about the quality of the leads. And what a silly mistake – I mean, haven’t we all seen Glengarry Glen Ross by now? We want the Glengarry leads! Nobody wants to waste their time with lousy leads.

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