How to Qualify an Opportunity in B2B Sales

How do you know this opportunity is qualified?

This is a tough and sometimes unwelcome question often fraught with emotion—especially for the sales team pursuing the opportunity. However, it is imperative they know a B2B opportunity is qualified and therefore worth committing precious hours and limited corporate resources in pursuing further.

“It’s an approved project with budget. We’ve met with all of the key buying influencers—and they really like what we have to say!” I am willing to bet this opportunity would easily clear the “qualified” hurdle and would probably show as “upside” or perhaps even “commit” in many a sales pipeline. But is it really qualified?

What do we mean by qualified? Reasonable criteria would be that the opportunity is real for us and we have a reasonable shot of winning it. It helps to come at this question from a value perspective. After all, if the customer does not see our value, then there is a very low probability we will win the business. To address these criteria, there are three basic questions we should strive to answer when qualifying an opportunity.


1. Do We Truly Understand The Real Problem(s) We Are Solving?

As simple as this may sound, it actually has much deeper implications when you drill down. Is it an issue that is vexing the customer today or is it a future opportunity (new products/services, entering new markets, change in strategic direction, etc.)?  Is it tactical in nature or more strategic? And what does “solved” look like to the customer—meaning what are the outcomes they expect to achieve and by when? And then finally, do we have a viable solution for producing those outcomes (better yet, exceeding them) within the timeline (even better if sooner)?

Note how this line of questioning goes much deeper than “the customer wants to reduce costs” (what costs and why?). Or “the customer is unhappy with and wants to replace the current supplier” (why, and what does “happy” look like?).  Or“the customer wants to upgrade their technology” (why, and what will it accomplish?). Without these insights, perhaps we are taking a risk that the opportunity is not real (at least for us) and there is more work to do.


2. Are We Talking To The Right People About The Right Things?

B2B selling is complex and involves a multitude of stakeholders and influencers on the customer side. We might think of the “right people” as those that 1) ultimately own the desired outcomes (typically key decision makers), 2) are charged with achieving the desired outcomes (typically key influencers and implementers), and 3) are impacted by those outcomes (typically internal or sometimes external customers). This may produce a lengthy list of people, but today’s B2B customers want to ensure your solution has broad appeal and buy-in across the enterprise. Now that we’ve identified the players, what are the “right things” we want to talk about?

How will each measure success (this is how they will measure value)? Is this a high priority (if not it is most likely below the budget line and won’t happen)? Who else cares about this (are there other people not on our list we should talk to)? Of course, we’ll talk about our offerings and the particular solution(s) for this customer, but answering these questions first gives us a relevant context in which to present our viewpoint.


3. What Are We Competing Against And What’s Our Strategy For Winning?

The first two questions primarily address “is the opportunity real?” However, they don’t give us the insights that tell us it is real for us and that we have a high probability of winning.  Unfortunately, this is where many stop in the qualification of an opportunity. To complete the picture, we have to assess what is the most likely alternative if they do not award us the business and what will that mean to the customer?

In theory, customers have three alternatives to doing a deal with us: 1) Go with a competitor; 2) Do nothing (status quo); or 3) Do it themselves. Early in any sales campaign, it may not be readily apparent which one we are competing against, but a key task is to quickly figure out which one applies—and what that alternative means to the customer. In other words: the positive and negative impacts of that alternative. Why is it essential to understand this? Because our value (and the reason a customer will choose us) is incremental to their alternative!

In another blog post, we’ll dig deeper into the value implications of each alternative. For now, it is important we realize each represents a potentially very different value proposition as well as selling motion for us to contend with. When analyzing each alternative, we should look through the lens of the desired outcomes, success metrics and priorities of the buying influencers. Only then can we get a robust picture of what we are competing against.  These insights will allow us to determine the potential value to this customer of our offering as well as our strategy for pursuing it.  If we believe we can provide greater value, then this can confidently be called a qualified opportunity.  If we find we currently can’t provide more value than the alternative, then we should consider either changing the game or withdrawing from the field.

Good selling!


Steve Thompson

Steve is the founder of Value Lifecycle, a strategy consulting firm, with clientele representing over 100 diverse industries. He has over 33 years of experience in operations, sales, sales management, purchasing, and executive management. After working extensively on both the selling and buying side of the equation, Steve brings a unique perspective to the challenges facing his clients as they define and execute their business strategies. Steve have consulted, trained, and implemented both strategic and tactical buying and selling programs in all major North American market centers, as well as Europe, Asia, Latin America, Middle East, and Africa.