How to Disqualify Leads

By Heather Baldwin

What is it about the top 20 percent of inside sales reps that enables them to bring in 80 percent of your sales? Companies have spent millions trying to figure out the answer to that question and here it is free of charge: the best inside sales reps spend more time disqualifying their leads than qualifying them. “The top 20 percent recognize there are only a certain number of hours in the day. And they know they can only close qualified prospects. So they spend time asking tough questions to find real buyers and the ‘lookie-lous’ never make it into their funnel,” says Mike Brooks, “Mr. Inside Sales,” a consultant who works with business owners and inside sales reps nationwide teaching them the skills, strategies, and techniques of top 20 percent performance (

Brooks says top performers are so guarded about who goes into their pipeline that their pipelines look more like cylinders: fewer opportunities going in one end and a higher percentage of them closing on the other. Contrast that with the other 80 percent of your reps. Typically this group aims to prop up every lead that comes their way, stuff them into their pipeline, and hope some will close at the other end.

To radically boost the performance of your bottom 80 percent, you need to get them to shift from a mindset of qualifying leads to one of disqualifying leads. And the way to do that is by giving them a qualifying checklist with six questions. When an inside sales rep gets off the phone with a lead, he must know the answers to these six questions:

  1. Who is the decision maker?
  2. What does the decision-making process entail?
  3. Has the lead contacted other companies?What other solutions will he or she be considering?
  4. What’s the budget?
  5. What are their unique motives for purchasing (i.e., why are they going to buy?)?
  6. What are some reasons they wouldn’t buy?

Don’t be afraid to ask these questions because you think the prospect won’t answer them or because you’re afraid of the answer, cautions Brooks. These questions are key to the disqualifying process because if the lead is vague or evasive about any of them, it means he or she is not a serious buyer and you shouldn’t waste your time. Thinking you can turn it around is a bottom 80 percent strategy; spotting the red flag and discarding the lead is a top 20 percent strategy.

“When top sellers don’t get the answers they want or need, they ask the tough questions,” says Brooks. “And they’re not afraid to say, ‘You know, Barbara, it sounds like you’re just collecting a lot of quotes and that you’ll go with your current provider. So keep my number on file and if things change, give me a call.’” Or if a top seller thinks it could be an opportunity but isn’t sure, he might give a quote right there on the phone – “It sounds like we could do that job for about $3,800. Is that about what you were looking to spend?” – rather than wasting a lot of time drafting a formal proposal.

Brooks acknowledges that shifting from a mindset of qualifying your leads to disqualifying your leads can be a bit scary. Sales people worry that if they start tossing out leads, there won’t be any more coming in to fill their pipeline. But here’s the gem: These techniques will never disqualify a true buyer; they will reveal the true buyers, says Brooks.

If you’re still nervous, consider this story about a new inside sales rep at a large A/V rental company. She and other sales reps on her team were notorious for going into a flurry of activity whenever someone called in for a quote. She’d spend time putting together long, detailed quotes for a lead that “sounded pretty good” and then invariably wind up disappointed. She struggled to reach her $40,000 quota each month. Then she started using Brooks’ techniques. She became a record disqualifier – and a record salesperson. She brought in more than $100,000 in sales last month and expects to close more than $1 million in sales next year – an unheard-of number at the company. It all comes down to this: Where do you want to spend your time? Do you want to spend it with “lookie-lous” who aren’t serious about buying? Or do you want to spend it with prospects who are qualified and genuinely interested? If it’s the latter, you need to do a good job of weeding out the former. “Once you get confident with these techniques and see you are closing more sales, you’ll never go back,” promises Brooks.