Many distribution salespeople struggle to identify a true sales “opportunity.” An opportunity is a qualified lead – a lead that someone at your company has collected additional information on to ensure that your salespeople aren’t wasting their valuable time when they follow up. In other words, it’s not rumor of potential business. And it’s not just a contact on a business card collected at a trade show.

An opportunity has real potential to move to the quote stage.

The opportunity stage is the second half of the front end of the sales process, the first half of which is the lead. The opportunity stage may be a day, three days, three months or three years before it moves to the quote stage. Qualifying an opportunity means determining that your products and services can meet that customer’s needs.

Integrate these questions into your sales process to help your team further qualify and understand sales opportunities:

Who is on the decision team? Answering this helps you determine whether you are covering your bases by interacting with the right people at the customer.

Who else is being considered as a potential vendor? This will give you the landscape for your competition. Knowing your competition can help you position your product or service more effectively.

What is the reason you want to purchase this product or service? Asking this question will help you position with a value-add or consultative approach. Let the customer know you want to understand the application to ensure you are offering the correct solution and not just selling a product.

When will you need a formal proposal? This will tell you where the customer is in the buying cycle and whether it matches where you think the opportunity is in your sales cycle.

What is the decision process? This will tell you again whether you are interacting with the right people and where they are in the buying cycle.

At the end of the day, a salesperson should care most about how many hands he shook or sales visits he made that uncovered true sales opportunities for future business.

An opportunity requires proactive management to ultimately secure the order. Make sure you are building your credibility and your value-add as you work with the customer to identify its needs so that when the opportunity moves to the quote stage, rather than your competitor driving the process, you are.