Rethinking BANT, continued: How to better define a qualified lead

Part two of a three-part blog: (See first part.)

In Part 1 of our three-part “BANT rant,” I began by raising some doubts about the efficacy of the BANT approach being the defining factor in determining a qualified sales opportunity.  I offered two main reasons why I felt that BANT wasn’t sufficient as a definition.

First and foremost, BANT offers a seller-centric perspective.  Budget, Authority, Need and Timing are not the ways in which buyers think, at least not with respect to purchases that are not commodities.  They think about business challenges, resources, relationships and the potential (and actual) consequences of action and inaction.  And organizational politics come into play, as tends to happen all too frequently with real people in real life, even when there is alignment within an organization as to goals and objectives.

Second, I suggested that while the BANT elements might be necessary for a buying decision, by themselves they are not sufficient to ensure that a decision will ever be made to purchase, or if that purchase decisions will be favorable to you.

Let’s look at each of the elements independently:

B (Budget) Plainly, if a prospect already has a defined budget, then you are probably too late to the party.  They may have already been in discussion with one or more of your competitors, and that’s how they came up with that budget..  Or they may have established a budget based upon some other basis (research), but it is not likely to be the budget you would preferably craft for them, nor does it consider the value of your solution (remember, it’s rarely about price and generally about value).

It’s akin to the RFP dilemma.  If a company has issued an RFP, and you were not involved in setting those standards, then it was established based upon a vision that did not include your solution.  And, unless your solution matches the requirements to a tee, you may not want to get involved.  RFP’s, for the most part, create commoditized procurement decisions, not value-based decisions.  If you are not selling a commodity, and if you don’t want a decision made essentially on the basis of price, then you need an opportunity to demonstrate your value.

The bottom line is that it may be preferable for them not to have a budget (just as you’d prefer them not to have an RFP).  Yet you do want them to have the resources needed to fund a solution to the needs they have and the challenges they are facing, preferably at a level that makes your solution affordable.

Ideally, however, you want to help them craft both a solution and a budget and you should want to be there before that process is initiated.  So, the very best time to get involved is before they have a budget and before they have envisioned a solution.

Given all of that, is Budget truly a qualifying criterion?  Now we’re left with ANT or, if we substitute Resources for Budget, we have RANT.

A (Authority) Most people assume that this means that you have identified or (preferably) are engaged with the decision-maker.  This is way too simplistic for the real world.  The problem is that, in virtually every situation imaginable (especially in a complex B2B setting), there is no single decision-maker.  Decisions are never made by a single person and, perhaps, never even by a single department.  The truth is that most enterprises have matrix relationships in which anyone, at virtually any level, can raise their hands and put the brakes on a decision or a shift in direction.

Even in small “mom and pop” businesses, decisions are rarely made by a single person, even the owner.  In almost every situation, there are trusted advisors, spouses, key staff and even business colleagues outside of the company who can influence a buying decision significantly.

What is vital is to gain an understanding of how decisions in areas related to your solution are made within organizations.  You need to know who is typically involved in that process and gain an understanding of the relationships (from both a personal and business perspective) among the key people involved.

Finally, you also want to understand another critical element:  the company’s orientation to change.  Is this a company that takes risks, or are they risk averse?  Are they somewhere in the middle?  Their orientation toward change will tell you a great deal more than you can imagine about the strategies you should employ to move them toward adopting your solution.

N (Need) Of all of the BANT elements, this is the most seller-centric of all.  I can’t begin to count all the times that a sales representative has come to me and said, “It’s a slam dunk … they NEED our solution.”  In the story I related at the end of the first segment about walking down the street at lunchtime on the way to a meeting, the need for food is clear.  We need it to live and we need it to satisfy and resolve pangs of hunger.  But, do we need it NOW?  It may be lunchtime, but there are competing needs and demands that have greater urgency at present and render that need less vital.

So, it’s not about need, it’s about some compelling event or reason that raises the urgency of that need to an “act now” level.  Absent that level of motivation, there is no credible impetus for change and no substantive reason for the resources to be expended, even if the money is available and someone is willing to spend it.

T (Time frame) This is also a seller-centric view.  What is really meant here is, “is this opportunity going to come to fruition in the near-term so it becomes worthwhile for me, as a salesperson, to spend my time on it?”  And, the truth is, in and of itself, it is meaningless.  Time is only important in the context of all of the other elements.

Do we have a compelling event?  Is everyone who is feeling the impact of this event involved in the decision making process?  Is there a solution out there that can resolve our problem using the resources we have available?  And, what is the consequence to us (as a company) if we fail to act timely?

Those are the more important determinants of the relative value of a potential sales opportunity.

In the third and last segment of this discussion, we’ll focus in on putting this all together into a practical framework.  And then, perhaps, we can begin to consider an answer to the question I raised at the end of my walk in the city at lunchtime story:  what can a proprietor do to get you to eat at his or her establishment?

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