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

Final part of a three-part blog Part 1 | Part 2

In Part 1 of my three-part “BANT rant,” I expressed doubts about BANT being sufficient as the determinant of qualified sales opportunities.  First and foremost, BANT takes a seller-centric perspective that doesn’t consider the ways in which buyers think, at least not with respect to purchases that are not commodities.  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 purchase decision will ever be made, or if that purchase decision will be favorable to you.

In the second part, I reviewed each of the BANT elements, exploring in sequence why I felt that the BANT model is overly simplistic and fails to consider the buyer’s perspective.  I argued that requiring a Budget, for example, was less relevant than having adequate Resources (to acquire your solution), and might even work against you if that budget was determined without your input.

Then, I suggested that Need was also seller-oriented; the buyer is focused more on having a reason to act…now if the problems are imperative.  We have a multitude of needs that often remain unfulfilled for lack of impetus.  And, depending on how vital it is to obtain an adequate solution, the resources will flow accordingly.  Finally, I argued that decisions (perhaps for anything other than commodities) are virtually never made by a single individual, especially in the enterprise.

In all, I thought the following questions were far more buyer-oriented and relevant to how and when a decision would be made:

  • Is there a compelling reason to do something?
  • Are the stakeholders who would feel the impact included in decision-making?
  • Is there a solution out there that can resolve the problem using the resources available?
  • And, are there substantial consequences for failure to act timely?

Perhaps the very best place to start is by taking a hard look at the sales process and analyzing the critical stages.  First, a statement that may seem, on the surface to be overly simplistic, but when you consider it carefully, you may find yourself in full agreement.

The biggest impediment to closing a sale is inertia.  And, overcoming inertia is the primary challenge. Look at some of the language of selling: “value is more important than cost,” “it’s vital to provide clear ROI,” “establish mutual perception of need,” “where’s the pain?” and so on.  These are all perfectly legitimate perspectives, and I have made similar statements like that many times in coaching sales people.

But, the fact is, you can definitively establish value and pain and need and ROI and yet the prospective buyer simply doesn’t buy.  They continue the status quo with all of its inherent costs and pain (all of which they have openly acknowledged).

I can’t help believing that the reason for inaction is that the perceived cost of changing the way in which they currently operate – financially, emotionally (more likely) or both – exceeds the cost of maintaining the status quo, even to the point where status quo leads to the failure of the company.  It may not be rational, but it is quite human.

So, if inertia is the critical factor that a sales person needs to overcome in order to successfully conclude a sale, then it is vital for them to have an understanding of the prospect company’s orientation to change.  Wouldn’t it be important for them to know if a company is risk averse or, alternatively, is an early adopter, or somewhere else along the continuum?  And wouldn’t that be a valuable element to capture and rate relative to the qualifying characteristics?

This is clearly the missing element in the traditional BANT paradigm because, regardless of whether you view the sales process from a buyer or seller’s perspective, an opportunity can’t be seen as fully sales qualified unless there is a legitimate possibility that the prospect company will make the necessary changes. So what we do have?  I suggest “I CARE”:

  • Imperative – a compelling reason to consider a new solution
  • Consequences of inaction
  • Agreement among stakeholders
  • Resources to obtain a solution
  • Environment conducive to change (overcoming inertia)

This acronym represents a more practical and accurate method for defining a qualified sales opportunity and it is equally applicable to both seller and buyer.

First, it’s important to uncover a compelling reason for a company to take an action to meet a need or resolve a challenge.  Next, the consequences of inaction need to be sufficient to warrant a search for a solution.  Is there consensus for taking action among all the key constituents (stakeholders) who are feeling the impact of the need/challenge as well as those responsible for resolving it?  Then, a solution needs to available and the capacity to obtain the resources needed for a solution needs to exist (remember, if it’s important enough, the resources can be found, regardless of budgetary considerations).  And, last and most important, how amenable is the organization to effecting change?

Before I end this, I don’t want to forget the promise I made at the end of the first part.  Here is the setting:

You are walking down the street on your way to an important meeting.  It is lunchtime and you are hungry, you have the resources and sufficient time to eat.  There are a multitude of restaurants and street vendors, including some of your favorites.  Although you are hungry, eating is not your highest priority.

Your decision to stop and eat is reasonably complex.  There are competing needs, at varying levels of urgency.  You are hungry (a function of an early breakfast), abetted by a regular ritual of eating lunch at the prescribed time.  So your internal debate will take a multitude of factors into account.  For example:

  • I’m hungry
  • This meeting is very important
  • I always eat at this time of the day
  • I have sufficient time to eat before my meeting
  • I would love a few moments to check my email and voice messages before my meeting, (but I could do that without eating)
  • If I don’t eat, my growing hunger may become a distraction during the meeting
  • I have more than enough money in my pocket and, besides, my bill for lunch will be covered as a reimbursable expense

While considering your options, these and other questions will arise until you make a decision.  And, of course, making no decision is equally a decision.  In complex businesses, making no decision is what happens all too frequently – because the cost of doing something has ripple effects throughout the organization.  Inertia – maintaining the status quo (sometimes even in the face of all rationality such as unquestionable ROI) – is too often the easiest course of action.

How would this decision-making process be represented in the I CARE model?

  • Imperative: hunger, time of day (lunchtime)
  • Consequences of inaction: poor meeting performance, distraction
  • Agreement among stakeholders: You (and your growling stomach)
  • Resources: money is not an issue, and it’s a reimbursable expense
  • Environment conducive to change:  it boils down to inertia, doesn’t it?

How can a proprietor get you to stop and eat?  What can they do to raise the threshold high enough to overcome inertia?

You experience the answer all the time in those situations, don’t you?  Some vendors and restaurants pump out tantalizing smells of their luscious offerings and tease you with them.  Others do something with their display; maybe they toss the pizza in the front window, or display the desserts or even offer you a complimentary taste in front of their establishment.  Maybe they offer free Wi-Fi that enables you to easily and quickly check your messages.

All of those actions and offerings are designed to entice you to into their establishment and overcome inertia.  When they hit the right hot buttons for you, you’re sold.  But even having decided where you may eat, unless all the other factors are aligned you still may not physically go in (inertia).  It’s only at the point that you decide to CHANGE the course you’re on right now that the sale may actually get consummated.

To conclude what we’ve been exploring over the past few weeks, BANT has been a useful and important early model for focusing the qualification process.  But it needs some rethinking because it fails to consider the prospective buyer’s viewpoint and is inadequate in identifying the elements that are the key determinants for concluding a sale.

When a seller has a clear understanding of how a prospective buyer makes their decisions, and solid insight into how the prospect views the issues and their proclivity to change the way in which they behave, they have more chance of success.  This more closely aligns their goals with those of the prospect and provides them with far better insight as to the hot buttons that will serve to overcome inertia (which is, after all, the heart of the sales challenge).

And isn’t the purpose of defining a qualified lead all about providing sales people with opportunities that offer them a better chance of closing more sales in less time?  Success in that endeavor is the basis for enhancing sales productivity, maximizing ROI and increasing sales revenue.

BANT, however time tested, does not necessarily increase the chance of sales success.  I CARE does it better.

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