Regular readers will know that I’m no great fan of the traditional BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) approach to sales qualification. It might work for simple transactional sales in which the prospect has an already recognised need they are trying to work out how best to satisfy, but in the complex-sales world most of the readers of this blog work in, BANT is at best a naive approach to opportunity qualification.
You see, for high-value, considered purchases with lengthy decision-making cycles, multiple stakeholders and the very real chance that the prospect might decide to either do nothing or do something completely different after a long and resource-intensive sales campaign, insisting on BANT qualification can cause you to ignore opportunities you should be pursuing, and chase opportunities you have little chance of winning.
Ticking the wrong boxes
Here’s why: by the time you can tick all the “BANT boxes”, your prospect is probably already well advanced in their buying decision process. They have already determined their need and will probably already have some clear opinions about how to solve them problem. Another vendor’s fingerprints may well be all over their specification. They may have assigned a completely unrealistic budget. And your ability to influence their thinking may be fading away rapidly.
In a considered purchase environment, telling your sales people to focus on already-existing, BANT-qualified opportunities can not only get them chasing deals that may never close or that they have little chance of winning, it can also divert or dissuade them from uncovering opportunities that are a much better fit for your offering and which are much more likely to result in a buying decision.
Most RFPs would appear to fit BANT criteria, so you might think it would be a good to pursue them all. But as anyone who looks at the statistics knows to their cost, if the first time you are aware of an opportunity is when an RFP drops through your letterbox, you're probably just making up the numbers and no more than column fodder for an already-preferred alternative.
I only wish it made for a more elegant acronym, but I’ve seen clients drive much greater sales success by focusing on IFISU: Issue, Fit, Impact, Sponsor, Urgency. Let’s look at these five elements in a little more detail:
Has the prospect acknowledged a critical issue that is having or could have a significant effect on their business?
Is our offering capable of resolving the identified issue better than any other option open to the prospect (including a decision to “do nothing”)?
Does the prospect recognise and acknowledge that the cost and risk of doing nothing far outweighs the cost and risk of implementing a new solution?
Are we in direct contact with a sponsor that recognises the need to address the issue and is capable of allocating the resources required to deal with it?
Is there an obvious need to take action sooner, rather than later? Do the costs and risks associated with not dealing with the issue grow over time?
Beware so-called “compelling events”
Note that I recommend focusing on urgency, rather than just on a “compelling event”. If there is truly a compelling, must-do-something date in the diary, then of course this can drive real urgency. But all too often, so-called compelling events prove to be artificial. The deadline passes, and nothing changes. What’s compelling about that?
On the other hand, if your prospect has associated the issue with a real and growing impact to their organisation, they are not only motivated to deal with it, they are in a much better position to submit a compelling internal business case to whatever ultimate approval process will be applied to your project.
The importance of impact, urgency and fit
Without impact and urgency, even if you have the decision-making group’s recommendation, there’s a real and obvious possibility that the prospect will simply decide to stick with the status quo. Without fit, there’s a real and obvious risk that you’ll simply help another competitor make the case for change.
When you focus your thought leadership, demand generation and top-of-the funnel sales activities on this IFISU qualification model, you stand a much better chance of uncovering opportunities that are likely to do something, and that you are likely to win. You end up looking for issues, rather than projects.
And - perhaps counter intuitively - by getting involved at an earlier stage in the prospect’s decision making process, you often close sales far faster and with much higher win rates that you do if you insist on waiting for BANT. Just as important, you are able to qualify out “opportunities” you are never likely to win before wasting a great deal of sales resource on them.
I encourage you to have a go - try applying these IFISU criteria to your current sales pipeline and compare your existing opportunities against them. Where you identify weaknesses, determine whether you can put a plan together to address them, or whether you should consider qualifying the opportunity out.
Brief anyone who prospects for new business on these IFISU criteria. Encourage them to look for issues, rather than already-existing projects, and to ask questions that quickly determine whether any potential new opportunity would be a good fit.
By the way, IFISU is just one of a number of B2B sales and marketing best practices we’ve managed to identify. Why not invest 10 minutes in completing our on-line self-assessment?