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    A Progressive Approach to Sales Opportunity Qualification [that isn't BANT]

    Bob Apollo
    Post by Bob Apollo
    March 21, 2019
    A Progressive Approach to Sales Opportunity Qualification [that isn't BANT]

    QualificationLike a growing number of other commentators, I have come to believe that the traditional BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) approach to sales opportunity qualification is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose when it comes to complex B2B sales.

    The fact that over 40% of purchasing projects are ad-hoc rather than formally budgeted is, as I argued in a recent blog, yet another nail in the coffin of this outmoded and discredited methodology. But if not BANT, what can you use instead?

    Any alternative approach has to take into account the fundamentally non-linear nature of B2B buying decisions, particularly when they relate to solving a new and unfamiliar problem (as opposed to repeat purchases of well-known commodities).

    In such environments, opportunity qualification must be recognised and managed as a progressive rather than a one-off process - often starting with marketing, involving some form of tele-qualification and with responsibility passing to the sales person ultimately responsible for the opportunity.

    In these complex, lengthy, multi-touch environments, it’s obviously important that everyone involved in the creation, qualification and management of sales opportunities shares a common perspective.

    After evaluating hundreds of complex B2B sales environments, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are around a dozen consistent factors in the opportunity qualification process. Some are relatively obvious from the start of the engagement with a prospective customer - others only become clear after the customer’s buying decision journey has progressed.

    For convenience, I’ll divide these 12 elements into initial and advanced qualification factors. Each of these factors needs to be regularly re-assessed throughout the lifecycle of the opportunity, particularly whenever the customer’s circumstances change.

    After experimenting with a number of different approaches to evaluating each factor, I’ve concluded that a simple “traffic light” approach with three options (plus “unknown”) achieves the appropriate balance between simplicity, consistency and effectiveness:

    • GREEN = a perfect fit against our qualification criteria
    • AMBER = an acceptable fit against our qualification criteria
    • RED = a risk factor or a negative fit against our qualification criteria
    • GREY = unknown - we are currently unable to assess this factor

    For each of the 12 factors, you need to establish a simple and consistent definition of what each of these levels of qualification means in practice in your environment. And I strongly recommend that when your sales people capture their current assessments in CRM that you require them to include a brief one-line commentary about how they arrived at their conclusion for each factor.

    You also need to establish an atmosphere where it’s OK for your sales people to admit - rather than guessing - that they don’t have sufficient evidence to rate a factor as anything other than unknown (as long as the sales person then redoubles their efforts to get to the truth), and where it’s OK - and in fact highly desirable - to proactively qualify out a bad opportunity as early as possible in the cycle.

    Let's start with the initial qualification factors:


    Initial Qualification

    Business Issue

    Has your customer acknowledged a clearly defined business issue that your organisation is really good at solving?

    Organisation Fit

    How closely is your prospective customer organisation aligned with your Ideal Customer Profile? If you haven’t established an Ideal Customer Profile, you need to!

    Prime Contact

    Is your prime contact the ultimate decision-maker, a powerful influencer or peripheral to the final decision? This is a critical consideration.

    Reason to Act

    Does your customer have a clear and compelling business justification to take action? This is typically far more important than having a vaguely defined “need”.

    Availability of Funds

    Is the customer ready, willing and able to fully fund the project? Note that the presence of a powerful budget shaper may be far more significant than the existence of a formally established budget

    Solution Urgency

    Is there a compelling reason why this project needs to happen now, rather than later (or at all)? Without urgency, even if they want you, they can probably wait.

    The first three factors can often be established before a marketing-generated opportunity can be regarded as “sales ready”. All six factors should be established before you allocate significant resources to pursuing the opportunity.

    Now let's turn to the remaining six advanced qualification factors:


    Advanced Qualification

    The remaining factors typically require a significant level of involvement with the prospective customer before they can be accurately established.

    Functional Requirements

    What are the customer's functional requirements, and are they a good fit against our key capabilities? Hopefully you will have influenced them.

    Decision Group

    Have you identified and engaged all their key stakeholders, and what is your relationship with them? The decision group is usually larger than you might think!

    Decision Criteria

    What are their decision criteria, to what extent have you influenced them, and are they favourable to us?

    Decision Process

    Are you sure you have fully understood all the key steps in their decision process and timeframe?

    Competitive Position

    Are you sure you have identified all their other solution options, and do you know where you stand against them?

    Relative Priority

    How does this project rank against all the other projects competing for their attention/funding? This is frequently ignored but always important.

    These remaining six advanced qualification criteria need to be assessed before any attempt is made to forecast the opportunity. And given the complexities of a typical lengthy B2B buying journey, and the fact that changes are nigh-on-inevitable, all twelve criteria need to be reassessed before an opportunity is promoted to the next stage of the pipeline or whenever the customer’s circumstances change.


    These 12 criteria, I hope you will agree, offer a far more complete and realistic assessment than BANT. And to anyone who think that 12 criteria are too many, I would simply ask you to consider whether any factor is unlikely to affect the outcome of an opportunity.

    If it is genuinely irrelevant to your chances of winning the deal, you can safely leave it out of your qualification regime. But I’d encourage you think carefully before you hit the “delete” button. And, of course, there may be factors that are very specific to your typical sales situation that you will want to add.


    Of course, what really matters is that your entire sales team consistently applies whatever qualification criteria you define, and that your sales managers are expected to evaluate the rigour with which their sales people are qualifying their opportunities.

    If inconsistencies are common, you may need to refine exactly what you mean for each of the GREEN-AMBER-RED levels of each factor. And you may need to reaffirm that the purpose of qualification is not to make your sales people’s pipelines look good (for the moment, at least), but to help to ensure that they invest their precious selling time on opportunities that they have a realistic chance of winning.

    And please don’t set arbitrary pipeline coverage targets that encourage sales people to cling on to opportunities that they should in all honesty have abandoned long ago.


    So there you have it - my provably effective alternative to BANT. If you’re unconvinced, I suggest you try it. And don’t be surprised if your forecasts become a lot more accurate as a result. Drop me a line if you'd like to discuss how this methodology could be implemented in your organisation.


    bob_apollo-online-1Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales, a member of the Sales Enablement Society, a regular contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation and the Sales Experts Channel and the founder of Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading UK-based B2B value-selling experts.

    Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob is now relishing his role as a pro-active advisor, coach and trainer to high-potential B2B-focused sales organisations, systematically enabling them to transform their sales effectiveness by adopting the proven principles of value-based selling.

    Bob Apollo
    Post by Bob Apollo
    March 21, 2019
    Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Institute of Sales Professionals, a regular contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation and Top Sales World Magazine, and the driving force behind Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the leading proponents of outcome-centric selling. Following a successful corporate career spanning start-ups, scale-ups and market leaders, Bob now works as a strategic advisor, mentor, trainer and coach to ambitious B2B sales organisations - teaching them how to differentiate themselves through their provably superior approach to achieving their customer's desired outcomes.