BANT, in case anyone is unfamiliar with the acronym, stands for Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline. It’s commonly used in the sales qualification process. But I’ve come across a few too many situations recently where sales people were routinely rejecting marketing leads because they weren’t “BANT Ready”. I’ve also been pitched by telemarketing agencies offering “BANT-qualified deals”.
I want to explain why that’s a really bad idea.
But before I do, it’s probably worth confirming that I'm thinking primarily about new business opportunities involving complex, long buying cycle B2B product or service offerings here, rather than a simple transactional sale that could be concluded in a single call.
Of course BANT matters...
I have no problem with the idea that, before a complex B2B sale can be concluded, budget, authority, need and timeline all have to exist. But sales people need to be creating BANT, not expecting BANT to be served up on a plate for them. Here’s why: by the time budget, authority, need and timeframe have been established, it’s highly likely that another vendor’s fingerprints are all over the deal.
Think back to any unanticipated RFPs you might have received over the past. How many did you win? Unless you manage to dramatically reshape the prospect’s requirements, studies suggest that if you win more than 1 in 20 of such deals you’re doing better than average. The dice are already loaded against you, and you’re just serving as “column fodder” to make up the numbers.
Your sales people need to create BANT not wait for it...
Instead of hoping that fully-qualified, BANT-ready deals can be uncovered, your sales and marketing teams need to be working together to connect with prospects that have unmet needs that they cannot afford to ignore, and for which you happen to have an economically attractive solution. Even better if your actions serve in some way to create the need, or elevate its importance.
Of the four components of BANT, it’s pretty obvious that need has to come first. It’s also clear that identifying a need is your entry point into the opportunity. But your sales people must be careful not to leap straight from an identified need to proposing their solution. They must use the freshly uncovered need to develop the other three factors, and to establish the economic case for change.
Establishing the economic case for change...
Merely identifying a need is, of course, no guarantee that the prospect will do anything about addressing it. First, they must establish an economic case for change. By helping them, you can identify the likely source of budget and authority, and determine whether a time-critical event exists - or can be created.
Start by exploring the consequences of the issue, and identifying who else is affected. Don’t stop at the first-level implications - keep probing and developing your stakeholder map until you’ve built a complete picture. Work with the prospect to flesh out the costs or lost revenues associated with the situation - the more specific the better.
If the issue is relatively new, help them fully understand the potential impact. If the issue has been obvious to them for a while, find out why they haven’t dealt with it before - and what’s changed to elevate its importance now. Ask them how the company goes about making recent similar decisions - and what distinguished the projects that were approved from those that stalled.
If your initial contact doesn’t know some of the answers - and hopefully they won’t - take advantage and secure their help to reach out through the organisation to others who are affected. Remain consultative. Keep asking questions. Refuse the temptation to propose your solution until you’ve helped them establish whether there is an economic case for change.
Back to BANT...
The process of establishing the economic case for change, assuming that one exists, enables you to use the need you have uncovered to understand and influence budget, authority and timeframe. Your pursuit of consequences will enable you to more effectively influence their requirements - and align your capabilities accordingly. And you’ll be in a much better position to determine if the opportunity is real, whether you want to pursue it, and whether you can win.
Don’t wait for another vendor to establish BANT. Don’t brief your telemarketing agency to focus primarily on discovering BANT-ready deals. Don’t let your sales people demand only BANT-qualified leads. Focus on uncovering the need, developing the requirements, and on developing the economic case for change.
You’ll find your company in the driving seat in a far higher percentage of deals - and you’ll shorten your sales cycles and increase your win rates at the same time. Oh, and you’ll be more confident about “no bidding” those unexpected RFPs you had no chance of winning anyway.
By the way, since this article was first published a decade ago, the thinking around sales opportunity qualification in complex B2B environments has evolved significantly. Here's our latest guide to the subject.
About the Author
Bob Apollo is a Fellow of the Association of Professional Sales, a founding contributor to the International Journal of Sales Transformation, an active member of the Sales Experts Channel and the Sales Enablement Society, 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.