BANT: What It Is, How to Use It, and Alternatives

BANT checklists may hurt more than help — follow these lead qualification approaches instead.

Written by Brian Nordli
BANT: What It Is, How to Use It, and Alternatives
Image: Shutterstock
UPDATED BY
Brennan Whitfield | Aug 25, 2023

BANT — an acronym for budget, authority, need and timeline — is a lead qualification framework designed to help business-to-business (B2B) sales reps determine which prospects are most likely to buy.

This commonly used methodology acts as a checklist of sorts, and it’s designed to save time for both sales reps and prospective buyers in an environment where software sales cycles can take years to complete.

 

What Is BANT?

BANT dates back to the 1950s, when a team of IBM sales leaders needed a solution to help salespeople save time, because enterprise software deals often took multiple years to close. To qualify prospects more quickly, IBM came up with a new framework for its sales team to follow, known as budget, authority, need and timeline — or BANT:

  • Budget: How much can the buyer spend on a solution?
  • Authority: Who’s the decision-maker in the sale? Is it someone with purchasing power?
  • Need: What’s the buyer’s problems and needs? Can your solution solve these?
  • Timeline: How soon does the buyer need the solution? Does the buyer’s time frame suit the seller’s?

This methodology structured the IBM reps’ initial sales conversations and helped them pinpoint the prospects most likely to close during the multi-year buying process. The strategy ultimately worked so well that it soon spread to other companies looking to gain an edge in sales.

While BANT questions focus on finding ideal leads for sellers, it can neglect pathways of conversation that create fulfilling relationships and solutions for buyers.

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Where BANT Falls Short

Despite its popularity, BANT comes with some disadvantages.

Today, customers are more educated about software, they have more product offerings than ever to choose from, their budgets are more flexible and more than one person is likely to make decisions on buying. By the time customers reach a sales rep, they already know what they want in a product. They don’t need a sales rep to tell them whether or not they’re “qualified” to make a purchase. Using BANT in today’s sales could lead to missed opportunities and seem impersonal, as reps could disqualify leads simply because they don’t meet fixed criteria.

Many companies still utilizing BANT may not consider these factors, and now only use the framework as a checklist to increase the number (versus the quality) of leads an SDR can tackle. Most teams also fail to consider the context behind BANT, noted Ganesh Shenbagaraman, managing director for the sales training firm Winning by Design.

“Even back then when IBM did it originally, they didn’t [use BANT as a checklist] because they knew the true intent behind why they were doing it,” Shenbagaraman said. “It started failing when people started going after volume in terms of the quantity of leads they work on.”

The information BANT collects is still useful, but rather than using it to qualify a prospect, it needs to be used to build trust and diagnose a challenge. 

“If you use it as a checklist, it’s very difficult to build trust because you’re not talking about the customer pain or the impact you could have,” Shenbagaraman said. “You’re not helping the customer — you’re just trying to sell.”

The Most Important Aspect of BANT Qualification | Video: John Barrows

 

Alternatives to BANT

Beyond traditional BANT, here’s some effective lead qualification strategies that are applicable to the sales of today. 

 

KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS

Create a clearly defined ideal customer profile and buyer persona that outlines the key qualities of a successful customer. This can range from firmographic data like company size, industry and vertical, but also factors like compelling events and pain points. Most lead qualification can even be done before the first conversation. 

A company can then deploy an account-based marketing strategy that targets these ideal customers with content and marketing. Sales and marketing software can be used to track terms the prospect searches and the content they engage with, mainly to assess organizational need and timeline. And if you have those two things, often budget and authority follow.

“Any good marketing or sales group always has [BANT] as part of the mix,” said Joe Espinosa, VP of commercial sales for PureB2B. “For us, if somebody comes in as an inbound lead, and they’re from one of our account-based marketing programs, and they’ve come in through our website and engaged with the content and have said they want to talk to sales, that would be pretty much BANT qualified.”

The process is a little trickier for outbound sales, he said. Still, he estimates that reps can complete about 95 percent of the qualification process by researching prospect LinkedIn pages for company attributes that match the ideal customer profile. 

 

DIAGNOSE THE CUSTOMER’S PROBLEM AND CREATE VALUE

Do a deep dive to uncover the buyer’s problem and figure out what value you can provide. Seek to understand the why behind the customer’s why for making a purchase.

Often the issue that buyers first mention isn’t the motivation for making a purchase, added Espinosa. For example, a customer might say they have big growth goals they want to solve. If a rep asks what those goals are, they might learn that prospect has to increase their marketing qualified leads. 

Simon Tecle, VP of Sales at remote service provider SyncroMSP, suggests first talking to your past customers or sending them a survey to fully understand what inspired them to buy your product. At SyncroMSP, he sent customers a 10-question survey asking questions like: What problems were you trying to solve? What were you afraid of? What was your decision-making process like? How has your business changed since the purchase?

That information helps reps understand why most present customers come to them, and it helps them address the problems the customer is having in relatable terms, Tecle said. From there, the rep needs to use discovery to peel back the layers of the customer’s problem.

Once a rep reaches that deeper level of understanding, they can start to partner with the buyer to come up with a solution that works.

And if you’re worried about making sure you’re talking to the person with decision-making authority, don’t be, Espinosa said. Even if the prospect isn’t a decision-maker, they may still influence the purchasing decision. Plus, those insights will lead to more valuable conversations with the person who does have that authority.

“Your job as a seller is to uncover pain or share knowledge with a buyer that they may not know,” Tecle said. “If you can create enough value around that, they will find the budget.”

 

USE CUSTOMER PROOFS TO BUILD TRUST

Part of the early stage of sales conversations is building trust with the customer so that they feel comfortable sharing their experience, and the best way to do that is with customer stories, Shenbagaraman said. 

The human brain is wired to connect with people and stories, not products, Shenbagaraman said. If you share a story about a person at company X who experienced a similar challenge and used your solution, and you ask if it resonates with the prospect — they’re more likely to open up.

The best way to incorporate stories into the discovery phase is to first incorporate customer proofs into your sales battle cards, Tecle added. The stories should be separated out for different buyer personas and pain points. That way, an SDR always has an example on hand to share with the customer.

Ultimately, customer proofs help the sales rep build trust with the buyer because they’re able to show the buyer how they’ve solved similar problems. The prospect is then more likely to share their own stories, which can reveal additional information — like their internal KPIs or a bad experience with a competitor’s product — that they wouldn’t have provided otherwise.

More on SalesLead Qualification Is a Waste of SDR Time

 

Build a Mutual Action Plan

Once a sales rep understands the buyer’s problem and they agree on a solution, create a timeline of next steps with a mutual action plan. This plan should focus on meeting both parties’ needs.

A mutual action plan is a shared document that the customer builds with a salesperson to map out a problem, what it takes to solve it and a roadmap for implementing that solution. The sales rep needs to ask the buyer when they want to solve the problem and then agree on the steps to accomplish that goal, along with detailed notes about which stakeholders to incorporate.

“Then you can create a roadmap that you both know, so everybody is moving at the same pace and you can eliminate more confusion and gray area,” Espinosa said.

Ultimately, buyers are less limited by their budgets than ever before. If there’s a need, they’ll make purchasing the product a priority, he added. It’s up to the sales rep to glean that need and then collaborate on a plan that makes the product a reality on the buyer’s end.

 

Stay Flexible and Be OK With Disqualifying

Not every prospect that reaches an SDR is a viable customer. Sales leaders still want reps to focus on healthy and attractive deals, which means it’s important to know when to disqualify a prospect.

Referring back to his BANT days, Tecle said it doesn’t make sense to disqualify a prospect because they don’t match a specific set of criteria you’ve created around budget, authority, need and timeline. Often, if the timing doesn’t line up because the customer is in a contract, the salesperson can make note and keep in touch until they’re ready.

If they don’t, the buyer will just go somewhere else.

However, there are times when a customer is looking for a feature or solution that isn’t on your product roadmap, Tecle said. In those cases, it’s okay to disqualify them from your pipeline and admit that that feature isn’t available. It’s better to help them find another company who can help than to push forward with a sale.

Ultimately, tech sales has come a long way from the days when IBM came up with BANT. It’s no longer about what the salesperson wants — it’s about what the buyer needs.

“I hope any companies that are still using BANT are really looking at what their customers need,” Tecle said. “Are you D.Q.-ing somebody for you, or are you D.Q.-ing for them? If you’re doing it for yourself, you’re doing it wrong.”

 

Frequently Asked Questions

BANT is a lead qualification framework that helps B2B sales representatives determine which prospects are most likely to buy.

BANT stands for:

  • Budget
  • Authority
  • Need
  • Timeline

BANT is less relevant in today's sales, though can still be useful if the framework is adjusted to fulfill both buyer and seller needs.

Instead of BANT in sales, you can use lead qualification frameworks like:

  • ANUM
  • CHAMP
  • FAINT
  • GPCTBA/C&I
  • MEDDIC

 

Other alternative lead qualification strategies include knowing your customers, diagnosing customer problems in order to create value, building trust with customers and building a mutual action plan with customers.

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