‘BANT’ Is Dead. Try These Lead-Qualification Strategies Instead.
There are two key points in Simon Tecle’s sales career — the day he learned the lead-qualification strategy BANT and the day he stopped using it.
Like a lot of sales professionals, BANT (an acronym that stands for budget, authority, need and timing) was among the first sales strategies Tecle learned. He had just joined Dell in 2006 as a full-cycle sales rep after previously working as a telemarketer.
What is BANT?
His manager introduced him to the handy qualification framework to help him identify the prospects most likely to make a purchase. Before moving a prospect into his sales pipeline, he needed to make sure they met Dell’s criteria around budget, authority, need and timing. The purpose was to help save him and the prospect time.
“This was my first introduction to qualifying anything at all,” Tecle said. “I’m like: ‘OK, this makes sense, we want to qualify somebody, and they said to qualify it on this acronym.’”
Five years later, Tecle moved to the healthtech startup Everyday Health. It was then that he started to see the limitations of the framework. The usual line of questions in BANT, like “What is your budget?” and “Do you have the authority to make a decision?” didn’t register with the doctors his team sold to.
“It wasn’t until I started understanding more about how to sell the right way, and marrying problems and creating value ... that I started to say, ‘I need to qualify differently.’”
Meanwhile, the SaaS buying process across all industries had changed. Budgets became more flexible to match annual software contracts, product comparison websites like G2 and Capterra made it easier for buyers to research products and buying decisions became less centralized. As a result, Tecle realized that the BANT checklist ended up disqualifying more valuable prospects than it qualified.
“It wasn’t until I started understanding more about how to sell the right way, and marrying problems and creating value ... that I started to say, ‘I need to qualify differently,’” said Tecle, who is now the VP of Sales at remote service provider SyncroMSP.
Tecle is far from alone in concluding that BANT doesn’t work in tech sales. Ask most sales experts about BANT, and you’re likely to get responses that vacillate between a diss track and an obituary:
“BANT is like a late-night infomercial.”
“BANT is outdated.”
“BANT is dead.”
These are just a sampling of the responses I received from experts while reporting this story.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the acronym proved useful, but the buying process has evolved — and so has sales.
Tips For Modern Lead Qualification
- Create a clearly defined ICP and buyer persona. Most lead qualification can be done before the first conversation.
- Use discovery to uncover the buyer’s pain point and create value. Seek to understand the why behind the customer’s why for making a purchase.
- Tell customer stories to build trust. Customers are more likely to open up and relate to your solution if it’s shared in story-form.
- Create a timeline of next steps with a mutual action plan.
- Know when it’s OK to disqualify a customer. If your solution doesn’t match what the customer needs, it’s better to let them walk away.
What Is BANT?
Before you write off BANT completely, Ganesh Shenbagaraman, managing director for the sales training firm Winning by Design, believes there are some lessons to be learned from its history.
The lead-qualification framework actually dates back to the 1950s, when a team of IBM sales leaders needed a solution to an age-old sales problem — helping salespeople save time. At the time, IBM was the leader in the enterprise software space, but deals often took multiple years to close and represented a massive capital expense for the buyers.
IBM needed a way to sift through its vast trove of potential prospects and determine who actually needed the software and who would stall out in the buying process. So, it came up with a simple framework for its sales team to qualify prospects: budget, authority, need and timing.
Collectively, the framework structured the 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, Shenbagaraman said.
“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.”
BANT continued to be a staple on sales teams into the 21st century because of its simplicity and catchy name. However, most teams use it ineffectively because they treat it like a checklist and fail to consider the context behind it, Shenbagaraman added.
It worked then because it sparked valuable conversations that both the buyer and salesperson needed to have at that time. That isn’t the case anymore, as companies use it as a checklist to increase the number of leads an SDR can work.
“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.”
Lead Qualification for the Modern Times
Today, customers are more educated about software, they have more product offerings than ever to choose from and their budgets are more flexible.
By the time they 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. Instead, the modern sales process requires reps to operate like consultants solving a problem.
“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.”
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.”
Here’s how good lead qualification works today:
Know Your Customers
Joe Espinosa compared BANT to a product sold on a late-night infomercial. It sounds appealing as a ready-made framework, but it never works the way it claims.
Espinosa works as the VP of commercial sales for the demand-generation software PureB2B. Even though he objects to having sales reps using BANT to qualify prospects, he does believe the framework can still be useful. The difference is in how the information is collected.
It starts with having a clearly defined ideal customer profile (ICP) that outlines the key qualities of a successful customer, Espinosa said. This can range from firmographic data like company size, industry and vertical, but also factors like compelling events and pain points. Then, thanks to modern sales and marketing software, PureB2B deploys an account-based marketing strategy that targets these ideal customers with content and marketing.
“There’s still some level of qualification that we use and live by, but the catch is, where do you draw that line?”
It’s then able to track terms the prospect searches and the content they engage with, to assess organizational need and timing. 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,” Espinosa said. “For us, if somebody comes in as an inbound lead, and they’re from one of our ABM 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 ICP.
“There’s still some level of qualification that we use and live by, but the catch is, where do you draw that line?” Espinosa said. “For us, it’s been saying: ‘Does this person fit the blueprint of a successful client for us? Great, then they’re worth chatting up.’”
Diagnose the Customer’s Problem and Create Value
In a modern qualification process, the SDR needs to instead play the role of lead educator. The key is to do a deep discovery to fully understand the customer’s problem and figure out what value you can provide, Tecle said.
“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.”
But where do you start?
Tecle suggests first talking to your past customers or sending them a survey to fully understand what inspired them to buy your product. At SynchroMSP, 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?
“[Lead education] is bringing valuable, thought-producing questions that show you’re an expert in the space, and it pinpoints where you can bring value and help folks out.”
That information helps reps understand why most 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.
“It’s almost like the little kid that asks, ‘Why?’ five times,” Tecle said. “That’s how you understand what’s underneath the surface.”
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. The rep needs to drill deeper still to understand what that means for the organization and what it means for that person’s own career.
Once a rep reaches that level, they can start to partner with the buyer to come up with a solution that works.
“It’s bringing valuable, thought-producing questions that show you’re an expert in the space, and it pinpoints where you can bring value and help folks out,” Espinosa said.
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.
Use Customer Proofs to Build Trust
Sometimes, asking customers questions isn’t enough to get them to open up about their pain points.
Part of the early stage of sales conversations is building trust with the customer so that they feel comfortable sharing their experience. The best way to do that is with customer stories, Shenbagaraman said.
“You’re never talking about yourself. You’re just talking about a business problem the other customer was able to solve and the impact. That’s the key to storytelling.”
This is where a little psychology comes into play. The human brain is wired to connect with people and stories, not products, Shenbagaraman said. If a customer shares one of their pain points and you follow up with factors about the product, it’s not likely to resonate with them.
However, if you share a 30-second story about a person at company “X” who experienced a similar challenge and ask if it resonates with the prospect — they’re going to open up.
“You’re never talking about yourself,” Shenbagaraman said. “You’re just talking about a business problem the other customer was able to solve and the impact. That’s the key to storytelling.”
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.
Build a Mutual Action Plan
Once a sales rep understands the buyer’s problem and they agree on a solution, the next step is to start discussing the timeline. In this case, however, it’s not about making sure their timeframe matches yours, but, instead, creating a plan of action.
This is where developing a mutual action plan comes in handy, Espinosa said.
“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.”
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.
It’s OK to Disqualify a Prospect
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.
“You gain trust and you gain credibility as a company and a seller when you’re able to D.Q. somebody for a reason that benefits them.”
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 better to admit that feature isn’t available and help them find a company who can help than to push forward.
“You gain trust and you gain credibility as a company and a seller when you’re able to D.Q. somebody for a reason that benefits them,” Tecle said. “I know walking away from a customer is tough, but having a customer churn ... and them telling 10 people that your product sucks is the alternative.”
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.”