We salespeople love our acronyms.
AIDA (awareness, interest, desire, action), SQL (sales qualified lead) and, of course, the infamous ABC (always be closing) are thrown around in sales rooms like a second language.
One of the longest-standing acronyms around is BANT, a sales methodology for qualifying prospects that dates back over 70 years and has helped close countless sales.
However, the framework has had more than its fair share of criticisms levied against it in recent years, raising the question: Is BANT still effective for sales qualification in 2022?
In this article, we’ll discuss BANT’s place in modern sales environments, pitfalls to avoid when using BANT to qualify customers and how we can modify this helpful (if simple) framework for today’s buyers.
First, let’s define BANT.
BANT is a lead qualification process that helps salespeople assess a prospect’s sales-readiness in four dimensions: Budget (the prospect’s ability to afford the product), Authority (the prospect’s ability to make the final decision), Need (whether the prospect has a need your product solves), Timeline (how quickly the purchase needs to take place).
The BANT acronym was first introduced by IBM’s sales leaders back in the 1950s and is often mistaken for a list of questions that prospects must ask in order to qualify a customer (e.g., “What’s your timeframe for making this purchase?”).
This is simply not true, as IBM outlines in their guidance for using BANT:
When done poorly, BANT leads to a “box-ticking” style of qualification where reps don’t dive deep enough into prospects’ needs and the process turns from conversation to interrogation.
Rather than working to understand the prospect’s situation, goals and needs, reps simply use the framework as a checklist, asking one question for each dimension, for example: “What is your budget? Are you the person who’ll be signing off on this purchase?”
When done well, BANT is used as a sort of internal guideline to ensure that all necessary information has been gathered to move forward in the sale. Each dimension of the BANT process may encompass several questions brought up naturally in the flow of conversation.
For instance, a prospect conversation might turn to the subject of Authority. In this phase of the conversation, Authority-based questions should include:
Is there anyone else involved in deciding whether this product is the best fit for your team?
What steps are the usual steps involved in approving an agreement like this?
Would it be helpful for me to meet with anyone else at your company to answer any questions?
When used correctly, BANT can be a great framework to help reps quickly qualify sales leads and spend more time working with high-quality prospects that will impact the bottom line.
The main criticism against the BANT qualification framework is that it’s outdated in the context of modern sales.
When BANT was first formulated, products were sold on a perpetual license model (one-time purchase) and decision-making authority was generally centralized (a single leader or executive made the purchase decision).
Today, things look a little different – particularly for digital sales. Software products are commonly sold on subscription and the average enterprise sale involves 6-10 decision-makers.
These developments have led to some sales leaders questioning aspects of the BANT sales method:
Budget is viewed differently when weighing up a $500/month purchase than when considering an immediate outlay of $10,000. This has psychological implications (is the prospect’s budget still a concern?) as well as practical ones (purchases come out of the Operational Expenditure budget rather than the Capital Expenditure budget).
The BANT model was created on the assumption that there was one person responsible for the decision (often referred to as the key decision-maker or KDM) and that the salesperson needed to gain access to them to close the sale.
In many situations, particularly in enterprise software sales, this is no longer the case.
What does “need” mean? Is it okay for us to sell to a customer who doesn’t have a “need”, but has a “want”? Can we still qualify prospects for a sale if our product only meets half of their needs but will still impact their lives? What if a competitor’s product offering better serves that need?
The notion of a timeline is quite different when implementation comes at the click of a button (the sales rep can set up an account for the customer in an instant). Sales teams don’t need to prepare resources (as they might if they were selling a physical product or service), so how relevant is the timeline dimension?
While these critiques are valid, we don’t need to throw away the entire tried-and-tested methodology.
BANT questions still have a place in modern sales qualification but they need to be modified to work in the context of today’s buyers.
Budget: Instead of determining whether the prospect can afford the cost of purchase, reps must understand the value delivered, either in terms of dollars saved or revenue created.
Authority: Reps need to dig deeper to understand which team members are involved in the sale and what part they play (are they an influencer, an end-user, a team leader?)
Need: Rather than determining whether the prospect needs our product, we need to understand (and then communicate) the challenges it solves and the impact it will have on their day-to-day.
Timeline: Asking “When do you need this by?” is insufficient. Questions like “What steps are involved in the buying process?” and “Is there a specific event or date we need to have this solution in place for?” help you to understand more about the client’s needs and internal operations.
In the following section, we’ll discuss how to use the BANT sales process effectively in a modern context.
By reframing each of the dimensions of BANT, we can turn this outdated model into one that makes sense for modern sales teams.
Sales pricing questions should be less about affordability and more about value. In this instance, what you’re looking for is whether the value you’ll deliver will outweigh the proposed cost.
Let’s say you’re an account executive working for a work productivity platform.
You’re confident that if your prospect rolls out your product across the entire organization, they’ll see a productivity increase of at least 10% (and you’ve got the social proof to back it up).
If the prospect’s company is averaging $2 million in revenue, then it’s reasonable to estimate that your product will help them earn another $200,000 each year.
That’s your value.
If you charge $50 per user per month and the prospect has 100 employees, the annual cost is $60,000. The value they’ll receive in return far exceeds that if you’re driving an extra $200,000 from productivity gains.
Focus on putting a number to the costs you save or the revenue you help create (this will depend on your product category). If this number exceeds the value of the contract, the customer can be considered qualified on the budget dimension and you’ll be able to overcome the sales objection to price.
The concept of Authority needs to shift from “Who makes the call” to “Who is involved in the decision?”
In enterprise sales, there can often be five or more people who have a say in the final decision. Each typically plays a very different role in the decision-making process. It’s the salesperson’s responsibility to determine which category each stakeholder fits into.
There are some well-known stakeholder categories in sales, such as:
The Champion. A person who is super enthusiastic about your product and pushes hard to get the sale across the line. They’ll play a vital part in the sales process but ultimately lack the authority to sign off on the deal.
The Influencer. A person who is excited about your product, but has less sway than a Champion. They can influence the buying committee but are less likely to sit in an executive role (usually they are an end-user who is excited about the value your product will bring to their day-to-day tasks).
The End User. The person who will actually use your product if the sale goes through.
The Blocker. A person who has the ability to prevent your sale from getting across the line. For example, it might be the person responsible for your prospect’s tech stack and they might feel that adding your product could cause some complications.
The Executive Sponsor. A person who is part of the executive group but isn’t necessarily a decision-maker. They can help initiate sales conversations.
The Legal and Compliance Person. A person who takes care of the final details, such as contract terms and conditions.
The Decision-maker. Though in many cases, purchases are made democratically, there is still often a single person with the authority to sign off on a deal (or veto it). This person isn’t necessarily going to be a user of your product, and it’s likely that they’ll simply be interested in the costs and overall business impact rather than the finer details that interest influencers and end-users.
Qualification questions should center around understanding who at the organization is involved in the decision-making process and what part they play, for example:
Is there anyone else at your company who will play a part in the final decision?
What does the decision-making process look like on your end?
Assuming we can put together a solution that meets your needs, what would the next steps look like?
Are there any formal hoops we need to jump through on your end to get this solution in place?
Effective sales reps go beyond simply matching a customer’s need or pain point to a product feature and solution and dig deeper to identify the underlying impact of that problem.
To uncover this impact, keep asking, “Why?”
Here is an example conversation between a sales rep and a customer where the rep digs deep to find the answer.
Sales Rep: I understand you’re most interested in our time-tracking feature.
Customer: That’s correct.
SR: Great. How do you intend to use that feature?
C: I want our team to be able to easily track the amount of time they’re spending on client projects.
SR: Okay, how are you tracking this now?
C: We’re using spreadsheets and mostly using rough estimates.
SR: Okay, and what’s motivating you to make a change right now?
C: Well, the main reason is that because we’re estimating the time spent on each task, I’m concerned we aren’t accurately capturing our billable hours.
SR: That makes sense. And if that’s the case, what does that mean in practice?
C: Well, it means we potentially undercharge our clients.
SR: And what’s the impact of that on your company?
C: We lose revenue opportunities and don’t meet our growth goals.
By following this path of questioning, we go from a basic need (“We need a time-tracking tool”) to a fundamental motivating impact (“We’re losing revenue because we aren’t charging our clients accurately”).
Though timelines are still relevant today, there’s room to improve on the BANT model.
Questions like “When do you need to make a decision?” don’t often result in answers that are all that helpful.
Many customers will answer with a date they have in mind, but it’s often arbitrary and doesn’t give salespeople any real insight into the customer’s urgency (or lack thereof).
Instead, aim to work backward from an important event.
Let’s say you’re selling a digital advertising automation tool. Through the qualification process, you come to learn that your decision-maker has some hefty lead generation targets to meet in quarter three.
That gives us a milestone. We need to have a solution up and running by July 1st. You know that your customers typically spend six weeks fine-tuning their approach, which means, realistically, your customer needs to close on or before May 20th.
Once you’ve established a timeline, run through it with your prospect to confirm and build urgency.
While BANT can be modified and made suitable for the modern sales environment, many SDRs and sales managers prefer to use alternative frameworks for sales qualification.
FAINT stands for: Funds, Authority, Interest, Need and Timing.
It’s pretty similar to BANT, though it’s perhaps slightly more memorable (because FAINT is a real word) and includes a fifth dimension: Interest.
ANUM is basically a reworking of BANT. It stands for Authority, Need, Urgency and Money.
CHAMP is a sales qualification framework that focuses on four dimensions: Challenges, Authority, Money and Prioritization.
Authority and Money are similar to the dimensions covered in BANT and Prioritization replaces the Timeline element. Rather than focusing on a date the customer has presented, CHAMP asks: “How much of a priority is this?”
The Challenges dimension of CHAMP is similar to Need in BANT, but it focuses more on the pain points the customer is experiencing and identifying ways in which your product helps to solve them.
MEDDIC is a qualifying framework based on the following dimensions:
Metrics (the gains or savings the buyer hopes to obtain)
Economic Buyer (the person who holds the purse strings)
Decision Criteria (the measures by which the prospect will assess the decision)
Decision Process (the steps involved to land on a decision)
Identify Pain (similar to Challenges in the CHAMP model)
Champion (the person who is most invested in bringing your solution on board)
Perhaps the most common BANT alternative is GCPT, which stands for Goals, Challenges, Plans, Timeline.
GCPT shares the Timeline dimension with BANT, and in reality, Goals and Challenges map pretty closely to how the Need dimension should be viewed in the modern context.
That means GCPT covers half of what BANT does (Need and Timeline), but adds the Plans dimension, which answers questions like:
How does the prospect intend to use our product?
What goals do they have to meet?
How will our product help achieve their goals?
GCPTBA is an extension of GCPT, which adds back the Budget and Authority dimensions of BANT, but with a modern perspective (much like we discussed in the above section).
GCPTBA/CI is the ultimate evolution of this sales qualification framework. It adds two dimensions to the GCPTBA framework:
Consequences. Explores the negative impacts of not achieving their goals, or solving their challenges. It asks questions like, “What happens if you can’t achieve that goal?”
Implications. Explores the positive impacts of your product helping them achieve their goals or solve their challenges. It asks questions like, “What would it mean to you if we could help you achieve that goal? What would happen?”
Of the alternatives we’ve discussed here, GCPTBA/CI is the most in-depth. It incorporates the elements of BANT that are important, modernizes them, and then adds more important information to help you sell better (plans, consequences, implications).
While today’s reps still use BANT for lead qualification, the criticisms against it do hold some weight. If you plan to use this methodology, you’ll want to consider the pitfalls of sticking to the dimensions too prescriptively (and therefore missing critical information).
It’s possible to modernize the BANT methodology for today’s sales environment. However, if you’re still unsure whether BANT is right for your sales team, there are plenty of alternative frameworks to qualify leads efficiently and effectively.
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