Is BANT still relevant in demand management is a debate that has been going well before the internet, consensus buying and SaaS complicated B2B direct sales. The fundamental issue is not whether BANT is relevant, but what is meant by each term, how the question should be asked, when the question should be asked and who should be asking the question. The insight provided by responses to BANT should be incorporated into an effective go-to-market B2B selling process.
The History of BANT
Many people are familiar with the acronym BANT and that it stands for budget, authority, need and timeframe. However, fewer marketers and sales people know that IBM created the process or at least refined it to what people commonly refer to today as BANT As part of the IBM sales process, BANT was designed as a simple method for lead qualification. In short, IBM sales people were required to document three of the four BANT criteria in order to convert a lead to business opportunity.
- Budget was defined as the ability to buy
- Authority could be at the individual or the group level, but was understood to be the power to gain a signature
- Need was matching the capabilities of the offering to the prospect’s business requirements
- Timeframe referred to when the solution would be evaluated, selected, purchased or implemented.
BANT was a pragmatic and systematic approach that was relatively simple to administer and manage—sales people (not even marketing people back in the day) answered BANT questions and sales management critiqued the responses. It was a relatively simple, quick and objective approach to managing opportunity.
In general, BANT was a regulating process to ensure that leads were well qualified by displaying the characteristics that led to a purchase–the budget to make the purchase, the authority approve a purchase, a proven need for the benefit of what the solution delivered, and a defined timeline to take action. So how could sales and marketing people, or anyone in B2B sales, find fault with BANT? Has the manner in which BANT changed from IBM’s original approach?
What’s Changed in B2B Sales to Question BANT?
In the several decades since BANT was introduced, B2B markets have become more complex, global and competitive:
- Marketing, or field marketing, became involved in the sales process
- Internet & Social Media have torn down the walls that allowed companies to control what, when and how information was communicated about their offerings. Now, potential buyers can learn about an organization’s offering from users, consultants, analysts, etc. without an organization ever knowing that their offering was under consideration.
- SaaS — the move from purchasing software, spending a multiple of the price of software on services and waiting years or a decade to realize ROI has disappeared and has been replaced with a show me the value or a “use it or lose it” mentality.
- Consensus Buying – today, teams of individuals across many functions within an organization often make decisions on technology purchases, and those teams may include a network of over 20 individuals on a single purchase.
- Buying Online – buying online is no longer only reserved for B2C markets. Today, B2B markets have vendors selling six and seven digit deals with NO sales people so prospects may never speak live to a sales person while in the sales process.
As a direct result of the major changes noted above to the B2B sales process, the sales process at some organizations either bent or even broke. One sign of B2B sales stress surfaced at the end of a quarter via a disappointing sales performance. To complicate matters, marketing organizations became responsible for demand generation and demand management and the finger pointing between sales and marketing ensued. In organizations that have not optimized demand generation, demand management and sales struggle executing their go-to-market strategy. What’s worse is that this situation has created fricition between sales and marketing and endless discussions about are “the good leads”. And, a billion dollar industry emerged to create terminology, role definition, processes and systems to streamline the process to generate qualified sales opportunities.
The explanation for BANT going bad may be simple – i.e. some sales and marketers confused criteria and process. BANT is a set of criteria—four to be exact. Demand Management is a process and may or may not include BANT. It may actually be that simple.
Demand Management – BANT – Budget
Is it a great idea to ask budget information on a lead form and expect prospects to fill it out with accurate information? Probably not. Is it appropriate for a Sales Development Representative to cold call an individual or to follow-up on a lead and ask what their budget is on the first call? Probably not. Is it important to know if a prospect can afford to purchase your solution? Yes.
Budget can arise in many ways:
- There will be some lead follow-ups or cold calls where a prospect is ready, willing and able to purchase—they have a defined project and budget. The bad news is that the sales rep has not set the agenda.
- At some point in the sales process, a prospect must be able to pay for the offering, so it is important to ask about budget. But it is equally important to ask about how non-budgeted projects get funded.
- Prospects may often ask about price.
- Knowing the negatives of the current environment and the positive outcomes of the offering can provide clues as to where money resides in the organization and/or how to generate significant value.
- There may be an opportunity to gain funding for a project next quarter or next fiscal year.
While budget is obviously a bridge that must be crossed before a sale can be made, it should not be a blunt question asked too early in the process. There is no absolute rule as to when in the sales process the budget question will be asked by a prospect but there should be a clear sales process that informs sales and marketing when this question should be raised, how it should be introduced and what information should be extracted from the prospect to be effective.
Demand Management – BANT – Authority
It’s often difficult for a salesperson to know whether they are talking to the person with the authority to make a purchase decision. This is because prospects tend to overstate their role and authority in an organization. Also, frequently in today’s B2B consensus buying scenario, there may be a group of people (including someone in purchasing) that must sign off, so there is no one person possessing THE authority to make a B2B purchase. As a result, salespeople often don’t gain access to the economic decision maker until later in the sales process, if ever. Solution selling has complicated this issue as a core to its methodology is building relationships. Unfortunately, some sales people will be a relationship with whoever allows them to do so, regardless of whether they are relevant to the BANT criteria.
So, should sales and marketing people not try to seek out who has the authority to make a purchase decision? The answer is obvious but again, but the how, when and who are the key to the question. And, connecting with that authority may include a path which requires some finesse. Unfortunately, organization charts are not posted and more importantly, political organization charts are not documented anywhere.
Demand Management – BANT – Need
Need is not a check box item that is matched up against a Chinese menu of functionality or capabilities. Simply identifying a need is no guarantee that the prospect will do anything about it. The business need or opportunity must be aligned with the value that an organization’s offering provides to a prospect. Need should be explored to understand the financial impact on the organization, whom it impacts, why it has not been solved, whether competitors have addressed this and what it would take to embrace a solution to solve the need in question.
Simply put, need is not restating what a prospect communicates, but opening a prospect’s eyes to new opportunities and new ways to capitalize on these areas. Specifically, the best B2B marketing and sales collaborate to:
- Provide prospects with challenging insights about their markets or business that they would not have otherwise thought of on their own
- Quantitatively assess the impact of insights and help them internalize the quantitative and qualitative impact for both the organization and themselves
- When the time is right, bridge the organization’s solution into the discussion and why it provides the best course of action
Need is something that must be sought out in a B2B sales opportunity. It may not be a simple, straightforward question that is the second question asked during a first contact, but it is a requirement in the sales process. Again, it requires marketing and sales to be coordinated on the approach, for the right questions to be asked, at the right time and of the right person. The net, need is still relevant.
Demand Management – BANT – Timeframe
From a B2B direct sales perspective, the timeframe of the purchase is of obvious interest as the deal needs to be forecast by a vendor as revenue, expense and gross margin targets to attain each quarter. If an organization requires a timeframe to be selected in a web form or if it is a mandated question that is asked on a first contact, first call environment, there is a good chance that the value of the response to this question may be diminished.
Timeframe is not a question that can be asked in a fast-food manner nor should it be force fit into a closed-end format that corresponds to a vendors fiscal year format. Unfortunately, an elementary understanding of marketing and BANT can confuse an organization into searching for the deals that will close this quarter or next. The thinking typically centers around a belief that spending on opportunities that want to buy now justify expenditure and that this approach cuts out all the “marketing fluff”.
A better way to look at the timeline question is in terms of gaining insight into an organization’s priorities–clues to thepriorities of public companies can often be found in public documents. For any organization, there is a set of goals and objectives for the fiscal year and these are broken down into quarterly goals and these cascade downward and throughout an organization. In addition to organizational and functional goals and objectives, individual employees will also have priorities. Uncovering and understanding these multiple priorities provides insight into not only what an organization is focused on but also when an organization is likely to act.
Compelling events and triggers are also signs of when an organization will act. Mergers, acquisitions, new products, new markets, competitor’s actions, etc. all have the potential to cause an organization to move to a state of action. And, as some priorities are met or fall off the list, others move up in position.
So, is timeframe an irrelevant question to ask of a prospect? Absolutely not. Is the devil in the details of how this is uncovered? Absolutely.
Sales & Marketing – Demand Management System
Sales people need to be creating BANT, not expecting BANT to be served up on a platter for them.
Instead of hoping that fully-qualified, BANT-ready deals can be uncovered, sales and marketing teams must work together to connect with prospects possessing unmet needs that can no longer be ignored. And naturally, one’s economically attractive solution fits the bill. And, it’s even better if one’s 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 the entry point into the opportunity. But 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.
Demand Management – BANT – Summary
BANT is set of criteria – important criteria – but not a process. Demand Management is a process and often incorporates BANT. Many organizations that focus their marketing programs or sales development representatives with retrieving fully BANT qualified leads (specific questions with closed en responses that are asked in the marketing funnel or on first call follow-up) are pursuing a route with a short runway, if any runway at all.
The basic underlying questions BANT is based on are relevant questions and they need to be asked. The lynchpin is who asks the questions, when are the questions asked and how are the questions asked. BANT is very effective in a go-to-market strategy when it is integrated in the demand management system. An effective and efficient demand management system consists of:
- Defining clear roles and responsibilities in the marketing and sales funnel
- Well-defined marketing and sales funnel stages
- A Target Account Profile
- A Qualification Matrix to grade leads
- A Scoring Model to evaluate leads
- A Lead Routing Model to keep leads in motion
- A Lead Flow Diagram to document the lifecycle of a lead
- A Nurture Program to develop leads
The end goal is not to four and done – ask the four BANT questions and be done with it. The focus for organizations should be to find leads, qualify opportunities and develop qualified sales opportunities. qualify leads but to acquire customers who will buy more and recommend one’s offering. BANT is as relevant as ever but it requires an understanding of demand management to leverage these criteria to efficiently and effectively acquire customers.