Traditionally B2B salespeople judged the quality of online leads against BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timescale).
Based on BANT the following lead would have been perfect:
“I have £1m to spend on your services for a business critical project that I need to start next week”
The reality is that not many of these kinds of leads walk through the door.
Ultimately B2B salespeople know that the quality of their leads will be variable but they do expect that the leads that come in are sufficiently qualified.
This is where the big question mark lies. What attributes of an enquiry can make it ‘qualified’?
In this blog we examine how each part of BANT fairs against the realities of modern B2B enquiries.
Assuming that the prospect is not so small that they could never afford to do business with you there is a strong argument that a lot of the time budget is irrelevant.
Take the example of a business with a problem that affects their whole company and costs them lots of money. Anyone who has worked with a customer desperate for a solution to an urgent problem will identify with this situation. The client quibbles less over costs. Fixing the critical issue is more important than justifying that he/she got their employer a good deal.
This is especially the case where the extent of the problem is understood (EG. Our broken down machine is costing our company £100m per year in lost earnings).
Frequently these kinds of situations are extraordinary. They are not part of a planned annual budget.
In many ways it’s like when your boiler breaks. No-one realises that they have £3,000 spare until they really really need it.
Summary: Budget is less important in for customers with high levels of need who understand the severity of their problem.
Salespeople nearly always close deals with decision makers so authority will always be important in selling.
The question is whether authority should necessarily be qualified at the enquiry stage.
In some B2B sales environments it absolutely should. This is especially the case for salespeople who need to make a high number of sales each month to hit their targets. They simply don’t have the time to warm leads up by identifying who they are really selling to.
For companies where salespeople do have time to qualify leads further the situation is different.
They have the time to open up opportunities where the key decision makers do not identify themselves at the first enquiry stage.
It is common practice for the project sponsor or main decision maker to send out the minions to shortlist potential suppliers. These leads have the potential to be high value, they just need a bit of work.
Summary: In low volume B2B sales authority does not necessarily need to be established straight away.
“If people don’t need what you are selling, it is very difficult to sell to them” - various salespeople
This is the one part of BANT which always needs to be qualified. If a customer is just interested in what you offer but has no real opportunity on the table you are wasting your time getting salespeople to talk to them.
These sorts of customers have a very small chance of producing a deal in the short term.
Effective B2B marketing actually keeps these customers warm and passes them to sales when an opportunity arises.
This is frequently an area where lead scoring can be used effectively. Companies who are interested in your offering without having an opportunity do become relevant sales targets as soon as their behaviour shows intent.
Summary: Salespeople need leads with customers who have needs they can serve. If the need does not exist at present good B2B marketing can keep prospects warm until opportunities arise.
The issue I have with timescale as a qualifier for B2B leads is that customers very rarely know the timescales that they are working to.
Some customers don’t know the extent of their problem and therefore can’t put a date on it. Others have timescales so tight that they are completely unachievable (or are already in the past).
This is where we see the plethora of potential customers looking for solutions ‘as soon as possible’ (ASAP).
The problem with an ASAP customer is that they are surprisingly cautious buyers.
Often their relationship with the previous supplier has broken down, meaning that buyers ‘looking to move ASAP’ are frequently:
‘looking to establish a relationship with a new supplier ASAP but are really worried about risk. The quick turnaround we promised is actually likely to descend into a bit of a farce and eventually we will end up going through a convoluted procurement process.’
That said there are some occasions when timescales are legitimately important. This is particularly the case for customers who have real deadlines that they know about. The problem is that either this is not communicated clearly in the initial enquiry or that these ‘hard’ deadlines become softer as discussions take place.
The issue I have with timescale as a qualifier for B2B leads is that it is so hard to get a customer to self qualify how urgent their enquiry is. Everyone seems to work ‘ASAP’. Even when they don’t say ‘ASAP’ the realities of a tight deadline mean that they want it ASAP.
Summary: Although timescales can be important for buying it is really hard to qualify timescales at the enquiry stage.
Is BANT still applicable?
In many ways the BANT definition is too rigid to be applied as a quality standard for online B2B leads.
- For Budget we proved that when need is sufficient budget can go out of the window.
- For Authority we demonstrated that the decision maker is not always available.
- For Need we showed that this is required but we did qualify that by saying customers with no immediate need can be warmed up by a marketing to make them quality leads.
- For Timescales we identified that most customers with needs want solutions ASAP.
Having said all this a prospect with no budget, authority, need or timescale is not a sales lead. These enquiries show no intent so sending them to a salesperson will produce very few or no sales.
I would say that the very least required to qualify a B2B sales lead is a real indication of intent. This makes Need the most important attribute of BANT.
Budget and Authority are nice to have if they help to qualify the Need a little further, and in some busy sales operations they are key indicators of lead quality. This is because sales do not have time to qualify that they are talking to the right person who has an adequate budget.
In conclusion what a good B2B sales lead looks like depends on the selling environment it is being produced for.
If your sales model is hand-to-mouth, then your leads will have to be qualified further than a simple statement of need. If not, a good B2B lead can simply be a statement of needs that a salesperson can use as a starting point to open up the opportunity with a view to closing a deal.