One of the most challenging aspects of sales is lead qualification. When things are going well, sales associates are flooded with leads. While this is great for a business, the volume can be overwhelming. Where do you tell your team to focus their time and energy?
It all comes down to the quality of those leads.
Understanding what leads are high-quality is an important principle—prioritization and selective focus increase sales. Qualification questions allow your sales team to sort and work through leads more efficiently.
One way to better qualify leads is through the acronym BANT. BANT is a proven method of screening leads that allows you to use your time (and your potential customers’ time) more efficiently.
BANT breaks down lead-qualifying questions into four main categories.
● B—Budget. Establish your prospective client’s budget.
● A—Authority. Determine if the person you are speaking to has the authority to approve a purchase. If they do not, ask to be directed to the person who does.
● N—Need. Understand what the prospective client needs for you to be a good fit for their problem.
● T—Timeline. Determine if your prospective client is ready to act.
BANT breaks the sales qualification process down into four main categories, but it’s more than just knowing what each letter stands for. You need to learn what kind of approach will be most effective for each. Using BANT can be an important part of the sales process because it allows your sales team to qualify leads during an initial call.
Instead of waiting or beating around the bush, the BANT method gets straight to the point. Establishing a prospect’s budget, needs, authority, and timeline is an effective and proven way to qualify leads, saving you time and money in your sales department.
The concept of BANT is straightforward enough. Budget, authority, needs, and timeline are all significant to any kind of sales interaction. But to make it work, it's time to train your sales team to use the BANT method appropriately.
When using BANT, a salesperson or sales outreach team should use a conversational approach rather than sounding robotic or using a scripted tone. Remember, making contact on a sales call should be a connection. Listening to the prospects’ needs and wants is important, so ask probing questions to get more information. Smart conversation can get you the information you need without scaring off your prospect by being too forward or pushy. You can use BANT in the discovery call or during the follow-up calls. Also, using BANT early in the process can qualify your leads more efficiently.
Remember the following tips when working with the BANT method:
● You can use BANT during a face-to-face, phone, or email conversation.
● Show that you’re interested in the prospect, ask in-depth questions, and get to know them and their business.
● Remain empathetic when asking BANT questions; don't be overly direct or pry too much.
● Understand that all four pillars of BANT are important, but you don't need to gather all the relevant information in one call. You can fill in the gaps on your next call(s) if you have only gotten some parts of BANT recorded. The more you talk with a prospective client, the better the potential relationship.
Your team should remember that there is no one way to use the BANT method. Some ways you and your sales team can effectively use BANT include:
● Change and adjust questions on the fly. Having and fostering sales skills is like improvisation; staying on your toes is important. Remember to stick to the principles of BANT, but do so in a fluid and conversational tone.
● Show understanding and compassion for the prospective client's problem. Customers want to work with someone who cares about them and their needs, not just their money.
● Actively listen; this includes remembering details (or writing them down) and asking about them later. Remembering personal and professional details go a long way toward closing a sale.
● The BANT method can help you and your team create or develop buyer personas. A buyer persona should reflect your target customer's typical or ideal BANT answers.
● BANT can help you uncover a great deal of useful information for your sales team and overall business strategy; your team should often review your BANT practices to ensure your ideal client is up to date with product/service offerings.
● Remember that the BANT framework is broad. You may be able to use it in your customer service department as well as with your sales team.
● Understand that the potential client isn’t always giving you complete or truthful information. It may be that you have a person on the phone at a bad time, and they may simply be trying to get rid of you. Excuses such as “we’re not ready to act yet” or “we don't have the budget available” sound like a hard and fast “no.” But there's probably some flexibility in both of those areas. While you might not have a complete picture of this company’s timeline (or budget), you still want to determine the company's authority. You'll need to qualify this lead later.
● Work with the prospect. Remember that it’s likely you and the prospect have the same goal in mind. Make them aware that you want to work with them to address their issue. Propose solutions to budgeting. Is there a financing option available that may work for them? If they’re truly dealing with a big problem within their business, they could likely find the budget if it’s a high priority.
BANT has been a sales technique for a long time, demonstrating its effectiveness. However, in recent years, this concept has faced some criticism. In most cases, this is because people aren’t using it in the best possible way.
Remember that BANT isn’t a to-do list.
Just like with all sales calls, a natural conversation is your best way in. BANT is a framework. You’re not asking a budget question, writing down the answer, and then moving on to an authority question, and so on. This can make you seem disorganized, rushed, and rude.
If a prospect isn’t fully answering a question and talking about something else, that's OK. Don't stress — just steer the conversation back to one of the four pillars of BANT in a natural way.
For example, if you ask a question about a prospect’s authority and they indicate another person will be making the final decision, don't change the subject. Instead, probe and learn more by asking open-ended, layered questions. You want to understand who is making the decision and how you can reach out to them.
If the prospect continues to shut you down or your questions are diverted, it might be time to nicely end the call and try back later so that you can talk with someone else.
BANT does not need to go in any particular order. Starting with budgeting may not always be the best approach. When using BANT, simply avoid robotic, rehearsed sounding pitches. Use it as a guide and a tool to ensure that you’re focused on the big picture.
Some common mistakes sales associates make when using BANT include:
● Forgetting to trust your instincts as a sales professional. Don't ask a question (even if it’s part of BANT) that’ll lead to a potential client feeling ambushed, frustrated, or ignored. Fostering a positive relationship comes before gathering any of the BANT information.
● Asking BANT questions out of nowhere. If you’re having a pleasant conversation and suddenly ask the prospect about their timeline, they may feel pressured or thrown off. Follow the natural flow of conversation to hit your BANT questions.
As an experienced sales professional, you understand that not all leads are equal. Unfortunately, many new sales associates regularly spend a lot of time chasing down a lead that may ultimately not pan out. Remember, just because a person or company expresses interest in your product or services, this doesn't necessarily indicate they’re a good fit.
Regardless, there are multiple benefits of using BANT, including:
● Sales associates will use their time more effectively rather than chasing down the wrong leads.
● Cutting your sales training down significantly, allowing sales associates to make more calls and, ultimately, more sales.
● Establishing a framework for your team to work within keeps everyone on the same page.
● Removing bad leads out of your pipeline more effectively.
● Finding and establishing good leads that are the right fit for your company will be attended to more quickly (with the less valuable prospects out of the way).
IBM created the BANT method in 1950 to improve its own sales cycle. Over the years, BANT has been used across many different industries to maximize sales potential. Some businesses don't believe BANT is as useful as it used to be. This is because:
● A large group or committee often makes company decisions. For this reason, it can be hard to determine who has the authority, and salespeople may end up talking to a variety of employees.
● All too often, newly trained (and experienced) sales associates misuse the BANT method. Instead of taking a conversational approach, sales associates mistakenly take prospects through a checklist of questions, which is rarely effective.
● The BANT method is only suited for surface-level lead qualification. In other words, a client may tell you a budget for a solution without being aware of your product. Once they see how effective your product can be, they may have a larger budget in mind.
BANT is a generally effective way to screen leads and qualify prospects despite these shortcomings. It’s important to use BANT the right way and at the right times. When used correctly and appropriately, it’ll make a significant difference to your sales team and company.
Now that you have an idea of what BANT is and what it can do as part of your sales generation tactics, let's explore potential BANT questions for each category.
Understanding a lead’s budget is key to qualifying whether that lead is a worthwhile prospect. Your lead may not even have the necessary budget to retain your services. As you likely know, talking to potential customers about their budget can be tricky as a sales professional. It helps to understand all the circumstances surrounding your potential lead. Regardless of their budget, you want to understand their circumstances to better qualify them as a lead.
Consider asking one or more of the following when asking prospects about their budget:
This question can be very effective because most buyers want the sales professional to quote them a price. Almost all business decisions are based on money. No matter how useful your product or services may be, if your potential customer cannot afford it, they’ll not make a purchase.
As a salesperson, you want to know how much they’re spending and, ultimately, what they’re willing to spend. Qualifying a prospect’s budget can help you see whether you would make a good fit.
Understanding how the purchase approval process works can give you important insight into the company's inner workings. Uncovering details regarding the approval process may help you work your way up to the person responsible for the budget.
Pinpoint the critical decision-maker by asking this. This person is likely to make most budgeting decisions.
This can give you an idea of whether you’re on the same page with your prospect. How much do they value your product or services? Do they have realistic expectations when it comes to price?
If the budget has been allocated to this issue in the past unsuccessfully, you may have a hard time making a sale. This can also give you a good idea of what your potential prospect may be willing to spend.
Hopefully, they have. Understanding the budgeting limitations that the prospect is working with will help you see whether they’re a quality lead for you. If they haven't yet evaluated a potential budget, this is important for you to know as well. A prospect that hasn't developed a budget (or even a potential one) isn't likely ready to act just yet.
When qualifying sales leads, asking about a prospect’s authority can help you screen them. Establish primary decision-makers and communicate with them as directly as possible to be effective. When establishing authority, you want to learn who is in charge (particularly budgeting), but that isn’t all. You also want to find out who’ll be most impacted by the purchase of your product or service.
An obstacle to consider is if you’re speaking with an individual who isn’t a primary decision-maker within the company or someone who needs supervisory approval. However, authority doesn’t always come from the job title alone. Considering the perspective of the prospect is important, too. You’ll want to understand how your product or services will directly impact your lead.
Some helpful questions to determine the authority of your prospect include:
Simple enough, right? Often, a job title will clear up a lot for you. If you’re speaking with a manager of some kind, they likely have authority of some sort. If you’re still unsure, you’ll want to ask probing questions to follow up. This may be an opportunity to shift gears into "need" questions.
Asking this question can help you find out additional information about your prospect’s needs. How is your product or service going to impact them? Remember that sales are all about relationships. Establishing that your prospects’ needs are important to you or even align with your own can help you close a sale.
Again, this can help a sales associate understand who will be affected the most by their potential purchase.
Hopefully, your prospect says no. That’ll make things straightforward. If another person needs to be consulted and approve a purchase, this question will make you aware of this and allow you to contact that decision-maker early in the process.
This is another question to ascertain your potential customer’s position. This can give you an idea of your prospects’ authority and a way to better understand their company overall.
You must determine whether your prospect’s needs fit your product or service. As a business, you want to provide the best service possible. Part of this includes establishing your potential client’s needs. It’s tough to help a potential prospect without understanding what they need. Just like any sales call, it’s important to be tactful. If the prospect doesn’t give you a clear answer, don't just repeat the question; work around it. Let the conversation flow until you direct it back toward your focus.
The following questions can be effective when determining your client’s needs:
If your prospect has been dealing with a particular problem, they have likely tried different solutions before. Probe into this a bit more. What have they tried previously? Why did they fail, or why were they ineffective? Is your product or service going to be more effective? This allows you to assess whether your solution can be successful and to what degree.
This is a straightforward way to see if a prospect is a good fit. If their top priority is unrelated to your product or service, this lead may not be the best fit. Or at least not right now. Alternatively, if the top priority does align with your offering, you’re well on your way to a potential sale.
Learning how long a company has been dealing with an issue can change the tactic of your sales process.
This is a great way to see the individual’s perspective. Answers may vary wildly. Importantly, the answer to this question will also help to address timing. If your prospect sees the ongoing issue as potentially catastrophic, you may be well-positioned to make a sale. If the prospect considers the issue no big deal, you may have more of an uphill climb to make a sale.
You need to know if your prospect is ready to act or in the early stages of deciding. A more valuable and qualified lead is prepared to act. Inquiring about time frames in a specific manner can help qualify leads. In many cases, a prospect may be vague regarding a timeline. You can assume they’re not quite ready to act in these circumstances. Of course, you shouldn't ignore these potential customers. They should just be considered a lower priority than customers who are eager to start.
Questions that can help you ascertain a potential customer’s timeline for purchase include:
When asking this question, be sure to choose a specific date. How do they respond? If they’re ready to meet on that day, great. You might have a quality lead who is on the same page. If they want to meet earlier, this is even better. This prospect is ready to get started.
Of course, it’s also possible that your potential customer doesn't want to schedule a follow-up meeting. This is disappointing, of course, but you have discovered their timeline. Consider a follow-up call after a couple of weeks to touch base.
Did this prospect just discover an ongoing issue? Perhaps they realized their solution wasn't fixing the problem. There are other possibilities, too. Your lead may have just received a promotion or a position of new responsibility, or maybe the company is planning a large event and needs a solution by a specific date. Either way, establish why your prospect is taking action now instead of putting off the issue until later.
Keep it straightforward. Your prospect may not even have a timeline in mind yet. This can establish that they have a very rough timeline (or none at all) and aren't in a hurry to act. In all likelihood, your prospect won't have a date in mind. This allows you to suggest one and see how they respond.
This can give you an idea of whether your prospect is ready to commit. Establishing a date to finalize your agreement can incentivize both parties to get moving. If a candidate is unwilling or unable to agree with you on a date, they may not be the highest quality prospect. It may be more beneficial to spend your time and energy elsewhere.
IBM created the BANT method in 1950 to expand sales and improve services. According to IBM, a prospect is valid or quality if they meet the criteria for three of the four categories. If a prospect doesn't meet more than one of the criteria, they’re considered less urgent and less of a priority.
Since BANT has been used for more than 70 years, clearly, the people at IBM knew what they were doing when it came to qualifying leads and screening out the less urgent ones. While the BANT framework is still quite effective, things have changed quite a bit in the world of sales since 1950, so it is important to adjust accordingly.
The BANT method is effective for many reasons. It has stuck around so long because it’s simple. It is straightforward to explain the BANT concept to new employees and have them make effective sales calls in no time.
BANT is also adaptable. As you have read above, BANT allows a sales associate to adjust to the conversation at hand. Focusing on four straightforward pillars (budget, authority, need, and timeline) allows a salesperson to feel at ease instead of nervously flipping through pages of a script.
BANT is also effective across multiple industries. Whether selling real estate, cars, marketing services, or something else, the method works. As time has passed, more and more sales techniques have been invented, but BANT has staying power. It still works today because of its simplicity, utility, and flexibility.
Sales professionals typically have pretty good instincts when it comes to reading prospects. When using the BANT method conversationally, it should be clear whether you have a quality lead (or one that's even interested in your product or services).
There are sure signs to tell whether your lead is interested. Some of these positive signs include:
● Your prospect is extremely responsive. This can include quick replies to emails, regular calls, and the like. The prospect may even propose a timeline before you ask your BANT questions. A responsive prospect is likely a quality one who is ready to act.
● Your lead is asking a lot of questions. While this may slow down your typical sales “pitch,” a lead who asks questions is interested. After all, if they weren't interested, why would they even ask? A lead who wants to know more is giving you a chance to demonstrate your value. Take this opportunity and run with it.
● Your potential customer is proposing solutions to the problem. This shows that this person not only has an idea of the problem but is critically thinking about how it needs to be solved. This indicates that the issue you want to solve is top of mind. A quality prospect will be well informed enough to propose their solutions, and they will want to get started as quickly as possible.
● Your prospect can answer questions that you ask about their issue. This indicates they have been spending time on the problem. Furthermore, it clarifies that your lead understands the situation and is generally well informed.
● Your lead has the authority to make a final purchase decision. The buck stops here, and you know it. There's no better time to evaluate for a sale.
Using BANT can lead to positive results for your business. When using the method correctly (and using the tips included above), you will be able to qualify leads efficiently and effectively, maximizing your sales team.
If you need guidance on implementing BANT practices or want someone to do it for you, contact Smith.ai. We are a 24/7 virtual receptionist service that can help you begin your BANT screening process of clients when we reach out to you via email, social media, or phone. You provide Smith.ai with your ideal client and answers to possible BANT questions; if the lead seems promising, Smith.ai will pass it on to you to close the deal.
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