Sales Operations 10 Comments

BANT Sales Qualification for a New Era

Jacco Van der Kooij

April 1st, 2016

Got BANT? A modern way to qualify a SaaS prospect.

If you are in sales you must have heard of BANT by now… Right? In this post I would like to pose the question of whether BANT still applies for high velocity, recurring sales or if a more modern version of BANT is needed. With this article I offer a modernized version of BANT that can be applied to Inside Sales Teams (SDRs, AEs) that deal with recurring revenue deals. You might call it BANT sales for a new era.

Origins of BANT

BANT was conceived by IBM as a way to identify an opportunity. The IBM website tells us the following:

BANT opportunity identification criteria

Opportunities are identified by speaking to prospects or clients to determine their business and solution needs. The IBM guidance for opportunity identification is to use a standard approach called BANT. According to the guidance, an opportunity is considered validated if the prospect meets three of four of the BANT items. As a team, the ISR and sales representative may decide on either a tighter or looser form of BANT.

  • Budget – What is the prospect’s budget?
  • Authority – Does the prospect have the decision-making authority, or is she an influencer
  • Need – What is the prospect’s business need?
  • Timeframe – In what timeframe will the prospect be implementing a solution?

Challenges with BANT applied to SaaS Sales

  • Budget – Today, SaaS is a subscription model that draws from OpEx budgets whereas traditionally, purchases came out of a CapEx budget… Does this change anything?
  • Authority – Do organizations today still make purchase decisions on a single senior authoritative voice enforcing the decision?
  • Need – What is a Need vs. a Must and a Want? Does SaaS really address a Need or are most of the services just a “Nice-to-have”?
  • Timeframe – Is the concept of timeframe different for a SaaS deal with a sales cycle measured in days and an implementation of a single “click”?

Most of all, do we still live in a sales-centric world where we look for clients with Budget who can be sold on a solution, or have things changed to where we now live in a more customer-centric world where we assist a customer in identifying, diagnosing, and resolving a problem? If so, what changes? And in light of this shift, how do I qualify a SaaS deal?

What we have found is that when we apply BANT to traditional SaaS Sales there are a few challenges:

  • Problem for SDRs: When SDRs are given BANT to qualify a deal, it backfires as they essentially are starting to sell while a client is still in “education” mode.
  • Problem for AEs: When AEs are executing BANT to qualify a deal, they are getting affirmative answers yet the deal is still not qualified.

As an example, let’s take a look at a typical conversation along BANT, but dramatized it for effect:

Mike SaaS Salester                                           Jennifer the Client

Jennifer so if I summarize your
challenges you need to solve problem
X and problem Y. Did I get that right?

Yes that is right!

It sounds like this is a big need
for you 
folks.

Yeah hence we visited the recent
SalesHacker Conference where we
first learned about your company.

Awesome. Well it sounds like you
secured budget for this project?

Yup sure have.

Awesome. Awesome. May I ask who
is the decision-maker?

I am the decision-maker,
purchasing will get involved too

Great. And when do you need to 
have a solution in place?

In the next 8 weeks,
but no later than July 1st!

Mike just qualified according to BANT and reports back to his boss Nicole:

Nicole, I just got off a call with Jennifer. You may remember her, she was a lead from the Sales Hacker conference looking for a solution for problems X and Y. She confirmed she is the decision-maker on the “Improvement” project. Jennifer needs a solution in place by July 1, and confirmed to have budget to spend.

This results in either low quality SQLs, or worse, low quality deals in the qualified sales pipeline expected to close in the next 8 weeks. And although I have severely oversimplified the example, in most cases this is pretty much how this weak “deal” enters the funnel as a qualified deal.  Why? Well let’s take a look…

#1 Rule of SaaS-It Is About Priority, NOT Budget

Google Definition of Budget: An estimate of income and expenditure for a set period of time.

The SaaS Situation: Most SaaS services are priced at a fraction of their perpetual license/hardware counterparts. A $500-$5,000 per month fee should be no problem for a healthy business that has a real need. This can extend to as much as $40,000/month without a hitch for large enterprises. There is ALWAYS budget. It never was about the budget, it has always been about it being a priority. A priority that fluctuates over time.

Sales Priority Chart

Concept Explained: In the above picture you notice that over time the priority increases from nice-to-have, to need-to-have and at one point even reaches must-have. It is critical to determine where you are in this picture.

As the priority drops, a client may go dark, leading you to believe that the “budget is spent”, not realizing the conditions may change in your favor in which the priority will increase again. Even better… Understanding their situation, you may outline the full impact of your service and how it can solve other challenges the customer may experience and with it you will be able to increase the priority!

What to do as an SDR/AE: Early on in the sales process your client is still in discovery mode, this is an ideal time to ask: “Is this one of the top initiatives at your company?” And “Where does this rank?” And “Do you see this priority changing over time?” Ask, “Is this a Nice-to-have, a Need-to-have, or a Must-have?”

#2 In SaaS the Authority is Distributed and not Hierarchical

Google Definition of Authority: The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.

The SaaS Situation: With SaaS (and increasingly so in any sales) we see a move away from the hierarchical (top-down) decision making. In many cases a single user can report back that the service does not work as advertised, changing the course of action. Many companies today build a team that has to come to a consensus. The team can consist of 1-2 users, a manager, someone from financing, etc.  

Decision Maker Chart Sales

Concept Explained: In the picture above you see on the left a traditional “decision tree”. Users roll up into managers, who in turn roll up toward an executive who gathers the info and makes the decision. However, many SaaS services are actually “user experience driven”. This is one of the many reasons why UI/UX has become so important in recent years.

On the right you see that what you thought was a decision tree actually was a committee. In many cases in committees, the executive is not the person who will decide (they give the final decision their blessing), but rather a user who has to work with it every day. The user will be guided in the decision process by the manager (with her own needs) and the executive (making sure a proper decision process was followed).

What to do as an SDR/AE: Your first priority is not to determine who is the decision maker but rather what kind of decision process is being followed. You can find out by asking questions such as “Who else is involved in this project that can benefit from this <insert article with insights>?” and “Who else can I invite to the next meeting…?”. Another great question to ask is “Have you been involved in other recent purchases in this area such as <x> and <y>?”

#3 Impact over Need

Google Definition of Need: Require (something) because it is essential or very important.

The SaaS Situation: SaaS has become extremely competitive as almost every service sits on the same “cloud infrastructure”, uses a very similar color scheme (blue for social, green for predictive), so competing can quickly become feature-to-feature combat. This is not to the benefit of the customer as they are often bamboozled into paying for features they’re never going to need. As an SDR/AE you can play a key role in helping to avoid this early on by identifying the impact.

Needs vs Impact Sales

Concept Explained: In the picture above you notice on the left a traditional focus on the client’s need translating their requirements into features and benefits. On the right you see that the client’s need is actually more like an onion with endless layers that through the art of asking questions has to be peeled… to the core. Often 6-7 layers deep (6-7 questions deep!) you can find the underlying impact of the need.

This impact determines the difference between nice-to-have vs. must-have and understanding this concept is what separates a good AE from a GREAT AE.

What to do as an SDR/AE: The impact of a service is best found by talking to a customer. So organize a client/sales get-together. Ask your SDR/AE teams to come up with a list of meaningful questions to ask on the impact of the service. IMPORTANT!

As an SDR, you cannot unpeel the entire onion on the first call – the customer does not trust you yet! But you may be able to unpeel one more layer by asking 1-2 more questions; “May I ask what is the impact of this service beyond giving you better dashboards?”… This will give your AE an incredible advantage, as he’s able to better diagnose the client’s true needs: “My SDR briefed me on you needing this service to impact … did we capture that correctly? May I ask..

#4 Critical Event over Timeline

Google Definition of Timeline: A period of time, especially a specified period in which something occurs or is planned to take place.

The SaaS Situation: The challenge described here is not unique to just SaaS, this is a common mistake sales professionals make all the time. In SaaS sales we are often interested in “When do you need to have this by…” or “What is the go-live date for this service…” from which we establish a timeline. However, the timeline is actually in reverse. See the next diagram.

Sales Timeline Chart

Situation Explained: Instead of determining when you need the P/O from the client, you need to start with the client needs in mind – e.g. when does the client need the desired IMPACT? Then work your way back. For example, if the client has a sales kick-off on July 7, they need your new sales acceleration solution for their team in place by end of June.

This means they need to have your quote submitted to legal by June 15 for execution on June 22. If you do not receive the P/O on the June 22nd, you don’t call them up and say “Jennifer where is my P/O? We’ve got to start the installation””… but instead you ask “Jennifer, I am giving you a call to make sure we are still on for launch of your service on July 7th”. The critical event is not you getting a P/O, it is the client being on-air at the right time (solve their problem!).

What to do as an SDR/AE: The key to solving this is for the SDR (!!) is to establish what the critical event is. The key question to ask the SDR is “When do you need this service to be on the air” THEN followed by “… what happens if you miss that date?” This simple question will let you know if the event is “compelling” or “critical”.

As the client is transferred from the SDR to the AE, she can now provide the client with the summary: “My colleague tells me you have to have this on-air by {{date}} to get this {{impact}} or otherwise you {{consequence}} … how can we help you avoid that?” You can now work your way back from the date and start peeling the onion.

BANT is still valid, it just needs to be modernized

What I hope to have shown you is that BANT sales qualification is still very much valid, it just needs to be modernized for use in SaaS sales, and in a different order:

  • N = Need = Impact on the customer business
  • T = Time-line = Critical event for the customer
  • B = Budget = Priority for the customer
  • A = Authority = Decision Process the customer goes through

There you go… I bet someone will figure out how to rename this modernized version of BANT in a more catchy phrase that rolls off the tongue a little better than NTBA… any suggestions?  

Before I leave you, I hope you notice that we made an enormous change, and one that is CRITICAL to all SaaS sales! It is no longer about pitching a service to a customer and handling the objections – but rather about helping a customer identify the real problem and diagnosing the underlying impact. Do that and the rest will solve itself!

About the author

Jacco Van der Kooij

Following a 15-year career as a head of sales for Silicon Valley startups, Jacco van der Kooij launched a sales consulting practice in 2012. Winning By Design, helps B2B companies with a blue print design that is based on best practices of what works today, oversee implementation including recruitment & training, and with a hands on involvement throughout the launch. Check out the Wining By Design playbook series for more from Jacco.

  • Brett B

    Nice read Jacco – NTBA to BANT has great context and is well defined for today’s market/world. Reminds me of how “Predictable Revenue” is outdated and why “From Impossible to Inevitable” is more recent. Thank you for sharing

    • Thanks Brett – Love both books you mentioned but also recommend Trish Bertuzzi’s book on Inside Sales, as well as Frank Cespedes’ Aligning Strategy and Sales.

  • Alex H

    BANT has been out of date for so long. I personally think that granular focus on each client is the best way forward, as by taking a really case by case single customer view, you will always gain greater insight and alignment than by following any acronym; quite frankly your prospective customer deserves better than being merely ‘processed’ programatically and is no doubt also aware of emerging sales qualification best practices – stand out and earn trust by not just following best practices, but by humanising the experience in this age of AI…

    • So true Alex – granular focus on each client is the best way to go! The challenge is the costs associated with that. For example; a per client focus through programs such as ABM/TAS is the way to go for deals with an ACV of $100k – but for a deal with an ACV of $10 it is (at this point) not financially achievable. Where does it flip from a) online ($10 ACV?) to b) inbound ($1,000 ACV?) to c) outbound ($10,000 ACV?) to d) hyper-personalized outbound ($20,000 ACV?). And ofcourse for every business this depends on lots of nuances. But I 100% agree with you – we need to get as quickly to a world where every client gets personalized experience. Thanks for the great response!

  • Franco Caporale

    Loved the article. I have always believed that is counter-productive to apply a strict BANT process at the SDR level. Especially for the Need (or Priority) and Budget aspects: it’s up to the AE to sell the value of the product and create FOMO on the prospect. If the customer realizes that he is leaving money on the table or that he could save X dollars per month, the budget suddenly appears and the priorities shift.

    • Thanks Franco for the response – you nailed it – the use of FOMO tells me you know what you are doing! Keep sharing your feedback.

  • Diego Wagner

    This is truly a mind changing article Jacco, just as good as your book “Blueprint for a SaaS Sales Organization”. A bunch of our clients try to rush to a product demo before get all this 4 elements in place and get surprise when the deal get lost. I see this misunderstood BANT strategy as one of the major factors why SaaS company’s have low conversion rates.

  • David Duncan

    Great article, we’re already employing alot of the above but it’s a great to have it condensed like this and share around the team.

  • Ray Carroll

    Jacco – ie: your original question and hypothesis…BANT is played out and qualifying for budget first is not conducive to an ideal buying experience. I think Craig from TOPO came up with ANUM – Authority, Need, Urgency, Money. That’s one I’ve seen implemented nicely at teams I’ve come to know.

  • Riley

    Have you seen the alternative to BANT? It is the most effective sales qualification framework (ie. 2017) http://moderntechsales.com/qualification

back to library

Sales Machine NYC 17

Sales Machine NYC 17 - The Conference for Next Generation Sales Leaders

Sales Hacker Courses

Sales Hacker Courses

Sales Insights

Sales Hacker Webinar - Modern Sales Insights on How to Drive Accelerated Growth

Sales Hacker Webinar

Sales Hacker Webinar

SalesHacker Partners

SalesHacker Partners

Sales Hacker Job Board

Sales Hacker Job Board

Get the Book – Hacking Sales by Max Altschuler

Get the Book - Hacking Sales by Max Altschuler
back to library
[i]
[i]