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Dissecting BANT Lead Criteria – How to adapt this standard to today’s environment

Several years ago IBM coined the acronym “BANT” when training its sales team on what they should look for in a qualified lead (BANT = Budget + Authority + Need + Timeframe). Many B2B marketing departments and agencies are now using this term to qualify and categorize leads.

However, as businesses evolve and change the ways in which they make purchase decisions, it’s important to re-examine the BANT criteria to ensure leads continue to be qualified in a meaningful manner. Just as all leads are not created equally, all BANT leads are not qualified equally. Trying to qualify leads through a series of rigid checkboxes will result in less than desirable results. Today, understanding unique buying and decision-making processes and the “whys” behind purchase plans are critical to successful lead qualification.

Below are several tips and questions to consider for each element of your BANT qualification.

B = Budget

Although budget is represented by the first letter in the acronym, it is typically not the first component determined. It is relatively rare that a prospect shares the exact amount of their budget during initial conversations.

Focusing on determining if a budget currently exists for the purchase is a good first step. And from there, you may be able to obtain the general range of the budget (after building rapport).

However, depending on your solution and your target market, you may decide that the existence of a budget during the initial conversations is just not that important. If a solution will solve their pain, businesses tend to find the money to move forward. As you define the budget criteria for your leads, consider asking these questions instead:

  • If our solution solves the needs you’ve just shared, will funding be available to move forward?
  • More importantly- What will be the process to get the funding approved?

A = Authority

People tend to stretch the truth. If you ask your prospect “are you the decision-maker?” many will say “yes” even if that’s not exactly true. It’s better to simply ask your prospects to tell you about their role and let them define it.

To learn the most about how the decision will be made, ask an open-ended question. For example, you can ask about the steps in your prospect’s decision-making process.

Since today many business evaluations and purchases are not made by a single individual, you should also ask this question: Besides yourself, who else is involved in this evaluation? As you uncover names, ask your contact to explain each person’s role relating to the purchase. Doing so will help you to form an understanding of the players and determine who will be critical to the final decision.

N = Need

The most important element of a lead is listed as the third component of this acronym – unfortunately, “NATB” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. While consumer purchases may be driven by wants, desires and impulses, nearly every business purchase is based on a need.

Depending on where a prospect is within their evaluation and decision-making process, the “need” component of a qualified lead may vary. Some prospects will already know the exact specifications of their purchase needs, while others may be just beginning their process by identifying a problem that they’re willing to spend money on to solve. Both scenarios can represent a qualified lead. In many cases, those prospects that are just beginning an evaluation are more likely to be “won” by your sales team. Therefore, be cautious not to define your need criteria too narrowly, as you may eliminate viable opportunities that your sales team should be engaged in.

To fully qualify any lead, you must also determine the “why” behind the purchase plans – specifically the pain that the business needs to alleviate. You can determine this by asking questions like:

  • What’s driving your purchase plans?
  • What are you trying to solve?
  • What are the shortcomings of your current solution/vendor?

Uncovering this information will paint a clearer picture and may even change your entire perception of a lead. Many times it’s the “why” that can turn an average lead into a fantastic lead.

T= Timeframe

As leads are uncovered and qualified, there are several timeframes to inquire about:

  • When will you begin your evaluation?
  • When do you need to have a solution in place?
  • When will you be ready to speak with a sales rep?

Answers to these questions, coupled with the steps in your sales cycle, will help to determine when a lead is truly “sales-ready.” Passing a lead too soon can be detrimental if the sales team is not committed to nurturing. However, delaying when a lead is provided to sales (perhaps because every element is not identified), can be equally detrimental. Allowing some flexibility is important. Listening for specific situations and buying signals can help teleprospectors and marketers know when to speed up delivery to sales. Examples may include:

  • Prospect has several technical and/or price related questions
  • Prospect indicates they’ve already spoken with a key competitor
  • Prospect’s needs require a higher dollar, complex solution

No matter how solid your qualification process is, inevitably the timelines and priorities of some of your qualified leads will change after they are provided to sales. Therefore, it’s recommended that organizations have a process by which the sales reps can pass a lead back to teleprospecting/marketing for further nurturing when this happens. Doing so will help to maximize your leads and future ROI.

Kathy Rizzo is the vice president of sales and marketing at TeleNet Marketing Solutions, a lead generation and lead nurturing company.