This week a mentoring client has a deal that’s stalled. The prospect put them off until the new year. They’ve given two reasons for this. Firstly new budgets become available in April and any new expenditure won’t be approved until then. Secondly they are currently very busy with other projects and don’t have capacity for this one.
My client wants to do something to move things forward.
Now, before we go any further. You may have experienced similar tales of woe yourself. And I’ve written before about BANT, the acronym for qualification of sales opportunities. This article expands BANT* and explains my client’s dilemma in that context.
BANT stands for B- budget, A- authority, N– need, and T- timescale. Unless each of these criteria is understood and qualified it’s unlikely a deal is going to close. The typical symptoms I see are lots of ‘interesting conversations’ without any commitment from the prospect. The consultant seems to have more vested in the prospect’s business outcomes than the prospect does. When I see this the soundtrack to Lost in Space bellows “Danger Will Robinson!”
My client is understandably frustrated. They’ve invested precious time and feel they have somehow been misled by their prospect. However, the truth is the client hasn’t misled them at all. They have failed to qualify the opportunity because the deal they thought was on the table doesn’t meet any of the BANT criteria. (They aren’t alone in this. I still find myself in similar situations. The allure of helping and suggesting solutions takes over. Even when I know facilitating the buying process would be more useful.)
So, how does BANT apply to my clients situation?
B- budget. At the point the ‘interesting conversation’ reached a close the prospect reveals there is no pre-approved budget for a project. This was a surprise to my client, the consultant, because they had assumed the prospect’s enthusiasm and interest meant they had money to spend. They don’t, not yet anyway.
A- authority. The prospect has to get budget approved. This is an indicator that they do not have discretionary spending authority. Someone else (in this case the board of Directors) says yes. In effect the prospect can say no, buy they can’t say yes without the board members’ say so. They are a technical recommender, not a decision maker.
N- need. I like to include want as well as need in the criteria. Need is the logical requirement for a project to solve a problem. Want is the personal desire to do what it takes to make the project happen. Ask the client two questions; why change? And why change now? Unless the answer to ‘why change’ has enough value it is unlikely they will buy your solution.
T- timescale. And unless their answer to the second question, ‘why change now?’ is convincing the project is neither important, nor urgent. In the case of my mentoring client, their prospect can wait 4 or more months before even deciding to implement a solution. That timeframe is not very convincing.
I’ve advised my client to take this prospect off their sales forecast. But, what else do you do with prospect like this? We brainstormed these three options for moving forward:
- Persuade. Appreciate that the prospect is interested in what you’ve discussed but is nowhere near ready to buy. They probably have a perfectly acceptable (to them) workaround to the issue. It isn’t causing them enough pain yet. It’s like having a draughty house. In the summer months that doesn’t cause much of a problem. In the winter it becomes intolerable. Persuading them the project is urgent and valuable may lead to them taking action quickly. This will be hard work though.
- Back off. Accept that the prospect isn’t ready yet. Stay in touch and let things evolve in their own timeframe. This may sound like giving up, but just continuing to support the client means they will stay on the radar if the deal becomes live again.
- Facilitate. Work through the BANT process and help the client get things lined up in their organisation for a decision. BANT should normally be an early part of the sales process. Certainly before investing considerable time crafting solution proposals and presentations.
My preferred option for my client in this case is option 3**. In the long-term I believe this will help them and their prospect make the best decision about the project.
First though they’ll have to see how open the prospect is to backtracking and retrospectively working through the BANT process. That in itself will inform them about the quality of the R- relationship they have. And perhaps that should be the fifth qualification criteria.
Then we’d have BANTR. What do you think?
* My editor commented that I’ve written a lot about BANT in recent articles. My response was to explain how this particular situation is a perfect example of a consultant knowing what to do, but not doing what they know. It’s a case of changing habits during pre-sales meetings, if that rings true for you please let me know.
** Option 3 isn’t the best choice in all situations.
The bottom line:
Get real: Until it is qualified it isn’t a sales conversation.
Get prepared: Study decision-making processes and psychology.
Get savvy: Putting off tough qualification questions cost you time and money.
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