How to Kill B2B BANT Zombies and Save Your Career

Account-Based MarketingArtificial Intelligence

If you try to align with sales around leads, way too often you’ll get a request for BANT leads. For the uninitiated, BANT is a lead qualification acronym:

I keep thinking BANT is dead, but it’s like one of those zombies on “The Walking Dead”: it just won’t die. The thing is, just like those zombies, BANT can kill you, or at least your career in marketing.

Why? Because most marketers, no matter how talented, can’t deliver BANT leads at scale.

Ever.

And if that weren’t reason enough, and it is, BANT leads are also commission killers for most sales teams. That’s right. The one thing salespeople care more about than anything else in the world — living large on fat commission checks (kidding!) — won’t be happening with BANT leads.

So here are the reasons why you should say “I can’t do BANT.”

Sales Thought-Leaders Built the Case Against BANT Twenty Years Ago

To understand just how pernicious the BANT idea is, consider this: nearly two decades ago various sales and marketing gurus started poking big holes in the BANT concept. Don’t believe me? Check out the original copyright date of the groundbreaking sales theory book, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play.

1999.

That book, among other things, suggests a sequence for when to ask what. The B, A, and T of BANT are not in the initial sales conversation. Much less the first marketing exchange.

Now, in fairness, BANT was never supposed to be a marketing tool.  It was a way for salespeople to qualify opportunities. In that context, BANT is fine.  Salespeople need to know that they are talking to the right people, that those people can access the requisite budget dollars, that they have a timeframe for making a decision, and that they have a need for the solution. The question is when to uncover this type of info.

The Buyer’s Journey Problem

As the book Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play suggested, the real issue with BANT is that there is a time and a place to ask about the timeline for a decision, the available budget, and the decision-making process. And it’s not at the beginning of the buyer’s journey. You haven’t earned the right. Plus, initially, the prospect is trying to figure out if talking makes sense, not how much to spend. She has not decided to buy anything. So there is no budget. There is no timeline. There is no decision process, except the simple decision about whether to bother talking with a salesperson.

Even if the prospect is going to buy, she often has no interest in sharing what her budget is early on. People fear that doing so might lead to overpaying and see sharing budget information as a negotiating tactic.

So you can see why BANT doesn’t scale. Most leads are very early in the process. Only a few are ready for sales interaction. Far fewer still have budgets, timelines, and a defined decision process. No volume, no scale.

The Fit Problem

As if that weren’t reason enough to get BANT out of your lexicon, and it is, BANT doesn’t address at all whether the company is a good fit. For sake of argument, let’s say the prospect did tell you about his or her budget, his timeline for making a decision, and the key stakeholders in the decision process; all of that information doesn’t mean that his company is a good fit for your solution. Need (the “N” in BANT) gets kind of close, but two companies might need a way to do team selling and so want to get a CRM so that multiple people can see what’s going on with a prospect. One of those companies might be a start-up and therefore want something simple like HubSpot CRM, and another might be a global enterprise needing a CRM like Salesforce.com. BANT doesn’t address that issue at all.

Automation Qualified Leads Versus Human Qualified Leads

There are also big differences between what you can do when a sales development rep is talking to a customer and what you can do with things like lead forms and chatbots. Of course, on marketing forms, you can ask for budgets, timelines, decision-making role, and need questions, and you may well get answers. The question is will the answers be truthful? Probably not. People will share bogus information because people often tell us what they think we want to hear. Plus, needs are complex topics.  Good salespeople probe and ask implication questions to really help the customer understand the deeper problems and build the business case for change.

Budget, authority, and timeline are also complex subjects. There may be a budget or there may not. It may be that budget dollars need to be reallocated from some other priority. Budget also often has to factor in soft costs for deploying the solution and getting user adoption. Authority is another complex topic. Buying complex solutions is not a single decision but rather a series of small decisions, often with different stakeholders involved for each question. Even timelines can be complicated. There is the timeline for making a decision. There is the timeline for seeing results from the decision. There is the timeline for deploying the solution. Which timeline are we talking about?

Even more common, as mentioned previously, people don’t always know the answers to these questions. At the beginning of the buyer’s journey, the question isn’t how much to spend and when to spend it. The question is whether to consider the solution. We all look at solutions and decide not to take a deeper look, much less buy.

So it’s important to help salespeople understand the limitation of lead forms and the stage of the buyer’s journey of the prospect.

Trish Bertuzzi, in her excellent book The Sales Development Playbook, talks about the five key questions B2B companies ask as they progress through the buyer’s journey:

It’s not until people decide that changing might be worth it that they start thinking about who will be affected by the change, how much the company can afford to invest, who will be involved in that type of decision, and when to implement the solution. Those are all questions better uncovered with a salesperson, not a lead from.

Too Late to the Party

One of the worse things about BANT is the late-to-the-party syndrome. That is, even if you get good information about the budget, authority, need, and timeline and turn that info over to most sales teams, your salespeople wouldn’t win the business. Why? Because they would be too late. For many solutions, a good salesperson helps customers think through budgeting and timeline decisions. They surely help uncover needs. They may even help someone think through how to win support from leadership and colleagues. A new rep putting in a last-minute bid has no chance when up against a salesperson who has become a trusted advisor.

In summary, if your sales team says they want BANT leads, help them understand why you can’t BANT.

Are you saying, “I can’t,” when your sales team asks you to BANT?