By Bob Apollo
Like a growing number of other commentators, I have come to believe that the traditional BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) approach to sales opportunity qualification is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose when it comes to complex B2B sales.
The fact that over 40% of purchasing projects are ad-hoc rather than formally budgeted is, as I argued in a recent blog, yet another nail in the coffin of this outmoded and discredited methodology. But if not BANT, what can you use instead?
Any alternative approach has to take into account the fundamentally non-linear nature of B2B buying decisions, particularly when they relate to solving a new and unfamiliar problem (as opposed to repeat purchases of well-known commodities).
In such environments, opportunity qualification must be recognised and managed as a progressive rather than a one-off process – often starting with marketing, involving some form of tele-qualification and with responsibility passing to the sales person ultimately responsible for the opportunity.
In these complex, lengthy, multi-touch environments, it’s obviously important that everyone involved in the creation, qualification and management of sales opportunities shares a common perspective.
After evaluating hundreds of complex B2B sales environments, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are around a dozen consistent factors in the opportunity qualification process. Some are relatively obvious from the start of the engagement with a prospective customer – others only become clear after the customer’s buying decision journey has progressed.
For convenience, I’ll divide these 12 elements into initial and advanced qualification factors. Each of these factors needs to be regularly re-assessed throughout the lifecycle of the opportunity, particularly whenever the customer’s circumstances change.
After experimenting with a number of different approaches to evaluating each factor, I’ve concluded that a simple “traffic light” approach with three options (plus “unknown”) achieves the appropriate balance between simplicity, consistency and effectiveness:
- GREEN = a perfect fit against our qualification criteria
- AMBER = an acceptable fit against our qualification criteria
- RED = a risk factor or a negative fit against our qualification criteria
- GREY = unknown – we are currently unable to assess this factor
For each of the 12 factors, you need to establish a simple and consistent definition of what each of these levels of qualification means in practice in your environment. And I strongly recommend that when your sales people capture their current assessments in CRM that you require them to include a brief one-line commentary about how they arrived at their conclusion for each factor.
You also need to establish an atmosphere where it’s OK to admit – rather than guessing – that your sales people don’t have sufficient evidence to rate a factor as anything other than unknown (as long as the sales person them redoubles their efforts to get to the truth), and where it’s OK – and in fact highly desirable – to proactively qualify out a bad opportunity as early as possible in the cycle.
Let’s start with the initial qualification factors:
INITIAL QUALIFICATION FACTORS
Has your customer acknowledged a clearly defined business issue that your organisation is really good at solving?
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