Many marketers use a model for lead qualification based on these four key characteristics:
- B = Budget
- A = Authority
- N = Need
- T= Timing
The approach is dubbed BANT. In a recent article, Ardath Albee said, “Salespeople are adamant about these criteria.” She believes the criteria are not customer-centric, and she’s right.
Before we start another unproductive war between Sales and Marketing, maybe we should focus on building bridges of understanding between these two departments. They need each other. They can help each other.
What’s the problem with BANT leads?
Let’s start by creating a common language for lead qualification that makes more sense than BANT.
With all due respect to Ardath, I have interviewed hundreds of elite salespeople and have rarely heard any of them demand BANT criteria. Their critiques of marketing leads are much more fundamental.
Yet far too often, marketers send every lead to Sales and very few of those leads ever convert. In fact, Sales can rarely have a single conversation with these prospects because they’re just not ready to make a purchase.
So, let’s get real.
Unless Marketing owns an inside sales operation (and few marketing teams do), delivering BANT leads is completely impossible. Even with an inside sales operation doing lead qualification, delivering BANT qualified leads is unwise. There are two key reasons:
- The best salespeople want to start the conversation before the buyer defines the criteria too deeply.
- Prospects need to speak to salespeople in order to develop budgets.
Yet, we have all seen timeline questions and budget questions on lead forms.
Customer-centric lead qualification
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
For example, if you were a customer just starting to consider buying a marketing automation solution, what would you enter into a lead form about your timeline to buy or your budget?
Early on, you probably aren’t sure you will buy a marketing automation system.
Of course, “not sure” isn’t one of the answers in the drop-down menu. Even if it was, you might be reluctant to tell the truth because you’re afraid you wouldn’t be able to get the information you need.
You also don’t know what kind of budget you need. You’re not clear yet on who will need to weigh in on a solution. In fact, you aren’t even sure the problems you have lined up with the category of marketing automation.
Now, let’s assume you are a little further along.
You’ve got a short list. You’ve talked to a couple of marketing automation vendors and are starting to get clarity on the solution. How do you answer a timeline question?
The answer is usually, “It depends.” It depends on what fires come up or how much internal pushback you get.
It can also depend on what timeline you’re asking about:
- Budget approval?
- Signing a contract?
- Starting implementation?
No matter what timeline you want or what you predict will happen, a complex sale will probably take longer than you expect.
How can your customers know their budget before the solution?
Then there’s the budget question …
As a customer, even if I have a budget, I wouldn’t tell you because you haven’t earned the right to ask that question. Plus, even if I do respect you, I still might be afraid you will overcharge me if I tell you how much I have to spend.
Also, what budget are you asking about?
- Budget for the software?
- The content budget for lead nurturing?
- The budget for resources I need to create campaigns in the software?
Furthermore, do any of the answers to these questions really mean these prospects are not worth having a conversation with?
Many prospects aren’t ready to talk to Sales early in their consideration. Sales might not want to talk to them. And that’s OK, that’s why we have lead nurturing.
The limits of lead qualification and marketing automation
Instead of promising sales leadership the moon and the stars, maybe we marketers need to be a little more realistic. Marketing can’t deliver BANT leads without an inside sales operation. Instead, Marketing can deliver leads that are most likely in the target market and more likely to have a desire to speak to Sales. Yes, most of those leads will not convert any time soon into revenue. But, neither will cold calling. That is the point of reference for marketing leads.
Lead scoring can make marketing leads even more productive by helping salespeople:
- Avoid calling some leads that are very unlikely to convert
- Prioritize the remaining leads so that salespeople make more dials to the most likely buyers.
One of the challenges with lead scoring is Marketing often has very little information on a given lead. There are very promising developments on the horizon. For example, big data allows us to leverage oceans of unstructured information on the Web and will greatly improve our ability to score leads by providing far more information for a lead scoring system to consider.
For example, let’s say you are selling marketing automation software.
Wouldn’t you like to know which accounts are using the search phrase “lead nurturing” or have a job posting for a marketing database manager or belong to certain lead management groups on LinkedIn?
Wouldn’t it be great for the lead scoring system to consider who is reading about lead nurturing in blogs or attending webinars about lead nurturing or lead scoring?
Even with all of these improvements on the horizon, machines are still no substitute for a highly trained sales professional interacting with a would-be customer.
Moving beyond BANT
Ultimately, the big idea here is marketers need to start thinking in terms of moving beyond BANT scoring. In next week’s B2B Lead Roundtable Blog post, I’ll share with you my recommendation for a model that is a little more realistic than BANT.
Also, I’d love to hear more about your experiences with BANT and lead scoring in the comments section below.