Everyone in sales is familiar with the concept of BANT. Introduced by software giant IBM in the 1960s, the acronym—standing for budget, authority, need and timeline—became a byword for good sales technique and is still used by many salespeople today. Google it and you will still find contemporary blogs and business sites promoting its use and going into great depth as to why each component of BANT is still relevant today.
These people are wrong, however. The smart thinking in business circles currently is that the mantra that worked so successfully in the pre-internet age is now obsolete. Customers’ needs have changed immeasurably in the last 20 years, and there are a number of other shortcomings with BANT that have led to its rejection by today’s top sales teams. We’ll take a look at those shortcomings here and propose an alternative method that is coming increasingly into use.
BANT Was Designed For Early Adopters, Not Typical Users
Early adopters (also known as lighthouse customers) are hugely important to companies in that they not only generate initial revenue but also provide valuable feedback that allows the business to refine their product before it reaches the majority consumer. IBM also dealt in computer software, still a relatively specialised marketplace in the pre-Internet days, where innovators and early adopters made up a larger percentage of the customer base than today.
It is therefore understandable that IBM tailored BANT to the typical early adopter. The early adopter knows their budget and is often willing to pay a premium in order to have the product straightaway, with prices of innovation technology often falling dramatically after the initial months.
Early adopters are informed about the product, they know why they need it, they want it yesterday, and they have the authority to carry out the purchase—in short, they meet all BANT criteria. In such circumstances, the sell is a relatively soft one. They just want to get their hands on that new product and it doesn’t much matter what the salesperson says. The problems with BANT arise when trying to sell to typical users.
Budgets For New Purchases Often Not Defined
We’ll begin with the B-part of BANT: budget. The American author William Feather said: “A budget tells us what we can’t afford, but it doesn’t keep us from buying it.” But it does keep the customer from buying if the salesperson is using BANT, which relies on the customer having the requisite budget to make the purchase. If the customer has not budgeted for the product, according to BANT, the sale cannot be made and the lead is discarded.
However most companies today no longer budget for purchases in advance. A 2013 DemandGen study showed only 20-30% of purchases are budgeted beforehand. The same study showed that 70-80% of people seek to obtain spending approval after they’ve evaluated the potential purchase. If BANT were applied to these customers, a huge amount of potential sales would be missed.
Unless you are selling something that is a line item for your customer, it’s likely that the budget for what you are selling will not be created until after the business case is built.
Just because a customer hasn’t set aside money for a particular item doesn’t mean they don’t have the money or that they don’t want to part with it. They just need to be persuaded that what you are offering is so essential, they simply have to find a way of working it into their budget. If you can convince them that purchasing your product will help them achieve their strategic objectives, the client will find the money.
Thus, a client who would previously have been dismissed using the BANT criteria can actually be a strong sales possibility.
The A-part of BANT, authority, requires that a lead have the requisite decision-making power to close a deal on behalf of their organisation. In the modern business world, this seems patently absurd. The majority of the time, the person who builds a relationship with your company, reads your content, attends your webinars or shares your infographics is rarely the person who also signs on the dotted line.
He or she will find out as much as they can about the product: if, in their judgement, it will enhance their business and help them achieve strategic objectives, they will make a recommendation to whomever has decision-making power. That person (or, increasingly, those persons) will then sign on the dotted line to complete the transaction. Discarding a lead because the person with whom you are speaking does not have authority to close a deal would be catastrophic in the modern world.
As alluded to above, another problem with this approach is that there often isn’t a single decision-maker at a company any more. It’s common now to find a room with a number of stakeholders who will discuss the recommended purchase at length. All of them can veto a deal, while none of them can push a deal through without the consent of the others. Asking to speak to “a person with authority” is therefore redundant in many cases.
The Customer Might Not Know They Need Your Product
The N-part of BANT requires that customers must have a need for your product. If there is no concrete need, the lead is to be discarded. Yet as Henry Ford knew, people don’t always know that they need something until they’re shown what it is they’re missing out on.
Unlike the early adopters, who want to position themselves as being at the forefront of something new, typical users are more pragmatic and cautious. They’ll wait and see what the buzz is from the early adopters before they spend any of their hard-earned on the new innovation. Does it work properly? Is it fairly priced? Do I even need it?
So need doesn’t have to be there for someone to be interested. The salesperson’s job should be to persuade them that they absolutely require the product on offer, that the small dissatisfactions they have with their current product are actually huge irritations that could be simply solved by the purchase of your product, that the car you’re offering them is faster, more reliable, and makes less mess than their horse. The challenger sale technique, which we touched on in the last blog and will come to later, is a good way of doing this.
Time Is Not Of The Essence
T is for timeline: this flows from the “need” part of BANT and says that a potential customer must not only need the product, but that they must have a specific timeframe in which to close the deal, otherwise the lead must be discarded. Again, this is all but unworkable in a modern business setting. Pressuring a client to come up with a timeframe is as likely to put them off your product as it is likely to close a sale.
Yet an atmosphere of urgency, if it feels naturally created, is a handy selling tool. Rather than shifting the burden onto the customer to come up with a timeframe out of thin air, a demonstration of the immediate cost-saving benefits of the product to the customer can make them feel that they really will be missing out if the deal is not closed soon, without the salesperson having to make specific reference to timeframe.
Again, this is linked to need: if you can demonstrate to the client that they are going to be saving a specific amount each month with your product, then the likelihood is that they will want to purchase it more quickly so as to take advantage.
If BANT Is No Longer The Answer, What Is?
There are a variety of sales techniques that one can use to replace BANT. As we’ve covered recently, research by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of CEB has shown that the “challenger sale” returns the best results. The challenger is assertive, informative and loves to debate. They inform their client and are willing to challenge orthodoxy. They are in stark contrast to the “relationship builder”, the more traditional salesperson who tries their best to be liked and is by comparison time-inefficient and less respected by customers.
Dixon and Adamson found that the challenger approach worked because it created what they call “constructive tension” during the sale. They distilled the approach into three T’s: teaching, tailoring and taking control.
The first, teaching, shows that customers respond to the salesperson’s ability to teach them something new or to challenge their preconceptions about a certain aspect of their business. To achieve this, the salesperson requires two things: expert knowledge of their product and the confidence to risk a negative reaction from the customer. The old ways of the relationship builder—think Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman—where the salesperson tries to befriend the customer, have been proven by Dixon and Adamson to be ineffectual in contemporary sales.
The challenger style is provocative, and that means the salesperson will receive negative reactions as well as positive ones. But any reaction is better than indifference: it means you are triggering emotions. This approach also gives the challenger a degree of authenticity that the relationship builder cannot achieve: the customer will realise you are not out to charm your way into a sale, rather you are there to offer your expert professional opinion. They might not like you, but they will respect you—and that can often be the first step to a sale.
The second T, tailoring, requires that the salesperson gain broad support from the stakeholders in the target business. Dixon and Adamson’s research showed that decision makers in a given company like a supplier to have strong support across their organisation before committing to a deal. It is up to the challenger, therefore, to understand fully the customer’s key goals and to tailor their pitch to those.
Again, the deep knowledge that the salesperson displays in doing this impresses upon the customer that he or she is to be taken seriously as an expert in their field, increasing the likelihood of a sale.
The final T is “taking control”. Since the credit crisis at the end of the 2000s, businesses have been much more wary about taking financial risks. Customers are more likely than ever to hesitate at the point of sale. The challenger salesperson is able to clinch the sale despite this by taking control of the situation. They will reaffirm the benefits and value they are offering the customer or offer an alternative in order to reassure the customer.
By taking control of the situation, the challenger also ratchets up the constructive tension. This is a way of creating the sense of urgency that the “timeline” part of BANT requires without specifically mentioning deadlines or timeframes, which can cause the customer to lose focus.
Time To Consign BANT To History
BANT was a cleverly constructed, simple-to-follow sales technique that brought salespeople huge success over decades. But it was created by a software company at a time when IT was highly priced and innovators and early adopters formed the bulk of their market: they would sell a small number of high-priced items to a hardcore customer base of technology enthusiasts.
In a world where the latest innovations by Apple or Sony are purchased by hundreds of millions of people, BANT simply does not apply any more. The budget and timeline criteria simply ring false in today’s world. That’s why good contemporary sales teams have banned BANT and taken up the challenger sale.
About the Author
A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.More Content by Geoffrey Walters