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In the complex world of B2B sales, the ability to effectively qualify prospects is a skill that separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. Senior sales professionals understand that not all leads are created equal.
The art of qualification goes beyond surface-level metrics, diving deep into nuanced assessments that align prospects with the company’s offerings. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key strategies senior salespeople employ to qualify prospects successfully, accompanied by real-world examples that illustrate the principles in action.
Understanding the Qualification Process
Qualifying prospects is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Senior sales professionals recognize the need for a tailored approach that aligns with the complexities of B2B transactions. The qualification process involves evaluating a prospect’s fit with the product or service, understanding their pain points, and gauging the likelihood of a successful partnership. Let’s break down the key components of this process.
1. Quantitative Review
Let’s start with Good Old BANT
BANT – Budget, Authority, Need, Timing
Invented by IBM in the mid-1950s, the BANT qualification methodology propelled IBM into the juggernaut it became with its focus on understanding the immediate likelihood of a deal closing for their cutting edge technologies.
Using this methodology the salesperson and leader can assess the likelihood of a successful outcome as follows:
- Budget: Does the client have the financial resources to invest in the software?
- Authority: Is the person engaging in the conversation the decision-maker, or do they need to consult others?
- Need: Does the client have a genuine need for the specific features offered by the software?
- Timing: Is there a timeline for the implementation of the new system?
By systematically addressing these criteria, the salesperson can gauge the prospect’s readiness to move forward.
But, unless you are selling something that someone absolutely needs right now (think generators before a hurricane), then BANT in today’s modern sales motion is totally irrelevant. And any sales, executive leader or investor who talks about sales qualification using this method should be removed from their role. Let me explain.
If you believe Chet Holmes’ work (The Ultimate Sales Machine that states less than 3% of the market at any given time is seeking a solution like yours to solve the problem they face. Meaning that 97% of the prospects at any moment in time are not seeking to pay for your solution. So let’s look at how the BANT methodology stands up in this market:
Budget: If your prospect has the problem you solve then they’re likely to pay some amount of money to solve it, but it is NOT more than the cost of having the problem (if they’ve been able to quantify this amount). And unless they have already identified potential solutions and their investment costs, they’ll likely not have set aside any funds to fix the problem (i.e. a budget). So of the 3% that want to fix the problem they likely have not set aside enough or any funds in advance to buy your solution. So it’s highly unlikely that there is any BUDGET at the moment you show up.
Authority: In today’s modern sales environment, there are multiple personas that are involved in the purchase of any solution. Even if you’re talking to the CEO or Head of an organization they likely want to have your solution reviewed and vetted by their technical, legal and finance teams before they sign any agreements. So even in the outside case where you’ve got the person of “seniority” who “signs the checks”, you’ll still need someone else to “bless” your solution and the authority of your senior person has been diluted substantially. So you likely don’t have a clear view on the Authority.
Need: Not every prospect that talks to you desperately needs your solution. In fact, less than 3% NEED it. I believe that this number is even lower if you’re offering a “new” technology or solution in the market that’s never been utilized. Moreover, most people and their organizations don’t like change, and as a result any suggested solution that attempts to solve a material problem will be resisted by many, regardless of the impact such a solution will have on the organization. Lastly, most of today’s offerings are more Candy than Medicine (more on that another time) and as a result are not really needed by prospects.
Timeline: So your hot prospect needs your solution, but do they need it NOW? They say they do, but how long will it take to implement and execute?. It depends on how big the problem costs your prospect and even then, it’s about your prospect’s ability to absorb the change that your solution creates within the organization.
Even if your solution’s financial investment is way less than the problem’s cost, the impact of the change within the organization must also be factored into the timing decision. So the timeline of any purchase is dependent on the impact of the problem plus the ability of the organization to affect the change. And the execution timeline is never when the prospect originally describes it.
In short, when you talk to a prospect for the first or second time, they likely don’t have a budget allocation, shared authority, a clearly defined need and have no idea when and how they can execute on the solution. And now you know why I think that BANT is BS for most modern sales motions.
2. Qualitative Assessment: Beyond the Numbers
While you can use a quantitative framework like BANT or MEDPICC (don’t get me started on this one) to help you understand a prospect’s propensity to buy, the qualitative elements of any prospect journey are equally important. Experienced sales professionals recognize the importance of qualitative assessment which include, but are not limited to, elements relating to the prospect’s response times to inquiries, willingness to do some work in advance of prospecting calls and access to prospect team members or data.
When your prospect accepts their role in the exploration of a solution to their problem by accepting and executing some of the work in this exploration then they become collaborators in this process. How does this manifest itself? I’ve found that when my prospect agrees to schedule future calls, accept assignments or brings others from the organization into the exploration process then these are good signs of a collaborator. If they merely sit back and wait for you to “tell” them what they need to hear then it’s likely you’ve not got a collaborator nor, ultimately, a deal.
3. Scalability and Long-Term Value
One of the most common sales strategies is entitled “land and expand” which attempts to enter an account with an offering that meets the prospect’s needs in a manner that is non intrusive both procedurally and economically. The general thinking is that once a prospect converts to being a client then based on the amazing service and solution you provide, that client will be willing to acquire additional services and products.
This strategy implies that you deploy a limited scale solution to your new client at the outset of the relationship or that you’ve got additional products and services to offer. In many cases, I’ve seen this strategy backfire because initially you’ve solved the acute problem and satiated the initial hunger for a solution or you’ve not solved the problem and the client thinks you can’t deliver on your promises. So only through constant reinforcement of the problem and future solution will you be able to execute the “expand” part of the plan.
Nonetheless, if you have the ability to create long term value with your solution and this is acknowledged by the prospect during the initial sales journey then you can build a schedule of scaling. The key to expanding in this manner is to have the prospect agree to such scaling in advance of the initial deployment. Sandler Sales Training describes such agreement to commit as an “Upfront Contract”, because you clearly outline the next steps that will occur once a specific agreed upon outcome takes place.
So if you’ve got a prospect that’s agreed to allow you to expand your offering and solution based on reaching certain milestones or markers during the deployment then you’ve likely got a high quality and qualified prospect that has high value to your organization. If, on the other hand, you’ve got a prospect who wants to fix a certain problem in a limited capacity then you’ve likely got a fixed value prospect with limited capacity.
Thus the total lifetime value of any prospective client is determined by the scope of both the initial and subsequent deliverables. When these values are measured by their expected likelihood of occurring then we’ll have a clear method of measuring which opportunities are of higher importance than others.
4. Utilizing Technology for Enhanced Qualification
Technology and tools can help you understand the engagement level of your prospects before and during the sales journey. Tracking tools like Yesware, SalesHandy, Marketo, HotJar and Gong can provide insight to your prospect’s level of engagement with your digital communication. Measurement tools like Chorus, Bombora and HG Insights can help you understand your prospect’s intent as it relates to their desire to solve their “problem”. When these tools are integrated with your CRM alongside account-based strategies you’ll gain deeper insight as to the nature, composition and mindset of the “buying committee”.
Conclusion: Elevating B2B Sales Through Effective Qualification
In the dynamic landscape of B2B sales, senior professionals and leaders play a pivotal role in steering the ship towards success. Through strategic qualification processes that blend quantitative and qualitative assessments, consideration of expected long-term value and the integration of technology, these senior sales professionals elevate their ability to advance prospects to the ultimate solution and engagement.
By understanding the intricacies of each prospect’s unique needs and aligning them with tailored solutions, these sales leaders pave the way for sustained success in the ever-evolving world of B2B transactions.So start building your own qualification systems and methods today so that you can have an effective pipeline.