According to the MarketingSherpa 2012 Lead Generation Benchmark Report, 24% of marketers ask a timeline-to-purchase question on their lead capture forms.
Q: Please select the most important fields that you need to collect from your leads on the lead generation form.
Another 17% ask budget-related questions. I suspect marketers do so because they have heard about “BANT qualified leads” and apply these criteria to Web forms. For the uninitiated, BANT is an acronym:
- B = Budget
- A = Authority
- N = Need
- T= Timing
It’s time to move BANT methodology into retirement.
As I wrote in my previous B2B Lead Roundtable Blog post, BANT is not feasible without someone having a conversation with a prospect. For marketing departments, it’s impossible to deliver BANT qualified leads unless marketing owns an inside sales function.
Making matters worse, BANT does not align with customer buying behavior early in the decision process when Marketing and Sales generally need to engage prospects to win new business. So, even if Marketing owns an inside sales operation, asking the reps to use BANT criteria is misguided.
Lead qualification in a post-BANT world
Now, before introducing an alternative to BANT, I would ask you to think about the mindset of business prospects when they first express interest by sharing their identity.
We have all downloaded a white paper or attended a webinar. Think back on that experience. Now imagine after having done so, the vendor tries to call you. You go through a series of decisions, which we call “micro-yeses.”
The micro-yes decisions depend on the channel but the thought sequence of the customer is actually quite similar, for each channel:
What’s obvious is that we want to qualify the companies who solicit us every bit as much as they want to qualify us.
At each step of the decision process, we decide not only whether to keep going, but whether to do so now using all manner of mental machinery to answer these questions for ourselves.
In the case of email, if we don’t know the sender, then we’re trying to see if the email is junk mail. The “from” field might be a clue. For example, if that field contains the name of a company, we suspect it’s some kind of advertisement or triggered email. We then look at the subject line. And so on.
With a voicemail or an outbound call, we’re listening to the accent, the clarity, the tone, not just the meaning of the words. All of these factors and more can influence how someone might react.
The decisions we make are not just “yes or no.” Often, they are “if/then” scenarios. If the call is from my agency, then X, or if it’s from overseas, then Y, and so on. Those who engage customers need to be mindful and respectful of this filtering process that all of us use.
Lead qualification does not start with prospects
Given this desire we all have to be guarded with strangers, how should we qualify prospects once we decide to speak to them?
First, you need to be polite, not rude or disrespectful. I know that sounds obvious, but we all know how low the bar is. People call without an appointment, without asking if you are busy, without knowing much about you. Rarely do they offer to add value.
So, before you start qualifying them, maybe ask if you’ve called at a bad time. Before asking them questions, do some research on LinkedIn to see if it sounds like they are responsible for what you sell. In other words, you want to establish your authority and credibility, partly through your respectfulness and professionalism.
With this as a context, let me propose a replacement for BANT. I call it PAM – Persona qualification, Account qualification, Motivation.
One thing that is disrespectful is rattling on about something irrelevant to the prospect. The first point of phone qualification is making sure the person is one of the buying personas you hunt for. It’s usually not about the title, although a title is highly indicative. Really, it’s about the charter the person has.
But, how do you determine the charter?
First, provide a process-level and a prospect-level value proposition.
The process-level value proposition answers the question, “Why should I listen to you at all?” The prospect-level value proposition frames your value proposition from a buyer-persona perspective.
For example, you might say, “We have some new research that marketing executives faced with lead follow-up and lead conversion challenges find very helpful. With this new approach, companies are seeing 30% to 40% increases in lead conversion.”
Now you have possibly earned the right to ask them a question or two. Explain that you don’t want to waste their time and so you’d like to ask two questions. Ask what their role is in the company and how the company makes decisions about the kinds of solutions you sell.
Most of the time, if the person you are speaking with is not involved, he or she will give you the name of the person you might want to speak with, if they are at all aware of the challenge. If the person is involved, then he or she may want to learn more before getting others involved.
Next, make sure the account meets the criteria you look for. Again, frame your questions in terms of not wanting to waste the time of the prospect.
If the person you are speaking to is not the right person, qualify the account in order to know whether you should be talking to someone else. That said, one of my pet peeves is needless qualification.
For example, if you sell to large retail chains, do you really need to qualify Wal-Mart? It’s important not be like the actor Bill Murray in the movie “Groundhog Day,” doomed to repeat the same qualification questions with the same account over and over.
A good database marketing strategy and solid CRM implementation is critical.
Secondly, if you can find out an answer without asking, do so. Confirming what you think you know gives you credibility and is respectful. Not doing your homework isn’t.
Account qualification often varies by solution area. The key here is finding the answer to one or two questions that give you enough directional confidence to continue interacting with the account, now and in the future.
The answers should also help you prioritize your efforts to determine if the account is a minnow or a whale.
These two areas of qualification tell you the person and the account may buy at some point. They also help you figure out the size of the account, authority and charter of the decision maker, and may also indicate how much potential revenue is at stake.
But persona and account qualification say nothing about when the account might actually buy, and that’s the reason for the final area of qualification.
Is the person you’re talking to motivated enough to help you get to the people or person who matters?
What pain do they have that maps to what you sell? I like the word pain because I can live with a problem, but pain is much harder to ignore.
Pain can and should happen at the account or department level and at the individual level. But, your first job is to see if it’s happening somewhere in the account.
How big of a priority is eliminating that pain, both for the person you are speaking with and for the others involved in the decision process? Insight into motivations can tell you a lot about the probability of a purchase and timeline for purchase.
It’s all about crafting a true sales-ready engagement
With the right answers to the questions in these three areas of qualification, you have a lead that is usually worthy of sales engagement.
The questions for marketers is what they can do upstream of live conversations to tee up people and accounts that are more likely to convert into sales-ready leads. There are many things.
But for now, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for improvement on the PAM model in the comments section below.