If there were a popular qualifying strategy that would offend your prospective clients while also projecting that you and your company are self-oriented brutes who care only about closing a deal, would you use that strategy?
If the first communication would ensure you create anti-value for your prospective clients instead of creating value in the sales conversation, would you believe that approach to selling is effective? The strategy I’m referring to is called the BANT method, which stands for budget, authority, need, and time. It is one of the reasons sales is broken, and you should stop using it, especially in a first meeting.
While it’s possible to qualify a client during a few conversations, you need to be more diplomatic and, perhaps, a little more patient than the BANT method allows. The best way to qualify your prospective client is to continually measure things like the time your contacts spend with you and the effort they put into pursuing the change you are leading them through.
Legacy Qualification and the BANT Method
You call your dream client for months, finally reaching them on the telephone and securing a meeting. The contact suggests they need some help, and you are stoked to be sitting across from the decision-maker who spends more money in your category than any client you have acquired up to this moment. Your contact explains that they are just beginning a new line and they are still working out all the details.
Following the process your company imposes on you to keep you from wasting time on those tire-kickers, you hear yourself ask your contact, "Do you have a budget for this new project?" Your contact gently reminds you they are beginning this process, and they don't yet have confirmation of the budget. As you look out the contact's office window you see several people are walking around with blueprints. Your decision to use the BANT method with your contact means you already have one strike against you in this deal.
Desperately trying not to feel awkward, you ask your contact if she will be the person to make the decision of who they will partner with, and she tells you she is one person who will be on the task force deciding on who they will work with. Your contact isn't concerned by the question. She is a business leader pursuing her initiative without having all the details in place. You, however, now have two major strikes, as your dream client has no set budget, and your contact lacks the authority to bind the company to a deal. So far, the BANT method is pushing you towards disqualifying this would-be opportunity.
It is already clear your prospective client will need what you sell. People work in the background, and there is no doubt they are going to buy from someone in your industry. They might buy from you, but they may go with your nemesis, Jimmy Wheeler. This guy has all the luck when it comes to beating you for big deals.
When you ask your contact about when the new line will go live, she disappoints you by explaining it's too early, that they are still working with the architects and the investment they will need to acquire. She says her best guess is 10 months from now, depending on whether they can get machines from a German company known for their quality.
While your prospective client has a future need, the BANT method suggests your dream client is an unqualified prospect, and pursuing them would be a waste of time. But you wonder if Jimmy Wheeler would walk away from this deal. Your contact thanks you for spending time with her and asks you to send information.
Why BANT Creates a Bad First Meeting
There is no reason to spend time with people who can't or won't buy what you sell. Because buyers have changed how they buy, you can count on BANT to fail. A lot of initiatives start with conversations that let the contacts learn about what is possible. If you are fortunate enough to be in the room in early conversations, you have the best possible sales luck, outside of your uncle being the CEO.
The contacts you meet with, be they a dream client or your run-of-the-mill prospective client, expect you to create value for them in the sales conversation. When you ask questions that are useful to you but not to the client, you create the opposite of value, something we describe as anti-value or wasted time. No amount of directness or diplomacy will make a difference. When you ask questions that serve you without being valuable to your client, you will find it difficult to get a second meeting. A bad first meeting is how you prevent a second meeting.
Jimmy Wheeler's first prompt to the same contact you met with is, "Tell me about this new initiative and how it is going to change things for you." Jimmy recognizes that he is looking at a trigger event. Halfway through the conversation, Jimmy says, "It seems like it's early, but what can I do to help you now to make sure you have everything you need." The contact says, "I'd like to know what you guys might recommend when it comes to this new process. Can you show me what might suit us best?"
The difference between you and Jimmy Wheeler is that Jimmy is qualifying in instead of qualifying out. That's why Jimmy wins more deals. He's patient. He plays the long game. He creates value before his prospective client has a budget or an order. Jimmy is on the inside and BANT has put you on the outside.
To rectify this, take a couple of meetings. You aren't too busy to invest time in people and companies that might benefit from your help, something the BANT method doesn’t support. Instead, try to help your clients by being One-Up and educating them. See if that doesn’t level the playing field with Jimmy Wheeler.