If you've been a salesperson for a while, there's a good chance you swear by the "BANT" approach. Asking questions around Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline has long been the framework for qualifying prospects. But according to Brian Signorelli, director of software company HubSpot's Global Sales Partner Program, BANT alone isn't enough to make the sale anymore.
"These days buyers are more informed and empowered than they've ever been before," says Signorelli, author of Inbound Selling: How to Change the Way You Sell to Match How People Buy (Wiley, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-119-47341-1, $25.00). "They don't need qualifying—in fact, they've probably already qualified themselves.
"This means you can't just go into 'data managing mode' and expect it to drive a sale forward," he adds. "You can't just tick off the questions on a checklist and assume you're done. Your job is to help your prospect achieve their goals. Today, that often means digging deeper and going beyond BANT—sometimes far beyond it."
Signorelli says the old, outbound approach to sales—aggressive, intrusive, product/company-centric—is becoming obsolete in a world where people can seek out solutions without the help of a sales rep. (In fact, 60 percent of sales are made without a salesperson involved.) These days the most successful salespeople sell the inbound way—meaning they engage all potential customers in a human-centric and empathetic way, focus on their pain points first, and gain the buyer's trust over time by demonstrating concrete value through insight.
In Inbound Selling, Signorelli lays out a framework that helps salespeople take specific actions as their prospective buyers move through their journey from Awareness to Consideration to Decision. He guides readers through the four categories of actions salespeople must take before moving on to negotiating and closing: Identify, Connect, Explore, and Advise.
"The 'Explore' phase—more specifically, the Exploratory call—is where the 'digging' happens," says Signorelli. "It's where rapport is truly built. It's where trust codifies. It's where you learn exactly what 'current state' your prospect is in and where you help them understand how to get to their future, desired state."
He offers the following tips to help you get beyond BANT and make the most of the Exploratory phase of your sales process:
Always dig for the truth behind "surface" answers.
A great salesperson realizes that asking a question will simply get you an answer, not necessarily the truth. So a highly skilled salesperson will not just take information they're given at face value. They will dig deeper, to understand the truth behind what is being said.
For example, if a great rep hears that their prospect's sales goal is $5 million in revenue, they will start asking questions such as, How did you arrive at that goal? Is that a goal that's a nice-to-have number or a need-to-have number? Who was involved in coming up with that goal? What's the upside (or downside) to missing, meeting, or exceeding that goal?
Get in the right frame of mind.
Signorelli says when you're speaking with a prospect, you should treat them very similarly to a good friend starting a business. You would likely express deep interest and ask follow-up questions to understand the true nature of what was going on. You would ask about other people your friend works with, what they're like, how they drive (or don't drive) decisions forward.
"If all this is true, why then do sales reps tend to shy away from these more 'personal' questions when engaging with prospects?" asks Signorelli. "My hypothesis is that either sales reps don't feel comfortable asking these questions or they simply don't know how to ask these questions. But it's crucial to get comfortable enough to ask the questions that will ultimately help you discover what they really need."
Get to know the GPCTCI Framework.
While inbound selling incorporates the BANT approach, they also use a framework called "GPCTCI": Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Consequences, and Implications. This framework helps salespeople understand what the prospects' current world looks like, what their future world looks like, what's standing in their way to get to the future state, their level of desire to fix those challenges, and how urgent it truly is to fix those problems.
"There are several different categories of questions you might be asking someone during the Explore phase of the inbound sales process," says Signorelli. "But be sure you don't just drag and drop them into your own calls. Customize them and make them better."
Business (and sometimes personal) goals
- What's at the top of the priority list for the rest of this year?
- How did those things make it to the top of the list?
- How do those priorities relate back to revenue (or cost reduction, risk reductions, efficiency, etc.)?
- Would you say that those goals are nice to have or need to have?
Plans to achieve your goals or overcome challenges
- How long have you been working on that goal?
- Have you tried to achieve this goal or overcome this challenge in the past?
- What is your plan now to achieve the goals we discussed?
- Who else is working on it? How much time do you think they'll need to effectively work on these goals with you?
Challenges inhibiting you from achieving goals
- How long have you been working on this goal?
- Why do you think it has been challenging to get there?
- Do you think you'll need to change your approach to get to your goals?
- What do you anticipate being easy, or difficult, as you make that adjustment?
Timeline to start working toward, as well as achieve, stated goals
- What's your timeline to achieve these goals?
- How did you come up with that timeline?
- If it took you an additional month, three months, six months, to get there, is that okay?
- Why is delaying okay, or not?
Consequences and implications if goals are exceeded or missed
- If you exceed these goals by, say, 20 percent, what happens? Dream out loud with me.
- If you miss these goals by, say, 20 percent, what happens? Scenario-plan out loud with me.
Follow your Exploratory call with a recap letter.
A recap letter achieves three things. First, it is a great way to fully digest and understand the conversation you had with your prospect. Second, it's a chance to delight your prospect by making them feel like they have been heard after addressing the goals and challenges they are facing. Finally, it's a chance to ask insightful follow-up questions. You'll be helping yourself, but you're also helping your prospect think more about the issues they shared with you, and you're driving the conversation forward by raising questions to cover in your next phone call together.
"It pays off to take the extra 30 to 60 minutes required to recap your conversation," says Signorelli. "It will pay off. But remember not to make your follow-up letters sound scripted. Instead, focus on expressing genuine curiosity about your prospect and their situation."
"The data you collect from BANT is a good starting point, but it's not sufficient to drive your sales forward in an inbound world," concludes Signorelli. "But when you treat your prospect like a friend and dig deeper into their needs and goals, you will delight them with real solutions and show them that they are more than just a sale."
About the Author
Brian Signorelli is the director of HubSpot's Global Sales Partner Program, where he advises HubSpot partners on inbound sales and inbound marketing to grow their clients' companies, as well as their own. He regularly writes, develops, and presents sales content for HubSpot's partners and their customers. He is also the founder of InboundSeller.com.