Probably one of the weakest areas of buying and selling I see is “qualifying.” As sales people, there are dozens of acronyms; if any are applied, you have a “qualified deal.” Budget, authority, need and timeline (BANT) is the grandfather of all of these, but others have come up with their own alphabet soup pushing their approaches.
These can be helpful if applied, but too often, sales people don’t apply them in a disciplined fashion.
However, these are for sales people to use, hopefully, in finding good deals to chase. But just because the customer can answer those questions doesn’t necessarily mean the deal is real from the customer’s point of view. Just look at Hank Barnes’ provocative research on planned versus unplanned buying efforts and buyer regret. Look at the number of budgeted buying initiatives that never result in an order (even though the customer could give the right answer to all the BANT questions).
We and our customers wasted huge amounts of time and resources on deals that are not and may have never been “real,” though both we and the customer thought they were.
Four Conditions of a Real Deal
There are four conditions that we and our customers must meet to maximize the probability that the buying effort is real and can end successfully, rather than withering away as more important things divert the customer attention.
Condition 1: The customer/opportunity is dead center in our Ideal Customer Profile. The buying initiative may be real, but if it’s not in our ICP, it’s someone else’s deal. But we fail too often in poorly broadly defined ICPs. I was talking to a client and asked them to describe their key ICP. “It’s technology companies!” I then asked, “What kind of technology company? Semiconductor, electronic components, systems companies, software (enterprise, SaaS and otherwise), telephone/internet/networking service providers, equipment manufacturers, distributors or technology products, integrators, outsourced solutions providers, B2B technologies, B2C technologies … Are they the established giants or startups, or somewhere in between? What is their operating/decision-making style, their enterprise personality? What maturity level do they need to have in their markets–are they innovators, early adopters, laggards? Where do our products best fit in terms of solution maturity?” The client muttered, “Startup SaaS software companies—I suppose …”
We need to have a rich definition of our ICP and focus exclusively on those companies that are a fit. And, generally, if we aren’t hitting our numbers, rather than broaden focus, we are more effective when we narrow that focus.
Condition 2: “What is the compelling need to change?” Most of the time we never understand that. We are just relieved the customer might want to hear about our product. We move them from prospecting to the next stage, and the system says we have gone from 10% odds or winning to 20%. Sometimes, we guess about the compelling need to change, based on what we think we may have heard from the customer, or based on what we wanted to hear from the customer.
We don’t know what the compelling need to change is until the words come from the buying team’s mouths (and they are saying the same thing). We need to hear them say, “This is why we need to change now, this is what happens if we don’t, and that is unacceptable.”
And the customer may not know this answer! But until they do, they don’t know why they should be buying, if they should be buying and why they should be buying. One of two things are likely to happen to these customers: They will wander, get lost, diverted and never buy. Or if they’ve made a buying decision, they will be unable to respond to challenges from their management, “Why do we need to do this? Why do we need to do this now?” The answer, “They gave us a great discount,” won’t cut it.
Here’s one of our first opportunities to create real value. We can help the customer develop the answer to this question. We can teach them, we can help them think differently about their businesses, we can have them to talk to others that have made similar decisions.
But until the customer can answer this question, with confidence, we have nothing to sell because the customer has no reason to buy.
Condition 3: “When do you need to have the solution in place?” This is an aspect of the ‘why now?’ issue. It helps the customer think more deeply about the urgency of their change initiative. If they can’t articulate this, they may not have any urgency, or the problem may not be compelling.
Note, this question is not, “When are you making a buying decision?” It’s when they need to have the solution in place and start achieving the results they expected. With most complex B2B decisions, this is the most critical issue. And this drives all the decisions they have to make, including any buying decisions.
As and example, some years ago I worked with a client who made complex candy wrapping machines. (It’s actually quite fascinating.) A major candy manufacturer was launching a new line of products. In that business the September-December buying season represents the majority of their revenue. They hoped to sell $500 million in chocolates during that time. They needed to have candy on shelves in September. If they didn’t, they would miss the entire buying season and lose that $500 million opportunity. That’s when they needed the solution in place (also, note this is all about them and their goals, not what we sell). We then asked questions, “When do you need to start manufacturing product to achieve that? How long does it take you to put a new manufacturing line in place and qualify it? It will take us, and any competitors, nine months to design and manufacture these machines. So you need to make a decision on which packaging machine you want to buy, by this date, or you won’t achieve your goals.” Knowing the answer to this question also improves your ability to establish the target close date and minimize slippage or changes.
Condition 4: “What are the consequences of not having a solution in place by that date?” This reconfirms the compelling need to change, the urgency, what they are trying to achieve and when. Using the previous candy example, if they didn’t have product on shelves in September, they would have lost $500M revenue. They wouldn’t be able to capture that revenue for another year (product on shelves in January didn’t do anything; the majority of revenue was in the last 3.5 months of the year).
In this project, the customer got diverted. But because we had a good understanding of the urgency, when a solution needed to be put in place and the consequences of missing that, we could go to the customer, reminding them of this and challenging them about whether that was acceptable. Crassly put, we were very “pushy,” but not in the sense of getting our order, but in helping them achieve their goals; meeting their commitments to their management and themselves.
Know the Answers to Customers’ Questions
As I have mentioned, often the customer doesn’t know the answers to these questions. But knowing these answers is critical to their success in solving their problems and achieving their goals. Knowing the answers to these questions enables them to get the support/investments they need from senior management. Knowing the answers to these questions keeps them disciplined and focused on the jobs they need to complete to buy and meet those goals. It increases their own commitment to success.
The majority of committed buying initiatives end in no decision made. Customers get lost, they get diverted, they lose interest, they forget why and what they were trying to achieve in the first place. Too often, customers don’t deeply understand why they need to make a change, when they need to have it in place, and what happens if they don’t Without knowing these, they can’t get the support and investments they need to succeed.
Nothing is ever 100%, but if we and the customer are aligned around these conditions, we both have a much higher probability of achieving our shared goals.
If we don’t know the answers to these questions (the customer’s answers), and the customer doesn’t, the reality is the opportunity is more likely wishful thinking and not real.