A long time ago, IBM revolutionized sales with the introduction of BANT. The mantra is familiar to any salesperson: qualify your prospects based on their Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline.
This used to work well.
In a world where prospects didn't know and could not figure out solutions to their own problems via a simple Google search, their favorite blogs, or by posting a question on a social media site, they were reliant on salespeople. Salespeople could quickly identify a problem through a good well-delivered positioning statement, confirm the prospect's interest in fixing it, qualify on BANT, and schedule a presentation.
Today, prospects are much more informed about you and your competitor's products and services, have identified their own needs, and started to design their own solutions -- all before even thinking about talking to a salesperson. According to a study by CEB, buyers are now 57% of the way toward a buying decision when they first make contact with a salesperson. Salespeople have no control in this situation ... unless they figure out how to add value to the prospect's decision making process. BANT isn't good enough anymore.
One sales qualification process we’ve developed internally to best qualify whether a prospect truly could benefit from our products and services is a three-part framework called GPCTBA/C&I that we go through during an exploratory call.
Yes, we totally agree that this is the longest string of acronyms in sales, ever, but it works. Here's a breakdown of each part of this sales qualifying process.
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1) GPCT (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline)
Ask questions and listen to your prospect. What are your prospect's goals? Their company's goals? Are these goals something your product can help them achieve? What are your prospect’s plans to achieve his or her goals, and the company’s goals? Based on your experience helping hundreds of people in their situation, do you think their plan will get them to their goals? Is there a better way? Does their current plan require a product like yours? What challenges are your prospects facing, or do they anticipate facing, as they implement their plan? Can your product help the prospect overcome or avoid these challenges? What is the timeline for implementing their plan and achieving their goals? Based on your experience and their situation, is that timeline reasonable?
The goals you want to identify are quantifiable goals your prospect wants or needs to hit. There are really only a few reasons to buy any product: to make more money, save money, or avoid some risk of losing money. Sometimes, companies haven't defined or quantified these goals very effectively or they haven't determined how their high-level goals relate to their day-to-day metrics or milestones. This is opportunity number one for salespeople to establish themselves as an advisor by beginning to help prospects reset or quantify their goals.
When discussing goals, salespeople can often help prospects think even bigger or more realistically based on their experience helping others in similar situations. For example, at HubSpot, we often help marketers determine lead generation goals based on their company's sales targets. Many times, we have to revise lead generation goals down based on the marketer's bandwidth. More often than not, though, we can help a marketer figure out how to more predictably hit their target with less effort or expense than they thought. Some qualification questions you can ask include:
- What is your top priority in 2013?
- Do you have specific company goals?
- Do you have published revenue goals for this upcoming quarter/year?
- Are there any other company goals that are important?
- Do you have personal goals that go along with these?
Now that you have a sense of what the prospect's individual and company goals are, you want to find out what their current plans are that they will implement in order to achieve these goals. You want to really nail down whether they tried this before and how it worked. You want to know why they think their plan will succeed or fail, what changes they've made along the way in their plan and why, as well as what their backup plans are if their current plans don't work out.
During this process, you want to begin making your own assessment of whether you think their plan will get them to their goal. Listen for excuses such as "the economy was bad last year, we should do better with reaching goals this year" -- that might tip you off to the fact that they aren't really in control and confident that their plan will work without a little intervention from a higher being ... or someone like you!
You're also listening for good plans such as "We plan to do X, Y, and Z to grow our revenue by 25%." Usually, as you poke holes, your prospect will admit that they aren't 100% certain their plan will work perfectly to help them achieve their goals. At this point, you should get permission to suggest new and better ways that they can get where they need to go. Ask questions such as:
- What did you do last year? What worked and what didn't? What are you going to do differently this year?
- Do you think xyz might make it hard to implement your plan?
- Do you anticipate that implementing this plan will go smoothly?
- Do you have the right resources available to implement this plan?
- Would you like to hear about how other people I've worked with have implemented plans like these?
- Are you open to thinking differently this year about how to reach your goals?
The most important moment in any sale is determining whether you can help a prospect overcome their and their company's challenges; ones they're dealing with as well as ones they (or you) anticipate.
Most companies don't invest money just to achieve a goal. They'll prefer to just do more of what they're already doing, and will resist change until they really need to make change. That usually happens because what they've done just isn't working or they ran into a challenge they simply can't overcome. The trick is getting prospects to admit that they are stuck.
Questions you can use to establish challenges are:
- Why do you think you'll be able to eliminate this challenge now, even though you've tried in the past and you're still dealing with it?
- Do you think you have the internal expertise to deal with these challenges?
- What are specific hurdles that you think may stop you from reaching your goals?
- How are you addressing these challenges in your plan?
- If you realize early enough in the year that this plan isn't fixing this challenge, how will you shift gears?
It's all about timing. When do they need to achieve their goal? When can they implement their plan? When do they need to eliminate this challenge? If your prospect doesn't have bandwidth to deal with these issues or has more important goals that take precedence, their timeline might be "in the future" and you have to make the decision whether to invest time now or not. Determine whether you can help them at this time or not by asking questions such as:
- How quickly do these results need to be achieved?
- When will you begin implementing this plan?
- Is hitting this goal a priority right now?
- What else is a priority right now?
- What other complementary (or competitive) solutions are you evaluating?
- Do you have bandwidth and resources to implement this plan now?
- Would you like help thinking through the steps involved in executing this plan, so you can figure out when you should implement each piece?
- Is it more likely that you will revise the goals, or revise the timeline, if they aren't realistic?
2) BA (Budget and Authority)
If you've determined that you can help your prospect achieve their goals, implement their plan, overcome their challenges --- all within their required timeline -- it's time to start talking about how they'll make the decision and where the funding is coming from.
It’s critical to establish what your prospect’s budget is. After all, you can't help them if they can't invest in your solution. Assuming you've done a good job quantifying their goals and challenges, now's the time to remind them of the upside and confirm that they agree on the potential ROI.
Next, you should find out what else they're spending money on. If they're investing elsewhere to solve the same problems and it's not working, and you have a solution that can do it more effectively and within budget, you can say something like:
"We've established that your goal is X and that you're spending Y now to try and achieve X. But it's not working. In order to hire us, you will need to invest Z. Since Z is pretty similar to Y and you're more confident that our solution will get you to your goal, do you believe it makes sense to invest Z to hire us?"
In a world where prospects are busy, buying committees are formed to find solutions and lower level non-budget-wielding, non-people-managing employees are sent to search the internet for the latest and greatest goal-achieving, challenge-overcoming solutions. As a result, salespeople often don't get to talk to the economic decision maker until later in the process, if ever. Yes, great salespeople still call higher-ups. But realistic salespeople are willing to try and turn influencers into champions.
A mistake many buyers and sellers make is thinking that the right way to sell internally is to make it an internal conversation. Make sure to stay involved by guiding the process with the influencer:
- Are the goals we've discussed important to the economic buyer?
- Amongst their priorities, where does this fall?
- Do they have ways they'd like you to overcome challenges?
- What concerns do you anticipate they'll raise?
- How should we go about getting the economic buyer on board with our plan?
- What if they have concerns you haven't considered and we haven't discussed yet? How will you handle those?
- Does it make sense for us to have this call together? How should we prepare? What role do you play versus what I play?
When you do get the decision-maker involved, you should start from the beginning of the process. Don't assume that the goals you've uncovered in their organization based on prior calls are their top priorities. Go over GPCTBA with them and confirm that you understand their world. Emphasize the ROI of your product.
3) C&I (Negative Consequences and Positive Implications)
What are the negative consequences if your prospect does not achieve their goal? What are the positive implications if your prospect reaches their desired goal? Can your product help the prospect mitigate the risk of not achieving his or her goals and further increase the chances of achieving them?
If your product can significantly help them avoid consequences and further aid in achieving even bigger follow-up goals, you've got a very strong value proposition. Questions that can help you determine C&I include:
- What happens if you reach your goals? Does this affect you on a personal level?
- What happens if you don't hit the goal? Does this affect you on a personal level?
- What great things will you do next when you achieve this goal?
- When you overcome this challenge, what will you guys do next?
- Do you get bonuses, stand to get promoted, or get more resources if you can achieve this goal? Would you get fired, lose responsibility, or be demoted if you can't figure this out?
Embracing GPCTBA/C&I has helped our sales team spend time wisely, so that they have more time to spend helping more people. We're on a mission to inspire marketers to make marketing people love. We can't do that without a lovable sales process, too.
Want to learn more? Check out 38 sales questions to quickly identify your customers' core needs.