It's 2001. You work for a new company in the search engine space. Let's call this company Shmoogle.
Shmoogle has this huge new idea—businesses are starting to grow based on getting found on the Internet. Why not have businesses pay per click to get found? Brilliant!
You're a sales person at Shmoogle, and you know pay per click will be huge. You start prospecting on the phone.
You: Hello Ms. VP of Marketing. This is Lamont Sanford with Shmoogle. I'd like to speak with you for a few minutes about our marketing program that's helping companies like yours generate a lot of leads and new business on the Internet.
Ms. VP (who pleasantly accepts cold calls): Sure. Let's talk.
(FIVE minutes go by. Conversation goes great.)
You: OK, then, I think pay per click search engine marketing is perfect for you. How much budget do you have set aside for this?
Ms. VP: I don't have a budget for pay per click marketing—or a budget for marketing at all right now.
You: (Thinking to yourself: darn, not a qualified buyer.) Well, give me a call when you have one.
Of course, only a complete loon would finish a call like that. The wrong turn was the salesperson's fault, though, for asking the question about budget in the first place.
Would-be buyers stymie many salespeople when they say, "We don't have a budget for this" or "Our budget is spent for this year already." Sellers too often just accept that "no budget" means no sale. People with authority to make decisions in their organizations find money all the time for things that were not on their radar screens during business planning time, and so they can capitalize on opportunities as they arise.
But why do sellers always ask about budget, even when it's not appropriate?
The problem is the definition of a qualified sale. The definition of a qualified sale is almost universally accepted as BANT: Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeframe to buy. No budget, not qualified. Sales people are thus conditioned by this definition to seek budget and to move on when they meet someone who has no budget.
As Jill Konrath points out in her article "The One Question that Can Kill Any Sales Conversation," the budget question is silly in some situations (like that above) and can put buyers back on their heels.
The first step in overcoming the "no budget" hurdle: don't ask about budget when you shouldn't.
If you want to change the tendency to ask about budget in the wrong situations, you need a new definition of a qualified buyer. A definition that won't drive you as a seller to ask inappropriately about budget and that can help you capitalize on the hidden opportunities all around you.
Thus we give you FAINT.
FAINT—The New Definition of a Qualified Prospect
As we know, BANT is the definition of a qualified prospect that professionals and sales managers use universally.
BANT is fine when a buyer:
- Knows they're going to buy something
- Knows what they've paid for it in the past, or knows "what it goes for"
- Can define for themselves what needs to happen to produce the outcome they want
But many purchases in business don't happen like that. Think Shmoogle.
Unplanned purchases, including most demand-driving products and services, won't have a budget allocated.
This is why we like FAINT better than BANT. Follow BANT only, and you can shoot yourself in the foot with budget questions, and by disqualifying buyers that don't have a budget set aside just waiting for you.
FAINT—the new definition of a qualified buyer—stands for:
- Funds: Focus initially on organizations and buyers that have the financial capacity or funds to buy from you. They may not have a budget, but they have the overall financial wherewithal to spend. Sell where the money is.
- Authority: Focus on finding the individuals who have the authority to make decisions on how to use funds. If the organization has the financial capacity to spend if they found something to be worthwhile, you must deal with the people who have the authority to allocate said funds.
- Interest: Generate interest from the buyer in learning what's possible and how to achieve a new and better reality than the one they have today.
- Need: Uncover specific needs that you can solve. They're likely to be latent—hidden beneath the surface—but they're there if you can uncover them.
- Timing: Establish purchase intent and a specific timeframe for doing so. This can, of course, take a number of conversations, might involve a number of decision makers and influencers, and may take some time to do. Once you do it, however, you now have a qualified prospect and a real opportunity in your pipeline.
If you're selling a value-added service, one that presents a compelling business case to a buyer to engage, what should you ask instead of the budget question?
After you've captured their attention, generated interest, and uncovered need, you should have a good sense of what the business impact of moving forward will be.
When you find yourself here, ask something like this:
Here's what seems to be going on. You have situation A, B, and C happening, and that's causing X, Y, and Z problems. If we were to move forward with our solution, we would probably save you about $600,000 a year. I don't have enough details yet, but it will probably require between $50,000 and $75,000 to realize those savings.
If we got to the point that you were confident in us and that what we're offering will work, would you have the ability to move forward?
If they say no, that "it's just too much, even if we were completely certain it would work," then a) they're crazy (If they're so certain it will work, they should borrow the money to realize the better than 500% return.) and b) you can now move on to new opportunities.
Assuming you're dealing with a decision maker and you're working with an organization of the right size and type, it's likely they'll say yes to your question.
(Take note: the person in this example might not have the ability to pull the trigger on the $50,000, but the organization might. If you think that is the case, work your way to a higher level decision maker.)
It's not that budget is never a consideration. You could indeed find someone with a budget and the authority to spend it. But if you just think about BANT, you will miss the majority of opportunities that are actually out there for you and your company.
So many sales people tell us something like this all the time, "Our clients buy what they've always bought from us, but we have so many value-added products and services that would definitely make a difference…and they're not even considering them! How do we change that? We've brought them up before, our clients seem interested, and when we ask what their budgets are, there never is one."
They never should have asked the budget question in the first place.