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I’m old. 30 years ago, I learned how IBM qualified leads for sales. At the time, I know now, it was unusual to even have a process for such a thing, but that is how IBM worked (and still does). Most B2B businesses did not have such a process and the ones who did probably did not follow them as religiously as IBM did, but even if you don’t know you have a process, you do. Whatever you do is your process. And unless you have seriously revisited it the last few years, the Internet has broken your B2B sales process.

Les étapes que vous devez définir pour l’enton...

Photo credit: eric.delcroix

All this was brought to mind as I prepared for a session I am doing Monday in Copenhagen for the IAA on using social media for sales leads. (Please sign up if you are in town.) As i thought back to the old IBM process, I am not sure any of it works anymore.

IBM had its own names for it, but the process closely resembles one that many B2B marketers use called BANT, which stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline. Basically, what it says is that a well-qualified lead has all of those qualities–the budget to make the purchase, the authority to do so, a proven need for what your product or service does, and a timeline in which to take action.

As someone who still speaks to clients every day about the services they need to succeed in Internet marketing, I wonder how anyone qualifies a lead anymore. First off, I am never talking to the person who has the authority to make the purchase–often it takes three people (including one in purchasing) to sign off, so no one person has the authority. I am not sure if the Internet screwed that up, but it screwed up everything else.

Budget, Need, and Timeline can’t really be looked at as separate items anymore. In the digital age, no one knows in October of 2012 what they will need in November of 2013, but that is when the budget is set for it–if “set” is even the right word. Budgets whipsaw back and forth as results as reported, because everyone knows immediately how they are doing and make rapid course corrections, in part because the Internet has raised stick price speculations to a high art. Everyone is taking corrective action with budgets before anyone even knows there is a problem.

So budgets emerge only after people think there is a need. And, as with budgets, how can you know there is a need when things are changing so fast? You don’t have a need that you spend a year fulfilling–you discover something (from surfing on the Web, or searching, or hearing from a colleague) that would make your business better and then, voila! You get the budget and set the timeline.

Things move too fast for it to be any other way.

So, what is the real way to qualify leads? I am  not sure, but remember that the goal is not to qualify leads–it is to sell stuff. And I think I do know how to sell stuff. You must educate your customer–you must create the need. If you do, the authority, budget, and timeline will fall into place and you will have a sale.

And, although the Internet bollixed up the sales qualification process, it didn’t mess up selling stuff. Use the Internet to create the need with content marketing. Put together the deep, persuasive content that explains the problem and explains the options for solving it, including yours. Then share it everywhere and make it discoverable by searchers and wait for the leads to come in. I bet they will be qualified after they’ve read that much about you.

Then, get your sales teams to focus on social media to engage with potential clients. Use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook–whatever works–to help nudge the clients through the last few stages. It isn’t just phone calls and e-mails anymore.

It might not sound like fancy process, but I bet it will sound good when you ring the cash register.

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, a leading social consultancy. Mike is the author of two books on digital marketing, an instructor at several leading universities, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research.

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