Welcome to The Pipeline.

Which ‘R’ Word Will Help You Sell?2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

2 shadow guys

Sales people are always told to pursue relationships as a means of securing buyers, clients, and building trust. While I may not always agree with the order or sequence of these, they are the right ingredients, how you mix them, then cook them up and serve them will directly impact the perception of your buyer, and their willingness to consume or buy what you are dishing..

I have always believed that there is a lot of selling that can be done before you actually have a relationship (at least one worth anything to speak of), so why wait. In fact if you were to break down the elements of “relationship” or trust sellers strive for, you’ll find that a common element in both, namely respect. You can gain the respect a lot sooner than achieving a full and mutually beneficial and balanced relationship, which you can then use as a platform for building and accelerating, and solidifying said relationship.

Gaining and giving respect is easier to deal with early in the association, and can deliver sales as you work your way up the chain. Let’s be clear, I think that there is a lot of selling and revenue that can be achieved long before you have a relationship, and those who tell otherwise are wrong, and costing you sales, and let’s not forget, we are paid to drive sales, not relationships; after a point, selling to someone you have a relationship with becomes easier for all involved.

But many confuse respect with taking a subservient a diminutive stance, nothing can be further from the truth. If you are going to lead someone to a decision, you need to lead, not follow. You goal should be to have at minimum a peer-to-peer connection with your buyer. This involves accepting the role of being a subject matter expert, much less a product expert.

Many sales people don’t do as well as they can when they take on the role of product expert. Buyers by products for the impact those products deliver, not for how the product works. Sure a technology leader may be impressed by your gizmo’s capabilities, how it was developed, and how it is put together; but if it does not address their ability to move them close to their objectives, they will not buy. Being a subject matter expert allows you, no forces you, to go beyond product, to impact, and with that confidence, you can have that peer-to-peer discussion, allowing you to test the buyer’s view and preconceptions, and point to solutions that actually move them towards their stated objective, or a times to rethink and restate objective.

With virtually no difference in many category leaders, the key differentiator is the way you sell. Product sellers get caught in the daily discussions with how they need this or that if they are going to compete. You’ve all heard it at sales meetings, “if only we had this”, “if only it could do that”, “if it only came in red.” You may think you are not bringing that into meetings, but you are, and your buyer senses it. But if you went in as a subject matter expert, ready to help them move forward, you would not get bogged down in product based discussions, even if it does not come in red.

So, respect your buyer, yourself, and your task, to generate revenue for your company buy helping your buyer achieve their objectives. Your buyer will respect that long before they have a “relationship” with you.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto  

After and Before2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Note pad

In a business that emphasizes relationship as much as sales does, it is sometimes interesting to see the degree to which sales people, and buyers, tend to ignore, overlook and at times avoid some basic components of human interactions, and way to enhance those interactions and the impact of that on business and sales outcomes.

Michael Jordan once said:

“…You have to monitor your fundamentals constantly, because the only thing that changes will be your attention to them”

This statement is as true in sales as it is in basketball. Sometime those fundamentals seem simple and inconsequential, but in the end it is often those little things that make the difference. Remember that your product is often indistinguishable from those of your competitor’s, so the way YOU sell may often be the differentiator that clinches the deal. So let’s focus on two seemingly small things, that when executed consistently and well, after and before meetings with buyers, will win you deals, no matter other factors. And while these may seem small, do them and then judge the results.

After:

After every meeting you should send a note, what most will call a thank you note, but done right it can be so much more.

Few send thank you notes anymore, I know that when I am the prospect, if I get a thank you note, it is so rare, I take notice, and mentally give the sender bonus points, points that may take them ahead of the other vendors. A hand written note, will just blow their mind. But more than a thank you note, it is an opportunity for you to recap what you took away from the meeting, action items everyone agreed to, and most important, what you propose the Next Step to be.

If you and the buyer synch on all of these points, then the note will just cement things in their mind, along with you being the vendor who helped them do that. If you took away different understandings, it is to your advantage to find that out now, and make any course adjustments you need to make. Better to correct things now than go into the next meeting with different ideas; if you can’t correct them, better to find out now than after investing more time and resources.

As well by introducing what you think the next step should be, you get them thinking about it, and again, if they don’t disagree, you are on the right path, but if not, you can deal with it now, not later.

Before:

About a business day ahead of the next meeting, send in a n agenda, nothing deep or heavy, three or five points (odd numbered lists are better), AND, what you would propose as the Next Step, if things unfold according to the agenda. As above, if things are on track, you can go in with some sense of confidence that you are on the right path. If not, better to know well in advance of the meeting than at the end when it may be too late to do anything about it. Same goes for the Next Step, if they can’t live with your suggestion they’ll speak up, and while it may not be what you had planned, better again to know early than after the fact.

While neither may appear to be all that and more, when you first read them, execute them consistently and it won’t be long before you attribute deals directly to executing these steps.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto  

It's time to get Bricked!

Can Technology Undermine Trust?14

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

broken trust

Had an interesting discussion with a rep Jim, last week around the area of trust. He works for smaller company, they use various technologies to help them with lead gen and nurturing. Two specific apps enable him to track who has opened his e-mails, and the other lets him know who has visited his company’s web site, right down to specific pages. As you can imagine, with the right content, laced with specific links, a seller can gain some great insights.

Having worked with the team, I know that they are diligent about avoiding and or removing objections. Jim was on the phone with a potential buyer who asked that Jim send him some info before committing to an appointment, Jim tried everything we put in our Objection Handling Handbook, but in the end had to send some info.  As per the teams SOP, he only sends e-mail, chock full of links, and scheduled a follow up call to review.  Over the next few days Jim saw the prospect read the e-mail, both in the office and on his mobile device.  He saw the footprints on the website, hitting critical target pages, Jim was ready for the call back.

The Objection Handling Handbook, instructs sellers to continue taking away objections on call back, encouraging sellers to start the call by saying: “Hi Mr./Ms. Prospect, this is Jim calling back, following up on the information I promised to forward, you probably haven’t had a chance to read it, have you?”  Thus taking wary the obvious and common dodge.

Feeling confident as a result of technology, Jim skipped the take away, and left himself open, and disappointment by asking the buyer if he had reviewed the e-mail, and letting the facts get in the way of process, he assumed the buyer would lead with the fact that he did read the note and visited the website.

Well guess what, yup, the buyer took a left turn and you know it, “Jim, I am up to my eyeballs in alligators, and just have not had a chance to get to it, leave it with me and I’ll get back with you as soon as I have”.  Jim, got back and program and managed to secure a face to face appointment with the buyer, and the cycle is progressing.

Jim was upset for two reasons, one he could fix, specifically the approach and methodology.  By executing the follow up call according to plan, regardless of whether he knew if the prospect had read his e-mail, or visited the desired pages on the company web site.

The second was a bit more problematic for Jim, while not being naïve, he was looking to establish trust with the buyer and felt that the buyer had undermined that opportunity.  While he will continue to engage with the prospect, and will continue to be honest, straight forward and ethical with the buyer, he says he will always have a hint of doubt as to the integrity of what this buyer will tell him, and by extension other buyers.

In the end technology does not replace human interaction, and with any interaction there is some give and take.  I pointed out to Jim that the buyer may have had some reasons for not being straight with Jim, including bad experiences with other sellers, perhaps looking to see what kind of rep Jim is, or any number of reasons.  Trust is not instantaneous, it takes time and familiarity, which why I am surprised when some pundits talk about being able to establish trust right out of the gate, or even on a voice mail.

More importantly, technology is there to support the effort, not replace it, had Jim stuck to the program, he would have been able to respond to the situation more effectively, but he had painted himself into a corner, not the technology.

Having said that, it does raise the issue of how fragile trust is, and how easily it is undermined by technology.  While the buyer may argue that they were being spied on, they should also be aware that there are no secrets on the internet, and any time you click a link, you have company.

What do you think of Jim’s dilemma, and whether technology can in fact undermine trust?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What are you Listening To? (Part I)2

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

listening

Ask a group of sales people what are the most important attribute or abilities a good sales person needs to master, and “Listening Skills” will usually be near the top of the list.  No argument here, the ability and as importantly the patience to listen are crucial.  Beyond the common aspects of listening, there is the issue of what you are listening to.  Based on the question, you could find yourself doing a lot of great listening, with little progress, or return for the effort.

So while listening is a good discipline, the skill still comes down to the quality of the question.  Great questions make for worthwhile listening; crappy questions lead to… well you know.

Buyers have become immune to the most often asked common questions, some may have been fresh the first time they were asked, but by the third time they were asked “if you could change one thing….?” Or any other question of this sort, they develop a standard canned answer, which if not deflected by the seller, will lead to the same predictable outcome, no sale or discounted sale, I guess that’s the penalty for bad questions.

If you want something good to listen to, you need to ask good questions, the better the question, the better listening, the better the engagement.   Where there is a range of opinions is around what is a good question.  From where I sit, you need ask questions that penetrate the protective shield buyers have developed to protect themselves from the usual lot of overtly self-serving questions sellers ask, of course delivered in a consultative mode.

The questions need to be provocative, spark the buyer to think, at times shock them into thinking.  Think of even though a buyer has granted you an hour, they still have a 16 hour work day they are trying get in to a ten hour day, with all the challenges that go along with that.  Just like we as sellers are thinking (and listening) ahead of where we are, so are they.  Your question need to stop them in their track, get off the tread mill, and actually think about their answers, not just illicit a response, responses don’t make for good listening.

Unfortunately, people don’t like to provoke, they fear making client uncomfortable, so instead they ask Namby-pamby questions, soft and cuddly, almost asking the buyer to be their friend rather than an agent of change, or a person of value.  These kind of soft light questions ultimately lead to light listening, like Muzak at the supermarket.

You can build more provocative questions that help you get below the surface of the issues, getting to the root of what the buyer’s objective are and how you can help eliminate hurdle, identify gaps, and mine those gaps to close them in helping the achieve those objective.  The goal is to get past the here and now, to where they need/want to be, where you can add value.  To do that you need something good to listen to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Buyers are Not Liars – Sales eXchange 18911

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Buyers not liars

A few years ago I did a three day program in California, the first day one of the participants, a very likable fellow, kept repeating a common phrase used by sellers – “buyers are liars”.  I told him I did not agree and moved on.  The next day, same guy, had switched phrases slightly, and he was reminding me of another popular falsehood that “sellers are liars”; again I questioned the accuracy of the statement.  By the third morning I was a bit worried because the only one left in the equation who had not been accused of lying was me, the trainer, all day I waited for him to state “trainers are liars”, while he didn’t, I am sure he thought about it.

There are too many sales people who believe and will tell you that buyers are indeed liars; sadly there are some sales leaders who will reinforce this myth.  Buyers are people, and in general people are not liars (can’t speak for politicians), therefore buyers in general are not liars.

The reality is that prospects who do not buy, who lead you on, who go radio silent at a point, and fail to tell you why, are often lying.  Not in the evil way that many sales people in the heat of the moment believe, it is more the case of these prospects seeking a merciful way letting a seller down, while they have less than zero intentions of buying, they find it hard to come right out and tell you and break your heart.  If they did buy from you, you would overlook a white fib or two, after all you closed the deal, you got the “right” result, they bought.  It’s when they don’t buy that you get all out of sorts and resort to calling them liars; so if we’re going to resort names and labels, let’s get it right: prospects sometimes lie.

Most of the time they are not lying, they may be confused or undecided, or again, not sure how to let us down, but in any case the problem is ours, something many in sales do not want to face.

Did we ask the right questions?  A common occurrence is a seller going down the path with a buyer only to discover that the person is not empowered to make a decision.  Sure I can tell myself they lied, or I can ask myself how I could have discovered it earlier, and moved to engage the right people.

Another is when you “know” they need your product, or “know” they are looking, hey after all you were referred to them, yet they insist that they are “all set”.  Are they lying or are we not fully engaged, and conducting an effective discovery process?  Just because we are not getting the answers we want does not mean we are being lied to, I think it is more often the case of the wrong or bad question, rather than a bad answer.

As stated above, buyers are people, and people generally do not lie, unless they feel they have no other option in the situation, lying is easier than the alternative.  It is up to us as sellers to offer the alternative, and leave the buyer with lying as the only option to stop our assault.  Takes work, but pays off too.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Don’t Wait For A Bone!109

Nothing bothers me more than when a rep uses any expression relating to selling that includes a variation of “throw me a bone”. You hear this a lot especially in industries that are highly competitive, the buyers have viable options, and the risk of commoditization looms large.

Usually while discussing their prospecting efforts with an account currently serviced by a competitor, reps tells me how they follow up with and touch the client, in the hope that the buyer will “throw me a bone, and I can prove myself.”

You may say this is not prevalent, but it is much broader than most want to believe; especially when you look past the semantics, and focus on the underlying reality.  Many will phrase it differently, but the underlying attitude, is passive and lacks a cohesive action plan that permeates sales at all levels.

It certainly symptomatic of sellers who don’t understand the real value they can bring to a client, cannot articulate the value in a meaningful way, or both.  This in itself is not the worst thing sellers can face, as overcoming this is a question of will, learning and practice.  But the reps are not alone to blame in perpetuating this sheepish way of selling.  Many are left to themselves to figure things out, to define their value and how to communicate that to the various audiences involved in buying their offerings.  Many managers, who are really just old sellers with an “attaboy”, encourage their teams to do as they did, after all they must know what they are doing, they got the “attaboy”.

Some get no support from their marketing teams.  They produce lovely brochures, cool 3-D picture of the product, specs galore, not one line about business application, or how it may help the buyer beyond what the buyer already knows.  All culminating in the product comparing columns on the back page, with of course our product having the most check marks (even when no one cares about any of the features).

What angers me is the lack of willingness by many to do anything about the situation.  Not realizing that the effort to change it is not only less than the effort needed to continue to sell in this submissive and ineffective way.  Yes there is a learning curve that requires time and effort, and may at times cause bruising.  But once mastered, it require less ongoing effort to maintain, especially if you put processes in place.  Processes that include reviewing current engagements to understand, get a head of and respond to market trends and continue to be of value to the market and your buyers.

You may think this is only prevalent in simple, perhaps commoditized type of sales, not true.  I recently met with a counterpart who works with large ticket items, high six figures, what many may call a complex sale, and he sees the same issue, what he calls “bone catchers”.  Now I am all for relationships, but there has to be more to a relationship than a seller standing on his hind legs wagging his tail waiting for a buyer to flick a bone and some crumbs their way.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

De-Socializing, Relationships & Stretching Sales Time101

As the debate about whether “Relationship Selling” is dead or not rages on, there are some things you can do as a seller to protect and stretch your selling time and results now, regardless of which way the coin lands.

We are a social creature, just witness the growth in social media and its impact on selling.  Relationships are laced with social rituals, customs, and expectations.  Some expectations and social norms, asking someone how they are when you first get on the phone, asking them about their plans for the long weekend, summer holidays, you get the picture.  Others are self imposed. But the one thing they all have in common is that they consume time.

I have dealt with time in a number of ways, because after all it is your most valuable resources, and as such you need to be cautious as to how you spend it, because you can only use it once.  And while everyone can talk about the big time wasters, how to mitigate them, you can often do small things on the fringe to get ahead.  Five minutes here, five minutes there, and if you claw those back you can gain an hour of selling time by the end of the week.

The challenges is that some social norms or conventions that are present in selling, and consume time unnecessarily.  People do them without thinking, and in the process “spend” (think of time as a currency), more than the value they gain from their spend.  So here are a couple of small things that you can do, that add up, but may at first seem socially uncomfortable.

You know when you are talking to a client, good client, always telling you what’s going on in their company, ribs you every Monday about the outcome of football game, always so pleasant, never fails to ask about the kids; you have a great relationship.  You promised them that you would have an answer to their question by morning, simple thing, the dimensions and density of the new part, and expected delivery date.  You got the data as you are supposed to, you call, and it unfolds in the usual way:

You:    Hi, how you doing?
Client:    Great, we’ve been so busy, and you know George is finally back, and blah blah blah… (90 seconds)
You:    I know exactly what you mean I remember blah blah blah… (35 seconds)
Client:    Especially when blah blah blah… (35 seconds)
You:    Anyways, I have that info for you … (60 seconds)
Client:    That’s great, listen Hun, you be good, what are you up to this weekend, I am thinking of seeing that new movie…. blah blah blah… (60 seconds)
You:    Ya, I heard that too…blah blah (35 seconds)… well have a good one

Five minutes to transmit two bits of data!  I could have done it in a 15 second voice mail, with all the social wrapping.

Rather than calling during prime time, what we call face time in sales, I could have called at 6:40, pulling in to my driveway, leaving a voice mail with the same data, and they would have had it as promised by morning.  Small change, lived up to my commitment, same friendly social “hey we have a relationship” voice, everything good, and I have saved five minute.  Time’s money – how much did I just save?  Well if I invest in prospecting, and score a prospect, tons!

This leads us to the second change in habit I will encourage you to adopt.  Stay away from promising to have things to them “by the end of the day!”  Most of the time, you do literally that at the end of the day, and they don’t deal with it before morning.  Instead, promise this:

“It’ll be in your inbox when you come in the morning.”

This takes the pressure of you do have everything done by 5:00, and regain control of your time by allocating the right time t the right activity.  If it is there when you promised, when they open their inbox, than you are still a pro, lived up to your commitment, the client doesn’t care if you sent that e-mail at 6:00 pm or 10:30 pm, it is there when they expected!  And you just got an uptick on your ROT investment.

Don’t forget to Join us in Houston, October 18 for the Proactive Prospecting Workshop!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Where Do You Draw The Line?105

What would you do to get a sale?  Let’s frame the discussion, we are talking about a B2B sale, the client has options, the “other guy’s” product is very similar to yours (their shade of blue is two digits darker on the hexadecimal chart), and you are resolved not to win the business by discounting.

This was the topic of a lively discussion among four B2B reps I was recently facilitating.  We were looking at potential options in a sale that was at risk of going sideways unless some dramatic steps were taken.  In an effort to ensure we covered all possibilities, we started by listing all potential courses of action – nothing was off the table in the first go around, they were encouraged to throw out ideas to be captured on a white board.  The intent was to then narrow things down once we had a full range of ideas, strategies or tactics, after this first no holds barred round.

READ ON…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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