Welcome to The Pipeline.

Are You A Relationship Manager?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

relationship

While I don’t want to get into the discussion as to whether relationship selling is dead, limping or doing just fine, there some aspects of relationship selling that need to be rethought. Specifically the kind of sales managers that relationship sellers end up being. If you are a reader of this blog over the years you know that while I think relationships and the ability to foster and maintain relationships are very important traits of a successful seller, I have always taken issue with the sequence of things.

There too many sellers who give a disproportionate, if not too much, of their focus and energy for gaining a relationship, rather than getting the sale, which what they are paid to do. As is clearly articulated in: “The Hard Truth About Soft-Selling: Restoring Pride and Purpose to the Sales Profession”, sales people get paid commissions for closing sales, not relationships. There are too many sales people try to secure the relationship first, then worry about the sale, rather than the other way around. The best way to build and grow a real and solid relationship is to deliver value, and keep delivering it. You can argue, but there are too many examples of people sellers thought they had a relationship with who ended up buying from someone else, despite that relationship.

Most sales people mistake the need for loyalty with relationship. Consider that “75% of customers who leave or switch vendors for a competitor, when asked, say they were ‘satisfied or completely satisfied’ with the vendor they left, at the time they switched.” Customer Loyalty Guaranteed’ Bell & Patterson. I’ll bet you every one of those sales people would tell you they had a good relationship with their buyer, but they still lost the revenue. Like it or not, The Challenger crowd raises some interesting questions about relationship sellers.

So what happens when a relationship seller gets promoted to a manager? They have spent their careers nurturing relationships as a means of achieving revenue, wanting more to be the customer’s friend and advisor, rather than a subject matter expert fit to challenge convention, willing to shake it up a bit and get the buyer to buy what’s right, leading the process instead of trailing behind or just being a passenger.

Well they continue being that same way when it comes to managing. They don’t so much lead from the front, but more manage from behind a desk. They present expectations rather than set them. But mostly they fail to help their reps because they would rather have a relationship above all else.

I see too many sales managers (former relationship sellers), who dance around expectations, who don’t inforce and reinforce things, who see metrics as a nice to have not as a means of driving change and improvement, as something that needs to be inspected, and no it is not OK if it is missed. Managers’ goal should be to lead sales people out of their comfort zones, build calluses and develop their skills and talents. Sometimes getting them to stretch requires more than a smile and suggestions, it requires challenging the rep, setting some nonnegotiables, and following through with the consequences. Hard to do when you are fixated on relationships above all, some of your best sales people will not always be your best friends.

Speak to most people who were in the service, and one of the people they speak most highly of after the fact, the ones they have the most lasting and genuine relationships with, and they’ll point to their first drill sergeant, the one who helped them most to make the transition from civilian life to military success. And believe me, it wasn’t based on relationship first. It was success first, and relationship on that foundation.

Why Are You Still Doing Pipeline Reviews?2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Nigeria Sale Concept

Why?

While this long entrenched ritual has some utility, it more often than not ends up being a painful and torturous waste of time. Reps are rarely truly prepared and while this is not excusable, it is usually because they feel that regularly these are a CYA exercise their managers go through. Numerous times I have seen mangers schedule their pipeline reviews just in advance of their review with their higher ups in the hierarchy, not much in that for the rep but the stress.

The whole concept of a pipeline “review” is flawed and a practice that should be a relic of the past, a past where CRM’s did not exist, and managers had to submit everyone to the grind, be that one-on-one or a group agony. Some still tell me that a pipeline review meeting is conducted to confirm and validate the information in the pipeline on each deal, be that end date, deal size, weighted likelihood of closing, and other data are all accurate. Why? Their answer “Managers need to ensure that their sales forecast is accurate, questionable opportunities that could impact accuracy, need to be identified, flagged and or removed.” CYA, fun with numbers, the manager brings his/her subjective bias to things, the Director adds his/hers, and by the time it makes it “upstairs” the plot and theme of the story has little to do with the rep.

The other subtexts is about coaching “Great coaching opportunity”, but is it. I find most use it to talk deal and tactical strategies to closing the deal now, a good thing, but not coaching. In fact when I ask most front-line managers if they have an annual coaching plan for individual reps, the answer is no, which is why the coaching is tactical and situation, all of which would improve if they were aligned to an ongoing development plan.

Others will point to the need for data quality, but I have always wondered why focus on the quality of the data rather than the quality of execution, if you had that, the data would be much better to start with.

So what is the alternative?

Switch gears, go from reverse to forward, from Reviews to Previews. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against reviewing deals, why we win, lose or get no decision at all, and there are many lessons to be gained. But if you want to help reps with their pipeline, and change ongoing performance, close more and beat quota, you need to look forward. Do pipeline Previews. Look at active opportunities they will be interacting with in the coming week, a better focus. Who are they going to see, why that person, what are they looking to specifically accomplish that will move the opportunity forward or allow them to disqualify it, yes take it out of the mix, what are the potential roadblocks, resources they may require achieve things. Examine how many new (real) opportunities are in the pipeline this week over last. These are not only more forward looking, more telling about the quality of execution but an opportunity to coach in the present, when it can make an immediate and long term impact, rather than review the past. Question of Leading vs. Lagging indicators and related actions. Do this regularly, weekly, rather than monthly, do it as a team, great learning by osmosis opportunity. Do not do this at the same time as a coaching meeting, schedule those individually, and another day of the week; yes formal coaching every week, over and above the situational daily coaching.

As I said above, want to increase quality of data, focus on improving the quality of execution. If they were allowed and instructed to take trash out of the pipeline, and coached on how to get real opportunities in, and then how to usher them through to close, the data would not only be impeccable, as well as the results.

Tibor Shanto

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Forget Social Selling, and Sell Socially2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Doodle social media signs

There are two trends unfolding of in sales which to date have accidentally intersected, which should be proactively encouraged and facilitated by B2B sales organizations. The first not so new, but gaining and likely to continue to gain momentum in the coming years, is the migration by many to inside sales teams, especially types of sales that only a few years ago may not have been seen as feasible for a number of reasons. However given the advances in technology, specifically web meeting and collaboration related apps, it is now more economical, and often leads to a more effective exchange between buyer and seller. Beyond the cost factor of time for both, including travel time for the seller, sharing screens can not only allow for a more thorough exploration of issues, but there is also the ability present your product in a more fluid and contextual manner, without coming across like a heavy handed demo.

The second is newer, although given the incessant hype it just seems like it’s been hanging around for ever, is social media and social applications. While many struggle to define social selling, often resorting to contrasting it to “traditional” selling, most applications are not really new, just executed using new tools.

Taking advantage of social tools and a social approach does present an opportunity compensate for some of the differences between selling face to face, and selling remotely, I would go as far as to say you can fill or avoid some potentially risky gaps in inside/remote selling. Specifically the type of social interaction that directly occurs when you interact with people directly. Not so much between the seller and those people directly involved in the steps of the buy/sell, but more importantly the supporting cast. The receptionist, the EA, the tech support person who helps you when you are visiting.

Visiting being an important concept here. It is no surprise that many “old timers”, regularly interchange the word appointment with visit. There is a lot of to be gained via the social interactions that can be gained while “visiting”.

There are whole bunch of conversations that will never take place when selling remotely that are just part of a visit to a prospect or client. These conversation may not always pertain to the product, or the purchase itself. In fact many of these conversation will happen with people who are not part of the process, but are tuned in, and in a number of ways that sellers can find valuable and move the sale forward. Small talk can add up to a lot.

The social fabric of a company, and the social fabric of the sale is an important component. Especially in an economy where products are interchangeable, but where people are not. In an economy where many senior leaders are more likely to choose one product over another primarily due to consensus among “the group”. The buying group, the user group, the implementation group, and others. Often this consensus is driven by things other than specs and features, and more by things that evolve out of “social interactions”; you know, people buying from people. These secondary relationships are often the little things that give you an edge over a competitor, the ability to influence just a bit more.

So what happens when the opportunity for small talk and hallway conversations is gone? You turn to social. There is a host of information one can glean and utilize to make up for not being there. The art then is to leverage it during the sale. And while most sale people are good at doing this face to face, the phone limits their focus. But there is no reason you “have to rush by” the receptionist just because you are on the phone. It is up to us as professionals to “humanize” the remote selling experience for all parties.

Even if you have your “targets” direct number, there is no reason you can’t hit zero and speak with the admin or receptionist, you’d talk to them if you were there, it is up to us to “be there” even when remote, and you can do that by learning more about them from their Facebook page, tweets, Pinterest, and host of other sites that give you a window to the non-business person. LinkedIn can help you connect the dots between the players, I learn more about the person on other platforms. There is no law or reason why you cannot incorporate this into your selling, and make up for the lack of being there, change something potentially impersonal to something more personal, for the people at the prospect company, and for you. In fact you can bet that they are checking you out the same way, and making assumptions and decisions based on these things.

So while social is great for the current lead gen and sale, it has loads more value and application in actually preserving and enhancing the social side of any sale.

Does Length Matter? – Sales eXecution 2810

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Spinning time

Does length matter, or is it more a question of how you do it?

Get your mind out of the gutter for a second, and thing length of sales cycle.

I was recently approached to write a piece examining how to reduce the length of the sales cycle, or as some like to say increase the velocity of a sale, something I have written about in the past. But I am convinced that this is a red herring, a false premise or trap many in sales fall into.

Right off the top I will tell you that shorter cycles are not better, the goal is to understand your “optimal” cycle, and then focus your efforts on efficiently executing it. If your optimal cycle is three months, you really are going to gain little by trying to shave a couple of weeks off that.

When you ask people why they want a shorter cycles, the answers are usually more subjective than objective, and usually reflect their bias, or often fears of the person looking for a shorter cycle. Some will tell you that they believe it will drive more revenue, not true, because if you shorten a cycle for the sake of shortening, you will take shortcuts that will either cost you sales, or more often, you’ll have to go back and do things you should have done in the first place, leaving no gain or worse. Other reasons include ability to scale, greater focus, increased market share, but usually these things are more an element of execution than things impacted by the length of the cycle.

When it comes to executing sales fundamentals, it is better to focus on quality of execution, not speed. People tell me they can shorten their cycle by targeting the right prospect, duh! Or solve buyers’ problems rather than sell them product, double duh. Let’s not confuse optimization with acceleration.

What I have found and most don’t like, is the real question here is one of prospecting. If you have the right if you know you conversion rates between stages of the sale, and your close ratio, you will worry less about how fast you are closing deals. It is much more about metrics and accountability than speed. If you know how many prospects you need to close one deal, then it is much better to ensure that you maintain that level prospects, rather how fast you chew through them.

Once I know my quota or goal, I can use my metrics to chart a path to that number. If close one of every five prospects I engage, and I successfully engage one prospect each day of the working week, each is a cycle, and I do this consistently every week, it really does not matter who long my cycle is. But people would much rather spend time and effort shaving minutes off their cycle than prospect consistently. Once you have that down, it takes the pressure off closing faster, and allows you to fully sell the right prospects, and better yet, the permissions and means by which to disqualify less than optimal prospects.

What is ironic is that often it is the same voices who tell you that sales is not a numbers game, are the very ones who advocate for shorter cycles. But when you look at it, focusing on shortening the cycle, leads to much more selling by numbers, than the discipline of consistent and efficient execution of your sale, using metrics, data.

Tibor Shanto

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Teach Them How To Answer0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Q+A

Whenever sales types get together to talk about how to improve their selling, high on the list is the importance of asking questions, good questions, and for good reason.

Good questions, not “what keeps you awake at night?” (The neighbor’s dog), not only uncover valuable data and information, but give you control of the flow and direction of the conversation. Setting the flow is one of the four pillars of effective sales communication, and one that many sales people don’t take full advantage of, or too easily abdicated to sellers in the hope of being “accepted” and not to come across “pushy” or “salesy”; such softy nonsense.

As importantly, good questions get the prospect thinking, an important ingredient in getting Status Quo customers to begin sharing their objectives and going beyond their comforts and preconceptions. It is when you can get them to think outside their self-imposed limits, and they begin to think things through and often out loud, that you can understand why they are stuck on the current state, and what you need to do to move them into unchartered territory for them, to the future state. This is why having questions about objectives are much more powerful than questions about needs or pain, it opens things up, goes to possibilities, not just cures.

But to fully maximize the impact of your questions, you also need to learn how to answer question the prospect will have. The better you get at asking questions that get the prospect to think, the more likely that they will ask you questions, sincere questions about the possibilities, not product related, and you need to be ready. This is more than just good listening, it is about continuing to drive the conversation in the way you answer these questions.

Your answers are another means of reinforcing the direction of the discussion. Especially in the early stages of the sale, your answers should open issues up further. All too often sellers, even experienced “solutions” sellers, see answering prospects questions as a means of “nailing things down”, but they don’t need to be. There is no rule that says questions explore while answers resolve. Answering a question in a way that causes the prospect to go deeper is one of the best ways to focus the discussion and drive the sale.

It is a great way to introduce you subject matter expertise, talk about how you have been able to drive specific outcomes and impacts without sounding like a pitch. By including examples and testimonial type of anecdotes in your answer, you can accelerate the discussion and engage the buyer much more effectively than always leaning and leading with questions. Not to mention how it helps build confidence in the buyer.

As with any skill, some will find and develop it on their own, but many, need to be taught and helped, but once they learn the process, it becomes part of their tool kit for ever. Combine this skill with information you’ll learn from you deal reviews, and you can have a much more effective, enticing for the buyer, and profitable for all, conversation.

Tibor Shanto

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New Year’s Execution – Sales eXecution 2800

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Execution WRL

Tis the season of resolutions and unkept commitments, and sadly the only thing we truly improve is our ability to rationalize failures as we abandon our best laid plans. Let’s be clear the intentions are good and sincere, but what is lacking is execution, and this can be traced back to two key factors.  First is the goals are often unattainable to begin with; second even when they are, there is often a lack of tactical plan, a plan that allows for execution that delivers results, both in terms of the end goal, and steps along the way.

While I am not here to knock Big Hairy Audacious Goals, a staple of start of year planning and sales kick offs, they are mostly strategic and anthemic in nature.  They rarely make for good tactical plans, they rally the troops, make for lingering sound bites local managers can echo as the year unfolds, but on their own they have little practical value.  At one point you have to translate Strategy to action, tactical steps that transform audacious to real, hairy or not. (Ever notice how the hair on your goals changes over time).

So keep the big and hairy for the banner, but support it with an action plan.  The best way to do that is to walk backwards from those goals, and lay out a road map that will get you there.  Those of us who predate the internet, remember going to AAA and getting TripTiks, allowing us to the trip in great detail; distance between stops, potential lodging, food and fuel, they informed you of major construction project and other potential obstacles and j\helped you plan contingencies.

It is best to do the same for your journey from kick-off to your Big Hairy Audacious Goals, and then do the same for each sale/account you are going to encounter and win along the way.  Much like the TripTik, it should include metrics, logical milestones along the way, resources you will need to fuel the sale, average length of cycle and potential number of meeting it may take to complete each journey or sale.

The last two are key, and often over looked.  Most sales people are not aware of the average length of their sales cycle, when asked most will say depends.  Even the ones that have an answer, are usually going with the corporate myth “our sales cycle is 90 days”, it supports the vision and the Hairy Goals.  But when we look at the data provided by their CRM, the number is usually off.

They also don’t know how many meeting a typical sale should take, and as a result of that they cannot plan for a desired outcome from each encounter.  No Next Step, no Secondary Next Step, no plan C.  It’s a lot like a quarterback trying to march down-field without set plays or knowing how they will run those plays.  Everyone knows we want to get the ball in the end zone, a clear Hairy Goal, but there are reasons why some can do it consistently and predictably, while others flounder most of the time.

So forget resolutions, big or small, and focus on execution, it never gets old, and in sales success is about execution – everything else is just talk!

Tibor Shanto

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The Power Of Simplifying1

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

simple

Even the simplest sale has a lot of moving parts, and with new challenges popping daily, sales people have more than enough opportunities to be distracted and taken off course. One of the key elements of value sales management can add to their team’s success is helping them stay focused on those activities that drive consistent success. But at times it is management that adds to the problem by creating distractions rather than limiting them. Let’s be clear I’m not suggesting that this intentional, or some strange game, but just an unintended outcome of how they view and filter the world. Changing those filters can change management’s perception, and their impact on their sales teams, and ultimately results.

Changing filters does not mean easing up or lowering expectations, it just means altering the way those expectations are set and how they allow their teams to meet them. The hard balance for management is meeting and driving strategic goals in a way that does not trump or adversely impact tactical goals and execution. While this may require a different balance, it could lead to measurable improvement. Management needs to strive to have its objectives met by helping the front line achieve theirs. Setting these things in motion can be done any time through the year, the New Year is a good time as it aligns with people expectations and rhythms and acceptance levels.

A good example, and one that many can relate to is the experience many have had in rolling out a CRM. Despite good intentions, often the reality of roll outs was well short of expectations, often due to lack of use and adoption by front line salespeople. The message from above was what management wanted and needed from the CRM, while failing to help the front line rep understand how the CRM will help them. Lack of adoption, led to lack input, little or no data, leaving a void in their ability to make strategic decisions required to move things forward.

This year why not surprise your reps and simplify, again, not compromise or settle, but make it simple for them to adopt and change in a way that focuses on what is in it for them. Make it less, rather than more, better they achieve and deliver against one or two key factors than fail at more. Make it make easy to execute and relevant to their success, and you’ll find that they will ungrudgingly contribute to your success. Align with your requirements in achieving your strategic goals, and less truly becomes more.

A key step is to separate wants from needs, simple yes, easy no. I have witnessed too many management gatherings where ideas snowball, and while they all may be good, many are superfluous. Once you isolate the needs, separate the doable from the rest, this simplifies things for you and by extension your organization, no one buys into undoable things no matter how simple they may seem. Next focus on creating ownership and accountability in your front line managers, your success depends on them buying into and selling the vision and activity to their reps.

With this being the season for big resolutions, most of which are abandoned before Valentine’s Day, why not explore the upside if being simple but successful.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

The Top 5 Post of 20141

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Confident

For the last post of 2014, I thought we would look at the top five posts of 2014; not saying they are the best of what I did in 2014, but it seems that these were the ones that got the most looks. So here they are in no particular or, a chance for a second look, consideration, at perhaps action.

To Call or Not

I am often asked a question I really hate, and while I have learned not to let it get on my nerves, and usually manage to deal with it calmly, it still pains me that my fellow professional sellers would ask it. The question relates to how vigorously one should pursue a potential prospect? I find the question bizarre on a number of levels, not the least of which is that today’s potential; prospect is tomorrow’s prospect, next week’s customer, and a stream of revenue (if not commissions) for some time after that. Ya, you should pursue it vigorously. Read On…

What’s Your Recovery Period? – Sales eXecution 274

No one likes rejection, and I would argue few professions have to put up with as much rejection as sales people do. We face rejection throughout the sale, from the time we try to prospect and engage with a potential buyer, right to the end when they finally agree to deal with us. We face rejection from prospects we lose, and from those we actually win, in fact we win by overcoming rejection. Read On…

The Reason For My Call – Sales eXecution 268

For many, “The Reason For My Call”, is a crucial part of their prospecting call, probably more accurate to say cold call, as I would have to assume that if it were a warm call the recipient would know the reason for the call. All too often I cringe when I hear how most callers use this expression, especially when a couple of small adjustments in their approach may lead to better results. Read On…

The Best Working E-Mail Subject Lines

One of the critical elements to success in prospecting is getting the person to open you note. If they do not recognize the sender, the next most important factor is the subject line, and if you like many prospect using e-mail, the subject line becomes the key difference between being opened and potentially starting a sales cycle, or being deleted. While and some guests have shared proposed best practices around e-mails, ContactMonkey http://www.sellbetter.ca/solving-the-e-mail-black-hole/has just released some interesting insights about good, bad and other types of subject lines. Read On…

Why Set Out For 2nd Prize?

Every day I work with sales people who start their day by setting their sights on winning second prize, and then celebrate when they achieve it. No really, watch any group of sales people on the phone trying to set appointments, and it is only a question of minutes before you see a few telling you how they convinced the potential prospect to let them have second place, or take their place among the also-rans. Read On…

Well, that was the past, now on to 2015.

Happy New Year,
Tibor Shanto

Crystal Balling 2015 – Sales eXecution 2790

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Magical Fortune Teller

Here we are at the height of the holiday season, a season filled with family gatherings, good cheer, forgotten poverty (please donate to the Salvation Army), and loony tune predictions and resolutions. And why not, what’s the risk when we live in an ADHD addled society that explores grand ideas 140 characters at a time; who will remember to check 12 months from now. I mean really, is anyone reviewing what they predicted last year, hell no, it is easier to double down and make new predictions.

Sales is right in there like a, a, a, “wanna go play outside?” Sure some are sticking with their predictions, because if you say it enough it may come true one century, and there will always be those lost souls who are so deathly afraid to pick up the phone to prospect who wish with all their hearts that this is the year that clod calling does die. Sorry Virginia, there ain’t no Santa Clause, and cold calling still works, deal with this, you can even “cold tweet”.

So what does 2015 hold for sales?

Apps for sales and sellers will continue to grow, as will the confusion around them. Meaning that the more of something there is, the more confusion that may result. The victim will be clarity, are we seeing the outcomes we see because of the improved economy, the apps we use, or improved execution. I suspect (ok predict) , that much of the uptick in results for many will be much more due to the economy, very little with improved execution, and even less with their feel good apps. According to a recent press release from Accenture titled: Mediocre Performance by a Majority of Sales Representatives Cost Companies 3.2 Percent in Potential Revenue, Accenture Research, shows, “Just 59 percent of sales representatives are expected to achieve his/her quota in 2014, down from 67 percent in 2013.” This despite the rise in “social selling” and related apps. At the same time “(72 percent) are raising their revenue target by 5 percent or more in the coming year, only 14 percent of chief sales officers (CSOs) are very confident that they can achieve increased revenue goals.” Something has to change, and it is execution, I’ve said it before, a fool with a tool is still a fool; more tools by and for more fools. Execution, everything else is just talk.

Data will continue to make its impact on quality selling, call it big data, actionable data, or a term Miles Austin recently introduced me to “fast data”. Call it what you like, data will help you make the decisions you need as a sales person to execute. About the only positive from the proliferation of apps is the data they provide. The key is how you action the data, better data with unchanged thinking does not drive improved execution or results.

One bold prediction, there will be an app that will take a traditional approach to client engagement, and deliver it in a way that will make it easy for everyone to consume follow and succeed, as long as they, you guessed it, they execute, because, yes, everything else is just talk.

Well that’s my crystal ball gazing, anything more would be foolish. As a stock broker friend of mine said when asked about predicting where a stock will go “If I had crystal balls, I’d make noise when I walk!”

Merry Christmas,
Tibor Shanto

Rethinking Sales Incentives0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Rethinking Sales Incentives

As part of a series of posts dealing with areas you should consider, better yet reconsider, going in to the New Year, today we look at incentive. No doubt everyone should be thinking about commissions, after all is in effect the cost of revenue. While there are other expenses, commissions/incentives, are the most direct “payment” you pay for bringing in revenue.

While there have been variations, updates and paint over through the years, little has changed in how and what you pay for.

In this article I penned for November issue of Sales and Service Excellence Essentials, I challenge and suggest an alternate way to spend incentive cash, and actually driving right behaviours that lead to results (revenues), and actually sustain both.

Take a read, let me know what you think, pro or con, some will call me names, others will want to pick up the phone and call me to discuss. In the end it’s your money, you should always be open to investing it more productively.

Read the piece here: Rethinking Sales Incentives Then comment below.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

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