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Qualifying Budget Too Early – Sales eXecution 3081

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

SketchNotesPRICING(LS)(E)-01

I was watching a pundit wax poetic about how to qualify prospects on an initial prospecting call. I give him credit for acknowledging that the phone and cold calling is still a viable means of reaching real buyers, but I had issues with some other points he was trying to make, namely, qualifying for budget.

To be fair, let me state the assumption I am working with. This is not a one call sales, it is a bit more involved; the site the piece appeared on was a technology related site, and not one that promoted USB cables, but broader systems integration.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think budget should be established before you go too far in the sale. Investing valuable time and potentially resources without knowing if and how you are going to be paid is not what professional sales people do. On the other hand, on an initial prospecting call, one where at best you may establish engagement, or secure an appointment, is budget really the issue at hand? Given that this call will likely lead to the first of a number of meeting, with multiple people with varying agendas; going down the budget hole could be more fatal than practical. With budget usually being the link in the chain between price and value, it would make a bit of sense to imitate some sense of value first, not part of a prospecting call, and if it is, it will be a short call.

Bringing budget up in that first meeting that results from the prospecting call makes sense, but not on the prospecting call. As mentioned, there is a link between budget and value, so there needs to be some semblance of value first. Now of course the problem with “value” is that it is rarely defined, it is talked to, it is talked about, it is probably part of every sales conversation, but there as many different definitions as there are people asked, often more.

One actionable definition to work with is as follows:

Those services and/or products that remove barriers, obstacles, or help bridge GAPS between where the buyer is now – and – their Objectives!

So until you hone in on the buyer’s objectives, and understand how you can move them towards achieving those objectives, it is hard to talk about budget, in a serious way, and I would suspect that unlike our pundit friend, you are serious about succeeding in selling.

Based on the post, I have to conclude that the pundit in question only works with “inbound” order takers, and here is why. Say we wen his way, and qualified based on budget, we would miss out on a whole bunch of sales. We have all had instances where when we first approached a prospect, they did not have “budget for this kind of thing”. But after engaging and together working towards how what you are selling moves them towards their objective, they are able to produce budget. Could be as simple as helping them see how the purchase may be an operating item vs. a capital spend. Or it can be more complex exercise of bringing other beneficiaries into the process. But in that first call, they would disqualify themselves, and you’d miss out on the sale.

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Experiment and Extend0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Expand

Every human being has an X chromosome, and in sales people that X will stand for one of two characteristics. In some it denotes those spend their time and energy making excuses as to why they are not succeeding. In others it is all about how they execute and drive their own success and by extension the success of their customers. But in truly exceptional sellers, the mythical 20 in the 80/20 rule, the X goes deeper, it drive them to experiment and as a result, continuously extend their skills and successes.

Sounds simple, yet difficult for many sales people, and sales organisations. And this is definitely an instance where you have to go past the “messaging”, and explore the action.

While it is easy to look at the front line and find fault, but the ground work, expectations, culture and accountability is the date main of the executive, both sales leadership and other leaders accountable for the success of the company. Often the lack of experimentation is a result of the leader’s inability to distinguish between focus and limits. One can focus on outcomes for buyers without limiting execution, especially when winning deals is about helping buyers achieve objectives, not product differentiation.

Leaders need to lead from the front, not from behind a desk, and this means leading by example. If you as a leader are not will to continuously expand the bounds of you sales and sales approach, how can you expect your people to. Forget all the flowery communications, the old adage of so as I do, not as I say do looms large here. If your activities show as unwilling to grow and expand, then how can you expect your team to?

Change is key to sales success. Front line sales people are trying to get buyers to change, change the way the see things, the way they do things, the things they are willing to do. As I have mentioned in the past, one of the biggest barriers to this is the seller’s own propensity to change. Why would a customer make a change with you when your actions reinforce the fact that you yourself are closed to change. The way you sell informs a buyer reaction and response to you. If you sell the way the hundreds of others who have tried to, and failed to sell to that buyer, why would they change with you when you don’t represent change. But if the example they see from their leaders is resistance to change, how are they supposed to change, and on it goes from there.

One way is to establish and ,maintain a dynamic, continuously evolving process. This will not only allow leaders to demonstrate change, but drive it through every level of the organization. Central to this is a deal review process, we use one called the 360 Degree Deal Review. This allows organizations to identify and capture movements in the market, and respond accordingly. Front line can expand according to findings, sales and marketing leadership can support that change by introducing initiatives that support the front line, and at same time make the organization as a whole responsive to the market and clients.

New tools can also be introduced, or at a minimum, existing tools can find new life and utility for the front line reps and ROI for the organization. For example, clients who were challenged in getting adoption of CRM, found this approach as a good carrot. Front line sellers see a direct link to their success and commissions. Front line managers become more efficient coaches, driving benefits both up-stream and downstream. The executive finally get the visibility on aspects of the business and trends they need to have to meet their objectives.

Another area where leaders can experiment and expand in in their hiring approach. Looking for reps who are capable, yet different than their current crew. Hiring lookalikes, or people we like just perpetuates things and again confirms the lack of change, if not stagnation. In one example I was involved with, a VP had a habit of hiring only those with “industry experience”, meaning they knew the product, but sold no differently than his current team. After some convincing and arm twisting, he went out hired someone from a very different industry, different style, and a track record of exceeding quota. The goal was to be disruptive and shake things up from within, creating a nervous energy that one can never get from threats or heavy handed approaches. Result was that many of the habits rubbed off on others, managers actively encouraged others to follow suit, we built coaching plans to help willing reps change and grow. There were those who did not like the experiment, and are now working elsewhere, they were replace by others with varied backgrounds and styles, and the culture and success has continued to expand.

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Their Only Pain is You6

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Ask a group of sales people what they want to know about their prospect, and the majority respond “I want to know about their pain or needs”. In theory a good concept, in practice highly over rated and ineffective. As discussed before, at any given time, only a small percentage of your total potential market is in play. The various estimates range from as low as 3% to 15%; so if we go with 10% for the sake of this piece, we are likely very generous. Of that 10%, almost all will recognise or admit to a need, and for some that need is in fact driven by or rooted in pain. So even when you perfect uncovering the pain and need, you are playing with a very narrow slice of opportunity. Not to mention a very visible and highly sought after slice, one that every sales person is pursuing, much like a lazy wild cat targets the weak of the herd.

A further 20% or so, don’t have an immediate pain or need, but they recognise that they will need to make a purchase decision 12 – 18 months out. Extremely good sales people, may be able to get a few of these folks to accelerate the need or heighten the pain, and thereby accelerate the purchase decision. But in the vast majority of instances, these people are future business, i.e. not this quota cycle. Having said that they are a good group to work with, as you have lots of runway to build a “relationship” and set yourself up as the obvious favourite when they going into buying mode.

This leaves the 70% plus, of the target market, the status quo, the complacent ones, the ones with no pain, no need, and no desire for a solution. Probing for pains or needs here gets the familiar “all set, we’re good, no need now, not interested” response; sometimes they’ll make you feel good and ask you to send them something. When was the last time you got paid for that?

For many of these buyers, the only immediate pain is the sales person sitting across from them, and the way that many of those sales people sell. While many pride themselves on having “evolved” from asking silly questions like “what keeps you up at night?” From the buyer’s stand point many of the techniques used by many are no better even though they changed the wrapping.

Some fall pray to pundits who will have them go in and try to “create” pain or make the buyer feel inadequate by asking things like “wouldn’t you agree that ….?” or “What would it be like if you could….? But buyers are hip, they see when you snap on the rubber gloves and “probe”.

One pain many buyers complain to me about is the complete unpreparedness they experience when meeting with reps. Rather than truly understanding the buyer, doing a bit of work in advance. Actually research the industry and current and future trends, how those impact the buyer’s company and the buyer, exploring more than just their social stream and LinkedIn profile. Absent pain, you need to look forward, the “value” you bring as a seller is helping the buyer face and win in that future, kicking them in the shin or higher brings a pain that does not lead to sales.

So if you want to use pain to win sales, it needs to be the “pain” of the effort you put into properly engaging a buyer who left to their own devices feels no pain, and is more like in search of something that will help them achieve their objectives, while avoiding the pain that is bad selling.

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Learning What You Don’t Know to Win Deals – Sales eXecution 3060

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Second look

We all have deals we know we should have won, they had our name practically written on them, all we had to do was complete, yet in the end, the commission went to a rep from another company. First you need to do is dig in and understand why you won, much like you would when you win, or when the prospect takes no decision. While many do this, the findings are only as good as the answers to the questions posed allow. Meaning if you set out to review the wrong thing, you will reach the wrong conclusion, go back out and still lose the next similar deal.

The questions you pose in this review are important, but as or more important is who asks the questions. For example sending a rep back to ask why they lost the deal leads to a predictable yet useless response: PRICE. It is useless because it is usually not the case, but the most efficient way for someone to blow through the exercise. Think about it, they just made a decision they are not about to change or undo, as a result any time spent with talking reps who clearly missed the point to start with is hardly a good use of time, especially when for many, implementation and successfully delivering is often as or more risky than the purchase decision itself.

It is better to have a party not directly involved in the transaction be the one to go back in, say someone from sales ops, or better yet someone from marketing. The key is someone who can transcend “the deal”, and truly look at things from the buyer’s perspective. Going back in and asking all the product centric, “what we do, how we do it”, question, spiced with “my company” statements, will not only confirm to the buyer that they made the right decision, you will not learn anything that will help you win in the future. If you don’t think you can do this, there are companies that offer

Sending the rep in, only to hear it was price will just lead to the average rep coming back and telling you and anyone who will listen, including other reps: “I told you, we’re overpriced, that’s why we can’t close sales”. Not something that leads change and improvement moving forward.

If you are wondering what to ask about, here are two steps. First, get out of your head, your view of the world, and get into the buyer’s. Rather than thinking about what you or your company sells and more importantly why you think that, turn the telescope around and ask “what are companies trying to achieve, why, and how can they best get there; how can I contribute to that?” Sales and marketing people are often surprised how when looked at through that key hole, how badly off target they were with their questions and messaging. The other steps is know what to focus on. The simplest way to start this turnabout is to go to some of your best clients, current clients who have choice yet continue to do business with you, and ask them why they do, what they like and how that helps them achieve their objectives. You’ll find price is rarely in the top five things, and less so top three reasons. What you’ll hear about are things relating to your innovativeness in helping them achieve objectives, including R&D they benefit from, ability to understand and help their business, ease of total relationship, including issue resolution, ability to add value to their offering, and more.

Getting it right ensures more sales, more margins and winning team. This may take time and effort, but so does losing deals.

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Are Your Buyers Asking WTF?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Sellers often have a distorted view of what is really important to buyers, leaving buyers to repeatedly ask WTF? Get your mind out of the gutter, the question is Why That Feature? Not what you’d be asking when the deal goes sideways, as it will if you are unable to nail the buyer’s WTF.

One thing that many executives and owners tell me regularly is that they are frustrated by some sales people’s inability to relate to the buyer’s perspective of things. As importantly, the incapability of sellers to have a fluid and malleable enough understanding of the products they sell to make it fit the buyer’s requirements, not just those of the selling organizations.

They feel that sellers come in and present features that may seem cool and useful to people in their own marketing group, or features someone in product development thought made sense. While some features may seem cool and useful to a developer, the same may not resonate with real world users. While secondary research may suggest a demand for a feature to the marketing group, it may not be top of mind for all buyers.

At times the disconnect is simply that buyers, especially executives are looking for specific outcomes, and don’t look at the product through functionality. One executive noted “I could care less how it does it, if it’s legal, and gets me what I want, that’s just fine!”

Sellers need to be able to relate aspects of the product to the buyer’s reality, and while there may be similarities in those realities, each buyer is just that different. Mat be it is only in terms of where they are in the buying cycle or as broad as market strategy. While everyone says that they are beyond feature/benefit in their sales approach, buyers tell me different. Sellers are still trying to bend the buyer to their feature, rather than highlighting how that feature gets the buyer to where they want to be.

Of course to do that, sellers need to be aware of what buyers are trying to achieve. And this is not more of something per minute, or faster processing, or social integration. It is more about something that starts with why, and ends with outcomes and impacts. The means are usually secondary.

Presentations where the seller filled with buzzwords still abound, as does communication from marketing. There is almost an expectation that the buyer will paint the same picture in response to single trigger word, as the seller or their marketing group did. Expecting buyers to come around to our view and our definitions just leads to more and harder work, a lot harder than changing the narrative to that of the buyer.

The same is true for unnecessary upgrades or changes in features that were working just fine. Change and new are not always better, especially if it change that was not driven by users/buyers. Users/paying customers don’t always see the same need for change as the developer. If it does not positively impact the buyer’s journey or ability to drive objectives, it is not a great feature or upgrade. These also lead buyer to ask Why That Feature, this not so much why do I need that (why do I wanna pay for that), but what was so bad about it that you had to change it.

Learn to speak with the buyer, not at the buyer, and avoid forcing them to ask WTF?

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LinkedIn Serves Up Catholic Like Feature2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

endorsed 2

People always seem to be looking for a means to repent and ease their guilt. Whatever the cause or underlying motivation, people feel better when doing something, even if it is not the right thing for the wrong reasons, acting gives the illusion of accomplishment. So when it comes to sales, social media offers an outlet more immediate and less demanding than going to a confessional, when they know they have wronged and are feeling guilty.  All with the added bonus of being socially impersonal.

I look at this phenomenon as the sales equivalent of “slacktivism“.

I came to learn about this from a rep I am working with. He highlighted that a prospect had missed a scheduled call, one agreed to during the last meeting, invite accepted, and specific to the deal at the time. When he called as scheduled, he did not get a response. But the very next day the prospect in question “endorsed” said sales rep for two sales related skills on LinkedIn. Brad thought this just to be a coincidence, but saw it happen in other instances. He mentioned that he met someone at an industry event, the usual “ya, this is what we are looking for, definitely give me a call.” Follow up – no response; a few days later, follow up – no response, voice mails left on both calls, with return number. Lo and behold, a couple of days later, a LinkedIn endorsement.

I have always been flattered when I get LinkedIn endorsements, making a mental note, occasionally reaching out, but never looked for the correlation Brad mentioned. But, since it was brought to my attention, I have seen that I too have been a victim of this “social confessional”, a cleansing of guilt brought in when folks don’t follow through on commitments.

I say “social confessional” for two reasons. First, as people use social outlets to communicate things in a way different than the past, it only makes sense that it would creep into their communication of their guilt for not following through on their commitments, and in to their communication with whatever deity they hide behind when they mess up. So why make the trek down to the local church, just give them three endorsements, a “social” form of three Hail Mary’s and a candle. “It’s not like I ignored you, dude, in fact I endorsed you, three times man, let it go.”

The second reason, well, these days you stick “social” in front of any old thing, and it’ll just seem hipper.

So Catholic, or not, even atheists, can now endorse and move on with their day, without the bother of being accountable for their commitments. The Church can learn something here.

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Decision Makers Want To Deal With Decisive People2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Decisions direction sign with sky background

A question I regularly ask when working with a group of reps on prospecting, is “who do you call on?” or “who do you want to call on?” The answer I get is “the decision maker”. Now I have used a lot of different directories and databases, and they all give a title, not role in decision. But let’s say they did, the real question is what happens when you speak to that decision maker. Unfortunately often this opportunity does not go as well as hoped, for the sales person, and the decision maker.

It has been shown in a number of studies that many decision makers are disappointed with many of their meetings with sales people, often seeing it as a waste of their time. Reps come in unprepared in so many ways. Despite all the information out there, all the research sales people supposedly do in advance of their meetings, they seem to bring little knowledge or real valuable or actionable insight to these meetings.

While there are more, I will look at two that if addressed and improved will dramatically improve your success. First is the focus of all the research and information reps do going into the meeting. When I ask, I still get the same old same old. It is all very product and sales centric. Mercifully you hear less and less of “what keeps you awake at night?” But while the words have changed, the posture and the way it rubs the executive has not. The reality is that much of what many sales people “probe for”, are things many senior executives and decision makers have delegated to others in the organization.

Instead they are focused on their objectives 12 – 18 months forward, they are consumed by those outcomes, and their impact on their company, be that profits, market share, Wall Street reaction, and more. It is not about “the” enterprise software, but the impact as they view it. Talk about that and they will engage, and exchange information with you, but with all due deference, the SPIN stuff makes their head spin. Show them that you can help them achieve their objectives, and you’re on.

The second common obstacle is the general demeanour of many reps. There is a difference between respecting someone and their position, and putting them on a pedestal. This needs to be a conversation of peers; not equals, but peers. Why would I open up to someone whose words, gestures and posture suggest that they have not faced the type of scenarios and objectives I deal with every day? Many sales people, especially the relationship types or the social types, are reluctant to ask the direct and difficult questions that not only demonstrates that you understand the day to day world of the person you are with, much less help them resolve the gaps that stand between them and their objectives. You can talk probing, but doing it right, is another story. Executives I have spoken to tell straight out that they don’t have time to educate reps on the types of things they are trying to achieve or resolve. “I can tell from the questions they ask, and the way they ask them if they really get, are faking it, or just scared shitless because they know they are in over their heads when it comes to my world and day to day”.

The reason some reps never get the appointment is not because the executive or decision maker is not open to input, but they want that from a peer, who understands what they are dealing with, and can demonstrate that they have fought the battle and won. Not with a glossy case study but how they conduct themselves. In short, Decision makers want to deal with decisive people, people who can lead them to success, not just follow hoping for relationship.

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Are You A Pompous LinkedIn Stink Bomber?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

LI Stink

Wherever one may land on the whole social selling vs. all other forms of selling, there is no denying that one of the best attributes of social is the ability to share your views, learn from others, especially those with opposing or different views. When you look at a platform like LinkedIn, it offers various means of seeking out many views of an issue, and engage others with differing. Long before it was fashionable I joined as many groups as possible and sought discussion, rebuttals and other reactions to my posts, now we can add LinkedIn Publisher as yet another channel to debate and discovery.

The pay offs for putting my opinions out there have been great and rewarding, not only in terms of learning, expanding or hardening my views, most importantly financially, and often in the most unexpected ways. Sure I have been able to connect “with just the right person” to make a deal happen; I have had people who read something I posted that resonated with them so much that they reached and hired me on because they felt so aligned with what I wrote. But most rewarding is when someone initially comp[lately disagreed with what I said, strongly challenged me, sometime harshly at first, but then as we went back and forth, first on LinkedIn, then in the real world, where we found common ground, leading to them hiring me.

But then there are those that I call “Stink Bombers”, I am sure some of you know who you are right now without me going any further, but I will. Stink Bombers come in two form, the everyday no lead incidental types. These people innocently get in the middle of something that they don’t get, and quickly retreat when faced with alternative views. Then there are the fully leaded, no ethanol, super premium, self-indulgent “Pompous Stinkers”. These are the people who will throw their opinion into a discussion, drawing different reactions, but don’t engage any further.

As a rule, I try to respond to all comments or feedback to my posts or comments I contribute to other’s discussions. Not only is that “social”, but that is how you encourage dialog and learning. After all, if someone is kind enough to take the time and share their view, on or about something I said, the least I can do is respond. But that’s not how the “Pompous Bombers” roll, they will come into a discussion, drop their “bomb”, in the form of an opinion or comment, usually self-serving, and then disappear. People respond, challenge, ask for clarification, but they get nothing back for the “Pompous Bombers”, I have seen and been part of instances where people directly address the “Pompous Bombers”, only to have no response at all. Now I know people are busy, but if you are going take the time to throw something out there, you should be prepared to truly participate. This is about discussion, not declaration.

What makes this phenomenon very amusing is that the “Pompous” variety are very often people who call themselves, “Social Sellers”, people who should more than others understand the importance and frankly the pay-off and benefit of interaction, engagement and debate. But of the dozens of examples of this, be they in the form of a published post, or comment to someone else’s post, most often, they are “socialites”.

While I can almost understand (but not forgive) when they don’t respond to comments on their posts, I really don’t get it when it comes to people responding to a comment they left on someone else’s post. In the case of the former, they have stated their views in the post, what can they add. Save the fact that they seem to uniformly respond to positive comments, but never to challenging or alternate views.

But when they jump in on someone else’s thread it is very different. You put it out there, I believe you owe those challenging the view a response. I recently had a socialite jump into to a thread where people were responding to one of my posts. Their comment was in my opinion, not only of topic, but was baseless. I made an effort to engage, and nothing.

I know a lot of people don’t know me or like me and therefore may not want to engage, but in these cases they choose to engage, throw their “stink bomb” in the “room”, then why not continue? That is the genuine question I put to the “Pompous Bombers”. A friend of mine suggested that they are just arrogant, “I have spoken”, and so be it. Maybe, but I think that in many instances, they really don’t have much to add, they saw an opportunity to parrot something they heard in the echo chamber, and never expected someone would engage. They were looking for their 15 seconds of thread fame, and expected the statement would speak for itself, after all no one in the echo chamber where they picked it up questioned it, so why would they outside that environment.

No matter what the venue or medium, if you are going to enter a “discussion”, you should be ready to discuss, dropping a bomb and hiding, is not only childish, but intellectually void, and if you are that, just sit the whole thing out, not just the important part.

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Why That Number? – Sales eXecution 3030

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Dollar numberrs

I find it amusing that people still debate whether sales is a numbers game or not. There is just so much wrong with that not the least of which is that sales is not a game. The “sales is not a numbers game” crowd usually revert to the “quality over quantity” argument, valid, but still leads to a point that requires a sales rep to know and deal with how many, the number of, qualified, quality and quintessential opportunities they will need to prospect and close to retire or exceed quota, which by the way is a number.

Most pundits who take the “sales is not a numbers game” usually do so as a means of appeasing those sellers who refuse to take accountability for their numbers. Without accountability everything is OK, without measure there is no accountability, funny how the same pundits will get behind the mantra “if it’s not measured, it doesn’t count”.

So let’s get past the feel good BS that sells books but does not help you sell, and ask the real question about sales numbers:

Why that number? Or in the day to day world of real sales, why those numbers?

For instance, a question I’ll often ask reps, why the number of appointments in your calendar, why not three more, why not two less? Some tell me that it is what they were able to do, all time allowed for. This last one opens up the whole discussion of how they spend their time, and how that impacts their ability to hit their number, sorry, quota. There are any number of variations on this question, why the number of new prospects engaged in a given month, or why the number of opportunities at any given stage of their pipeline. The answer is the same for them all, “that is the number I need to make my quota!”

This will differ from rep to rep, even at the same company sitting side by side. One may be a great prospector, yet be weak at discovery, the other may be average at prospecting, but great at qualifying and moving to close. Each will have a different number at each phase. The key is that successful sales people not only know their numbers, but own them. Most sales people know their favourite ball player’s number, not their own. Why do we not hear about the quality/quantity argument when it come to their favourite athlete? Because in the end it is not how nice the play was, but whether they got the points at the end of the game or not.

Knowing your number at each stage of the sale allows you to plan and execute more directly and efficiently, which in turn drive quality. It is true that it is not about just “more”, but there is an element of needing “at least” at each stage of the sale.

Knowing why “that number”, and having “that number” be directly anchored in your quota drive the quality the pundits and excuse makers talk about. Not owning your number often leads to great quality in insufficient quantities, which means you need to change aspects of your sale. Increase prospect, improve your approach to discovery, uncover value in a more meaningful way, or other elements. All of which the “sales is not a numbers game” are reluctant to do.

“That number” is what you and I are accountable for. If you don’t know and own that number, there is no accountability in sales, no accountability for your actions or outcomes, a reality you need to live with, whether you are a sales rep, a manager, a VP of Sales, or a quality relationship touting pundit. And without accountability, there is no sustainable success in sales, and that is “why that number!”

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What’s Your ROI on Sales Development #BBSradio #podcast0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Radio Renbor the pipe

A lot of time and money invested in the development of sales professionals, but often the result and the returns fall short of expectations. The easy thing is to fault the sales people, the training program, or both. But what can organizations do differently to achieve better outcomes. That is the focus of this month’s segment with Michele Price and BREAKTHROUGH radio. Take a listen and let me know how you’heat you summer sales.

Check Out Marketing Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Breakthroughbusiness on BlogTalkRadio

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