Welcome to The Pipeline.

Success is an Addiction Not a Lottery0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

business growth

The most successful B2B sales people I have worked with have always been focused on winning and improving. A constant and unwavering quest for success and improvement. Each sales is like a fix, and like real sales junkies, they are focused on the next fix, a fix that has to be more, in the case of sales better, than the last.

Some may not like the comparison of sales to a habit, but get past the crust, and you have to admit their drive is second to none. Again, we may not condone or admire how they apply it, but the drive, sellers can learn a thing or two.

One convenience of hyphenated sales, is it allows practitioners to hide behind labels and abdicated responsibility for the outcome, and make excuses for doing necessary things they just refuse to do.

A sales junkie friend of mine recently attended a large trade show, and when he wasn’t helping prospects at his booth, he rolled up and down the aisles, allowing as many people as he could to “introduced” him to their solutions. He indicated interest to all, and allowed himself to be qualified and “scanned”, to their delight.  Four days after the event he had five generic e-mails pointing him to no end of landing pages, and no direct contact. In the same time frame he had prioritized his leads, made 10 phone calls, and set four appointments. Appointments are his habit, they feed his pipeline and feed his kids.

He is a hunter, and yes I know, “hunting” is politically incorrect. But what they naysayers fail or refuse to understand is that we are not hunting prospects, we are hunting revenue. Relationships are nice, but they don’t feed your kids. As many have said before me, if there are three sellers working the same deal, one gets commission, the other two have hungry babies, I love my babies.

One of the reasons I hate hyphenated sales, or qualified selling, you know, like “solution selling”, “consultative selling”, “complex-sales” or “social selling”, is these labels are often artificial and more a distraction adding value to the sale or how it is executed. And remember sales success is about Execution, everything else is just talk.

Seems that many sales people view sales success as a lottery, somehow the outcome is out of their hands, they pretend that their success rests with the buyer, the product, marketing or elsewhere. Well it doesn’t the buck stops with you, like it or not. Great sales hunters are focused and driven by success, not fear of not being like, or the fear of failure. They would rather execute, fail and learn in the process, and bring that to the next deal, than not execute for fear of failing now and forever.

Tibor Shanto    

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Challenge The Premise – Not The Individual2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

target

Sales is all about the execution, and execution, or at least good execution, is a result of proper planning, ignore or short cut any part of that, and you will have to work harder, or miss winnable opportunities. While there are many factors contributing to the outcome of any sale, there are two that are always present, and have to be dealt with.

First, the state of the buyer, are they actively looking, passively looking, (know they will need to make a purchase decision, but feel they have the “luxury” of deferring that decision for some time, usually past your current quota); and the largest group who are in the state of being completely removed from the market, and oblivious to the usual “sales pitch”.

The second, and more important factor, is the degree that you can get them to think and take on your point view.

There are many paths to bringing and unpacking these elements into every sale, and anyone of these will work at some point based on the convergence of different factors that align at that given moment, or sales cycle. The question is how to do it consistently and repeatedly in differing and varying circumstances, and different buyers we face during the fiscal year. The reason why many sellers have up and down performance, is that rather than their evolving their execution to meet changing times and objectives of buyers, their approach “occasionally” intersects rather than aligns with the buyer. When the two overlap, great, when not, slump. The goal then is to take proactive steps to ensure that both of the above factors are balanced and aligned.

The balance is knowing how we impact and alter the buyer’s preconceptions, in a way that does not put them on the defensive. While this may not be as big a challenge with buyers who are actively in the market, it is a real show stopper that large block of potential buyers who are removed in from the market, and have no intention of changing that when you first approach them.

The first thing that needs to happen, before you even think of or target a buyer, has to do with you and how you view your role in the buyer’s reality and success. First and foremost you need to be a Subject Matter Expert (SME). That does not mean being smarter than the buyer and constantly demonstrating that, it means having a deep understanding of how what you sell has impacted and delivered value to multiple buyers. Any given buyer may know more about their company and how they use offerings like yours in their specific environment. But successful sales professionals deal with hundreds, some thousands of buyers using their offering in a multitude of ways. Not only that, but they have witnessed and delivered a range of outcomes, some good, others we don’t need to talk about. But as a result, a good sales person, is, a conduit to not only best practices, but practices, which while popular, consistently lead to disastrous results. Part of our job is to point that out to buyers when they are thinking of embarking on the wrong path, in a way that serves the buyer. Meaning challenging their premise, not the individual buyers. The difference is in the execution.

Being an SME, is more than just knowledge, product or market. You need to become an expert on translating that to your buyer’s objectives. Again, challenging their premise in a way that allows them to leave the comfort of their “box”, their selected path. Some buyers will have a clear vision, but are open to have input on how to achieve those objectives and realize the benefits that outcome brings. This requires you employ an interview routine that goes to the root of the issue and build out from there, instead of starting with the solution, and building to it.

First is understanding their objectives, then understanding what stands what stands between them, and their ability to achieve them. That’s the start, next is getting them emotionally engaged. How hard can that be you ask, after all, these are their objectives? Remember, often they have tried several things in the past, and may be reluctant to try again, without that emotional involvement, you may not be able to get them to question their own premise and commit to an alternate path. This takes not only knowing and understanding common objectives, based on role, industry, geography and a range of other inputs. Things which become apparent when you review all opportunities and outcomes that go into your funnel, not just wins. Then understanding how to conduct an interview in a way that challenges the buyer to open up not to clam up.

Knowing many of my clients are looking to have more and better, or better and more, (we need to appease the quality over quantity aristocrats who don’t see room for both). But trying to sell them a prospecting program without context can often fail, or take a long time. So how do we get them to open up and ask for program?

Rep: I am curious Henry, how much of your current revenue comes from Existing clients vs. New clients?
Prospect: About 88% Existing, 12% New.
Rep: So Henry, if I looked at your 2015 plan, what did you have there as your goal?
Prospect: Oh, I had planned 80% existing, 20% new

With two, simple but planned questions, based on subject expertise, the prospect self-identified a gap between their stated objective, and where they are now, The Gap. But this, as stated above is the start, now we need to get them emotionally engaged.

Rep: What do you attribute that to?
Prospect: Too much time with their base
Call reluctance
Dependency on marketing
Don’t deal/manage objections well
Rep: If you were at plan, what would be different?
Prospect: Bigger market share
Reduced cost per sale
Increase in higher margin services related revenues
Over all margins improved
Rep: What’s the downside if you continue to miss?
What’s the cost of not acting?
At your objective, what would be the potential return?

And so forth. Done right, prospects often follow this line of interviewing by asking “is that something you can help with?” Which is when the sale really begins.

This can be applied to any line of business, because it is all about the buyer, their objectives, and results. Getting them there is the effort. An effort that is focused on challenging the buyer’s premise and current beliefs, not them directly.

Tibor Shanto     

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Kill The Cold Call™ – Ep. 4 – Sales Psychology, Tactics, & Technology (#video) – Sales eXecution 2960

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

TV Head

No, I haven’t lost my mind or support for cold calling, just doing my bit for the cause: better engagement with buyers.

At first I was a bit surprised when Andrew Schiestel invited me to be part of his webcast series, is this an ambush, an attempt to slay the noble art of telephone prospecting? It was anything but, Andrew led a fine discussion on all aspects of sales and prospect engagement. You can catch a clip below.

You can take in the whole episode at: https://youtu.be/FZeDmON_Bdc

Tibor Shanto     

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Two Shades of Sales #podcast0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Radio Renbor the pipe

One good thing about the end of winter and the coming of spring, is that time seems to go by faster when it is a little warmer and brighter.  I say that because it seems like only yesterday that I was sharing my monthly segment with Michele Price and BREAKTHROUGH radio.  Last week Michele and I tried to unclutter some of the discussion around the various forms of  selling, and bring it down to two clear categories, good selling and bad selling.

Have a listen and then have your say, do you agree or did we miss the point?

Check Out Marketing Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Breakthroughbusiness on BlogTalkRadio
May 15 Dorg

Musical Chairs Sales Style – Sales eXecution 2944

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

babies in chairs

A few posts back I wrote about experience, and how it can either be a ceiling or a springboard to further success, all determined by the individual’s outlook and the route each rep chooses. On a corporate or organizational level, experience and how it is viewed and leveraged can be significant factor. The corporate version of the experience factor, unfolds more like a game we played as kid, and one it seems many sales leaders are still playing – musical chairs.

There are a number of verticals where leaders are fixated more on “industry experience” than “sales experience”; maybe more accurately “product experience” vs. “sales success”. Let’s face it while in the aforementioned piece we assumed experience equalled success, in reality it does not. I have said this before, there is a difference between 15 years of growth, development and improvement, and the same year 15 times over.

While in theory seeking and choosing “experience” may sound right, it often does not turn out as planned. Real “rock stars” rarely have a reason to move, at times there extenuating circumstances, there may be some financial incentives, but those are outside the bell curve. Meaning those available are usually the B players, not the worst, but they come with luggage.

From my vantage point, here is how it looks. At the start of an engagement, I’ll ask the teams I am working with to give me a bit of background. Time and again, a number of the “more experienced” reps will tell me that they have been in the industry for 16 years, starting off with company A, then moving to B for a spell, and now they are with Company C. It is also not unusual to have some say that this is their second go around with Company C, and we are not talking scenarios where this may be a result of industry consolidation.

I get why the individual has moved around, what I don’t get is why the companies are hiring them. Some say that it was for the “book” of business, never works out clients are smarter than that, they know who delivers the service day to day.

I had one leader in the wireless space tell me that the product and pricing is so complex, that the learning curve is too big. Right! What do most of you think will be easier:

A.   Teach a product guy how to sell effectively in a competitive and evolving market
B.   Teach or support a great seller product specs and/or pricing plans

I’ll take B, all day long.

One of the underlying causes for this is the propensity among sales leaders to want be at full headcount, rather than the right headcount. The solution to almost everything is “we need to add more reps”. Couple that with the tendency to higher fast and fire slow, rather than the other way around, and you have the classic trap.

While not exactly the same as it was in kindergarten, this version of musical chairs, looks for anyone to fill the empty chair, rather than having the right person in the right chair for the right reasons.

Tibor Shanto

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You’re Only Fooling Yourself – Sales eXecution 2930

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Taking a look at oneself

Everyday people commit to doing things, only not to do them. There are many reasons for this, and I am sure a host of contributing factors, but none of that changes the results, or more accurately the lack of results. From my perch, being an observer and practitioner of sales and selling, the most common cause is laziness. People commit to doing things differently, to taking on new practices, decide to approach things differently, only to stay exactly where they started, and by virtue of that, and given the nature if sales these days, that is really a step back.

What many do not want to recognize or face is that selling is hard work, good selling, is really hard work, selling well in an evolving market is as hard as anything out there, requiring constant practice and upgrading of skills, then practicing them over and over endlessly. Take any endeavour where success is part core skill, part flare, few are born with their skills fully formed, be they athletes, musicians, actors, or authors. It is certainly no different for sales people. The difference is conviction and the effort that goes with it.

Go to any local music conservatory or ballet company, and watch the kids trying to get in to the program. Visit any of your local little leagues team, and observe. What you will see is endless practice, every day a regime of hours of practice, in some cases three to five hours of core training and practice. Sometimes the same, other times adding evolving elements. This is over and above the “on stage” or “on field” time, we are talking practice time.

I know some will point to “natural born” talent, geniuses in their field. But if you look at the most famous examples of these people, what you will find is less divine presence and more hard work. Look at someone like Charlie Parker, known as a jazz virtuoso, unparalleled improvisation. No doubt, but what many didn’t see was the hours of practice that allowed him to do what he did in the clubs at night. At times up to 15 hours a day; how much did you practice for your last sales meeting?

This is a level of commitment many in sales are not willing to make. I work with many sales people who come to me knowing and asking to make the changes they need to drive their success, and never follow up, as though having an invoice and certificate will make a difference.

Oh, but you’ve been in the business for 22 years you say. So what, does that give one the right to not improve? The market is changing, are you? Updating your LinkedIn profile is not the same as practicing and updating your skills, staying ahead of the competition, and ahead of the market.

But it is not just the sales people, many managers and organizations fail to create an environment that supports the level of commitment. Studies have shown that daily coaching with individual reps, as little as 10 minutes a day, can lead to a 17% increase in revenue. Not only do most companies not see this as viable, many pundits shy away from recommending this “daily practice”, for fear of losing gigs.

The question is straight forward, do you expect less of yourself than you would your favourite point guard?

Tibor Shanto

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Remember Your First Sale?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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There is no doubt that experience is a plus in any vocation, including sales, just look at any job posting for sales, and with the exception of entry level positions, they will demand experience both in terms of tenure and industry related. As with other things in life, there are no absolutes, it is usually a case of upside and downside. The upsides are clear and straight forward, so let’s look at the downside and risk of experience, both as it impacts individual sales people, and sales organizations.

In most disciplines the biggest victim of experience is creativity, in the form of the curiosity that comes with being new; a sense of exploration, a naïve ignorance that removes limits from many individuals, allowing them to go where others “with knowledge and experience” may not go. Given that these factors are usually the core components of creativity in sales, and that in sales creativity is one of the last differentiators, how do you reach the right balance?

Think back to your first sales position, everything was new, everything required learning. If you were with some bigger companies you got training as part of your on-boarding. But if you were with a smaller, not small, just smaller company, you likely got more product training and orientation than sales related training; and we are talking formal training not war stories from the “older guy. The older guy that you should not have been learning from, because if he did know better, he would have been out on calls, not in the office with time to hold court.

Left to your own devices, you improvised, tried different things, some worked, some were bruising, but collectively they added to you initial success and experience. As things got better and you committed to your sales career, and you likely did two things, you developed routines, and took some training, building experience. As you career evolved, and you “usually” made quota, or only missing by a “bit”, your experience grew, your training reinforced your routines and habits. As you had “more of it down” the less adventurous you got, and the narrower your curiosity and appreciation for alternatives, you were now set in your ways, or as someone I work with says “stuck in your ways”.

Over 40% of things we do every day, we do habitually or out of habit. Meaning we don’t need to think about it, we just do it. This applies to both good and bad habits. Runners run as a habit, they build their daily runs into their daily routine, it’s not a run by run question. Smokers light up habitually, they don’t think about it, they just do it.

The great thing about that is things that need to get done – get done, usually in a familiar, predictable and consistent fashion, without a lot of thought or consuming much of the energy required for the 60% that are not habit. The problem with that is we don’t think about it, we just do it, it’s easier for day to day things, the way we do it rarely change, rarely improve or rarely reinvent themselves. Not a good thing in a continuously changing and evolving market, where buyers are challenged by change, and have access to not only more information, but more choices.

So what’s a sales professional to do, deconstructing habits takes time and effort; forming new habits takes time and effort, and executing every aspect of every sale in a way that avoids routine or habits, also carries the same cost.

Start simple, as you review opportunities that did not close, ask yourself, what were some recurring things you do, or fail to do, that contributed to the loss. If you didn’t do specific things would things have turned out better, same for things you may have done. As you review opportunities that you win, ask yourself which things you did may have slowed the sale down or introduced risks. What are some things that you do that if you stopped doing would not slow or risk the sale. In hindsight, what are some things that if you did during the sale would have accelerated the sale or improved the outcome?

Give yourself a break, and at first just try to identify those things that you do by habit that you can stop doing without negative impact. This may be a challenge, especially when by definition we do not think about things we do by habit, this is why it is best to examine what you do in the context of a deal review, we are already (or should be) in critical mode.

A more challenging but valuable step is one often better done as a team, and led by the manager. Pick a current opportunity or a recent deal, and ask: “If I didn’t know better, if I were new to sales, what would I do?” It’ll take a bit of an effort to break out of your “experience”, but once you get rolling, and get past the familiar, you’ll find some great ideas. Resist the urge to “know better”, and examine it in context of the situation not your experience. Look for things that may solicit the response “that’s a rookie thing to do”, because those are the elements you can build on. You’ll also find that some suggestions will make you remember things you used to do but stopped. The great things is you can always start again.

While you do want to review every deal, you may not want to review your “habits” for every deal. If you started on a monthly basis, then move to quarterly, throw in a regular “What would I do if I didn’t know better” exercise, you’ll strike a balance, and develop a great new habit.

Tibor Shanto

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Sales Triggers: Don’t Wait – Create

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There Is More To Leadership Than Leading – #SPS15 Special0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

woman with sketched strong and muscled arms

There is a lot written about leadership in general, and more specifically sales leadership, I have contributed my share to the din. This is a clear indication that no one has really figured it out, if they had the book will have been written, millions of copies sold, and people move past the debate, and focus on the next thing.

One common theme in pieces about leadership is how the leader needs to be involved and leading the process. And while that is true, the nature of that involvement differs based on who you read. I have always been an advocate of “leading from the front, not behind a desk”, and the assumption many take is that this literally means out in front of the troops Napoleon style. But I truly think that the best form of leadership, and means of driving change, the right change, not just change for change sake, anyone can rearrange the furniture and replace the curtains, is to not be part of the action. The best leadership, and I see things through the sales filter, is change that comes about in what appears to be in an organic way, initiated and completed by the sales rep/team, with only partial prints from the leader.

Managing/Coaching sales people, is really an exercise in selling. In a conventional sale we are trying to get the buyer to purchase our “stuff”, as a means of helping them achieve their objectives. Well as a coach, you are trying to get the sales person to integrate and take on your view alongside or instead of their current view or means of executing. That being the case, it really is best approached as a sale itself. As such, you not only have the opportunity to get the rep to buy into the change, but the means by which you do that could itself be a model or at a minimum, reinforce the process.

Everyone buys into the notion that “people don’t want to be sold”, and so you need to create a buying environment. The flaw with that in coaching is twofold. First While people may not want “to be sold”, they often need to be, that’s why we hire sales people. And the fact that the rep took on the job of selling, they have de facto declared that they want to buy, or buying to your process, otherwise, why are they working for you.

So how do we pull this together, simple, much like buyers like to hear things come out their mouth more than the sales reps, even when it was the sales person who choreographed the moment, sales people, especially established, good sales people who need to be taken to the next level, respond to ideas and actions that are their idea, not the managers. Meaning the best thing a manager can do lay down the bread crumbs, and let the rep discover things on their own, and when they do, you can become a resource in their journey to success.

How do you do that, I am old school, put the focus on your sales process. You have one right? Clear stages, specific activities in each stage, objectives, desired outcomes, tools, contingencies, and most importantly, clear reasons to disqualify. Each stage supported by an evolving playbook, and a clear next step go-no go, criteria. If you have this, you’re set to help the rep discover what you want them to, without directly leading them. If you don’t, you can call me and we can get you started.

As a first step, you can join me and my colleagues today for the 2015 Sales Performance Summit, webcast live from Toronto.

Tibor Shanto

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A Chat About Prospecting #BBSradio0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Radio Renbor the pipe

That time again, when Michele Price’ and I get together to talk sales on BREAKTHROUGH radio.  This month we talk prospecting, I know your favourite.

To hear my segment from last week, click on the image below.

Tibor Shanto

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Are You Committing This Prospecting Sin? – Sales eXecution 2910

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Chrch candles

The biggest prospecting sin you can commit is not to prospect, but there are many others that are dangerous and can have almost as detrimental effect on your sales success, and more.

The one we’re going to look at today is a common technique used by many, encouraged by pundits is this one:

Your on the phone with a pre-qualified(?) prospect, and you say something to the effect of “I just need 15 minutes of your time…” Or it’s déclassée cousin “I just need 15 short minutes…” I mean really, what is the difference between the two, does the “short minutes” meeting have 50 second minutes, or will it just be that much less torturous?

Frankly this works well if you are selling a commodity, let’s see if the nut fits the bolt, can you deliver on time, and for two cents less. Yes, almost anyone can do that in 15 minutes. But selling something of value, selling “A Solution” that will take more than 15 minutes, no ifs ands or buts.

People use this approach because they feel that it will make it easier for the prospect to accept a 15 minute meeting. Said differently, “I’ll waste 15 minutes on this guy, but not more.” Sure you’re thinking that if you put on a good performance in that first 15 minutes, they’ll give an encore in the form of a further 15 or 30 minutes. Sure, sometimes, not often, usually you try and cram a meeting that properly unfolds in longer time frame into 15 minutes. Instead of initiating a good discovery exchange, most revert to a product pitch, after all “we are pressed for time”, and you can’t risk without presenting your value prop and at least a minimal look at your product. Next thing you know it’s time to try and get that next step, and go. And what is that next step in most cases, the meeting you really wanted in the first place.

So why not gear your call to that to begin with? If you truly have a solution worth having, one that actually solves (solution – solve) an issue they may be having, you know a pain or a need, lead with that, and get the right meeting. But when you say “Just 15 minutes”, it sounds like “please man, I am desperate, do me a solid, be a KPI.” Sure this may work once in a while, usually with the wrong prospect, but if it’s not inside the Bell Curve it’s a Hail Mary.

Like any sin, smoking, illicit activities, being a politician, what have you, there is the momentary pleasure, and lingering dark side. In this case you are starting your relationship, regardless of how far it may go, based on a lie. You know at the time you propose the meeting that you are not being truthful, as do your prospects, the 15 minutes is their insurance policy, “if this guy sucks as badly as I think he may, I can pull the lever after 15 minutes; if by chance he is good, then we’ll see.” Sure this may work once in a while, usually with the wrong prospect, but if it’s not inside the Bell Curve it’s a Hail Mary. I have always been for a separation of church and sales.

Tibor Shanto

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