Welcome to The Pipeline.

Is Your Pipeline Constrained or Constipated? – Sales eXecution 3020

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Pipeline plunge

Sales people have an interesting relationship with their pipelines, definitely emotional, sometime rational, and often, regardless of how they protest, predictable. The key is that how they manage their pipeline very much reflects how well they execute their sale, and how successful they may be.

First let’s look at the notion of pipeline and how it unfolds in sales. For the most part it is built around the concept of “Flow”. If you look at pharma, it looks at the flow of product from concept to being brought to market. There are several stages along the way, some products make it all the way, and some will die along the way for any number of reasons. In the oil patch, again flow, carrying the product from Alberta to points south (well it would if politics didn’t get in the way). But it’s all about flow, anything impeding or adversely affecting the flow, including speeding it up too much, creates an imbalance, a lack of efficiencies and desired results. In sales, that is clearly a lack of clients and revenue.

In sales there are two common pipeline conditions that result in insufficient sales. The first we will not deal with in this piece, specifically a lack of new things coming into the pipeline, no prospecting, leading to an empty pipeline. The second is an overly full pipeline. Some may not see this as an issue, but it is. The first problem is that sales people have their emotions driven by the state of their pipeline, when it is full, they have less propensity to prospect, “look man, I have so much sh#t in my pipeline, let me go close it.”

This leads to the second problem, the fact that there is so much in their pipeline, specifically a lot of sh#t. These people think of their pipeline as something to fill, not about flow, having it full is their goal, not moving it through from lead to client in a consistent and repeatable fashion. This usually results from either their unwillingness to take things out of the pipeline, constrained; or inability to close prospects they have in their pipe, constipation.

Constrained – we have seen these sellers, partly optimistic, partly naïve, partly lazy, and mostly squandering time and their success. Nothing ever dies, every opportunity is sacred, just like a scene from a Monty Python movie.  These sales people feel they are more successful as they have a bigger and bigger pipeline, I have some tell me that as long as they can bring more opportunities, the more are like to close. These where the downside of relationship selling shows itself. “If I can engage and have relationships with more and more buyers, deals will close themselves.” No they won’t. If they cleared out the trash from their pipeline they would not only see this, but would feel the urgency to act more decisively. Often these sellers have skills, they just don’t apply them, their optimism and naiveté constrain their ability to deal with more of the right prospects and close more deals.

Constipated – these are sales people who have difficulty closing. To their credit, they prospect, and prospect well, they continue to bring opportunities. What they lack is the skills to qualify, or more accurately, disqualify, leading them to grow their pile of prospects. They also can’t engage well enough to conduct a proper discovery with prospects, and as a result can’t close the sale. Often if you can hold your nose, and pick through, you’ll find prospects who have long bought elsewhere. They are good at the front end, but blocked at the back end, constipated.

Once in a while you can flush these out, but unless you change the pattern, it gets blocked again. The answer to both is having a clearly defined process and active management. The process with stages, actions, objectives, tools, and evaluation to determine if the opportunity has merit, ready to go to the next stage, or needs to be dispatched to the recycling bin. Notice not garbage bin, but recycling, yes, leads are recyclable, you can always come back when the timing is better. This will help create balance and help opportunities “flow” through to results.

Active management is important to help both type of clogs to be cleared. And to be fair to sellers, it is often their managers that contribute to the problem. An active manager can help both sellers be better sellers, or as we like to say around here Sell Better! Active management focus them on the right activities at each stage of the opportunity, and allow them to get rid of things that don’t belong. This may lead to a thin pipeline, then active management needs to turn to better prospecting. But in both cases management needs to have an active role beyond highlighting the problem.

So go ahead, give your pipeline a flush, and then focus on flow not volume.

Tibor Shanto    LI Bottom banner

Where Have All The Sellers Gone? – Sales eXecution 3012

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Over the last few years there have been numerous articles and commentaries suggesting that the sales population will dramatically dwindle over the next few years. I don’t think there will be less real sellers than now, but the roles will be more clearly and accurately defined.

The reality is that many of those calling themselves sales people, or were hired to fill a role with a job description of sales person are not sales people at all. Many who pretended to be hunters to get the job were not; and many who were hired to manage and grow accounts, were in fact willing or capable of doing either. So if you redefined those to what they really were, rather than what you were hoping or pretending they were, you’d have a thinning of the ranks. In reality there are not as many sales people now as many would pretend.

Further to this point, last week I participated in an event hosted by SMB Acuity, a premier supplier of actionable business insights, where they presented the results of a survey of Small and Medium business in the USA and Canada specifically companies with 100 or less employees, those driving the economy. One interesting result they shared was that a large majority of upsells and cross sells were in fact initiated by the businesses themselves, not the sellers (by title anyway). The numbers were 57.8% of respondents in Canada, and 68.3 in the States. Confirming that many who say they are in sales, are in fact order takers.

What’s worse, is that these numbers clearly indicate that both types of sales people dropped the ball. Account managers should have been involved enough with the accounts to be in tune with potential demand, completely missed the opportunity. Leading to the question of how involved were they really, were they managing them in the real world, in their CRM, on a list, or as I suspect not at all. The other question is where was management? Why did they not have a process and the metrics in place to ensure coverage and get ahead of the opportunity?

One thing is sure, when the buyer initiated the conversation that lead to the upsell with you, they likely did so with your competitors as well. Given the scenario, I bet you don’t even know if and when they decided to buy more or another product, you don’t even know if they bought it from you or your competitor.

And where were the hunters, how did they miss this waiting opportunities?

It is almost an insult to real sellers to call these transactions “upsells” or “cross sells”, when it was buyer initiated. This is why they call people in department stores clerks, not sales people.

So yes, over the years as we fine tune the role, you will find less people classified as sellers, not because there will be less sellers than now, but because there will be a separation of sellers and clerks.

Tibor Shanto    LI Bottom banner

Get More Appointments In Less Time2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

No Magic, no voodoo, no silver bullets, no secrets, I’ll lay it all out; a proven technique for getting more appointments without increasing your prospecting time. This proven techniques works whether you are seeking face to face appointments with vetted prospects, getting prospects to attend an intro web meeting, or are conducting an inside sales function by phone.

First thing is first, the purpose of a prospecting call is to get engagement (Tweet).  This call can come after an initial e-mail, social tenderising, or it could be the first attempt to connect directly with a prospect. What you want is to get engagement, you want the commitment to a meeting, or the time to initiate an information exchange or call it discovery if you will. So just as in theory there is a separation between church and state, there needs to be a distinction between prospecting, and selling. But most sales people do not practice this, they blur the line between the two.

The best way to do this is to have a focused plan for the call, and execute it in a very specific way. Initiate the call, Engage using Value Prompts, hit them with an Impact Question, and Request meeting. At this point you’ll either get the appointment, or more often the initial objection, which you will have to take away. You need to get used to the fact that you will get multiple objections, and you’ll have to take those away, using specific value points. Not the value proposition on your web site or brochure, but value to the buyer, to their world from their perspective. (To see detailed breakdown click here).

Now after you take away three or four objectives, you should move on, because you can always revisit this prospect, but you will never be able to recover the time you waste trying to convert someone in a call who has rejected you multiple times, sorry no silver bullet or secret incantation, just process and execution. Some will try to avoid the inevitable by asking questions that at best get you nowhere, or usually just make you sound desperate, and leave the wrong lasting impression with the prospect.

The key here is time. A good prospecting call, again, not a sales call, but a prospecting call as defined above, should take no more than three, at most four minutes. Taking on more objections does not get you anywhere but adds time to the call. Asking questions that show how smart you are and all the research you did, again does not get you closer, it just adds time.

I watch sales people stay on a call six, seven, eight sometimes 10 minutes, trying to sell way before the potential buyer is even engaged; no engagement – no sale!

So if you spend 90 minutes making calls, speak to five people, and get one appointment (OK but not the best), imagine if you cut you on call time to three minutes from say seven, you’ll be able to get in twice as many conversations, be less frustrated, and get twice the appointments, every time.

Tibor Shanto    LI Bottom banner

Lite banner

Training vs. Improving – Sales eXecution 2981

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

iStock_000002705035XSmall

People often confuse training for a bunch of things that may or may not need to be present to achieve what they really want to achieve which is usually, change, and more specifically a change for the better, improvement. But improving, especially in sales, take a whole lot more than just training, and certainly more time than most people consider when it comes to training.

Training is an easy check mark on the KPI card, but improvement requires, planning, effort, and patience. All too many leaders “just train”, and often simply train their sales people to do the same thing, some times better, sometimes not, but “we trained them”. Sort of like an annual tune up on your car.

Training is part of the process, but it starts with planning. What are trying to change, and more importantly to what end. There are some who will do assessments, but then fail to set specific targets or outcomes for the training. “As a result of the assessment and interviews with Trainer X, the goal for this program is to increase pipeline value by X%; or to improve the conversion rates from stage X to stage Y of the process; or to reduce the sales cycle from an average X weeks to, X minus weeks” Or any other objective. To achieve improvement, you not only need to set goals, but benchmarks so you can measure progress, and metrics so you can manage progress.

Speaking of manage, why bother training the front line if you don’t train the managers. Or let’s be more accurate, train those leading your front line to really lead. But training is not enough, as Steve Rosen always reminds me, coaching and leadership is an ongoing process, as is development and lasting improvement for the front line.

As with any other improvement process your company takes on, it need to be planned, “sold” to participants, delivered, and then driven, not just left to “happen”. Sounds simple, I’ll bet a bunch of you reading this are saying, “Of course, why is this guy stating the obvious?” Sure, it’s obvious, but think back to your last training, sales or otherwise.

Unless it is an iterative process with specific goals, it is just a feel good KPI exercise. And don’t be fooled by assessments that capture your unfounded subjective observation that will seem to improve if for no other reason than the fact that you paid attention to it, ticked off on your list, and feel good about the fact that you rep is “now also responding”. The only thing that changes is the reps ability to give the right answer the second time around. Objective measures that lead to improvement, feeling better is not improvement.

There is an old joke in the training business, ask a leader “if you had a 14 year old daughter, would you rather she had sexual education at school, or sexual training.” And everyone feels good about choosing education over training. Go for improvement, the means is secondary.

Tibor Shanto    LI Bottom banner

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    

LI Bottom bannerPPA Ad 1

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     

LI Bottom banner

PPA Ad 1

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     

LI Bottom banner

PPA Ad 1

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

 LI Bottom bannerMay 15 Dorg

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

 LI Bottom banner

wordpress stat