Welcome to The Pipeline.

Neither Either0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Confused by Too Many Choices Arrow Street Signs

While I am all for having a sales process or road map, there is plenty of room for choice, and there are some elements of sales success that are achievable via many paths. You have choice within a defined structure, the result is pretty much the same regardless how of the path taken. As a seller, your success will not be adversely impacted by the choice. On the other hand, there are areas where you are presented with the option between two paths, but one does not deliver the same results, where one path may be easier but consistently yields lesser returns than another, at times more demanding alternative. Often the alternative delivering better results may not be as comfortable at first, require a different effort. One common reason people will choose the less effective/more comfortable route is they do not want to come across as being “salesy”, you know for some, just asking for the order is “salesy” or pushy; or that’s what they tell me.

An example of the above is “choice” or “options”, specifically sellers giving the buyer options for no real reason or benefit other than their own comfort, not at all that of the buyer. Too many sales people offer up choices or options to their buyers throughout the sales cycle, where they are not necessary, where they could negatively impact the sale or momentum, and are usually deployed not because they make sense for the sale or the buyer, but because they help sale people cope.

Here is a common example early in the engagement, while on a prospecting call. You’ve positioned how you can help them achieve objectives based on you experience and credible validation, and you get to the point where you ask for the time to meet, and instead of creating focus and a call to action, too many sales people make the mistake of saying:

“So what’s better for you, Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning?”

Why? Don’t you know when you want to meet, don’t you utilize your time efficiently and set appointments based on where other meetings take place that day?

Rather than communicating “gee any time is good, I got nothing else going on, so Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning, makes no difference to me, any one of those, please I need an appointment.”

There really are those who tell me they don’t want to be pushy, they don’t want to “box” the prospect. So now instead of thinking about what you called them about, any potential value that you may have communicated to this point in the call, you get them to go back and forth between two points in their calendar, instead of focusing on one time.

Hands down, it is better to give them one time, focus them on that time in their calendar, and make it easy for them to say yes, or no, you can always offer up the other time at that point. But why introduce slackness into an otherwise tight call? Is it for the buyer’s benefit? No! If you want to make it easy for them, especially if you have set up the call well to this point, give them one specific time, their eyes will go there and bam! Give them choice, they’ll look at both, maybe see that they have a meeting Tuesday afternoon that they are not ready for, and what could have been an appointment becomes “It’s not the best time, give me a call next month”.

Another example where offering choice is not the best plan is at the time of proposal, too many sellers offer up options, A, B and C. Some even believe that buyers will always go to the middle price point, on the other hand if you offered only one choice, you would get a yes or a no, giving you the option of offering the mid-price at that time. As you have heard me say in the past, good sellers are subject matter experts, as such, you should demonstrate that expertise by putting the best option forward, not a range of options. Order takers offer options, because they do not create the sale, just react to it.

If you have truly sold the deal, addressed the buyer’s objectives, and have gotten confirmation of that throughout the sale, then the only choice is the best one based on the process that just unfolded. For me, go with the best, other than that, I’ll have neither either.

Tibor Shanto

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Sales Performance Summit0

Sales Performance Summit

April 6, 2015

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JOIN US AT
The Rotman School of Management
105 St. George Street, Toronto, ON, Canada

According to STAR Results’ global 2015 STAR Sales Manager Survey, the number one area of focus for sales leaders is Improving Performance Management.

Nearly half of sales reps did not achieve quota over the past few years. The challenge and opportunity for sales leaders is to ensure that their managers can impact performance and that their front lines will follow. These two imperatives are key to developing a sales culture designed to succeed.

Performance is no longer an individual measure. It is a mission critical strategy. According to the STAR Results 2015 Sales Manager Survey, in the new sales reality, characterized by increasingly knowledgeable and discriminating buyers, performance and performance management are the burning issues for sales leaders around the world.

The Sales Performance Summit will not offer sales training or promote specific sales methodologies. What it will do is offer proven ways for sales leaders to positively impact performance regardless of methodology. The reason most reps struggle is not that they can’t ‘SPIN’ or ‘Challenge’, but that they aren’t aligned with a performance-driven culture.

The summit will focus on performance improvement for better results and sustainable competitive advantage by unpacking five key strategic issues:

  • The importance of performance management throughout the organization
  • The role of metrics and data in driving performance
  • Proven approaches to extend the performance culture in every sales call
  • Recruiting top performing salespeople
  • The benefits of developing sales coaches instead of line managers

For Details Click Here

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Maintaining Your Mojo #BBSradio0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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As some may be aware, I am now a regular on Michele Price’s BREAKTHROUGH radio program.  I appear every 4th Monday, speaking of course about sales, but there a host of other great content, I encourage you to check Michele’s program out, and learn from a range of contributors.  You can find the program and more information click here.

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

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

Do You Have Sellers or Pageant Contestants?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Happy to be a business leader. Cheerful businessman with outstre

Juliet:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

That may have worked for old Willie Shakespeare and sweet Juliet, but in sales names, labels and definitions count. While we already live with a lot of mislabelling, like sales people calling suspects prospects, or when they tell you a prospect is in “information gathering” stage, because a voice on the phone asked them to send a brochure. Usually you can roll with it, and put your energy into recalibrating their sales compass, rehabilitate and move on. But it is a bit harder to not laugh or even be concerned when it is the pundits who are off the mark.

I recently got a notice about a social selling event, as you know I hate hyphenated selling, it screams of sales people hiding things they don’t want to do behind a label; usually things one has to do if one is going to call themselves a sales professional.

The headline for the event read:

“90% of buyers start their journey online. Meet them where they are.”

OK, but if we are talking about selling, why are focused on just buyers? They are going to buy, they started the journey on their own. Let’s look at it through a B2C filter, where social media has truly impacted the sell/buy equation, they call these people shoppers. Yes, marketing and advertising got them to pay attention, they come to your shop, some high end shops may have specialist clerks, but I think if we look at Amazon, we see someone who has figured out what to do with shoppers, or buyers, and sales people are not part of that story.

While B2B shoppers, buyers by any other name, may require servicing between the time they made up their mind to enter the market and shop, about the only role a rep working for the winning “shop” is to provide price (or price concessions), and take the order. Again, we’re talking buyers, self-initiated buyers, which is why they went on line. Sellers add value to their company and earn their commissions by engaging with non-self-initiated-buyers, people not shopping, and bringing them in to the market and selling them.

These buyers are more like judges in the Miss America Pageant, and if you choose to sell this way, you are one of a long line of vendor-contestants, they will slowly narrow down till they crown their favorite order taker. Sure you can charm them during the on-stage questions segment, give it your all during the talent segment, (this is where the marketing team can really help), or pack a bit more oomph in the bathing suit stride across the stage. But there is no getting away from the fact that in this scenario, when working with self-initiated-buyers, you are one of many contestants, not a seller. You see sellers sell, they let others in the company handle the buyers. And as tools and technology make capturing and servicing BUYERS more effective and efficient, both from an experience and cost standpoint, the less requirement there will be contestants, and a greater opportunity for real sellers.

So what is your team made up of, sellers or contestants?

Tibor Shanto

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Are You A Relationship Manager?2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Are You Still Doing Pipeline Reviews?2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Nigeria Sale Concept

Why?

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

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

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

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

So what is the alternative?

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

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

Tibor Shanto

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Forget Social Selling, and Sell Socially2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Doodle social media signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Length Matter? – Sales eXecution 2810

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Spinning time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tibor Shanto

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Teach Them How To Answer0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Q+A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tibor Shanto

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New Year’s Execution – Sales eXecution 2800

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Execution WRL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tibor Shanto

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