Welcome to The Pipeline.

Are Your Buyers Asking WTF?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LinkedIn Serves Up Catholic Like Feature2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

endorsed 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Decision Makers Want To Deal With Decisive People2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Decisions direction sign with sky background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are You A Pompous LinkedIn Stink Bomber?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

LI Stink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why That Number? – Sales eXecution 3030

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Dollar numberrs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Radio Renbor the pipe

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

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

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Is Your Pipeline Constrained or Constipated? – Sales eXecution 3022

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.

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Where Have All The Sellers Gone? – Sales eXecution 3013

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.

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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.

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Training vs. Improving – Sales eXecution 2981

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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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.

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