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A Four Letter Word Every Seller Should Learn – Sales eXecution 3180

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 


One attribute many successful sales people possess is clarity of purpose, this helps them plan and execute more effectively, as well as help them review their actions and results more objectively. Because they are more focused on ‘purpose’ rather than self, any negatives that may surface during those reviews are weighed against results and how they may have moved them towards their purpose.

In case you are wondering, the purpose is usually a balance of helping the customers and their employers achieve their objectives, while ensuring their own success.

As a result they are much more naked to the world than their less successful counterparts. The also-rans, spend time and energy building up calluses to protect their egos from constructive input, and change. While consistently success sales people contiguously seek feedback and critical input, understanding its importance to success.

Part of this is their willingness and ability to ask for HELP.

“Know-it-alls”, by definition don’t feel they need help, because hey, they know it all. I work with my share of these folks, most of the time nice people in every other respect, but just refuse to take steps to ensure they are improving. (Sounds like some prospects we know, n’est-ce pas?) They can do it all on their own, and would rather piss their pants than ask where the washroom is. If they can’t, it won’t get done. Which is not the worst thing in some cases, not getting it done in sales lets down two of the three parties mentioned above, remember the Buyer will always have other, better, options.

Many sales people have difficulty asking for help internally or from assets provided by their organizations, such as me or other providers like me. One thing I offer my clients is availability, if you need to better understand something I have introduced, you are about to go into a call and want to bounce ideas, anything pertaining to sales and the areas I have been hired to help with, call, no need to wait or schedule, help is at hand. You know how many people take me up on this offer? Exactly, only the proverbial 20%. The ones who were likely succeeding before I came, and get the most out of what they are taught, the ones who will drive the ROI on their company’s investment. The rest, well, the “know-it-all”, and need little or no help in not making quota.

But you know where asking for help has the most profound effect and return? Asking your buyers for help.

Now I am not suggesting that you undermine your position as a Subject Matter Expert, but there are other ways. Buyers are people, and people invariably like to help, it is the way we are built. It is amazing the power of asking someone for help, you would not believe what you can find out by using a simple phrase like “Help me understand”. No this does not mean you are wake, stupid, incapable, or uninformed; it just means you are open to learning. That just as you are willing to ask for help, you are willing to offer it.

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Tibor Shanto

3 Must Have Attributes of a Real “NEXT STEP”1

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Definitions are an important factor in sales success, talk to the best sales people, best here being measured in results, not likability, and you will find that they thrive on clear definitions, it is their competitive edge.  To identify weak sales people, look for those with plenty of opinion, but little or no clarity in approach or definitions for core elements of their success.  One common example is “Value”, it is part of almost every sales conversation, yet there are numerous, at times conflicting definitions.  I ask a group of five also rans to define value, and you’ll end up with seven different definitions, because the first two will change their mind based on what the next three say.

Another common element of successful selling that is all too often undefined (and usually unenforced), is the discipline of next steps.  Sure, everyone pays lip service to “next steps” (or advances, or other synonyms), but what they say is not what they mean, and not at all defined, agreed on, or universally supported.

I was brought up in the sales school that held that without a “next step” you are likely working with someone who is fully not engaged, if at all, and therefore not a prospect, but a lead.  This makes a “next step” a crucial delineator between real opportunities, or those pretend opportunities, taking up space in your pipeline or CRM, but lack any empirical evidence to suggest that you are working with a real prospect or an opportunity that will convert in a predictable time frame.

There is not an opportunity review that goes by where a reps is asked:

“Do you have a ‘next step’ with this prospect?”

Rep: “Sure do!”

“What is it?”

“I’m calling him Monday to set a meeting”, or “I told him I would call Monday to see what he thought of the proposal”

“What time is the call scheduled for?”

“I don’t have it formally scheduled, I told him I’d call Monday, and he said fine, I’ll do it after I am back from the Northern demo.”

Sorry, but that’s not a next step.  It’s a plan, may even be a good plan, but at this point it is little more than hope in the form of a thought, and you know what they say about hope, and people addicted to hopium.

For a “next step” to be real and productive it needs to have three attributes, that when combined and successfully executed form a platform for sales success that can use to plan, strategize and execute their sale, usually in a shorter time frame than they had anticipated.

1.   Must Be Agreed On By Both The Buyer And The Seller – by agreed I mean that it is booked and confirmed, not just a “ya OK”, whispered as you are walking out. These days you can have an invite fired from your phone while you are still there.  The physical act of pulling out your phone to put in the time and date will lead them to go to their calendar, if they don’t you may have a problem that you need to address right then and there.  It is not unusual for my prospects to have accepted the next meeting before I leave or by the time I am checking e-mail in the parking lot.

Many will settle for this as a “next step”, but I don’t want you to be one of those.  There are people, even with the demands on time, who will meet with a sales person without a specific reason.  This is why the next attribute is so important, in fact of the three the most important.

2.  Moves The Journey Forward – going back without a clear purpose is a waste of time, you can sit at your desk twiddle your thumbs without adding to you carbon footprint. You want to go back to continue to move the process forward in a way that helps the buyer make the decision that you can help them achieve their objectives.  This can be asking them to do something that will validate their engagement, involvement and commitment to the buy/sale moving forward.

I suggest that you think in advance what that may be, leveraging your personal and organizational experience, map out the journey, understand the critical milestones, and how you have successfully arrived there in the past.  If you know that achieving something opens the door to the next phase of the process, then think of what has to transpire in the meeting to get the buyer to see that as a logical path forward.   This could be any number of things based on what you sell.  One example is to ask for the opportunity to interview other people impacted by the decision, and set a time to comeback, debrief and plan the “next step”.  You’ll often hear me say:

“So we’ve agreed that it would help if I had a chance to get the front line view, if you can give the names of three sales people to interview, I can set that up for next week, and be in a position to come back to review with you by next Wednesday, does 2:00 work for you?”

Now if they do not agree to the action requested, i.e. the team interviews, but do agree to meet next week to hear my recommendations, you have some choices to make.  Does it make sense to have that meeting without the input, can you viably make progress without that.  If not, then you need to understand where you and the buyer parted ways during the meeting, what you may have missed, whether it is an indication that they are not a real buyer, or do you need to retrace and build the value up again.

This is where “next steps” drive success long before the meeting, and how you bring the past to help you now.  Perhaps the most important aspect of “next step”, specifically how they help you plan, strategize and execute.  Since we can only speculate based on experience, it makes sense to visualize the meeting unfolding in a number of ways.  Again, we are not shooting for perfection, but to cover the most likely set of outcomes.  Therefore you need to have multiple “next steps” going into any meeting.  In essence, Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and more base on your reality.  Based on the above if Plan B is the follow up meeting without prior interviews, fine.  But if your experience shows that second meetings without an interview end in no sales, or lower margin or quality sales that take 50% longer than the average sale; you can comfortably walk away know you did not go into a trap.  Remember you can always revisit the opportunity down the road, rather than wasting time and energy traveling that unproductive road.

3.  Agreed On Timelines – This ties the first two elements together. And while it may seem too obvious, too many sales people have a plan going into a meeting, find areas of agreement and action, but leave the timing open ended.  Don’t believe, lock your office door, and have a true look at the opportunities in your pipeline, and see if you have any with no time lines.

Seems to me that if you are going to propose specific actions you and the prospect will take as a result of today’s meeting, and prospect agrees that it is something worth doing and they take on doing it, why not agree on a deadline or timeline.  Some sales people tell me they don’t want to seem pushy, when I hear that it sounds like “I am afraid of seeming professional”.

By suggesting a specific time you are helping the buyer (and yourself but let’s keep focused on the buyer), people have a lot coming at them, a lot of demand on the time.  Those things with times attached, deadlines, in their calendar, in their face, with purpose, leading to a desired and agreed on outcome, will be the ones that get done.  Those with any elements of looseness, like no specific time, who know, could be today, tomorrow, “hell, I lived with it this long, could be next quarter”.  Solidify you sales success using time.

Above I asked you to look at your pipeline and see how many opportunities are without a time line.  While you are in there, take a look at the 3 attributes highlighted above, and see where some opportunities in your pipeline come up short.  And then go and fix them, set a meeting, execute your plan, and secure the “next step”, as defined.

So if you are not using “next steps” as success driver, not just in the meeting, but long before, then you are probably working harder than you have to.  Further, if you are not clear on what “next steps” really are, and are working with a different definition than above, you are likely not as productive as you could be.

Your next step now, put the above into practice, it is a discipline.  Need help, your next step is call me: +1416 822-7781.

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Tibor Shanto



Is It 2016 Already? #BBSradio #podcast0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Radio Renbor the pipe

As we head to the finish line 0f 2015, there is a tendency among many in sales to maximize their “closing” activities.  Spurred on by their managers to close business, sales people get distracted from executing on the entire cycle, and focus on the here and now, and sacrifice future opportunities.  Balance is the key, if we focus only on the end of the year, we will pay for it at the start of the next year.  Take a listen to a discussion I had with Michele, and give us your thoughts.

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

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Are your Open Ended Questions Leading to Closed Ended Results? – Sales eXecution 3160

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Question ball and chain

Often the best sales books are not about sales or by sales experts. Case in point Dorothy Leeds’, the The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work. If you haven’t read this and you’re in sales, you are at a disadvantage to any rep that has. While the importance of questions has been explored by many, I keep coming back to this because she does not limit questions to being a sales tactic, but as a means of facilitating real communication and opportunities.

A key point in the book is that questions make one think. So true, yet so underutilized in sales. Rather than using where the buyer is as a starting point, and using question to go beyond, sellers use questions to bring the buyer to a space where the seller needs them, where their value proposition resides. Salespeople use question to box people into a space where they feel they can demonstrate their product and their perspective of value. You can hear it when they “wouldn’t you agree that if….., then you would be able to ….. better (faster, cheaper, etc.)…. Odd how the biggest proponents of Open Ended questioning, end up using questions to create a Closed Ended buying environment. The result is that these questions lead the prospect to in the opposite direction, leaving sellers to wonder why their great questions fail to inspire the buyer.

Want to inspire buyers, get them to think, to engage in a way that they don’t with sales people who use question to coral them? Get them to think. Not about their situation, their hip to that, they live it. Get them to think of their objectives, about the path forward, and the possibilities those objectives Open Up. To do that you need to demonstrate being a subject matter expert, and brave enough to explore the unknown, using question to find possibilities not limit them.

Being a subject matter expert does not mean being a “know it all”. But having enough knowledge, confidence and curiosity to help your buyer navigate uncharted territories to get to their objectives.

All those probing questions fall on deaf ears, they have heard it all before, the have been disappointed before. What they are looking for is a trusted advisor, again, that is not an oracle all knowing all saying, but someone with the skills and expertise to help them figure out how to bridge the gap between where they are now, and where they want their business to be.

Now when I say trusted advisor, I don’t mean their friend, or a relationship type, but someone who demonstrates enough expertise in the areas the buyer is trying to understand that they are willing to trust them enough to first take input then advice. You do not need to have a relationship to do that, you need to have and demonstrate expertise. You can do that and establish yourself as the go to source, as the one who can cut through the noise out there trying to bring them into a closed ended discussion, and you can become the supplier of choice long before the relationship that will evolve after.

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A Lead Is A Terrible Thing To Waste – Sales eXecution 3140

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 


Every day around the globe thousands if not hundreds of thousands of leads are created. Some are created by nice marketing folks, others by sales, some at trade shows, probably a few on your site, some are inbound, many are outbound, and frankly some are nowhere bound, but there is nothing but hope and blue skies at the point they are created.

But many of these leads never have the opportunity to grow into viable leads, delivering their full potential, evolving into prospects and finally full blown sales. No, many leads are wasted, ignored, sadly forgotten, and like so many before them, end up being another “might have been”, the latest addition to a pile of unrealized business cards.

Waste is never good, especially when what’s being wasted has real potential. It is especially sad when many sales people are begging or Jonesing for leads. Normally people are careful with a resource in shortage, in this case leads, and the ultimate finished good, sales and customers, sellers should be working leads full out, not wasting them. While leads may be a renewable resource, that’s no reason to waste or be casual with them, if you don’t want to work them, someone else will. Each of these leads has the opportunity to reward you now, and pay dividends well into the future. So why do people in sales allow, and at times deliberately set out to, waste and squander leads. After all, a lead is a terrible thing to waste.

Some have told me that they are not wasting these leads, but allowing them to “fully develop”. Why just last week, during a review with an IT sales rep, he told me that the lead was “not real, they are not looking to buy for another six months.” The sales version of the glass half full routine. Where I saw a good runway to build rapport and understanding, he only saw something wasting his time. “What’s a good lead?” I asked, “Someone ready to buy now, not next year.” I followed up and asked how long his sales cycle normally was, he told me six months. I tried explaining to him, but he insisted that there was no point in engaging with them for another six months.

While you can forgive the stupidity of the above, what is not forgivable, are those know what they have to do but don’t do it. Follow up once, twice and then punting, is wasting. But it takes effort to develop and execute a good pursuit plan. On the other hand so does whinging about the quality of leads you get from marketing, I mean how many times can we hear the same story.

Better use of that energy is to develop a plan for maximizing every lead. The plan should take the emotion and guess work out of maximizing a lead. Outlining the specific steps to take in converting a lead to a prospect will take the emotion and the effort out of it. You will be there early, you will do things to build rapport as time moves forward, and you’ll be the right person at the right time. Not late because you were were waiting for the perfect time, trying to get that right is a waste of time and leads. And you know what they say, “A Lead Is A Terrible Thing To Waste”.

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Q&A at Plug and Play #video – Sales eXecution 3130

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

In September I had the opportunity to meet with some up and coming companies at Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale.  After the meeting, I was asked to share some specifics about selling and our approach to driving value from prospecting call to growing your clients.  Take a look below, and feel free to reach out if anything strikes a chord or close to home.

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The Antidote To Micromanagement0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

People love to complain about micromanagement, even when at times they are just being actively managed , which is a perfectly good and welcome practice for front line management. While I agree that true micromanagement is neither effective nor desired, at times it is easy to understand why some managers turn to it. I also find that many who feel they are being micromanaged, are in fact just being managed, and can actually prevent the negative aspects of it if they were willing to take on a couple of core requirements for sales success. The biggest way to avoid being micromanaged is to embrace the other side of the coin – Accountability.

That’s right, if sellers were willing to be more accountable for their actions and outcomes, they would find that their managers would (or at least seem to) “micro manage” them less. I know that accountability is one of those “feel good” words in sales and business. Leaders talk about it, they want, even when they themselves are reluctant to be accountable to the team. Sales people love talk accountability, just rolls off the tongue, and talking heads like me, well what’s a good rant without accountability being bounced about. So let’s put a little teeth and definition into it.

One thing that continues to fascinate me even after all my years in sales is how many sales people know their own metrics. Let’s make it simple, let’s look at a few leading indicators, that when focused on, can have tremendously positive impact on sales success, and when ignored, well the opposite. Let’s take three simple examples, number of potential prospects you need to engage one “real” prospect; how many “real” prospects you need in order to generate one quality viable proposal; finally how many viable proposals lead to won deal. There are others I know, but for the sake of this discussion these will do. I am going to start by asking you to write down your own three metrics for the above, if you are a manger or higher, what is the average for your team?

Sales professionals need to “own” these numbers, and those who understand the importance of accountability for success do. One reason some feel they are being micromanaged is because their manager is asking for these numbers, (sorry, I forgot, sales is not a numbers game), metrics. Many managers are asking because they want to develop an improvement plan for the rep in question, i.e. taking accountability for their rep’s success. If they come with the number in hand and present it to the rep, it will be fuel for micromanagement fire, it is much better if the rep knows and owns the number and is an equal partner in the development plan, but without an agreed on starting point and end point it is hard to move forward.

The challenge for sales managers and organizations is commonly called the Accountability Paradox: the harder you try to create accountability, the less accountable people actual become. Many believe their only option is to try harder, which again just sends a different message than intended. While the goal may be coaching to success, the interpretation by some is that they are being micromanaged. This where frequent and consistent coaching comes in.

In many organizations there are regular meetings with reps, but it is often data processing not coaching. What coaching may take place seems skewed to the managers’ requirements, not as a means of helping the rep improve. The easiest way to encourage accountability, is to demonstrate it. As a manager, you should have a coaching plan for your team as a whole, and for each individual on the team. Coaching sessions should be frequent, at least weekly, more often where needed. In case you believe that this may not be a good use of time, some indicate that ten minutes of contextual coaching can lead to reps increasing revenues by up to 17%.

If coaching is not a regular expectation, it becomes an event, usually an event centered on a short coming. As someone once said, “you only get coached when you’re not doing as well as they want”. One way managers can drive accountability is to be accountable for the success of their people, not just the numbers, after all, if their people are successful and improving, the numbers will follow.

Micromanagement sucks for all involved, why not commit to the antidote, and commit to mutual accountability.


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Just Wondering…2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


So it is a holiday up here in Canada, Thanksgiving, we do ours early so we get all the good turkeys, and it is a holiday in the States as well, Columbus Day, a day to celebrate a guy who gets credit for discovering something long after it was discovered, and not what he set out to do to begin with. Sounds like sales already. But with the holiday mode, I thought it is a good day to ponder those things we may not have the luxury to think about when we are not luxuriating.

Here is one, I was recently interviewed for a B2B sales podcast. The host, a nice fellow, asked me a series of questions he said are put to all who appear on the podcast. “Go for it” I said; “Who is the best sales person you have ever known?” I gave him the name of two active sales people working for large sales organizations, and what I thought made one of them great. What he said next got me wondering. “Of all the times we asked this question, you are the only one who actually named real sales people”. Really, “What did the others say?” I asked.

“Some said Jesus, others Obama, or Steve Jobs”.

So I am not here to argue about these as being sales people, although if you’re gonna go biblical, isn’t the serpent a better choice, I mean did he not sell Eve like big time.

What really got me wondering is why the other pundits couldn’t name real sales people. We all put ourselves out there as making a difference for sales people and sales organizations. You would think in the course of that you may have met some great sales people, or better yet, been a significant factor is creating at least one great sales person. Why would they have to go for feel good bullshit choices like those?

Most of them I am willing to bet have not met Obama or Jobs, and certainly have not worked with them close enough to assess their selling skills. I mean what criteria would they have used? I am not even going to bring JC into this, I am sure that many pundits will have felt that they have met the son of God, but again, was he selling at the time? Looking at some of the sales people who have come out of that school, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart or Ernest Angley, you gotta wonder.

Hmm, what’s the deal then, are they working with sales people, are they selling? Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being a learned observer, the theoretical side of sales is important in ensuring improved execution. But there is a difference between talking about and talking to, between talking about and doing. I mean when someone asks who the best boxer was, you’re more likely to say Muhammad Ali than Howard Cosell; just wondering.

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Why Are You Doing That That Way? – Sales eXecution 3120

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

There are times when we have to stop and make sure that our actions or words have not caused the pendulum to swing too far. Too much of anything can take away from or completely defeat what we are trying to achieve. And so it is with execution, one of my favourite words, and the core success factor in sales. Many who execute imperfectly have greater success than those who wait for the perfect moment and ways of doing something.

Nike was right when they said just do it! But you should do it for a reason and you should do it with purpose and in a deliberate way.

Acting for the sake of acting is not the goal, making busy work for appearance sake is just that, not effective selling. It reminds of a T-shirt I saw in Florida, it read, “Quick, look busy, Jesus is coming.” Breaking a sweat trying to look busy just because your VP is in town is not what we’re talking about. Acting deliberately means knowing why you would do something, and as importantly, why you shouldn’t do something just because you can.

Here are a couple of examples. One company which sells a fairly straightforward product, all over the phone. 65% of the sales are closed on the second call, another 20% on the third call, a further 10% on the fourth call, and the remaining close on fifth call or beyond. Very diligently this team would make multiple calls to prospects; six, seven, sometimes eight calls, all encouraged by senior management, we’ve all heard the various clichés that drive this kind of behavior. Rather than being encouraged to move on after the fourth call, they were challenged not to give up.

Another company, selling a more upscale consulting service, was slightly ahead, they had actually validated that their sale are routinely about 60 days, and on average happen in four meetings. What they were not good at is a) understanding if four was the right number of meetings; b) the critical milestones that have to be achieved in each meeting to achieve those milestones. When I interviewed their “best” rep, he agreed that the 60 day four meeting sale was correct; when I asked “What are you looking to do in your first meeting?” He replied “close the deal”. “OK, so why go back four times, why not just close the deal the first time, do they have great coffee?” He pointed out the obvious, there had to be certain things in place before the deal could be won. No doubt, but what were these things, what was the sequence that these things had to take place in, were there some that were pre-requisites to others, were some gateways, others roadblocks, etc. These things were not mapped out.

I guess it is more accurate to say that their buyers tend to buy after 60 days of meeting after having vetted the rep four times, because based on the above it did not sound that there was much selling going on, more like waiting for orders.

This is not as uncommon as you think; people have a general idea, but not specific steps and measures. Beyond revenue, the biggest cost to this half blind approach, is time, the non-renewable resource. Oddly enough when I ask why they don’t map things in greater detail, I am told it takes time. The very thing they are wasting in not knowing why they do it that way.

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How Much Pain Can You Take? – Sales eXecution 3110

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Sales people are always looking for “the pain” or “pain point”, I get it, not sure it’s always the right thing, but it is what it is. One I am often given for the search for pain is the response they anticipate. Many tell me, supported by a string of pundits, is that people will do more to avoid pain, than the steps or actions they will take to achieve pleasure. Theory being, if one can touch a nerve, a painful nerve, the Buyer is more likely to act, and therefore potentially buy the “fix” for that pain from the seller. On the other hand, potential pleasure is not as likely to drive action, therefore lead to less engagements and sales. Given the choice, they believe that focusing on pain yields better results than focusing on pleasure.

This piece is not meant to debate that, but rather explore how it plays out with sales people when the theory is applied to their own reality, specifically their own success.

I work with a lot of sales people, and have seen how willing or unwilling they are to take on new skills and practice’s. I know that when I carried a quota, the biggest pain I was trying to avoid, was the pain of not making quota. I did so by focusing on the pleasures my successes and resulting commissions would allow me to experience (vacations, good food, and more). Always seemed a better alternative to not making quota and having to tell the kids they can’t eat this quarter. But let’s pander to the masses and go to the pain side for a minute.

Given that less than 60% of B2B reps make quota, you have to wonder why those suffering the reality of not making quota don’t do much if anything to avoid that pain. They are ready to prescribe that very thing to their prospects, but refuse to apply it to their own success. Just the incongruity of that must be a daily challenge, adding more pressure to the pain point of not making your number.

Forget the financial reality, there is the tribal reality of being more of a burden than contributor. The percentage of companies achieving their financial goals is greater than the number of reps doing the same, meaning, if you are part of the 40% or so already suffering the pain of not making goal, there is the added pain of being a burden on those who driving their numbers and making up for yours. How does one live with the pain?

So with all that pain, why is it that a seller would not take steps to improve the outcome, take steps to change what they are doing. What they are doing is clearly not working, but a large number continue to choose to do nothing different.

OK, so the pleasure of making more money, achieving Presidents Club and the perks it brings, the pleasure of being able to hold your head high as a contributor, are not enough to encourage change. But what about the pain of having to come up with new excuses, having to settle in so many ways, and just not being able to say you are a successful sales professional. Why does that not motivate these sales people to change? And then they wonder why their lame attempt at pain is not working on their prospects either.

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