Welcome to The Pipeline.

Why Get Ahead Of The Buyer?0

 By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Rear view

I recently saw an ad for a sales program, and that big bold letters enticing me to buy read: “How To Get Ahead Of Your Buyer”. While I get where they were coming from, or more accurately who they were trying to appeal to, but there was just something wrong with the way it was phrased.

I think one of the biggest challenges sales people have is not to get ahead of the buyer, it seems to me that getting ahead of the buyer is the same as “leaving the buyer behind”, a dangerous notion and more dangerous practice.

One of the key things we help sales teams accomplish with the EDGE framework is alignment with the buyer. Executing the sale in a way that keeps you engaged and in step with the buyer, leads to a number of pluses, not to mention more sales.

Alignment is key, it helps you focus and cover objectives, which then allows you to offer practical means of helping the client achieve those objectives. The idea of getting ahead of the buyer has an old school ring of pain and needs based selling.

When you rush ahead of the buyer, because you are familiar with the scenario, you’ve seen and heard it before, you tend to want to “close” too early, usually relying on old school “closing techniques”. In some ways I thought we were past this, but this ad and a recent discussion in a LinkedIn group suggest that we are not. That discussion was based on the question “What’s the best, most effective question you’ve ever asked a client?” Apparently some sales people still ask what keeps the prospect awake at night. With thinking like that, and leaving the buyer behind, sellers move to close too early in the process, you may feel you are done your discovery, but the buyer is still defining and refining their requirements. Moving to close at this stage will at worst make the buyer feel pressured, scare them to compare to others, and at best, slow down the deal, requiring a longer sales cycle, the use of more resources, and less time to spend on other opportunities.

When this happens, and other companies enter the fray, price will not only become an issue, but a central issue. What was your deal to win, now becomes your deal to buy, and there is never money in that.

The flip-side of getting ahead, is falling behind, the relationship approach, “whatever makes you happy, I’ll be here when you’re ready.” The net effect of this again is that the buyer learns whet they require, after all you are there with all the facts and didees, and when they are ready to buy, they do so from the guy asking for the order, not the one waiting.

Work with the buyer, lead the buyer, based on their objectives, your expertise as a subject matter expert, but don’t get ahead, or fall behind, manage the alignment.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

The Death of Cold Calling Has Been Greatly Exaggerated #webinar0

Join me on May 8th, 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM PDT, as along with the folks from Exponential Sales, we explore sales from the singular view of execution.

The best sales organizations are those who excel at executing their sales process; from demand generation, to prospecting to closing and growing accounts. The best sales processes are those that evolve and reflect the changing nature of their clients and markets. While there will always be “new ways” to sell, the best sellers look for what works, not what is new or fashionable, including yes cold calling.

The challenge is adoption of process that continues to change as often and as fast as your clients’ markets; it is like building an airplane while it is flying.

Learn how winning sales teams are uncomplicating their sales with a focus on an activity based process. The clearly defined and executable sequence of high value activities that address clients’ requirements and move the sale forward with each activity.

Learn why and how consistently successful sales organizations understand that the focus is revenue, not sales or marketing, but an integrated approach to driving client success. The combination of process, high value activities and mutual accountability between sellers and buyers and the organization to their sellers, leads to revenue success, regardless of “style or fashion”.

Learn how:

  • Execution based selling beats and other selling
  • Its more efficient to develop a hybrid of sales skills
  • Why Cold Calling and social selling are not mutually exclusive
  • The mechanics of a functional and dynamic sales process
  • Why numbers matter
  • Why Execution is the last word in sales

If you lead a sales organization, manage a team or are a front line seller, you need to attend this webinar, the first in a series looking at why much of the buzz in sales is distracting you from success.

The second webinar in the series will examine the opportunity to leverage technology to execute your process and drive revenue for your company, not just those selling you the technology.

Register

Playing With Numbers – Sales eXecution 2470

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

crystal ball

I was never big on Shakespeare, took me long enough to master English as my third language, good old Willie just confused things that much further, I must admit that I do have an appreciation for the phrase from Hamlet “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. Not only as a parent, but perhaps in a similar vein working with sales people, as exemplified by a recent exchange with a rep I am working with.

Earlier this month in a post title To Call Or Not, I cited some stats about the level of effort required to engage and sell new buyers. The rep in question was very defensive about some of the numbers, asking where they came from, when I shared that with him, he kept on protesting and questioning, just like the lady in Hamlet.

Having remembered that the company had recently done a trade show about a week before our conversation. I asked how many leads he picked up, he told me about a hundred or so. I went on “how many have you contacted or followed up with?” He told me about thirty or so. Or so? What is there a margin for error, or a margin for slackness? Either way, below the stat he was protesting, and likely the reason he was protesting, the light was just a little too bright.

At this point you have no choice but to don my Kevlar reinforced wetsuit, and ask “what about the rest?”

I bet if I asked you to look away from the screen you can guess the excuses, go ahead give it a go.

First just the lack of time, apparently there was a battery that had to be driven across town to a client. I took a bullet, in as much as he had to attend training. But my favourite was “Some of these are not real, some were just tire kickers, I can tell which are worth following up with, so I went to hose first, I will continue down the list.”

I right away called my wife “Honey, I met a real celebrity, I spent my morning with Kreskin”  I can just see him holding those business cards up in the air, one by one, and divining which were buyers and which were not.

“Have you sent a follow up e-mail to the bunch?”

“I though Marketing was gonna do it”

Sales people are no different than others, if you don’t like the message, you shoot the messenger, and if the messenger is wearing Kevlar, try to undermine the numbers in question.

As discussed here before, sales people fall into one of two groups, what I’ve referred to as the X Factor of sales, execution, or excuses.  Not only was our boy not ready to execute, he was great excuses, a complete lack of accountability. Now to be fair, there was little clarity from the organizations as to what was expected after the show, i.e. “follow up with all leads within 72 hours.” But in the end, for someone so ready to question the numbers, he was doing a lot to hide form them and little to disprove them.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

3 Reasons Why Objections are Not a Bad Thing3

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

No sales keys

Most sales people think about objections as being a bad thing, a lot of sales people and worse leaders, get really uptight when it comes to objections. Often before we have even began to define parameters with stakeholders, they’ll say “Oh, and we need an Objection Handling session”, they want to take a tennis approach to managing objections, prospect “throws” out an objection, and they want to hit it back to them. But objections are really not a bad thing, not always convenient or easy to manage, but they are not a bad thing.

Here are three specific reasons why objections are not always a bad thing (no specific order):

  • Indicate engagement
  • Allow you to introduce more value/information/facts without pitching
  • Allow you to qualify – disqualify buyers

The goal here is not to specifically give you techniques, but more to get you to relax a bit and see how objections are good for you, your sales, humanity, and global warming.

Keep in mind that for the most part objections come up in two ways, when you are trying to engage or prospect them, (we did a six part series on this, you can find Part I here). The second is when you are trying to gain agreement, either during the sales on specific points that will move things forward, including simple Next Steps, or at the end when you are trying to complete the sale. In either case, what follows will help you put things in a different perspective and let you use the objective to improve your selling, as a whole, and in specific deals.

Indicates Engagement – Even though some objections during the prospecting phase are knee jerk on the part of the buyer, the fact that they “are responding” allows you if prepared, to deal with that objection and segue to a conversation, key is being prepared. As you get into the sale, the objections will be more specific, a direct reflection of what the buyer is thinking, and how they are interpreting what you are saying, and if they are not clear, an opportunity to correct course. Even towards the end, with the lowest form of objection, the price objection, it is an indication that they are involved, capitalize on it.

Allow you to introduce more information/facts/value without pitching – Every time they object, they are in effect asking a question of for clarification, what a bonus. You can get a sense where their thinking is at, introduce additional elements. You can usually go deeper, and more importantly ask for more clarification on the part of the prospect. “Help me understand what you mean by…” Many objections are really questions, or the buyer evaluating things and they vocalize them, it is my chance to recalibrate, add useful value elements, align with the buyer, and move forward.

Allow you to qualify – disqualify buyers – Sellers are always looking to qualify buyers, well their objections are a good qualifier, and as I have argued in the past, if your qualified prospect to closed ration is less than 50%, your time is probably better spent disqualifying those that you know will not close based on experience, which will leave you with more “qualified” buyers. Objections are a great way to disqualify, if you cannot manage and move beyond, you need to accept that it is time to move on, rather than play objection tennis, where you always lose. The big thing is that every time you disqualify a prospect, you have to replace them with a new one. Which is why some sales people would rather pretended they doing productive things by dealing with insurmountable objections, than doing some prospecting.

How you deal with objections is a different post, and there others out there with some great ways. But first you need to deal with how you view objections to begin with.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Game the Plan – With Chris Cabrera0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Game the plan

Almost everyone in sales will tell you that incentives drive behaviour, but beyond that there is often little agreement among the pundits as to what the right incentive plan is. Some see it as a black art, while others, usually sales people, see it as something to manipulate, hence the expression ‘gaming the plan’. But ask Christopher Cabrera, founder, president and CEO of Xactly Corporation, who has a different view, and believes that front line reps and CFOs do not need to be at odds when it comes to incentives. In fact, Cabrera literally wrote the book on incentives, “Game the Plan: Every Sales Rep’s Dream; Every CFO’s Nightmare”, which suggests that when it’s done right, reps can and should game and maximize the plan, and everyone wins.

I had the opportunity to discuss incentives and the book with Cabrera, and ask him some questions many of my clients ask when it comes to their challenges around incentives and driving behaviour that leads to everyone’s success, buyer, seller, and company.

One aspect of the incentive where the pendulum of opinion swings back and forth is between simplicity and complexity of a plan. While some try to engineer things down to the minute detail, others, look to perhaps over simplify by offering 100% commission based pay. As you would suspect, the reality is somewhere in between. Cabrera’s view is that 100% is not the most effective, but over engineering a plan has faults as well. He suggests that structure is much more important than the specifics. What “counts is the number of measures; there is a strong correlation between the number of measures and a successful plan.” Measures being the elements being paid on, Cabrera suggests that optimal number is three measures being incented. As you exceed that number, you lose focus and therefore the effectiveness of the plan.

Another factor was the number of people being paid on any given deal, an extreme example Cabrera gave was a company that had over a hundred people on any given deal. He suggest that the right number of people is five.

Cabrera is also a proponent of paying different rates on different products. While paying on net revenue is a start, companies should also incent higher margin products at a higher rate, thereby driving sales and higher profits. He also discussed that managing activity is the role of management not the incentive plan.

Another area of discussion was the use of SPIFFs (Sales Promotion Incentive Fund). Cabrera explained that while this was an effective practice, companies need to keep them fresh and not overuse them. “Keep them guessing by changing the annual cadence, if they know it is coming and when, it loses the desired effect.” He also recommends that they not be overused, three times a year, and at different times, for different element. Tying them to quarter end each time really misses the mark.

The thing that gives the book teeth and makes it a must read for sales leaders and sales people is not only Cabrera’s own extensive experience in the field of sales incentive and incentive management. But more importantly, the volume of data that is available to him as a result of the work Xactly does. The ability to leverage the empirical, anecdotal and other elements give Cabrera, the book, and by extension the reader, an unparalleled level of insight into incentives, and doing it right.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Social Selling is Just Good Selling – Sales eXecution 2440

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Last week I had the honour of placing in the top 10 of the 30 The Top 30 Social Salespeople In The World.  But more than ever before it highlighted the need to unhyphenate sales, and focus on those things that make sales people good at what they do.  I can’t speak for the others on the list, but I do not see myself as a social seller, but as a sales person who takes the profession seriously, and as a result of that commitment use every available tool to communicate with my market, and deliver avenues and means for them to achieve their objectives vis-à-vis their business.

top30socsale

This is why I had some gentle fun with Social Selling’s predecessor, Sales 2.0. These are not just marketing terms, but limiting terms, especially in the hands of the wrong people, especially the pundits. If Sales 2.0 was the label for those who were leveraging Web 2.0 tools and opportunities in their sales, then what number do we assign to those sales people who were early adopters of the first wave of web capabilities, Sales 1.0? What about those of us who jumped on things like portals, the original BlackBerry pagers, Sales 0.0. And what of the sales people who invested in Palm Pilots and green screen e-mails, Sales -1.0. Take to the logical conclusion voice mail in the 1908’s Sales -3.0, answering services introduced in the 1930’s Sales -6.0, etc.

Silly marketing terms that pre-occupy sales people and sell products for those selling to sellers. So let’s unhyphonate sales, especially silly, potentially revenue destructive labels like “No Cold Calling”, “Referral Selling”, “Trigger Event Selling”, and others. These address one small aspect of sales in a very incomplete and ineffective way and serve only to sell a product. This may explain why some were left off the list who are in one light much more “social” than many of us on the list.

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect I was on the list because I love selling, and writing about selling and will use every available tool and means of selling better, these days that includes social. I think if you want to hyphenate sales, there should only be one Good-Selling, everything else is just packaging.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 

 

Mistakes Are Better Than Regrets – Sales eXecution 2430

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Crossed Fingers

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a sales person say “I should have …”, I could start working a three day week. And for all the coulda shmoudas, the risk for not acting was not that much greater than not acting, but the rewards always measurably bigger. I have never understood how some can live better with the regret of not having gotten a sale because they did not act, versus worrying about not getting an account because of a mistake they made attempting.

We worry about making mistakes when it comes to accounts, or meetings, usually unnecessarily so, and usually due to a lack of a proper pursuit plan, or process. Process here refers to a set of necessary and common-sense activities required to move the sale to close, executed in a logical and sequential stages, not something overly complex just for the sake of being complex, or more expensive. But the ‘process’ is not the end all and be all, as many mistakenly believe, it is the jumping point, the platform that allows you to act and measure progress and recalibrate when needed, but none of that matters till you act. It is when you act and make mistakes that you can correct, vary, and act again. Mistakes can be corrected, regrets you just carry around like so much luggage.

This unfolds with meetings as well, I often hear sales people say after the fact “I should have asked…” So why don’t they? One simple reason, they didn’t write their questions down in advance, and simply forgot, they didn’t want to look amateurish, but many buyers tell me they just see that as being prepared. More often sellers tell me they didn’t want to sound foolish asking such a simple question. What’s the old question: “do you want to be rich or look cool?”

Many sales people tell me that they don’t want to act “until they have it right”. They practice and rehearse – a good thing – till they feel they have it “perfect” – not a good thing, because no one is ever perfect. Selling is not like figure skating at the Olympics where you get a score for “artistic merit”, more like speed skating, successive qualifying rounds, semi-finals, and finally the big race. Perfect is not as pretty as success, and success is not always pretty.

While the intent of doing your best is a good one, and I have always said that intents go a long way, buyers are very much in tune with your intent, and are very forgiving when they know your intent was good, despite questionable execution. But without action on your part, there is no way for the buyer to see or gauge your intent. It’s a lot like not leaving a voice mail because “no one ever calls back”, how could they if you don’t leave a message or number?

If you’re going to err, err on the side of acting and dealing with the outcome, not on the side of staying on the sidelines and rationalizing the might-have-beens. In sales, it is about execution – everything else is just talk!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Join me - Return On Objectives #Webinar

Why Set Out For 2nd Prize?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

2nd prize

Every day I work with sales people who start their day by setting their sights on winning second prize, and then celebrate when they achieve it. No really, watch any group of sales people on the phone trying to set appointments, and it is only a question of minutes before you see a few telling you how they convinced the potential prospect to let them have second place, or take their place among the also-rans.

Now I am not sure it is always accurate, but there is something to be said for the saying that in sales “second place, is as good as seventh place.” Meaning only the rep who wins the deal has any bragging rights, and the money, the rest are quickly forgotten.

But seriously, how else can you explain sales people doing the following.

They get on the phone, get their indented target on the phone, who tells them “we’re all set, we already have a provider (insert your stuff here), thanks for calling though”. To which the sales rep responds “Well, maybe I can send you some info, and if you ever need a backup…” Sometimes it is a variation on that theme, their whole approach is to get permission to send information to the potential prospect, and then ask for permission to call back to follow up. I mean I could find it interesting if they asked for an appointment to review the material they send, but to ask for permission to call back, don’t we all know what will happen when they call back:

A.   They end up in voice mail, they don’t leave a message, or leave the wrong message; no call back, couple more tries and then they give up
B.   Mysteriously, despite improvements in technology, the prospect did not receive what they sent
C.   The prospect hasn’t had a chance to read, but will, and asks you to call in a week
D.   All of the above

Notice what one of the options wasn’t, that’s right, an appointment, which what the objective is, first prize!

Knowing how to handle objections is one thing, and if you download our Objection Handling Handbook, you’ll know how to handle the two above, (all set, and send me stuff), as well as the most common you are likely to face on the phone. But where most fail is in their attitude, which is really just a symptom of their preparedness and commitment.

While the reality is that most people you speak to will not meet with you first try; it is also true that often that first call is a chance to introduce yourself and initiate a process that may involve a number of calls before you have built enough rapport to have them take a meeting. But it is also true that that should be what you settle for, not your intent going into the call.

Assuming, (not always safe I know), as a seller who values their time and is intent on exceeding quota, you have at least minimally qualified the person and the opportunity before you picked up the phone. The company meets your criteria, you done some background work on the company and the individual you are calling, checked out their social activity, and have prepared for the call. If so, then you objective for the call is to get the meeting to initiate the sale, anything short of that is not a win. And that needs to be the attitude when you are on the phone – you and I need to meet, we’ll both get value!

Not only will that attitude come across on the phone, but it will inform what and how you present things to the buyer. Everything you say driving the need to meet and talk further, that you can add immediate value to their ability to meet their objective. Not in an overt way, but very specifically challenging the prospect to meet, and remember challenge like provoke can be done in a very positive way, it need not be a negative. But most sellers are so scared of the phone, so scared of rejection, so unprepared, they see any permission to end the call as a good one. The difference between the winners and the rest, is that the winners see the meeting as the only good outcome, while the rest want to get off so fast that they see the right to send, second prize, as the best way to achieve their objective, which “How fast can I get off this call without hearing no? Send you some stuff, sure that works, thank you.”

“Hey Boss, I looks like they’re interested, I am putting it at 25%!”

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Join me - Return On Objectives #Webinar

 

Return On Objectives #Webinar0

Return On Objectives - Harnessing Objectives to Drive Better Sales Conversations

Learn how to change the sales conversation and who should be having that conversation with!

Presented by  

Join me on March 19, at 3:00 pm Eastern.  

Objective Based Selling looks at how to align the conversation with the buyer’s objectives, and leveraging those objectives to create a better conversation that drives mutual opportunities and success. With changes in the buying and selling dynamic, B2B buyers who are ready to buy are much better informed and more empowered than ever, and unless sellers are that much better prepared they risk being reduced to glorified order takers. Buyers who are not in the market, the so called Status Quo, are more time deprived than ever and are much less susceptible to traditional sales approaches and conversations. Impervious to pains, needs or solutions, a large segment of your market is better able to cocoon themselves from traditional sellers and sales conversations.

The presentation will cover how to take advantage of current realities and present specific ways sellers can successfully approach and engage prospects, but create selling opportunities where others may not see any, and in the process build credibility, expert status, and loyalty with existing and new buyers. Objective based selling is a process based, value driven four plank platform for success in selling to Status Quo buyers, the most overlooked segment of the market:

  • Breaking down “Value” to core components and why people buy
  • Leveraging past experiences – Won, Lost and No Decision deals – 360 Degree Deal View
  • Building a better question
  • Proactive exploration

D & R

I Made a Sales Mistakes, Have You? And then What…?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Mistake

Seems it is a week of posts about sales mistakes, Monday I discussed a mistake made by a company trying to sell to me. Today, it is one of my mistakes that takes centre stage.

We all make mistakes, it is a trait of being human. The real opportunity is in how you deal with mistakes you make. The fellow I discussed Monday choose not to do anything about his, below is an example of a recent one I made, and how I dealt with it. What was a sales mistake you made in the course of selling and what did you do about it?

Last week I made a fatal, or near fatal error. I had sent a prospecting note to senior executive, and I let the auto-correct get the better of me, as a result I got the individual’s name wrong, interestingly enough their name is a common vocation, and I allowed the phone to replace it with another common vocation starting with the same letter. Not excusable, I should have caught it, I messed up with a capital F. With a name like Tibor, you can imagine I get my name rearranged on a regular basis.

The individual in question wrote back chastising me for the error, pointing out getting the name right was Sales 101. I don’t blame them for doing so, but it occurred to me that my mistake was not related to Sales 101 at all.

Sales 101 in my experience relates to actually acting, as in the act of proactive prospecting, acting on an idea, or acting in a way that gets the results you set out to get.

On a daily basis I hear sales people say they can’t do this, or can’t do that; I sometimes get the sense that what they are really saying is wont. I also hear that they find it difficult to get in front of their prospect, they can’t write to senior executive, “e-mail don’t get a response, they are never opened.”

Well clearly the one I sent was opened, otherwise my mistake would not have gone unseen, the technique works, one point for me, let’s keep using it. The goal of having a call was not eliminated, and whatever the ultimate outcome, their response allowed me to address my mistake. I apologised directly for my error, no excuses, humanize the process, and continue on. A case of taking lemons and making lemonade, I’ll let you know whether my intended prospect adds some sweetener, I suspect not, but I did my part.

My Question To You:

What was a sales mistake you made that you had a chance to deal with in a positive way, and snatch success where others may not have? Leave a comment below, or send a tweet to @TiborShanto.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

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