Welcome to The Pipeline.

You Can Play Nice or You Can Play To Win0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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There are times when you hit a wall in a given sale or opportunity, where you have some though choices to make: do you walk away, do you take a different approach with the buyer, or do you abandon the person you have been working with and go around or over them.

As interesting as the choices that people make in these situations, what’s even more interesting and noteworthy from a learning standpoint, is why and how the make those choices.

Not a negative, but a reality is that many sales people positive nature and disposition, a ray of sunshine buyers will be drawn to, a “can do” attitude spiced with plenty of optimism. This drives them to look for positive outcomes, which is often different than the right or profitable outcome.

As an interesting side note, according to recent Harvard Business Review article by Steve W. Martin, What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest, the best sales people as measured by performance, are in fact inwardly pessimistic. Questioning the buyer, motives, aspects of the sale, etc. This allows them to qualify/disqualify and be more effective sales winners (as opposed to the large group of relationship starved professional visitors who are in sales). While “possibilities” are endless, reality comes down to fewer choices, some harder than the others.

Of the choices above, abandon, change the facts or change horses, most sales people will be most reluctant to changing horses, going around or above the person they have been dealing with. Odd, because it is generally the most effective, both in terms of outcomes and best use of time.

It all hinges on how you view one fact, what are the potential consequences. The most optimistic relation types see negative consequences (now who is pessimistic), they say “If I go around or over them, it may upset the person I am dealing with, and the deal won’t happen”. The best, high performing sales people say “If I stay on the current path, the deal ain’t happening, I need to engage someone who can make it happen”.

One major difference is that the high performers look at it from the perspective of what’s right and best for the buyer and their company; they look at deal, not the people. Most importantly, they look at the situation as being “who else can I engage”, not necessarily going around or over someone. If that’s what you are looking for, that is what you’ll find.

At it’s core the question is a common one in sales, are you reactive or proactive, do you put more faith in hope or action?

It is not a question of the cup being half full or half empty. What differentiates these two types of sales people is that they both see the half glass, they both aspire to have the glass full. One is hoping that being genteel, nice and smiling will hopefully fill the glass. The other group knows they need to take proactive steps to fill the glass.

Tibor Shanto

Live Cast

You Can’t “Just Call It In” To Win In Cold Calling3

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Calling it in

Having trained hundreds of sales people in effective telephone prospecting, I have witnessed a number of recurring patterns which impact success, both negatively and positively. One key to success is being present and in the call, not “just calling it in”.

Coming out of the training most will apply what they learned quit literally, almost religiously. They are attentive to details, complying with what the process dictates, to the point where they are rigid, almost unnatural. But as a result of putting a structured and proven approach into practice, they usually have a measure of success, meaning more appointments, more returned voice mails, more confidence in facing objections, and usually a big boost to their confidence. It is this increased confidence that puts them at a fork in the road, one path leading to ongoing and growing success, the other back to where they started, if not worse.

Some begin to evolve the process and the technique, introducing their own style without changing the core approach. This allows them to be more conversational, more relaxed casual, more themselves, making the whole experience much more engaging for both the buyer and themselves. This in turn delivers even better results, and encourages reps with the right attitude and work ethic to continuously improve, evolve, and advance both the quality and quantity of their pipelines and sales.

The majority however, travel the other path. They take their initial success and interpret it differently. They see success, revel in it, and take their foot off the gas and their eyes off the ball. They see improvement as an event, not as a process. You can hear it in the way they execute the call, you can see it in their posture and body language. They become complacent and mechanical, believing the momentum will maintain itself, even believing that it will continue it the same trajectory without further effort.

Even as they pick up the phone and dial, it is clear they are not really present, the call is one of a number of things they are doing, whether it’s reading the newspaper, updating their status (even though I would bet they are not present enough to know what their status is), they begin to live a routine, instead of driving the process. They are literally “calling it in”.
Cold calling is like any other skill, it needs to be practiced and executed in the moment, atrophy will quickly set in, and before you know it, you are just going through the motions. Any progress made will quickly be reclaimed by mediocrity.

Doing it, is not the same as executing, and evolving. This is one of the reasons people fail at cold calling, because like most things worth doing, it takes effort and commitment to master and evolve. I think people do not like cold calling because it does require effort, it demands that you to commit and be present every day, every time you pick up the phone. Making a professional cold call is very different from just “call it in”.

Tibor Shanto

Live sold out

Time Is The Currency Of Sales #BBSradio0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Radio Renbor the pipe

This month’s piece on Michele Price’s BREAKTHROUGH radio program deals with time, as time runs out on Q1.

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

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

I appear every 4th Monday, speaking of course about sales, but there a host of other great content, I encourage you to check Michele’s program out, and learn from a range of contributors.  You can find the program and more information click here.

Tibor Shanto

Live and webcast

3 Proactive Success Steps Every Sales Team Can Take – Sales eXecution 2870

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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I see a lot of sales organizations and individuals succeed despite what the experts tell them. Mostly because they know better than to follow the crowd, and are willing to try the unconventional. When told “you can’t do that!” They respond by asking “Why?” rather than “OK”, and moving on (usually to the sideline). Highlighting the negative impact Herd Mentality has on sales success, and the economy in general.

One way many (lots of) average or also-rans rationalise their performance, or non-performance, is by pointing to all the company they have with the same challenge. If misery loves company, the 80% will rarely be alone, and will always make more of an effort to convince you that something can’t be done, than the effort it takes to get it done. (How is that bandwagon looking now?)

So what does it take?

While there may be no single success formula, there is enough common elements among the consistently successful approaches to allow us to point to specific things that if you willing to undertake, will help you step out of the 80% club.

You can start with the following three:

1. A Plan - most sales people will argue that they have a plan, and they are right. They have a plan, one, that they try to apply to every circumstance no matter the differences. A plan done long ago, based a particular set of conditions, which fit a specific instance. When things evolve, and they do, they try to replicate that over and over no matter how reality changed.
The great thing about a plan, is to do it right, you have to stop and think, an activity many in our society avoid. But by thinking about each sale, and understanding the differences, nuanced, or great, you will gain a strategic and tactical advantage.

I remember working for a director who focused more on why you wanted to do things, much more than on what you wanted to do. He wanted to know that you had thought things through from all angels, looked at threats, contingencies, and other factors and possible outcomes your actions may result in. He wasn’t looking for me to be conventional, or outrageous, just that I was able to demonstrate that I had thought and planned things out. If there was a major flaws, he would point them out, if not, he’d send me off to execute, and we would review the results.

2. Active Leadership - I would describe the above as an example of Active Leadership, he was engaged, willing to help, leading from the front, hands-on in a way, but not in a restraining way. It’s not the time for a discussion on micromanagement, but too many sellers, usually those wanting to avoid accountability, try to paint active management as being too overbearing. One can be engaged without being domineering or too removed to make a difference. Actively Leading team members to consistently execute your organization’s process is an effective way to develop the right habits, maintain individuality but avoid the subjective trap many mangers fall in to, and drive results.

3. Permission To Fail – I have yet to meet a sales person with 100% closing ratio. Leaving us with the opportunity to learn from everything we do, especially when we fail at something, be that a big failure, or little things that can make a difference.

Hands down one of the best things managers can allow sellers to do is fail. You can then review, assess and learn. A learning culture is key to keeping up with or ahead of the market, and frankly just keeping up is second place.

Perfection is neither realistic nor desirable, so give them a chance to fail, as long as everyone is committed to capturing, learning and applying the lessons learned. It’s part of the plan, part of active leadership, part of success.

Again, these are not the only factors of sales success that managers and sellers need to focus on, but if only did master these three, you’ll be on your way of leaving the 80%, and joining the more elite 20%.

Tibor Shanto

Live Cast

March Madness: 5 Small Business Lessons to Take Away0

Feb 15

The Pipeline Guest Post - Megan Totka

There are not many events that compare with the excitement that is the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. The Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and World Series are all great spectacles. However, something about March Madness draws in a wider audience and sparks excitement of people of all ages around the country- 181 million viewers tune in throughout the NCAA tournament each year to cheer on their favorite teams.

Are you wondering if your small business can benefit from March Madness? It can, and you don’t have to run a popular sports bar; nearly any business can learn some valuable lessons from the month of madness, some even as simple as the power of simplifying your sales. Here are five small business lessons you can take away from March Madness.

The underdog might win.
Everyone loves a happy ending, and Cinderella teams are practically a guarantee during March Madness. There are always a couple teams that no one has heard of that win one game after another in the tourney. Teams, like businesses, aren’t always operating on equal footing. Some schools have more money and more talent. But bigger is not always better and the tournament doesn’t always play out according who “should” win. Like players on a winning team, owners of successful businesses have personal characteristics such as a positive attitude, commitment towards their effort, patience and persistence – traits that can all help a team go far and a business succeed.

Embracing new technologies is smart.
The NCAA hasn’t been content to stick with what technology has worked in past years. Like plenty of organizations of every size, they have tapped into technologies to help connect with their fans and find new ones too. Remember that change is important in an organization. The adoption of new technology can seem disruptive and intimidating initially, but ultimately the change almost always results in increased productivity and improved service. It’s one of many ways to create a customer-centric culture.

Take advantage of your biggest events to earn new fans.
March Madness is unlike other sporting events because it attracts non-sports fans. The popularity of office pools, game-viewing parties and other factors engage a broader audience and increase the hype around the tourney. Use the biggest moments in your business year to connect with a wider audience. Think about events your business held throughout the year, peak seasons, new product launches and charitable events. Always remember that as you earn new fans and strive to retain current fans, good customer service is essential to help your business thrive. Keep your sales simple and focus on activities that drive constant success.

Capitalize on momentum – run with it!
Basketball, like business, can come down to momentum: accept when its time to take a timeout, know when to ride the player and occasionally take a seat on the bench. Build upon short-term successes but continue to pursue long-term goals. When things aren’t going the best, don’t look too much into it – make the most of the momentum and rely on and trust in your teammates.

Encourage friendly controversy to create some buzz.
The tournament kicks off every year with “Selection Sunday.” This is the day when the tournament participants are placed, seeded accordingly and announced on TV. There is always some complaining and banter surrounding it all, and this day gives the media and fans plenty to discuss prior to tip off of the first game. Some friendly controversy can create some healthy hype around an event, product or brand, and in turn, result in a better turnout.
March Madness gives viewers the best of sports and entertainment, upsets, and a lot of fun. Those with the most wins are the teams who trust in each other. After all, the biggest wins happen when everyone works together and focuses on the team as a whole.

What valuable lessons has March Madness taught your small business?

About Megan Totka

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources and business news. Megan has several years of experience on the topics of small business marketing, copywriting, SEO, online conversions and social media. Megan spends much of her time establishing new relationships for ChamberofCommerce.com, publishing weekly newsletters educating small business on the importance of web presence, and contributing to a number of publications on the web. Megan can be reached at megan@chamberofcommerce.com.

Photo via flickr.com

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3 Reasons You’ll Fail At Cold Calling – Sales eXecution 2861

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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I know, they told you cold calling is dead, but it’s not dead, it just smells funny, and those that tell you this, probably confuse Shinola with other matter.

You Don’t Know Your Own Metrics – Many in sales fail to own and be accountable for specific aspects of their success, in the case of cold calling, it is their specific metrics. These same people often know the stats of their favourite hockey or baseball players, but when it comes to key metrics involving their success, they are in the dark. If nothing, else sales people should know what their proposal to close ratio is; discovery to proposal; engagement (or first meeting) to discovery. Once you know how many first meeting you need to drive your quota, you can then understand how many cold calls you need to make, once you back out referrals, marketing generated leads, and sales to current customers. If you do not know this, you will fail at allocating the right time to pursue the right prospects. Without owning your own metrics, you are on a journey with no map and no hint of how much fuel you will need to get there, which why often many don’t get there.

Right Prospects – Above I mentioned the “right prospect”. Many think, and other pundits like to paint, cold calling is just a numbers game where you randomly call people in the hope that they will take mercy on you and give you an appointment. Where in reality the call is cold because you are not on the person’s calendar that day, and you are hitting them out of the blue. But this does not preclude you having done research, understand the value you can provide that person, and making sure that they are indeed the right prospect for you offering as much as you being a good fit for them. This is no different a process than the socialites would espouse, or the referrals only crowd would. Save the fact that those of us willing to pick up the phone and call them direct without waiting for an event, a “social interaction”, or a referral. While they for their own reason prefer to wait, we don’t and succeed by going direct. But it still has to be the right prospect.

Lack Of Process Or Methodology – Most sales people lack a methodology or set of best practices that help them not only succeed, but provide a means for continuous evaluation and by extension improvement. This why they end up with the symptoms above. Which ultimately leads to a lack of success, and doing anything to avoid the activity. But those of us who have a methodology, steps, actions, contingencies, and more, can not only contextualize the results, but deliver great success in prospecting. With that we build a pipeline that give us choices and the opportunity to work with the most interesting companies while delivering to our own goals and those of our employers.

Without the above three elements, you are working in the dark, operating blind, making things much more difficult and scary than it ever has to be.

Tibor Shanto

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Neither Either0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Confused by Too Many Choices Arrow Street Signs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tibor Shanto

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2 Reason To Always Leave Voice Mail – and Get Called Back – Sales eXecution 2852

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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Given that we are sitting in sub-zero temps in the north east, -25 C in Toronto, any call you’re going to make today is going to be a cold call. But if you’re a complete B2B sales professional, you’re probably making cold calls even if it is nice warm and sunny, cause that’s what pros do, not like those cheap plastic replicas that are afraid of picking up the phone and talking to a buyer. And if you are picking up the phone, you’re hitting voice mail, no two ways about it; and if you hit voice mail, you need to leave a message, again no debate about that either. Here are three reasons why.

1.   Pursuit Cadence – It takes a lot more effort to get the attention of buyers these days. Seems one of the side effects of the efficiencies achieved through reduced sales forces, is those who are left have a lot more to do, imagine that. Our buyer are struggling to pack 16 or more hours in to a 10 hour day, and taking bad calls from bad sales people is not on the list. As a result it takes that many more touch point, of different sorts to get not only the attention of buyers, but to get them to act or respond. As a result voice mail becomes one of many opportunities to touch the buyer, and cultivate a response, a response you can capitalize on to secure an appointment (live or virtual).

There is a bookend element at work here, which is first man in – and – last man standing. There are studies out there that show that the first man (or woman) in is that much more likely to get the deal. All the more reason to cold call and get ahead of the curve, and not be one of the saps who waits for the buyer to find their seller. So if you leave a voice mail while others don’t, you mail well end up being that first man in just by virtue of leaving a message.

At the other end is the fact that if you pursue the right opportunities further than others are willing, and let’s face it there are many who give up the chase too soon, you will increase you odds of winning the deal. I have had more than one executive tell me that this is a fact. Add to that many ignore the first few calls just to separate the strong. How hard you work at getting the sale is a clear indicator as to how hard you will work to satisfy them as clients.

2.   Getting Call Backs – Done right, you do get calls back, notice I said done right. The technique I use, and was taught years ago gets me up to 50% of call returned in 72 hours, this not only reduces stress, but builds pipeline. You can learn the technique by watching these two videos.  Make sure to watch part I first, eh?

The reality is that once you are getting calls back, you don’t need any other reasons to leave voice mail.

Tibor Shanto

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So What If You’re Wrong – Sales eXecution 2842

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Wrong Lens

The other day I was on a call with a rep, she was well prepared, she met with her manager and I in advance, and started the call as planned. A few minutes in she asked a question laced with assumptions, and as luck would have it, all wrong assumption. It wasn’t a major point, but you could feel her discomfort. While I understood, I also know from experience that this could actually turn out to be a good thing.

As often happens, the prospect started correcting her, not to in a mean or demeaning way, just wanting to keep the facts accurate. But in the process of explaining, the prospect actually shared a lot of useful information which really helped our intrepid rep to better understanding the buyer’s biases, preferences, mode of thinking and purchase decisions.

Our friend the seller recovered quickly, and picked up on the fact and perpetuated the dialogue by asking more questions, presenting different scenarios, which got the buyer to open up even more, allowing our rep to gain insight better align her and her company’s vision and real value. By the end of the meeting she was a lot further than she had hoped to be, and the buyer was much more engaged and looking forward to the next meeting.

I see this a lot, human nature kicks in, the willingness to help others when they may have made a mistake, and nicely correcting them; only human right?

But most sales people are too hung up on being right, maintaining the facade that comes with that, they spend time trying to cover innocent mistakes, rather than leveraging them. There is nothing wrong with making an honest mistake at times – better yet there is nothing wrong with planning that mistake in advance.

If you know that there some area you need to uncover that may take some work, like a subject area that would be good to nail down earlier rather than later. A subject that you traditionally feel you have to wait till later in the sale to broach, think about making a mistake, specifically to be corrected, specifically to learn.

Reps tell me they are hesitant to go in certain directions in the discussion because they feel the prospect may not be ready. Well, rather than using the front door, why not go to the side door instead? Ask a question or make a statement that you know is based on a wrong premise, but is related to the topic you need to explore, and then wait to be corrected. Letting human nature kick in and accelerate the sale, or most often just break down barriers or log jams in the conversation.

I remember being with one of the best sales people I know, who was presenting at a well-known company. The meeting was very one sided, he couldn’t get them to engage or exchange information at all, they just sat stoned faced. Without their input and contribution, he was dead in the water. As a natural break came between subject areas, he asked if anyone had questions, a few shook their head to indicate no. Rather than continuing, he looked at the room, a dozen or so senior people, and asked “So, no one wants to play stump the sales person?”

A bit of a chuckle from some, quickly followed by a stream of questions. Some taking him up on the challenge, working hard to stump him, but most took the invitation lightly and asked some great questions. The ice melted, they were now fully engaged and he was learning more than had he continued with the presentation as many would have and do.

Don’t worry about being wrong, worry about moving the sale forward.

Tibor Shanto

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Maintaining Your Mojo #BBSradio0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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

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

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