Welcome to The Pipeline.

Get Out Of Your Own Way!0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

iStock_000002705035XSmall

Everyone in sales has heard the expression “You are your own worst enemy, or biggest obstacle.” Usually in the context is our ability to break through barriers, or reach new highs. But it is also true that we are our own biggest asset when it comes to the same opportunity. It really is just a question of how we choose to view and respond to things. Given this, I am always surprised to see how many sales professionals continue to get in their own way, rather than be a force of progress in their own success.

I would be easy to just look at attitude or self-limiting thinking, and if that is your challenge there plenty of good sources of information and ideas to address that. More often than not though, sales people know what they have to do, they just don’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like they say “I know that I have to do that, but I just won’t.”, there are other factors. But the net effect of their inaction leads to the same result, and they end up getting in their own way.

There are some basic things, and yes I know basic is out of fashion in these days of ‘complex sales’, but making things complex when they don’t have to be is one way we get in our own way. There are clear steps we can take to get outta the way and move towards sales success.

First is how we choose to deal with our resources, especially non-renewable resources, the most precious of which is time. Time is the one thing we all have in equal portions, and in especially sales, how you use your time is usually the difference between success or not. While full speed ahead is a nice mantra, and “trying to stuff as much in to a day as we can” may sound politically correct, there are better ways to leverage this resource for sales success. Start by inventorying how much time you need to allocate to each of these high value activities over the course of the cycle, allocate that time, and focus on managing your activity within that time, not on managing time. (More on time click here)

Another is to develop a clear road map for the sale, beyond high value activities, what has to happen in what sequence. Which of these are “Musts” and which are non-fatal. Stage by stage, activity by activity, it should be mapped. Some will say that they have the experience, they don’t need this, but I disagree. You favourite athlete has a play book, and while they do execute in their own way, they still have their play book. Without it you can’t make adjustments, improvements, or see the small things that will help you run the play better, sell better, in less time.

These are but two elements, and there others. The key is to step back, really examine what you are doing that is getting in your way, and then address it directly and methodically.

Hey, if you liked what you saw here, invite me to speak at your next meeting!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Empty Time – Sales eXecution 2450

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Appointment Time

Many people seem to equate action with productivity, doing things to “move forward”. And let’s be honest, in many ways some of the things I and my peers write and serve up on a regular basis, can easily be read to support that view. But the reality is that building in some flux to your sales time is an important element of success.

Planning your day week or month is not the same as filling your time. It is important to create some empty time. More importantly it is imperative that you do not feel guilty or fully productive because “you are not doing something”. We all hate it when someone else creates “busy work” for us, so why do it to yourself.

I work with a lot of sales people who tell me exactly that, “I need to be doing something, otherwise I feel like I am not contributing”. Sure sometimes this a result of just having a bad manager who believe you can only contribute if and when you are doing something. “Don’t just sit there, pick up the phone”.

While keeping a detailed calendar is key to ensuring success, and this may result in a “full calendar”, it does not mean that you have to be active and engaged in sales activities at all times. Just as you need to set time aside for the unexpected emergencies, (Grab you copy of the Sales Happen In Time white paper, to learn more), you need to include some down time, time to step back, re-energize, regroup, and re-emerge ready to conquer more.

If you run marathons, you know the 10-1 approach, run at race pace for 10 minutes and easy off for a minute, then 10 again. This gives runners the ability to run at a faster pace because the give themselves a chance to recoup. If you watch elite runners, they do it do, it is just that their off minute is not as noticeable as it is with old farts like me.

Create some empty time, allow yourself to not “do things”, idle time is not wasted time when consumed the right way.

One way, and from a timing stand point, a good one is today or tomorrow. The start of Q2, a good time to step back and not just assess how the last quarter went, what worked what didn’t, and then recalibrate. But to think about something other than selling that will in the end help you sell more. Here are three things you can try:

  1. If my line of product did not exist, how would my customers achieve the objective they achieve with the product I sell?
  2. If a law came out that required that everybody sell my product category at the same price, how would I differentiate?
  3. How can I help a prospect without involving my product?

There others, but create some empty time, don’t be afraid of it, the key is to make the most of the empty time, just as you need to make the most of the selling time.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Slow Down For Faster Results – Sales eXchange 2350

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Slow motion

I’m a firm believer that our habits and how we execute specific tasks do not vary widely from task to task. Sure we may be a bit more diligent when we are doing something important for the boss, bit more casual in social endeavours, but in most cases it is about degrees, not wholesale differences. Now if you are doing everything perfectly this isn’t a bad thing, but most of us are not perfect, we’re not living that idyllic reality, and therefore have to deal with our bad habits, and their consequences.

One thing that seems to get consistently worse is the tendency to rush things, and the problems that can lead to. This is accentuated by the many and growing number of things we have to get done in the same or less time than before.

It seems that more people today skim or scan documents, e-mails and other reading, rather than giving it full attention, as a result they miss things that are important to the outcome; they then have to backtrack wasting more precious time, more than they saved by skimming.

Same can be said for the way people read their e-mails, in fact it may be more accurate to say how many are not reading their e-mails. I have spoken to others about this, and I know I am not the only one who finds themselves posing a specific question in an e-mail, only to get back an answer that barely if at all answers the question posed. You can tell they rushed, skimmed the original, and responded to what they skimmed, not the question asked.

This leads to a couple of additional notes back and forth, this wastes time and energy on both sides, but while sellers are free to waste their own time, this end up also very much wastes the buyer’s time, which can lead to consequences, especially if they pose the same to another vendor who takes the time to respond completely and fully. At worse you come off as being evasive, at best tardy.

One of the goals of any good sales person is to make it easy for the buyer to deal with you, in essence to buy from you. While this may not always be in your control, slowing down so you can be more effective is. I know there is pressure coming from all side these days, but it is important to manage it, especially early in the relationship. If the buyer feels that you are rushing and taking short cuts through the selling phase, they can’t help but ask if that is the level of attention and care they will face once they commit?

One easy way to solve this is to actually set aside time through the day for e-mail and voice mail. One reason for the skimming is that we are doing e-mail while we are doing other things, and as I have said before, we are not built for multi-tasking regardless of what the pundits will tell you. As highlighted in the Sales Happen In Time Booklet, carving out time to do things properly, including e-mail, will make you more productive, less stressed, and come across as the pro you are.

Here is another real world example, I am currently running a contest to win tickets to the Art Of Sales, an opportunity to take in Dan Pink, Matt Dixon, and other sales thought leaders. To enter, all one need do is fill in three points of data, name, e-mail, phone, and to tweet the fact that they entered the contest. To make it even easier, the tweet is all set, they just have to hit the bird. In bold letters they are told the no tweet equals no entry, yet half the entrants skip that step. My guess they skimmed, went on auto pilot filling out the form, and rushed to the next thing. Oh well, better odds for those who read and completed the task they needed to in order to win.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The 3 Legs of Sales Success0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Stool Success

As you finalise your 2014 sales plans, it is good idea to review and commit to some of the basics. Some of these may not be fashionable, on the other hand nothing is more fashionable in sales than exceeding quota.

As with many endeavours, we sometime focus too much effort on style and take our eyes of the fundamentals. As Michael Jordan once said:

“…You have to monitor your fundamentals constantly because the only thing that changes will be your attention to them”

While the framework for the fundamentals are process and quality of execution, the key fundamentals that we need to continuous focus on regardless of methodology or approach are:

  • Size of Sale (or order)
  • Volume of Sales
  • Price integrity

Size of Sale – Refers to the specific size of the order, specifically in two forms. One is the result of the type of prospects you pursue; if you are selling stuff measured in units, the larger the target company, the more units they will require. Since in most instances, the effort required to sell a $50 million dollar/40 employee company, is often not that different than selling a $100 million/100 employee company, why not focus on the larger end of the scale. A variation on this is a recent example from a company I worked with. They found that of the three batteries they sold, the mid-range one was the best product/value for the price, for both the customers and them, but people tended to opt for the entry level battery. They discontinued offering the bottom end, their unit sales did not decline, and their revenue and margins increased.

It is no different if you are selling services, if you target companies that can ‘consume’ more of what you sell, you will sell more by avoiding those who consume less. Since the time you have to make the sales does not change, why not target those opportunities that can give you size or scale. You can always go down stream once you have sold the ideal size first.

Volume of Sales – this is different than the first point, it goes more to how many sales you get irrespective of size. If right now you are doing four deals a month, and were to increase that to say 4 ½ deals per month, you would move to 54 sales a year, a 12% increase. Even if you have a long cycle, big ticket, say only six sales a year, increase it to 7, may not sound like much, but.

This involves better use of time, primarily through the discipline of disqualifying those opportunities that will not close now, they may close a year from now or even in the summer, just not now. This is where your process gives you the confidence to say no, rather than spending time to try and get a yes where one does not exist. Like the old gold rush 49ers, the quicker they got rid of the sand and stones, the quicker they got to the gold, increasing their daily take. Get rid of the crap in your pipeline, and you’ll work with more gold.

Price Integrity – as straight forward as it gets, the less we concede the more we succeed. Resist the temptation to “give a good price to get in”, because you will never recover.

As you evaluate your opportunities, it is important to consider how any or all of the above can be leveraged to deliver better and consistent results, and how misalignment can be detrimental to success.

With all of the above methodology and improved execution will help you sell more to more of the right people, but merely adopting a methodology without target one of the three elements above is not enough. You may want to start by targeting one, or better yet explore opportunities that allow you to move the dial on all. We use a simple matrix allowing clients to plot opportunities based on these elements with the added element of time. This allows them to visualize and focus on the right number of highest value opportunities sold at full price.

Everything we do in sales should have a positive impact on one or all of those three elements. It is when we take our eyes off these fundamentals, that the level of effort, training, coach or other initiatives, will always be greater than the results. The start of the year, (quarter, month, day) is a good time to refocus.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Give Up The Snooze Button of Sales – Sales eXchange 2280

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Wake up

I recently read a couple of pieces about common habits and traits of successful CEO’s, two that struck me most were that they plan in advance, and when it comes time to act they maximize that time to execute fully.  The second, not only do they all start their days early, but when the alarm goes off, they jump to it, and never hit the snooze button.  I think that sales people can learn and benefit from adopting one or both these habits.

Key to success in anything, especially in business is the ability to maximize, to get the most return from any resources you use to achieve your objectives.  Given that time is our most precious resource, the better one uses it, the greater the return.  The one thing we all have in common with even the most amazing CEO’s, is that we each start the day with 24 hours, and what we do with it is really what differentiates one person from the next.

Let’s look at planning, most are comfortable planning ‘big’, the year, the quarter, the month, even the week.  But not many sales people step back to plan the ‘little’, after all, it’s little.  But what’s the old saying that it’s the little things that kill you, or your success.  I have written her in the past about how other professions spend much more time planning and preparing, than sales people do, and even within sales, if you look at those who are consistently successful, they plan.  Especially for activities they know they don’t like or are not good at.  A simple example, when it comes to prospecting, I suggest to reps that they ready their call list the afternoon before, during low energy times.  But most will leave that task to when they actually make the calls, wasting high value time, and reducing their high value activities, and their success, one day at a time.

Hitting the snooze button is the ultimate expression of procrastination.  Being in that state of getting ready, you know you gotta do it, but you put it off if only for nine minutes, ok, one more time, 18 minutes.  And that continues through the day, hit snooze button, here, then again there, and by the end of the day, we could lose up to an hour to hitting the snooze.

I know there are things in the day that we don’t like to do, but that should not be the measure, the measure is whether it helps you get prospects, get sales, get ahead.  Successful people attack their tasks, devouring those they don’t like, and reveling in the ones they do, but key is they do, and do to the max.

The reality is that certain tasks have to be completed, like them or not, putting them off does not change that, not does it complete them.  There is no better time, “I am better in the afternoon”, then afternoon comes, and you have to take that client call, or “I’ll do it right after I grab a coffee.”

Planning will help you avoid procrastinating, execute your plan and move on, but if you don’t have a plan, and you know you don’t like the task, when the time comes to doing it, you’ll hit that snooze button and lose a little more.

vote

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

How Much Revenue Did You Lose at Quarter End?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Impact Question

There is an all too familiar ritual that unfolds at the end of every fiscal period, for some it is monthly, for most it is quarterly, and at year end. Being that Monday was quarter end, I was reminded again. A friend who is a rep with a technology company, cancelled a meeting we had set for this afternoon, and you know it, his voice mail this morning at 8:00 simply said, “Man, I need to change our meeting, last day of the quarter, you know how it is.”

On the one hand I do, on the other hand I don’t. I am sorry if your quarter comes down to the last day of the quarter, a Monday of all days, there is a whole bunch of things you are doing wrong, and a bunch of money you are leaving on the table.

To start with, a good number of the deals that are “Driven in” on the 30th of September, will happen because of some concession made by the seller to the buyer. Sometimes these are small things, baked in specifically so they can be “conceded”, often not. These can be a price concessions, either in the form of a price adjustment, or the inclusion of goods or services that normally would have had a price tag, but being the last day of the quarter, “and we need to bring in the numbers”, they are thrown in to secure the deal “today”. Although once you offer it, it’ll be there October 2, or even next week, the buyer has seen weakness and will not give it back. And – it will be the first of many to come, you’ve set the precedent, both you and the buyer have been conditioned.

Not only do you never see that money again, but there is the lost momentum and opportunities as you deviate from your routine, stop prospecting for a few days as you focus on closing. May not seem that bad, but if you don’t prospect for a few days, you’ll create weakness in your pipeline, and when the next quarter end comes around, guess what. So now you are out the revenue you gave away in concessions, and the revenue from prospects you will either never have, or will closer later than they could have.

The alternative is requires a bit more discipline, but results in less of a roller coaster ride and more money! It comes down to owning your time and being accountable for your actions, (grab this e-book for details). If you know your conversion rate at critical stages of the cycle, you can focus on executing the key tasks you have to throughout the cycle, and not sweat the days. Some things in sales are straight forward, if you have a three month cycle, and you close one of every five deals you qualify into your pipeline, it doesn’t take much to see how this quarter end dance will hurt. If you don’t prospect from the 27th to the 30th (of any quarter), then your next sale will be delayed by so many days. Sure you can make up for it in some ways, but then you’ll have other distractions, the ones you can’t help, but this one you can.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

 

How Do You Know You’ve Had a Good Week?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Ahhhhh

The other day I was coaching a rep who was not buying into any sort of planning at all. More than fly by the seat of his pants, you could call this guy a “spiritual seller”, it seem to be his only guide and benchmark. No matter what he was presented with by his manager or I that in any way related to structure, he quickly set aside with a counter argument; an argument which usually impressing him more than me.

I finally asked a question for which he did not have an instant answer, one that seemed to make him think: “How do you know if you have had a good week?” Other than feeling good about himself, how would he know? There was little he could point to, and I guess he did want to have “good weeks”, because he became open to ideas.

As a first step we broke it down to three things:

Planning – Since “good” in the context of what we were looking at was a relative thing, without a clear plan there was no “relative” scale. Planning allows you to draw that line in the sand that goes from Point A, where you are now, and Point B, where you want to be at the end of the week. To ensure the exercise has merit, the plan needs to be directly tied to a specific objective, in this case sales goals. Specific results, and specific activities that move you towards near term and long term objectives. By making planning a constant rather than an event, you can accomplish a lot, in small steps, and continue to make improvements along the way.

Time – A plan is just a first step, it then has to be actualized, even with a simple activity based plan tied to goals, you need to commit to a time when you will actually complete key activities required to successfully achieve your plan. As they say hope is not a plan, but you have no hope if you run out of time before you complete those key activities. It’s all well and good to say that you will do this that and the other, but to avoid it just being talk, or just another thought swirling around in “the canyons of your mind”, you need to schedule it. Put specific activities in your calendar, and then ensure that you manage those activities within the allotted time.

Execution – Now that you have a plan, set time aside to do the activities required by the plan, you need to do it, sometimes the hardest but most rewarding part. As the saying goes, deciding to do something and doing it are two different things. You know that in sales it is all about Execution – Everything else is just Talk!

Taking these three simple steps, perhaps small steps at first, then building on the success will help you have one good week after another, the good quarters, and years to follow.

Have a good week!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

It’s Only an Emergency if You Haven’t Planned for It (#video)2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Biz TV

Many emergencies can be anticipated and planned for, thereby limiting their impact and your ability to succeed. On the other hand, many prefer emergencies to some key sales activities, like prospecting, so any emergency will do. Take a look to see what I mean:

Not Emergency

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 

 

Schedule It (#video)0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Biz TV

We all know the old Peter Drucker saying “What gets measured gets managed”, you can add another, this time Shanto, “if it is not scheduled, it won’t be done”.  Sellers can help themselves, their success and commissions by scheduling more key activities than they are now.

Take a look and tell me if you agree or disagreed, or schedule to do it later.

Schedule it

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Do You Really Need/Want a Shorter Sales Cycle?4

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Ruler

Shorter sales cycles are one of those things that come up in many discussions with sales and corporate leaders.  When I ask them what specific improvements they would like to see 18 to 24 months out, a shorter cycle is usually one.

While I get it, there is more to the question than many have given serious and productive thought to. First, there is little agreement in and across sales organization as to what constitutes a sales cycle. Some will measure it from their initial attempt to engage with a buyer, some from initial contact, others will measure from the time they are able to get their first next step to close; it’s all over the place. Right off the top what you measure will dictate the length of the cycle; the same sale will be “longer” for the first group than the last. The length of a cycle should not vary based on the eye of the beholder, there should at least in the same organization be agreement of where it begins and ends.   While this sounds straight forward, just go and ask three sales people in your organization.

Not saying it is definitive, but for the remainder of this piece, I measure the CONTINUOS cycle from initial hand shake to close. I say continuous because there are many instances where I contact or engage with a potential buyer, but am unable to take things through to the end. The deal either dies mid way, or after an initial meeting the time is not right for one or both of us, etc.  Often, a few months later I will reengage with the same buyer and take him through to close.  The cycle would be that second round, which was continuous.  The rest of the time and effort for me is prospecting and nurturing, not active selling.  Semantics, to a degree, and that is why it is important to settle on a definition for your company and then stick to it so you can begin to make improvements.

Once you do settle on the points to measure, you can look at shortening it, there are a number of ways, I did a piece a few years back on “How to Shorten Your Sales Cycle”, and there are other ways you can find from many pundits.  While getting to the shortest cycle possible is a worthwhile endeavour, you have to ensure that it is a productive one.  Many spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to shorten the cycle, almost making that the objective as opposed to just an element of success, which ultimately is delivering the revenue targets.

There is a point that is optimal, meaning any time and energy spent on further reducing the cycle is wasted, and distracts from the real goal.  Yes, there is merit to the thinking that if we can shorten the cycle we can sell more, but the reality is that every sale and seller will find the point where it is the RIGHT length of cycle; a point beyond which it can’t get any shorter without damaging the sales, the state of the pipeline, and your success.  Based on what you sell, your strengths and challenges, this could be 12 months, six months or two weeks, but there is that point that constitutes the shortest time in which you can deliver a sale with maximum and consistent results; a point beyond which it does not get better.

It will take a bit of effort at first as it involves two specific routines.  First you’ll need to go back and look at the last 20 – 25 deals you did and measure the cycle (as defined above), and then look at the average length.  If you sell multiple offerings with different buyers and attributes, you may have to do this for all lines.  The idea is not to get too granular, but to have a measure for the typical sale.  Second, you will need to start reviewing and analysing all your sales.  (You can access a worksheet here) The ones you win, to see where there is commonality and opportunities to shorted, or just to validate that you are still at the right length.  Don’t forget to review your losses as well, there could be lessons there as well, not just for length of cycle (maybe you rushed some sales), or there could be realistic adjustments that can turn a loss to a win.  Those who tell you to just analyse wins are just setting you up to be blindsided.

Many leaders continue to believe that if you keep at it, you will be able to increase velocity in the sale,  this is not always true and is a view which brings a real risk because it is centred around the seller’s need to sell, not on the buyer’s reason for buying.  While this may not be important when you are selling to willing and active buyers, those who have done their research, and are shopping (price shopping), and have evaluate you and your product in that light before ever contacting you.  But if you are pursuing buyers who are not actively looking, you risk building velocity and leaving the buyer and the sale behind.  This may numerically bring down the length of your average cycle, allowing you to pick up some sales faster, but also causes you to lose some potential sales because you rushed the process, coming out behind in the long run as a result.

I don’t want to discourage you from exploring ways to be more productive and time efficient in selling.  As new technologies are introduced, as markets evolve, or other factors kick in, there may in fact be an opportunity to achieve gains.  But you need to ensure that these gains are attainable and how.  There two keys to doing this right, one is the review process discussed above, and the corresponding adjustments that will result.  The other is don’t hesitate to experiment, if what you are doing now is not getting you what you want, try something new, beyond the current norm.  Even if it does not reduce the cycle, but helps you sell better in other ways, experimenting is a great way to change and improve. Not only the way to sell, but the cycle and the outcome.  Experimenting is a better waste of time than time spent shaving one day off a three month cycle.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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