Welcome to The Pipeline.

Are Your Buyers Asking WTF?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Decision Makers Want To Deal With Decisive People2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Decisions direction sign with sky background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sales Data Or Insight Driven?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

The other day I go a resume that had a familiar phrase in it, “John Smith – A Data Driven Sales Professional. While I understand what they were going for, I am not sure it landed right. (Or maybe it was just me). No doubt the age of “big data” or perhaps a better label being used by some, “fast data”, is upon us. Sales is impacted by this as much as any part of business, but there some unique opportunities for sales and sales departments, both good and not so good opportunities.

The amount and quality of data allows sales organizations to be much more efficient at targeting and accelerating sales, by bringing the right resources at each step of the cycle, and leveraged well, to the nature of the sales organization itself. As Miles Austin recently commented on a panel we were, progressive sales organizations with open headcount should look at hiring a sales data analyst instead of another rep. He is right, the proper use of the valuable data in a typical CRM, processed by a sales savvy analyst with the right mandate from leadership can produce more margin, quicker and for a longer term, than hiring another rep.

One example is territory optimization, and not just in the traditional sense, but by matching types of buyers with types of sellers. Think about taking buyer persona to a different level. Much like a sporting coach will mix up his line up based on what they are facing, last minute line changes, all to ensure maximum impact, sales organization can move from geo or vertical views of the world, to what kind of buyer is Johnny best suited to?

Sales organizations who have had SWAT teams to penetrate accounts given specific attributes, have long realized that the minor uptick in selling cost is more than made up in margins and volumes. With the right analysis, you can take this to a level of alignment that could more than likely allow you to run leaner, making up for additional costs that have led to traditional territory make ups.

Analysis can help organizations better plan in a number of ways, allowing them to avoid certain activities, while maximizing others. Patterns in the data that would be lost on most sales ops people, would be gold in the right analyst’s hands. It is not a question of sales ops being deficient, it is more of training and function, and analyst will go deeper and further into the data, extracting more actionable insights. Not coming from sales is in fact their strength, they will approach and read the data differently.

Actionable insight being the key, and what caught my eye in the resume. This candidate would have made a much better impact had they put the emphasis on insights than data. Data is a commodity, information is a commodity. Insights, and the knowledge derived from it, leading to differences measured in revenue and margin are of interest, and yes, you can do both. Being data driven sounds good, but data is data, being driven by insights gleaned from data is the winning proposition.

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Why That Number? – Sales eXecution 3030

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Dollar numberrs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Have All The Sellers Gone? – Sales eXecution 3013

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Over the last few years there have been numerous articles and commentaries suggesting that the sales population will dramatically dwindle over the next few years. I don’t think there will be less real sellers than now, but the roles will be more clearly and accurately defined.

The reality is that many of those calling themselves sales people, or were hired to fill a role with a job description of sales person are not sales people at all. Many who pretended to be hunters to get the job were not; and many who were hired to manage and grow accounts, were in fact willing or capable of doing either. So if you redefined those to what they really were, rather than what you were hoping or pretending they were, you’d have a thinning of the ranks. In reality there are not as many sales people now as many would pretend.

Further to this point, last week I participated in an event hosted by SMB Acuity, a premier supplier of actionable business insights, where they presented the results of a survey of Small and Medium business in the USA and Canada specifically companies with 100 or less employees, those driving the economy. One interesting result they shared was that a large majority of upsells and cross sells were in fact initiated by the businesses themselves, not the sellers (by title anyway). The numbers were 57.8% of respondents in Canada, and 68.3 in the States. Confirming that many who say they are in sales, are in fact order takers.

What’s worse, is that these numbers clearly indicate that both types of sales people dropped the ball. Account managers should have been involved enough with the accounts to be in tune with potential demand, completely missed the opportunity. Leading to the question of how involved were they really, were they managing them in the real world, in their CRM, on a list, or as I suspect not at all. The other question is where was management? Why did they not have a process and the metrics in place to ensure coverage and get ahead of the opportunity?

One thing is sure, when the buyer initiated the conversation that lead to the upsell with you, they likely did so with your competitors as well. Given the scenario, I bet you don’t even know if and when they decided to buy more or another product, you don’t even know if they bought it from you or your competitor.

And where were the hunters, how did they miss this waiting opportunities?

It is almost an insult to real sellers to call these transactions “upsells” or “cross sells”, when it was buyer initiated. This is why they call people in department stores clerks, not sales people.

So yes, over the years as we fine tune the role, you will find less people classified as sellers, not because there will be less sellers than now, but because there will be a separation of sellers and clerks.

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Summer time and the Selling’s Easy #podcast0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Radio Renbor the pipe

There are a lot of misconceptions about selling in the summer, but don’t be fooled, there is selling in the summer.  That is the focus of this month’s segment with Michele Price and BREAKTHROUGH radio.  Take a listen and let me know how you’heat you summer sales.

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

Trade In Your Sales Blinders2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

paraocchi

Sales people, including me, are plagued by a chronic challenge, one that has caused us to lose as many sales as it may have helped us win. The plague – sales blinders or self-serving selective perception. This disease affects, front line reps, managers, executives, and pundits like me and others you read, anyone who tells you they are free of plague is either lying, self-absorbed or likely both.

I see it when I am out on ride alongs, sales meetings, but most amusingly in responses to posts like this. People read what they want to read, and won’t let the words on the page get in the way.

I recently posted a piece on sales, and it was easy to who read it and took it in, and who skimmed it, picked out a few words, and built a soap box made of those five or six words, (the piece was over 500 words). Their comments had nothing to do with the piece’s core subject, but now that they built their soap box, they had to get on it and spew stuff unrelated to the piece.

What bothers me is not so much that they disagreed with me, like Howard Stern pointed, people who did not like his show spent more time listening, so please; but the fact that some of these people are pundits who want to teach sales people how to sell.

So what are they gonna teach them? “Don’t listen to what the prospect is say, pick out selective words that allow you to drive your agenda, whether it meets the buyers’ objective or requirements, or not.” Or “pitch baby pitch, ignore reality eventually they will come around.” Please!

If you can’t concentrate well enough through a 500 piece blog post, and deal with two or three core concepts or action items, how will you cope in a sales that has many more moving parts and demands? The answer is they don’t, they turn to dogma. As with any dogma, there is little room for alternate views, little room for mutual collaboration to move the process forward, and certainly no room for mutual gain.

Having an informed opinion and leveraging it to help buyers make the right decision is good, showing your product or offering will actually do that is also good. But as soon as you choose to ignore the buyer’s input or the facts facing you, you end up being less of a sales person and more of a sales bully. Focus is good, selective perception or sales blinders is not. The fact is that buyers have choices, and when they face dogma, they move on.

The choice is yours, whether you are in sales or a pundit, you can choose to narrow your focus to those few kernels that loosely support a narrow view, or you can shed your blenders, enhance your buyers’ experience, and make more sales.

Tibor Shanto     

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Musical Chairs Sales Style – Sales eXecution 2944

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

babies in chairs

A few posts back I wrote about experience, and how it can either be a ceiling or a springboard to further success, all determined by the individual’s outlook and the route each rep chooses. On a corporate or organizational level, experience and how it is viewed and leveraged can be significant factor. The corporate version of the experience factor, unfolds more like a game we played as kid, and one it seems many sales leaders are still playing – musical chairs.

There are a number of verticals where leaders are fixated more on “industry experience” than “sales experience”; maybe more accurately “product experience” vs. “sales success”. Let’s face it while in the aforementioned piece we assumed experience equalled success, in reality it does not. I have said this before, there is a difference between 15 years of growth, development and improvement, and the same year 15 times over.

While in theory seeking and choosing “experience” may sound right, it often does not turn out as planned. Real “rock stars” rarely have a reason to move, at times there extenuating circumstances, there may be some financial incentives, but those are outside the bell curve. Meaning those available are usually the B players, not the worst, but they come with luggage.

From my vantage point, here is how it looks. At the start of an engagement, I’ll ask the teams I am working with to give me a bit of background. Time and again, a number of the “more experienced” reps will tell me that they have been in the industry for 16 years, starting off with company A, then moving to B for a spell, and now they are with Company C. It is also not unusual to have some say that this is their second go around with Company C, and we are not talking scenarios where this may be a result of industry consolidation.

I get why the individual has moved around, what I don’t get is why the companies are hiring them. Some say that it was for the “book” of business, never works out clients are smarter than that, they know who delivers the service day to day.

I had one leader in the wireless space tell me that the product and pricing is so complex, that the learning curve is too big. Right! What do most of you think will be easier:

A.   Teach a product guy how to sell effectively in a competitive and evolving market
B.   Teach or support a great seller product specs and/or pricing plans

I’ll take B, all day long.

One of the underlying causes for this is the propensity among sales leaders to want be at full headcount, rather than the right headcount. The solution to almost everything is “we need to add more reps”. Couple that with the tendency to higher fast and fire slow, rather than the other way around, and you have the classic trap.

While not exactly the same as it was in kindergarten, this version of musical chairs, looks for anyone to fill the empty chair, rather than having the right person in the right chair for the right reasons.

Tibor Shanto

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Tips to Use Your Business Differentiators to Increase Your Sales3

April 15

The Pipeline Guest Post – Megan Totka

One great way to make your business rise to the top is to focus on what makes it different from the competition. What you do with that realization can make your business. Get more out of your selling time and learn why your business is different from the competition — and why your differentiators matter to your customers.

There isn’t a single business out there that can thrive by selling products at a reasonable price exclusively. Here are five tips for integrating your differentiators into your everyday sales.

1. Understand your business differentiators and how they benefit customers.
Even if you’re selling a service or product in a competitive space, there is always something that makes your business stand apart from others.

Think about the anti-aging market. How does a company make its skincare line stand apart from the other ones out there? While price is important, hone in on what else there is to offer customers. How can you help them? What can your products do that other skincare products can’t?

As a business owner, you need to focus on your value-added difference and that will help distinguish your business from all of the others like it. It’s also vital to know and communicate to your customers what makes your business one of a kind. Make sure you can explain to your customers what impact your differentiators have on them. Focus and advocate for those differentiators – this is one of many ways to attract more new business.

2. Understand your competition and how to sell against them.
To help refine your own differentiators, it is helpful to grasp what your competitor’s differentiators are too. Get to know their strengths and their weakness. It’s important to understand the ladder – it can help you can step up your game in those areas. If you do lose a sale to the competition, go ahead and be brave: ask why that prospect chose to do business with them instead of you.

3. Always have integrity.
In a recent study by The Institute of Business Ethics, it was found that companies displaying a commitment to ethical conduct outperform companies that do not display ethical conduct. No one trusts or wants to do business with a salesperson that is dishonest and stomps all over competitors in an over-the-top sales pitch. Stay true to your business core values – and to yourself. Avoid highlighting the competition’s negatives – just be better about explaining your positives. Selling isn’t an effortless business, but a salesperson with integrity – someone who does the right thing at all times – is a massive differentiator and goes a long way to creating a compelling experience for their customers. Building a reputation of integrity takes years – but it only takes a few seconds to lose.

4. Integrate your differentiators into your marketing messages.
As you develop a marketing platform, make sure your differentiators play a big role in it. Your sales and marketing operations should be ingrained and clear so your customers can plainly see why you are the business he or she should chose to support.

5. Ask — and listen to — your customers’ wants and needs.
Your customers are the ones who can really help you figure out how to succeed in the business world. What matters to them? For a moment, step outside of your business box and look at it from a customer’s point of view. This can help you change your sales pitch and marketing message to focus on what exactly will help you seal the sales deal.
There are a lot of great businesses that offer good products and services. In order to make your business stand apart from all of the others out there, always remember to operate with integrity. Take the time to understand your differentiators and keep those at the forefront of your mind. Always listen to your customers and focus on what they want and need, not what you want to sell them.

How do you convey your differentiators to your customers? Has it helped you find success?

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.

Website: www.chamberofcommerce.com

Photo via flickr.com

 

You’re Only Fooling Yourself – Sales eXecution 2930

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Taking a look at oneself

Everyday people commit to doing things, only not to do them. There are many reasons for this, and I am sure a host of contributing factors, but none of that changes the results, or more accurately the lack of results. From my perch, being an observer and practitioner of sales and selling, the most common cause is laziness. People commit to doing things differently, to taking on new practices, decide to approach things differently, only to stay exactly where they started, and by virtue of that, and given the nature if sales these days, that is really a step back.

What many do not want to recognize or face is that selling is hard work, good selling, is really hard work, selling well in an evolving market is as hard as anything out there, requiring constant practice and upgrading of skills, then practicing them over and over endlessly. Take any endeavour where success is part core skill, part flare, few are born with their skills fully formed, be they athletes, musicians, actors, or authors. It is certainly no different for sales people. The difference is conviction and the effort that goes with it.

Go to any local music conservatory or ballet company, and watch the kids trying to get in to the program. Visit any of your local little leagues team, and observe. What you will see is endless practice, every day a regime of hours of practice, in some cases three to five hours of core training and practice. Sometimes the same, other times adding evolving elements. This is over and above the “on stage” or “on field” time, we are talking practice time.

I know some will point to “natural born” talent, geniuses in their field. But if you look at the most famous examples of these people, what you will find is less divine presence and more hard work. Look at someone like Charlie Parker, known as a jazz virtuoso, unparalleled improvisation. No doubt, but what many didn’t see was the hours of practice that allowed him to do what he did in the clubs at night. At times up to 15 hours a day; how much did you practice for your last sales meeting?

This is a level of commitment many in sales are not willing to make. I work with many sales people who come to me knowing and asking to make the changes they need to drive their success, and never follow up, as though having an invoice and certificate will make a difference.

Oh, but you’ve been in the business for 22 years you say. So what, does that give one the right to not improve? The market is changing, are you? Updating your LinkedIn profile is not the same as practicing and updating your skills, staying ahead of the competition, and ahead of the market.

But it is not just the sales people, many managers and organizations fail to create an environment that supports the level of commitment. Studies have shown that daily coaching with individual reps, as little as 10 minutes a day, can lead to a 17% increase in revenue. Not only do most companies not see this as viable, many pundits shy away from recommending this “daily practice”, for fear of losing gigs.

The question is straight forward, do you expect less of yourself than you would your favourite point guard?

Tibor Shanto

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