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Where Have All The Sellers Gone? – Sales eXecution 3012

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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Remember Your First Sale?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

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There is no doubt that experience is a plus in any vocation, including sales, just look at any job posting for sales, and with the exception of entry level positions, they will demand experience both in terms of tenure and industry related. As with other things in life, there are no absolutes, it is usually a case of upside and downside. The upsides are clear and straight forward, so let’s look at the downside and risk of experience, both as it impacts individual sales people, and sales organizations.

In most disciplines the biggest victim of experience is creativity, in the form of the curiosity that comes with being new; a sense of exploration, a naïve ignorance that removes limits from many individuals, allowing them to go where others “with knowledge and experience” may not go. Given that these factors are usually the core components of creativity in sales, and that in sales creativity is one of the last differentiators, how do you reach the right balance?

Think back to your first sales position, everything was new, everything required learning. If you were with some bigger companies you got training as part of your on-boarding. But if you were with a smaller, not small, just smaller company, you likely got more product training and orientation than sales related training; and we are talking formal training not war stories from the “older guy. The older guy that you should not have been learning from, because if he did know better, he would have been out on calls, not in the office with time to hold court.

Left to your own devices, you improvised, tried different things, some worked, some were bruising, but collectively they added to you initial success and experience. As things got better and you committed to your sales career, and you likely did two things, you developed routines, and took some training, building experience. As you career evolved, and you “usually” made quota, or only missing by a “bit”, your experience grew, your training reinforced your routines and habits. As you had “more of it down” the less adventurous you got, and the narrower your curiosity and appreciation for alternatives, you were now set in your ways, or as someone I work with says “stuck in your ways”.

Over 40% of things we do every day, we do habitually or out of habit. Meaning we don’t need to think about it, we just do it. This applies to both good and bad habits. Runners run as a habit, they build their daily runs into their daily routine, it’s not a run by run question. Smokers light up habitually, they don’t think about it, they just do it.

The great thing about that is things that need to get done – get done, usually in a familiar, predictable and consistent fashion, without a lot of thought or consuming much of the energy required for the 60% that are not habit. The problem with that is we don’t think about it, we just do it, it’s easier for day to day things, the way we do it rarely change, rarely improve or rarely reinvent themselves. Not a good thing in a continuously changing and evolving market, where buyers are challenged by change, and have access to not only more information, but more choices.

So what’s a sales professional to do, deconstructing habits takes time and effort; forming new habits takes time and effort, and executing every aspect of every sale in a way that avoids routine or habits, also carries the same cost.

Start simple, as you review opportunities that did not close, ask yourself, what were some recurring things you do, or fail to do, that contributed to the loss. If you didn’t do specific things would things have turned out better, same for things you may have done. As you review opportunities that you win, ask yourself which things you did may have slowed the sale down or introduced risks. What are some things that you do that if you stopped doing would not slow or risk the sale. In hindsight, what are some things that if you did during the sale would have accelerated the sale or improved the outcome?

Give yourself a break, and at first just try to identify those things that you do by habit that you can stop doing without negative impact. This may be a challenge, especially when by definition we do not think about things we do by habit, this is why it is best to examine what you do in the context of a deal review, we are already (or should be) in critical mode.

A more challenging but valuable step is one often better done as a team, and led by the manager. Pick a current opportunity or a recent deal, and ask: “If I didn’t know better, if I were new to sales, what would I do?” It’ll take a bit of an effort to break out of your “experience”, but once you get rolling, and get past the familiar, you’ll find some great ideas. Resist the urge to “know better”, and examine it in context of the situation not your experience. Look for things that may solicit the response “that’s a rookie thing to do”, because those are the elements you can build on. You’ll also find that some suggestions will make you remember things you used to do but stopped. The great things is you can always start again.

While you do want to review every deal, you may not want to review your “habits” for every deal. If you started on a monthly basis, then move to quarterly, throw in a regular “What would I do if I didn’t know better” exercise, you’ll strike a balance, and develop a great new habit.

Tibor Shanto

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Sales Triggers: Don’t Wait – Create

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There Is More To Leadership Than Leading – #SPS15 Special0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

woman with sketched strong and muscled arms

There is a lot written about leadership in general, and more specifically sales leadership, I have contributed my share to the din. This is a clear indication that no one has really figured it out, if they had the book will have been written, millions of copies sold, and people move past the debate, and focus on the next thing.

One common theme in pieces about leadership is how the leader needs to be involved and leading the process. And while that is true, the nature of that involvement differs based on who you read. I have always been an advocate of “leading from the front, not behind a desk”, and the assumption many take is that this literally means out in front of the troops Napoleon style. But I truly think that the best form of leadership, and means of driving change, the right change, not just change for change sake, anyone can rearrange the furniture and replace the curtains, is to not be part of the action. The best leadership, and I see things through the sales filter, is change that comes about in what appears to be in an organic way, initiated and completed by the sales rep/team, with only partial prints from the leader.

Managing/Coaching sales people, is really an exercise in selling. In a conventional sale we are trying to get the buyer to purchase our “stuff”, as a means of helping them achieve their objectives. Well as a coach, you are trying to get the sales person to integrate and take on your view alongside or instead of their current view or means of executing. That being the case, it really is best approached as a sale itself. As such, you not only have the opportunity to get the rep to buy into the change, but the means by which you do that could itself be a model or at a minimum, reinforce the process.

Everyone buys into the notion that “people don’t want to be sold”, and so you need to create a buying environment. The flaw with that in coaching is twofold. First While people may not want “to be sold”, they often need to be, that’s why we hire sales people. And the fact that the rep took on the job of selling, they have de facto declared that they want to buy, or buying to your process, otherwise, why are they working for you.

So how do we pull this together, simple, much like buyers like to hear things come out their mouth more than the sales reps, even when it was the sales person who choreographed the moment, sales people, especially established, good sales people who need to be taken to the next level, respond to ideas and actions that are their idea, not the managers. Meaning the best thing a manager can do lay down the bread crumbs, and let the rep discover things on their own, and when they do, you can become a resource in their journey to success.

How do you do that, I am old school, put the focus on your sales process. You have one right? Clear stages, specific activities in each stage, objectives, desired outcomes, tools, contingencies, and most importantly, clear reasons to disqualify. Each stage supported by an evolving playbook, and a clear next step go-no go, criteria. If you have this, you’re set to help the rep discover what you want them to, without directly leading them. If you don’t, you can call me and we can get you started.

As a first step, you can join me and my colleagues today for the 2015 Sales Performance Summit, webcast live from Toronto.

Tibor Shanto

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Are You Committing This Prospecting Sin? – Sales eXecution 2910

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Chrch candles

The biggest prospecting sin you can commit is not to prospect, but there are many others that are dangerous and can have almost as detrimental effect on your sales success, and more.

The one we’re going to look at today is a common technique used by many, encouraged by pundits is this one:

Your on the phone with a pre-qualified(?) prospect, and you say something to the effect of “I just need 15 minutes of your time…” Or it’s déclassée cousin “I just need 15 short minutes…” I mean really, what is the difference between the two, does the “short minutes” meeting have 50 second minutes, or will it just be that much less torturous?

Frankly this works well if you are selling a commodity, let’s see if the nut fits the bolt, can you deliver on time, and for two cents less. Yes, almost anyone can do that in 15 minutes. But selling something of value, selling “A Solution” that will take more than 15 minutes, no ifs ands or buts.

People use this approach because they feel that it will make it easier for the prospect to accept a 15 minute meeting. Said differently, “I’ll waste 15 minutes on this guy, but not more.” Sure you’re thinking that if you put on a good performance in that first 15 minutes, they’ll give an encore in the form of a further 15 or 30 minutes. Sure, sometimes, not often, usually you try and cram a meeting that properly unfolds in longer time frame into 15 minutes. Instead of initiating a good discovery exchange, most revert to a product pitch, after all “we are pressed for time”, and you can’t risk without presenting your value prop and at least a minimal look at your product. Next thing you know it’s time to try and get that next step, and go. And what is that next step in most cases, the meeting you really wanted in the first place.

So why not gear your call to that to begin with? If you truly have a solution worth having, one that actually solves (solution – solve) an issue they may be having, you know a pain or a need, lead with that, and get the right meeting. But when you say “Just 15 minutes”, it sounds like “please man, I am desperate, do me a solid, be a KPI.” Sure this may work once in a while, usually with the wrong prospect, but if it’s not inside the Bell Curve it’s a Hail Mary.

Like any sin, smoking, illicit activities, being a politician, what have you, there is the momentary pleasure, and lingering dark side. In this case you are starting your relationship, regardless of how far it may go, based on a lie. You know at the time you propose the meeting that you are not being truthful, as do your prospects, the 15 minutes is their insurance policy, “if this guy sucks as badly as I think he may, I can pull the lever after 15 minutes; if by chance he is good, then we’ll see.” Sure this may work once in a while, usually with the wrong prospect, but if it’s not inside the Bell Curve it’s a Hail Mary. I have always been for a separation of church and sales.

Tibor Shanto

Live Cast

The Power Of Impact Questions – Sales eXecution 2881

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

IQ

I know that we have been taught not to answer a question with a question, but at times you have no other means of redirecting the conversation. One of my favourite type of questions, are Impact Questions. Questions that go to the heart of the issue, challenge the assumptions of the other party, and allow you to redirect the conversation in a way that it revolves around elements that allow the buyer to explore issues in a way they hadn’t considered.

For Impact Questions to have maximum effect they need to have two attributes. Individually each of these are a bit uncomfortable for many sellers, together, they can cause a bit of anxiety, at times fear, I have even seen smoke rising out of some people’s ears, no worries, usually pundits, not card carrying sales people.

The first element of discomfort, is that Impact Questions are by design Closed Ended, ooh, freaky, I know. Everyone thought closed ended questions went eradicated years ago, (same guys who though cold calling was dead), but no, alive and well, and doing fine in the right circumstance. Let me clear, I understand the power and purpose for Open Ended Questions, but as with most things in good selling, it is not one vs. the other, but which makes more sense for the specific situation.

There are some critical moments during the sale when only a closed ended question make sense. Where a limited set of answers creates clarity for both the buyer and seller, and allows them both to focus in critical issues rather than the universe! These points are usually during the initial prospecting call, when the buyer needs to see the opportunity for a new paradigm, and during negotiations, when it helps to re-establish the value agreed to earlier.

The other difficulty with Impact Questions, is that they have to be built around actual impacts you and your company have been able to deliver to clients in similar scenarios as the current buyer, where you have been able to help them achieve critical business objectives. While this may sound straight forward, it takes work.

Ask a team of sales people to tell you what specific impact they have had on their client’s objectives, and most have difficulty answering. They are usually accustomed to exploring things from the filter of what they do, and how their clients use their offering. Few focus on outcome, usually because few sell to those who benefit from the outcome, most will sell to the users or implementers. But regardless of who you are selling to, directing the discussion to outcomes will always be an advantage for all involved. But many buyers have been conditioned either by their role or by their experiences with sales people to look at and talk about “how” we get there, not the “what happens after we get there”, the impact; hence Impact Question.

Combining these two elements in a specific and practiced way, will allow you to avoid certain traps in the buying process, and direct the conversation to where you can actually deliver a win-win, helping both you and the client achieve key objectives.

Tibor Shanto

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