Welcome to The Pipeline.

Dear Sales Diary3

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


Those of you have kept or keep diaries, know that one of the reasons it has such great value is not just because you open up about intimate secrets, but that you share everything, not just the good, not just the bad, but all that and everything in between. You were able to go back and relive the experience, and more often than not glean lesson and things you would do differently if you had to do them all again. You didn’t just look at what you did well, or things that turned out to be good, living up to and beyond your expectations. You looked at the bad things that happened and tried to understand how you might avoid similar things in the future. The more honest you were the more rewarding the experience. If you skewed or slanted things one way, you may feel better for a while, but reality comes creeping back in, forcing us to deal with the bad, and the gray.

Sales people and sales organization need to keep a diary of their experiences, all of them, the good, the bad, and the in between. Most already do deal reviews in some format, but many do not, either choosing to them selectively, or just enough to satisfy a KPI or ScoreCard requirement. Few do the real deep dive required in order to get the most out of it, in the process allowing both a learning and revenue improvement get away. To be clear, and as you will see further on, “deep dive” does not have to be a laborious time consuming exercise with minimal payoffs, it can and should be an ongoing process that helps you with deals you are currently involved in, while also allowing you to capture and repurpose things on the fly. Done right, it should resemble the old EDS add about building an airplane while it is flying, the opportunity for sales people and organizations, is to build a continuously better sales, even as they are executing current sales, and prospecting for their next one.

Specifically this involves reviewing all deals you were involved in, those you won, those you lost, and those which go to “no decision”. Note, if you are involved in ten to a dozen deal a month, I recommend you review all of them; if on the other hand you are involved in dozens of deals, you may want to review a representative sample. If you have 7 wins, 15 losses, and 6 no decisions, review 25%, or seven, and you will get good, executable output. But as you’ll see, even if you don’t formally review each one, you will produce usable output.

Now some of you reading this may be aware that I am the coauthor of an award winning book about Trigger Events. In that book the recommendation was that you focus your reviews to only those deals you win. This will allow you to continuously repeat those things that are consistently help you win deals. Sound thinking, to a point. Let me explain, coauthoring a book is a lesson in compromise, you give you, you learn, you take, and in the end you produce a book that reflects the learning of both. But as you move on, the hope is that both authors evolve, not limited by the required compromises, and we each continue down our path, shaped by or experiences.

Since the release of that book, my thinking has evolved to where I see focusing strictly on one segment of your activities and only one of many outcomes, brings an unnecessary level of risk to one’s sales success, regardless of which one of the three possible outcomes you focus on. Given that on average, wins make up less than half of potential deals, if for no other reason than to broaden you perspectives, you should review outcomes other than just wins.

This is why the 360 Deal View was developed. It allows you to capture relevant information about the sale, the outcome and specific contributors to that. As with most tools, it is less about the tool itself, and much more about the approach and behaviours it promotes, which in turn lead to the desired results in more repeatable, predictable and consistent ways. It allows you to evolve you selling along with the way your market and buyers evolve.

While there is no denying that you want to know exactly what you are doing that is helping you win, you want to know what unfolded on the buyer’s side that prompted them to engage, and what outside and inside factors accelerate your sales cycle or cause it to slow and stall. What were the buyer’s objectives that allowed you to gain traction, and how you were able to connect with those? All important things you want to leverage. But it would be dangerous if not naïve to not go through a similar exercise with the other outcomes, losses and “no decisions”. Two simple advantageous to knowing why you lose, first, it may just take a small adjustment to change some of the inputs that will move a loss to the won column. Second, you may discover that a segment that made sense on initial exploration made sense to pursue, based on practice does not. Looking at “no decisions” will often allow you to understand when would be the best time to reengage, and take the cycle to fruition. It will also help you detect tire kickers a lot earlier.

These will be fallouts if you only review wins, but there is no denying that focusing on just one area, will lead to tunnel vision, causing you to miss changing trends that are more evident in the other categories, and more importantly, leave you very open to be blindsided. If you rely on one set of data, you will continue to find others who fit the mold, but it does not speak to the size of a market, things can continue to look good in a shrinking market, and by the time you react, many opportunities will have been missed, and competitors will have made unnecessary gains at your expense.

Most CRM’s and related apps will allow you to do a complete all three, and even allow you to get more granular if need be. You can download our tool here, but the key to success is not the tool, but the philosophy, and more specifically the discipline of doing it in up, down, or sideways markets. Just as with a diary, the best ones were usually written in simple notebooks, not fancy specially diaries, what made them great was the depth and completeness of what was captured, and the consistency of execution.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Surf’s Up! Riding the Pipeline to the Shores of Success1


The Pipeline Guest Post – Susan Payton

This might come across as mind-blowing, but here’s the secret to better sales:

It’s not about getting tons of leads into your pipeline. It’s about how you treat them once they’re there.

When it comes to your sales pipeline, if you’re focusing on quantity—and not quality—you won’t realize the conversion rate you could if you instead worked on the following three goals:

  1. Qualify leads early
  2. Direct leads into the appropriate funnel
  3. Customize messages to each funnel throughout the journey down the pipeline

Know What a Lead Looks Like
No, “everyone” doesn’t qualify as a lead. Look at past customers you’d like to replicate. What characteristics did those customers possess? What were the actions they took to arrive in your pipeline? Those actions might include:

  • Downloading a white paper on your site
  • Signing up for your emails
  • Signing up for a free account or trial
  • Visiting a specific page multiple times

Technology allows you to be very specific in the actions you track online, so there’s no reason you should treat all leads equally.

Set up lead scoring criteria to help you identify hot leads early in the process. Assign a numeric value to the transactions that landed them in your pipeline, as well as a lead’s job title—for those B2B marketers—and demographics data if you can get it.

Target, Target, Target
You probably can identify certain types of leads or customers based on your past experience. You probably have seen leads who ask a lot of questions and are slow to buy—if they buy at all. You’ve also probably encountered those who want to make a decision now, and don’t require a lot of handholding. You can probably think of other types as well.

The point here is: you want to break down your initial lead bucket into as many funnels as possible so you can maximize the impact of your marketing messages to each segment. The quick decision-maker shouldn’t get the same automated emails as the questioning customer, because his lead time will be virtually nil.

Master the Marketing Message
Make sure your messaging fits the lead profile. That slow-to-buy lead will want plenty of information about your product, not a promotional offer. The quick customer may respond better to a $10 off coupon via email. Test until you’re getting the best conversion rate possible. One way to do this is with customer relationship management (CRM) software.

That software will allow you to align your offline marketing and sales efforts with the needs of each customer profile. If you’re using CRM for marketing and tracking valuable customer data, it’s easy enough to create categories for customer types, as well as develop a key your sales team can use to know how to best approach a given type of customer.

For example, if it’s customary for a salesperson to call every lead personally, he might not want to do so with a quick decision-maker. It might be unnecessary, and if all of the lead’s other behavior has been online, he might not welcome a phone call.

Track Everything
CRM software will only come in handy if you’re tracking the right information, which is pretty much all information about a customer. Every person who interacts with a lead should make notes about their conversation, as well as provide recommendations for future communications.

You should be able to look at a lead’s profile and get a sense of what he has responded to. If you’re automating email messages, you shouldn’t need to do much, provided the communication is effective. If it’s not, look at results across that particular segment and see if the lack of response is indicative of the bigger picture. If so, tweak the message and try again.

Continue to Tweak the Process
Sales isn’t an out-of-the-box solution for most brands. It’s a continual effort to discover what works to increase conversion and sales. But over time, if you’re paying attention to your leads’ responses, you’ll see better results, making the corrections smaller and smaller.

Your pipeline should net you a better conversion rate (and generate fewer dead leads along the way) if you’re truly paying attention to what makes your customers tick.

Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s also the founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners. She’s written three books: DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and contributes to several sites, including ChamberofCommerce.com, The Marketing Eggspert Blog, CorpNet, Small Business Trends, and BizLaunch. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.

4 Company Culture “Must Haves” to Create a Great Sales Process0

Process A1

The Pipeline Guest Post – Jon Birdsong

A great sales process does not start with fancy workflows and flawless forecasts. Forging a thriving sales process starts with something more integral to the organization: the company’s DNA. Make no mistake, company culture cultivates machine-like sales processes. When it’s done right, the result is admirable and motivating.

The past two years have exposed the Rivalry team to a variety of sales processes and sales cultures. Some are amazing. In certain companies, salespeople enjoy going to work, making progress on their goals, and achieving measurable results. In others, salespeople dread work, make no real advancements in personal or professional improvement, and lost when it comes to goal achievement.

We’ve found consistent patterns in company cultures that foster efficient sales processes efficiency. The following are 4 company culture “must-have’s” to create a great sales process.

Coach Like Phil Jackson – it’s indisputable Phil Jackson has the best profile picture on Twitter. Sales organizations who place a high priority on improving the salesperson’s skills have a significant advantage over the average company. Determining the priority of coaching in your organization is easy: how many hours a day/week does your VP of Sales spend coaching. Sales process Yoda and HubSpot’s VP of Sales wrote an excellent piece on 4 Steps to Metric-Driven Coaching.

Hire Like You’re Donald Trump – watch The Apprentice for one season and it becomes clear the value Donald Trump places on his open job positions. Episode after episode, one ambitious contestant is “fired,” leaving them with nothing but a lonely cab ride home. Intimidating potential hires like Donald may not be necessary, but maintaining high standards for new hires is essential to building a sales team. Insider tip: put new hires through your own hiring process and make sure each one fits with the core values of the company.

Mandate CRM Data-Entry – if you want to be a hard-ass, now is the time . We have not come across one, thriving sales organization that does not have the “if it’s not in Salesforce.com, it didn’t happen” mandate. The secret to making this mandate become the salesperson’s best friend is positioning the “why.” Insider tip: hopefully you’ve built trust with your team, if so, then it is important to communicate that entering data in the CRM helps identify their weakness and places focus on areas where you can coach them to improve.

Foster Friendly Competition: – some people are naturally gifted in sales, others work their tail off, and the rest find a new industry. Producing an environment where certain benchmarks and goals are transparent to the sales organization creates peer-pressure and group requirements. These are good. It sets the standard and focuses attention on who is the best. A great sales culture has an easy way to monitor monthly, weekly, and daily progress, so each sales reps know where they stand and more importantly how to improve their standards.

About Jon Birdsong

Jon Birdsong is the CEO of Rivalry, a sales process management company.  You can find him on Twitter and Google +.

It Doesn’t End With the Sale: Managing Customer Relationships1


The Pipeline Guest Post – Megan Totka

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, and attracting new customers while strengthening your relationships with existing ones is a constant challenge. The best way to do so, however, is a matter that often leaves your sales and marketing staff at odds. Your sales force is focused primarily on closing the deal and landing new customers, while your marketing department wants to nurture customer relationships before and after the sale. No matter what your role at your company, however, it’s to your benefit to continue to nurture customer relationships long after they’ve paid their invoices.

Why Long-Term Customer Relationships Matter

We’ve all heard the adage that it’s cheaper to retain a customer than it is to acquire a new one. After all, you’ve already done the wooing. They already love your brand. If you maintain the relationship, they’ll come back to buy other products or services from you, increasing their customer lifetime value.

A customer with whom you already have a relationship is more likely to refer more business to you. They’re happy to tell others about how much they enjoy your brand when communicating through social media, review sites like Yelp, and face to face with friends. A single customer can help attract business from friends and family if they’re happy. And the best way to keep your customers happy is by paying attention to their needs and staying connected.

Managing Your Customer Relationships

Customer relationship management tools like Insightly and Salesforce make it easy to create profiles for each of your customers. You can track critical data like purchases, each customer’s birthday, and communication preferences. Companies use this data to better engage with customers. If you have your customer’s birthday, you can send her a email with a special birthday offer. If you know she has looked repeatedly at a certain item on your website, you can offer her a discount for it. Building a profile is a great first step; if you are in regular contact with a client, take notes each time you speak with them.

Social media is another fantastic tool for staying on top of customer relationships. Since Hootsuite lets you set up custom streams based on your preferences, it’s a snap to set up a stream containing the social media content generated by all your customers. From there, it’s up to you how far you drill down. You could create streams for different types of customers, such as those buying women’s clothes in one stream, children’s clothing in another, and men’s clothes in the last stream. You could set up a search for a keyword that relates to your industry to see who’s talking about it, and connect with them. The possibilities are endless, but what matters is using the info you gather to enhance your customer relationships.

Once you’ve set up customer profiles, it’s simply a matter of paying careful attention to what’s being said, especially if it relates to your product or brand. If a customer’s unhappy with your company, they might not bother to tell you, but reach out on their social network instead. If you’re monitoring your customer Tweets using your new setup, it’s much easier to discover customer concerns—and address them—before the situation escalates.

From a more positive angle, if you notice a customer tweeting about her search for product or service you provide (that they may not realize you offer), your sales team has a fantastic opportunity to respond and develop that interest into a lead.

Email is another great way to stay on connected to your customer. Don’t bombard your customers with emails, but do make your emails frequent and relevant enough to remind them of why they chose to give you their business. Sending one newsletter and one promotional email at specific times each week or month is a good start, but with a little creativity and careful data management, you can create targeted email campaigns for special occasions or broken out by demographic. Using the data gleaned through your customer relationship management software, you can deliver even more sophisticated and targeted messages, such as discounts for a customer’s birthday for example. The better targeted the offers, the better your connection with your customers.

The aim is to keep growing the connection. With intelligent application of the information you gather, you can build real and lasting relationships with your customers that won’t end with the sale.

About Megan Totka

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. 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.

Don’t Wait For A Bone!109

Nothing bothers me more than when a rep uses any expression relating to selling that includes a variation of “throw me a bone”. You hear this a lot especially in industries that are highly competitive, the buyers have viable options, and the risk of commoditization looms large.

Usually while discussing their prospecting efforts with an account currently serviced by a competitor, reps tells me how they follow up with and touch the client, in the hope that the buyer will “throw me a bone, and I can prove myself.”

You may say this is not prevalent, but it is much broader than most want to believe; especially when you look past the semantics, and focus on the underlying reality.  Many will phrase it differently, but the underlying attitude, is passive and lacks a cohesive action plan that permeates sales at all levels.

It certainly symptomatic of sellers who don’t understand the real value they can bring to a client, cannot articulate the value in a meaningful way, or both.  This in itself is not the worst thing sellers can face, as overcoming this is a question of will, learning and practice.  But the reps are not alone to blame in perpetuating this sheepish way of selling.  Many are left to themselves to figure things out, to define their value and how to communicate that to the various audiences involved in buying their offerings.  Many managers, who are really just old sellers with an “attaboy”, encourage their teams to do as they did, after all they must know what they are doing, they got the “attaboy”.

Some get no support from their marketing teams.  They produce lovely brochures, cool 3-D picture of the product, specs galore, not one line about business application, or how it may help the buyer beyond what the buyer already knows.  All culminating in the product comparing columns on the back page, with of course our product having the most check marks (even when no one cares about any of the features).

What angers me is the lack of willingness by many to do anything about the situation.  Not realizing that the effort to change it is not only less than the effort needed to continue to sell in this submissive and ineffective way.  Yes there is a learning curve that requires time and effort, and may at times cause bruising.  But once mastered, it require less ongoing effort to maintain, especially if you put processes in place.  Processes that include reviewing current engagements to understand, get a head of and respond to market trends and continue to be of value to the market and your buyers.

You may think this is only prevalent in simple, perhaps commoditized type of sales, not true.  I recently met with a counterpart who works with large ticket items, high six figures, what many may call a complex sale, and he sees the same issue, what he calls “bone catchers”.  Now I am all for relationships, but there has to be more to a relationship than a seller standing on his hind legs wagging his tail waiting for a buyer to flick a bone and some crumbs their way.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Mobile Apps for the Mobile Sales Force58

The Pipeline Guest Post – Lauren Carlson

In an increasingly mobile business world, professionals operate day-to-day on their mobile devices. Because of this, vendors have worked to develop the best apps that can bring all the necessary business functionality to an individual on the go. One profession that stands to benefit most from these apps is sales. We at Software Advice typically focus on sales force automation software, but we decided to broaden our focuse and see what is available on mobile devices to match the needs of a mobile sales force. We were honestly amazed at the great tools we found. Below we highlight some of our favorites.

Hashable Mobile – With everything else going digital, why shouldn’t business cards? Hashable has developed a neat app that basically allows you to track everyone you meet. If you can gather an email address or Twitter handle, the app will do the rest. It logs the individual down, along with the place that you met them. It allows you to make contact notes, set reminders to follow up, and track phone calls and meetings. Everything can sync back to your calendar and/or email to help keep you organized. Hashable Mobile is free and available for iPhone and Android.

Soonr – Soonr brings file collaboration to your mobile device. Not only can you create and edit PowerPoint presentations, but Soonr allows you to access and share over 40 different types of files, from spreadsheets to mp3’s. Because Soonr operates in the cloud, any changes made from your mobile device are automatically saved and synced back to your desktop. Another cool feature is the SMS notification. Whenever a file is updated or edited, anyone who has access to that file will receive a text. This way, you always know what is going on with your files, even if you are thousands of miles from the office. Soonr is $9.95/user/month and is available for iPhone, iPad, Android and Android tablets.

FlightTrack Pro – One of the biggest pain points in a traveling profession is, you guessed it, traveling! FlightTrack Pro was developed by Mobiata to ease some of that pain. This is probably one of my favorite apps. It allows you to sync your travel itinerary, and then sends you push notifications about any changes with itinerary – delayed flights, change of gates, etc. It also has a really neat map feature that allows you to track your flight on a visually stunning graphic map. FlightTrack Pro is $9.99 on the App Store and is available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Sugar Mobile – Sugar is already a leader in the CRM arena, and now they have extended their capabilities to mobile devices so that you can access client-critical information from anywhere. You can run reports, set up meetings, manage cases and contact information all from your mobile device. And with their latest update to the app, the user interface has become even more intuitive and simple. The coolest new addition to the app is the Twitter Connector. This feature essentially allows you to manage your Twitter account and Twitter streams without having to leave the app. Price is free and it’s available for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

These are just a sampling of the apps. For more information on each one and to see more choices for each category, check out the original article here: http://www.softwareadvice.com/articles/crm/apps-for-the-mobile-sales-force-1072811/.

About Lauren Carlson

Lauren Carlson is a write and market analyst out of Austin, Texas. She focuses on enterprise technology in the area of customer relationship management. She has been mentioned on Forbes.com and other notable web sites. You can see her articles regularly on the Software Advice blog.

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Sales eXchange – 2813

Has CRM Failed?

Late in December I sat in on a webinar, as is obligatory that time of year, there was a lot of pontificating about Sales 2.0 and trends for the coming year. In today’s post as in a post later this week, I’ll be looking at a couple lines of discussion that caught my attention.

Specifically today I want to react to a statement a proponent of Sales 2.0 made. In trying to add some depth to this marketing term, they said something to the effect that Sales 2.0 is the technology that addresses the void left “now that CRM has failed.”

Nice one I thought, with one fell swoop, he has killed CRM, and anointed Sales 2.0 as the second coming. Ah, I get it, second coming, Sales 2.0, can’t be coincidence, ha? It was a great way to shift the discussion from examining the validity and promise of 2.0 to the frustration many feel with their CRM deployment. But there was no attempt to validate whether CRM has indeed failed, and if it did, would other technologies do better or suffer the same fate.  By the way, I would argue CRM has indeed not failed.

Yes it is true that many companies have not achieved all they had hoped for with their CRM roll out, but at the same time you can point to many that have.  So it is probably more accurate to say that some roll outs have failed, others have not. If that is the case, then I think it is fair to say that the success of Sales 2.0 will also depend on the quality of the roll out, and as such will face the same challenges in adoption and conversion, and will lead to some great success and some massive failures.

One underlying elements is how the technology is sold at the outset. Often CRM is sold to management as a great tool for increasing visibility and control.  The executive spends the money, they build some great dashboards, they “enforce compliance” and then they expect results. Time passes, very few results, what do we do now; “I know, let’s get some mouse pads out there and have some contests, that will get usage up, and we’ll have what we want.”  Well not really, the problem is the front line staff has not been sold on what’s in the CRM for them, and how to get the most out of it to help them sell and succeed.  The front line often sees it as just another project thrust on their already busy day by IT, Marketing or senior management.  What’s to say that the same thing won’t happen with Sales 2.0?  In fact you can see this already when you talk to reps and how they see Sales 2.0.

The other challenge facing CRM is that at times they are deployed to solve problems that it was not meant to solve.  Specifically, issues that persist when there is a lack of a sales process to begin with. Without a sales process, one runs the risk of the CRM becoming a fancy contact management system rather than a tool that drives the relationships with your customers.  That same lack of process will not only impact Sales 2.0, but be compounded by the nature of the technology, being primarily a social broadcast environment rather than a business intelligence tool. 

Remember that Managing Relationships with Customers was a smart way of doing business before the technology came a long.  What made it a solid business concept was that it was based on how to best interact with your prospect, and continue to enhance that interaction with them once they become your customers.  If you start and end with that premise, technology is an enabler, other wise it is just a cost.

When you start out with the wrong premise, no process to manage it, then throw some technology at it, and you will fall short, no matter if it is CRM, Sales 2.0 or even 3.0 now being cooked up somewhere I am sure.  So before one revels in the “failure” of one technology, it would make sense to ensure your technology doesn’t face the same potential pitfalls.

EXTRA: You will also want to check out Salesopedia.com for an exclusive piece I wrote for them titled “Plan Goals and Plan On The Means Of Hitting Them”, a look at hitting your goals not just planning.  Last year I had the #2 most read article on Salesopedia.com, let’s see if we can do better this year, enjoy and profit.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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