Welcome to The Pipeline.

Remember Your First Sale?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

49

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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Dear Sales Diary3

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Diary

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

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

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Ruler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Win Tickets to see Tony Robbins in Toronto – July 24!

Why Waste Time Waiting for Events – Trigger The Reaction – Sales eXchange 197 (#video)0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Don't Wait

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to sit down with Ago Cluytens, for one his Coaching Masters Series interviews.  All this week, the posts will feature snippets of the interview, below we will also tell you where you can find the whole interview, but now let’s go to the first extract.

Trigger Events are fine, but there is no escaping that you have to wait for the “event”.  But here’s the deal, what you are leveraging is not the event, but the buyer’s reaction to the event.  So why not take the training wheels off, forget the “event”, and learn to trigger the reaction without having to wait, with the others looking for the same sign.

Take a look at what I mean.

If you would like to see the entire discussion you can either visit my You Tube channel, or go the Ago’ site by clicking here.  Always open to comments and views.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Plan Z – Sales eXchange 1831

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

target

I think (hope ) it is safe to say that every seller, especially B2B, has a Plan A.  A road map or process for how they plan to engage with a buyer, and work with them to mutually navigate the buy and sale process to arrive at a mutually beneficial situation, each party attaining their objectives.  Having said that, I still see many who wing it.

What surprises me is the number of sales people or organizations who have a game plan or playbook, that is totally one dimensional in nature.  It starts by completing a pastel coloured sheet, same info, same way, every time; some have a Plan B, they go to it based on the push back to Plan A.  Now this would not be a big problem if you are selling a commodity, in what can be described as a “binary” sale, but it is an absolute killer if you are selling anything that involves more than a price decision.

Rather than using a “plan” or playbook approach, it is more effective to use a mind map approach.  This allows you to evolve with the buyer as you uncover facts, opportunities and aspirations.  You can use Plan A to engage, and begin the process, but as each client is different (in big or small ways) you need to adapt rather than try to get the client to fit the plan or playbook.

The way to achieve this is to commit to two basic disciplines.  First, is to commit to reviewing all sales transactions you are involved in, whether you won them or not.  This will allow you to anticipate broad and narrow trends,  and adjust your game in real time.   Think of this like watching the game tapes.

To support this, you need to adopt the practice of follow through questions, not question, but questions.  Most sellers tend to stay narrow and shallow, they hear something that sounds like what they need to hear, and they go with it.  But if you develop the skill to ask several layers of “impact questions”, you not only get to the root of the opportunity, but differentiate yourself from those who stop at the surface or layer two.  Combined these give you the grounding to go beyond what you practiced with on the nice coloured sheet, while not meandering, because in the end you still need to bring home the revenue.

Mind mapDiscipline is one thing, rigidity is another, this is why we introduce the concept of fluidity.  Visually it may be easiest to think of this approach as a three dimensional “Sales Mind Map”.   It forces you to think, anticipate and respond based on client input, while leveraging market and sales experience.  It allows you to not only have a Plan A, Plan B, but a method for having options that may take you to Plan Z, all based on the buyer’s objectives and requirements.

Enter the Art of Sales Contest – Win Tickets

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Three Rs of Sales – Sales eXchange 18243

change

While I have always supported the concept and the focus behind the three R’s of academics; although I never understood why the academic community would go for the label, given that only on of the three words in question start with an R.

We in sales hold to a higher standard, and therefore the three words that make up the three R’s of Sales, all do indeed start with the letter R!

  • Reciprocate – It should not be news that the most successful sales people look at sales from a giving standpoint, rather than a what can I get standpoint.  Unfortunately, the latter makes up the majority of the sales population, often this is a result of the “message” and “motivation” they get from their management.  While I do not shy away from the sales rep as a “hunter”, the prey is not the buyer.

While most of think of reciprocating as giving back, you can also think of is as just giving; specifically giving to you buyers and prospects.  The notion of giving is not new, but often sellers give in return for something they “have gotten”, like a next step, an introduction to a decision maker, or an order.

But if you can think of it in that if you give value to buyers in any number of ways right through the process, the buyer will reciprocate.  At time this may be in the form of a referral, next step, or the order.  Reciprocate forward as it were.

  • Reinvent – This may seem straight forward, but is probably the most difficult for many sellers.  It involves two disciplines, one is reviewing sales to see what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to be done to change that.  The second is change itself, sellers find it hard to change, even though they spend their time and effort trying to get buyers to change in a number of ways.

The need to review every or a significant sample of your transactions is crucial.  I have spoken about it extensively on this blog, the need to review all sales initiated, win – lose – draw.  You can still download the 360 Deal Review tool, and start what is an easy but valuable exercise.   The key is what you identify as working, what is not, and more importantly, what you are prepared to do about it.

There a many teams I see who review, note, but do not implement change.  Without the last step, it’s just a validation exercise with little or no value.

Change is an interesting thing, it does not have to be wholesale or instantaneous, and it is exponential, sometimes it is the smallest things that have the biggest impact.  Meaning you can start small, limited risk, and tangible benefits.  The hardest is always the first step; so pick something easy, develop an action plan, a period of review, and do it a bit at a time.

  • Reputation –  There is one thing you have to hold on to throughout your career, that is your reputation.  Skills, clients, successes come and go, they can all be rebuilt or reinvented, reputations are a bit more delicate.   They can be rebuilt, but there is always a cost.  Reputation not only precedes you, which is crucial to success, but it also lags, people have a way to remember more of the bad than the good.  Of the three R’s this is fundamental, and without which the other two R’s are difficult to execute.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Standard Not Stagnant41

The great thing about sales is that every day is different, bringing new challenges, or familiar challenges with new wrinkles, testing your skills and agility.  This constant change directly impacts both sales people, their sales organization, and by extension their sales process.  Some organizations dodge this by not having a process, allowing their sales people to rely on their “creativity” or god given skills to deliver the numbers.  One of the risks with this approach is not knowing the quality of their execution efforts until after the numbers are in; in other words, after the fact, and after they can do anything to change the outcome.  Given the stats on the level of success of many sales organizations and individuals, it is clear that having a defined and standardized sales process is crucial to success even for companies selling the most basic products.

Read On…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Price – A Hard Habit To Kick – Sales eXchange 171100

A couple of weeks ago I lost an opportunity I feel I should have won, and as you have read here in the past, you need to invest the time to understand why deals turn out the way they do. To do that I asked a couple of people I know, also involved in sales training to sit down to conduct the review, in essence to play the role of the manager, and keep me honest.  The goal is to learn if the deal was winnable, if so what could I have done differently.  If not winnable, are there any trends we can glean that we need to incorporate into future sales; or what can we learn that will help us recognize deals that are not going to happen earlier, so we can move on faster.

I was taken aback when the first question one of my peers asked was: “do you think you would have won had you priced it lower?”

Wow, what an uninspiring start.  I guess if I gave it away free I would be busy five days a week, but my kids would starve.  I looked at her hoping she would continue, and asked her why she started there, especially when I had shared with her and the other fellow involved the form/tool I use of our reviews, exploring many factors beyond price.  What worried me even more is that this person was involved in working with sales teams, and this was top of mind here, what is top of mind when they are out in field.

The importance of reviewing both deals you win and lose, is understanding the trends behind the decisions.  Every time a buyer does not buy from you is not a failure on your part, and the reviews will help you delineate between the two.  There are buyers who will not pay for the value of your offering regardless of how well you communicated.  It is important to understand which end of the communication failed.  If it was you, then you need to work to change how you do things, and reviews will help.  But if it was the buyer’s failure to understand/appreciate the value when you did everything you had to, it is better to know that and why, and how to recognize it moving forward.  Communication is two directional, and it could well be that the buyer does not see the value or does not want to pay for it, yes they are cheap.  And none of want cheap customers.  The quicker you can spot one vs. the other, the quicker you can decide who is worth your time and resources, or which opportunities you can abandon early.*

Fine Print – the above is predicated on having a healthy pipeline of real opportunities, it is a lot easier to walk away from a bad thing knowing there are other opportunities to work on, than to walk away from the only thing left in your pipe.

Price is easy, in fact it is addictive; sellers need to be value competitive, not  price competitive.  Much better to get your clients addicted to your value/quality, then you becoming addicted to discounting.  As with anything addictive, you run the risk of not just selling at a lower price, but for the wrong reasons.  At first you figure you hey what’s a 3% discount.  Once that is comfortable, you need a bigger fix.  When you come up to the next resistance, you hesitantly try one more point, then another, and you are at 5%.  You figure on $100,000 deal, say 8% commission, going to $95,000 will only impact you by $400, but could be the margin for your company.  Remember that next time you wonder about investment in product development, marketing, resources, and all the things the $5,000 you gave away could buy.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

A Sales Association #Webinar31

“Leveraging Value from Engaging the Buyer to Closing the Sale” – A Sales Association Webinar
Tuesday, October 30 – 2 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. CST / Noon MST / 11 a.m. PST (1 hour in length)

On Tuesday October 30, I have the privilege to deliver a webinar for The Sales Association – I will be talking to specific steps sellers can take to delivering and leveraging value throughout the sale.

Almost every conversation about selling starts or ends with the concept of value. At the same time, there are as many different understandings and definitions of value as there are sellers and buyers. Without a clear and actionable definition of value, many conversations between buyers and sellers are less than effective, and do not help create a buy.

Starting with a clear definition of value, participants will learn the five-step process to leveraging value throughout the sale, from the initial engagement to winning the client.

Steps include:

  • Identifying and validating buyer’s objectives
  • Understanding why buyers really buy
  • Why Buyers buy and don’t buy from you and your company
  • Converting the above to Impact Questions for quality conversations
  • A structured follow-through approach to maximize impact and progress

Participants will learn how to use this process to create alignment with the buyer, their objectives and buying process.

Click Her to Register Now!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Forget The Revenue115

By the time you know if you had made your quarter or year, it is too late. If you made it great, if you didn’t, too bad, it’s too late to do anything about it. So to succeed in sales, forget the revenue, it is a lagging indicator, focus on what really matters, the activities and elements that lead to a sale, the leading indicators.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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