Welcome to The Pipeline.

First Post 2014 – Let’s Cut The S*#T – 14

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

No Shite

Buying Vs. Selling

As the first post of the years, I thought I would set the tone for the blog and hopefully sales in 2014. Let’s start by setting straight some unadulterated shit that has made its way into main stream sales over the last few years. It came out of the impact of the 2008 economic realities and the rise of social media in its sales form, commonly known as social selling. A cute marketing term that elevated the noise created by Sales 2.0, which just further drowned out reason in sales, and allowed people with social selling products to sell more, and pretend sales people keep their jobs.

History has taught us that when faced with a challenge you really only have three choices:

A. Get creative, apply your skills, and find a way to overcome the challenge
B. Redefine things in a way that allows you to avoid the challenge – not resolve or deal with it – but by changing the premise you mask the reality
C. Hide from it

Sadly, too often we opt for options B and/or C. Option B happily fueled and supported by pundits selling products or advice to sellers.

Let’s look at one of the biggest slices of crap peddled in sales these days:

slideshare attribute“60% of the sales cycle is over before a buyer talks to a sales person”, as quoted by James Wood, on Earnest About B2B Blog, Slide number 5, attributes the quote to Kieran Flanagan, Hubspot.  But when you follow the links to a slideshare presentation: Inbound marketing your secrets to success,  Kieran, on slide 9,  attributes it to the Corporate Executive Board.  The link in that attribution leads to a page on Latvian TV, featuring an interview with a musician on a bus, I don’t speak Latvian, and therefore not sure if he in fact stated the above (I’m betting not).  I am pretty sure he is not the one that set the absurd notion contained in the quote.

So we don’t know where it came from, but a whole bunch of people in the selling business are reciting it as though it was gospel. Problem.

What is described/discussed/contained in the quote, does not talk to a sales process, but a buying process! Big difference. The person a self-declared buyer talks to is not a sales person, but rather a quote/price dispensing order taker. It’s true, it doesn’t matter what it says on the business card, what it says on the web site or org chart, these are not sales people, they are process facilitators, and the process they are facilitation is the buying process, not a sales process. How can I tell, because order takers deal with buyers, buyers who on their own decided to explore a purchase, started defining their requirements on their own, unprompted by a (a real) seller. As they were at about 60% of their buying process, they needed some comparisons, some additional data that was not available on the company’s web site or the common social outlets, and some quotes so they could make their choice, So they reach out to the facilitator, happy to spew stats and facts, and quotes, that they are willing to negotiate.

This is not selling, it is order taking, and if it sounds like selling to you, well, I feel for you and I am here to help you.

Selling involves professionals who engage the best potential buyers based on criteria they, the seller, researched to identify the best opportunities for mutual success, their own and their buyers. This often leads to the reality that the best potential buyers, those will benefit and deliver revenue as a result, are not in the market. They are doing what they do until they are approached by the seller, which by definition means that the seller is likely about 20% – 25% through their sales cycle when they talk to a potential buyer who they are looking to convert to a prospect; and that potential prospect is at 0%, because their journey start when the seller calls.

Facilitators have no control over their success and destiny, as they are dependent on the buyer, who according to the pundits is in control. Scraps anyone?

Sellers not only control their success, income and destiny, but have more loyal clients, willing to pay full value, and rely on the seller based on their contribution to the customers’ success. You decide, not so much which you are or want to be, but how much work you are willing to invest to be the seller you ought to be.

Happy New Year!
Tibor Shanto

Voice Mail Week Part III – The Technique and why It Works! (#video)0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

In Part I and Part II of this trilogy we looked at context, and how there is more to voice mail than just the message and getting a call back.  So now it is time to reintroduce the technique.  I say reintroduce, because I have shared it before, and as you may have gleaned there was some push back and even more misunderstanding of how and why to execute it.

I suspect that there will be push back again, and I invite the challenges and feedback of all quality from all sources.  The one ask that I do have is: try it before you knock it, a few times, give yourself a chance to succeed.  Try it the way it is presented, no variation, no improvisation.  If you do improvise, and it works for you, great, share what you did, we can all learn.  If you do improvise and it does not work, I refer to the small print, which basically states that we stand by our method, good luck with yours.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Can You Switch Hit For Sales Success?4

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Switch hitter

I remember when I first started working for a company back in the early 1990’s (before we had web mail), the company had two main product lines, and had the usual territories across the continent, primarily driven by geography.   Each territory had two hunters, one for each product, two account development/management (AD) people, again one for each product, and an administrative person, all supported by a central customer care group, as to not overwork the front line folks.  The flow was simple, the hunter was in charge of finding and landing accounts, they would then hand off the account to the AD, who would work on maintaining and growing the account.  No one ever had to move out of their comfort zone, mine was hunting.

As the competition heated up, and costs had to be cut to maintain operating margins, the two teams were collapsed into one that handled both product lines, there was still a clear line between hunting and development of accounts.  While we had to learn a bit about the new product, we were still left in our functional comfort zones.

As in most similar scenarios, the hunter was always in a better position to earn more.  I am not saying that hunters were or are more important than the AD role, the fact was, that there were less qualified hunters than AD types, and this is still so now.

The next round of cuts was a bit more drastic for almost all involved.  Administrative resources were reduced, and more significantly, they collapsed the two roles into one, no more hunters and AD’s, just one person who had to execute both functions.  In some territories the hunter had to learn how to actually manage and develop the accounts they brought on; and the AD’s had to learn to hunt and bring on the accounts they were going to work on growing and retaining.   Since the company had a union to deal with, (yes I know, sales and unions, what a concept, nonetheless), the choice of who stayed and who left was not always made based on abilities and potential.  Many of those who remained were AD types who had to learn how to hunt, in most instances, a much bigger ask than the other way around.  At the same time it turned out that some of the hunter role were in fact “closet account developers”, and gravitated to the AD side of the job, increasing the value of real hunters even more.

To be clear, I am not saying that hunters are naturally better rounded, and are able to easily become good or even adequate AD’s, I was living proof that this was not the case, but hunting was a better cover for AD skill deficiencies; where as you can be a great AD, but if an account leaves for factors beyond your control, and you can’t hunt, you will be in a difficult hole.

As you would expect there were a number of reactions, outcomes and repercussions to the new reality, about 20% – 25% floundered and struggled, and eventually were replaced.  At the other end of the spectrum, about 20% or so, turned out to be natural switch hitters, not losing a stride in the transition, relishing the new found opportunities in the job and the rewards.  They stepped back, reformulated their action plan and then marched forward as if nothing had changed.

A large majority 55% – 60% worked diligently at developing the “other” skill, and over time found the required balance, but as you would expect things were usually skewed towards their original skill set and comfort zone, but they were able to generate both organic growth and new account growth.  No surprise the hunters had just as hard a time, if not harder, in developing their AD skills, than AD’s had in developing enough hunting skills to make sales happen.  What was interesting is that in the end both groups leaned more on improved hunting than improved maintenance skills.

Again this is not to say that being an AD does not require skills, is easy or any other “better/worse” comparison, but does speak to the fact that getting to the right person to have the right conversation with, is still the biggest challenge in sales.  Most sales people I speak to, be they traditional sellers, social sellers, or other, tell me something along the lines of “get me in front of the right prospect, and I will close them”; and they probably will.  But the ability to find and engage with the right person, and then talk about the right things, those things that will lead to real engagement, is a rarer skill, but one that can be learned and with practice, and mastered.  Those that do, are your switch hitters, they can deliver revenue in by succeeding in both cases, prospecting and selling.  The difference between baseball and the revenue game, is you need to do both to succeed, you need to be a switch hitter.

Since then sales teams have continued to contract, sales goals have continued to grow, as has the number of sales people who almost, but don’t always make goal.  These are the group of sellers I call the “80-90 Percenters”; year after year they deliver 80% to 90% of plan, and when you strip back the layers, most often you’ll find that they are great at growing their base, but not as good at finding, engaging with and brining on new clients.  Their new business growth is usually from referrals, or people who are like people who have already bought from them.  Again, nothing wrong with the thinking or reality, just the lack of consistently delivering against plan.

In today’s market there are a number of parallels; a specific one can be found in those industries that are making the transition from selling products, to managed services.  You see this trend in any number of industries, from copiers to managed print service; break fix to managed it services; in transport from loads or lanes to managed freight services; really, in any industry where before you sold “stuff”, “stuff” that is becoming commoditised, to selling a complete service that allows clients to reduce costs while allowing you to grow, both products sold and the services around them, while locking in revenue streams and locking out competitors.

Product sellers need to learn to switch hit and hunt not only in new jungles, but for prey they have not encountered before, a prey that is smarter, more demanding and usually less accessible.  The prey speaks a different language and have entirely different set of objectives and expectations than the people they used to sell “stuff” to, or account they maintained.  Further, the new prey does very much have to be hunted, they are not out there declaring their readiness or willingness to buy, they are the Status Quo, doing their thing deep in the jungle where only hunters go and maintainers and posers avoid.  Selling to the willing will leave them short unless they step up and learn to hunt a bit more, learn to switch hit.

Hunting in this environment requires skills upgrades whether you are coming from an AD background, or have successfully hunted while selling products, “stuff”.  Unless you take the time and make the effort to become a true switch hitter, you are bound to the beige of the “80-90 Percenters”

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto



What are you Listening To? (Part I)2

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


Ask a group of sales people what are the most important attribute or abilities a good sales person needs to master, and “Listening Skills” will usually be near the top of the list.  No argument here, the ability and as importantly the patience to listen are crucial.  Beyond the common aspects of listening, there is the issue of what you are listening to.  Based on the question, you could find yourself doing a lot of great listening, with little progress, or return for the effort.

So while listening is a good discipline, the skill still comes down to the quality of the question.  Great questions make for worthwhile listening; crappy questions lead to… well you know.

Buyers have become immune to the most often asked common questions, some may have been fresh the first time they were asked, but by the third time they were asked “if you could change one thing….?” Or any other question of this sort, they develop a standard canned answer, which if not deflected by the seller, will lead to the same predictable outcome, no sale or discounted sale, I guess that’s the penalty for bad questions.

If you want something good to listen to, you need to ask good questions, the better the question, the better listening, the better the engagement.   Where there is a range of opinions is around what is a good question.  From where I sit, you need ask questions that penetrate the protective shield buyers have developed to protect themselves from the usual lot of overtly self-serving questions sellers ask, of course delivered in a consultative mode.

The questions need to be provocative, spark the buyer to think, at times shock them into thinking.  Think of even though a buyer has granted you an hour, they still have a 16 hour work day they are trying get in to a ten hour day, with all the challenges that go along with that.  Just like we as sellers are thinking (and listening) ahead of where we are, so are they.  Your question need to stop them in their track, get off the tread mill, and actually think about their answers, not just illicit a response, responses don’t make for good listening.

Unfortunately, people don’t like to provoke, they fear making client uncomfortable, so instead they ask Namby-pamby questions, soft and cuddly, almost asking the buyer to be their friend rather than an agent of change, or a person of value.  These kind of soft light questions ultimately lead to light listening, like Muzak at the supermarket.

You can build more provocative questions that help you get below the surface of the issues, getting to the root of what the buyer’s objective are and how you can help eliminate hurdle, identify gaps, and mine those gaps to close them in helping the achieve those objective.  The goal is to get past the here and now, to where they need/want to be, where you can add value.  To do that you need something good to listen to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Shock Treatment – Sales eXchange 1922

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca
Jump Start

Last Monday I posted about the overlooked opportunity in that segment of buyers know as Status Quo, pundits and sellers alike commiserating each other about the difficulty of selling to a ready group of buyers, vs. taking orders from self-declared buyers.

I’ll be the first to admit change is hard, especially for business buyers who have their handful, trying to make headway in a competitive market.  Change is time consuming, a drain on resources, creates upheaval, usually expensive, and fraught with risk, for the organization and the individual at the centre of the decision.  Moving the dial with these types of buyers requires more than a bit of effort, which is why change is also hard for sellers; it is much easier and safer to rationalize, and wait for a referral.

This is why there is a healthy and growing industry of sages ready to sell indisposed sellers every mean of just waiting at the edge of the forest, encouraging them to wait for something to come out to them, rather than entering the fray and winning business most sellers seem reluctant to peruse.

How much effort does it take? Well take a minute, step back and look around you and study what it takes for people to make critical changes in key their lives. Frighteningly, you discover that people don’t often make big changes, right changes, preferring to avoid and live with the consequences of the Status Quo.  Even when they know that the new state is preferable to their existing one.  The naive notion which many buy into that people will move to a better mouse trap has cost both sellers and buyers much time and money.  You can build the better mouse trap, Trap 2.0, and people will rodent infestation will maybe look your way, then rationalize why they shouldn’t beat a path to your door.

Don’t believe me, how many people do you know who continue to smoke, even after their father expired due to lung cancer; how many people do you know who continue to biggie size it, despite the fact that they have to buy a new wardrobe every six months?  People can change these with a effort if they wanted to, but it takes effort.  How many times have you watched companies go to the brink or beyond because the devil they knew was a better alternative to the one they didn’t know?

The answer is not offering the “right” or “better” solution, or in becoming their friend.  It is about penetrating the barriers the buyers have erected to protect their current state.  Your only choice is to shock them, shock your way past their fortress of hope.  Hope it will work out, hope it will last, and hope no one will notice.  For the “be found crowd”, this is not an issue, the buyer has dismantled the barriers, and are ready to change, but for the Status Quo, intervention time.

Now I am not talking about clamping a couple of electrodes to your buyer’s temples (or elsewhere); but I am talking about asking hard and very direct questions, which at best could be called provocative, at worst a punch below their reality belt.  One does not have to be rude, but one does have to shake things up, which means the ultimate relationship you have starts out a bit rough, but ends up being a solid one, built on being a reliable resource, not a cuddly friend.

There is plenty of writing and thinking out there about how to succeed with the Status Quo, mine, others who provide means and questions you can use.  But the first step is for you as a seller to recognize and decide how you want to deliver value to your buyer.  Once you decide that you can do more than just take orders from ready buyers, and win more business who may not think they need you or your offering, there are plenty of resources to help you, but as with other changes, you need to first admit that you are a card carrying member of the Status Quo.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto  

Why Are You Ignoring The Biggest Part of Your Target Market? – Sales eXchange 1915

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


There seems to be wide agreement that at any given time, only a small percentage of your target market is Actively Looking for what your are selling, estimates seem to be about 15%.  A similar percentage, fall into a group I call Passively Looking, leaving about 70% of the target group is removed from the market, not looking, or working hard to look the other way, the Status Quo.  Many pundits will tell you to stay away from the 70%, erroneously telling to avoid these apparently entrenched potential buyers, and spend your time with the other two groups.

Sure that is easier prey, but at the same time it is prey that is surrounded and stalked by every other sales person looking for an easy kill.  Although you have to ask why it is easy, well, not only are these Passive and Active buyers, self declared, but they have been engaged gathering information, (if not knowledge).  One bit of information they have is that most leading products’ feature overlap as much as 80% – 90%, leaving sellers a small and narrow platform to succeed from, leaving little more than price to lean on.  Just like on the savannah, the weakest go first, the sale goes to the lowest price.

Time to be contrarian, stop chasing the obvious, and sell to those who may not be in the market, but still have objectives and opportunities they want to achieve in their business.  The conventional wisdom is that you spend no time with the Status Quo, as one pundit insists:

“They are happy, not looking, satisfied with things as they are”.

The notion that they are satisfied, does not limit their desire to improve their situation, or that they are not open to better ideas.  Sadly that view makes one a victim of selective perception, see what you want to see, in this case a sale that will require effort and skill, rather than the easy fray of the self-declared buyer.  Believing that business people and business owners would ignore a means of improving or doing things better is just naive and dangerous; if you are reading this and are a business owner or executive – would you ignore something that could improve things even as little as 5%?

The reality, is that satisfaction is a poor measure of selling opportunities, more and more buyer are looking at how they can move forward rather than why they should stay where they are, especially when where they are is not optimal to their business now or moving forward.  It is clear that many sellers are leaving money on the table using satisfaction as a threshold for change, for example, according to Bell & Patterson, in their “Customer Loyalty Guaranteed’, they show that “75% of customers who leave or switch vendors for a competitor, when asked, say they were ‘satisfied or completely satisfied’ with the vendor they left, at the time they switched.”

It is clear that those in the Status Quo are more likely :

“Buyers who have yet to be presented with, or perceive the right solution required to achieve their objectives or market opportunities.”

Getting to those buyers involves work, you need to use efforts and ideas that, not apps and tools.  This may not be new, fresh, simple or specific economy dependent.  It involves proactively engaging with buyers based on their current objectives, and presenting innovative thinking.  Not necessarily products or solutions, again with 80% – 90% overlap, success comes down to how they can use the product to impact their business, their objectives, their opportunities.

Stop following the crowd, and track your target market, the big market.  Ditch the product, and embrace their objectives, engage on that level and the product follows, more importantly, you have an unhurried sales cycle, as there is no crowd nipping at your heals, and you have a client that buys and pays full price for value, not negotiating on price.

You can start by reading Mine The GAP, and go from there; come back next Monday to see how you can shock the process forward with the Status Quo.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Old Fashioned Sales Tactics that Your Small Business Can Utilize117

Guest Post – Megan Totka
Most businesses, whether they are small, large, brand new or established, are turning to more high tech sales tactics to gain and retain customers. This of course is an important part of marketing and sales. High tech sales tactics have become important over the past couple of years because so many people have moved such basic parts of their consumer life online. Due to this shift, more traditional sales practices have been rendered moot. Many industries that offer advertising in print, such as newspapers and magazines, are no longer as successful as they once were.

Customers not only turn to the web to research products that they are interested in, they are increasingly more likely to make the purchase there as well. Companies are using this as a reason to focus all of their sales tactics and marketing dollars to the Internet. While this may seem like a good idea, the entire population is not yet Internet-savvy, and even those who are heavy internet users can still appreciate what might be considered old-fashioned marketing. It’s all about keeping the customer happy anyway, right?

Probably the most dynamic and important traditional marketing strategy is person to person marketing. Personal presence is a great sales tactic for so many companies. Even companies that are internet-based can benefit. If your company does not have a storefront, there’s still tons of opportunities to get out into your community – or any community, really, if you are based online – and show people what you have to offer. Some great places to consider getting out and talking to people would include community events like markets or festivals, job fairs, business expos or trade shows, college career days, and more. If a potential customer sees you while you are out and about, chances are good that they will remember the name of the company associated with the friendly face they chatted with. Since we are human and the need for interaction is one of our core qualities, meeting someone face to face is nearly always going to be more memorable than a phone call or e-mail.

Holding your own events as a company can be a great idea also. You can hold events at your storefront, if you have one. Or, consider partnering with a similar business or businesses at a local fair, festival, or special event to promote each other. For example, a new, online kids clothing boutique could partner with a photography studio and offer a special for a free photo shoot with purchase, or a coupon for a discount on clothing with every photography session purchased. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. Make sure that all representatives from all companies involved are friendly and knowledgeable about products and services offered by the other companies that are present.

Print marketing is another choice when it comes to old fashioned marketing techniques. Yes, I know earlier in the article I mentioned that print marketing is on the way out. And for the most part, it feels like it is. However, there are still some instances in which print marketing can be very valuable. Print is still one of the more common ways that companies offer coupons and discounts to their customers. Print marketing companies such as Val-Pak still mail coupons to their customers. Bed Bath and Beyond is another that sends paper coupons. Small businesses can also utilize smaller publications. Think local magazines, community newsletters, and even ad books for local sports teams. Print advertising is often inexpensive. It doesn’t have to be fancy, either. Simply a company logo, clear contact information and an offer (coupon, discount, etc) make for the most effective print ads.

There are certainly many times and places to use Internet marketing.  It’s even okay to use it as your primary marketing strategy. You can even hire a company to do your internet advertising for you if that’s what you want.  Just don’t forget that more traditional marketing strategies are still relevant.

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She writes on business news and small business tips for Chamber’s business directory. ChamberofCommerce.com is the largest Chamber of Commerce online.

Selling Like Greece!30

Every morning the financial pundits stick their finger in the air, and tell us how things are looking in Europe, and the Greek crisis, then they parade a series of talking heads to support the daily view. Things look good, markets rally; things look bad, markets tank. Many sales people start their day watching these pundits on say CNBC, or on their favourite app, but fail to take away the clear and real lesson that could help them sell better and more. As a result, they end up selling like Greece.

When you boil it down, the “crisis” (real, manufactured, or imagined), boils down to a simple thing, exemplified best, (or worst) by Greece, a country that simply does not have enough money to deliver against their obligations. Yes I know this may terribly over simplify things but after all I am a pundit of sorts, and as such at the very least I have an agenda to promote; Greece just does not produce enough revenue to meet their obligation; add the contagion factor, and you have a snap shot of Europe and their crisis.

Read On…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Hanging Out with @GlobeSmallBiz: How to develop a Winning Sales strategy45

Hanging Out with @GlobeSmallBiz: How to develop a Winning Sales strategy

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business’ Small Business interview series on Google+ Hangout. As the title suggests, we discussed a number of topics relating to sales, and sales challenges important for small business owners.

This was not only a great use of the technology, but we covered a number of key issues potential pitfalls, and opportunities for small business owners.

Take a look, comment, enjoy, and profit.


What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

An ‘Easy Button’ for Prospectors!49

Success in sales comes down to ensuring you allocate enough time to the right activity, high-value activity, and how well you execute those activities.  So any time you can find a tool that helps you reduce the time it takes you to do a high-value activity, and lets you do it in a better way with better results, you know you have a competitive advantage.  Add to that the real bonus that it is cost effective, and you have a sales tool that is a no brainer.

The tool in question is Leadferret.

LeadFerret, the world’s largest B2B database offering a full range of information one needs for prospecting success.  You have full access to complete data, including an email address for every record.  For Social Sellers and Sales 2.0 aficionados, you will like the social media links for many records, allowing you to act instantly, find a prospects contact info and find out more about them from their linkedin, facebook, and twitter profiles/pages. 

For those like me, frugal, the best thing about LeadFerret is … it is completely FREE. 

You don’t have to upload any data, earn any points, or pay anything.  Just go to LeadFerret.com, search for the records you want and you’ll soon be viewing them on your screen without paying a dime, or jumping through any hoops.

Other than rejection, the biggest challenge sellers talk to me about is sourcing quality leads, with accurate data, in a cost effective way.  LeadFerret offers exactly that.  Quality leads give you the confidence to reach out and engage with the right prospects, start the sale off right and build velocity as you move the sale forward to a more solid and value based close.

LeadFerret has a range of great search tools, giving you the ability to search by radius from your office, search by SIC and NAICS tools, search by title, search by company size; you can easily build a list of target contacts and companies from records you find while searching, hit the ground running, freeing up time to prospect and sell, not wait for people to find you.

In sales as in business, if you can find someone who will do it better, faster than you can, you need to leverage that to gain time and execution advantage, given the wealth, depth of the data  and it’s cost, which is none, LeadFerret is an easy choice for productivity and sales gains.

And as we said before, best of all it’s free, give it a whirl.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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