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

Sales Pollution (#video)2

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Biz TV

Words set expectations for buyers, and they impact the way sellers act and execute their sale.  Words are a big part of sales, and it is important that sales people think about which words they use, when and how.  As in other parts of life certain words have meaning in some context while not in others, words become fashionable, and then become over used.  Make sure you use words that complement your actions and have meaning and engage the buyer, rather than turning them off or worse.

Here is what I mean:

Sales Polution

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!

How Many Sales People Can Dance On The Head Of A Pin?0

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Sales Pin

Ever wonder why some companies can generate as much revenues with less sales people than others with more?  I think it has to do with the hoarder mentality that permeates sales thinking.  “The more territory, the more accounts I get, the better I will do”.  Yet often the opposite is true, more often than not, less is more in sales accounts and territories.

I remember when I was given responsibility for a new region, eight sales people looking after 13 states.  First thing I asked them to review the status of their top ten accounts, recent activity, and their specific plans for the next 12 months (pre CRM days).  Each of the eight territories, had some 300 – 500 accounts; on average, the top ten accounted for 72% of revenues in the territories, ranging from a low of 64% to a high of 82%.  Coincidentally, around the percentage mark of where they were to quota.  Their coverage plan was routine rather than inspiring, and growth was going to be more from momentum and rhythm, rather than execution of a structured plan.

I then asked them when they last saw or spoke to account number 25, account number 51, and number 100.  As you may expect, #25, sometime in the last six months, one remembered speaking to number 100 at Christmas, mostly because they called in to update their password, a call they transferred to their inside account support person.

When I asked them what can be done to hit their goals, all but one suggested that we add accounts to their territories that were homeless due to a recent departure.  When I suggested that I was actually planning to go the other way, reduce the number of accounts down to about 50 per rep, the hording gene really kicked in.  “That crazy Canadian, I always knew they were socialists, he is looking to nationalize my accounts, reduce my empire”.

Well I wasn’t going to nationalize, but give it to the support team, who were dealing with accounts number 50 and on as it was.  This would make for less clutter for the territory reps, and provide the clarity they needed to work with their clients, prospect for new opportunities, and drive success.  They thought I was nuts, when I suggested they can have as many accounts as they want to prospect and bring on, 20, 50, 100, whatever they liked.  But with nearly 72% of their revenue coming from ten accounts, it would be easier to grow the ten, add a few juicy new accounts to make goal, rather than spending their time counting accounts from a distance.

The hoarding gene is strong in sales; after all, some of these reps become managers, then directors, and eventually VP’s.  You can tell when you meet them, the solution to everything is adding more resources, more territory, more reps, more accounts; behind on the numbers, “give me another rep”.  At the same time you meet others, who after analysing the data, look to optimize territories to maximize client experience and revenues, shrinking territories to create focus, rather than growing them and creating dilution.

One of the only good things to be said for the recession is it showed many organizations that they could in fact deliver more numbers with less headcount.  Reducing creates focus which drives creativity, when you reduce, the competent reps step up and deliver, while others demonstrate why you may be better off with less.  Sellers always tell you that in sales it is “quality over quantity”, why not apply that to territories and reps as well?

So to answer the question as to how many reps can dance on the head of a pin?  A lot less than you think you need to have on that head.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

3 More Tips For Effective Telephone Prospecting1

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Phone guy

On Monday I wrote about the need to counterbalance for some of the realities of telephone prospecting, and some things sellers can do to compensate.  Today I offer up some other basic things you can do, to improve your success in some simple ways.

Some of these things may seem mundane and basic, but that doesn’t lessen their importance in consistent results from telephone prospecting.  As in sports, music or other crafts, focusing on the most basic aspects is as important as mastering the big things, your messaging, value props, etc.  The balance and combination of the two, augmented by your style and personality are what make for your success.

We spoke about intonation on Monday, we the most basic thing you can do is smile when you are on the phone.  Smile even when you feel like reaching through the line and strangling the person at the other end.  The tone and tenor of your voice is different when you smile, but it does carry over the phone and impacts your listener. We all remember the old song “When you’re smiling – the whole world smiles with you”, is true!  Smiling is something you can practice, sounds odd, but in the heat of the moment, when your emotions kick in, you will forget unless you practice it as part of your routine.

Speaking of practice, yes, you should practice – out loud, and more than once.  Sales people often look at me funny when I suggest they lock themselves in a boardroom or meeting room and practice their approach, be that a prospecting call, an actual sales meeting, anything important.  By practicing, you become not only more confident, but master the salient points much better.  In fact in addition to practicing, I recommend you write down the key points you want to cover, when you write things down you retain them better, just like in collage.  By the way, this does not imply that you are memorizing the “presentation”, I don’t like presentations, but you can apply this to questions you want to ask around key points you need to explore to get the client engaged and in a buying mode.  By practicing and mastering what you want to cover you minimize the need to think (or worry) about what you are going to say, when and how you’ll say it, freeing up valuable bandwidth to focus on what the buyer is say, and processing power to deal with that properly.

For prospecting calls, it is important to practice how you will respond to and manage objections potential buyers have.  It is one thing to download our Objection Handling Handbook, it is another to spend some quality time with it in a room alone and practicing the methods and concepts, much like practicing a playbook in sports.  It may unfold differently on the field, but the practice allows you to react from a base of knowledge.  If the meeting is large, important, or to a committee, spend time visualising the meeting, exploring potential paths it may take, questions, comments or objections participants may pose.  You’ll find that you’ll be much more prepared for the expected and the unexpected.  The same works for a prospecting call.

Finally, and it may seem small, stand up when you make calls, get a headset so you can use your hands to express yourself the way you would in a direct conversation.  With Bluetooth headsets, you now have the freedom to walk around, feel and be relaxed, and that too carries over the phone and adds to your intonation.  Add a mirror to the equation and you can really affect the way you speak, and how they hear you at the other end.  Some say this sounds bizarre, but to bring it full circle, I remember taking a telephone skills program from Bell back in the 80’s, and when we finished the course, we were given an 8 x 6 mirror, and in Bell blue at the bottom it said “Smile”.  Worked then, and still works now, as long as you commit and execute.

 

Don’t Forget To Enter The Big Contest!!
See Biz Stone, Seth Godin and others

 

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

It Is Personal0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

The Happiness of Pursuit

One questionable piece of advice sellers are given is not to take “things personally”. While I understand the sentiment behind it, encouraging sellers to not go down a dark hole, there is something wrong with telling professional sales people, in fact professionals of any type, not to take it personally. The reality is that part of successful selling is conviction, not just in your ability to add value to the buyer, but and in how you sell. It is hard to have that and not be passionate about selling, and as soon as passion is involved, it also becomes personal.

Certainly there are parts of the sales cycle that you can remove yourself somewhat from the emotions of the sale, usually during the prospecting stage, especially if you are a proactive rather than a passive prospector. When you first reach out to a potential buyer they don’t know you from Adam, and the goal is to get them engaged. Initial rejections are more situational than directed; meaning that they are not rejecting you as an individual, but what you represent, an interruption. But as you get engaged and are working through the sale, you get more emotionally involved, things do become a lot more personal.

It is that emotional involvement that often allows you to go deep with a buyer. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious, and it’s something you want your buyers to catch. After all, we are constantly reminded that people buy on emotion, then rationalize their decision, so it only helps if you are going to connect with the buyer on that level as well.

A more workable and realistic goal is to understand that you do need to get involved on a number of levels, that it does get personal, and that you need to be able to deal with and manage the outcomes whether they go your way or not. The ability to step back, assess the circumstance, and move on to the next sale. No different than the expectation and practice in professional sport.

By assessing the outcome you achieve a number of positives that help with the personal aspect. First you can evaluate how well you did execute you plan and process and understand why perhaps you lost the deal. I say perhaps, because there isn’t always a clear answer all nicely wrapped, if the result of the assessment is ambiguous, you will still have to deal with the outcome and move on.

But if the analysis of the deal and outcome are not ambiguous, then you are in a great position to learn, both what you want to repeat and to accentuate moving forward, and what to avoid and improve. While this may not take away the sting of a lost deal, it does help you benefit in some way, cope, and have a reason to give it another go with your new insight.

It is very much the emotion we bring at sellers that helps us win deals where most all other things are equal. It is precisely then that you need to go deep, and leave yourself open to disappointment, and yes it does become personal precisely because of that; and given the opportunity I would advise you to get emotionally involved and deal with the outcome win or lose. After all, they only give you the advice about it not being personal when you lose, it seems they are OK with it being personal when you win.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What’s A Better Seller? – Sales eXchange 1990

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Blue Collar

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of discussing sales and selling with Charles Adler, Canada’s Boss of Talk.  Charles had read my piece in the Globe and Mail on the difference between a blue-collar approach to selling and the white-collar approach.  We explored other aspects of sales and successful people, take a listen, and let me know or Charles (@charlesadler), know what you think.


What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Emotion + Risk in Getting Buyers to React and Act! (#video)0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

roller coaster

Today I feature the third excerpt from my discussion with Ago Cluytens, for one his Coaching Masters Series interviews.  Today we look at the roles played risk and emotion in getting buyers to not only react, but act.

In Monday’s clip, I talked about the fact that you don’t need to waste time in waiting for an event to engage with a potential buyer, what you are looking for is the reaction, not the event.  Two things that get reactions every time are risk and emotion.

But while it is true that buyers buy on emotion and the rationalize that decision, it is also true that there are other factors such as risk, stories, sounds, and other factors a seller can leverage to get a buyer to react and more importantly to act.  It is easy to get a ready buyer to react and act, but you need to use many things to get a complacent buyer to engage, react and act.

Take a look:

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

Be Provocative in Demonstrating Results (#video)0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

Monday I shared a clip from a discussion with Ago Cluytens, for one his Coaching Masters Series.  Today’s second clip looks at the need to be provocative in gaining traction with entrenched potential buyers.

The challenge many of in sales face is the entrenched buyer who is reluctant to look at new or alternative means of achieving his/her goals.  This is usually due to the fact that they are entrenched in how they are doing things now, feels there are too many resources needed to make a change, and a host of other reasons.  In order to get engagement, we need to demonstrate the results we can deliver and the positive and measurable impact we will directly deliver to their business and attaining their goals.  In a WIIFM world it is about the What, not how of how they get there.

Here is more:

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

 

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

 

 

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