Welcome to The Pipeline.

Ready – Set – Go Part I0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

iStock_start biz race resized

Tuesday we enter the “final half” of the sales year, the unofficial intermission that is summer comes to a figurative end, and harvest season is upon us. Now if you did a good job of ploughing, seeding and nurturing (even fertilizing), in the spring, you are truly in a position to harvest. On the other hand, if you did not tend to your pipeline before the summer, you’re left hoping for rapid growth season before winter descends on your income; too bad they don’t make Miracle-Gro® for pipelines.

Based on which of the above groups you are in, you will need to attack September – December in different ways. If you are in the first group, and invested the time and effort early in the year, and set yourself up for a bumper crop, you have two areas of focus, first to fully harvest and maximize your opportunities; second to set yourself up for success in 2016.

To fully maximize opportunities, start early, segment your pipeline in to two general groups, those that are truly just in need of harvesting, and those that still need some work to complete. In this latter group I would take a close look at those opportunities that based on past experience have the attributes of a deal likely to close this year, and those that, on sober consideration, are not likely to close this year, but will/may likely slip into next year. To be clear this is not to say that you toss or forget or sandbag, in fact the opposite, work them, because they will contribute to next year’s quota, but be practical and think about how you spend your time proportionally. Time is not recyclable, leads (and opportunities) are, invest your time in a way that yields maximum results, now and in the future; divide your time to skew towards those opportunities that are ripe and ready to happen now.

With the opportunities that will close, it is all about coverage, and focus. Start with a recommitment to having a plan and executing that plan. The challenge as always, is having a plan aligned to the buyer’s objective and demonstrating your ability to impact and drive those objectives. Part of that plan is understanding what needs to happen at each stage in order to continue to move the opportunity forward based on previous deals. Map it out so you can identify critical points along the buy/sell trip, and critical actions required to successfully complete those critical points. The map is your planning tool for your meetings and encounters with buyers, helping both you and them agree on next steps and move towards desired and identified outcomes. This will help you accelerate deals, and free up bandwidth to prospect and set yourself up for next year.

Now if you are in the other group, in a panic to make something of the year, tune in next Monday for Part II of Ready – Set – Go.

Tibor Shanto    LI Bottom banner

Small Talk Is For Small People – Sales eXchange 2040

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

David and G

When I talk to sales people about how they start sales meetings with new potential buyers (first time they meet), most (not all) tell me they “break the ice with some small talk”, then they “get in to it!”  We’ll leave the getting into it for another time, what I don’t get is the “small talk” bit, I am not sure that in the current format, as practiced by most sellers is effective, necessary, and at times can be risky to the opportunity.

I am antisocial, (although some have accused me), but spending time talking about the weather, or the useless season the local sports team is having seems counterproductive to the goal of the exercise, helping the buyer move closer to their objectives, and yours.  And while the people buy from people crowd may want to pounce on me, wait.  You can “break the ice”, and set the mood without having to resort to pointless gibberish.

The buyers are all busy, as I should think you are, you obviously said something that caused them to invest an hour of their time with you, it is up to you to maximize the ROT  for both.  Getting to the point may not the worst strategy.  Some buyers may make you feel that they required “small talk”, but that is more conditioning than anything else, if you deliver value by the end of a successful meeting, they will not complain about not having their time wasted.

I am also not suggesting that you jump right into the deep end, I know that the “void” walking between the reception area and the office or meeting room has to be filled, it is how you fill it that can differentiate you from the others.

As you are doing research ahead of your meeting, look for recent events, announcements, or analyst coverage, not specifically related to your product, but significant for the company and or the person you are meeting.  A while back I was meeting with a dairy company that was the first to introduce Omeg3 into a line of product, to accentuate the launch, they introduced a beveled edged carton so it would look different from the other milk cartons on the shelf.

On “the walk” from reception, I asked how the packaging was received, changes they had to make to production, and were they looking to use packaging as a differentiator way with other products.  While this had nothing with what we were meeting about, it indicated to the buyer that I came prepared, that I was taking an interest in the entire business, not just the part I can sell to, and I can relate the benefit of my offering to the other responsibilities he had.  In return, the information he shared with me about the above, helped me refine and better position my value vis-à-vis his objectives.  Small talk, yes, but it beat talking about snow in March or the fact that the Leafs were going to miss the playoffs again.

While we think we are being social with small talk, it can and does often come up being hollow, unimportant, and does not move things forward even one millimetre, in which case, what’s the point.  It is also interesting that many people who don’t like the small talk when they are buyers, rely on it when they are sellers.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Stop making sales predictions and start executing0

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

As some of you may be aware, I have a monthly column on the Globe and Mail’s, usually the third Tuesday of each month.  These pieces are unique from what I usually post here on The Pipeline.  I will post links to these posts as I think they will be of interest to regular readers of this blog.  As always, I invite you to share and comment on the articles on the Globe and Mail site, here, or both.

Enjoy:           Stop making sales predictions and start executing

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What if you could defeat the Status Quo0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

All this week I have posted clips from a recent interview with Ago Cluytens, for his Coaching Masters Series.  We dealt with a number of issues around selling to buyers who are traditionally referred to as being Status Quo.  Being the weekend, I thought it a good time to post the whole interview for your weekend lounging pleasure.

Always interested in what you think, and whether you are more prepared to go forth and sell where many sellers and pundits fear to go.  Take a look, and let me know.

If you enjoy this there are more on Ago’s site.

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



An Empty Wagon – Sales eXchange 1943

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Wyoming Roundup

We have all heard the expression that an empty wagon makes the most noise, no doubt from an older relative trying to tell us that that we were talking a lot, saying very little of substance, worth hearing, or had as near the level of impact as the noise we were making saying it.  Well, I can tell you that there are a lot of empty wagons when it comes to sales and sellers, usually in lack of substance or delivering on the hype.

You see this when sellers embrace half of an idea, usually the easy half, but fail to follow through on the entire concept and end up making a lot of noise as a result.  Specifically in the early stages of the sale, when they resort to talking about how their product/service will improve Productivity, increase efficiencies, reduce Costs, minimize Risk, enhance their work-flow, and a few other generic variations of the same thing.

The half they bought into is the need to go beyond feature – benefit, and venture forth to where they are presenting their offering from the “what’s in it for the client” perspective.  Where they fail to follow through, is in adding specific substance to the above phrases, leaving them beige and generic.  This unnecessarily extends the length of their sale cycle, or kills the sale all together.

Picture yourself as the person getting the calls, dozens of calls every week, from the copier rep, the wireless rep, the IT integrator rep, the office supply rep, the transportation rep, the sales training rep, and the oodles of other reps.  All telling you that they CAN improve your productivity, not HOW they could do that, what the actual impact would be, but just that they can improve your productivity.  Multiple that by all the “buzz-phrases” and by the number of calls, and by Tuesday afternoon, it all sounds like an empty wagon.

It takes little extra effort to replace the generic phrases with actual example.  How do you in fact increase efficiencies, what has been the actual impact of that increased productivity, and how can you best present it in a way that the buyer can relate to in their world.  All you need to do is go past where marketing leaves you, and study some real world examples, be they your customers specifically, or any client your company has helped.  Understand what their reality was before they used your product and service, and where they after taking your offering on board.  Yes, this requires effort, but in the end a lot less effort than the effort it take to push things up the generic hill, the hill where you and every other generic rep looks frighteningly the same and unappealing.

You will quickly move from saying “we help companies like yours increase your efficiency…” to “clients implementing our software have seen an average increase of 8% in the number of units produced per hour, with a reduction of 5% in rejected product, and a 6% reduction in materials used; this has allowed them to increase revenues by 7%, and a 10% rise in profit margin as a result of cost take out”.  Sure there are a couple of extra words, but the substance, weight and specifics they communicate to a potential buyer are more direct and make a lot less noise than the emptiness of the generic descriptions used by most.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sell What You Have – Sales eXchange 1932

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


At the risk of stating the obvious, the job of a sales person is to sell their company’s offering in order to deliver revenue AND Profits for their company.  This can be a challenge at times, but should not be so as a result of our doing.  Some sales people seem to want to sell things they don’t have, at times they do this on their own, other times they let their prospects lead them down a dead end path.

How many times have you heard sales people say that they could sell their product, or more of their product “If Only…..”.  All too many times we allow ourselves to be distracted from what we can sell, and end up losing sales for all the wrong reason.  I am always surprised how many sales people act as though they were in product development rather than sales, sadly some would be better at that than sales; but until they do officially transfer, they need to focus on selling what they have, not what they or the buyer wish they had.

Don’t get me wrong, sales people play a crucial role in the feedback loop that helps your company develop and market your offering better.  But that should not be at the expense of selling what they have now, that is job one.

Part of this comes down to knowledge not only of your own product, you’d be surprised how many sales people know little more than what’s in the brochure or on their websites, but also that of the competition.  It is hard to sell what you have if you don’t know, it is harder to sell if you don’t know how what you have can help the buyer, and harder still if you can’t discuss how what you have applies to the buyer’s world.  You quickly go from an exercise in creative selling to being on your heels in a defensive posture.

The challenge is that with an 80% overlap between most leading products, it mostly comes down to how you sell that will determine the difference.  Your ability to align the attributes of your “solution” to the real requirements of the buyer, based on their objectives, and their obligations to their organizations.  For example, last week I was out with a rep I am tasked with helping, during a routine sales call, the buyer kept interjecting “can your product do this?”, “can your product do that?”  Each time the seller apologizing for the products inability to do some of the things the buyer raised.

The seller clearly had not prepared for the meeting by knowing what his competitors offered and did not offer.  Most of the things the buyer put on the table with their questions were not available from any of the products in the market.  Had he established that this was a wish list, not a requirement, the issue could have resolved.  I finally had to ask the buyer, “I am just curious which product that you currently use allows you to do that?”  A long pause, and a shrug allowed us to move forward.  By asking that simple question we were able to get back to what was required, available and affordable.

Sell what you have, if they are not the right buyer, prospect another, but sell what you have, or you may find that you have all prospects for what you don’t have, and no buyers for what you do.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Unlearn To Earn2

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


There is an ongoing debate as to whether training, specifically sales training, is effective and whether it truly delivers results over the long run. As you would expect there usually10 more opinions than there are participants at any given time, and as it is with most things in sales there is no absolute or right answer. But there some basic that when followed, will deliver measurable improvement in both execution and results.

There is one fundamental that you need to embrace, not a silver bullet, but a simple practice that will facilitate the adoption of new skills, methodologies, and practices that will ensure continuous learning, improvement and results as measure in revenues/clients gained.  This is the ability to unlearn.

This is not always easy and somewhat counterintuitive, we have always been taught to accumulate knowledge build on our experience.  While this may be true in the broader aspects of life, when it comes to selling it doesn’t work so well.  There are only some many things we can bring to play in a given sale, and if we do not make room for new ideas and practices, it will be hard to learn them, practice them and ultimately benefit from them.

By unlearning dated or ineffective practices we not only make room for new methodologies, we train the mind to reach beyond its current limitations.  As we replace the old with newer or reformatted ideas, we stimulate even greater progress as the new blends with the existing, and leads to new combinations that continue to be refined as we put them into practice, in this case the results do evolve beyond the sum of the two.  While you can refine existing practices, there is no denying that if you don’t change the fundamentals, you are not likely to change the whole.  If we don’t unlearn, we not only create clutter in the mind, we create a stagnant environment where while we do accumulate knowledge, we at the same time prevent ourselves from putting it into practice and improving our skills and ultimate results.

We have all met that rep who has read the latest best seller, attended the most up-to-date Sales 8.0 conference, can speak all the right buzzwords, and be proficient at the latest apps and gizmos; while they have everything going, everything but making sales and quota.  As you work with them you quickly realize that they spend all their time, energy and creativity stacking things, rather than combining the right elements to succeed in selling.  One analogy is urban redevelopment, you can keep building up, or you can selectively raze existing structure to make way for improvement; again making space for the new, creating a more vibrant environment.

I paraphrase the old saying that what you are doing now is perfect for the results that you are attaining.  The reality of sales is what you achieve this year will not be enough next year.  While everyone will tell you that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, well if you are a seller there is a third, your quota will grow next year.  I can confidently guarantee that you will not get any more time to deliver those quotas, your only option is make room for new skills, by unlearning some unused, space and thought consuming old ones.

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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The Customer is Not Always Right2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Wrong Lens

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” ~ Steve Jobs, Business Week, May 12, 1998 (thanks to Karri Flatla)

Some myths in sales need to be retired, at or near the top of the list is the commonly accepted notion that the customer is always right.  If they were, we as sales professionals would have no value beyond that of an order taker.  I know there are a lot of order takers out there pretending to be sales people, but that does not make it right.  I am not joking, about the order takers, or the fact all to often, customers are not right, especially when it comes to specific solutions or means to achieving their objectives; and the only thing that is worse is the fact that some sales professionals do not push back against this myth.

Yes it is true that it is their decision, and they can buy what they like, but in the end most buyers do want to buy the right thing for their company, at times they just don’t know any better.  I have always maintained that one of the core values a good (great) sales person bring to a deal is their vast knowledge of a specific areas of practice.  We are if nothing else, conduits to the best practices out there.  I regularly meet sales leaders in companies both big and small, from Fortune 100 companies to the most innovative start ups.  I see more things that work, and more that don’t than any single one of my customers.  That is not a value judgment, but the reality of what I do, a key component of my value.  Just as you see all kinds of companies using your service or product, some using it in the most brilliant ways, ways you never conceived, getting more out of it than you may have imagined before; while others use with less spark than it take to light a match.

As a sales professional it is your job to point out where the buyer’s thinking is wrong, and will likely lead to a bad or inefficient outcome.  Sometimes this easy, buyers genuinely open to suggestions, but just as often they may not appear to be at first, especially when the buyer has done minimal research and comes with preconceptions. This is potential trap for sellers have in a “be found” environment, where sellers are told that the buyer is some 60% through the cycle, and are informed, before they engage with a seller.  Well who is to say that the information they gathered is accurate, complete or really applicable.  A successful sales professional has first hand knowledge of what works, what doesn’t and more importantly why.  It is still true, even in our peer sourcing social selling age that information is not knowledge.

Now how you counter the buyer’s view is key, there is no need to be heavy handed, pompous or impatient; you can have, and should, demonstrate conviction, especially when you do bring real knowledge to play.  Some talk a lot and worry about trust and relationship, I would argue challenging the buyer’s view for legitimate reasons you can back with experience, and will deliver better results based on their objectives, will in fact build trust and enhance a relationship when the client comes out ahead as a result of your challenge and input.

Executed with skill, the buyer will feel and be right with the proper purchase, even if they were wrong at the outset.

What’s in Your Pipeline
Tibor Shanto


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