Welcome to The Pipeline.

Why Are You Still Doing Pipeline Reviews?2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Nigeria Sale Concept

Why?

While this long entrenched ritual has some utility, it more often than not ends up being a painful and torturous waste of time. Reps are rarely truly prepared and while this is not excusable, it is usually because they feel that regularly these are a CYA exercise their managers go through. Numerous times I have seen mangers schedule their pipeline reviews just in advance of their review with their higher ups in the hierarchy, not much in that for the rep but the stress.

The whole concept of a pipeline “review” is flawed and a practice that should be a relic of the past, a past where CRM’s did not exist, and managers had to submit everyone to the grind, be that one-on-one or a group agony. Some still tell me that a pipeline review meeting is conducted to confirm and validate the information in the pipeline on each deal, be that end date, deal size, weighted likelihood of closing, and other data are all accurate. Why? Their answer “Managers need to ensure that their sales forecast is accurate, questionable opportunities that could impact accuracy, need to be identified, flagged and or removed.” CYA, fun with numbers, the manager brings his/her subjective bias to things, the Director adds his/hers, and by the time it makes it “upstairs” the plot and theme of the story has little to do with the rep.

The other subtexts is about coaching “Great coaching opportunity”, but is it. I find most use it to talk deal and tactical strategies to closing the deal now, a good thing, but not coaching. In fact when I ask most front-line managers if they have an annual coaching plan for individual reps, the answer is no, which is why the coaching is tactical and situation, all of which would improve if they were aligned to an ongoing development plan.

Others will point to the need for data quality, but I have always wondered why focus on the quality of the data rather than the quality of execution, if you had that, the data would be much better to start with.

So what is the alternative?

Switch gears, go from reverse to forward, from Reviews to Previews. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against reviewing deals, why we win, lose or get no decision at all, and there are many lessons to be gained. But if you want to help reps with their pipeline, and change ongoing performance, close more and beat quota, you need to look forward. Do pipeline Previews. Look at active opportunities they will be interacting with in the coming week, a better focus. Who are they going to see, why that person, what are they looking to specifically accomplish that will move the opportunity forward or allow them to disqualify it, yes take it out of the mix, what are the potential roadblocks, resources they may require achieve things. Examine how many new (real) opportunities are in the pipeline this week over last. These are not only more forward looking, more telling about the quality of execution but an opportunity to coach in the present, when it can make an immediate and long term impact, rather than review the past. Question of Leading vs. Lagging indicators and related actions. Do this regularly, weekly, rather than monthly, do it as a team, great learning by osmosis opportunity. Do not do this at the same time as a coaching meeting, schedule those individually, and another day of the week; yes formal coaching every week, over and above the situational daily coaching.

As I said above, want to increase quality of data, focus on improving the quality of execution. If they were allowed and instructed to take trash out of the pipeline, and coached on how to get real opportunities in, and then how to usher them through to close, the data would not only be impeccable, as well as the results.

Tibor Shanto

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The Two EX’s of Success0

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

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Most people, and contrary to rumors, sales people are people, when faced with completing a task, especially a difficult task or one they don’t like, will do one of two things. I call this the Two EX’s of Success. They will either EXecute, or make EXcuses as to why they did not execute.

Now I know there are some reading this saying that’s not entirely so, there could be reasons, extenuating circumstances, etc., sure there could be, but that doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t make the effort to execute.

Some tell me they weren’t quite ready, they needed to make some adjustments, get ready, needed to have things just so or in place, the cosmos aligned, or whatever.  None of that matters, they didn’t execute.  Maybe I can help you relate differently, you know when your flight is delayed, and you face getting to an important meeting late, doesn’t matter what the airline says, it doesn’t change the fact that it was late.

No matter how badly one executes, it is better than the best excuse.  We can fix things done badly, but you can’t help those that don’t do it, we can’t even begin to evaluate what may need to be addressed.

I can understand the various reason for performance anxiety, poor performance is not a source of pride.  Or is it.  After all don’t we have respect for those who try and fail, then try again, until they make progress, and then start it all again to take things to the next level.  The bonus in sales is you make money as a result and get to keep your job.  The downside is that even make you make excuses you all too often get to keep your job.  This often leads to a culture of excuses.

Let me be clear, I don’t blame the reps, it is usually the managers’ or management’s fault.  If you have kids you know that you need to set the expectations and rules.  When I meet with front line managers and their seniors, and ask what their expectations are of reps, you get clear big picture stuff like results, but little clarity around the activities that lead to those results.  A lack of consistency on reviewing, training and reviewing the activity and the quality of execution.

Further, when those same managers are challenged about the results, their failure to execute their mandate, what do they do, offer up excuses, excuses excepted by senior managers.  I can tell my kids not to feed the dog off the table, but if I do it, what’s the take away?  Discipline is a hard thing to balance, and I am not advocating an intolerant culture, but excuses, no matter how creative, or how hard market conditions may be, will not lead to improvement or success, execution will.

One way to change excuses to execution is to utilize a clear process, a roadmap if you will with activities, objectives, and desired outcomes.  This allows you to take the subjectivity out of discussions, allowing reps to lower defences, and accept that they can do things badly, as long as they do things, rather than being frozen by fear of failing.  Central to success is a proper review regime, again the accountability for this is the manager’s not the reps, and rather than feeling pestered, it will show them you care and willing to help.  Add a solid long term coaching plan, and you have a platform for ongoing success and improvement.

May sound odd, but let’s encourage them to do things badly, rather than accepting brilliant excuses, that probably required more creativity and effort than the completing the task in question.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 

Price – A Hard Habit To Kick – Sales eXchange 171100

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Pipeline Vs. Opportunity Review – Sales eXchange 169128

Some things in sales can be called by various names without much consequence, the underlying subject being very much the same, prospect – potential buyer, information gathering – discovery, and many others; it comes down to words not actions or outcomes.  In other cases the semantics are very important, and cannot be simply interchanged for convenience.  A stellar example of this is the confusion between pipeline reviews and opportunity reviews.  They are not the same, you can equate a pipeline with a funnel and funnel review, it is not the same as an opportunity review, and pretending they are will cost you time and money.

For me both type of reviews are important, in many sales organizations necessary, and if not done right, or just plain not done, could have big consequences.  One of the biggest is lack of engagements by the reps, many having spent countless tedious and unproductive hours in some of these meetings, simply stop taking them seriously, a disengagement that has big negative impact on success.

A pipeline review is a snapshot of the state of the pipeline and the directly contributing factors, usually activity.  Regardless of how you look at your pipeline or funnel, it is likely to have a minimal number of clear stages or sections.  Lead – Prospects – Pre-Proposal – Proposal – Initial (verbal) Agreement – Won Business (Closed).  A pipeline review just needs to look at the opportunities at each stage – are they real, next steps, and volume based on the individual rep’s documented conversion rates.  Are there enough leads to sustain the subsequent stages, and is the rep focused on the right activities.  Reviewing this in a brief efficient, and frequent fashion, leads to continuous movement of the right things through the pipeline or down the funnel.  You can do this review in as little as five minutes per rep, if you have 8 reps, you can be done and wiser in 40 minutes.  If you have a large volume of deals you can cut it back to a more than significant representative sample that will ensure short and snappy meetings.  These pipeline reviews should be done as a group, and in my opinion weekly, you don’t all need to be in the same room, and with today’s technology can be done from anywhere, including the parking lot of your next appointment.

An opportunity review is much more, and could involve a heavy dose of coaching, as such the first difference is that these are done individually with each rep, and therefore not as frequently, not more than once a month.  In this meeting you review each opportunity, how the rep arrived at where they are, strategies on what to do next, and develop a specific action plan.  This where the coaching is key, using the review not only to impact the outcome, but to directly impact how your reps can sell better using a real live scenario as a springboard.  Helping the reps to not only widen their view of the deal, but others like it.  It is an occasion to examine why some opportunities died, and why specifically some were one, or did not take a decision.

Trying to cram both into one meeting is useless, and typifies the KPI mentality many bring to the process, “did it, I can check it off the list”.  They conduct these meetings neither to help their reps, or to understand the state of their pipeline (all their reps’ pipelines rolled up to one), they do it as a CYA exercise.  Usually because they have to go into to a meeting with their seniors, and want to be in a position to answer questions they anticipate.  If they were to conduct both types of meeting separately, ensuring they achieve what they need to from each meeting they would be way ahead.  They would be in a position to directly influence the outcome of their reps activities, and by extension the outcome of the meeting with their reps and results presented.  They would also be in a stronger position going into the meetings with their superiors, not only answering anticipated questions, but presenting in a way and with content that would negate the questions and focus on results.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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