Welcome to The Pipeline.

Happy New Year!21

So here we are, December 31, last day of 2010, a year that many will be glad to see end, others having seen it as a brighter alternative to 2009, either way a day to celebrate accomplishments and to look forward to challenges of 2011.

In celebrating 2010, I looked back and selected a post from each month over the last 12 months.  These are not necessarily my best post from each month, but ones that on reflection caught my fancy.  See if you agree, and if you don’t we’ll still be friends.

January:
Socializing Sales

February:
Stoke Your Sales Fires

March:
Reputation 2.0

April:
Change – Or – Improvement

May:
Saturday Sales Tip – 18 – Take It Away!

June:
Out Of The Box Thinking

July:
What’s My Job?

August:
Velocity – Sales Myth or Objective – Sales eXchange – 57

September:
PRIDE – Part III – Initiative

October:
The Proactive 20% – Sales eXchange – 68

November:
Is Your Pipeline Managing You?

December:
Coming Attraction Call – Sales eXchange – 74

Looking forward to 2011, I will continue to post three times a week, but there will be some new and I think interesting features that will make The Pipeline a better experience for all of you.  One thing is the introduction of a weekly post by a guest blogger.  These bloggers will include the best in sales and other practices, sharing their views and best practices.  Stick with us and by this time next year you will have had the opportunity to be introduced to 52 different opinion leaders, and the ability to continue enjoying them on their blogs.

We will also be making more regular use of media other than print, including video, audio and who knows what else.

So are you ready for 2011, I am bring it on!

Happy New Year!
Tibor Shanto

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PRIDE – Part V – Evolve – Sales eXchange – 6225

As touched on in the last post on Decisive Action, sales people are as susceptible to the Status Quo as our prospects are, and for almost the same reasons. This is why it is one of the most important of the five attributes of PRIDE, the others being:

Many sales people are stuck in their ways, while they may learn to keep up with the evolution of their product line, they fail to evolve their approach to selling. The problems is that while this may not always lead to total disaster, it leaves them consistently short of their potential, and as a result they do not deliver full value to either their clients or their companies.  What they see as 12 years of career and professional progression is really little more than the same year playing itself out 12 times with strikingly similar results. Whatever small progress they make is reclaimed by the natural march of time. 

At the same time when you look at sales professionals who consistently deliver, they are the same reps who continue to evolve, reinvent their sales approach while adopting new tools and methodologies.

Here are some scary thoughts:

  • Fewer than 20% of sales people will buy a sales book in given year, and fewer again will actually read one
  • Less than half of businesses have formal sales training programs for their sales people. (To be fair, some budget for staff to attend ad hock off site programs, which good, but does not lead to cohesion or consistency).
  • Less than 30% of new front line sales managers receive sales management training when they are promoted

Not a picture of a progressive group, can you imagine pilots or lawyers taking the same attitude: would you fly an airline boasting a team of pilots that has not been trained in years, after all, they had training in 1999.

What is surprising is how little is involved in upping your game.  Let us say you don’t want to bother buying or reading a book, there dozens of great sales sites and blogs you can access, and for the most part free, see a partial list below.  All offering great insights, techniques, strategies, either in the form of postings, webinars, whitepapers, e-books, or all of these form.

In fact, some of the free resources are much better than the traditional media sites.  Many of the experts behind the blogs are still practicing and selling daily, the advice delivered is road tested first hand every day.  Whereas the publisher sites are traditional when it comes to content and revenue model and the advice tends to less than subtly reflect that.

In some ways it is not surprising that some sales people are stuck in their ways, many of their managers are stuck in their ways as mentioned above.  Add to this the fact that some in the sales enablement industry have been preaching the same thing the same way for years.  I remember being trained by one specific training outfit over a dozen years ago, today their content is still the same, whatever you ask is always answered the same way, even their work material is the same, with the exception of the cover which is now in colour. 

As with most things in the PRIDE model, it comes down to attitude and the will to do what has to be done.  If indeed you are a sales professional committed to bringing their best game each and every day, then you have likely resigned yourself to the fact that each day will differ slightly from the day before, which then demands that you to differ slightly than the day before.  This goes beyond being “better”, it goes to being more willing to do one thing you did not do the day before; stretching and pushing the limits, expanding the base, and taking PRIDE in your chosen profession.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Partial list of site that will help you and your selling Evolve:

Selling to Big Companies by Jill Konrath

Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog — Making A Difference by David Brock

The Sales Blog by S. Anthony Iannarino

SalesBlogcast by Doyle Slayton

A Sales Guy by Jim Keenan

The Science and Art of Selling by Alen Majer

Sales and Sales Management Blog by Paul McCord

Selling to Consumers by Skip Anderson

Fearless Selling by Kelley Robertson

The Queen of Cold Calling by Wendy Weiss

PRIDE – Part IV – Decisive Action!27

As we continue looking at what every successful sales rep needs to bring to their game daily, we come to one where the title alone should be enough, especially given the elements that proceeded it.  Just to remind you quickly PRIDE consists of:

At first glance, this should be a relative no brainer, but as we all know it is not. I would say there are two elements at play here; the first is just the act of doing something, anything; second, is doing it in a decisive straightforward and confident fashion.

I am not sure why there is often a softness and reluctance to act, or more accurately “do”. Most know that specific actions have to take place, but do not do them. Beyond the actions discussed in the previous post pertaining to initiating interaction with potential buyer, this goes more to the obvious actions sales people must do in the course of a sale. 

In some ways, it is not a surprise given that we live on a continent where obesity is dealt with not by addressing the underlying issue, over eating and lack of activity; instead, it is dealt with by changing the definition of obesity, lowering standards and setting the threshold to a higher weight.  Is it a surprise that we can’t get people to take action in other important aspects of their life, like career in the case of sales.

As with obesity or fitness, the solution for sales people is clear but not easy, mostly because it involves change, specifically behavioural change, very personal stuff.  In the end, it seems we love the Status Quo as much as our prospects do.

Much like in fitness, there are miracle cures, they offer up the latest and greatest Abs Machine, and the sales enablement industry offers up magic ways to find more prospects and close sales without effort.  However, we all know that momentary improvement realized when adopting one of these things is more the result of actually doing something vs. doing nothing before, rather than any magic to the tool.  Get off the couch after five years and you shed some pounds; take a proactive approach to executing your sales plan and the prospects will react and engage.  I know it sound straight forward, but I also know I see sales people squander opportunity after opportunity because they will not act.

One example is when sales people fail to follow through with prospects, they say things like “they know I am here, if they want it they will call”.  No they won’t, chances are they didn’t call you in the first place, they have others things “to do”, more importantly you have competitors who are calling them, making it easy to act.  If you are not “there”, it is hard to transact.   This is no small thing and not as rare as you are telling yourself it is right now, I know some of you are moving away from the mirror right now. 

I have seen reps work hard to get in front of a prospect, do a good job on Discovery, make a compelling case for their product, earn the right to submit a proposal, and then just sit back, and do nothing but wait.  When you ask where things are, I hear things like “I don’t want to be pushy”, or “I don’t want to bother them.”  While I am not advocating “pushy”, I do advocate following through, if you are in B2B sales, you are not in a “self serve” environment, you need to pursue thing to the end, not the bitter end, but the end of the sales process. 

If you have submitted a proposal, I am assuming you submitted it because you successfully completed a thorough Discovery process; demonstrated the impact vis-à-vis the buyer’s objectives, and the prospect was looking forward to receiving the proposal as much as you were ready to submit it.  Anything short of that you should hold off and finish your work before taking the time to prepare and submit a proposal. 

It should not be a case of “let’s see how many proposals I can get out and how many will stick?”  A proposal should be the culmination of a series of decisive steps taken by both you and the prospect leading to an agreement moving forward.  This will not happen if you are tentative in your approach or actions.  The goal is to stand out by “being present”, not by “being absent”.

You see this type of tentative vs. decisive behaviour and action earlier in the cycle too.  I never understand why sales people say to a potential prospect “I was hoping to get together”, or “I was wondering if we could…”.  I am sure when they picked up the phone they wanted, and were not hoping, and that is what you have to project.  Softness is not your friend, decisive confident action is; would you want to put your trust and faith in someone soft and tentative or someone decisive.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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PRIDE – Part III – Initiative22

When it comes to the “I” in PRIDE, I was torn; I could have just as easily gone with Innovation as Initiative.  In the end, I had to go with Initiative, as it is the more action oriented, and emphasises the need to execute rather than being better or more important than Innovation. Since the first two elements focused more on attitude and mind set, I think it is important to initiate action. As the “I” sits right in the middle of PRIDE, really cannot afford to linger and not act.

To review PRIDE represents:

It serves to remind that once you have a Regiment in place, and take a Proactive stance, you do have to initiate action.  

The great thing about being proactive and using a regiment to keep focused, is the very fact that you can, and as I’ll argue need to be very innovative in the way you initiate and execute your sale.  The reality is that while you are targeting a specific buyer, so is everyone else targeting that same buyer.  When I say everyone, I don’t just limit it to other providers in your segment, but everybody: the phone guy, the coffee guy, copier, software, data, window cleaners, sales trainer, banker, document creation, document destruction, right down to the guy bringing clean mats every other Wednesday.  So unless you show some REAL Initiative, and get REAL Innovative, you’ll be just a face in the crowd, even if you are tall and good looking.  

This is why the grounding and confidence you get from the Regimentation, allows you to focus more on being innovative, taking and seizing Initiative.  Much like in music, you can’t really improvise or be innovative with your playing until you have mastered the basics.  Most people need to become craftsmen before they can become artists.  In today’s competitive environment you need to be an artist when it comes to selling B2B.

Initiative can manifest itself in a number of ways, and for the most part transcend skills.  Here are  a couple of examples.  One is doing what you know has to be done to get the sale, not short cuts, no excuses.  Most sales people know what has to be done, yet they don’t do it.  Some are right that they lack the training, but I see people continue to procrastinate, avoid and rationalize not doing specific things.   Not a lot of things bother me during workshops, but one thing that always catches my ear is “well it is different in our industry, you can’t do that!”  There may be shades of difference, but the fundamentals remain similar for most B2B sales pros.  You need prospects, you need to Engage, you need to complete the Discovery to understand the clients objectives and put yourself in a position to help them, Gain commitment, and then Execute; the EDGE Framework

Another place to show some initiative is to truly focus on the client and their objectives the buyer.  Many people talk to this, but when you hear their approach to Engaging or Discovering where the buyer is really at, you see them fall back into the comfort of pitching as opposed to taking information.  Some confuse being subservient with being service oriented.  But if you consider that the serious buyers, knowledgeable buyers are looking for a knowledgeable resource, a source of advice.  If you rely entirely on product knowledge, you risk the buyer not seeing value in you as an advisor and by extension your product.  So take the initiative to learn not only about the buyer’s broader industry and company situation, but also about the impact of what is going on with downstream customers, and their suppliers.  Sounds straightforward, but not always common.  Even if you are selling simple tools, you project and provide greater credibility if you can talk to other areas of focus for the buyer, no matter how far removed from your brochure.

Initiative can be shown in how you approach a customer, in the ways you are willing to distinguish yourself.  Simple thing, everyone talks about it, few do it, a thank you note after a meeting, I can’t even get some people to send a thank you e-mail.  How about a thank you card for business or referrals.  An agenda, takes a minute to draft, leaves a lifetime impression.  There are plenty more.  Show some initiative in who you choose to engage with; because how and with whom you initiate a sale has a direct impact on the velocity of the sale and the eventual outcome. So take some initiative, go talk to someone up the ladder, beside and below the usual suspects, leave those to the crowd.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

To my Jewish friends and readers, I wish you all a Shana Tova, a healthy and prosperous 5771.

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PRIDE – Part II – Regiment27

On Monday I introduced this series dealing with the five attributes of successful sales professional share and excel at, they are all:

  • Proactive
  • Regimented
  • Initiative
  • Decisive and Action oriented
  • Evolve

Or what we coined Pride.  Leading sales professionals PRIDE in what they do, and they bring PRIDE to their work every day.

I had some good feedback on the Proactive segment, one of particular interest came from Bonita Read, who rightfully pointed out that PASSION, is also a critical attribute, and I agree 100%, a rep without passion is one that will not perform, and since Passion also starts with a P, it is very easily added to the mix.

Today we’ll look at Regiment or Regimented – defined as: to form into an organized group, usually for the purpose of rigid or complete control.  Or: To put into systematic order; systematize.

Most sales people do not like Regiment, many are uncomfortable with concepts like rigid, control or systematic.  Many still buy into the notion of the sales person as the “the last cowboy” blazing into the “last frontier” of capitalism.  In the past I contrasted the difference in attitude between athletes and sales people, and the level of commitment athletes bring to the whole process, rather than just the parts the like.

In a sales context, I would define Regiment as a combination of discipline and accountability.  The big demand of regiment is the discipline required to execute things in a through and consistent fashion.  Spending as much time doing the things we don’t like, because they are important, as we do the thing we do like, which are also important.  Time and time again, I see sales people looking for short cuts, taking credit when they find one and have success, or sometimes it finds them because inadvertently they are in the right place at a convenient time, an accident in reverse. 

One example is planning.  I see reps go though the motion of “creating a plan”, and as importantly, their managers allowing them to pretend they have a plan.  One consistent complaints I get from VP is the general lack of quality of their teams account plans, even among mature teams covering Key Accounts. The problem is compounded when they and their managers buy in to the false belief that some on their teams have god given skills and don’t need a plan, which just tells the rest of the team that planning is optional or a make work exercise to cover the rear end of someone in management.

These same reps will spend days discussing the game plan for their favorite sports teams.  Just witness the focus and energy about to be expended in the weekly ritual of NFL pools, I’ll bet that some sales people put more thought and in to those picks than some accounts they work on.  Trying to get them to apply this to specific meetings, is often met with remarks reminding us that they know what they have been doing, having done it for the last 12 years.  Planning is just one example, when you suggest that they actually work through or practice a meeting in advance, the pushback just intensifies.

In reality, I think that Regiment is not limiting, but demanding, and as such requires more work than many are willing to do.  I truly believe that those sales professionals who do bring discipline and accountability to their sales, who demonstrate the PRIDE in all their sales actions have understood that to make the “big money” to be a professional, have accepted that discipline helps them manage and accomplish more and better.  By being accountable to themselves first, client second, they achieve much greater freedom and autonomy than others pretend to by avoiding it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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