Welcome to The Pipeline.

3 Reasons To Stand Up To Sell Better – Sales eXecution 2830

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Standing

Not only is standing up healthy, especially for a profession that spends a lot of time on its ass, but there are some specific ways why selling on your feet will help you sell better.

  1. While Prospecting – Most people will prospect sitting behind a desk, some although less and less, will have the phone in one hand, and a pen in the other, or one hand on the keyboard. Leaving them in an awkward position and unnatural position. Better to get a headset, ditch the chair and stand up, walk around, use your hands, and speak as though the person was in the room with you. You can get animated, step into key statements and sound like you are having a conversation, not pitching. If you need to take notes, elevate your notebook (paper or computer). Moving around with help you listen, think and respond better.
  2. When Presenting – Whether you are presenting to an individual or a group, stand up. Most sellers naturally sit down and conduct presentations that way, but it is better to stand, even when presenting to just one person. It gives you an air of authority, expertise, and leadership. Just the simple act of having them look up at you helps reinforce your expertise, and gives greater impact to what you are saying. This important not only when you presenting early in the cycle, but when you are presenting a proposal. As you move around, you become the focus, as you respond to questions you continue to demand attention. You can approach each person as they speak or you want to make a point, you can make a large room an intimate sale.
  3. When You Have To Think – We have all heard the expression “thinking on your feet”, well it is more than a figure of speech. I remember working for an executive who had a smart habit, she looked after her own health and that of the business in an interesting way. Whenever you scheduled an appointment with her, wanting to discuss something, she would take you for a walk, a brisk walk, she could move, outside. Her thinking was that it would limit the junk one would bring, not wanting to schlep stuff around while trying to keep up. You had to come prepared to not only speak what’s on your mind, but also to answer any questions she may have, and with no supporting documentation, or laptop, you had to know your stuff. On the other hand if you did, you would be free of all the paraphernalia, and as with the above two, free to think on your feet and have a great one-on-one with your boss.

Not only is standing and walking better for your health, it is better for selling and winning. Try it out, and when you are truly a convert, and the whether permits, take your new prospect for a walk, on your very first meeting, demonstrate your expertise and value, and get him/her out of the office and usually distractions that come with it.

Tibor Shanto

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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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How To Lose A Sale With Your First Response – Sales eXecution 2826

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Child in calss

When you initially approach an unsuspecting prospect, how you present what you sell will go a long way in determining the outcome.

Yet when you ask sales people to tell you what they sell, a large majority and their managers get it wrong. They will usually tell me things like:

  • I sell hardware – software – any kindaware
  • Systems, or “high end” systems
  • Blah blah blah services
  • MFP Printers
  • Print solutions

These are all good, but in the end these are things that you deliver, literally, in most cases they are a means to an entirely different end. These are also how the user or implementer would define things, after all they are part of the process, not the ultimate beneficiary. If you are an IT person working on implementing a new finance package, the above type of response will suffice, because they are more likely to be part of the selection process, not the buying process, those who have the requirement that drives the selection and implementation.

One interesting follow on to the above is when we drill down on “solutions”, that crowd favourite, juicy, round, yet vague enough to fit most conversations. (Usually only a few words either side of the other great undefined – value) By implication, when you say you have a solution, you should be able to articulate what you can solve for the prospect, in terms they can relate to, not vis-à-vis your quota. Basing your answer to that on the list above will cost you sales. The problem the user or implementer are trying to solve are very different than those that got the project funded and backed. Without that you will always be in the selection pageant, not in the decision tent.

When we push this point a bit, we get a second round of answers, better but not quite there yet. We get:

  • Improved productivity
  • Improved work-flow
  • Efficiencies
  • Peace of mind

No doubt a step forward, but on their as they are above, and in most initial prospecting conversations, they mean nothing, they lack teeth. How can we improve their work-flow or productivity? What specific efficiencies can you introduce that are specific to them, not your offering Remember your offering and that of your two closest competitor, usually known as Column A and Column C, are most likely 85% the same, so if you can’t answer that, the discussion drops to line P, for price.

The answer is really “why do people buy?” People at all levels of the decision. The challenge in selling the first list is it only speaks to the selection folks, not the buying folks; the second list needs to have a lot more specifics aligned with the buyers’ objectives than just identifying their categories. You need to speak to those objectives and outcomes you have delivered. Understanding how they view productivity, and speaking to that in specific terms is a start. They need to be able to visualize and relate to the specifics of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. Same for the financial aspect, time shifts, risk and more. Then you need to be able to present things in a way that aligns with their filters, and each role in the decision will be biased by their role.

The reality is that much has changed in sales, but the fact that first impressions are crucial has not, and how you answer that initial question of “What do you sell?” can make all the difference to your success.

Tibor Shanto

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Forget Social Selling, and Sell Socially2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Doodle social media signs

There are two trends unfolding of in sales which to date have accidentally intersected, which should be proactively encouraged and facilitated by B2B sales organizations. The first not so new, but gaining and likely to continue to gain momentum in the coming years, is the migration by many to inside sales teams, especially types of sales that only a few years ago may not have been seen as feasible for a number of reasons. However given the advances in technology, specifically web meeting and collaboration related apps, it is now more economical, and often leads to a more effective exchange between buyer and seller. Beyond the cost factor of time for both, including travel time for the seller, sharing screens can not only allow for a more thorough exploration of issues, but there is also the ability present your product in a more fluid and contextual manner, without coming across like a heavy handed demo.

The second is newer, although given the incessant hype it just seems like it’s been hanging around for ever, is social media and social applications. While many struggle to define social selling, often resorting to contrasting it to “traditional” selling, most applications are not really new, just executed using new tools.

Taking advantage of social tools and a social approach does present an opportunity compensate for some of the differences between selling face to face, and selling remotely, I would go as far as to say you can fill or avoid some potentially risky gaps in inside/remote selling. Specifically the type of social interaction that directly occurs when you interact with people directly. Not so much between the seller and those people directly involved in the steps of the buy/sell, but more importantly the supporting cast. The receptionist, the EA, the tech support person who helps you when you are visiting.

Visiting being an important concept here. It is no surprise that many “old timers”, regularly interchange the word appointment with visit. There is a lot of to be gained via the social interactions that can be gained while “visiting”.

There are whole bunch of conversations that will never take place when selling remotely that are just part of a visit to a prospect or client. These conversation may not always pertain to the product, or the purchase itself. In fact many of these conversation will happen with people who are not part of the process, but are tuned in, and in a number of ways that sellers can find valuable and move the sale forward. Small talk can add up to a lot.

The social fabric of a company, and the social fabric of the sale is an important component. Especially in an economy where products are interchangeable, but where people are not. In an economy where many senior leaders are more likely to choose one product over another primarily due to consensus among “the group”. The buying group, the user group, the implementation group, and others. Often this consensus is driven by things other than specs and features, and more by things that evolve out of “social interactions”; you know, people buying from people. These secondary relationships are often the little things that give you an edge over a competitor, the ability to influence just a bit more.

So what happens when the opportunity for small talk and hallway conversations is gone? You turn to social. There is a host of information one can glean and utilize to make up for not being there. The art then is to leverage it during the sale. And while most sale people are good at doing this face to face, the phone limits their focus. But there is no reason you “have to rush by” the receptionist just because you are on the phone. It is up to us as professionals to “humanize” the remote selling experience for all parties.

Even if you have your “targets” direct number, there is no reason you can’t hit zero and speak with the admin or receptionist, you’d talk to them if you were there, it is up to us to “be there” even when remote, and you can do that by learning more about them from their Facebook page, tweets, Pinterest, and host of other sites that give you a window to the non-business person. LinkedIn can help you connect the dots between the players, I learn more about the person on other platforms. There is no law or reason why you cannot incorporate this into your selling, and make up for the lack of being there, change something potentially impersonal to something more personal, for the people at the prospect company, and for you. In fact you can bet that they are checking you out the same way, and making assumptions and decisions based on these things.

So while social is great for the current lead gen and sale, it has loads more value and application in actually preserving and enhancing the social side of any sale.

Does Length Matter? – Sales eXecution 2810

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Spinning time

Does length matter, or is it more a question of how you do it?

Get your mind out of the gutter for a second, and thing length of sales cycle.

I was recently approached to write a piece examining how to reduce the length of the sales cycle, or as some like to say increase the velocity of a sale, something I have written about in the past. But I am convinced that this is a red herring, a false premise or trap many in sales fall into.

Right off the top I will tell you that shorter cycles are not better, the goal is to understand your “optimal” cycle, and then focus your efforts on efficiently executing it. If your optimal cycle is three months, you really are going to gain little by trying to shave a couple of weeks off that.

When you ask people why they want a shorter cycles, the answers are usually more subjective than objective, and usually reflect their bias, or often fears of the person looking for a shorter cycle. Some will tell you that they believe it will drive more revenue, not true, because if you shorten a cycle for the sake of shortening, you will take shortcuts that will either cost you sales, or more often, you’ll have to go back and do things you should have done in the first place, leaving no gain or worse. Other reasons include ability to scale, greater focus, increased market share, but usually these things are more an element of execution than things impacted by the length of the cycle.

When it comes to executing sales fundamentals, it is better to focus on quality of execution, not speed. People tell me they can shorten their cycle by targeting the right prospect, duh! Or solve buyers’ problems rather than sell them product, double duh. Let’s not confuse optimization with acceleration.

What I have found and most don’t like, is the real question here is one of prospecting. If you have the right if you know you conversion rates between stages of the sale, and your close ratio, you will worry less about how fast you are closing deals. It is much more about metrics and accountability than speed. If you know how many prospects you need to close one deal, then it is much better to ensure that you maintain that level prospects, rather how fast you chew through them.

Once I know my quota or goal, I can use my metrics to chart a path to that number. If close one of every five prospects I engage, and I successfully engage one prospect each day of the working week, each is a cycle, and I do this consistently every week, it really does not matter who long my cycle is. But people would much rather spend time and effort shaving minutes off their cycle than prospect consistently. Once you have that down, it takes the pressure off closing faster, and allows you to fully sell the right prospects, and better yet, the permissions and means by which to disqualify less than optimal prospects.

What is ironic is that often it is the same voices who tell you that sales is not a numbers game, are the very ones who advocate for shorter cycles. But when you look at it, focusing on shortening the cycle, leads to much more selling by numbers, than the discipline of consistent and efficient execution of your sale, using metrics, data.

Tibor Shanto

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Teach Them How To Answer0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Q+A

Whenever sales types get together to talk about how to improve their selling, high on the list is the importance of asking questions, good questions, and for good reason.

Good questions, not “what keeps you awake at night?” (The neighbor’s dog), not only uncover valuable data and information, but give you control of the flow and direction of the conversation. Setting the flow is one of the four pillars of effective sales communication, and one that many sales people don’t take full advantage of, or too easily abdicated to sellers in the hope of being “accepted” and not to come across “pushy” or “salesy”; such softy nonsense.

As importantly, good questions get the prospect thinking, an important ingredient in getting Status Quo customers to begin sharing their objectives and going beyond their comforts and preconceptions. It is when you can get them to think outside their self-imposed limits, and they begin to think things through and often out loud, that you can understand why they are stuck on the current state, and what you need to do to move them into unchartered territory for them, to the future state. This is why having questions about objectives are much more powerful than questions about needs or pain, it opens things up, goes to possibilities, not just cures.

But to fully maximize the impact of your questions, you also need to learn how to answer question the prospect will have. The better you get at asking questions that get the prospect to think, the more likely that they will ask you questions, sincere questions about the possibilities, not product related, and you need to be ready. This is more than just good listening, it is about continuing to drive the conversation in the way you answer these questions.

Your answers are another means of reinforcing the direction of the discussion. Especially in the early stages of the sale, your answers should open issues up further. All too often sellers, even experienced “solutions” sellers, see answering prospects questions as a means of “nailing things down”, but they don’t need to be. There is no rule that says questions explore while answers resolve. Answering a question in a way that causes the prospect to go deeper is one of the best ways to focus the discussion and drive the sale.

It is a great way to introduce you subject matter expertise, talk about how you have been able to drive specific outcomes and impacts without sounding like a pitch. By including examples and testimonial type of anecdotes in your answer, you can accelerate the discussion and engage the buyer much more effectively than always leaning and leading with questions. Not to mention how it helps build confidence in the buyer.

As with any skill, some will find and develop it on their own, but many, need to be taught and helped, but once they learn the process, it becomes part of their tool kit for ever. Combine this skill with information you’ll learn from you deal reviews, and you can have a much more effective, enticing for the buyer, and profitable for all, conversation.

Tibor Shanto

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New Year’s Execution – Sales eXecution 2800

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Execution WRL

Tis the season of resolutions and unkept commitments, and sadly the only thing we truly improve is our ability to rationalize failures as we abandon our best laid plans. Let’s be clear the intentions are good and sincere, but what is lacking is execution, and this can be traced back to two key factors.  First is the goals are often unattainable to begin with; second even when they are, there is often a lack of tactical plan, a plan that allows for execution that delivers results, both in terms of the end goal, and steps along the way.

While I am not here to knock Big Hairy Audacious Goals, a staple of start of year planning and sales kick offs, they are mostly strategic and anthemic in nature.  They rarely make for good tactical plans, they rally the troops, make for lingering sound bites local managers can echo as the year unfolds, but on their own they have little practical value.  At one point you have to translate Strategy to action, tactical steps that transform audacious to real, hairy or not. (Ever notice how the hair on your goals changes over time).

So keep the big and hairy for the banner, but support it with an action plan.  The best way to do that is to walk backwards from those goals, and lay out a road map that will get you there.  Those of us who predate the internet, remember going to AAA and getting TripTiks, allowing us to the trip in great detail; distance between stops, potential lodging, food and fuel, they informed you of major construction project and other potential obstacles and j\helped you plan contingencies.

It is best to do the same for your journey from kick-off to your Big Hairy Audacious Goals, and then do the same for each sale/account you are going to encounter and win along the way.  Much like the TripTik, it should include metrics, logical milestones along the way, resources you will need to fuel the sale, average length of cycle and potential number of meeting it may take to complete each journey or sale.

The last two are key, and often over looked.  Most sales people are not aware of the average length of their sales cycle, when asked most will say depends.  Even the ones that have an answer, are usually going with the corporate myth “our sales cycle is 90 days”, it supports the vision and the Hairy Goals.  But when we look at the data provided by their CRM, the number is usually off.

They also don’t know how many meeting a typical sale should take, and as a result of that they cannot plan for a desired outcome from each encounter.  No Next Step, no Secondary Next Step, no plan C.  It’s a lot like a quarterback trying to march down-field without set plays or knowing how they will run those plays.  Everyone knows we want to get the ball in the end zone, a clear Hairy Goal, but there are reasons why some can do it consistently and predictably, while others flounder most of the time.

So forget resolutions, big or small, and focus on execution, it never gets old, and in sales success is about execution – everything else is just talk!

Tibor Shanto

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The Power Of Simplifying1

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

simple

Even the simplest sale has a lot of moving parts, and with new challenges popping daily, sales people have more than enough opportunities to be distracted and taken off course. One of the key elements of value sales management can add to their team’s success is helping them stay focused on those activities that drive consistent success. But at times it is management that adds to the problem by creating distractions rather than limiting them. Let’s be clear I’m not suggesting that this intentional, or some strange game, but just an unintended outcome of how they view and filter the world. Changing those filters can change management’s perception, and their impact on their sales teams, and ultimately results.

Changing filters does not mean easing up or lowering expectations, it just means altering the way those expectations are set and how they allow their teams to meet them. The hard balance for management is meeting and driving strategic goals in a way that does not trump or adversely impact tactical goals and execution. While this may require a different balance, it could lead to measurable improvement. Management needs to strive to have its objectives met by helping the front line achieve theirs. Setting these things in motion can be done any time through the year, the New Year is a good time as it aligns with people expectations and rhythms and acceptance levels.

A good example, and one that many can relate to is the experience many have had in rolling out a CRM. Despite good intentions, often the reality of roll outs was well short of expectations, often due to lack of use and adoption by front line salespeople. The message from above was what management wanted and needed from the CRM, while failing to help the front line rep understand how the CRM will help them. Lack of adoption, led to lack input, little or no data, leaving a void in their ability to make strategic decisions required to move things forward.

This year why not surprise your reps and simplify, again, not compromise or settle, but make it simple for them to adopt and change in a way that focuses on what is in it for them. Make it less, rather than more, better they achieve and deliver against one or two key factors than fail at more. Make it make easy to execute and relevant to their success, and you’ll find that they will ungrudgingly contribute to your success. Align with your requirements in achieving your strategic goals, and less truly becomes more.

A key step is to separate wants from needs, simple yes, easy no. I have witnessed too many management gatherings where ideas snowball, and while they all may be good, many are superfluous. Once you isolate the needs, separate the doable from the rest, this simplifies things for you and by extension your organization, no one buys into undoable things no matter how simple they may seem. Next focus on creating ownership and accountability in your front line managers, your success depends on them buying into and selling the vision and activity to their reps.

With this being the season for big resolutions, most of which are abandoned before Valentine’s Day, why not explore the upside if being simple but successful.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

The Top 5 Post of 20141

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Confident

For the last post of 2014, I thought we would look at the top five posts of 2014; not saying they are the best of what I did in 2014, but it seems that these were the ones that got the most looks. So here they are in no particular or, a chance for a second look, consideration, at perhaps action.

To Call or Not

I am often asked a question I really hate, and while I have learned not to let it get on my nerves, and usually manage to deal with it calmly, it still pains me that my fellow professional sellers would ask it. The question relates to how vigorously one should pursue a potential prospect? I find the question bizarre on a number of levels, not the least of which is that today’s potential; prospect is tomorrow’s prospect, next week’s customer, and a stream of revenue (if not commissions) for some time after that. Ya, you should pursue it vigorously. Read On…

What’s Your Recovery Period? – Sales eXecution 274

No one likes rejection, and I would argue few professions have to put up with as much rejection as sales people do. We face rejection throughout the sale, from the time we try to prospect and engage with a potential buyer, right to the end when they finally agree to deal with us. We face rejection from prospects we lose, and from those we actually win, in fact we win by overcoming rejection. Read On…

The Reason For My Call – Sales eXecution 268

For many, “The Reason For My Call”, is a crucial part of their prospecting call, probably more accurate to say cold call, as I would have to assume that if it were a warm call the recipient would know the reason for the call. All too often I cringe when I hear how most callers use this expression, especially when a couple of small adjustments in their approach may lead to better results. Read On…

The Best Working E-Mail Subject Lines

One of the critical elements to success in prospecting is getting the person to open you note. If they do not recognize the sender, the next most important factor is the subject line, and if you like many prospect using e-mail, the subject line becomes the key difference between being opened and potentially starting a sales cycle, or being deleted. While and some guests have shared proposed best practices around e-mails, ContactMonkey http://www.sellbetter.ca/solving-the-e-mail-black-hole/has just released some interesting insights about good, bad and other types of subject lines. Read On…

Why Set Out For 2nd Prize?

Every day I work with sales people who start their day by setting their sights on winning second prize, and then celebrate when they achieve it. No really, watch any group of sales people on the phone trying to set appointments, and it is only a question of minutes before you see a few telling you how they convinced the potential prospect to let them have second place, or take their place among the also-rans. Read On…

Well, that was the past, now on to 2015.

Happy New Year,
Tibor Shanto

Merry Christmas!0

From everyone at Renbor Sales Solutions, to you and yours, a Merry Christmas, and a healthy and profitable 2015!

Tibor Shanto

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