Welcome to The Pipeline.

You Can’t or You Won’t?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Buyers not liars

I am luck in the fact that I work with sales professionals, at all levels of their organisations, and as a result learn almost daily. I also see many similarities in B2B sellers regardless of the industry that they serve. One interesting characteristic many share is confusing ability with will.

I find there are two common reasons for this, one is the fear of change, of the unknown, and the discomfort of breakthroughs. The second reason usually has to do with conditioning, and life experience, “built in” notions of “how” we are supposed to do in certain things given specific circumstances. And since some things in sales are by nature counter intuitive, it makes it difficult for some to act that way. This is compounded when people are focused more on relationship than revenue. I for one do not feel that there are mutually exclusive, but I do think that sometimes people are unnecessarily fixated on the sequence, some feeling they need to have a relationship before there can be talk of revenue. It’s so much better for both parties when that pressure is absent, some buyers do want to be your friend, but are ready to have a long and loyal business relationship if you help them achieve their objectives.

Overcoming fear of change, fear of the unknown is not easy, yet we ask our buyers to do it every day. So why not look at how you go about helping your buyers deal with the same challenge, and apply that to yourself. I would argue that if it truly works for them, it should work for you. So when someone offers up a new way of doing something in your sales cycle, something foreign to you, and you find yourself questioning it and saying “I don’t know if I could do that”, how would you help a buyer deal with it a similar challenge and help them overcome it?

I find having a plan with various contingencies is a start. Ask the same questions you would of a reluctant prospect. Just as it helps buyers articulate their doubts or concerns, making it easier for them to be broken down and dealt with. Do the same with your challenge to get the same results. Many like to present some form of ROI, and a good ROI discussion also looks at the risk and cost of inaction. As a sales rep reluctant to try something, that would be the biggest question to answer. If the road you are on now is not getting you what you want, how much worse can the alternative be, what is the upside to trying the alternate?

The question of conditioning is a bigger challenge, especially since we view everything through the filters of our own experiences. Sometimes reps or managers tell me not only that they can’t do something, they make it universal, applying their standard on all, they tell me “you can’t do that”, as though it was law. Thanks to the internet, I can now research federal, state and provincial laws, and counter this by letting them know that based on the law of the land indeed you can, your competitor probably did and won the deal as a result. But I understand, lifelong habits are hard to change, lifelong fears are hard to face, doing unnecessary work, losing deals in the process seems the easier choice.

But I would argue it is not. Think in your own life of a time when you had a real breakthrough, I bet like me, as soon as the breakthrough takes place, we never see what all the fuss, fear and reluctance was in advance. So as long as it is legal, moral, and helps both you and your buyer, invest your energy in building your abilities. Remember there are million reasons why something won’t work, but there is one reason it will, you doing it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Seriously – You’re Not That Different – Sales eXecution 2640

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Different 3

Being different seems to be really important to some people in sales. From their buyers, to product, to the way the sell, people want to cling to being different. It is like “Difference” is some sort of badge of honour, a reason to pay a premium, or worse, a rationale for results.

You often hear people talk about how the complexity of their sale makes it different. But all sales are complex in their own way, just because one may have more moving parts than another, does not make it more complex or different. Sure the moving parts in selling desalination plants may differ from those found in selling business process outsourcing, but the core components and core execution, not that different. Wanting it to be different does not change the fact that it has to be executed along a defined path (or process, you know, that’s a bit more complex), and one step at a time.

The “sophistication of the solution”, does not equate to “different” or “complex”. Just ask someone selling a fairly simple and standard product, in a highly competitive, price sensitive environment; these sales people have a much more complex selling challenge, especially if they can maintain price integrity. But in the end there is less difference than many sales professionals would want to pretend.

I remember meeting with a VP of Sales with a “Solutions Provider “, and indeed they had a product that was “cool”, and in demand, addressing a common requirement in their target market. From the time we met at a conference he was into the “I am interested in what you do Tibor, but you gotta understand we’re different.” I don’t know, he like everyone at their booth, had two arms, two legs, a big mouth, didn’t seem that different, maybe I’ll figure it out when we meet at their office.

Later at the office, he was right back at it, preaching the (invisible) difference. As one who likes to break the sale down to logical sequential steps, I thought I would explore.

TS:     So let me get this straight, your people do not have to prospect, you went to the conference because you had marketing budget to blow. You normally have prospects lined up out the door, but you knew I was coming this morning, so cleared a path for me?

VP:     No, no, our folks have to prospect, they need to make calls every day, I have them working the show leads now, those shows are expensive, I am always reviewing their activity, and we should be converting more of these leads, especially with our product.

TS:     OK, but once you get in front of the prospect, it is smooth sailing, they get it, and want to switch or buy right away, no?

VP:     I wish, we have to needs assessments, work through a bunch of data, and for sure three demos, sometimes more.

TS:     But at that point, they just ask for the proposal, and away we go.

VP:     Rarely, we have to help them maneuver internally, that’s why we end up doing multi demos, and data crunching, all the players involved.

TS:     All laid out in your process, right?

VP:     Not really, what we laid out should follow a different path.

TS:     But once you present the proposal, it’s done, no back and forth, no negotiations, no price haggling.

VP:     Are you kidding, even after all that, we still have to deal with that, all the ROI we show them, and we still go through that.

TS:     So tell me again how you are different?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

KPI’s – What Are They To You?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Impact Question

Talk to any ‘executoide’, and KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) are bound to be part of the conversation. Nice and practical concept, good resume fodder, often misused or abused by many, especially from a sales point of view. I often get the sense that many see KPI standing for Key Political Initiatives or Key (to my) Personal Incentive.

As a concept, KPI’s are great, helping sales organizations in defining and measuring progress against stated objectives or goals. Determined in advance, measurable and quantifiable, they are instrumental in helping to assess progress, and plan course correction if needed. Examples in sales may be lead to opportunity conversions, or proposals to close. Based on these measures you can make adjustments and respond to conditions on the ground to ensure those goals are attained. You often hear sales managers and director speak of how they are doing against their KPI’s. Looking at it that way can be a part of potential problems.

In the wrong hands, with wrong intents, the best concepts can come back to bite you; in sales it is usually the disconnect between what’s being measured and the desired results. There are many KPI’s being met without delivering the intended result or economic benefit, leading to a culture of measurement rather than success. When reps feel measured instead of being led to success, they turn to rationalizing their performance with the very same KPI’s. I hear reps say “well I delivered against the KPI, I got eight meetings every week this quarter.” Or “what do you want me to do, get sales or complete the KPI’s you gave me?”

It doesn’t help when sales leaders are incented on meeting KPI’s rather than result. While I am a big proponent of paying for success based on leading indicators, it should be on how those leading indicators are leading to consistent and improving results. Without that, when you pay for a checkmark, you get checkmarks, you pay for results you get results.

I was recently contacted by a sales director about training the team. As we discussed the program and roll-out, he insisted on doing things the first week of every quarter, when I asked why, he told me team quarterly development was one of his KPI’s, and the team meets the first week of each quarter. We assessed the team, had input from a number of people in the company, and customers, and designed training that required two days of delivery at the start, followed by Renbor’s Follow-Through Action Plan regimen. He loved the program, but asked that I cut it down to a half day. “What do you want me to cut?” “No no, I love the program as is, we just need to do it in half a day, I have to include some product training in October as well (another KPI no doubt).

No matter how much I tried to impress on him that he was making a mistake, he insisted. Knowing the type, that when things hit the fan, I will be blamed for the failure, even as he collects his KPI based bonus, I confronted him. I revamped the program to make it a one day affair, but he was still reluctant; half glancing at his phone as he explained his situation, including meeting KPI’s. I finally offered to send him some workbooks, pre-filled certificates he can distribute, come in and read a few pages to the team, and he could hit his KPI, and not bother with the challenge of training, but still be able to put the tick in the box next to training. “That’s your goal right?”. I swear he thought about it for a minute before realizing he was being mocked.

We finally agreed to the abridged one day program, with a clear understanding that we would include the remaining material into the January training. Now I have four months to work with and on the executives to change things, either the director or his KPI’s.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Social Style Cold Calling – Sales eXecution 2630

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

social billboard

As we have all noticed more and more companies are putting the Twitter and Facebook icons/logos not only on their marketing materials, but on trucks, and the signs on their buildings. In some instances they include their twitter handles, other cases not. I know I put my handle out there to help follow me, view my content, get a chance to see what I am about, and in general to invite them and encourage them to interact with me and my work. While some have called me odd, I figure that others have similar motives for displaying their “social signs”.

But I see it as sort of a half effort if you just display the Twitter logo on your truck or sign in front of your building, without including your handle. Puts the onus on me to go and search it, make sure that it is the right one, in most cases more bother than worth. Unless it involves a company you want to approach in order to do business with them, basically someone you want to prospect.

Which brings us to a company I have had my eye on for a bit, building my approach, but have yet to formally “put into play”. Last week when I drove by I noticed their new (or perhaps just newly cleaned) sign on the corner their building occupied. As you have guessed, the sign had the Twitter icon, but no handle. Hmm, I thought, let’s try something different.

I walked into reception, and said that I had noticed their sign, and wanted to talk to someone about their participation with and on Twitter. The receptionist looked puzzled, ask what specifically I wanted, I said I was interested in the company, and saw the icon on the sign, and wanted to follow them to satisfy my interest; so I was looking for their handle, but more importantly to speak with the individual who was managing their social media, gave her my card, which has my social coordinates on it. She picked up the phone, and a few minutes later, out cam a young lady, introduced herself as the person in marketing responsible for social media.

We talked for a few minutes, she told me why the company had decided to become active, how she got the job, and some of her objectives. One of which was t better interact with their clients and prospects, ensure their message was not only getting out, but received and understood by the right people. I asked if that included their sales team, and how the sales team was leveraging her work and social media in general. She smiled and said I would have to ask the VP of sales about that. Bingo!

He wasn’t in, but she introduced us via e-mail, and I booked the appointment.

You gotta love cold calling in the social age, it’s so not different than ever before.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

The Best Working E-Mail Subject Lines0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

mail

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 has just released some interesting insights about good, bad and other types of subject lines.

I have mentioned ContactMonkey in the past, I like many others use them to track the fate of e-mails I send out. Now based on 30 million emails sent from Outlook and Gmail, they have shared data the best and worst subject lines. Some will surprise others won’t, but it is worth checking out if you want to improve you open and by extension, engage ratios.

Subject lines with 2 words work well, more than 3 words dramatically reduce open rates. In fact they show that no subject line, yes blank, has a high open rate, much higher than 3 or more words. Not really a surprise if you think about it. Most go for subject lines that “will compel” someone to open it, but like with voice mail, the more they know about what is in the mail, the less the urgency to open and deal with it. Big subject lines, like big e-mails, get deleted; keep it short simple, if they can’t make a decision based on the subject, they will need to open the mail to know.

Given that 40% of e-mail are first read on a mobile device, real estate becomes important, both in the subject and the content. With only enough room for 4 – 7 words in a subject line on an average mobile device, don’t be tempted to pack everything in.

Asking questions or marketing jargon is out, short and direct works best, nothing at all even better.

Having RE: in the subject line boosts success; just having RE: and nothing else is the number one best subject line, 92% open rate. RE: Follow up was second. Again, goes to human nature, RE: makes it seem as though you are already in the conversation, and are about to see a response to a previous communication. This is why when you follow up to a voice mail, having RE: voice mail, is a good subject line. The worst is open rate with 7.25% is “the results are in”.

I encourage you to look at the output from ContactMonkey by clicking here. Keep in mind that it takes up to 12 touch points to make contact with prospects you are targeting, e-mail becomes a key element, and your subject line can be the difference.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto
 

To Shine or Not To Shine – Sales eXecution 2620

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Shoes

Vote in the poll at the end of the post!

Given that it is a holiday Monday, at least where I am, I thought I’d explore a lighter side of sales, but one worth pondering for a number of reasons. It comes down to how we present ourselves and how the buyer sees us, and it’s impact on their thinking and outcome of our efforts. I want to share with you two viewpoints, not sure where I land but interested in your views.

I know a couple of sales people, both guys, both top rate, as evidenced by their numbers and the quality of conversation when you meet them. They share a number of views on sales and their success, and they each have habits or in some cases rituals or superstitions that they rely on for their outstanding success. One point of key difference is shoes; yes I said shoes, we’re you expecting closing techniques?

One will call Mo, not because it’s his name, but we gotta call him something. Mo never wears new or clean shoes to an important sales call, especially what is commonly called a “closing meeting”. His view is that he does not want to upstage the buyer, his way of not wanting to appear to be better than the buyer, or flaunt his success. While he puts on a clean suit, freshly ironed shirt and the appropriate smart ties, there is never polish on his shoes. “I look professional, but that I still need your business.”

Bob (not his real name either), goes to the other extreme, what he does to his shoes before key meetings is nothing short of a ritual; in fact when you consider his closing ratio, it approaches being a religious experience. Bob buys all his “Power Shoes” at the same shop. “If you’re going to close business right, you have to look just so.”. Emphasis on the so. “I am asking these people to trust, to put their success, the fate of the project in my hands. To do that I have to look like the embodiment of success, someone they respect, look up to, would want be if they were selling. Part of that means they should be able to see themselves in my shoes when they look down just before they sign. The shine on my shoes is the final reassurance they need.”

Bob shines his shoes every weekend no matter what is in his pipeline. But the day before the close meeting, he goes into a higher mode. He pre cleans his shoes, then applies a specific polish, lets it sit for an hour, the using a special cloth r something he buffs and shines that thing till it looks like a mirror. He credits his days as a cadet for his prowess.

They are both exceptional sales people, they are both into the shoe thing, I am not sure what it has to do with their success.

What do you think: [yop_poll id="2"]

Tell us about your sales rituals!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

The Present Has Been Delegated0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

iStock_000001262117Small

Earlier in the week I wrote about the need for sales people to be “multilingual” in order to better understand and communicate with the types of buyers they may not have prospected or sold to in the past. A common example of this is when sales people accustomed to selling to users or front line managers, are instructed by their leadership to go ‘upstream’, and sell to senior decision makers, executives or the ‘C’ suite.

It is important to remember that language and meaning are not the only thing that differentiates these two groups. While I am sure that many understood that “language” was a metaphor for a number of differences that need to be balanced and managed by sales people throughout the cycle. But there is one that is worth expanding on, specifically, time and the perception of time by some buyers.

Based on their role, different buyers will have, or more accurately, live in, different time frames. Front line folks, sales people, factory workers, database analysts, etc. tend to be in the here and now. Their targets and measures tend to be near term, which in turn drives their planning and execution. Their decision to execution to result cycle, is generally short in nature, using sales as an example, a sales person is more likely to focus on their current cycle, and partially into the next. So when we sell to these folks, we need to align our time frame and “language” accordingly.

Executives, those tasked with the strategic success of the enterprise, are operating way in the future, minimum 12 – 18 month into the future. This is why they built the layers below them, the front line discussed above. The front line is tasked with executing the strategic plan the executive developed last year. The reality is that the executives have delegated the present to the front line, because they are too busy dealing with the future, making sense of the uncharted. So if you hope to engage with these, you need to get past the how, and deal with the why; you have to speak their language, and you have to be in synch and aligned with their time line, the future.

If you go in there and talk about the here and now you’re more than dead, you’re history, because today, is part of their history, again, they have delegated it.

It is for this reason that one my favourite questions is “If we were sitting here 18 months from, and you were telling me you had hit a grand slam, what would that look like?” Now you’re where they are, someone they can talk to. Let them tell you, make sure you take it all in, and then ask “so why aren’t we there now?”, That’s when they tell you what they need to make that future happen, and what you can sell them.

So if you want too sell higher up, you need to stop living in the past!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

 

Focus On The Why – The How Will Follow – Sales eXecution 2610

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

why-how

The headline seems simple enough, I bet most a nodding with familiar approval, yet when you watch many sales people in action, you see them focusing much more on the How, not the Why. This is especially fatal early in the process, when they start they prospecting, be that a call, an e-mail, or a social outlet, leading with the How, then wondering why they are not having the traction they seek.

Leading with the how is good if you are approaching users or implementers, they want to know “How it works”, or “How you do that”. The challenge is that many of these people are in a role of responding to projects or initiatives originated by others, line of business managers, heads of departments etc. Since success often depends engaging line of business people, and if there are more than one LOB, then it is likely that you will have to build consensus in order to win the business. In these circumstances, where say marketing and production have to find common ground, the focus, and as a result, the glue that will hold things together, is Why they are embarking on their chosen course to achieve their stated objectives. They are rarely thinking about the How, in their mind that will be delegated to the implementers and the users will learn what they have to make things run.

Now the implementers will have an influence, and they could derail or accelerate things, but that will not happen until the demand trickles down form the people asking for the implementation. As a seller who is looking for the deal to happen, you will need to engage the business side of the house, which means engaging on the basis of Why.

This means leaving the product in the car, and going in and speaking about how you can positively impact the Why; do that well and the How will follow. Start with the How, you’ll put them to sleep and never get your next step.

There two simple (not easy) ways to lead and win with the Why. 1) Know Why your current customers chose you. By this I do not mean the features of your product, not matter how well that is dressed up or disguised marketing babble; but what were they trying to achieve from a business standpoint, and Why they saw that as being important. Was it increasing market share, was it to improve margins, reduce their cost of capital, expand beyond current lines, reduce manual errors, or other business outcomes. Engage with them based on these, and the How will follow. 2) Meet with similar titles/roles in your company; your CFO will understand the drivers for other CFO’s, how to approach them, what they may respond to, and what a complete turn off is.

As sellers we are looking for ways to create urgency, nothing puts a spring the feet of a decision maker than when they see something that will help the achieve their goals, and again without much though about the how. The other benefit is when there is a bake-off at the time the implementers are selecting vendors. The folks whose ass is on the line for making the Why happen will prove to be valuable and powerful friends, even when another product has a better How; just look at DEC and IBM.

Leave your product in the car, leave your marketing phrasebook in the car, and go in and dig around the Why, and the How will follow, figuratively and literally.

What’s in Your Pipeline? (Grab the e-book) 
Tibor Shanto 

Summer Sales Reading0

A Relaxed Way To Sell Better!

top 50 reading 2014

Things may slow down a bit in the sales world during summer, but you don’t need to let that slow your success. It is a great time to pick up a book and improve some aspects of your execution. The good folks over at Top Sales World, have made it even easier, they have pulled together The Top 50 Summer Reads. Click the link, get the book, sit back with a cold one, and soak up the knowledge.

Check out as many as you can, below are three of my favourites.

Happy reading!!!
Tibor Shanto

           

 

Using Referrals and Affiliate Links in Online Business1

CC July 14

The Pipeline Guest Post - Megan Totka

In the past, word of mouth was always considered the best form of advertising for business. The same is absolutely true now, but I’d say that the definition of word of mouth has shifted significantly. Word of mouth now consists of online reviews and ratings rather than actually talking to your neighbor (though that certainly does still happen). Another way that companies have been able to generate revenue from word of mouth type advertising is through referral and affiliate programs.

While affiliate programs are probably what you would think of a more typical sales pattern, referrals are person to person advertising at its finest. Many, many different companies and websites have referral programs now. Studies have shown that people who become customers through referrals go on to be more loyal and profitable than customers that are acquired through other sales channels.

There are really very few downsides to referral marketing. Typically, both an existing customer and their refer-ee are rewarded for giving your company business. Online referral links tend to be more one-sided. The person whose link is followed typically reaps all of the rewards. Some companies that have used referral links really successfully include Ebates, StitchFix, and DropBox.

Affiliate marketing is different from referral marketing, but the two types of marketing to increase sales share several similar qualities. Affiliate marketing allows a business to reward people who drive traffic to their site and purchase their products. For lack of a better term, affiliate marketing can be a little sneakier. Affiliates can bury links to products inside just about anything, from blog posts to paid advertisements. There are even entire “review” sites that are nothing but product plugs and affiliate links. Affiliate links can be great, though, if used the right way. Think of affiliate marketing as earning commission by promoting another company’s product.

Both affiliate marketing and referral programs are good ways to gain new customers – as long as you’re following sales referral etiquette. Referral programs have been popular for years and years, and have a great track record when it comes to acquiring and keeping new customers. Affiliate marketing is a somewhat newer tactic, but can also be considered successful when done right.

Image via Shutterstock

About Megan Totka

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.

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