Game the Plan – With Chris Cabrera0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Game the plan

Almost everyone in sales will tell you that incentives drive behaviour, but beyond that there is often little agreement among the pundits as to what the right incentive plan is. Some see it as a black art, while others, usually sales people, see it as something to manipulate, hence the expression ‘gaming the plan’. But ask Christopher Cabrera, founder, president and CEO of Xactly Corporation, who has a different view, and believes that front line reps and CFOs do not need to be at odds when it comes to incentives. In fact, Cabrera literally wrote the book on incentives, “Game the Plan: Every Sales Rep’s Dream; Every CFO’s Nightmare”, which suggests that when it’s done right, reps can and should game and maximize the plan, and everyone wins.

I had the opportunity to discuss incentives and the book with Cabrera, and ask him some questions many of my clients ask when it comes to their challenges around incentives and driving behaviour that leads to everyone’s success, buyer, seller, and company.

One aspect of the incentive where the pendulum of opinion swings back and forth is between simplicity and complexity of a plan. While some try to engineer things down to the minute detail, others, look to perhaps over simplify by offering 100% commission based pay. As you would suspect, the reality is somewhere in between. Cabrera’s view is that 100% is not the most effective, but over engineering a plan has faults as well. He suggests that structure is much more important than the specifics. What “counts is the number of measures; there is a strong correlation between the number of measures and a successful plan.” Measures being the elements being paid on, Cabrera suggests that optimal number is three measures being incented. As you exceed that number, you lose focus and therefore the effectiveness of the plan.

Another factor was the number of people being paid on any given deal, an extreme example Cabrera gave was a company that had over a hundred people on any given deal. He suggest that the right number of people is five.

Cabrera is also a proponent of paying different rates on different products. While paying on net revenue is a start, companies should also incent higher margin products at a higher rate, thereby driving sales and higher profits. He also discussed that managing activity is the role of management not the incentive plan.

Another area of discussion was the use of SPIFFs (Sales Promotion Incentive Fund). Cabrera explained that while this was an effective practice, companies need to keep them fresh and not overuse them. “Keep them guessing by changing the annual cadence, if they know it is coming and when, it loses the desired effect.” He also recommends that they not be overused, three times a year, and at different times, for different element. Tying them to quarter end each time really misses the mark.

The thing that gives the book teeth and makes it a must read for sales leaders and sales people is not only Cabrera’s own extensive experience in the field of sales incentive and incentive management. But more importantly, the volume of data that is available to him as a result of the work Xactly does. The ability to leverage the empirical, anecdotal and other elements give Cabrera, the book, and by extension the reader, an unparalleled level of insight into incentives, and doing it right.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

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Dear Sales Diary3

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Diary

Those of you have kept or keep diaries, know that one of the reasons it has such great value is not just because you open up about intimate secrets, but that you share everything, not just the good, not just the bad, but all that and everything in between. You were able to go back and relive the experience, and more often than not glean lesson and things you would do differently if you had to do them all again. You didn’t just look at what you did well, or things that turned out to be good, living up to and beyond your expectations. You looked at the bad things that happened and tried to understand how you might avoid similar things in the future. The more honest you were the more rewarding the experience. If you skewed or slanted things one way, you may feel better for a while, but reality comes creeping back in, forcing us to deal with the bad, and the gray.

Sales people and sales organization need to keep a diary of their experiences, all of them, the good, the bad, and the in between. Most already do deal reviews in some format, but many do not, either choosing to them selectively, or just enough to satisfy a KPI or ScoreCard requirement. Few do the real deep dive required in order to get the most out of it, in the process allowing both a learning and revenue improvement get away. To be clear, and as you will see further on, “deep dive” does not have to be a laborious time consuming exercise with minimal payoffs, it can and should be an ongoing process that helps you with deals you are currently involved in, while also allowing you to capture and repurpose things on the fly. Done right, it should resemble the old EDS add about building an airplane while it is flying, the opportunity for sales people and organizations, is to build a continuously better sales, even as they are executing current sales, and prospecting for their next one.

Specifically this involves reviewing all deals you were involved in, those you won, those you lost, and those which go to “no decision”. Note, if you are involved in ten to a dozen deal a month, I recommend you review all of them; if on the other hand you are involved in dozens of deals, you may want to review a representative sample. If you have 7 wins, 15 losses, and 6 no decisions, review 25%, or seven, and you will get good, executable output. But as you’ll see, even if you don’t formally review each one, you will produce usable output.

Now some of you reading this may be aware that I am the coauthor of an award winning book about Trigger Events. In that book the recommendation was that you focus your reviews to only those deals you win. This will allow you to continuously repeat those things that are consistently help you win deals. Sound thinking, to a point. Let me explain, coauthoring a book is a lesson in compromise, you give you, you learn, you take, and in the end you produce a book that reflects the learning of both. But as you move on, the hope is that both authors evolve, not limited by the required compromises, and we each continue down our path, shaped by or experiences.

Since the release of that book, my thinking has evolved to where I see focusing strictly on one segment of your activities and only one of many outcomes, brings an unnecessary level of risk to one’s sales success, regardless of which one of the three possible outcomes you focus on. Given that on average, wins make up less than half of potential deals, if for no other reason than to broaden you perspectives, you should review outcomes other than just wins.

This is why the 360 Deal View was developed. It allows you to capture relevant information about the sale, the outcome and specific contributors to that. As with most tools, it is less about the tool itself, and much more about the approach and behaviours it promotes, which in turn lead to the desired results in more repeatable, predictable and consistent ways. It allows you to evolve you selling along with the way your market and buyers evolve.

While there is no denying that you want to know exactly what you are doing that is helping you win, you want to know what unfolded on the buyer’s side that prompted them to engage, and what outside and inside factors accelerate your sales cycle or cause it to slow and stall. What were the buyer’s objectives that allowed you to gain traction, and how you were able to connect with those? All important things you want to leverage. But it would be dangerous if not naïve to not go through a similar exercise with the other outcomes, losses and “no decisions”. Two simple advantageous to knowing why you lose, first, it may just take a small adjustment to change some of the inputs that will move a loss to the won column. Second, you may discover that a segment that made sense on initial exploration made sense to pursue, based on practice does not. Looking at “no decisions” will often allow you to understand when would be the best time to reengage, and take the cycle to fruition. It will also help you detect tire kickers a lot earlier.

These will be fallouts if you only review wins, but there is no denying that focusing on just one area, will lead to tunnel vision, causing you to miss changing trends that are more evident in the other categories, and more importantly, leave you very open to be blindsided. If you rely on one set of data, you will continue to find others who fit the mold, but it does not speak to the size of a market, things can continue to look good in a shrinking market, and by the time you react, many opportunities will have been missed, and competitors will have made unnecessary gains at your expense.

Most CRM’s and related apps will allow you to do a complete all three, and even allow you to get more granular if need be. You can download our tool here, but the key to success is not the tool, but the philosophy, and more specifically the discipline of doing it in up, down, or sideways markets. Just as with a diary, the best ones were usually written in simple notebooks, not fancy specially diaries, what made them great was the depth and completeness of what was captured, and the consistency of execution.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Cold Calling is “IN” Again! – Sales eXchange 2346

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

frozen calls

Sadly I am at an age where I find myself saying “I remember the first time that was cool”, I have seen thin ties come and go enough times enough time to know not to throw out any ties, because it is only a question of time before someone says, “wow, that’s a cool tie, is it new?” The only thing I can’t remember if it was 1987, 1993 or 2007 when I actually first bought it.

Well it seems that cold calling is coming back into fashion. Not only do you find people dropping euphemisms when referring to the activity, companies popping up all over the place to perform a service many are needing but forgot how to execute. Many closet callers are coming out and proudly proclaiming not only that they regularly part take in cold calling, but that it producing results that exceed the expectations many, and helping many exceed quota.

Amazing what an Arctic Vortex will do.  Here we are less than two weeks into the New Year, and the signs are all over that cold calling is cool again. Just last week I had a notice for a webinar from one of the original Sales 2.0 gang, inviting me to a webinar on cold calling.  BTW, if you want to attend a webinar from someone who never wavered from cold calling, click here.

Other pundits who not so long ago wrapped themselves in the Sales 2.0 cloak, before dawning top layer of social selling, are now shedding their load, and freely speaking about the virtues of cold calling.

What is truly refreshing in some of their proclamations, is not so much their embracement of this staple and age old tool of sales success, but more importantly their abandonment of the “Us vs. Them” dribble that often dominates the debate.  The former stance that cold calling is dead, and it is all about the new thing, is now more reasoned and tempered, and sounds more like those of us who were out in the cold for a while.  Namely that it is about a blend of approaches and means of engaging with potential buyers, not one means vs. another.

Maybe it has more to do with the fact that the economy is showing some life, revenue expectations by Wall Street and companies themselves, are causing people to realise that they will need to be more than found if they are going to make quota, they’re actually going to have to go out and find some potential buyers who are not currently in the market or expressed that they may care to be.

In a recent LinkedIn group discussion asking if cold calling is dead or not, the comments were absent of the usual posturing about how cold calling was bad or dead.  The tone was more logical, again, putting cold calling alongside social selling and other techniques and tools that make up a successful tool kit.

LinkedIn itself, seems to be leading the charge back.  Despite a recent article “Cold Calling is Dead, Thanks To LinkedIn”, seems to have jumped on the band wagon.  As with most leaders and pundits, the measure of their commitment lies in what they do, not always in what they say.  Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, let me point to a recent advert for a sales position at LinkedIn, promoted on LinkedIn. When it comes to Responsibilities, just look at what is number one on the list:

LinkIn CC wr

About the only thing that could make cold calling more fashionable is to call it Zombie Calling!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

5 Things You Need To Stop in 2014 – Or Any Year – Sales eXchange 2320

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Five

As we headlong in to the New Year, and wipe the slate clean, symbolically in or in actual ways, you are going to face two certain things. First an endless barrage of meaningless awards shows meant to squeeze the last bit of sales out of last year’s products. And an even greater number of post and articles telling you all the things you should do in 2014, most of which are retreads of things they advised you to do in 2013.

Here are two things you need to do, first capture all that advice on your favourite cloud storage area. This way you can revisit it next Christmas see who had insights that paid off, and who was stinking out the joint. Second, rather than focus on what you should do, why not try not doing some things that have prevented you from being more successful than you are. Here five things to consider, there are probably others, try these, or three of these, but before you start new things, and coming more skills and talents, start by shedding some to make room for the new. So in 2014 Stop

  1. Being Trendy – There is always a new trend, a new tool, a new way, to be successful, but new is not always better, it’s just new. Successful sales people master things that work and then stick with them till they stop helping them succeed. Sales skills, like any skills, aren’t tied to a calendar, or product releases, they are tied to effectiveness, so focus on how effective something is in helping you sell better, and sell more. There are always new offerings, but will they help you achieve new levels of success, or just help the people peddling them find a new follower?
  2. Fixing Things – Most sales people these days remind me of solutions running around the country side looking for a problem, wearing t-shirts that read “I never met a prospect whose problem I couldn’t fix”. Well a lot of prospects don’t have “problems”, and therefore don’t see the need for a solution. But they all have objectives, focus on that, and you engage with more potential buyers, and sell more. Don’t be that shmuck who described his role as a sales person as “I find the soft underbelly of the prospect, stab it, then offer up the cure”.
  3. Talking – Yes, you’ve heard this before, but did you listen. Ask good questions – tough questions – questions they haven’t heard from the shmuck above, and herds like him. Questions about their business, not your “solution”, then shut up, listen – don’t finish their sentence for them. I was out with another sales trainer recently, and if I had a dollar for every sentence the prospect was not allowed to finish, I would have had a financially rewarding day, but as it is he talked us out of the sale. Take notes, have follow up questions, but let them do the talking.
  4. Listening – To everyone other than the buyer, for one simple reason, they are the ones who will write the check from whence your commission comes! If they can’t directly contribute to your sale, they are wasting your time, and time is a precious resource.
  5. Hesitating – There are a million things that can hold you back, but the worst is you. What’s the worst that can happen, you learn something and have to try again. What’s the best, you act and get results. Yes, hesitating does have more predictable outcomes, but usually less desirable than executing your well thought-out plan decisively. Don’t second guess yourself into to the safety of mediocrity.

Happy New Year!
Tibor Shanto

The Pipeline Interview with Jeff Shore – Sales eXchange 2300

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

The Microphone

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Jeff Shore, a leading sales coach, speaker, and author. We sat down to discuss his upcoming book: “BE BOLD AND WIN THE SALE”.

It is no secret that to change the outcome in sales, you need to change the behaviour of sellers, this in turn changes their execution. The question is how do you change behaviour.  This is the focus of “BE BOLD AND WIN THE SALE”, and the focus of the interview.

Jeff highlights specific things sellers and organizations can do to to begin the transformation and win sales. Take a look, and pick up the book when it comes out January 3, 2014, and go out and win sales.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Fine Line Between Cool and Rude8

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Back 2 back sm

In an increasingly hurried world of too many things to do in too few hours, buyers seem to fall in to two groups: Cool and Rude. The cool are those who can deal with and clearly communicate what is on their mind, regardless of the impact on sellers. While what they communicate may not be what sellers want to hear, the upside is that the communication is clear, and they are offered the respect a potential partner deserves. The rude (and I suspect other shortcomings) are those who fail to communicate clearly for whatever reason, that, only they know since they are unable or willing to communicate properly.

Specifically I am speaking about the common act by many, but here specifically prospects, of going radio silent on sellers.

Context

This came about as a result of a coffee with a long-time associate Harry, a very professional and proven seller in his industry, with a solid track record of delivering results for both his employer and his clients. He has been around long enough to know that his offering is not for everyone, and that at times he does not sell as well as other times, but he has for years managed to sell and deliver value in an industry that continues to be commoditized daily. Add to that we were talking about not people not responding to initial approaches from e-mail, inbound marketing, cold calls, voice mails, LinkedIn InMails, Tweets, or any form of initial approach, the examples he was discussing were from people who were engaged in the process, went well past the initial exploration, and clearly expressed more than an interest in engaging. Harry was lamenting the loss of common courtesy, not that he expects everyone who starts the process to buy, just a simple communication as to where things are, even when they are nowhere.  BTW, I have heard this from a steady number of professional sellers of late.

The Reality

His comments came not from the frustration as a seller, but the deterioration of common courtesy in business. He has been around long enough to understand that many will not see value in what you sell, and may come to that determination after going part way through the cycle. Being old school, he is doggedly focused on next steps, and when he doesn’t get one, he understands that he needs to both ask why, and he needs to find a new prospect to replace the one that just said no. What he was puzzled by is why people who committed to a next meeting, next call, next action, not only do not follow through, but fail to communicate. Yes, silence clearly communicates their intent, he was just wondering why they just couldn’t say no. Again, for Harry it was not about the lost sales, but the lack of will, or ability to communicate.

Most professional sales people understand that they will hear more no’s than yes’s, in fact the better they are, the truer that is. Harry was just asking to hear something, even as he moved on to the next opportunity.

Yes, we know that buyers are crazy busy; busy, busy, busy; but busy is not permission to be rude. In fact most successful executives go out of their way to close conversations and discussions, I suspect because they know they may need to interact with that person at one point in the future; now that’s cool! As Harry said “I didn’t put a gun to their head to meet to begin with, some reached out to me, the least they can do is to tell me to FOD.”

In a selling world enamoured with the concept of relationship and etiquette, one where the mantra of people buy from people, rules supreme, it is a curiosity why so many seem to prefer to be rude and ignorant, rather than cool and communicative.

vote

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Changing The Cycle Of Sales Abuse – Sales eXchange 2252

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

sales abuse

Many sales managers are in the wrong job, and for the wrong reasons, the intentions may have right, even noble, but outcome serves neither in individuals in question, the companies and customers. It is a familiar cycle, they were truly excellent reps, and consistently exceeding the most challenging quotas, liked by their peers, management and clients, and their reward was an invitation to management. Some resist the temptation, understanding that their passion is in selling and they follow that passion to their greater success for all, customers and employers. Others go into it with their eyes open, realising it will take work on their part to reinvent themselves in their new role, working at becoming as good a manager as they were a sales person. With the help and support of their companies, they grow into to their new role, and again there is broader win for everyone. But these are in the minority, a large number end up differently.

This group were good, not always great reps, they’ve around long enough, and when an opening presents itself, they are promoted to manager. Partly as a reward and recognition of their tenure, partly because senior management is impatient when there is a vacancy in the ranks, but usually not because they were best suited for sale management.

Worse, often they are not prepared or trained for sales management. In many companies they are offered “general” management training, how to administer performance reviews, sensitivity and harassment related training, etc. All important skills and knowledge for all managers, but managing a sales team, which by implication means managing a sales process, is a different and unique capability, and without that, they are only half ready.

Left alone to their own devices, the individual in question resorts to the obvious but incorrect conclusion: “They made me a manager because I was good, and they want more people like me, and so I will set out to make my newly adopted team in my image”. And that’s where the “Cycle of sales abuse” begins; or maybe continues depending on who their manager was.

I don’t mean to imply that these managers abuse their teams physically, but they do try to instill the habits they are familiar with rather than developing their team members. While changing behaviour is at the heart of changing and improving sales habits, skills and results, the most efficient way to do that is to manage the process rather than the individual. Behaviours and habits are very personal and subjective, and approached the wrong way, as often is the case with inexperienced managers. “That’s the way I did it”, makes for good stories, not good sales leadership, especially when many of these managers can’t always articulate why they succeeded, they just did.

Some organizations do invest time and resources into developing future managers with some form of high performance program, but those don’t always work as much as they hype would suggest, (imagine that), so while it’s an OK feel good exercise, it does not produce all its hyped up to be.

One overlooked opportunity is hiring professional managers, usually because of the misguided belief that you need to have product expertise to be successful. While product knowledge is important, it is easier learned than how to lead, transform and manage a sales team based on a process.

So now is the time to stop the cycle of managers trying to create mini-me’s, and embrace a better plan.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Small Business Week – BNN Interview (#video)0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

This week is Small Business Week in Canada, as part of that BNN, Canada’s business news television network is running features highlighting the Canadian small business space, and looking at trend and advice for the small business community.

 

On Monday I had the pleasure of discussing how small business owners approach hiring sales talent, what works, and what they should avoid.

 

Take a look, and as always, share your thoughts, leave a comment.

 

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 

Which ‘R’ Word Will Help You Sell?2

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

2 shadow guys

Sales people are always told to pursue relationships as a means of securing buyers, clients, and building trust. While I may not always agree with the order or sequence of these, they are the right ingredients, how you mix them, then cook them up and serve them will directly impact the perception of your buyer, and their willingness to consume or buy what you are dishing..

I have always believed that there is a lot of selling that can be done before you actually have a relationship (at least one worth anything to speak of), so why wait. In fact if you were to break down the elements of “relationship” or trust sellers strive for, you’ll find that a common element in both, namely respect. You can gain the respect a lot sooner than achieving a full and mutually beneficial and balanced relationship, which you can then use as a platform for building and accelerating, and solidifying said relationship.

Gaining and giving respect is easier to deal with early in the association, and can deliver sales as you work your way up the chain. Let’s be clear, I think that there is a lot of selling and revenue that can be achieved long before you have a relationship, and those who tell otherwise are wrong, and costing you sales, and let’s not forget, we are paid to drive sales, not relationships; after a point, selling to someone you have a relationship with becomes easier for all involved.

But many confuse respect with taking a subservient a diminutive stance, nothing can be further from the truth. If you are going to lead someone to a decision, you need to lead, not follow. You goal should be to have at minimum a peer-to-peer connection with your buyer. This involves accepting the role of being a subject matter expert, much less a product expert.

Many sales people don’t do as well as they can when they take on the role of product expert. Buyers by products for the impact those products deliver, not for how the product works. Sure a technology leader may be impressed by your gizmo’s capabilities, how it was developed, and how it is put together; but if it does not address their ability to move them close to their objectives, they will not buy. Being a subject matter expert allows you, no forces you, to go beyond product, to impact, and with that confidence, you can have that peer-to-peer discussion, allowing you to test the buyer’s view and preconceptions, and point to solutions that actually move them towards their stated objective, or a times to rethink and restate objective.

With virtually no difference in many category leaders, the key differentiator is the way you sell. Product sellers get caught in the daily discussions with how they need this or that if they are going to compete. You’ve all heard it at sales meetings, “if only we had this”, “if only it could do that”, “if it only came in red.” You may think you are not bringing that into meetings, but you are, and your buyer senses it. But if you went in as a subject matter expert, ready to help them move forward, you would not get bogged down in product based discussions, even if it does not come in red.

So, respect your buyer, yourself, and your task, to generate revenue for your company buy helping your buyer achieve their objectives. Your buyer will respect that long before they have a “relationship” with you.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto  

Are you a Persuader or Mediator? – Sales eXchange 2220

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Mediate

I don’t see why anyone in sales should take offence to being called a persuader, it is after all our job, to persuade people that yes it is time to buy, and buy from us. I wear the label of persuader much more proudly than one of being a mediator, a label many in sales would rather wear.

Based on a discussion I had recently with two experienced sales people who were trying to persuade me (sell me), on the fact that what they do is much more “mediate” between the buyer and their company. Mediate, really? Not sure that is what sales people are supposed to do, and as I asked I got the usual, intellectually trap-laden, politically correct snippet about relationships, and how it is the role of the sales person to look after the needs of the “client in the mix”. Hmm!?!

I know it may just be semantics, but words count for a lot in sales, especially in setting mind set and attitudes, as those two things go straight to how you behave, and it is the resulting action that counts in sales. And because of that you will get very different results if you set out to persuade or if you set out to mediate.

When we look at the Merriam-Webster definition of mediate we find it defined as:

: to work with opposing sides in an argument or dispute in order to get an agreement (US)
: to get (something, such as a settlement or agreement) by working with opposing sides in a dispute
: to have an effect or influence in causing (something) to happen

And mediator as:

: one that mediates; especially : one that mediates between parties at variance

Right off the top there is a disconnect, on the one hand we hear about “relationships” and “trust”, yet we see our role as that of the UN in the negotiations between North and South Korea.

Further I am not sure why there is a negative perception of “persuading”, it does not have to imply that you are pulling something over the buyer, it just means:

: to cause (someone) to do something by asking, arguing, or giving reasons
: to cause (someone) to believe something

You can do that, and still maintain or strengthen a relationship, especially if the buyer gains by taking action you persuaded them to take. If the strength of you belief in your product is so strong and compelling, that the buyer is moved to act, how is that worse than mediating, where there is an assumption of adversaries, one being your employer.

The same people who seem to lean towards any word other than persuasion for what they do a s sales people, are the same who are happy to interchange the word negotiate with appease, and in the process of appeasing, mediate away the last bit of margin left in the deal, and subsequent purchases that buyer makes.

The sad reality is that if these same sales people only put as much effort into persuading their buyers, as they do me in labeling their role, they would mediate less, and sell more. Besides, if you are dealing with buyer who require mediation, and see your company as the “opposing” side, you should fire those prospects, and prospect for new ones that see you as much as a partner as you see them.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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