Go For That Hail Mary Now – Sales eXchange 2331

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Hail Mary

When we hear the phrase Hail Mary, we think of the end of half or end of game, a last chance play or pass, a buzzer beater, usually accompanied by some level of desperation (perceived or real). This a ritual not limited to sports, it is practiced in B2B sales, but under different names, fueled by the same need, and with all the same negative connotations; the end is nigh, and you know the drill. We’ve all seen it or lived through it, the end of quarter (or other sales period) deal coral and round up time. All rules and reason go out the window, it is all about the close; your manager’s vocabulary is reduced to four words, “Have you closed _________?”, no vacations, and god forbid if your wife goes into labour before the 31st.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with long shots, this is more about which, why and when. I love long shots, some of my best opportunities resulted from me taking a shot on things others ignored, or by taking an approach everyone would have bet will lead to disaster. But you have to pick them, because as we have said here repeatedly, time is a non-renewable resource. But they are long shots for a reason, and you need to select them for the right reason, and more importantly make sure you select them, rather than them selecting you, in the form of an all or none situation.

Long shots should be over and above the real opportunities in your pipeline rather than the only things in the pipe. This allows you to stretch, experiment and discover new ways to sell without bringing unnecessary risk to your quarter year, or overall success. With a blended pipeline with ample coverage, long shots are fun, and can be rewarding. When approached as a bonus, they allow you to explore new sectors, prospect new people, and expand your repertoire, expand markets, and open new referral channels.

Plan your long shots with the understanding that will need a lot of run way. Why most sales Hail Mary’s fail is that they are not given enough time to unfold properly. Instead of waiting for the last Wednesday of the quarter, start your pursuit on the first day, start two, as chances are that at best one may work. But make sure you start with enough time to have a “shot”.

Make sure you not only have a plan B and C, and beyond. Just due to the nature of these opportunities, you are likely going to need a plan G, M and maybe even a plan T (plan T;s are my favourite).

One of the things I enjoy most about Hail Mary’s is the opportunity to talk to people in roles I don’t normally deal with, and in types of accounts outside my normal ones. This is not only challenging in a way that allows me to sharpen skills, but is fun, and you do have to have fun. When I win, there is more than money, and if I lose, well it is not my core pipeline.

So yes, take the long shot, go for the Hail Mary, but do it now, not March 25.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto


Your Funnel Should Be A Horn Of Plenty3

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Harvest c

Most would agree that sales is not strictly a numbers game, but as with other issues such as closed ended questions, the pendulum at times seems to swing too far in one direction. While no one will argue that there needs to be a greater focus on quality than quantity, you also can’t get away from the fact that numbers play a great role in sales success. Just the plain simple fact that we are measured on our success with numbers, leads to the integral, if sometimes inconvenient fact that sales is a numbers driven sport.

I bring this up because of reaction to my piece the past Monday on how to deal with prospects who are reluctant to commit. At one point I mentioned that anything other than a firm yes is a NO, regardless of what it sounds like, and how much hope a statement may allude to. I went as far as to suggest that if you can’t get a next step you should walk away. Some questioned the soundness of that strategy, why would you walk away?

Well two things to consider, first, when I say walk away, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever revisit that prospect in the future, whether that be three months, six, or a year, you can come back. But the reality is that if you don’t walk away and engage with a real buyer, you will miss your quarter, and may not have your job by the time this prospect is ready to go. With all the tools available from e-mail, e-mail marketing, social media, you can be present in the prospect’s world, without having to spend valuable time while they are coming around. Walking away is not forever, it for your sales success.

The other which goes straight to numbers, has to do with the quality and quantity in you funnel. If you needed 5 prospects to close a deal, and you had eight real ones in your funnel, if one went soft, you wouldn’t lose much sleep, after you’ve got the five, plus a couple for insurance. On the other hand, if you needed five prospects to close a deal, you had three real prospects in your funnel and one went soft, you have a problem. Leading to the obvious conclusion that quantity does give you options when facing a quality issue.

Most companies struggling with their sales are struggling more from a quantity of opportunities perspective to a much greater degree than quality. The issue is that prospects they have are good, they just don’t have enough of them. In that scenario the logical approach would be to go out and get a few more good prospects, the numbers side of the equation. But most sales people believe they can breathe life into a dead deal with more ease than going out and prospecting more good opportunities. I never understood why they prefer being rejected by a prospected they have invested time, money and emotion in, than being rejected on a prospecting call.

Starting from a position of plenty, meaning more prospects as measured in numbers, gives you options, allows you to execute on the best opportunity. Having a small number of “good” prospects, will give you some quality but in insufficient amounts to assure success.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What’s there to think about? – Sales eXchange 2171

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


Many sales people will tell you that one of the most common and frustrating objections they get from prospects, is “Let me think about it, I’ll be back to you”. It has enough optimism in it to suggest there may be some hope or opportunity, but not enough substance to make it useful. In the end “thinking is not the same as acting” and at the time you get this objection, what we need is action, anything less than that is second or third prize, not good enough for winners.

To manage this and deal with this objection, (and yes managing and dealing with objections are two different things), you have to adopt a number of different approaches, and act on parallel plains and modes.

First, get real, anything other than a yes, is a no, and deal with it as such. Doesn’t matter how sincere the delivery, if it is not “Yes”, it is no. If you accept that as your mantra, it will guide your interactions and actions with potential buyers, and inform you meeting objectives and execution.

Do you know what you want out of the meeting before going in? Without a definitive “Next Step Strategy”, it is hard to get commitment. You need a plan A, B, and C, this allows you to formulate a structure for the meeting, ask the right questions to help uncover the buyer’s objectives, opportunities and potential barriers. Understand how you can help minimize or remove the hurdles and accelerate their opportunities. In the process you deal with the buyer’s response, and respond accordingly explain and continue to execute the meeting in a “proper” way, and they say, “I need to think about it”. You either had the wrong plan, wrong execution, or wrong buyer.

Ask yourself whether you had engagement – no engagement most often leads to no commitment, no matter how good the plan. Even when you have the right plan, and get the above right, it comes down to executing the meeting right and creating engagement. While it is be true that it may take time to build a real relationship, and real trust, it starts with engagement. You can tell when a prospect is engaged in the meeting, this why you have a plan A, B and C, so you can explore in multiple ways. If after all that, they still need to think about it, is this really an opportunity NOW, or is it something that MAY happen later, after they had a chance to think, and you miss your quarter. It may be time to look for another prospect.

Do you have other prospects? That is the one of the hidden questions. If you have a funnel full of viable prospects, would one “I need to think about it”, be such a big deal? No, you would move on to the next one, one willing to act. Now if everyone wants to think about it, no matter how many prospects you meet with, then you need to look at the above points. But if you need four deals a month, and you close one of every four prospects, it is really simple. If you have 16 or more prospects a month, and you continue to close 4, and two or three say “I need to think about it”, would you be fussed? On the other hand, if you have eight prospects and three say they need to think, well, problem. Sometimes the easiest way to overcome the challenge is to build in choice by building your prospect base. Think about that.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Does Your Pipeline Need a Stent?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


The fourth quarter of the year holds a unique challenge for sales professionals. We not only have to close what we can by year end, but we have to prospect with more vigour than ever to ensure we go into the next year with enough momentum and opportunities to ensure a strong start to the year and our eventual success.

Coming out of the summer, we also have a lot of opportunities that have been parked, on hold if you will, due to the distractions of summer. All with the hope, and I mean hope, that now with everyone refocusing on business, they will revive themselves or be rekindled and result in sales. But experience has shown that despite the hope, intention and solid promises few if any come back on line with the promise they had when they were parked in June or so.

This leave pipelines full of names that some mistake for real opportunities, and end up consuming time and energy before we realize that all hope had left these “opportunities” soon after they were parked, or often even before.

All these opportunities in the pipeline end up looking and acting like plaque in ones arteries, creating blockages and bringing with it the risk of deal flow being restricted if not entirely cut off, by these blockers that we confuse with opportunities. Many confuse a full pipeline with a healthy pipeline, and nothing is further from the truth. Having a pipeline full of names, unverified “opportunities”, bring the same risk to your sales, as clogged arteries do to your health. It is important to clear the path, and allow real deals to flow unencumbered by wishful thinking and names in the pipe.

One impact relates to what a former colleague once said about having a pipeline full of names rather than opportunities: “What people emotionally believe their prospect base to be, triggers their urgency to prospect!” The illusion of all those names in the pipeline, the tendency or the need to follow through with each one, just distracts one from prospecting for new opportunities. “Look at all the stuff I have to work on”, leads to a lack of prospecting, and by the time you realise you need to adjust, that year end is close, and the ability to build momentum in to the coming year is gone or badly diminished.

The goal is to establish good rules for requalifying the pipeline, and not being afraid of letting go of all the crap that is just not real, and clogging things up. Rather than trying to make it real, as many will, learn to let them go, for now, you can always revisit, say it after me: “Leads Are Recyclable”. Eliminate the “maybes”, and move on the real ones, the ones willing to take proactive steps to make things happen now. Start by inserting a “Next Step Stent”, if they are unwilling or unable to act in a way a buyer would, then get them out of the pipe, they are a distraction, and again – you can call them back.

Work on those behaving like a buyer, not a tire kicker, if the story hasn’t changed since May, their status in your pipeline should.

Get that stent in there, clear out the cloggers, and close the real opportunities.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Surf’s Up! Riding the Pipeline to the Shores of Success1


The Pipeline Guest Post - Susan Payton

This might come across as mind-blowing, but here’s the secret to better sales:

It’s not about getting tons of leads into your pipeline. It’s about how you treat them once they’re there.

When it comes to your sales pipeline, if you’re focusing on quantity—and not quality—you won’t realize the conversion rate you could if you instead worked on the following three goals:

  1. Qualify leads early
  2. Direct leads into the appropriate funnel
  3. Customize messages to each funnel throughout the journey down the pipeline

Know What a Lead Looks Like
No, “everyone” doesn’t qualify as a lead. Look at past customers you’d like to replicate. What characteristics did those customers possess? What were the actions they took to arrive in your pipeline? Those actions might include:

  • Downloading a white paper on your site
  • Signing up for your emails
  • Signing up for a free account or trial
  • Visiting a specific page multiple times

Technology allows you to be very specific in the actions you track online, so there’s no reason you should treat all leads equally.

Set up lead scoring criteria to help you identify hot leads early in the process. Assign a numeric value to the transactions that landed them in your pipeline, as well as a lead’s job title—for those B2B marketers—and demographics data if you can get it.

Target, Target, Target
You probably can identify certain types of leads or customers based on your past experience. You probably have seen leads who ask a lot of questions and are slow to buy—if they buy at all. You’ve also probably encountered those who want to make a decision now, and don’t require a lot of handholding. You can probably think of other types as well.

The point here is: you want to break down your initial lead bucket into as many funnels as possible so you can maximize the impact of your marketing messages to each segment. The quick decision-maker shouldn’t get the same automated emails as the questioning customer, because his lead time will be virtually nil.

Master the Marketing Message
Make sure your messaging fits the lead profile. That slow-to-buy lead will want plenty of information about your product, not a promotional offer. The quick customer may respond better to a $10 off coupon via email. Test until you’re getting the best conversion rate possible. One way to do this is with customer relationship management (CRM) software.

That software will allow you to align your offline marketing and sales efforts with the needs of each customer profile. If you’re using CRM for marketing and tracking valuable customer data, it’s easy enough to create categories for customer types, as well as develop a key your sales team can use to know how to best approach a given type of customer.

For example, if it’s customary for a salesperson to call every lead personally, he might not want to do so with a quick decision-maker. It might be unnecessary, and if all of the lead’s other behavior has been online, he might not welcome a phone call.

Track Everything
CRM software will only come in handy if you’re tracking the right information, which is pretty much all information about a customer. Every person who interacts with a lead should make notes about their conversation, as well as provide recommendations for future communications.

You should be able to look at a lead’s profile and get a sense of what he has responded to. If you’re automating email messages, you shouldn’t need to do much, provided the communication is effective. If it’s not, look at results across that particular segment and see if the lack of response is indicative of the bigger picture. If so, tweak the message and try again.

Continue to Tweak the Process
Sales isn’t an out-of-the-box solution for most brands. It’s a continual effort to discover what works to increase conversion and sales. But over time, if you’re paying attention to your leads’ responses, you’ll see better results, making the corrections smaller and smaller.

Your pipeline should net you a better conversion rate (and generate fewer dead leads along the way) if you’re truly paying attention to what makes your customers tick.

Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s also the founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners. She’s written three books: DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and contributes to several sites, including ChamberofCommerce.com, The Marketing Eggspert Blog, CorpNet, Small Business Trends, and BizLaunch. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.

3 Point Summer Sales Tune Up!2

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

As part of my monthly column for The Globe and Mail Report on Small Business, this month I outlined three things sellers can do to ensure that not only does summer not need to be slow or a down time, but in fact there are specific things you can do to win business, and set yourself up for the rest of the sales year.

Boost your summer sales with these three tips

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a start, take a look, comment, let me know what you think.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What Makes You Different?5

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


People always want to present themselves as being unique or different, even as they are lined up overnight for the latest iGadget, all adorned in the latest gadget-ware from Fashion Star.  So I am rarely surprised when sales people tell they or their products are different.

I recall meeting with a VP of sales from a software company, the latest killer app, and while he agreed to take the appointment knowing what I do, it seemed his objective was to validate how their product and sale were different than anything I had seen to date.  If I had $10 for every time he said “Tibor, you have to understand we are different, our product is different, and our sale (process) is different”. While I am not qualified to comment on the nature of the software, I had to ask about the sale of their software.

Me: Am I right in thinking that all your reps are all delivering quota?

VP: No, we have a couple that are, some just below, about half haven’t hit goal for the last couple years.

Me: So let me see if I understand Harvey, your people don’t have to prospect, leads and prospect are abundant, normally potential buyers are lined up around the block; it’s just because you knew I was coming this morning that you cleared the sidewalk for me?

VP: No, no, no, we need to prospect like mad, we are always looking for ways to get enough of the right prospects in the funnel, we get a web leads, but they need to prospect more.

Me: But once they get in front of the right prospect, getting the buyers to buy into your value prop, and getting to proposal is just a formality, right?

VP: No, we have to do a lot of information gathering, understand their needs, and explain what we do just to get them to actually appreciate what we can do for them.  It’s a grind and a struggle for some of the AE’s.

Me: but once they articulate the value prop, and the buyer gets it, it just goes straight to signature and close.

VP: No, there is a lot of haggling, back and forth, we lose too many sales at this point.

Me: So Harvey, I may be slow, but I am not sure I see the difference.

Do you?  The one area where Harvey failed to differentiate is in the way they sell.  Like other mere mortals, they have to prospect, engage, execute a discovery to find common ground and gain commitment?

The difference is rarely in the product, the difference is in the way you sell.  If leading products have an overlap of some 80% or more in features, capabilities and output, the only way left to differentiate is in the way you sell and interact with your buyers.  If you are no different in that perspective, than there will be little difference in results moving forward.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

4 Company Culture “Must Haves” to Create a Great Sales Process0

Process A1

The Pipeline Guest Post – Jon Birdsong

A great sales process does not start with fancy workflows and flawless forecasts. Forging a thriving sales process starts with something more integral to the organization: the company’s DNA. Make no mistake, company culture cultivates machine-like sales processes. When it’s done right, the result is admirable and motivating.

The past two years have exposed the Rivalry team to a variety of sales processes and sales cultures. Some are amazing. In certain companies, salespeople enjoy going to work, making progress on their goals, and achieving measurable results. In others, salespeople dread work, make no real advancements in personal or professional improvement, and lost when it comes to goal achievement.

We’ve found consistent patterns in company cultures that foster efficient sales processes efficiency. The following are 4 company culture “must-have’s” to create a great sales process.

Coach Like Phil Jackson – it’s indisputable Phil Jackson has the best profile picture on Twitter. Sales organizations who place a high priority on improving the salesperson’s skills have a significant advantage over the average company. Determining the priority of coaching in your organization is easy: how many hours a day/week does your VP of Sales spend coaching. Sales process Yoda and HubSpot’s VP of Sales wrote an excellent piece on 4 Steps to Metric-Driven Coaching.

Hire Like You’re Donald Trump – watch The Apprentice for one season and it becomes clear the value Donald Trump places on his open job positions. Episode after episode, one ambitious contestant is “fired,” leaving them with nothing but a lonely cab ride home. Intimidating potential hires like Donald may not be necessary, but maintaining high standards for new hires is essential to building a sales team. Insider tip: put new hires through your own hiring process and make sure each one fits with the core values of the company.

Mandate CRM Data-Entry – if you want to be a hard-ass, now is the time . We have not come across one, thriving sales organization that does not have the “if it’s not in Salesforce.com, it didn’t happen” mandate. The secret to making this mandate become the salesperson’s best friend is positioning the “why.” Insider tip: hopefully you’ve built trust with your team, if so, then it is important to communicate that entering data in the CRM helps identify their weakness and places focus on areas where you can coach them to improve.

Foster Friendly Competition: – some people are naturally gifted in sales, others work their tail off, and the rest find a new industry. Producing an environment where certain benchmarks and goals are transparent to the sales organization creates peer-pressure and group requirements. These are good. It sets the standard and focuses attention on who is the best. A great sales culture has an easy way to monitor monthly, weekly, and daily progress, so each sales reps know where they stand and more importantly how to improve their standards.

About Jon Birdsong

Jon Birdsong is the CEO of Rivalry, a sales process management company.  You can find him on Twitter and Google +.

Shock Treatment – Sales eXchange 1922

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca
Jump Start

Last Monday I posted about the overlooked opportunity in that segment of buyers know as Status Quo, pundits and sellers alike commiserating each other about the difficulty of selling to a ready group of buyers, vs. taking orders from self-declared buyers.

I’ll be the first to admit change is hard, especially for business buyers who have their handful, trying to make headway in a competitive market.  Change is time consuming, a drain on resources, creates upheaval, usually expensive, and fraught with risk, for the organization and the individual at the centre of the decision.  Moving the dial with these types of buyers requires more than a bit of effort, which is why change is also hard for sellers; it is much easier and safer to rationalize, and wait for a referral.

This is why there is a healthy and growing industry of sages ready to sell indisposed sellers every mean of just waiting at the edge of the forest, encouraging them to wait for something to come out to them, rather than entering the fray and winning business most sellers seem reluctant to peruse.

How much effort does it take? Well take a minute, step back and look around you and study what it takes for people to make critical changes in key their lives. Frighteningly, you discover that people don’t often make big changes, right changes, preferring to avoid and live with the consequences of the Status Quo.  Even when they know that the new state is preferable to their existing one.  The naive notion which many buy into that people will move to a better mouse trap has cost both sellers and buyers much time and money.  You can build the better mouse trap, Trap 2.0, and people will rodent infestation will maybe look your way, then rationalize why they shouldn’t beat a path to your door.

Don’t believe me, how many people do you know who continue to smoke, even after their father expired due to lung cancer; how many people do you know who continue to biggie size it, despite the fact that they have to buy a new wardrobe every six months?  People can change these with a effort if they wanted to, but it takes effort.  How many times have you watched companies go to the brink or beyond because the devil they knew was a better alternative to the one they didn’t know?

The answer is not offering the “right” or “better” solution, or in becoming their friend.  It is about penetrating the barriers the buyers have erected to protect their current state.  Your only choice is to shock them, shock your way past their fortress of hope.  Hope it will work out, hope it will last, and hope no one will notice.  For the “be found crowd”, this is not an issue, the buyer has dismantled the barriers, and are ready to change, but for the Status Quo, intervention time.

Now I am not talking about clamping a couple of electrodes to your buyer’s temples (or elsewhere); but I am talking about asking hard and very direct questions, which at best could be called provocative, at worst a punch below their reality belt.  One does not have to be rude, but one does have to shake things up, which means the ultimate relationship you have starts out a bit rough, but ends up being a solid one, built on being a reliable resource, not a cuddly friend.

There is plenty of writing and thinking out there about how to succeed with the Status Quo, mine, others who provide means and questions you can use.  But the first step is for you as a seller to recognize and decide how you want to deliver value to your buyer.  Once you decide that you can do more than just take orders from ready buyers, and win more business who may not think they need you or your offering, there are plenty of resources to help you, but as with other changes, you need to first admit that you are a card carrying member of the Status Quo.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto  

The Complexities of Selling Technology to Business0

Selling Technology

Guest Post – Michael Ashford

Selling to business can be a great profession for talented sales people who want to work in ‘big time’ sales. Especially as you work with medium and large size companies, B2B sales can mean large transactions and more opportunity to showcase advanced selling skills.

But B2B selling, especially to large corporations has evolved into a complicated process. This is no more true when selling technology to business – software, hardware, telecommunications, infrastructure, etc. Companies spend massive amounts of capital on technology, and as the technology has advanced, so too has their buying process.

In this post, we’ll discuss some of the reasons technology sales to business is so complex. … Read more →

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