Welcome to The Pipeline.

No Bailout in Sales2

So here we are, the Monday after the “Big Bailout”, oops, we are supposed to call it a rescue, nonetheless, the morning after as it were. The initial reaction was a bit of a let down, a big selloff as soon as the House capitulated, abandoned the resolve it showed only a few days before, surrendering what last of their spine and other body parts in the process. So if I believe what the pundits were telling me all weekend long, we are now ready for the comeback.

Well I am not sure where we are, but it is clear that the worst is not over by any measure, and as a result sales people are in for a rough ride over the next few months.

Let me say right here that this is not a doom and gloom piece, in fact it is meant to be a piece that will help you realize that in every type of market there are opportunities for sales professionals. But the reality is that many sales people have not gone through the level of slow down we are likely to see before it gets better.

This will result in many leaving the profession due to their in ability to drive sales. They either refuse to focus on improving skills; fail to accept, adopt or execute a proper sales process; or choose “busy work” over “productive planned activity”. None of these are hard to address or resolve, but unfortunately in good time people come to sales due to the easy money aspect of the profession. Since they never had to adopt a formal approach to sales as a profession, they will lumber on for a bit, then they will blame the market and try to ride it out, and eventually (hopefully not that long) they just up and leave. I will not miss them, will you?

This group represents only a portion of the sales community, while many managers will first be nervous when their departure leaves open territories, they will quickly recover when the revenue drop is not as bad as expected, in fact the departure will be seen as a plus, and an opportunity to improve things. For real professionals this is a great time, not easy, but great. Here is where by applying proven principals and practices they will continue to make money by executing their craft. By planning their territories and properly utilizing their time they will be able to meet the justifiable greater expectation of their prospect/clients.

A reality of the time is that price will become a greater issue. This is not only because of the perception by buyers that they can afford to buy, but initially because the weaker sales reps sell more on price than ever before. The professionals really need to sell value, help prospects understand and realize the total cost of ownership and real returns on the right purchase.

An interesting aspect of times like these is that there are as many distractions as there are in good markets, the sign of a pro is not allowing the distractions to get in the way and continue to focus on the things that consistently make a difference. One of the most important is ensuring that we truly serve our clients and prospects. Focusing on their opportunities and challenges and ensuring that we capitalize for them, with them and from them.

Whether you have lived through similar down turns or not, be they the early 80’s, remember 16%+ mortgage rates; or the S&L crisis in the early 90’s. These drastic down turns are to be welcomed. They flush out the excess, and allow the real sales professionals to practice and benefit from their ability to execute their unique blend of science and art.

Sell well,

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Two simple steps to Consistent Pipeline results!0

As we enter the last quarter of the year, we must manage parallel time lines and activities to ensure ongoing sales success. The two lines are the need to finish the year strong, while ensuring we have good momentum going in to the next fiscal year.

Many do the former well, they often lose sight of the other and experience a start of the year lull as a result. It is only natural, we are so determined to close the year, we let prospecting lapse which has a negative echo effect down the road, usually a period of time equal to you sales cycle. This is further compounded by our managers and senior management who continuously ask “what are you gonna close?” and never ask “what have you opened?” So we focus on closing, and discounting (which is a whole other topic).

While always important, the use of time in the correct way becomes a key element of success on both lines. That is ensuring that we proactively setting appropriate time for both the here and now, and the future in a non-exclusive way. This in turn comes down to planning and executing. To that end there are two pieces you should read to help you with this basic challenge. The first is something that appeared in the monthly newsletter edition of The Pipeline: Allocate Time – Manage Activities. The second deals with putting things into action, avoiding procrastination. Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph. D, recently posted a piece entitled: 3 tips to reduce procrastination today! A quick read of these two should give you the basics to plan and execute an effective prospecting plan for Q4.

Sell well,

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Rejection VS. Failure, What’s Your Preference?4

It’s interesting that most sales professionals worry more about being rejected than failing. Let’s take a look at those reps that year in and year out seem to deliver 70% to 80% of quota. They are generally good sales people, efficient at executing their craft, but never leaders of the pack, and at times do not live up to their full potential.

When one examines the reason, it is often the case that they miss their numbers due to insufficient deal flow. They have a good conversion rate from prospect to client; the shortfall is a result of not having enough deals. Looked at another way, they do not originate enough opportunities to be able to take full advantage of their ability to convert; usually they are not prospecting enough. One easy cure would be to improve their conversion of prospects to clients, but that is not happening, so let’s accept that they are as good as they are going to be, and the opportunity to improve lies elsewhere in the cycle. So for more deal flow, they need more opportunities, you guessed it, more prospects, more prospecting.

Often this boils down to bad use of time and unwillingness to prospect. For view on the former and how we get so busy doing things we don’t have enough time to do the right things, see “Allocate Time – Manage Activities”; the latter, not prospecting, often results from an irrational attitude towards “rejection”.

In the past we discussed why we do not buy into rejection being the key reason behind people’s prospecting reluctance. But even if one did buy that popular rationale, it leads to the question why one can live with failure vis-a-vis their quota, vs. momentary rejection by a stranger.

How is it easier or more bearable to let yourself, your team, your manager and your company down, than to have someone you have never met tell you over the phone, not even face to face, that they are not interested in engaging or are too busy to at the time you decided to call them out of the blue?

This doesn’t just apply to cold calling; one can choose e-mail, networking, referrals, the web, and more. I know one very successful financial rep, company leading in fact, who has never picked up the phone to make a cold call, but is amazing when it comes to networking and using e-mail in tandem. He never forgets that he has to prospect, every day a portion of his day is dedicated to generating new leads and engaging new opportunities. He lives with rejection daily, his attempt to contact ratio is lower than some who use the phone, or conversely his is rejected at a higher rate, he continues to connect with a sufficient number of prospects and by extension their network to drive his success.

I asked him about rejection, he said he doesn’t like the fact that some will not engage with him, but he focuses on maximizing those that do give him the opportunity. While he continues to hone his sales skills, he tells me that he wants to continue to reach out to new prospects as a means of expanding his reach.

Even if you do have to cold call, (nasty I know), it is not as bad as most make it out to be, and despite what some quick fix peddlers may tell you, is one of the most cost and time effective way to get new prospects. Fast, easy and cheap, wow! Don’t believe me, well according to Is Cold-Calling Really Dead? Published at Businessweek.com last year, cold calling ranks only third after partner referrals, and general referrals. But even referrals, warm or hot will reject our approach, so it is an inescapable fact of not just prospecting, but selling.

Some deal with it by continuously working their base, others by working “hot” leads. Both good, but they don’t make up for accounts lost due to attrition, mergers, competitive wins, and other things that regularly shrink the base. So a little rejection can go a long way, once you learn to leverage voice mail, and the other hurdles you may encounter, a little rejection pays more dividends than consistent failure.

Sell well,

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Forecast vs. Pipeline2

It’s often hard to get people to differentiate between opportunities in their pipeline, and deals that can and should be forecasted.

There seems to be a number of reasons for this, some are individual, and therefore easy to address, some are systemic within the company, and could be very difficult to address without large scale change.

At the risk of over simplifying things let first look at what these two things are. The pipeline contains all the opportunities one is currently working on no matter what stage of evolution they are at. Some use the traditional 30-60-90 approach; others with longer cycles may use a same concept but with longer time scales.

Others use a timeline driven by their known and consistently measured length of their sales cycle. So if on average you need 16 weeks to close a deal, then your pipeline would be all opportunities in play less than 16 weeks.

Normally we like the latter method as it brings a layer of realism over the30-60-90 method which allows greater subjectivity, without the reality check of time, how old is the opportunity, has it aged. In the 30-60-90 there is the opportunity to move opportunities back and forth, I often ask reps how many times they have had that particular opportunity in the 30 day column, and it is usually multiple times; other times things just sit there well past the predicted time.

The marked-to-time method force one to deal with reality, keep the opportunity moving, or replace it with something else. A harder discipline, but one that pays off. Many of our clients use a hybrid of both, but not having it marked-to-time element is just asking for issues.

Now just because an opportunity is in the pipeline, does not make it forecastable. With both methods you need clear cut definitions, rules, attributes and actions for each stage of the pipeline. Assuming these are adhered to, deals that can be forecasted are small subsets that meet specific criteria that allow them to be forecasted. Beyond being in the pipeline, there has to be some sense of predictable certainty, based on subjective factors that allow an opportunity to be forecasted as closing at a specific point, for most in a given month.

For example, we do not forecast anything unless a proposal has been formally submitted. Pre-proposals and discussion documents are good indicators, but not forecasted. There has to be an active client. I see a lot of “forecasted deals”, where the rep does not even have an agreed to next step.

Both forecasts and pipeline are important tools, but they are not the same, and unlike with some organizations, are not interchangeable, organizations that do interchange usually fail to deliver, have highly in accurate forecasts, and often weak pipeline.

Forecast well,

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Event of Note0

On September 17th there is a no-charge webinar, being hosted by JigSaw that will have an audience of 1,000+ entrepreneurs, business leaders, and sales & marketing professionals looking for an edge or unfair advantage in sales.

During this 30 minute webinar Craig Elias will prove that there is a Silver Bullet in sales.

Webinar Details –There is a Silver Bullet in Sales

For years you’ve been told that there is no such thing as a silver bullet in sales.But there is. Its called timing – getting in front of the right person at EXACTLY the right time.When you have the right timing the sale almost happens by itself – No challenges getting to the decision maker, understanding their dissatisfaction, presenting a solution, or closing the sale.In this 30 minute webinar Craig Elias will show you how events that trigger the buying process – Trigger Events – convert someone who never would have bought from you yesterday, into someone highly likely to become your customer today.When you leverage Trigger Events to get in front of highly motivated, buyers before your competition you dramatically:

  • Increase your close ratios
  • Shorten your sales cycles
  • Sell at higher prices

This no-charge webinar will show you the secrets of getting to decision makers at EXACTLY the right time by:

  1. Identifying what the right timing is
  2. Learning how to get the right timing
  3. Understanding what to do when you do have the right timing

You’ll also learn:

  • The three types of Trigger Events that create highly motivated buyers
  • The specific Trigger Events that create highly motivated buyers for what you sell

Register even if you can’t make the live webinar so you receive the recording of the webinar and a chance to win $1,500 worth of Craig’s time.

You have My Permission0

I am always puzzled when I meet with sales professionals, either in a workshop setting or in one on one coaching sessions, and they are surprised when you tell them to do things in a specific way, as though they were under the impression that they could not do something. “wow you can do that?!”, yes Johnny, you can!

What puzzles me is that these are things that are straight forward, things that the 20% at the top are doing on an ongoing basis, but the other 80% are not. So the only conclusion I can draw is that they were waiting for someone to give them permission to do it.

We are talking about some basic stuff here, things as simple as calling the president of CEO of a large company. Most say they do it, few do. You discover this when you sit down for those one on ones. You say OK, let’s make some calls, here are some key executives. The rationalization starts, the planning and action stop. Once we work through it, it always seems to come down to feeling that they can do it; not from a capability standpoint either.

When you discuss what they are asking people they talk to in course of a sale, executives or others. Many will tell you they ask about need or “where is their pain”, (I hate pain, causing it and/or having it). But when it comes down to it and you encourage them to ask some direct questions about their business, the impact of their product on the business, desired outcomes, aspirations, you name it. They look at me and say “you can ask that?”

Well yes you can, you should, and the 20% who are making money, going to President’s Club year after year, are not only doing it consistently, but are not waiting for anyone to tell them that they should, or can do it.

So once and for all, you have my PREMISSION to sell in a way that helps your clients and makes you money.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Make the Most of It1

When ever I end a workshop, I ask “any questions?”, not that unique or special; but I often also add “any answers?” It is not an attempt to be cute or smart, but a chance to see what if any immediate response there may have been to the learning, what are some their take aways. Today’s post is a bit like that, a question rather than an answer; maybe you will indulge me and send me an answer.

While many may not agree, sales is not that different than any other profession, even in the fact that many who identify themselves as sales people are far from professional. I am not trying to be critical or profound, I am just reflecting on the things I see day to day in workshops with hundreds of sales professionals.

Based on who speak to, they will tell you that 20% of workshop participants will embrace new techniques, they will proactively seek out ways to improve, and generally take an active role in progressing their career through continuous development. Some 50% will coast, take in some of the opportunities presented at any event, but they are mostly there because they have to be, it is a day away from worrying about not having delivered, or having the rationale for not delivering given them by their own company; “hey I want to sell, but you have me in here instead of out in the market”. The last 30%, well as long as they don’t get in the way, or spill their paper plate on themselves or their neighbour, it’s a good day.

The thing that often strikes me, is why more participants don’t make the simple effort to get more out of opportunities to improve. Not just workshops and training, but other tools and initiatives made available by their companies in order to help them and by extension the company raise more revenue and more profits (both corporate and personal).

When you consider how many companies do not provide a usable or functional CRM or other SFA tools, how many do not have a solid and meaningful sales leadership, how many do not provide continuous development or foster a proactive sales culture; it is odd for me that when the company does provide some or all of the above, how easily some sales professionals choose to dismiss and dispose of the chance to use, embrace, improve and make more money in the process.

I know this not restricted to sales, I know this is nothing new. Their resistance to accept something new or different, their resistance to even the notion of change is truly counter productive to their immediate and long term success. Given that sales professional are harbingers of change, the “slayers of the Status Quo”, their own outlook and reactions contradict their role and undermine their success.

How can one expect their prospects to buy into or try something new, when they themselves embody and exude the Status Quo?

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Facts in Decision7

Great thing about some questions is that there is likely no definitive answer, but the topic is of such importance that the debate and resulting discussion is much more crucial than any answer could be. Sales and things relating to sales often fall in to this category, and more specifically, is sales a science or an art, or some Kabbalahic blend. Some have opted for a simple response, a well rehearsed snap shot, “their truth”, conveniently served in a book, a CD and full day program formats; all at a special introductory price. Many excuses, one of my favourites: Great Selling is a Process Artfully Done! Wow, almost CNN-Zen-like in its lack of substance and rhetorical balance.

No matter where you find comfort on the scale of Art vs. Science, you have to agree that those that see sales as a science are more likely to adhere to and execute a defined sales process. While those in the Art end, tend to take each sale as it comes, and whether they openly admit it or not, the Artists tend to wing the sale. The Art crowd tends to lean heavily on relationship and rapport, while the Geeks tend to follow rules and metrics.

Frankly having been a member of both camps, this is not a debate about one vs. the other, or a better or not question; but rather, are there some things that are a must in sales, and therefore need to be used by all sales professionals and organizations, regardless of whose book the concept or practice came from. I think there is, and one key one that should be embraced by all, and one that often is not, is the use of metrics. Yes they come from the science camp, but they should be a must for all sales, sadly they are not.

All too few sales people know their key averages, even easily quantifiable numeric ones, conversion ratios for one. Not knowing these measures leave them at a proven disadvantage. Simple ratios like opportunities to proposals; proposals to won (closed) deals. Then there are the ones they even know less, such as the number of attempts it takes to have a ‘right person contact’ in the course of prospecting; the number of ‘right person contacts’ needed to convert to a real engaged prospect, whether that means a face to face appointment, or sales call by phone. Without these measures in place and known, reviewed and adjusted based on your goal and state of pipeline, how will you make the right decisions about your time, focus and resource use?

You need to know these things (in addition to other things) to make decisions, without these measures/milestones, you are making decisions in a vacuum, without facts; any decision made without basic facts is just a whim or more likely gambles hoping for the best. This why a lot of the Art proponents use expressions like ‘Depends’ when you ask them specifics about their pipe, accounts or territories.

Q: “How long is your sales cycle?”
A: “Depends”
Q: “On what?”
A: “Depends”
Q: “Isn’t Depend an adult diaper?”

Q: “What is your Next Step?”
A: “I am gonna call him Thursday morning”
Q: “Does the prospect know that, did he agree to a time?
A: “I told him I would call and he said fine, I hope he’ll be there”

Q: “When will they make a decision?”
A: “I am supposed to call him Friday and he’ll let me know”

Q: “What is you proposal to close ratio?”
A: “Depends”

Basic facts, activity that can be measured, validated and reviewed, and with that steps for improvement can be taken with confidence. Facts based on real measures are the basic ingredients of decision making. Yet there are a whole bunch of people who cannot answer the most basic of facts, people making important decisions. How can one manage a sales call, or an account, a territory, or in the case of managers, a sales teams without the benefit of basic facts?

Fact based decision making is very much lost when you don’t measure, capture or review these basics. And while I like the abstracts as much as other forms of art, I would hate to make key decisions involving my success and financial well being without the benefit of key measures.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

P.S. Discipline extends back in the sale before you reach out to the client, for more on how to successfully prepare for prospecting, download our white paper:

white paper

“Above The Pipe! – Part I: Three Must Haves for Prospecting Success”

Lessons for Sales from the Democratic Convention in Denver4

Not to get too political, but can you really help it at the height of “Convention” season? Four days every four years where one can gorge on pre-processed politics; the opportunity for cable news channels to elevate the profoundly mundane to almost insignificant, a dose of equal time for all with or without a viewpoint.

Looking at this year’s opening night of the Demographic, oops sorry, Democratic convention, we see that there are some great lessons for sales professionals.

At the end of the first night James Carville, the Ragin’ Cajun — the lead campaign strategist for President Bill Clinton, was leading the charge that the Dems had wasted an opportunity, and in fact the whole night by having a soft message all night and not fully going all out with a frontal attack on the Republicans. He took it even further by saying this was the 5th straight night where the Dems failed to deliver the message, the first four being the 2004 convention, where the Dems failed to deliver a clear compelling message, a message that would win over the undecided and win the election. As a result they now had only three nights left to “close the deal.”

This type of situation plays out in sales on a regular basis, sales reps going in to see prospects/clients and failing to deliver the message, seize the moment, thus squandering the opportunity. They go in asking a lot of unfocused and unnecessary questions that do not lead anywhere, certainly not to a clear next step to move them closer to closing the deal.

Often reps are focused on the relationship, often I hear things like “well I don’t want to come across too salesy” (where is the Listerine when you need it?) They don’t want to appear too eager. The reality however is that this “I am your friend” approach is naive and not only lengthens the sales cycle, but one can argue jeopardizes the sale.

The job of a sales rep is to drive revenue by bringing in sales, and deliver them in an efficient fashion. For a great read on this I would recommend The Hard Truth About Soft-Selling: Restoring Pride & Purpose to the Sales Profession by George W. Dudley and John F. Tanner. I think they are right on target when they state that in sales today we have a generation of “professional visitors”.

If the Dems can in fact “close the deal” in the remaining three nights, it suggests they could have closed it a day earlier and then drove things home on the fourth. In sales if we waste a meeting and opportunities based on misplaced preconceptions, we just end up extending the time to revenue, adding costs and reducing margins. We see this in sales every day, long pointless meetings, sales closing in four calls when it could have been done in three. If that is so, they could have up-sold in the fourth meeting, or better yet acquired four deals in the time they now close three deals.

So the lesson is, understand your message = value, and then communicate it clearly and more importantly, and in many ways what sales people can do more effectively, delivering the message -> “buy from me!”, convincingly.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Prospects Are Created Not Found!Bonus White Paper1

In sales as with other things in most things in life perception is reality. One’s own perceptions and preconceptions very much impact the outcome of things and the actions that lead to that end. Most sales people and in fact organizations adhere to the notion that prospects are found, go out there knock on enough doors or buttons on a telephone buttons and you’ll find prospects. “After all, sales is a numbers game!” In fact many organizations beleive this so much that they outsource prospecting, believing that once found, those prospects can be converted or sold by their sales people. At Renbor Sales Solutions we don’t believe this is entirely so. Our perception, our concept, our reality and firm belief is that prospects are created not found.

This allows us to approach every day with the comfort of knowing that we have the skills and means to create prospects and drive sales, rather that the burden of having to find enough prospect and still have time to sell them. To have this confidence, we understand that there are things that have to be done much before the act of prospecting begins.

So hot on the heels of our recent 5 part series Five Proven Ways to Get More Appointments, the Brother can you Spare a Sale? Post, I am proud to present Renbor’s new white paper:

Above The Pipe White Paper

“Above The Pipe! – Part I: Three Must Haves for Prospecting Success”

The piece focuses on key things to be taken in to account and practice to help you with your prospecting success. These are activities and preparation you can master even before you pick up the phone.

This is a start, we’ll be drilling down on the three subject areas highlighted in the white paper, as well as continuing in to other topics to help you create prospects in sufficient numbers on a consistent basis. I hope you enjoy and benefit and I hope it provokes thoughts and with that I invite you to send your feedback, your views will help the next instalment that much better.

Sell well,

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

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