Welcome to The Pipeline.

Appointment Making Workshop1

Ultimate Appointment Making Workshop

Not too long ago we published a whitepaper dealing with activities crucial to maintaining a healthy and vibrant pipeline. This focused on the area Above The Pipe! With the melt down in the market since then, filling the pipeline has become ever more important and challenging. With companies re-examining priorities, scrutinizing expenses and delaying decisions until there is some clarity and certainty in the economy, t is now more crucial than ever to proactively prospect and fill your calendar with real appointments and your pipe with real opportunities.

Many sales people who excel in selling struggle to set appointments consistently with the right decision makers at all levels of target organizations. More than ever sales professionals need to take their game up not one, not two but three or more notches to ensure success. That is why we are presenting the Ultimate Appointment Making Workshop at the Markham Delta. This is the same workshop that has helped thousands of sales pros at companies across North America fill their pipe and hit quota. Fear not, if you cannot make it to the Markham Delta, the Ultimate Appointment Making Workshop will be delivered in numerous cities.

Sell well,

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

What’s Riskier1

I was at the airport lounge last night speaking with a director of sales about his year and plans for sales training next year. He said he was reluctant to invest as he had a staff turnover rate of 30%. He asked a well known question:

“What happens if I train them and they leave?”

I replied with a question I heard from another executive:

“What happens if you don’t train them and they stay?”

Sell Well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

What’s in Your Pipeline?0

It seems most conversations these days include an exchange of views on the current economic realities. As you begin to look beyond the politics and TV pundits, an interesting lesson emerges for sales professionals. Wall street calls it leverage, but others may confuse it with being real. Real about having adequate coverage.

With my limited understanding of high finance (limited from the standpoint that I have never made millions of dollars running a company in to the ground), I observe one big reason we don’t have Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers is that they failed to have adequate coverage for their exposure or obligations. When I look at some sales people’s pipeline I see a similar issue, they either do not have adequate level of opportunities to meet quota, or the opportunities that do “occupy” the pipeline are of such poor quality that no one is more surprised if they close than the rep who put it in there to begin with.

Just like the mavens of Wall Street diluted themselves by masking reality with exotic instruments and means of pretending to build wealth and value; they avoid accountability by calling something by a different name, you and I may call it insurance, but that brings obligations, so they call it Credit Default Swap, thus avoiding the need to have proper reserves. So do sales people and organizations that put or allow names to be placed in the pipeline that have no hope of ever closing. This builds expectations across the organization that leads to nothing. Companies where resources are tied to opportunities in the pipe find those resources wasted, expenses incurred unnecessarily, and productivity negatively impacted, and shareholder value and value in general diminished. Pipelines that seem to contain hope have little or none.

It doesn’t have to be that way, a more systematic approach to managing the pipeline would help reps spend time on the right opportunities, that in turn would lead to better and more consistent results, which would encourage reps to do a better and be more real about their pipes. This in turn would eliminate some of the inefficiencies mentioned above.

This is not about beating up the reps; they tend to do what they are encouraged to, and more importantly what they are allowed to get away with. In many ways as with most things in sales, the crucial link is the sales leadership. Their approach to having, implementing and reinforcing a clearly defined process for managing the pipeline, in fact having a clearly defined and communicated sales process, will dictate how things will turn out, how the front line reps will succeed. Just as at the end of the day the leaders on Wall Street set the environment, ground rules and what the firms’ front line was allowed to get away with.

The good news is that it is not too late for many sales forces, there are some great pipeline management processes out there (notice we said process, not software), the challenge is having the leadership, discipline and determination to ensure the pipe contains real opportunities; targeting talent and resources on real sales not subpar opportunities that are nothing more than decoration in the pipe.Sell well,

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Opportunities in the Current Turmoil10

There is a lot of chatter out there in the sales community about the implication of the current market situation, its impact on sales professionals, and what to do in the face of things. One of the key things a sales professional can do for his clients and prospects is to be a conduit to expertise, best practices and reservoir of knowledge that will help their client and/or prospect achieve his/her objectives more efficiently. In fact, a real pro can be instrumental in guiding and shaping objectives based on their own expertise.

This is important at all times, but much more so now with the economic realities all businesses are facing. Now is the time to truly highlight the value you and your company bring to the client. As sales people we are out there meeting with companies and seeing how they are coping with conditions, and in some cases how they are making mistakes driven by the panic in the market; or how they are seizing opportunities.

This is a great time for you to separate yourself from the also-rans by being a true recourse for your clients, letting them take advantage of your knowledge and reinforcing their decision to do business with you in the past, and to continue doing business with you moving forward. Remember, if their doors are open, they are buying and selling, the question is what and from whom, this is a great chance to step up and set yourself apart from the other peddlers.

Some things you can do to help your clients and add value when they need it most:
(As always, you need to be cognisant of confidentiality challenges)

> Call them, ask they are impacted? This includes prospects as the terrain has changed for everyone in the last few days. Monday GM was $8.50 today it is traded at $4.00.

> Find out how they are seeing things, what their customers and suppliers are saying, and share the same with them.

> Offer insights and actions beyond your product or wallet. IF it is working for one customer, it may work for another. Even if not, you will present yourself as a resource and build dependencies which will pay off when the need presents itself or the market turns around.

> Focus on helping them not yourself. This is not a sales call but a value building call.

> What can you do for them, especially clients who helped you by buying from you in the past.

> Ask if they are aware of who may find value in the type of discussion you are having with them, this is great time for referrals, and people are looking for security and numbers.

> Offer to introduce them to other clients who can help; networking business for you prospects and clients pays off twice.

> Hold events, webinars, where clients can network, you can learn and offer expertise or other experts in your company.

> Send out a newsletter highlighting client successes especially those involving your service product.

The reality is that this crisis like all others will pass, things may change, or they may not, but unless the whole planet shuts down, there are people producing, delivering and buying. Those that are proactive in delivering value to their clients will reap the lasting benefit.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, 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

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