Welcome to 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

Stop Propositioning Value, Start Delivering It16

There is a lot of material out there discussing value propositions, best ways to present them to prospect. Some talk about the concept of “your unique selling proposition”, although at times the only unique thing in the formula is your prospect, not the value your marketing department developed in a vacuum. Given that, does it not make more sense to mutually define the value proposition?

If you rely solely “your unique selling proposition” it tends to lead to a very one sided conversation. It plays out like a real conversation, but because reps drive the conversation to show case their “unique selling proposition”, it is hard to make room for things that don’t lead the conversation to that specific predetermined end. With that, many ostensibly good conversations end up being unidirectional and information is not really exchanged, just filtered towards a given end. Sometimes it works, sometimes the prospect catches on and it doesn’t.

A better approach would be to strive for a process of “mutual definition of value”. A state arrived at through a mutual and interactive process of discovery. A process that allows the sales person to highlight those things that respond to the unique needs of each client, rather than funnelling the clients in the “your unique value proposition.” The same process that allows the client to discover and buy into the true value the product delivers to their unique situation.

Executing this is a lot easier than it sounds and done right a lot easier than many of the methods that profess to help you leverage “your unique selling proposition”. While the key is still in questioning skills, the art is doing it in a way that both focus the conversation while not limiting input by either party. An interactive process that starts at the discovery zone moves through the impact zone on the way to the mutual value zone; when done right value is ongoing.

The zone approach allows both parties to move to a common goal in a logical way. It is dependent on the sales professional understanding the full scope of the impact their product/service delivers, then having the confidence to put their filters aside, and allowing the client to lead them to where their product/service address the unique requirements of the prospect and fit their product and service to address that uniqueness. Clients are much more likely to engage and exchange if they are part of the process of defining the value, because often they discover things about their situation they hadn’t thought of or considered. With “unique selling proposition”, or even with value “proposition, the prospect is often left with the uneasy choice of agreeing or disagreeing with a predefined proposition that they did not play a role in defining.

A lot like seeing a play, either you like and identify with what the playwright has written, or you don’t, but in very few circumstances are you allowed or invited to participate in the performance.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Back to School3

Despite my age, I still get a shiver down my spine when I see the first back to school ads this time of year. I don’t know what it is, but I guess it is a reminder that the summer is quickly coming to an end, the dread of going back to school, and I suppose for us up here, the first reminder of the inevitable changing of the season and distant but real prospect of winter. I suppose in these days of slowing economies it also signals the fact that those cheery plastic Christmas ads are also not that far away, but I digress.

On the up side back to school also meant regaling new and old friends with the great adventure and misadventures we had that summer, a chance to be involved in new things, and I guess the big double edged sword, the challenge of learning something new and putting it in to practice.

Sales people have that opportunity every day, learn something new and then plough it in to your approach to improve and grow your sales.

So this year when I got that nasty tremor running up and down on the site of that back to school ad (thank you Staples), I took it as a personal challenge to see what I can do now to make improvements for the rest of the year not only in driving the business, but reviewing and executing my plans and Renbor’s over all plan.

I’ll keep you posted; look forward to hearing about yours.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Brother can you Spare a Sale?0

Last year there was a major controversy in Toronto around panhandlers and others on the street and their impact on tourism and the like. All this was sparked by an unfortunate set of events. Of course the solution proposed by the ever enlightened leadership in the city was to ban all these people. As there was no rug on the street, I guess they were proposing that they be swept under the side walk. This of course stirred further controversy and debate on the street, in the papers and talk radio, my favourite media vice.

I know, you’re reading this wondering what this has to do with cold calling, but stay with me.

One caller into the radio had a great suggestion, they were joking, but I think they missed the brilliance of their suggestion when looked at from my perspective. The caller suggested that we should take all the panhandlers put them in suits, and give them all jobs as cold callers. They clearly had no issues engaging strangers; no fear of rejection; no call reluctance, and they seem to have the proper work ethic as they were putting in a full day of work every day without costly supervision. He was right; there was no flaw in his observation.

When you think about it, why do the people on the street panhandle? You would think that for the majority it is very simple, if they do not, they will not eat; simple straight forward. There are of course those few who are out there because they can make loads of tax free money, and they earn more net panhandling than others do at work. The question still stands, how do they overcome the fear of walking up to strangers and asking for money? As a sales rep we usually only have to ask for the appointment, they go right for the gusto and ask for the close! How do they find the discipline to do it day in day out 5,6,7, or even 8 hours a day? They understand that if you don’t initiate the process, there is little chance of reaching your objective. I wonder if they know their ratio of approaches to cash.

Unlike many sales people, they do not spend time trying to figure out who to call and who not to call. They don’t pretend to be clairvoyant and be able to divine if someone is a buyer or not just by looking at their business cards or faces. They just systematically and consistently approach everybody in their territory; they make the call and deal with the results and the rewards.

They also do not spend a lot of time planning and researching, or any of the other things that seem to consume the prospecting time reps set aside. Once they get to work, they make sure that they have what they need and then spend their time executing rather than rationalizing.

They also do not fool themselves that their “pipeline is full”, “I need to work on what is in the pipe and then I can prospect”, they are never too busy planning and hoping. They execute. They have a system and process and they execute. They don’t worry about interrupting or bothering their targets, they just approach, present their value proposition “need to eat”, and execute. If someone says no, they are that much closer to the next close.

I am not suggesting that we become panhandlers, (although I am sure some of the ones on the main streets of Toronto are making more than sales people in Toronto), but I would encourage everyone to stop and ask why the panhandler can consistently act and execute.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

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