Welcome to The Pipeline.

Procurement’s response1

I am quite pleased with a response I got to my last posting “Selling to Procurement”, seems we got the attention of the procurement community.

Take a look at the feedback from David Rae “Procurement on the sales radar” at procurement blog at www.procurementleaders.com (lower right frame). He makes some good points, perhaps we can each learn and teach something.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Selling to Procurement8

Question: Why bother?

No really, why bother?

Let’s face it procurement or purchasing specialists, not people sales professionals want to deal with. As the economy tightens and companies re-examine their spending, reclassify things in terms of crucial or discretionary, the role of these professionals becomes even more critical and frequent. They make more decisions in a vacuum where value is a distant second to price, Procurement Specialist wield more power than ever before.

There is no minimizing the impact they have on sales and the success of sales professionals. Sales professionals are constantly looking for ways to sell to these procurement folks, that special technique or special words that will help them overcome this perceived hurdle. How do we sell to Procurement? A question we hear over and over.

Well the bad news is there is no special incantation, technique or anything else that will magically change this “bad” reality. These people are there because they have the skills needed to succeed in their task.

Trying to sell to them using conventional means is analogous to one trying to inflict pain to an inanimate object like say a stump, or someone with no nerves in their body. You can kick, punch, stab, pinch slash, bust or burn. No nerves, no pain, no progress. Since they are immune to value, your value prop will fall on deaf ears, and you frustration level will rise to the point where you will make mistakes and greater harm to your ability to meet your objective.

This why we say “why bother?”

Your time is much better used employing a strategy and tactics to neutralize their impact and minimize their ability to negatively impact your efforts and objectives. How do you do this, by selling to the people who truly derive the “value” from your product; once they are sold, enlist them in helping you manage and marginalize the “procurement man” from with in.

Despite rumors to the contrary, procurement specialists are people, and as such you can talk to them, and learn many things, this is not going to happen in the middle of a transaction, but you can talk to them in other environments (conferences, trade shows, even those in your own company). What you learn is that they do have standards, and they do have objectives, and are measured on their success.

One thing I learned is that it is not just price that drives the whole thing, price is big, but there is more. One is the “real” need for the product and/or service you sell, will it really help in their company’s success. Key here is the “company”, not the individual. Often, as sales people we sell to individuals within a company, but those same individuals are unable to sell the ‘powers that be’, unable to show that there is a company need, rather than a nice to have. No matter how nice it may be for that one individual, they are unable to present a case that the benefit serves the broader need of the company, and as a result the initiative dies. The cause of death is reported as a number of things: “budget cut backs”, “other priorities”, “more cost effective solutions”, the reality however is that your “chumpion” was unable to generate enough support elsewhere in the organization, and gave up for fear of spending too much political capital on the wrong initiative.

I hear sales people tell me all the time that their “chumpion”, inside person really wants to buy, but they can’t seem to get past procurement. Yet when you ask them who else they have involved in the decision they say they don’t really want to “go around” the “chumpion”, it may cause them to get upset. Really? So what? It’s not like they are exactly getting you to where you need to be now, how much further behind can you get, if you are not getting the deal now, how can things get worse? The key is to build broad based support. Go and find the people who benefit from your product, directly, and even more importantly indirectly. Let’s say you sell research reports, you usually sell to research mangers, analysts, the occasional marketing director. Who do they work for? Who gets benefit from their output? After all your data may be part of some broader report, it is raw data that is processed by the above that makes its way into the decision process, say if, when, and how to launch a product. Who benefits if the decision is right, who suffers if the decision is wrong? On this level, who has a direct stake in the quality of the data and insights that go into the report on which they are betting their own and company’s success? If you reach out to those people, their peers and dependents, you will find the type of allies that have the ability to influence, move and marginalize Procurement. You will also find that when successful, your original “chumpion” will thank you, since they still get the halo effect of your success, and continue to benefit from the access to your product or service. Same can be done in software, hardware, logistics, you name it, and anywhere where your product can be tied to “critical” aspects of success, rather than labeled as a “nice to have”. The key is do you know who is the ultimate beneficiary of the output, will your “chumpion” attest their need to have your product or service, or can you make a compelling enough argument to the real stake holders that can help influence or manage procurement. One company we worked with began to target CFO’s, the strategy was to align their product, considered by most a commodity, to the company’s financial objectives: reduced over all cost; and to the company’s productivity objectives which included consolidation, automation and outsourcing of non-core or essential activities. Their competitors who continued to target their traditional buyers all lost business, all got stalled, and all had sympathetic “chumpions”. Our client was able to elevate their sale, and by engaging the CFO and positioning the decision to other criteria, found a real Champion when it came to procurement, the procurement director’s boss: the CFO. It is not easy, it does take work, not only in hunting down the right people and getting in front of them, but also in reinventing how you position and pitch your service and value to a client/prospect. On the other hand, once you do accomplish this reinvention, the dividends are big, long lasting and repeatable. One added bonus is that once you redefine yourself in this way, with the expanded more powerful audience, the size of your sale, market and wallet share also improve. It’s up to you, you can rationalize why you lost, or take the same effort, resources and energy to win. Sell Well,

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Taking charge for your team4

Assuming your fiscal year is the same as the calendar year, as a sales manager you know now how your year will end, not to the penny, but you have a clear picture. Based on the length of you cycle, current state of your pipeline, and your knowledge of your team’s ability, energy and consistency.

This is not to sound negative, it just a note of realism as we round the corner in to Q3. Unless your year is a complete write off (we hope not), and unless your sales cycle over six months there are still things you can do to ensure a positive outcome.

First is to review your plan, you know the one you started the year with, and compare reality with expectations. If there are gaps, prioritize and attack them based on impact and ease of attainment. There is no point in trying to address all things at once, it is overwhelming and leads to disappointment and abandoning all initiatives. Better to select those things that will have immediate impact on your year and provide on going impact.

These should be near term tasks that are “doable” and have measurable impact on your success. As you complete each initiative you will not only improve your lot, but gain encouragement and momentum to take on increasingly challenging tasks towards your goals and objectives.

The same approach needs to be taken with members of your team. As a leader, we need to lead proactively “from the front” and enable the team member to achieve success at a pace that will not encumber them, but also enable them to deliver against their goals. It is key that what ever the area of improvement you embark have two basic characteristics. First, it needs to be mutually agreed to; that is the rep has to wants to take on the initiative, not just capitulate to your “observation”. This is not hard to do if you have instilled a culture and practice of coaching and on going improvement. Through open and preplanned discussion it is easy to get to the crux of an issue quickly, and painlessly. Once it is on the table, a practical short term improvement plan is easy to adopt. Second, and as a logical extension of the first, is it has to be doable with immediate and specific pay off for the team member.

As already mentioned above, simple four to six week plans with regular review, allow for momentum, success and the opportunity to celebrate that success (beyond the pay off of improved sales), and fully capitalize by immediately gaining commitment to the next improvement initiative with the rep.

Here is to the rest of your year.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Sales is a Blue Collar Job! Part 2726

I was at a presentation today for a “great new software solution”, one that will “change the way you do things now”. The usual and familiar ROI based plot, and the added theme that appeals to sales leaders and frontline reps alike, you know the one: this solution will deliver prospects in volumes beyond your wildest dreams and ability to close; and – it will be easy and effortless.

I always wondered why some people think sales is supposed to be effortless, just another office job. I am not suggesting that office jobs are easy, but there is the perception that white collar jobs do not require the same effort as blue collar jobs.

But scratch beyond the veneer, and sales is very blue collar, especially “Above The Funnel”, in the prospecting and pre-prospecting stage especially, where a lot of heavy lifting and work is required. There has to be a lot of preparation and digging to be able to find those golden nuggets that can be polished and nurtured in to a client and on going relationship. While the finished product is always bright and shiny, but one has to get their hands dirty to get to that stage. I often hear reps tell me that once they are in front of a prospect they can sell and “close”, but they don’t like the process of getting to the prospect, the dirty sifting bit, the blue collar part.The reps that accept and understand this, and are willing to get their finger nails dirty, are generally the ones that consistently succeed, even in the type of market we are in today. I enjoy working with them, and those who have come to understand that they need find and use the tools that will help them dig for the right rock.

See you in the mines.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Seeking Common Ground3

It’s funny how at times when two things that should really work well together end up at odds and slow things to a grind, and usually for the entirely wrong reason.

I met with a prospect where the sales team is looking to capitalize on a good year and perpetuate their momentum by getting the sales managers training that will help them specifically in their roles as sales leaders. The initiative is sponsored by the sales organization and is funded entirely out of their budget. But by definition it falls under the label of “development” and as such has raised the ire “personnel development” team. While the whole issue of not “blessed by us”, “we have a corporate wide manager program”; a to and fore of “overlap” and “conflicting messages” is resulting in no action and wasted opportunity.

The reality is that managing a sales process and coaching a sales team to execute that process does not need to conflict with broader corporate initiatives. The sales aspect is unique, and as sales managers they could benefit from both. We have seen over and over that in leading organizations the sales “leadership” piece is a value add module to the core manager and leadership programs most leading organizations offer. Those organizations that look for the common ground that help to compound learning and development from two complementing training initiatives are not only able to fully capitalize on opportunities, but generally fair better during challenging markets.

Companies where the “turf” aspect of training rules, where training is more of a check mark for KPI’s rather than a commitment to improve, execute and deliver corporate objectives, there is not only a hardening of silos that impede revenue growth, but a real limit to creativity development.

Sell well!

Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

Summer reading0

Not sure if it will be a hot summer, but it seems like it is stacking up to be a great summer for reading up on sales and sales improvement. No sooner than I told you about the great e-book from The Top Sales Experts , I was introduced to the Topgrading for Sales book. Check it out at www.topgradingforsales.com, and enjoy.

Sell well,
Tibor Shanto, The Pipeline

I am back and have a great offer1

Well back in the thick of it. The vacation was great, but to start off we some great news in the form of a great offer.

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Sell Well,
Tibor Shanto at The Pipeline


I am taking the next few weeks off, a well earned vacation to stimulate the mind and satisfy interests other than sales. Talk to you all again at the start of June.

Sell well!

The Pipeline

You’re Fired!3

No, I am not doing a bad imitation of Donald Trump; I am talking about something we all need to do with clients from time to time. It may sound a bit odd, but there are times that you have to fire a client. At times it is because they are not profitable; there are times when due to changes in the market, the fit is no longer there and it makes more sense for both to find alternatives. Or there are time where you face a scenario like the one I am facing right now, where the client’s market and their position in it has changed to the point where they are completely reactionary, and is unable to even begin to think or act in a proactive or strategic way. As a result, they are unable to execute their plan, and spend more time rationalizing things than making things happen.

In the process they are totally demoralizing and de-motivating their teams from the top down. One director describes the atmosphere as that of a “sinking ship”. Their desperation is causing them to heap process on top of process to where their sales teams are unable to meet sales requirements because they are too busy completing menial tasks to satisfy senior managements’ need to cover their own inability to impact positive change, so they fall back on forced activity, documented and analyzed (twice) becomes the goal. The latest initiative was to update the titles of reps to better reflect their role (imagined or real).

So here we are at an odd cross road, more than ever the organization could benefit from what we deliver; more than ever they are they are to preoccupied to take in and do what needs to be done; more than ever they are looking for things people and gods to blame for their inability to react to a changing market. After numerous attempts to work with their leadership to address critical issues, it has become clear that the old saying is true, “a fish stinks from the head”, and so the leadership is proving to be ineffective in turning the ship around. Sadly, the only thing left for us is to fire the client.

This is not purely giving up, but we hope it serves two things. First the shock of being “fired” by a vendor may cause them pause, and wake them up to the challenge they are facing. Two, a new vendor, with a different view and approach may strike a chord and allow them to turn things around and start their long struggle back to being successful. And yes, selfishly, will free up time and resources for us to find another client to work with, maybe not any more profitable, but at least maybe happier.

Sell well,
The Pipeline

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