Welcome to The Pipeline.

Reach for goal

Who Is Your Best Prospect?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

On Monday, I posted about understanding and knowing the very next thing that needs to happen if a specific opportunity is to move forward to becoming a client.  Because I wanted to focus on a specific question, I glossed over the question I am sure many had as I set out a scenario, specifically when we ask sellers:

“Who is your best prospect?”

Talk about a loaded question inviting interpretation and misinterpretations.  If you do this with a group, you will get all kind of answers, about the only thing most have in common is the overload of subjectivity most have.  Once they finish describing the opportunity, ask:

Reach for goal“Why did you pick or go with that prospect or opportunity?”  To which I hear:

“It is the largest opportunity in my pipeline” (Be that dollars, units, etc.)

“They are the furthest down the pipe”

“I have been chasing them so long that…”

“They were a customer once, then they left”

Here is a challenge for you, what is the most bizarre response you get to that question.

At first glance you may put this off to different companies, but I got the above from people on the same team.

For the moment, it really does not matter which I, or anyone else, thinks is right or wrong.  What’s scary right off the top, is that there are multiple definitions of what is a “best” or a good prospect.  What I found that unless you get a uniform answer to that question, you can bet that they don’t even know what a prospect is.

That lack of definition is rarely the reps’ fault.  If based on your process and onboarding, and related training, there is still a divergence around this core issue, you need to stop, step back and plug this hole.

Not knowing what a prospect is, is a common problem, and it not only leads to pipeline full of crap instead of opportunities, that crap drowns out the few viable opportunities that do exist.  Definitions are important, they are not like some like to say, limiting, they help you utilize your time in the best possible way.

I was taught early that we need to call things what they are, and if I referred to someone or an opportunity as “Prospect”, it clearly stated that the “Prospect” was fully engaged, and if they were fully engaged, my manager should be able to see a clear Next Step relating to the opportunity in CRM.  Next Steps also need to be defined, you can see mine here, but to summarize, they need to be clearly agreed on by both you and the buyer(s), needs to move the opportunity forward, and be tied to a specific time.  I continue to be amazed at how many sales people have things at various stages of their pipeline without any clear next step, or in some cases plan.  Even worse, these are the things that go into your forecast, an opportunity sitting at 60% communicates something to the manager, sales leadership, finance and the entire organization.  So when a rep has something sitting at 50%, all because they had a good phone call, and the buyer told him to call back after vacation, what’s that going to do to you quarter, especially since they have not called them back yet.  I had a pipeline review with a rep once, he had 42 opportunities coming in.  Before getting to the nitty gritty, I asked which of these there were formal next steps with, only 2.  I know this is an extreme, but you need to go through your pipeline and ask how much an extreme, how many opportunities do you have a proposal stage without a next step?

This lack of definition why sales people’s time is consumed creating a narrative for their pipeline, rather than working their pipeline, especially when a manager’s idea of a pipeline review is having a story for their review with their superior. This is why many managers, never trained in finance, become experts at factoring.  When your time is spent adjusting forecasts up or down based on past experience with a rep, forcing you to live in your spreadsheet rather than that expensive CRM, you are not leading from the front or adding value to your team, just revaluing worthless numbers and forecasts.

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tango basic steps

What Has To Happen Next?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

A simple question at first glance, but when you ask people in a given vocation or profession, it is staggering how many different answers one gets, and more stunning is the number of people who can’t give you a clear answer. Most read way too much into the question, and try to come up with elaborate responses that go well beyond and away from the question. “How you get across the road?”, is very different than Why did the chicken cross the road?” In sales, I find the responses break down to roughly three group: (1) Those who understand and answer the question asked; (2) Those interpret the question, changing it slightly in the process, and the response fits their repurposed question, both misleading the inquisitor and leaving them wanting; (3) People who don’t know, and can’t be bothered worrying about it.

If you are in sales, especially leading a team, this should be a major concern, especially if you “have a sales process” you think is driving your success. It may be more accurate that it is driving reps’ results, not how they achieve those results; in fact, if they did follow the process, the result would be more success. The good things is that in sales, you can get ahead of this and ensure greater success and results.

Next time your team is together, (and you can do this on your own if you are a rep), ask for a volunteer, and ask them the following:

“Who is your best prospect?” Not meant to be a trick question, but it is interesting the responses you get, but that’s for another post.

After they tell you who their best prospect is, follow up with this question (phrase it any way you like):

“Given where you are in the cycle, what is the very next thing that needs to happen to move the sale forward?”

You would think for experienced sales people, especially if they have been in the role for a few years and have been close to or at quota, meaning they have successfully executed the cycle several times, the answer should not only be straight forward, but something they are thinking about.

Those in group (1), always respond by telling what action has to be taken by them, the buyer, and mutually. Why that action, and the specifics it will lead to in moving the sale ahead, including what has to happen next, once this next step is completed, and the consequences and contingencies in case things do not go as planned. They can clearly and in specific detail provide the ingredients and recipe for making next happen.

Those in group (2), take the question, add some subjectivity to the mix, and hear “what should happen next”, then proceed to give you an answer that is more strategic and theoretical than the question required. Instead of speaking to specific actions and tools, as group (1) did, they general outcomes, skipping the how to make those outcomes happen. “We need to get buy in”; “we need to identify the decision maker(s)”; and other no-brainer feel good statements, but all absent the “what has to happen” for those things to come to be.

tango basic stepsYou can avoid this by being more specific in your process, perhaps start by changing the label to sales-flow, allowing you to get more prescriptive. Don’t assume that because your process calls for understanding the buying/decision process, that everyone on the team knows the specific steps they’ll need to execute to actually do that. On the other hand, many in group (2), when given specific and granular steps, improve their game and results measurably. There is a reason why NFL playbooks have drawings and arrows, Arthur Murray has the footprints on the floor, and Broadway stages have markers. Once you have that, they will need to practice, not just to get it, but once they got it, practice to master, and to ensure that you can adjust when the buyer and markets change.

Last, inspect, inspect that they are doing it, each step, as it has to happen. Don’t just assume they are doing it based on results (yikes), do you think gets a Tom Brady pass? Sure he wants to get to the end-zone, but getting there takes one down at a time, knowing exactly what has to happen after each play.

BTW, if you are wondering why I didn’t get to group number (3), don’t worry about it, they didn’t notice.

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girl by phone

Social Ends When The Phone Rings0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

The reason you need to integrate social selling, traditional phone work, and other elements of prospecting, is to ensure that you are covering all bases the process of converting a stranger, into a bonified pipeline opportunity. This means using the right tool at the right time, not as some would have you believe, using one tool “über alles”; but rather using the right tool for the task at hand along each step of the process.

Social selling, and the use of social media is key to learning about the target industry, the specific company, certainly for understanding the individual you are pursuing, or more accurately the image your target is projecting on social media. Remember the lessons learned from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are. There is no shortage of materials available on how you can leverage LinkedIn, ABM and more, on how to smooth the path to first contact. But for most, especially in outbound sales, there is the point where we must pick up the phone and go direct.

When the phone rings, we enter a different realm, where based on the reality of the situation, “being social” does not play as well, and in fact can be deterrent for the prospect. Whatever interaction we may have with someone prior to the phone, it is usually on their terms, they choose to interact, they set the ground rules, and ultimately pause a conversation, or take it further right away. But when we call them, especially an unscheduled call, at a time we picked, not the target, a different set of dynamics kick in. As discussed here in the past, we are an interruption, and as such, a set of events are set into motion, usually leading to an objection, the bane of telephone prospectors everywhere. Being aware of what we are in the eye of the prospect, we need to take steps to make it easier for the prospect to stay on the call, rather than making it easier for them to blow us off.

There are two things sellers can do, with focus and practice, to avoid being victim of dynamics. Two questions that many feel compelled to ask at the start of the call, that if left out, would help them be more successful on more calls.

girl by phoneThe two questions:

  • How Are You?
  • Is this A Good Time?
    (or any variation of either of the above)

We ask these questions because we have been conditioned to do so from day one; our parents, teachers, and others, have drilled into us that social norm is for conversations to start with one of the above. Well telephone prospecting is different than other conversation we usually have.

I am not suggesting we need to be rude, unsocial, or unconventional for the sake of unconventional, but to take an interruption, where the other party just wants to get back to finishing their seemingly unending days, to a genuine conversation, we need to manage the dynamics of the moment.

The reality remains that the prospect wants to understand “What Is In It For Me”, and that is what we need to lead with. Knowing they are feeling great, or like shit, does not get us any closer to that. Leading with the outcomes they can expect based on your ability to help them achieve their objectives, is more likely to. Being an interruption, and then asking, “Is this a good time?” or “Do you have a few minutes?”, or any iteration, is just stupid by definition.

Of course it is not a good time, they have a ton of stuff to finish, and there is a 90%+ chance they were not thinking about your product or marketing speak. On the other hand, if you lead with specific outcomes, they may recognize their own objectives in the mix. Lead with that, and ditch the “Social Norm” questions, to conversations based in that norm, a cold call is not that.

To close, I know that years of conditioning is hard to shake, so here is a way to transition from the silly questions above, to starting help them understand what is in it for them in your call. Remember, the problem with questions, is that you have to stop and wait for an answer, which relinquishes control of the flow, you are now completely dependent on their answers. If you get a positive response, great. But if you get a negative “I’m busy”, “Not a good time”, “What do you want?”; you now have to deal with that objection, rather than one based on your real value to the prospect. Rather than a question, make a statement, one that allows you to get rid of that social steam you have pent up. Once you introduce yourself, just name, not your whole resume, say “Thanks for taking my call”. You acknowledge that you have interrupted their day, but unlike a question, you can keep going to your outcome statements.

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Stop (640x427)

Pitch – Please!0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Despite the talk, the training, the tools, and everything else sales people have been exposed to and have access to, it is still interesting (disappointing) how fast most sellers, even those who hit quota, will resort to product in a sale. They may want to pretend that they are not, they may want to dress things up, but in the end what they deliver is a Pitch. While many will argue that as long as it gets the job done, except it is that view that leads to inconsistencies in results, rather than predictable outcomes that result from professional selling, rather than professional order taking.

One reason many resort to pitching is their failure to understand the business drivers behind the purchase the buyer is undertaking. This is especially prevalent with many one trick pony companies, where each product, and thereby each sale, is just one singular component in “the stack”. This allows reps to fall into the trap of knowing their slice best, and not having to worry about the big picture. To be clear, this laziness is present and abundant in other sales teams as well, it is just most prevalent with products that address one particular need.

Stop (640x427)The problem is that economic buyers do not set out to buy things. They usually set out to achieve things, at times these can be simple things that do not require a lot of process, like “I need to buy toner”. But with “solutions”, or more involved purchases, buyers are more often driven by a result they are trying to achieve. They often don’t care how that result is achieved as long as it is legal and cost effective. Which is why pitching product, or features, or even ROI’s lead to longer sales.

The ‘pitch” is usually centered on “how, and how well, we do what we do”, just think of your average “elevator pitch”. Some evolve to what makes “the how we do that” by adding what makes their process unique, hence the Unique Selling Proposition, but it is still about what we do and how, not necessarily why that is good for the buyer, just that it is unique from the others doing a similar thing. Still little about the outcomes, and “what’s in it for the buyer”. This leaves the buyer to figure out how well the pitch aligns with their objective.

Some smart marketers figured out that if they change the label to Value Proposition, from selling Proposition, they could catch more fly with that honey. But still a pitch.

To truly be unique, you should define your value vis-à-vis objectives the buyer is trying to achieve, results they are looking to deliver to their business. To do that you have to think more like they do, less like the day to day user of the product, and more like the ultimate beneficiary of the output of your product. To do that, you need to look at the world through their perspective rather than the product or sales perspective. I seriously doubt your buyers are reading the latest sales book, sales guide, or someone’s thesis on resurrecting some secret black art. They are more likely reading business books related to running their business, and the latest in that thinking. For every one of my posts you read, you should read a post written not for sales people, but your buyer, read an engineering blog, consume a journal from the professional association of your buyer. Read anything that allows you to have a conversation with your buyer about their world, not yours. That conversation will take further than the best value prop or USP. It’ll help you avoid driving your buyer to think “pitch – please”.

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Voicemail word cloud

Voice Mail – To Leave or Not To Leave?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Proactive Prospecting Summer – Part 9

I like to hear sales people talk about voice mail, especially the ones who do not leave messages. If you are going to succeed at prospecting, phone will be part of your tool kit. If you’re going to make phone calls, you are going to hit voice mail. You can run from it, like many so-called sales people do, or you can watch the video below, understand why you should leave them, then follow the link in the video to learn how I get 40 – 50 percent of messages I leave returned in 72 hours or so.

Don’t forget, you can take the on-demand version of the Proactive Prospecting Program available on-line at Sales Gravy University.

 

PPP On Demand
Unhung

Are You In Your Own Way?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

If you follow my blog you know that I am firmly in the camp that see and approaches sales more as a science executed artfully, rather than free form art like many do. As with most things, success is rarely found in absolutes, it is usually about a norm derived from trial and error, and experiencing success and failure first hand.

Many managers and organizations are reluctant to let people explore, and experience a range of sales situations and outcomes, as a means of helping sell better. I get it, time is valuable, “if we already have a corpus, the experience and best practices, let’s just build it into a process, and have people walk the line”. They then proceed to build a rigid, and usually dated process, that everyone has to adhered to until the next Party Congress in a few years.

But a process needs to be dynamic, reflecting, anticipating the market, not reflecting where it was five years ago. The most important thing to remember about your sales process, is that it is the other side of the coin of the prospect’s buying process. In the spirit of “follow the money”, let’s not forget that the most crucial element of your sales process is the buyer, without them, who needs a process. So in light of the fact that the money flows from the buyer, our sales process has to reflect, and facilitate their process, if we are going to benefit from it.

UnhungGiven the fact that buyers, unlike sellers, do not set out to execute a process, but rather to achieve some business objective and impact, the buyer’s side of the coin continues to evolve and ignore our “sales process rules”. If we do not evolve our process, we can look to it to get in our way. This would suggest two things that usually don’t happen in the real world. One that process should be a bottom up exercise, not the top down approach you find in most organizations. If the senior leadership, or sales ops people are the only ones updating and shaping the process, it will always be out of step with the market, and limit front-line rep’s options.

The other is empirical objective inputs. Reps are notorious for not knowing why they win or why they lose. When they win it was their great skills, smile, and relationships. When they lose it is always product and price. But for your process to serve your needs it needs to reflect market realities, not rationalization or other things that lack facts and accountability.

A proper evolving sales process, continues to reflect market factors, and should be implemented as a channel within which reps can execute by leveraging the process and adding their skills and abilities. It should not be, as it often is in a tech driven sales environment, a means for people to validate metrics they are hoping will work, and then change the metric when it does not.

Success in sales is all about execution, so get out of your own way by implementing a process that helps execution, not one that rationalizes the results.

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No NO NO

Objection Handling0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Proactive Prospecting Summer – Part 8

In this installment of the Proactive Prospecting Summer, we look at a crowd favorite, Objections.

There is no getting away from Objections when it comes to prospecting, it may be a bit easier with e-mail, where rather than hearing the FOD directly, you just get to enjoy the silence of being ignored. Objections are part of the process, and rather than falling prey to the next pundit offering a silver bullet or some way to avoid Objections while prospecting, not happening no matter what they tell you.

The video below highlights how to deal with the inevitable in prospecting: Objections – Full On Rejection. Watch the video, grab your free copy of the Objection Handling Handbook, and learn to overcome Objections, not run from them.

Don’t forget, you can take the on-demand version of the Proactive Prospecting Program available on-line at Sales Gravy University.

CEB Women IG

Diversity In Sales – Your Obvious Advantage0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

While we can talk about the style of leadership, I think most agree that one of the primary mandates of a sales leader, is to ensure that they equip their team with the best resources; be that IT resources or human resources. We have seen sales tools grow exponentially over the years, as an example, a recent piece I read suggested that there are over 3,000 apps available on AppExchange. Many at best, offer an incremental gain. With limited budgets, and the fact that much of “what’s in their stack” has proven to be disruptive and negative impact it has the front line and their results. Knowing which resources to bet on can demand Solomon like wisdom.

So it is more than odd, and surprising, that sales as an industry, and a majority of sales leaders continue to miss, overlook or perhaps avoid, acquiring and fully exploiting a resource that is widely available, with a proven track record of not just delivering better results than the go-to alternative, but is usually in a more cost effective fashion.

What am I talking about? Women!

While this has been a focus for some, a topic of discussion for others, progress has been slow, which is a shame given that it is 2017, and that some 40% of existing sales reps will miss quota.

women sales

A survey from CEB (now Gartner), shows that sales ranks second to last in the percentage of women making in leadership rolls. Women made up only 19%, second to Logistics and Supply Chain (17%), and a far cry from Finance with 43%. The reality may be a bit better among the rank and file, but having spent a lot of time working with front line teams, the numbers are not much better. The fact that most leaders come from within the ranks, the number of women in leadership roles is like a factor of lack of women candidates in their ranks versus male candidates.

Some tell me that they are aware, but then rationalize that it takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, and while they would like to accelerate a new reality, they are up against the elements. Some may buy that, but those of us from Canada, know that it really comes down to three little things every corporate leader has, or should have. Vision, resolve, and execution. When our prime minister took office in 2015, he made it a policy to have his cabinet reflect the country, and then took steps to make it happen, no excuses. I guess he executed. I am not a Liberal Party fan, but you have to give credit where credit is due.

Other than the political halo, the outcomes for Trudeau may have been difficult to calculate upfront, the same is not true in sales. As you can see from the infographic below, adding women to your sales team is a no-brainer. A higher percentage of women attain quota than their male counterparts; they earn a lower average total variable pay and base pay is lower, including a lower commission rate; and they have a lower attrition rate, meaning when you train them, they drive a better return. On a daily basis I have sales leaders lament to me their inability to find good sales talent, it baffles me why they don’t look at the obvious.

CEB Women IG

This situation will change slowly, and the reality is that first movers will have not only an immediate advantage, but one that they will have for some time, here is why. As a woman, with skills, which organization would you join, a male dominated one, with “clear ties to the past”, or one where women are represented at all levels of the organization, front line to executive suite. As women gravitate to the latter, they will attract other women, giving them a further advantage of the upside women bring. Not only that, but since all but one other industry have more women in leadership roles, it is likely that they will steer their business to those organizations they can best relate to; I keep hearing people buy from people, and it is usually people like them.

It seems this challenge and opportunity have no barrier other than ones outlook and will to win with a proven winning team.

You can learn more about this by checking out Gaining the Talent Advantage: The Case for Gender Diversity in Sales.

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video intro 2016

Impact Questions0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Proactive Prospecting Summer – Part 7

Questions can be a powerful tool in prospecting, just as in other stages of the sale. In this portion of the Proactive Prospecting Summer, we look at using questions in a different way in prospecting than we would later with an engaged buyer.

Take a look, and leave you response in the comment area below.

Don’t forget, you can take the on-demand version of the Proactive Prospecting Program available on-line at Sales Gravy University.

right rich

You Can Be Right And Rich0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

I am not sure where it originated, but we have all heard the question/expression: “Do you want to be right – or do you want to be rich?” A question many managers have asked, and fewer reps have answered. While there is no right or wrong answer, most managers tell me they prefer to hear ‘rich’ more so than ‘right’, you decide. There is a variation I deal with daily when working with sales people and how many, not all, but many approach the process.

While most professions seem to welcome the opportunity to be introduced to different methodologies, thought process, etc., it seems to be different. Again, many, not all, let’s go with the crowd favourite: 80/20, so about 80% of reps, actively resist training, development and improvement. Given that less than 60% of reps seem to make quota, you would think there may be a different view.

It seems that as soon as they hear that training is coming, many hear “they don’t think I know what I am doing, so they are bringing someone in to change things, worse, change me.” Whereas the outlook should be, I am good at what I do, this is an opportunity to do even better. What is even more profound is that the 20%, those who are consistently rocking it, have the opposite outlook, and frankly attitude, while participating in training and development; they bring curiosity, and embrace the new techniques and quickly assimilate them into their success.

It seems that many are looking for validation of what they are doing, and how they are doing it, while ignoring new elements they could benefit from. I have spoken to many peers who see a similar reaction, reps spending time and energy defending something that is not under attack, leaving one to wonder what’s going on. It seems many see it as an opportunity for a pissing contest than a way to make improvement to how they sell, and let’s face it, by extension make more sales and commissions.

Unfortunately, it is a contest with few winners. It’s not like we have a choice but to constantly improve how we sell. Next fiscal year will bring an increased quota, more competition, enhanced customer expectations and demands; the one thing you will not see an increase in is time. Whatever you delivered this year, you will need to deliver more next year, in no more time than this year. And while this may be as obvious as day, it seems to be lacking in the day to day, week to week planning of many reps.

I understand the realities of change, but at the core, what we sell is change, no matter the product or service. When you talk to most sellers the thing that frustrates them most is prospects who are close to change, guard and defend things as they are now. They are then approached by sales people, most of whom (80%), are doing things the same way as the other, and the very same way they did last year and the years before.

right richIf the name of the game is change, so if you want to “demo” anything, demo your ability to change to make improvements and win. But if your approach is no different this than last or two years ago, what are you communicating to your prospect beyond the words? “well he is saying some new shit, but he is selling the same way.” The incongruity is too big to miss. Can they help conclude that “They’re selling as they always have, the same must hold through for their product, I am safe to go with the same decision I made last time.”

On the other hand, if you approached things differently, you may get a different result. This is not to say that you need to make wholesale changes every time, but you need to change enough to lead a conversation you can both benefit from.

By not being defensive, and open to adding to, augmenting, enhancing and changing how you sell, you may find that you can be both right and rich.

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