Welcome to The Pipeline.

It Can't Happen Here!28

Seems I hit a nerve with my post over at the Sales Bloggers Union (SBU) earlier this week.  For those of you not familiar with the SBU, it is a collective of a dozen sales bloggers from around the world, who blog on a given topic every month.  This allows readers to get diverse views on the same topic from various and different perspectives; with everyone contributing their own perspective, readers benefit from bloggers expanding or conflicting on a given topic, and get a unique 360 degree view.

So the topic this month is “Different Perspectives”, and that is what I did, in my post “And Now For Something Completely Different (for sales)”, I mused about the possibility of companies outsourcing sales.  The piece was posted to a number of LinkedIn groups news page, and man did it get some feedback, well, little did I know that sales is a sacred cow, I guess I missed that memo. 

To be fair some got it, others pointed out that it is already happening, pointing to distribution models, agents, trade or manufacturer’s representatives, not to mention a growing “industry of outsourced sales management” as one comment pointed out.

What surprised me was the complacency of some of the people who responded, bringing up a whole bunch of reasons why sales is different than other functions and therefore cannot be sourced out, please.  This blind arrogance is the same denial that many extinct species in business clung to just before they became extinct.

In case you missed it, call centres are springing up in India, and they are not just taking inbound calls, they are selling to you, your neighbour, and that guy around the corner who used to sell for ACME before they moved off shore.  It is not just blue collar jobs that are going off shore, white collar is right there with them.  But my comments were about outsourcing off shore, but how companies will not only continue but will accelerate the shedding of non-core functions/competencies.  And for those who want to preach that Sales is too central to the success of the company, well what about branding, PR, or advertising?  Looking at the results many sales groups are delivering, it is clear that sales may not be a core competency for many either.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting this, I do not wish this on these people, rather, this should be a wake up call for those who are failing to show up, or show up but don’t play with heart.  They are in control of their future, they can either sit idly by, or they can act.  The fact remains that in most years less than half of B2B sales people make goal, last year it was even less.  The complacency among some in sales needs to be replaced by with innovative and energetic approach to sales.  I know it is not easy, but if they don’t start upping up their game, they may just find they are the next, just as soon as the company finish with the current project of outsourcing their supply chain. 

What’s in Your (outsourced) Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

SBU and Sales Smack27

This month over at Sales Bloggers Union, the group is post about Different Perspectives.  As usual you have over a dozen leading sales bloggers delivering their Perspective on things in sales.  Today I look at the question of whether the sales department is sacred and always needs to be, or can some companies do better by considering alternatives such as outsourcing, revamping, or something different than the current questionable model.

Sales Smack

For more lively discussion on sales, you can join in on Jim Keenan’s Sales Smack, tonight at 7:00 pm Eastern.  This interactive discussion on sales has really generated some great discussions and ideas on sales execution, the future of selling, sales innovation and more.  Join in tonight, have your say, challenge the convention, have fun and contribute. 

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 3327

Putting The Right Things First

Had an interesting discussion with a sales rep, Jim (we’ll call him), at a workshop the other day, discussing whether things were going to get easier for sales people as the economy starts to come back.  This was a rep who has been selling in his sector for some time, he has been with his current company for 12 years, and in that time has missed goal only once, and even then only by a bit.  He sells a product that is critical for his buyers, but due to the number of players in the game, the acceleration in price wars over the last 18 months, the choice of seller has become discretionary.  I give you the background to help you understand that his observations are coming from a position of success, not the usual chorus. 

His feeling is that as the economy improves, things will get harder for many in sales.  Despite the cautious optimism about the economy, and among sales people and sales organizations, many individual reps will not immediately, if ever, benefit from economic growth; organizations will see growth coming from only a few reps, specifically the same reps who were generating revenues during the downturn. 

Jim was telling me that while he made goal in ’09, it was different than in previous years.  His clients were expecting more of him this time around; it wasn’t price concessions, deals or favours.  They were becoming more reliant on him to help them do their work.  As companies were cutting back, his clients were once again left with less to do more; as a result they were looking for more than the usual.  More than product expertise, they were looking for experts who can help them reinvent themselves and how they can do their jobs.  These jobs were getting bigger, more demanding and had to be done with fewer resources.  Their view is that buying product cheaper had way less value than someone who can help them not only cope, but get ahead in an increasingly competitive world.

While some vendors did manage to hang on using price, value was taking on more dimensions.  Cheaper product in the hands of users who can’t cope, ultimately ends up costing more when all elements are taken into account.  The loss of productivity by workers who can’t keep up, are over worked, or spread too thin is much greater than a few dollars saved here or there.

Jim feels the real work he did in 2009 was not hitting goal, but the resource he became to his clients.  As a result of dealing with a cross section of companies, he was able to share best practices and help his clients do their jobs more effectively.  Let’s be clear here, we are not talking about sharing the secrets or inside info of one client with another; but best practices learned from being involved and taking an active interest in how people use his product directly or indirectly.  He sharing of practices would fall into what you may call cross pollination.  In fact at one point he started an informal user group, without the help of marketing, or his company.  They would get together and share ideas, views, challenges, but mostly the fact that they were not the only ones facing what at times seemed like insurmountable challenges.  They would meet at a local pizza place once a month and share, in the process building relationships with each other, and a dependency on Jim.

As a result, Jim is convinced, and I tend to agree, that this dependency will grow as his buyers world’s become even more hectic as the economy picks up, demand improves, production increases, and demands on the remaining workers grow again.  Now the good news is that Jim’s approach works just as well in an up market as they do in the down phases.  When you get past the obvious, and focus on two key things you can always succeed.  First is the welfare of the client, individual and organization, second is the ability to drive revenues for your company in order to ensure that you can continue to work on the former.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 617

Leveraging Executive Referrals

A couple of weeks back, the Saturday Sales Tip 4 looked at the need to pursue and involve executives in your selling process.  Expanding on that, it is important to remember that executives can be great sources of referral, both internal and external to the company you are talking to.

As discussed, executives sit at a high enough perch to know what is going on beyond their functional area,  as such they can make for great referrals source into other areas within the company.  Assuming you make your approach and it turns out that they at that moment are not a viable or qualified lead for you, don’t hesitate to spend a bit of time (if allowed) to explore beyond the obvious.  Two clear areas are first, a better understanding of the lay of the land, second, people who they feel would be either interested or impacted by what you offer.

Remember that just because they may not be an immediate buyer for your offering, does not mean that they do not see the value, they are just not the one who will ultimately make the buy, not his budget, not his direct mandate.  But the adoption of your product/service could have an impact on their area, they could have clear opinions on the need for and fit of your offering.  They can very much steer you to the right people.  Along with that they, being part of the executive team, they are aware of the priorities, objectives and projects of interest to the executive team.  They can enlighten you about the drivers and results the executive has agreed to and set.  This knowledge will help you with positioning your product to the right people, for the right reason, in the right language.  All of which can help you engage, help with your timing, help differentiate you from the others and at the same time accelerate the velocity of your sales cycle.

The other thing to remember is that while executives are competitive by nature, they know many other executives performing the same function at other companies beyond their natural competitors.  So while the CFO at Coke may not be keen to help the CFO at Pepsi, she may well know the CFO at a tire manufacturer, software, construction or other companies not directly competing with her.  She may be aware of someone who can use your services, so why not ask.  If they are agreeable, you can then ask if you can use them as a referrer, when they agree, depending on the rapport you have created to this point, you can go further and ask if they could introduce you.  Looking to the long-term forward, if you are successful with the referral, you can then leverage that when the original referrer is ready to do business.

With either of the above it is just a question of asking, well in fact it is a question of planning and then acting.  If you are not thinking in advance as to what your next move is after you find out that now is not the time to engage with a given individual, then you will never get past that point.  So be prepared, ask who else would find value in the type of discussion you are having, don’t ask who they know is “looking to buy”.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Related Posts:
Saturday Sales Tip 4 – Always Involve An Executive In Your Sale
Saturday Sales Tip 3 – Always Have 5 Targets In Prospect Accounts
3 Things to Maximize an Executive Referral 

Actions Speak Louder Than Words29

There is a great discussion taking place over at S. Anthony Iannarino’s The Sales Blog, examining the nature and impact of competitiveness in sales.  In a piece titled In Defense of Competitiveness in Salespeople , Anthony discusses the topic along with input from Dave Brock.  As you will see from the comment I left, I would have to back Anthony.  For a couple of specific reasons; one was that sales professionals need to be judged by their actions, not their words.  Second was that it is the job of the sales person to drive revenue for their companies, while at the same time delivering value to their customers.
 
One of the threads was around the words and language some of us in sales use to describe our craft and actions in the process of executing our work.  Much of the language came from forums and sites dedicated to sales professionals, written by and for sales professionals, as a result there is descriptive language that is graphic for effect, and as one would suspect, containing more than a sprinkle of bravado.  The concern by some, and valid it is, is that the words we use to describe ourselves and works against us and our reputation.  Maybe so, but I am not convinced.  Main reason being that ultimately, people need to judge sales people or anyone by their actions.  I may sit around and talk mucho with my friends and colleagues, but in the most professional way with my clients, and I would expect that my clients will judge their interactions by what I do, how I treat them, the resources I bring to bear to meet their requirements, and the over all value/ROI I work to deliver for them, their companies, and investment.
 
The reality is that words do have a great impact, and the real professionals understand that while they may kibitz around their craft with their friends, when they are selling, when they are working with a buyer, the mucho talk needs to be replaced with action.  And while some sales people do have a bad reputation for all the right reasons, the same can be said for any profession, and I have enough faith in buyers not to confuse me and other professionals with those who deserve the reputation.
 
My contribution to the whole issue was to refer to sales as a predatory sport, and I will stand by that.  In most instances, I am competing with one or more competitors, (in addition to the status quo).  As a result, it becomes a “predatory” affair between me and the other potential providers, it is not a predatory approach to the client.  The blood sport aspect of it stems from the very survival nature of the game.  If I win a deal, a sales rep from another company loses, goes home with no food (kill) for the tribe that day. The tribe, the company, depends on the sales reps, the warriors, to go out every day, and bring back sustenance for the organization to survive, grow and thrive.  If I win, my tribe eats, his doesn’t.  As long as we don’t rip the customer apart in the process, I think the term is fitting. 
 
But in the process of the sales, the planning, the strategy, the execution, it is very much like a hunt, i.e. hunter, but we are not hunting customers, and we are very much in an all or none game vis-à-vis our competitors.
 
One comment I would make, is working with a number of sales teams in different verticals, it is often the sales professional who finds himself in the role of “prey”, feeling hunted, abused and injured by clients.  Rather than looking for that balance of a fair price and value, many are taking way too much advantage of the current economy, and are bleeding their providers dry, squeezing the last unnecessary penny out of every deal.  Yes, everybody needs to economize, everyone needs to take a buck further, but looking at the way some clients treat their reps and suppliers, it is only a question of time before some great companies, with some great reps, who have great families, are bled dry.  When this happens everyone loses, including the clients who are left with a low cost no value providers, which is bound to impact their ability to meet the expectation of their clients.  And all this is done the while using the most genteel words to describe what they do.
 
What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 3224

All or None – Is Not For All

While most sales people think they ride around with a big shiny S on their chest, what the buyers see is a big old C; which stands for Change, it stands for Cost, and stands for Chaos.  So while the seller and their Marketing department are out pursuing customers, this difference in perception continues to be a barrier to doing business.

No one doubts that you have the better mouse trap, way ahead of the others and works twice as fast, and look it’s new.  But unless the prospect sees how it can bring some real difference, they are not likely to act, since they already have one.  Anyone trying to replace that is seen not only as a potential threat to the one they already have, but it’ll cost time and money too, and “yes it may have some nice features”, it has a cost attached to it as well, not to mention (again) uproar.  So no matter how hard we try, and no matter how true it may be that what we are selling is better, it’s got that “funky aura of Change, Cost and Chaos!

What’s a seller to do?

Change the approach.  The  goal is to get in and build not to take an “all or none” stance, which is what many sales people do when they are up against an incumbent.  At time they go to the other extreme by asking to be put in to a line called “well let me be the alternate in case the current provider isn’t able to deliver”, sort of like a holding tank of sales hope.  A rest home of unrealised dreams and swelling pipelines that rarely yield sales. 

The real solution is a proactive stance between the two extremes that allows you to realize revenue now, and build foundations for the future.  We apply the Lyndon B. Johnson process that states it is “Better inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”  Meaning change your focus from change to enhance, or add on to the existing.

I know it may be counter intuitive to proactively not go after the whole thing, but that is exactly what the sellers in the “rest home” tried.  They went for the whole thing, no luck!  They tried a couple of ways a couple of times, but had to settle for “I’ll just wait till the current guy, the one you like and give all the breaks to, and forgive when they mess up, I’ll wait till he drops the ball.  I’ll be right here with all the others, just look for me, the C on my chest is nicer.”

On the other hand if you can demonstrate how you can enhance what they are doing now, improve the process or result in some way, add value in a way that doesn’t turn their world upside down, then you can start something.  Especially if you can at the same time demonstrate a tangible return on their investment, whether that is in the form of increased revenue, or improved cost, direct or through process improvement. 

Change you posture from “all or none” to “some, and then some, and then some more.”  Which is a lot easier to do when you have a seat at the table, no matter how small, than yelling (or in LBJ’s case, peeing) from the street 30 floors below in traffic.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 527

Touch Your Leads Once A Month

A lot of sales people glorify the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, the famous coffee is for closers line, the contest, and more.  All very entertaining – but not really great sales.   But the really dangerous habit that is reinforced in the movie, is the callus attitude towards leads; the attitude of dial three times and toss, is not only a waist, but gives impressionable sales people of all ages the wrong idea of the value of a lead, even when you are selling moose patch.

Leads are a valuable resource, and more importantly a reusable resource.  You can revisit them over time, and often realize their full potential after the third, fourth or eighth attempt at engaging.  But too many sales people and organizations to fully value their leads, evidenced by the fact that they throw them away, or store them out back, way too soon, in fact with some leads you can revisit them repeatedly over the years and many eventually bear fruit.

The challenge for many is how to strike the balance between time and resources invested in keeping leads health and nurturing them till they do bear fruit, while at the same time interacting with “prospect” that can turn into sales now.  But when you take a step back, there are some things you can do that help you get the most out of both, delivering sales now and ensuring you have enough opportunities to succeed in the future.

First is to have a lead strategy, what are you going to do to maximize interaction with “future opportunities/prospects”, which is really what a lead is, the raw material for future sales.  Let me give you my quick definition of a lead so we are all on the same page.  We look at a lead as those people/organizations that fit within the defined demographic of our best buyers.  It is not anyone in a position to buy from us, but those that have the demographics of our best customers.  You could tier them, Best, Better, Good, but again, the leads I want, the ones that I will work to convert to ‘prospects’, are the ones that have the attributes of my Best (Better or Good) existing customers.

Once identified and verified, I can begin to take them through a process/program of evolving them to the point of becoming a ‘prospect”.  They could come from referrals, people who started down the sales path with us, but didn’t complete the journey of becoming a client, but could in the future, trade show list, cold calls, etc.  We have talked in the past about our Touch > Contact > Engage method for managing and nurturing leads, and clearly all starts with Touch.  So how often do you Touch you primo leads, we think at minimum that should happen once a month.  You may Contact them less frequently, but you should touch them once a month.  How do you Touch them, different ways; I like e-newsletters, it is direct, informative, helpful and creates a curiosity and call to action.  We get in excess of a 20% click through to specific articles, which I believe is higher than direct mail, and likely because they are familiar with the source, subject and quality of the content.  But you can do different things, invitation to webinars, direct mail, etc.  The key is to do it steadily and consistently, to the point where people come to expect it.  When my e-newsletter is late going out, I get inquiries about when it is coming out or “did I miss this month’s Pipeline?”

While it is important to make sure that the Touch is quality and is in a position to add value to the recipient, it is just as important that it is frequent enough to have impact, my view, minimum one Touch per month.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Related Posts:

Five Proven Ways to Get More Appointments Part 3 of 5: Preparation and Recycling

Closed vs. Open Ended Questions24

For the longest time now, open-ended questions have ruled the day, while closed ended questions have been treated like a red-headed stepchild. One of the first things sales reps are taught that they have to probe by asking “open ended” questions. While I would not question the effectiveness of open ended questions, I do have to wonder if it is “the better” question every time, for every situation.  In reality it is a question of context, there are definitely situations when the best type of question is closed ended.
 
If you are looking to “open” things up, discover what is going on in the prospect’s world, or gain an understanding of how you can impact the prospect’s world, open ended questions are for you.  But if you are looking to finalize a phase of the sale, close down an outstanding issue, or in a situation where you need a yes or a no, you should go with a closed ended question.
 
Think of this as my sales answer to Timberlake, he’s bringing “Sexy Back”, I am bringing closed ended questions back. 

If you look at the sales process, from lead to long term client, there are stages, specifics will vary based on sector, product and other factors.  As a reader of this blog you have seen us refer to the EDGE process, Engage, Discovery, Gain, Execute; these generic stages, have subsets and sections and they also have specific attributes and actions.  Some stages are better executed using open ended questions, other sections, are better suited to closed ended questions.

The Discovery stage is usually the more crucial and longer that the others, it is also the stage that is best suited to open ended questions.  Looking at sales over the last 10 – 20 years or so, a key challenge has been to get reps to improve their approach to fully engaging with buyers and uncover their objective and opportunities.  This in contrast to the “Pitching” they used to do before that.  It makes perfect sense that sales leaders and trainers world emphasize questions that help reps uncover these things.  So the mantra and the battle cry became “ask open ended questions”, “open things up, get the client to talk”.

At the same time when it come to Engaging a lead and testing if it is time to convert them to a prospect, closed ended questions serve the situation better.  Some question work really well in a face to face setting, others work better over the phone.  For example when you are on the phone with a lead that you are trying to get an appointment with, you don’t want to open things over the phone, that’s better done in person.  But securing the appointment, is at time easier achieved using a closed ended questions.

Towards the end of the sale, when you are dealing with the prospect’s nerves, and they ask questions to be reassured, you want to deal with it, address, close it down and move on.  Closed ended questions could be your friend.

As with most things in life, there are very few absolutes, and so it is with questions.  The art is in asking the right question for what you need to achieve at that point in the sale.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Related Posts:
Take The Risk Out Of Questions

In Listening

Sales eXchange – 3128

No Options

Sales is one of those professions where there are not as many rights and wrongs, as there are ways that people do things.  While everyone agrees that you want the prospect to feel like they have bought rather than having been sold, how you do that can take many forms and styles.  One aspect of sales that has camps and leads to good debate is the use of options in moving the prospect in the direction you want.

You know  what I mean, giving them the option of Tuesday Afternoon or Wednesday morning for an appointment; giving the multiple options in the final purchase, say three options with three different price points and inclusions.  They tell me the last one is very effective especially if you offer three options, the buyer always goes for the mid-level one.  I am not sure, I would not know, because I don’t think sales professionals should be offering options or choices.

As sales professionals, especially those who sell “solutions” and see themselves as “consultants” executing the “consultative sales”, we should be staying away from options and offering what we believe in our “expert” opinion is the best option.  After all if you went to a lawyer or doctor, would you want to be offered options or their expert opinion?  You would want them to examine the facts thoroughly and take the right action based on the facts.

People like to buy and deal with people who capable and confident, especially when their decision involves change or potential risk to the company.   They want to work with someone reliable who they feel is ready to address a specific issues or opportunity.  That requires that the seller take a leadership role in the process.  If you are a subject matter expert, as most sales people are; and you do a professional job in the Discovery portion of the sale and establish the facts properly, you should be in a position to offer up the best plan.  If indeed you have done a good job uncovering the facts and aspirations of the buyer, why would you need options, you would know what the “right” offering is to the prospect.

Same applies when you first engage with a potential buyer.  People tell me they “don’t like to pressure the prospect” by just giving one choice, giving them two days “gives them options”.  They are not looking for options; they are looking to get an issue resolved, the quicker they can do that the better; the less you dilly-dally around the quicker that is like to happen.

Offering option also invites unnecessary negotiations.  “What’s the difference between the two?”, “can’t I get this for that price, can’t you just throw that in?” 

Avoid all this by not giving options.  Offer up the best answer to the client’s situation and go with that, if they don’t like it for whatever reason they will tell you and then you deal with that specific. But for all you know, they may see the merit in your best choice.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 422

Always Involve An Executive In Your Sale

While it is true that you do not need an executive to be involved in each sale to get the order or complete the sale, it is always an advantage to have an executive be involved somewhere in the process.  Why, because there is little of any downside, but there is a whole bunch of upside.

Why involve executives:

  • They’re the ultimate decision-maker
  • Otherwise… someone else is communicating your value
  • Opens up the rest of the organization
  • Fastest way to penetrate a company
  • Relationship can be a tie-breaker
  • Knowing them helps when you’re in trouble
  • Begin to be seen as an asset to the customer
  • Help shape new project / Get involved early

Most of these are straight forward, I do want to just emphasis three a bit, the first three.  No matter who you are dealing with in the user group, the executive can always bring their own decision, and while you may not want that heavy hand, you want to be aware when that may come into play, especially against you.  You want to be the one that defines your value to the organization.  And from their perch, they can let you know where else there is opportunity or needs.

So why don’t people call more frequently on executives?  Here are some things I hear:

  • I Haven’t Needed to Call High in the Past
  • I’m Not Sure What to Say
  • The Exec Deals with Bigger Issues
  • I Won’t Have Credibility
  • My VP Should Make These Calls
  • My Manager Doesn’t Want Me Calling Execs

All weak, all need to be changed.  If not you will continue to be selling short to the wrong individuals, who may buy, but will always keep you from realizing full potential and penetration.  If you stay with these lower level buyers you will open yourself up to these pitfalls:

  • Competition is Calling High
  • Lower Levels don’t See the Big Picture
  • Many Projects Never Get Implemented
  • May Take Months to “Get Established”
  • Tougher to Move Up Later
  • You’ll be Just Another Vendor

One last thing, you don’t have to always start with the executive, although it is a good idea to involve them early.  But even after you are in business with a company, you can strive to solidify your relation with them by reaching out to the executive.  This time as a vendor, as a provider looking to learn more about how to best deliver Value to their organization.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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