Welcome to The Pipeline.

Sales Manager: Coach or Trainer?40

A front line sales manager has to wear many hats in the course of a week, for me the most important is to lead the execution of the sales process, and do that leading from the front. Key to that is a balance between Managing and Coaching, for a full view read The Yin Yang of Success for Front Line Sales Managers and The EDGE Framework for Sales Coaching Success.

A question that often arises, is should the front line also be training their team members as it relates to skills. Not the day to day honing of skills, or ramping up a new employee, but the type of training program Renbor or other training organizations traditionally deliver.  Clearly I can be accused of having a bias, but I will try to keep that in check, feel free to keep me honest.

My personal opinion is that they should part of the training process, but should not, need not, and often cannot deliver training their teams need. This is not rooted in the negative, it is that many are not qualified, they have other priorities, and if it were already part of their routine, they would not be seeking, but doing.

I have had a number of sales leaders tell me that they know that their teams need training in one area or another, and in the same breath ask, “If I bring you in, how does that reflect on me?”  This is usually put into context by highlighting the fact that “even Tiger Woods has a caddy”. This usually helps them understand that no one goes it alone, and need to rely on other’s expert input in order to attain their own objectives.

Lately the issue seems to be more economically driven, “let the manager train their teams, that’s what we pay them for”. I have seen this unfold in a number of ways, from one VP telling me each month he has one manger read a sales book and then “pass it along” to the sale force. I attended one session, it was more like someone delivering a book report rather than skills or knowledge transfer.

If in fact skills and knowledge transfer is the means to achieving sustainable behavioural change, change that is demonstrated by results, to by adopting buzz words or performing certain tasks, then it has to be structured, delivered effectively and supported through the adoption phase.  This is why Renbor’s programs all include a formal “Follow Through Action Plan”.

Now we have all worked with organizations that have internal trainers, properly trained and qualified to educate adults in a range of skills and functions.  With many of those organizations a Train The Trainer approach is logical and workable.  But what a number of companies are asking for lately is a Train The Trainer, where the “Trainer” in question is the front line sales manager.  To me this is a recipe for disaster, and this is not meant to be a knock against the managers, but I believe it put undue pressure on them and changes the nature of the relationship they have with their teams.

The reality is that many sales managers have yet to be fully trained on effectively managing a sales process and their teams.  Many were good sales people who were given an “add-a-boy” and “rewarded” into management.  New business cards, new office or desk, some training in diversity and dealing with sexual harassments, and bam, “you’re a manager, forecast meeting Friday”.  See “Management by Osmosis“.

What’s the old expression “penny wise, pound foolish”, describes this approach well.  Yes you can save a few dollars now, you can look to be creative and productive, but in the end, it is not only likely that you will not get the lift you need or the desired results, and in the process discourage both the managers and the front line team.  I can understand the need to save, but in some cases it is better not to do anything over risking a step back just to be able to put a check mark next to the training KPI.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Happiness of Pursuit18

I don’t know what it is, but all too many sales people tend to give up on opportunities way too soon, perhaps it is ADHD (all good sales people share this condition, if you don’t, consider another career), a lack of patience, or some other factor.  Not sure, but the fact is that a lot of reps leave money on the table for their competitors after having done a good job of starting things off right.  You see this not only when pursuing a lead to convert to a prospect, but also once they have engaged with a prospect, they give up when they could have converted the opportunity with a bit of planning and focus. 

Read On…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 46 – Value In A Commoditized World26

A lot of sales advice is presented as though every sale was a complex solution sales to buyers who are new to that solution.  Challenges, objectives, enhancements, sea change and all those big things that change the “world” or at least that part of it that your new fangled “solution” changes.  Great, fantastic, and when it applies to your world, very exciting, you got the “silver bullet” and they have werewolf that needs to be shot.  Unfortunately, most B2B sales are not that dramatic, in fact most B2B sales reps have to go out and sell something to someone that is already using a similar or same type or service or product.  Think freight, wireless, office supply, telephony, courier, uniforms, shredding etc.  It is not a question of providing a solution or creating budget or anything more that redirecting spend; they are already spending some bucks there, and your task is to get them to spend it here.  There is no Sales 2.0, or anything fancy, just raw sales, they have it, I want it, time to get it.

Companies are already buying office supplies, so it’s not like you are introducing a new concept, a new way of doing something, or anything of the sort.  This is not a big solutions sale, there is no abstract concept of value, there is just the challenge of displacing the current provide with you and your company.  The challenge, how do you do it without reverting to price?

The good news is that it is doable; the bad news is that it takes hard work.  Unlike some sales, it can be a slow grind that involves coverage, a thorough understanding of the issues impacting the client, and the patience to work the sale to create and exploit the timing when it presents itself.

Value is the key here as it is in most sales, but here value has to be defined in very specific, pedestrian and tactical terms, not in big picture terms.  Buyers are looking to stretch every dollar, but that does not always have to mean paying less, it could just as easily mean getting better service, greater support, new and expanded ways of using the product or how to get more out of the current spend.  Most price based sales end up being about “how do I get the same as I have now for less dollars?”  But most buyers are just as content to realize more for the same price or even proportionally more.

As an example, if you can deliver office supplies for roughly the same cost as the current provider, but at the same time offer improvements around invoicing, say allocating purchases to specific cost centers in the buyer’s company, thereby reducing the need for resources by the buying organization; reducing invoice errors, and at the same time improving responses to potential errors, again reducing the need for resources being tied up at the buyers side, leading to savings, leading to greater value for the buyer.  One can provide similar examples for wireless, transport, what have you.

Success does not have to be defined in reduced pricing in a commoditized reality, it needs to focus on block and tackle realities.  The good news is that few practice this approach, and even less of the incumbents who usually, even now take their current clients for granted.  Just be prepared that when you wake them up, they will revert to price, so you have to make your case strong and convincing right away, and tell the buyer that the incumbent will come with price, but keep the focus on service and delivery.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 19 – The First Three23

Planning is key to success in execution, and sales is all about execution.  The challenge for many experienced sales reps is that the further they are in to their career, the less planning they do, specifically at the meeting level; they may plan on a broad level, even an account level, but have less of a game plan for any given meeting. 

This is not to say that they do not have a game plan, but that their game plan is either not up to date, not specific to the situation, or both.  They know their market, they know the players, the “needs“, the “pain points“, they (think they) know what the prospect is going to say.  While I would not question their knowledge, experience and past successes, I would question their approach.  Imagine a pitcher who always threw the same combination of fastballs and curve balls to every pitcher, in every game.

Working with sales reps I ask them what they hope to specifically get out of the meeting, I don’t always get specifics; I ask how they will start the meeting, what will their first three questions be, what are they anticipating the buyer`s questions to be?  All too many times, I get back generalities or the glib “it depends! I’ll know when I get there”.  While we all respect a quarterback who can read the field and act accordingly, they always have a playbook, and pick the plays they feel make sense based on the scouting reports, and having watched the game tapes.

Sales reps should have the same discipline; they should have a clear and specific game plan going in.  This should start with an agenda that sets the tone and direction for those you have met with before.  It should also include knowing the first three questions you will ask the buyer after you have done the traditional “small talk”.  You should actually have a lot more than the first three questions planned out, but since sales is an interactive process, you need to include and encourage the buyer to get involved.  If you fully listen, you will be able to include all the questions that are important based on the flow of the discussion, but the first three are key.

These will vary from meeting to meeting, prospect to prospect.  I am not saying you have to rewrite the playbook for every meeting, nor do you have to come up with new and fresh questions for each meeting, but you a) must have a playbook.  And b) know how you are going to execute based on the specifics of the opportunity you are at, rather than relying on past glories and winging it, or doing the something each and every time, and blaming the buyer when it doesn’t work out.  One simple way to achieve success is to know what your first three questions will be.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Can You Save Your Way To Success?23


There is a lot of talk about improved productivity these days, especially among companies that seem to be coming out of the recession.  But in many cases the productivity gains are a bit of a false premise, as some will see off loading certain tasks to another party, as productivity.  The thinking is, “we don’t need to do that because someone else is now doing it, our people can now do another necessary function or more of any given function, therefore we have gained productivity.”  Well maybe, or at least sometimes, and the “sometimes usually has a negative impact on sales; sales people and sales numbers.

The concept is fine if you can off load in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on your customers, internal customers or downstream external  customers.  An example maybe automation that does not take away from the experience or result for the customer; this leaves you the opportunity to truly redeploy your people and achieve real gains.

But there are too many times when these so called productivity gains are little more than a shell game that results in no gains, in fact even losses, but also have a negative impact on customers.  This has a direct impact on sales and sales people.  As companies offer less services and support to customers, “off loading” some previously standard expectations, customers tend to push back on sales reps.  This not only chips away at the relationship between sales person and client, which has obvious implications, but has other impact.  

On a simple level, if more time is require to deal with things unrelated to selling, then reps have less time to do what they need which is sell.  These same “efficiencies” also create a longer cycle, which has direct impact on the sales team.  This at a time when many sales teams have been shrunk over the last year and are already dealing with more accounts with less resources. 

As customers realize less services or support, they begin to question the price based on expectation or previous buys, leading to demands for price concessions, negotiations (haggling) and ultimately price cuts.  This leads to a need for sales people to do more deals; then work it back from there, it means more proposals, more meetings, more prospects, more prospecting.  All this leading to more work and greater stress for sale people.
While this is unfolding, companies’ public face is that of organizations growing through efficiency gains that often lead to more growth in profits than top line revenues.  Smaller sales teams having to deliver more than before, and while many find ways to step up, growing sales from last years lows, the question remains how much one can squeeze from the process.  The question that really needs to be asked is whether there are more opportunities to grow top line and bottom line gains from continuously shrinking; or can you gain more by strategically investing to drive client satisfaction and sales force success?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 45 – The Real Magic in Sales19

When it comes to sales, the popular and logical comparisons have always been to sports, fitness or diet type programs, or even music.  All of these are open to the question is it art or is it science?  With all of the above, sales included, there are always just a few more opinions than the number of people contributing to the discussion.   I don’t propose to have a definitive answer, and I am always surprised when people proclaim that they do, and then amused when they are washed away by the next tide.   But what I do believe that when it comes to success in sales, sports, diets, or music, the thing these crafts or activities all have in common is the need for commitment and the discipline to consistent execution.

This was driven home recently by a discussion I had with someone in the trade, who is convinced that there is indeed a silver bullet in sales; and would it surprise you hear he thinks it is his methodology?  Right from the start I will say his methodology is good, as with most it is a variation on the theme, you know the wheel has been invented long ago, it is just a question of how one spins it, and he spins it well.  But the measure of success is not the method, the ab machine, or the diet, it is the individuals’ willingness and ability to adopt it, and put it into practice on a consistent basis.  Consistent here means every day, day in day out; not when you get around to it, not when you have time, not right after you are done this, but starting now, and completely.

In the case of sales teams this concept extends to the entire team, including the front line manager.  When you go on a diet, it is down to you; with a training program, you may have a personal trainer or coach.  But when it is a sales team, there is a further challenge, everyone has to adapt and execute the system, if not then everyone is at risk not just those choosing not to play.  So it is down to the manager to ensure that the methodology is executed by everyone, again completely, otherwise everyone has an excuse to revert back to where they were before you introduce the new system.

So not to take away from anyone’s system or methodology, but look at how many organizations were trained by Huthwaite, Miller Heiman or even Renbor, that after a time get distracted, lazy or unfocused and stop executing the system.  This is why at Renbor our programs include a Follow Through Action Plan, that follows reps into the field to ensure adoption and sustained behaviour change.  Without that, it is only a question of time before the silver bullet becomes a rusty nail.  As we al have heard it take 21 day for something new to become a habit, in sales I would argue it takes two sales cycles at least, and without that commitment, the latest and greatest will be a memory waiting for the next “big thing”.

So if you are still looking for a silver bullet, don’t look for a methodology or system, look for consistency in execution, and a partner who rather than telling you they have lighting in a box or the silver bullet, will help you execute.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What is your Best Sale Ever?

Saturday Sales Tip – 18 – Take It Away!31

One of the great things about sales is the different challenges you can come across with various customers. Having said that, when you step back and take an objective look, a good percentage of things tend to occur regularly, and as such are predictable and therefore manageable.
This allows good sales people to prepare and be more than ready for these occurrence, if not entirely eliminate them, certainly marginalize them, not worry about them, and at times capitalize and leverage them. In some cases, usually tactical in nature, use what some sales people would describe as a challenge or hurdle, to their advantage.
Some examples of this include those ominous and common objections we get when making cold calls. You know they are coming, you’ve heard them dozens of time, so you should be ready “take it away” from them. That’s why people who apply this methodology after taking our Proactive Prospecting Program, a) don’t worry about the common objections; and b) do better in setting more appointments than before participating in the program.

The beauty of this technique is that it is not involved or complicated, it is straight forward, but does require you to prepare in advance and be ready to evolve with circumstances and the market.  We will demonstrate with a couple of obvious ones and then one that show how to adopt to market driven forces.

For example, I was working with a major multi-national high end equipment maker, they are well known, and recognized as the leader in their space.  They sold to segments of the market from SOHO, to global banks.  One of the challenges their SMB team faced was the perception that they may be expensive and that they were geared to the needs of large companies.  More 80% of the time when they called on a small business, the owner would say “oh we’re just a small company, way to small for you guys at XYZ.”  So we told them to “take it away”; we asked them to introduce themselves as being “the small business specialist with XYZ”.  What’s the buyer going to say, “oh we are miniscule”, you can only get so small.  The reaction from people they called changed, they were pleased to see that a company of their size and stature would have a “small business specialist”, appointment rates and sales both increased.

When you end up sending a prospect something either by snail or e-mail, what is the most common response you get when you follow up?  Sure they haven’t got to it or read it yet.  So “take it away”; when you call them back, say “Hank, this is Tibor, just follow through on the info you requested – you probably haven’t read it yet, have you?”  Just their nervous little laugh is worth the call, but “taking it away”, gives you complete control.  If they haven’t, you can follow through by saying “Hank that’s why I suggested we get together, let’s do that Monday and I can walk you through and answer any questions you have, how about 3:00”.  If they have read it, great, time to meet.

One other example, one where it is in response to changing markets.  Last year we all faced the recession.  So I quickly changed my approach to “take it away”; as part of my intro I added that “at Renbor we work with companies like ABC who have decided to take a proactive stance vis-à-vis the recession.”  What can they say at this point, “we’ve decided to not be proactive and go down with the status quo”

The key is to recognize a potential hurdle and deal with the decidedly, move to “take it away”.  First time you hear it, take note; second time, confirms you need to deal with; third time and after: “take it away” from them.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

My Best Sale Ever!

Don’t Ask – Don’t Sell38

Time to Revoke That Way of Selling

Sale people like to talk about asking questions, probing for answers; most would not argue that it is a fundamental sales requirement.  Yet at times, they seem reluctant to make full use of them. Making basic queries is fine, but they don’t seem to want to go for the gusto to often especially when it comes to some direct and or advanced questions, many seem to fade.  I am not sure if it is that “relationship” thing, or the soft side of selling is just getting mushy; (check out The Softness Epidemic: Sales is Too Soft, from S. Anthony Iannarino); but when it comes to asking questions which will truly uncover facts and objectives, sales people seem to just hold back or are afraid to ask.

It is really an issue for two reasons, first is obvious, you can uncover things your competitor will never get, because he/she (real PC ha?) is not asking.  The second is that those direct questions really establish your credibility in the eyes of the buyer.  Let’s face no real decision maker wants to waste time with a soft namby pamby type person who is reluctant to deal with real issues. 

I am not talking about personal or out of bound questions, but those that impact the buyer, those where your solution can impact the outcome.  When you consult with other professionals whose help you are seeking, say a lawyer or accountant, do they hold back?  If you were facing litigation, would you feel good about a soft lawyer who is not getting to the heart of the matter, or one that digs down so they can understand and fully deal with the issue to your advantage?  A good sales person should do the same, especially if they like to make an income associated with lawyers or other professionals.

At times I am amazed at the soft balls people won’t ask.  What are they afraid of?  If you have a question on your mind based on the conversation you are having with a buyer ask it, simple as that.  Short of a personal question, like “man why would you ware that tie with that shirt?”, it is our job to ask, listen and deal with it.  Whatever it is you will have to deal with it at one point, so take the lead and find out. Maybe the buyer is not interested, good, let’s move to one that may be, I’d rather know now, then invest more time and energy. 

The other day I had a rep say “I have always wanted to ask how they choose their vendors?”  Now is that a softy or what, but they have never asked.  “Why not?”  I asked, “well can you ask that?”  I reassured them that I had just visited the legislature and there was no law on the books against it.  If you are thinking it, it is relevant; if it is relevant, you need to ask it.   (See Building The Better Question)

Nothing is off limit in the business context.  It’s simple, you don’t ask – you don’t sell!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What’s your Best Sales Ever?

Your Best Sale Ever!22

My Best Sale Ever – is a project aimed at highlighting and sharing best practices among B2B sales professionals when facing a potentially critical challenge moment in an important sale.  Specifically, we are looking to collect and share real stories baed on real events from B2B sales professionals who were in a tough spot in a sale. 

Tell us about a time when you were facing what appeared to be an insurmountable situation in a sale, all seemed lost. No moping for you, you took charge, stepped back, got creative – formulated a strategy, an action plan, then sprang  into action and executed it. Winning the deal and the day!

Here is your chance to brag!
In a 1,000 words or less, tell your tale using the following headings:

  • What was the specific challenge facing you, what was at risk, what was the upside? 
  • What you did in specific terms? 
  • What was the result or outcome? 
  • What you learned as a result? 
  • Were you able to repeat it and make it part of your sales execution playbook?

All stories will be reviewed, if your moment of glory is selected you will be notified.

Hope you participate, tell your friends, you never know you may need their vote (not saying anything, but who knows), and have fun.

www.mybestsaleever.com – Have Questions, write bestsale@mybestsaleever.com

Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 44 – What’s New?28

One of the benefits (sometimes frustrations) of giving workshops and working with all types of sales people is seeing the lack of drive among many sales people, and front line managers.  While they all acknowledge that they need to change and improve, they would much rather spend time telling me why they don’t see merit to trying something new, and see more value to try and prove why what they are doing now is perfect, and just a little spit and polish is all their current process needs.

Well I am not here to tell them that they don’t know what they are doing, here on this blog or in the workshops, I am just here to try and get them to think a bit beyond today, to get them to introduce new elements into their routine that will ensure their continued success and employment.  Still, I continue to be amused and surprised at their reluctance to do so.   I realize that they are for the most part working hard, working smart and many do both, but generally within the confines of a small “box”, which if they expanded a bit at a time, could give them an ongoing advantage in the game.  But the push back I see against changing or even updating their game ranges from the understandable (not necessarily acceptable): “I have been doing this for 20 years with relative success why should I change now?” to the ridiculous “you know I tried that once in 1983, and it didn’t work that time.”

Well let’s look at a couple of sobering things that will hopefully inspire you and some others to take steps to change and improve.

“The process you have right now is perfect for the results you are getting.”

So the question becomes really clear, are satisfied with the results you are getting now?  So here is an answer that clearly does not apply to everyone, but should give many pause, and at least enough steam to get you to the end of this piece:

“The percentage of reps making quota in 2009 dropped to 51.8% from 58.8% a year earlier.  As a result, overall revenue plan attainment dropped to 77.9% from 85.9% during the same time period.”  CSO Insights Study Shows Major Drops in Sales Performance in 2009; February 2, 2010

Still some will say that they are part of that 51%, so what does this have to do with me, and for some that is correct; some, and rather than the old 80/20, let’s go with The Shanto Principal, and say 30% of the above group will continue to make goal, grow and achieve in terms beyond just money.  The rest need to think things through. 

Many of the people who made their number last year did so working their base, almost benefiting from the recession as clients trimmed relationships and consolidated business to fewer vendors.  So while one vendor benefits, another goes back to the office hungry.  But this process has a “circle of life” aspect, what goes around comes around, as consolidation happens, it leads to attrition, the base shrinks.  Depending on the industry and other factors, churn can result in anywhere from 5% – 20% of the existing account base.  So at one point you will have to deal with that reality, I would say that time is sooner than many think for two reasons.

First as the economy improves, already has in Canada, will this year in the USA, the benefits of consolidation will likely reverse.  New people, new initiatives, new opportunities will cause clients to review the status quo and make changes, one change may be their vendors, you.

The second also comes from the CSO study cited above:

“Again in 2010 85% of the firms we just surveyed have raised their sales rep revenue targets. We can all hope that an improved economy will be the tide that raises sales performance this year, but it would be foolhardy to count on that. Higher quotas need to be accompanied by increased investments in sales in 2010 or we may be looking at even worse sales performance numbers next year.”  Barry Trailer, Managing Partner for CSO Insights

Seems to me any way you approach it, you will be expected to deliver more in 2010, even more in 2011; unless you change you approach to productivity, that is the working smarter part, you will run out of options.  Working harder will just tire you out, and no matter what there are still only 24 in any given day.

So something has to change! You!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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