Welcome to The Pipeline.

Preparing for Sales Success – Part 244

Last week in my conversation with Michael Bird, Chief Revenue Officer at NetProspex, and I began a discussion about what sales as a group, and individual sales people can do to better prepare to win.  Understanding and leveraging specific value your clients derive, not just looking at and reviewing why you lost deals, but engaging with the buyer to learn how you can improve factor it into product and future sales.   Using the “None sales call – Sales call” not only to engage, but to build relationships that pay future dividends.  Demonstrating and leveraging the “Deep bench” as a key differentiator.  The value of 3D and 4D, and other golden nuggets that will help you win sales within minutes of watching the video below.

httpvh://youtu.be/Vf7ApHOCqvg

As always, we value your feedback, it’s free, it’s good, keeps you regular.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto



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It’s Your Job to be Persistent – Sales eXchange – 11267

One attribute that many sales people lack is persistence, what’s worse, is that this flaw is encouraged and perpetuated by their managers.  It presents itself all too often when you talk to sales B2B people, sometimes subtly, “I don’t like to be salesie” (boy did you pick the wrong profession); or when they say that they don’t want to be “pushy”.

Well how do you define pushy?  Most sales people will tell you anything over three tries is pushy.  When you ask them for the timeframe involved, they don’t really know, they just tell you “three times, and I move on”.  Often when you probe a bit further you find out that they usually try once a week, so it is three tries in three weeks, and they move on.  What a waste.

In these days of smaller work forces dealing with the same workload that existed when they were fully staffed, compressed time frames and reduced resources, it can take a bit of effort to get a prospect’s attention.   Most studies show that it takes anywhere from 4 to 7 touch points for a potential prospect to get engaged around an idea; some will even go as high as 11 or 12 touch points.  So the “three shots move on approach” is useless, and waiting a week between calls is worse than useless, it is disastrous.

Others in the client acquisition process understand this, you can see examples of this with the most recognizable brands, just witness how many iPad 2 commercials you see; look at the number of times Salesforce.com pops up in ads on sales related web pages or searches .  They understand the need to be persistent, and execute accordingly; whether it is the way marketing designs campaigns or manages lead nurturing programs, always persistent in their approach.  Yet when sales is handed a vetted lead, they squander it by easing up on the persistence.

I say to sales people with confidence that the injunction order is a lot further off than they think, or want to make excuses for, they need to be more persistent.  Use voice mail, e-mail, social media, and more.  You may call someone three times, but if they are an e-mail type, it is falling on deaf ears.  When I decide to campaign someone, I touch them at least six times in two weeks.  A voice mail Monday, another Wednesday, if I have not heard back by Wednesday end of day, I’ll send them an e-mail, telling them that I am sorry we have not been able to connect, but fear not, I will call tomorrow at 11:00.  I don’t expect them to be there every time, but if I call at 11:00, can demonstrate that I follow up on my commitment, and set expectations for when we do engage.  That’s four touch points by Thursday, and I don’t think I am close to an injunction order.  Two or three calls in the following week, and presto, seven touch points, and an impressed prospect.

This may not be comfortable for everyone, and that is why we have the 80/20 rule.  But as you pick the concept apart and rationalize matters, consider two specifics.  First, if you give up after three tries and your prospect kick in on the fourth try, which means your competitor will score on their first call, because for the prospect it is the fourth touch on the same topic.  Second, I have had several executives tell me that they routinely ignore the first few calls, because they know the weak will wither, and what’s left are those with the confidence and conviction to do what they have to engage with them.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

More than a Sale51

The Pipeline Guest Post – John Kearney

Go from Seller to Strategic Advisor

I’m Bill the Buyer.  And I’m mad as hell.

My sales rep recently sold me the top of the line, lowest price product that would speed up my operations and limit my liability.  It did everything he said it would do.  The results were just as he had guaranteed.  My division’s expenditures went down and profits were up.

So why, when it came time for my promotion was I passed over for Ian from IT?  His costs had not been cut, his profits had not improved as dramatically as mine and his staff had not seen the same level of production.  Last week Ian brought in all of the division managers and gave us his vision.

Ian told us about Sandra the Super Sales Rep.  Sandra had been helping Ian position IT for the future.  Her company’s sales training had focused on helping customers find emerging markets, gaps in an industry’s solutions to challenges and areas where IT should be entering in order to take advantage of the latest and most sustainable trends.  Ian felt bad for Sandra.  Sometimes she would leave a meeting without having even tried to sell him anything.  She had simply come in, given advice, listened to Ian’s ideas, and left.

About a month ago Ian asked Sandra what her sales strategy was all about and why it seemed as though she was acting as more of an advisor than a salesperson.  She told me her sales training had taught her that if she could solve corporate strategic problems the sales would follow.  Simple enough.  Her sales management taught her that there were four questions that every sales person should work with customers to answer.

1. Who is the customer?  If your customer doesn’t know his company’s mission, vision for the future and strategic goals, help that person understand.  It’s important to read the CEO’s Letter to the Shareholders or internal memos that illustrate the CEOs plans for the company.  Ian dug into the financial statements to find out how he could position his department to align with these interests.
2. Does the customer have the resources that support these goals?  If the goal is revenue growth then the resources should be effective and high quality to ensure maximum growth.  If the goal is profitability the resources should be efficient, with a balanced approach of cheaper resources that can still produce the same (or greater) level of output.  Ian had to rethink the tools he was purchasing to ensure that he could match the growth for which the CEO was looking.
3. Is the market the customer is in ideal?  There may be a need to purchase resources differently if the customer needs to enter new markets and cater to new demographics.  Ian recognized that more established companies were worried about liabilities and were used to spending more to ensure high quality.
4. How can the resources the customer purchases ensure that they will have a competitive advantage?  The customer should understand what value they add to their market that the competition does not.  Ian knew who the competition was but could not state what value he added that his competition did not.

Ian worked with Sandra to ensure that they were bringing in the right products that could support the goals of the entire organization.  This was noticed by the CEO and so here we are today.  As I begin this journey myself to ensure that my division is in line with corporate vision I’m looking for more suggestions on how I can use business acumen to position my division for success.  Any additional recommendations?

About John Kearney

John Kearney serves as a Consultant at Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), a professional services firm focused exclusively on sales force effectiveness.  He focuses on sales strategy and utilizing social media to increase corporate visibility and revenue.

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Preparing for Sales Success – Part 136

A couple of weeks ago I posted the first in a series of conversations with Michael Bird, Chief Revenue Officer with NetProspex.  The primary focus of the conversation is on various aspects of and best practices in B2B selling.  Today’s segment is the first of two dealing with what the B2B rep can do to be better prepared to achieve consistent sales success.

Beyond automation, tools, and other resources available to sales professionals today, it still is the responsibility of the rep to be sure they are ready and willing to fully engage with a potential buyer, we examine a few here, some next week, but we are also curious as to what you do to be better prepared.  Take a look at the video, and then participate in the discussion mentioned below.

Quick technical note, due to unforeseen challenges, some of the audio may be a bit (slightly) shaky here and there, but the content more than makes up for it.

So, here is the question, “How much time do you spend getting ready for a sales meeting?”  I once read somewhere that you need to prepare at least an hour for every ten minutes of presentation you are to deliver, and one would think that a sales meeting/interview may be more demanding, so the question is what do you do to specifically prepare for a successful sales call?  You can answer in the comment area below or join the discussion on Facebook.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Compelling Opening Statements – Sales eXchange – 11144

The other day I was talking with a couple of sales managers trying to help their people be more effective in prospecting.  The conversation quickly got around to compelling opening statements in an initial call.  Yes, these people were making cold calls, they were not part of the “wait” or “be found” movement in sales.  Cold calling is not dead; it just smells funny in that Shrink Wrap 2.0.  While there was agreement that the opening of the call was crucial to success, there were different opinions as to what that statement should be.  Fortunately, for me the senior person shared my view that the opening statement needs to go to the specific value you will deliver based on the recipients’ realities, not ours.  This may seem obvious to most, it is not always that obvious when you watch otherwise good sales people execute prospecting calls.

When all is said and done, the most compelling opening statement is the specific value that the recipient of the call will realize by going with your solution.  Many do buy this, but many deviate in practice, that is in execution, in two common ways.  One the amount of time it takes them to get to talking about that value.  Second, and more fatal, is what “value” to present.

Too many reps feel the need to say a whole bunch of things not related to the key issue for the recipient of the call, dealing mostly with who they are, who their company is, and a bunch of other that lead to one of three things from the potential prospect:

Rejection
Anger (over their time being wasted)
Hang up, the humane way to deal with the situation

It is bad enough that you are interrupting them, why waste their time?  It may be important to you that you are a Fortune 500 company, it may be important to you CMO that you say you a leading provider of …  But it means nothing to someone trying to pack 16 hours in to an already crowded 10 hour day.

Which leads us to the second point, the value they want to hear about is the ones they can tangibly realize and you can deliver.  How much time will you save them, how much less downtime will they realize, how much increase in revenue or productivity will they see.  Finding the right one is easy, just examine the successes you have had; and also those scenarios where you came up short and was just another also-ran.  This takes a little work, but more importantly an understanding of why you really won, and why you really lost.  There are still too many reps I speak to who can’t articulate specifics, and rely too much on general elements, or pre-fab facts provided by their managers, the “old timers” or marketing.

Yes the opening statement needs to be compelling, but compelling to each buyer not you or others in your company.  If you choose to continue to open conversations with business people by talking about you, your company, and non-specific things, perhaps you should consider how to compete in the “be found derby”.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto



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The Gap Between Your Wishful Thinking and Real Customer Experiences30

The Pipeline Guest Post – Ernan Roman

THE PROBLEM: Many companies think they are doing a far better job of engaging with, serving, and supporting customers than they are.

THE SOLUTION: Take a hard look at your Customer Sat process. Is it self-serving, subject to manipulation… or brutally honest?

The following incident prompted me to write today’s blog. Recently, I called to arrange a cab from my home to the airport. This task is always a challenge, as the cab company has a virtual monopoly on taxi service from my hometown to the airport.

I expected the poor service I usually get from this company: no call to alert me when the cab was on the way; late arrival; and a surly attitude from a sullen, monosyllabic driver. I may have to use this company, but I would never, ever recommend it enthusiastically to a friend.

This time, however, I was amazed to discover that I was being treated to a higher level of service than usual. I received an advance call to confirm the details of my pick-up time. They were on time…and, I even experienced a pleasant attitude from the driver!

I soon found out why: This was a new driver who had just started working for the company!

My good feeling evaporated when I realized that I had been used to terrible service for so long that these positive interactions actually seemed like luxuries!

They weren’t. What I had experienced was actually the bare minimum for professional-level airport transport.

This company doesn’t “get it” when it comes to customer service. They had somehow managed to hire a driver, outside their norm, who “got it”. The underlying culture of disregard for the customer was still well entrenched. I found that out when I made my return trip!

Yet … when I see the owner of the company, he delights in telling me about their customer-centric practices and high satisfaction scores! He tells me that his business philosophy is rooted in listening to customers! And he truly believes it. But from direct personal experience, I can assure you that, of his thirty or so drivers, precisely one was capable of delivering a minimally acceptable customer experience!

Here’s the point: Most executives tend to think that they are doing a far better job of engaging with, serving, and supporting their customers than they really are.

I call the difference between your wishful thinking and real customer experiences … the Customer Gap.

Too often, marketers hold their customers hostage, because they believe that there are few or no viable options available to consumers. In an age of rapid technological change and sudden, transformational market shifts, this is an extremely dangerous game.

Often without realizing it, companies get complacent about the dangerously wide gap between what consumers have been promised and what they actually experience in the real world. They stop communicating effectively with their customers, and they get used to delivering a barely acceptable (or even an unacceptable!) level of service.

In an age of empowered, social-media-savvy consumers who can be expected to tell a global audience exactly how they feel about our brand, is that really where we want to be?

TRY THIS:

  • Take a hard, honest look at your Customer Sat Process, including the metrics and questions which determine “satisfaction”.
  • Evaluate whether those metrics are telling you what you want to hear, or what you have to know?
  • Ask customers for in-depth feedback regarding their experiences with your company and the potential gap between what they expected … and what they actually experienced.

About Ernan Roman

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.  Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research. Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.  Ernan was named to “B to B’s Who’s Who” as one of the “100 most influential people” in Business Marketing by Crain’s B to B Magazine.

His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay. Ernan is also the co-author of “Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing” and author of “Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales.”

www.erdm.com
ernan@erdm.com

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Execution Based Coaching64

This article has been selected for DeFinis Communications’ “Sales Coaching: Top Tips for Increased Productivity” Blog Carnival. You can enjoy even more posts from other exceptional bloggers at their website.

An effective sales coaching process needs to be based on two pillars of sales success and continuous improvement process: activity and process.  By focusing on executing an organization’s standardized sales process, Managers are able to deliver objective coaching, taking subjectivity and personalities out of the mix.  This in turn drives mutual accountability and focus on high value activities and results.  By driving specific sales process related activities, coaches are able to tailor and evolve plans for each individual member of their team based on their specific skills, abilities and current results.

Sales Managers must understand and embrace the difference between Managing and Coaching, applying both as needed to develop their teams.  Manager are expected to set role expectations, clearly defining specific objectives, including financial goals, client acquisition, renewal and penetration targets, specific time allocation and activity levels for key success activities.  Without understanding and acceptance of these fundamentals, it is difficult for sales teams and individuals to succeed, nor for managers to successfully lead their teams and individuals to consistent success.

Once the sales rep understands and accepts the role definition and related metrics, the Manager needs to inventory the reps’ skills, attributes and ability to deliver agreed on expectations and objectives.  This allows the Manager to develop near term and long term coaching and development plans for each rep based on their abilities.

Once the expectations have been accepted by the rep, the Manager needs to transition from Manager to Coach, helping the individual rep to consistently execute the process with continuous improvement in results measured against plan.

A fully effective Execution Based Coaching model is implemented on two parallel tracks, a week to week reinforcement of the sales process, including related activities and metrics; and a longer term development plan based on the individuals’ ability to deliver against plan and over all development goals.

Week to Week Application

Based on pre-agreed on levels of activity, opportunities at various stages of the funnel based on the individual’s conversion rates.  Because the review is driven by metrics and a standardized process, they require little time, and can be conducted as a team to encourage knowledge and market information sharing.  Executed properly (according to the Renbor way), these are short crisp meetings with each member of the team taking no more than five minutes.  Because reviews are weekly, and focus on real opportunities, real being specifically defined based on pipeline criteria, not the interpretation of each member of the team; this is one of the key things established in the expectation phase above.

Longer Term Development Plan

In order to deliver long term development, Managers also need to develop and implement a long-term and ongoing formal Coaching Plan for each rep.  This part of the model is rooted in the teams’ success plan, and is tailored to meet the needs of the individual.  It involves a three step process.

First, Coaches set high level goals for the team based on skills and attributes, developed based on role expectation and skills gap identified; ongoing development and evolvement of individual sales rep through mentoring and individual motivation.

Second, as important as a long-term development plan is, the reality is that a year is a long period with many changes throughout the year.  To facilitate this, Managers need to break down the over all plan to a series of short 6 to 8 week action plans, bite size versus big and daunting, relevant now versus distant change.  This makes for greater acceptance by reps, drives adoption and implementation of specific steps.  It also allows reps to celebrate success along the way, and encourages them to want coaching, driving mutual accountability, making coaching a positive regular practice rather than event based.

Third, this allows the Manager to update and revise plans based on daily realities in the field, and impact the sales reps’ activities and actions based on how well they are executing and responding to market conditions, and the output from the weekly reviews, linking the near-term and long-term tracks.

While to some this may seem like an involved process, the greatest value a sales coach can bring to an organization is the development of their reps.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Mine the Gap!56

A couple of months ago in the Pipeline, I published a piece called Long Live The Status Quo, which challenged the way most people look at buyers commonly referred to as being in Status Quo Zone.  The core of the argument being:

Status Quo is NOT buyers who are perceived to be happy with their current solution and see no reason to change, but rather as buyers who have yet to be presented with a solution they perceive will improve or change their current circumstance, and as such see no reason to change. Given the solution, a reason to change, they will change.

One question that many had was how does one initiate the process of getting someone who is ostensibly “all set” to enter in to a discussion around buying something.  The simple answer is you don’t, or you can’t.  You have to let them get to that on their own.  But you can do things to create an environment that will help them get there, you can do things that will get them to Engage, and then take them through the rest of the EDGE process:

You are all familiar with the old “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion…objects at rest tend to stay at rest.”  This is why the “let’s wait” school fails; they see a prospect “at rest” and respond leaving it “at rest”; sure doesn’t take long for nothing to happen, that’s not selling.  Selling be to understand which of the potential prospects “at rest”, could be Engaged with and thereby set in motion.   This can be done, but it takes work, it takes a tolerance to being wrong and CORRECTED, notice I did not say rejected.  That is how most people see an initial negative response from a buyer, as rejection, rather than correction.

The work starts before you Engage, or even try, it comes in the form of understanding why you have won deals in the past; why you have lost deals in the past; and why some deals ended in No Decision, neither a win or a loss.  Some have argued that you should focus only on you wins, which are important; but let’s not forget that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  You need to look at the wins to better define what to look for in the future, but this may cause you to be slow in responding to changing trends.  You need to look at your losses because they will show you what you can change in your game to lead to more wins.  Lastly the “No Decisions” are key because they went some distance with you before things fell apart, you competition is likely not to revisit them for some time, which leaves you to explore how to possibly rekindle the deal based on what you are learning from wins and losses.

Armed with this information, you now should be able to list what issues people were looking to address when buying from you, what specific value they saw in you offering that made them act, (in exploring your losses you will also surface issues you missed or ignored that you should be incorporating into your discussions).   With the lists completed, you can rank them, see where there is strong correlation, and where there is, you should rank those high in your plans for engaging a buyer.  This should give you a list of topics a buyer will potentially be willing to at least talk about based on experience.  This is what I call the “Dentyne approach”, you know “four out of five dentists recommend”.  Well if four out of the last five shipping managers bought for specific reasons, addressing specific issues, delivered in a specific way, etc.; then it goes to follow that you have a good chance of engaging with the next shipping manager if you lead the conversation based on the list you created.

When you know what issues are likely to be on the minds of buyers, when you know where you have been able to deliver specific measurable and documented value to those buyers, (this is why you should always be collecting testimonials and case studies); you can start building a set of better questions.  This in turn will help you take someone at rest and set them into motion, once in motion, you can move to selling them.

Given the solution, a reason to change, they will change.

First thing is to establish that the issue exists.  Let me give you an example from my world.  Having done the above work, I know that many sales leaders are looking for more prospects, more new revenue opportunities.  Even knowing that, if I was speaking to a VP of Sales and asked like the “let’s wait” crowd does, “Need a prospecting training program?” or worse “You need a prospecting training program”.  The answer is predictable, would not lead to Engagement or motion.

But if instead the discussion unfolded like this:

ME: George, I am curious, how much of your revenue comes from existing clients vs. new clients?

George: Just looked at Q2 numbers, about 85% existing, and about 15% from brand new customers.

There is your floor.

ME: And if we were to look at your plan going into 2011, what were the numbers you based your plan on?

George: We actually were looking to grow the base organically, to where it was about 75% of total revenue, and 25% would come from new sources.

There is you Gap, the 10% difference is opportunity to fully Engage and set things in motion.  It all comes down to how you mine that Gap.

Mining the Gap involves a series of follow through questions aimed at getting the buyer engaged and thinking more deeply about the issue.  By getting them to think about it, they will take on the issue.  Think about it, the reason they are in Status Quo, despite their awareness of the issue, is that they have ignored it, buried it, “Status Quo’ed it”, not because they are happy about missing their new business goals, but because they have yet to be presented with a viable solution, and have refused to deal with it.  By mining the Gap, you not only surface the issue, get agreement that it is an issue, but can begin the process of Discovery as to the impact if it remains the same; or alternatively the possibilities if it were to be addressed.

Given the solution, a reason to change, they will change.

The follow ups:

Quantify – How do they arrive at the number/issues/thing being discussed?  How do they measure things?  Without understanding where the numbers come from, you could be walking on thin ice.  This is even more important when you are dealing with things that are not always quantified.  For example, if the line of questioning were around the quality and abilities of their front line sales managers.

What do they attribute the Gap to? An easy way to ensure that you are on the right path with the right solution, but mostly it is to get them to think about it, if you don’t get them to think about it, and leave them hovering on the surface of the issue, you’re beat.

What is the upside, the IMPACT of closing the Gap, closing meaning achieving their original goal.  Again, good way to understand their priorities, but also a great way to get them specifically articulate – Out Loud – the upside of success.  Without that the effort and investment may not seem worthwhile, and it is usually the effort, not the money.

What is the IMPACT over time?  Most solutions have a duration beyond one fiscal year, so when it comes to measuring ROI, ROE, it is important that they understand the full scope of the benefit.  Using the example above,  if each rep trained was to stay with the company 5 years, and as a result of the training they generated $10,000 per year, the total return per rep is $50,000, and any measure of success should be based on that figure.

Done right, you would find the Gap for each of the issues on your Dentyne list, and go through the Gap process for each of those questions before you even thought about closing or moving to the next step.  The reality is that what makes the process a challenge for most is not the upfront work, which does take effort, but the ability and willingness to ask the penetrating questions that pierce the Status Quo, and lead to Engagement.  As with most things in sales, it is down to the execution.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto


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Deadlines – Sales eXchange – 11047

People are creatures of habit, and sales people even more so; one habit common to many successful sales people is the ability, some would argue need, to work to a deadline. In fact, this is a characteristic common to successful people in general. They understand when something is due or need to be done in order for things to happen, and the gear themselves by and towards that deadline.

No matter how much time they may have to get things done, they do it close to due time. Just watch, say when they have a big proposal to present, they know it is due two weeks Thursday, they could complete it this weekend, but chances are they will wait for the Wednesday before. They are not ignoring it, they think about it, process it;

Nor are they procrastinating, because they thinking about it, shaping it, “getting it ready”. But the time they allocated to complete the task is at the very end of the period in which they can complete it. We can talk about the right, wrongs, or merits of this approach, but it works for those who have the discipline to do what they have allocated the time for.

The other lesson here is a potential way to leverage this behaviour in the buyer.  Specifically deadlines.  Too many sales people do not use a point in time, a critically moment, a critical time line, as a means of creating focus and clarity for both the buyer and seller.

Whatever else you may think about buyers, they are people, and share many of the same habits and attribute that sellers do, so why not incorporate those in to your sales approach.  So the same way sellers tend to work to deadlines, buyers do as well, so take advantage of it.  Create a deadline, that critical point in time that will get the buyer to act.  The same way your deadlines cause you to act.  This in itself is not a magic bullet, you still have to sell your goods, but by creating a moment in time, you at least create a focus, and impetus to act.  If you don’t do a good job selling the rest, that action may be a rejection.  On the other hand, we have all been in situations where we have done a good job selling, but have not been able to get the buyer to take action.

This doesn’t mean an artificial point in time such as the expiration of an offer, few buyers care about your timelines, they have learned that you most willing to wheel and deal at the end of the month, quarter or year.  But if you can surface and focus on a point in time that matters to them, then they will allow you to create a deadline.  Whether it is a project timeline, seasonal factors, budgetary cycles, product launches, what have you.  Done right it will occasional lead to other benefits, like creating urgency, but what it does most is establish a point in time where the buyer will act, leaving you to just manage the in between.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto



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When the customer can't be consoled, console the employee73

The Pipeline Guest Post – Carol Doane

“I can hear the frustration in your voice,” said Sarah, to an upset customer. “And I’m not sure what else to say.”

Sarah, a sales representative who worked for me, plopped down in my office to relate a frustrating phone call she had just concluded with one of our customers, Darren.

The experience had left her drained, and she needed to update me, in case Darren decided to take the conversation up a notch and call me. Sarah also needed to process the experience and troubleshoot if she could have done something different, done something better, uncovered the trigger that drove the customer to phone in the first place.

It was an exasperating experience.

As I listened to the retelling, I wondered how the customer kept up his griping gyrations in the face of such calm and respectful treatment. Sarah was a pro. She didn’t give up and she didn’t go for platitudes that often annoy.

But she couldn’t get Darren past generic grievances.

There are times when we would like to move a conversation out of complaint mode and straight into resolution. We’re presented with a problem. We believe we have an answer. We want to offer our input and reach resolution, but the other party isn’t quite there, yet.

This exchange wasn’t even at the ‘here is the problem’ stage.

On each issue the customer raised, Sarah acknowledged how he felt and offered feedback to illustrate she understood his concerns. Momentarily, he would calm, but the most consistent piece of the conversation was the customer rejecting any piece of information that Sarah offered that might reassure him.

“Every time I responded he escalated,” Sarah sighed.

Sarah found herself stumped. Our company was doing what we said we would do, but the customer wasn’t happy. Unsure what the customer really wanted she felt almost out of options.

“Please help me understand what you need from me,” Sarah asked.

Darren didn’t really have an answer.

Now, it was time to put the issue back in his lap. Very gently she asked, “What would you like to do at this point?”

There was a brief moment of silence, then the customer replied, “I’m not sure.”

We don’t always get the outcome we’re hoping for.

Desperate to reach some sort of conclusion, Sarah asked, ‘Have we covered all the things you want to cover?'”

Then they hit pay dirt.

“I don’t mean to come across harshly or abusive to you, I’m very concerned about what I’ve spent my money on,” said Darren.

Sarah scrambled to calculate how she should respond, but before she could take a breath, Darren said, “Have a nice day.”

Some problems we can’t solve. The customer wanted something he couldn’t easily articulate. But he wanted something. He expected something. The something to combat how the competition had changed, combat how his business model had changed, how our business model had changed. He wanted the illusive ‘something’ that would make things perfect in an imperfect world.

But most of all he wanted someone to listen.

I learned a few things from this discussion. When I’m knee deep in a conversation that’s coming fast and furious and I feel like I’m not understanding what is being asked of me, I’ll pose a couple of questions. They can be a quick quip when the other person takes a breath, such as, “Is there a question in there?” Or, if I’m completely confused, I may ask,  “Are you asking me to do something?”

That’s the pivotal moment when I learn what their hopeful outcome is.

If I hear, “I just need to vent.”I know exactly where we are in our exchange and what my role is. It’s their way of saying, “Please listen to me.”

Who is someone you can always count on to listen to you?

About Carol Doane

Hot pursuit of a career in advertising landed Carol Doane a job in one of the largest newspapers in Washington State. She sold print and online ads, managed the retail and classified sales teams and knows just about everyone in Clark County. She left the newspaper world and currently is the General Manager at a new community website, couv.com.

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