Welcome to The Pipeline.

Sales Force (Mis)Alignment34

By now everyone is aware of the increasing talk of the need for alignment between marketing and sales, with some organizations realizing that it is healthier to look at the entire Client Life Cycle as one function rather than two. Some organization have acted on their commitment by creating the role of Chief Revenue Officer, having both functions coalesce behind a singular purpose, function and execution.

This indeed is a step forward as it aligns and consolidates the organization’s resource to better serve the most important element in selling, the customer. While it may seem basic and fundamental to mention the buyer, but they, the customer, are often absent from the discussion, and are instead represented by their common proxy, revenue.

Read On…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales Training – KPI’s or Culture – Sales eXchange – 13616

There has been a spate of articles of late questioning the value of sales training, a worthwhile discussion, but often circular in nature.  In many ways, I can understand why it is easy to blame the trainers, especially if you follow the money, since we seem to be the last ones to have it, but that is also very simplistic approach.

The reality is that change, continuous and sustainable behavioural change, requires hard work, commitment throughout the organization, and the understanding that it is not tied to artificial time-frames or a specific point in time.  In fact, when you do work with organizations that have success in their sales training, you will also see evidence of a healthy and robust sales culture, that itself is an element and extension of the company’s culture.

It is important to remember that training does not deliver or result in revenue; it delivers, or should deliver, behavioural change.  Change in the behaviour delivers results and revenue; but that takes time, much more time than the ADHD driven sales world most live in.  The challenge is that in these days of unrealistically short-term expectations, many organizations lack patience and/or resolve to allow themselves to benefit from sales training, they lack the culture, and as a result lack the results.

In these days of searching for “efficiencies”, management by spreadsheets and KPI’s, served up on a platter of instant gratification, it leaves many without the chance to achieve the results they could realize if they looked past the end of the current quarter.   If your sales cycle is 90 days, your team will not change their habits on a dime or overnight, so rather than focusing on when and how much?  It makes more sense to focus on what and how to change things in a way that not only presents incremental change, but creates a culture of consistent improvement.  This certainly is not easy when there are tremendous pressures on organizations, sales leaders and sales people to change outputs by the next quarterly report.

This requires leaders have the resolve to commit to a plan that may see near term results, but is certain to deliver long-term results.  Leaders who are committed to change the entire environment, including personnel to not only maximize near term ROI from training, but to drive cultural, long-term systemic change, including in themselves.  These are sales leaders who can look past the end of the quarter and strive for a sales organization that see success as both a destination and a process, but not as an event.  This not to be confused with the debate as to whether sales training is ongoing or event based, live or online, etc.  It is more about what one is trying to achieve with the training, revenue is the by-product of training not the goal of training.  Doing training because you, or you directors, or your sales managers have that as KPI, does not mean you will see the change required to have your front line reps achieve.  Without that change in behaviour, you will not see the resulting improved revenues, and that change is cultural.

Training delivered to meet the needs of a KPI rather than to meet the organization’s cultural needs, is a lot like a fitness program that consists of a visit to a gym once or twice a year.

Next Step

  • Align and connect your sales process to all key processes within your organization
  • Tie your sales training plans to your sales process
  • Train and evolve those skills that drive the process

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What Did You Start?15

I was working with a group of sales managers earlier this week, including observing some pipeline reviews. They did the usual things, relatively well for the most part, and in relatively the same way. It then struck me how as sales managers we are very much creatures of habit, not only our own individual habits, but the habits of those who came before us. We learn the concepts of “sales management” from those who managed us; make sense on some level, we turned out well, well enough to be appointed manager, so why not carry on the tradition?

Of course this is all well and good if you had a good role model, which it seems this group did; or it could turn out to be a disaster if you have the wrong type of manager, and now those habits get passed on to the next generation.

In the midst of this I started thinking about things that influenced my management style, and by extension those folks that I work with now.

What struck me was something a former manager of mine did, that I started doing, and that I realized this group would also benefit from. What he used to do as part of his pipeline reviews, and in conversations with reps in general, that is, ask an uncommon question, one that complemented the obvious question all reviews have.

The obvious question was “what are you going to close this….?”  The twist which helped me and I think most success driven sales people was asking “what have you opened this….?” Brilliant!

While most reviews focused closing, he was able to get you to focus on the real important question, what new opportunities are we creating. At the risk of stating the obvious, you can’t close something if it hasn’t been opened, so it makes sense to get your reps to focus on the “open” as much, if not more so than the “close”.

Add to that the fact that if your closing rate is 4:1, then you will need to “open” four time as many things as you “close”. That being said, as a manager, you should focus and coach four times as much around the “open” as the “close”.

It’s easy, painless but productive; add one more question or element to you reviews and discussions with reps: “what have you opened”.

Next Steps

  • Get to know what the close ratios of your reps are
  • Get them to own the tracking of it moving forward
  • At least three times a week, ask them “what have you opened?”

Then ask them:
What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Opposite – Different -Or…15

Suitable is Better than Different or Opposite!

Whenever you ask a group of sales people what they would like to learn to do better, they always have “differentiate” near or at the top of the list.  Sadly when most products have over an 80% overlap in their features, differentiating may not be what it is cracked up to be.

Often the only differentiation available is how YOU sell; and even then the differentiation is only that which the buyer perceives.  So the only thing left is to differentiate yourself by helping the buyer achieve his/her objectives.  Don’t worry about being different, don’t worry about being the opposite of what’s in place now.

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Next Steps

  • Identify buyer’s objective
  • Understand how you can help them achieve those objectives
  • Focus on progress not difference

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Some Questions Need No Answers – Sales eXchange – 13522

Questions create interesting experiences for people, and don’t forget, buyers are people.  One is the beliefs that all questions have an answer, and indeed, that all questions deserve or demand an answer.  The fact is that none of the above is always true, and once you accept that and feel comfortable with that fact, you will improve your selling.

Part of the reality is that we have been conditioned from an early age to provide answers whenever a questions is posed.  From the time we are toddlers, to school, to early jobs; they asked, we answered. Many just continue this process right in to their sales career.  They sit with a buyer, they are asked, they feel compelled to answer; even when they don’t have or know the answer, they feel less comfortable not giving and answer than giving one that is either incomplete or incorrect; and that’s when their problems begin.

Sales people seem to have heightened need to answer, or more accurately, provide a response, any response.  However, when you step back, not having an answer on the tip of your tongue,  is not the worst prospect for a sales rep.  It is an opportunity for them to explore issues further.  You can be in a position to ask specifically what they mean, what are they trying to understand, and more.  Most importantly, understand what in their experience got them to ask that question.  Chances are if you have not heard it before, it may provide an opportunity to move things forward with this prospect and to incorporate it in sales moving forward.  Despite, what they say, (who ever They are), it is OK to answer a question with a question, especially if it resolves the buyer’s curiosity.

Not having the answer is also  an opportunity to introduce other resources from your company, and it is always a good thing to highlight your companies “deep bench”.  Some time ago I read that purchasers prefer to deal with sales people who are able to marshal the full resources of their company.  If you are driven by ego, and as a result play “Johnny on the Spot” when asked a question, you miss the opportunity to demonstrate the very thing purchasers are looking for.

In the end, you will have to deal with the issue, and answer the in some form, but you can take your time, tell them you have to go off and explore specifics to accurately answer the question.  Buyers have greater respect for a rep that will them they need to look into it and get back, than one with all the answers, including the wrong one.

My experience is that more sales are lost by answering too fast, than by answering very slowly.

Next Step

  • Embrace the unknown
  • Think of asking for a chance to comeback with the answer as a long pause
  • You don’t need to go at it alone – share your resources

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Shrink Your Way To Success19

They say you can’t shrink your way to success, but perhaps there are situations in sales where you can.  By shrinking your territories, strategically where it make sense.  A common concern I hear from sales leaders across all verticals is that they don’t feel that reps are fully covering their territories.  This concern applies to coverage for existing accounts, or harvesting the new business opportunities.   Without going too deep this happens because they create territories based on zip codes or borders of provinces or states, rather than the makeup of the territory, the realities of what can be properly covered by any given rep.   It is true that the economy has had a real impact on leaders ability to properly respond, but there is still room for data driven creative approaches.

But instead many, not all, do different things, shifting lower revenue accounts to an inside team, which works until the inside team has too much volume and all one has done is shift the glut from one team to the other, without an improvement in coverage or revenue.

One approach that intrepid leaders can look to is too shrink the size of territories, based on a number of factors driven by deal size, length of cycle, nature of the offering (new or mature), is the focus margin or market share, is there opportunity for organic growth, or strictly competitive account growth, and others.

By systematically reducing the size of the territory, along with adjustments based on the elements above, you can actually create focus and coverage, and as a result greater revenues, by continuing to
logically shrink territories.  If you focus is new accounts, the shrinking territory will create a focus on accounts that would be over looked in the perceived plenty in larger territories, take away the clutter and the opportunities become more clear.  If you are about covering and growing existing accounts, then again, concentrated territories make for concentrated effort, and better results.

Two caveats, an obvious one is that at one point you will have to add headcount to service new territories.  This however is easier to do when you have data to support both the reshaping of territories and the opportunities created.  This will not always be easy, and will require some concessions, but over the long run, better than inefficient territories, over looked opportunities, and the stress of losing business.

The other is to ensure you have the right people in the right territories.  Not all sales people have the same skills.  Some hunt better, while others are much better at fostering relationships and growing existing accounts.  As you shrink territories you need to move your assets around.  But if you do it right, and in concert with the sales teams, you’ll find that the assets want to move to territories that play to their strength.  This produces another up side, the reps tend to do better in their element, which just accelerates the results.

So go ahead shrink it.

Next Step

  • Analyse and segment targets, then overlay them on a map to see where the opportunities are, not state lines
  • Decide what kind of assets make sense for the territories based on you analysis above
  • Share your plan with the reps, sales people are hoarders by nature, they will fear the shrink, but will welcome the upside if you present it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Closed or Open Ended?24

Last week I outline why there are no good or bad questions in sales, and why.  Continuing from that, I was asked to comment on the use of open ended and closed ended questions.  In my view, and success based on auctioning that view, I think both are fine for specific circumstances.

The trend has been towards open-ended questions, but I firmly believe there are no absolutes in sales, and the tools you use need to fit the circumstances and facts, not fashion or dogma.

So just as Timberlake set out to bring sexy back, maybe we can bring back closed ended questions, for the right situation.

httpvh://youtu.be/2leKv7LiEVY

Next Steps

  • Understand when you need to focus the buyer, and prepare some questions that will allow you to do that
  • Evaluate which situations make no sense for open ended questions
  • Practice with some friendlies so you can see how to make it work

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

3 D’s of Pipeline Success – Sales eXchange – 13422

A long time ago, one of my employers had an expert present on the topic of time management and its impact on productivity. As a reader of this blog, you know my views on time management; but I was drawn to a subtext of her presentation, organizational skills, an organized work environment.  While it was a relatively small part of her presentation, it did get me to think about the impact of clutter on my productivity, and eventually that thinking began to influence my view on my sales pipeline.

Something she said about trying to do too many things, at once got me to think about loosing sight of what is important, and what is not.  In sales, at a high level that is a simple thing: it is important to execute high-value activities in order to win high-value clients and achieve goal.

Workplace clutter not only distracted individuals, but presents the opportunity for things to get lost (literally and figuratively); further, it creates a work place where important things regularly are mixed with the unimportant, creating an artificial and inaccurate sense of priority.  In addition to important things being lost, it causes cause individuals to spend valuable time and resources on low value and the most unimportant things.

As I explored this line of thinking, I discovered the 3D’s of being highly organized, and by extension, productive people.  The 3 D’s as many of you may know are:

  • Do
  • Delete
  • Delegate

As time went on, I realized that this same approach works great in managing my pipeline.  After all, an unorganized pipeline, full of clutter, not just opportunities, has the same negative impact on the output of your pipeline, as clutter does on your output and productivity.

An uncluttered organized pipeline allows you to focus on high-value activity with high-value clients, ultimately leading to consistent success.   This means having objective, data (and metric) based criteria, with which to evaluate opportunities; and having a process that allows you know what has to happen next to make the sale happen, allowing you to act with confidence and focus, knowing that the action is a high value one.

Deleting is usually the second most challenging; there is always that glitter of hope right, maybe if I kiss that frog one more time it will transform, or likely not, and especially not now, now being the current sales cycle or the next.  So park it somewhere (nurture land), but get it out of your pipeline, and replace it with something real.

Delegate applies to both opportunities and activities.  In eith case you will improve productivity buy off-loading low value opportunities, and low-level activities.  Remember that a good sales professional delivers value by delivering the key things, not everything.  If you can be more productive somewhere else, delegate, you can’t be in two places at once, you may as well be where you can attain the highest results.

Next Steps

  • Develop criteria for high-value pipeline activities
  • Unclutter your pipeline, get rid of the unimportant and work on what is left
  • Establish thresholds for opportunities that require your time and involvement vs. Allowing someone else to deal with it.

What’s inYour Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Socially Kosher?22

It may be that you may not get this the first time around, not to worry.  But if you do perhaps you can shed a little light.

I am a user of Foursquare, fun to see where people are, learn about new places, and support my favourite merchants. In the process I have become “mayor” of a couple of places, and have been displaced in a few places as people achieve more check ins than I, all part of the fun.

This morning, Saturday January 28, I was displaced as mayor at my favourite kosher bakery, imagine that!

Then I got to thinking, is this reflective of the level of accuracy and reliability the modern buyer can rely on when he/she turns to social media as part of their buying quest?

Next Step

  • Convert

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Dealing with Price in the Real World26

A few weeks back I gave you permission to go ahead and sell on price, so long as specific conditions were met and adhered to.  One central condition being that you can deliver full “value” at your price.

Ah, value, the ever-present and undefined term in sales, so before going further let’s define value right here:

Definition of Value:     Those offerings that remove barriers, obstacles, or helps bridge gaps present between where the buyer is now – and – their objectives!

Buyers will attribute value in your offering if can see, understand, and accept, that it will help them eliminate barriers and/or bridge gaps between where they are now and the objective(s) they are seeking to reach.  Absent that you are condemned to sell by adjusting your price, usually downwards, until it is low enough for the buyer to rationalize the relevant value. Of course I want you to do is build relevant value to the point where YOUR price is great value.

Once you master building the value (using the EDGE Sales process and the GAP Selling methodology), you can develop the means and conviction to deliver your price with the confidence and knowledge that it will help your buyer to achieve said objectives.

But let’s be real, even when you execute well, buyers will still bring up price as an objection, it is almost expected, and we need to deal with it.

So there you are cruising down the freeway, armed with the factors above, and hot breakfast in your belly, you are ready to present your proposal.  You cover everything and gain agreement on key elements, leaving the price for last, you present the numbers, with confidence, and the buyer pushes back, now what?

First, don’t get excited, if you have executed the process, continue leveraging it, calmly ask the buyer, “OK, please share with me, (tell me) what price (number) you had in mind?”  after all, you need to frame what you are dealing with, based on events you had to put a number on the table, it is only fair that you know what number they were working with.  BTW, you can often avoid this by establishing their budget, budgeting process, and how they have dealt with budget/cost over runs in the past.  Knowing that early, when there is much less pressure can be a real advantage.

When they come back with a number, do be offended, don’t get excited or defensive, a – it’s their number not yours; b – its just a number without context.  Instead, politely ask, “how did you come up with that number?”  Remember above I said you need to be confident in your number, know why it is that number, know and quantify the value you will deliver for that number; so if you were asked to explain how you arrived at your number you could do it, and with practice, do it easily, so it is only proper that they should be able to explain how they came up with their number.  Sometimes they can, in which case you will have to evaluate your options, one of which is to walk away.  But in the process of them explaining, you will gain the insight you need.

More often, they can’t explain their number, they either had a number in mind without much back up, they pulled it off the web, they got a price from another competitor, or some other less than relevant source.  But without the ability to reason things out, it will facilitate an opportunity for you to review the facts and issue you covered during Discovery.  At this point you can decide if you can help them understand your pricing, where their will see an ROI, and make full use of all the impactful thing you uncovered during the Discovery stage.  In the end you still have the choice of re-establishing the value or moving on to the next prospect.

Next Steps

  • Become proficient in understanding where and how you deliver real value
  • Be ready and confident in your price
  • Read ” The WOW Approach to Price Negotiations
  • Make sure you have plenty of real prospect in your pipeline so can afford to walk away

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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