Welcome to The Pipeline.

Understand?26

A staple of sales training is listening, active listening (I always picture a sprinter, or the kid next door with ADHD), listening from the heart, all kind of listening; even I wrote a piece on “In Listening”.  But most often this advice falls on deaf ears, partly because many of the people delivering the message don’t always practice what they preach, or maybe they should move the focus to understanding rather than just the act of listening.

Understanding goes more to the point of the issue than listening.  A lot of people listen “well” or “intently”, but they fail to take things in.  No doubt, this is behind the expression “I hear you”.  It is easy to sit on the edge of your chair and look like you are totally involved and “listening”, but the measure is in what actions are taken based on not just what you heard, but what you take in, what you understand, what is ultimately found in the results. 

Results are where you demonstrate how well you disabled your filters, how well you were able to fight the limitation of selective listening, which is what a lot of sales people suffer from.  No matter how good their intentions are, they are victims of what they take in when they are listening. 

If you want clear example of this, see how the paradigm changes when you change the medium.  “Listening” implies an auditory experience; you ask questions, buyer answers, we pretend to “take it in”.  Let’s change that slightly, say to written communication, in theory more conducive to “hearing” clearly, understanding (especially if you both speak English).  But what you will find is that it actually demonstrates how little people do really “listen” or “understand” beyond their selfish needs, their filters, beyond their selectivity.  Don’t believe me, want to see daily example of sales professionals and gurus not listening, just check out some of the discussions in some LinkedIn Groups.

Over the last few weeks I have been part of a number of discussions, some I started while others I have joined in.  I am continuously struck by how many people only read part of the question before they jump in pretending to bring value when they are just disrupting and taking away from the quality of the discussion.  Do any of us believe they would conduct a sale differently?

Now I understand that some just want to promote a cause, a product or a point of view, so they jump into discussion strictly to promote (sell).  But others seem to want to contribute, but they don’t because they are responding to an incomplete question.  Even where they may have a point, it is lost because it is clear they did not read or take in, or more correctly chose not to take in, the entire question or premise of the discussion.  So yes, they listened, selectively, and then respond with little or no value.  But they tell everyone that success in sales comes down to listening, proving Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock right in the process.

In some other cases, there are clear instructions given, things to be address in a clear sequential order, yet a bunch of respondents just spew back unstructured, incomplete responses that simply yell “hey I didn’t bother reading the instructions, I didn’t listen, I didn’t hear what you said, but I’m gonna talk any ways, cause that’s how I sell.”

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 43 – Partner 2.017

A lot of people in business and in sales use certain words in ways entirely different than their meaning.  In the past I have talked about the use of the word “relationship” by sales people in a way that is almost laughable at times.
 
Another word that is thrown about with little regard for definition or intent is the word partner or partnership.  When you compare what some people mean or what their intent is when they use the word, versus what the word means you can’t but be struck by how disingenuous some people are.

First let’s define partner:

part•ner: 
–noun
1. a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or   endeavour; sharer; associate.
2. A person associated with another or others as a principal or a contributor of capital in a business or a joint venture, usually sharing its risks and profits.

In my discussions I tend to focus on number 2, with the key word being “sharing”, as I think most people do, but there are many who pick and choose their definition based on very selfish needs.

I remember being part of a business development team during the latter stages of the dot com boom.  We were exploring means of disseminating news and information on mobile and other devices.  I used to get people from small and upcoming companies come and visit looking to work with us, the company I was with had a high profile name due to the two parent companies at the time.  They all opened the meeting the same way, “we want to be your partner in this project”.  This did not mean they wanted to share resources, IP or technology.  What they meant was that they wanted the ability to include us in their next press release and increase their chances in the IPO derby that was so popular at the time.  When we suggested that we share resources, or co-develop, many would cringe. 

This week again, I ran into someone that had a different definition of partner than mine. 
In anticipation of my upcoming book, I find myself in discussions with potential partners, most vendors where there is a natural fit between the product and the methodology outlined in the book.  Some vendors, expect me to not only promote their offering but also expect me to not promote or work with any of their potential competitors.  I have no issues with this and understand the need for this form of “monogamy”.  What is surprising is when you ask for the same in return, that is, that the vendor not promote other competitive authors or vendors.

I use the word “monogamy” specifically, a further definition of partner is:

3. A husband or a wife; spouse.

One vendor I was speaking to was at first surprised by my definition of a partner, my conditions and insistence for mutual exclusive support.  But to his credit he quickly understood and embraced the notion of a true partnership, the possibilities inherent in working together to achieve mutual success.

Another took an entirely different view, I was to promote only his product, use only his product and supplied a list of products, I could not mention, work with or even be associated with.  When I suggested that there were some people that I would like him not to support or promote, he practically laughed.  More a reflection on him than me I think. 

These two examples speak directly to the larger issue of doing the right thing.  If one is willing to screw their partner, and remember a lot of vendors will call you their partner, what would those same people be willing to do to those they deal with that they don’t see as partners?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 16 – Don’t Blow Your Second Chance33

No one is perfect, not companies, not sales people; we often make honest mistakes, errors in judgement or other unplanned things that impact our customers. At the same time most customers are also reasonable and are willing to allow and will work with us to resolve or rectify the issue, and with few exceptions get back on track and move on. They are usually accommodating and recognize the effort we take to address and resolve any issues.
 
So what puzzles me is why some companies and reps don’t seize this second chance; why some appear to go out of their way to just compound matters and make them worse, usually leading to loss of business and reputation.
 
It has been shown that the perception people take away from the experience is very much influenced by their last impression. That is, the last thing they experience in a given event will be the lingering one. In the case of restaurants, if a client experiences a bad meal or service, and brings it to the attention of the establishment, how they react will drive the impression.  Those who react promptly to deal with the issue, the customer will leave with a positive impression.  Given the same scenario, but management does not act to remedy the situation, even when they may be right and the customer is wrong, the customer will leave with a negative impression.
 
Taking a turn on the old saying, messing up is human, correcting it is divine. When you do mess up, when you forget to do something, late with a deliverable, whatever it may be, make sure that you take the time to not only correct it but to make sure that the client is aware and acknowledges it.  Doing so will not only confirm to the buyer that you are a professional, willing to do what it takes, willing to address errors, real or perceived, rather than ignoring or glossing over them; but will also allow you to solidify and grow the opportunity.

The second chance we get to address a “mistake” is often all you need at times to get things back on track or to reaffirm a relationship with a buyer or client.  As mentioned above, “the last impression” counts for a lot, and good thing is that a vast majority of the time it is up to us what that impression is, so make the most of it, or the next rep will use it against you.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Change – Or – Improvement20

Change is a big thing in sales, used in so many ways for so many different things; it can be as much a barrier to communication and moving things forward as it can be an enabler.  Sales manager are always trying to change the way we sell.  Unless you are the incumbent, you are trying to get the prospect to change their current practices to include your offering; and we have all been taught (although have not always accepted) that the Status Quo is in fact the biggest hurdle we face in sales.
 
However, understanding that change is king is one thing, over reliance on its mystical powers is another. The over emphasis on change sometimes clouds thinking and as a result, slows or prevents execution. Buyers have built up calluses and are becoming constantly more astute, forcing sellers to demonstrate and deal with the valid question “why change, why change now?”  Change for change sake is no longer sufficient for most, especially in the post Lehman Era.
 
Buyers are reluctant to change, and who can blame them, it is time consuming, expensive, distracting, and at the end often less than fulfilling.  Big expectations at times combined with big promises, lead to little change for buyers other than the source of the invoice for a similar service to the one they had before.  Like Pete Townshend said “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.  Not that they are any worse off, but no real tangible improvement.
 
Tangible improvement, that should be the seller’s objective, not just change.  Change is easier to sell than improvement: “You have blue now, you should get (need) red”.  Why is change easier to sell?  Because it doesn’t require all the effort needed to understand the buyer’s current situation, what their objectives are, what the obstacles may be, competitive issues, impacts, none of that; just that they have this, and now they should get that. We
 
While some vendors will settle to achieve just change, smart sellers will work to deliver improvement for the buyer.  Many sellers will tell you that they do strive for that, that their intent is to help the client in very specific ways, but often they fail to convey that to the buyer, or hope to do so through spewing stats and facts, or what the folks in the copier trade may refer to as “speeds and feeds”.
 
To understand what constitutes improvement for the buyer, you need to make a proactive effort, right from the time you engage, in fact the way that you engage, and extend that initial contact right through the cycle is part of conveying how you will improve their path to attaining their objectives.  At the core this means fully engaging with the buyer, not only on a “needs” level, but as importantly on the process level. (For more on this, see ‘The Buyers’ EDGE‘)
 
The other way to demonstrate to the buyer that you are focused on improvement and their objectives is to conduct a thorough Discovery exercise, a real interview getting to the core issues and opportunities facing the client.  I often get a puzzled look for sales people when I tell them I do not do presentations, use slides or any other cures for insomnia.  I want the prospect excited, and the way to get them excited is to have them see beyond their current state and have them understand and feel the impact my solution bring.  Questions get them to think, questions get them to respond, and with that, they begin to see and live the improvement.  I tell reps that a good meeting for me is when I get my planned next step, having not left any collateral or materials behind, just a prospect anticipating the possibilities; the improvement.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Buyers’ EDGE5

In the past we have discussed our platform for the sales process, a framework we call the EDGE: Engage – Discovery – Gain – Execute.  Within this framework we work with sales organizations to define actions, attributes and metrics that allow them to execute a consistent process mapped to their revenue generating process and activities, from lead sourcing to client retention and growth.  Once rolled out front line reps and managers have a clear road map for success that can be repeated time and again to achieve continued success.  One of the key features is a built in mechanism that allows reps and managers to evaluate and opportunities based on their specific merits, allowing them to prioritize opportunities based on objective criteria by removing the usual subjective factors that cloud people view of an opportunity.  By removing the usual emotional attachment to some opportunities that often leads reps to chase and spend time and resources on prospects that will not close in the current cycle, and as result fail to execute on those that clearly will.

Read on…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 4222

Punk Sales

The death of Malcolm McLaren brought some interesting observations and feelings this week, especially in light of my current career in sales.  First and foremost McLaren was a great sales professional, with a keen ability to anticipate demand, and present a product that not only satisfied that demand, but defined the category.  McLaren understood and proved that success is not always driven by the quality of the product.  Commercial success is as much based on perception as it is on reality.

We see aspects of this daily, the impact of branding and hype can over shadow many things and put an other wise also-ran product ahead of the pack (remember DEC?).  We have all heard that “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”, and if in fact that is true, it is probably less to do with the product or service and more to do with McLaren’s corporate counterparts.  

There are products today, specifically geared at the sales community that would make Malcolm proud.  Understanding that B2B sales organizations are constantly challenged to generate and convert leads, have offered up a series of tools and services that claim to do exactly that.  Like Malcolm, these companies have seized on the existing demand, and have served up simple, some would argue overly simplistic, recycled tools and concepts in a repackaged way.  Like Malcolm, the repackagers understand what is fashionable and what is not, and that success is not dependent on content (sorry Johnny R), but on packing. 

Recently at the Sales 2.0 of the key themes was the continuing cooperation between sales and marketing.  Well, Malcolm was way ahead of Sales 2.0, having leveraged and integrated both sales and marketing in not only bringing down the titans of rock and roll, but instantly replacing them with a less substantive product that was in greater demand. 

An interesting development was that many of those original products, the Pistols and others quickly faded; those that survived found that they had to adopt many of the methods of the dinosaurs they replaced to thrive.  (Seen a U2 show lately, any less pompous than ELP or Tull at their height, is it not all about the stage show?)

I guess my greatest compliment to Malcolm will come in the form of helping Sales 2.0 evolve in to Punk Sales, with New Wave Sales as a back up.

One other thing that McLaren’s passing brought to mind.  I had to laugh listening to everybody paying homage to his contribution to rock and roll, but as I recall, that was not exactly the case at the time.  It reminded me of another event at the time.  In April 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays played their first ever home game against the Chicago White Sox, before a home crowd of 44649.  If you took a poll in Toronto today, you would find at least 250,000 who (claim to have) attended the game.  Same with Punk, everybody now was a Punk, even if they were Disco.  Memory is so selective!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 1533

The Dreaded Options!

On Thursday I shared a few views on why and when sales people need to be more assertive in the way they practice their craft.  In the piece I took a shot at reps who present options in their proposals to potential buyers.  Some questioned this and, and wrote to say options help buyers, I say they don’t.

We’ve all seen it, a rep having completed the discovery phase of the sale (or have they), puts forward three options, A, B and C.  Usually option A is the most packed with features and functionality, carrying the highest price.  Option B, usually a bit pared back, slightly lower in price; Option C, smaller again in both ways.  The strategy (if you want to call it that), is to stear the prospect to choose Option B, under the misguided belief buyers will shy away from the “expensive” choice, and at the same time betting that most will shy away from the “cheapest”, perhaps deficient option.  In fact there are sales programs that teach exactly that, I have sat through them.  Well each to his own, but I prefer selling to a shell game, “which walnut sell is the deal under?”

There a re couple of things that come to mind with the above tactic.  First, it allows sales people to abdicate their key function, that is, the execution of a mutual discovery process, a process in which you and the prospect mutually define the value your buyer will derive from buying your service or product.   Understanding how your product helps the client achieve their objectives while helping the sales rep to continue to better understand the client’s objective; an iterative process that results in value for both parties.  The shell game advocated by some, help those not willing to do the hard work jam a deal, leaning on FDU to get the client to fear the expensive option, and create uncertainty as to whether the cheapest option can really deliver.  (Which is wht in the end I doubt this approach really works).

I also believe that more often than not, reps go in to these sales with the options already drafted.  It is a case of a proposal hoping to run into a buyer.

It is much more effective to execute the discovery, present the genuinely best “solution”, and then deal with the client’s reaction or feedback.  Based on that you may find that you do need to negotiate, alter the plan, which could lead to a change in price, concessions based on the foundation developed in the discovery process, and extended based on further facts uncovered.

This may not be as easy as the shell game, but the work is worth it, not only in getting the deal, but in building a relationship based on value, rather than smoke and mirror and a lack of real understanding.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Stand Up – Pull Yourself Together!22

 

A lot of sales people tend to abdicate their authority and go weak in a sale, at times almost taking a subservient position when they should be doing just the opposite, leading.  This presents itself in a number of ways and it just undermines the sale and the sale rep in so many ways.  Let’s take a look, but be still we don’t want to scare anyone.

Let’s start at the beginning, from the time they prospect, calling the buyer and asking them “I just need a few minutes of your time”, or “is this a good time?”  No it’s not a good time, they are busy, you are interrupting, so why do you need to ask?  I know you are going to tell me it is polite, you don’t want to come across as being rude.  You know what is rude, is interrupting someone and wasting their time with drivel, which is what you are doing when you call and not say something relevant to them, their day, and not to the point.

Not much further in the call, many say something to the effect of “I was wondering if we could…? Or “I was hoping we could set up a time ….”.  Come on what kind of mealy-mouthed approach is that; sure the prospect is now filled with confidence that they should spend time and money with someone who takes such a “cap in hand” approach, please.  Be a man, (even if you are woman), straighten your back and tell them what you want and why, and how they can’t afford not to meet with you for fear of missing something that is value to them.  When you picked the phone you weren’t wondering or hoping, you wanted to meet with the prospect, so why not say that?  I know you don’t want to be pushy or rude, you want to be polite and prospectless with an empty pipeline, but lots of good intentions.  Right, I am sure your manager will pat you on the back for not offending any buyers now dealing with the competition.

Once you do get past this point, you figure, hey, let’s see how I might weaken my stance a bit more, rather than coming straight out and suggesting a specific time, you waffle and say “what’s better for you, Wednesday afternoon, or Thursday morning”; like saying, “hey I got shit happening, you’re my only hope, if not for you, it’s another long weekend”.  Why not just pick a time in your calendar, and put it out there.  Who would you rather meet with, someone who has nothing going on and is afraid to make a decision, or someone confident and definitive.

Not over yet.

When you finally do get in front of them, bumble your way through the discovery process, and ready to make a proposal.  The very moment where you can offer a solution, the moment to be truly authoritative, where you can live up to the whole “consultative” thing, the moment of truth.  What do you do, you wimp out, offering options, choices.  Effectively saying “I know I am supposed to be the expert, but instead of proving that, or taking a leadership stand, I am going to cop out, demonstrate my lack of experience, expertise or conviction; I am going to punt and let you figure it out.”  (Can I offer you a discount with that, or will you just go with option B?)

I know I may be a bit (just a wee bit) harsh, but better that than the above!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 4117

Behold the Summer Vacation

No I am not fooled by the unusually warm weather we are having in Toronto, I am just acutely aware that we are only about six weeks away from the moment that many people’s minds, including our buyers’, turn to summer, cottage and summer vacation. As soon as it is Victoria Day in Canada or Memorial Day in the States, it is summer time – and summer minds. Still you ask, “Why is Shanto hung up on this on the first Monday in April.”

The reason is simple, if your sales cycle is longer than six weeks, which for a vast majority of B2B sales people it is, you need to start considering this now. Unless what you are selling is truly mission critical, that is mission critical from the buyer’s perspective, not your marketing department’s view, chances are that when their ‘mind’ turns to summer, what you are selling drops on the priority list.  However, if you prepare and manage things now, it can also be used to your advantage.  Once they enter ‘summer mode’ things just slow down, and it could be too late.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know we focus a lot on time and its impact on sales, as you know we refer to time as the currency of sales. In sales there is always talk of either compelling events, critical moments in time.  These can help and accelerate a sale or kill it depending on how you prepare and use it.

If you know your decision maker is planning a holiday for mid June, two months or eight weeks, less than a complete cycle if yours is 90 days, then you need to manage that as much as anything else in the process, and manage it now!  You need to quickly assess how things need to unfold, where the barriers may be, where the short cuts are, when to use a “call a friend” card.  The best thing to do, in this and in all sales is to work backwards from the end.  “If I am to be at this specific point at this specific date, what are all the things that have to happen or be in place for that to be a fact?”  Further, for that to happen, what is the optimal amount of time between each of the events or steps in the series?  If you know that D will not happen unless C happens first; the questions becomes “what do I have to do to put C in place”, without which D will never happen.  Once you make, or in order for those things happen, is there a minimum amount of time that needs to lapse between D and C?  Assuming the sales happens at F, you need to go through the same process for F > E, E > D, D > C, etc.  By doing that you can be confident that a given deal can properly be done in the shortest specific amount of time. (Here properly usually means without discount, the usual means of combating lost time). 

While you are doing this exercise, you should also figure out the maximum amount of time that can elapse between critical points of the sale, and by extension the entire sales.  The reality is that if you exceed that maximum at any stage or the entire sale, it becomes stale and needs to be salvaged in a different way or redone.

With this knowledge, you can begin to work with the buyer to ensure that each step is executed in time.  Of course, it would be a good idea to share this with the buyer, a good idea for two reasons.  First and simplest you will find out if you truly have a motivated counterpart in the process.  Once they know what is at stake they will either make it clear that it is not the priority that you may have thought it was, disappointing, but better than finding out later after investing time resources, emotion and energy.  Second, if they are indeed intent on moving forward, they will work with you to ensure that your selling process fits with the internal buying process.  This is important since a disconnect between these two time lines is one of the most common reasons for sales being way too slow, or not happening at all.  Sometime this problem ends up looking to the buyer that the seller does not understand their requirements, when it is just a question of synching two processes/timelines/expectations, usually the seller’s with the buyer’s rather than the other way around, which is what most sellers hope but fail to do.

One other benefit of this process alignment is becoming aware of who else is needed for the decision, a good thing to avoid surprises.  But once you have awareness of who, don’t forget they too may want take vacation, so while you may successfully navigate one obstacle course, ask when the others are off, so you don’t get stalled by that.  When you know, you can have contingencies or reorder steps to keeps things moving without having to wait for someone.  So ask, be aware, and act accordingly.  Now is the time to make sure your pipeline does not go on vacation when you need it most.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 1416

Multi-Tusking or Multi-Failiure

At the risk of stating the obvious, there are more demands now on sales professionals than ever before.  Not only do the have to thrive in a competitive environment, with the lay offs in 2009, fewer of them are expected to deliver more than as a group they had to before.  To be fair to companies, many have put tools and processes into place to help sales professionals be more productive.  The rise in Sales 2.0 is a reflection of the latest iteration of the age old quest for sales to leverage every innovation available to deliver in more and more demanding times.

Along with the tools, there is also the actions and behaviours of sales people, some right some wrong; some self imposed, some driven by demands of managers or companies.  Some of these have taken on a life of their own, where just saying you are doing it, just using the word, implies you are doing the right thing, and after a time, the assumption is never second guessed, everyone just buys into the fact that it is good”, and people stop doing reality checks to confirm if it was a fact or not.

One of these things is the notion and practice of “multi-tasking”.  The notion that someone can successfully execute multiple tasks, each requiring skill – attention – quality, all at the same, all to their best capabilities is both absurd and accepted at the same time.  Trying to juggle all these “multi” things with only two hands, especially when one is on the phone or BlackBerry is really a great concept, perhaps a noble objective, but in reality impractical.  In most cases, multi-tasking is just an opportunity to mess up or not complete a whole bunch of things all at once rather than ably deliver on key tasks related to sales.

Now I know that some of you will tell me that this is where technology can step up and help deliver, after all if they did not invent the phrase, they have spent time and money promoting it, basing aspects of heir ROI arguments on it.  There is no doubt that there some mechanical things that can indeed be  more efficiently achieved with automation and technology, but those are not usually the crucial factors to sales success.  The danger or fallacy of that argument, carried to its logical extreme is that sales eventually can be fully automated.  While this is the case with some transactional sales, it does not apply to sales, most sales people I work, and they sales they execute, require human ingenuity, and therefore full concentration to successfully complete.

So despite the temptation, plan to do one thing at a time, plan it do it and move on to the next things.  Done right at the end, when you finish important tasks, finish them well, one at a time, you will find that it will not take you much longer, and you will have done them better.  As we have discussed in the past, allocate the time to the activity, and then manage you activities in the time allocated.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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