Welcome to The Pipeline.

Customer Advisory Councils: Why So Rare?25

A Guest Post By Todd Youngblood

One of the most effective things I did in my former role as a VP of Sales wasn’t my idea.  (Story of my life…)  A former colleague-turned-consultant talked me into it and facilitated what we called a Customer Advisory Council. 

The group met for dinner, then formally for a long, full morning the next day twice per year.  Nine customer decision-makers, my CEO, the facilitator and me attended, along with a guest or two as the agenda dictated.  The stated goals of the “CAC” were quite simple:

  • Increase revenue and profit of all council members
  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes
  • Share knowledge

Three customer members rotated off the CAC every six months and three new ones joined.  (…except for two of them who insisted on “just one more meeting” for all 5 years I was with the company.) 

By far, the single biggest challenge in running these sessions was finding enough time for each customer to adequately express his or her views.  Very quickly, the customers told us we needed to restrict each meeting to one topic.  They insisted on nailing down one problem at a time and designing specifications for a fix that we needed to implement ASAP.  Allow me to re-phrase that just a bit…  We got a bunch of customers to collaborate twice a year, face-to-face to define new services they wanted to buy from us yesterday.

Whoa!  When I started my own sales consulting company, facilitating CACs was one of the first things we offered.  We sold six of them right out of the gate.  It was easy.  The value proposition, not much more detailed than described above, was really, REALLY compelling.

All six failed.

They met either once or twice and then disbanded.  I quit trying to sell the darn things.  Too demoralizing.   Even worse, I was charging good money to make my customer executives look very bad, very publically.  Not a good strategy.   How could such a great idea, which had worked so exceptionally well for me, fall so utterly flat on its face?

The depressing fact of the matter is that none of my customers could muster enough interest among their customers.  Not one of them could get a quorum to attend.  And it was not because these folks were dunderheads.  They had all been profitably in business 20+ years and still are.  Before you scoff and conclude you could pull it off easily, try getting your first meeting scheduled!  Turns out I was so successful for one simple-to-say, difficult-to-do reason:

For ten years prior, the Founder & CEO had sustained an intense, unwavering focus on customer centricity. 

Frankly, I doubt it takes ten years to earn enough credibility and respect to successfully implement a Customer Advisory Council.  Maybe it’s only five.  It’s undoubtedly more than one though. 

But back to my original question…  Why are CAC’s so rare?  Is it because we “sales leaders” are inadequately skilled at thinking through and actually executing a legitimate long-term sales strategy?  You tell me.

About Todd Youngblood

Todd Youngblood is passionate about continuously improving his clients’ sales processes.  A long-time veteran of the sales war, he remains amazed at how much more he has to learn.  Learn more at Todd Youngblood’s “SPE” Blog.

The Shanto Principle25

A Guest Post By S. Anthony Iannarino

This is a blog post Tibor wrote towards the end of last year. It really captured my attention. On the surface, the idea is really very simple. But that doesn’t mean it is easy, and most things worth pursuing are not easy.

Tibor suggests that you eliminate your acceptance of the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule, and instead adopt the Shanto Principle, the 70/30 rule. This principle means not accepting that you will only have 2 great sales reps out of every 10, and that you should instead work to have 3 great reps out of every 10.

If your top 2 reps each account for 40% of your business, another sales rep that can equal their results would result in enormous improvement in your overall sales.

If you are in sales management, this means answering some tough questions:

How can you help to grow one of your 80-percenters and help them to perform at the highest level?

Would you be better off removing poor performing sales reps to free up the budget to hire a top 20-percenter?

What would this to do for your sales results?

Why should you accept the 80/20 rule? Are you not obligated to combat the 80/20 rule?

If you sell, know that the 20-percenters aren’t working to keep you out. There is no club and no secret handshake. You can strive, learn, improve, and work your tail off to get there just like they did. You don’t have to accept a place in the bottom 80%.

Answer these questions:

What do you have to do to extricate yourself from the bottom 80%?

Who would you have to be in order to take those actions?

What would it mean to you and those that count on you for you to be a top 20-percenter?

Read Tibor’s original post, take it to heart, and take action.

About S. Anthony Iannarino

S. Anthony Iannarino

Click here to download The Shanto Principal eBooklet

What Customers Hate About You47

A Guest Post By Kelley Robertson

Recent research uncovered almost eighty reasons why customers dislike salespeople. Here are the top seven.

1. Not listening. This was the most cited reason customers dislike salespeople. Too many salespeople neglect to listen to what their customers or prospects say which means they fail to address the key issues that their customer has stated as being important. I remember an interaction with a couple of salespeople a few years ago. One of them asked some great questions to learn more about my particular situation. However, his counterpart did not listen to my responses, and as a result, his solution did not address my business challenges and buying requirements. In fact, his presentation was so far off base, I abruptly called an end to the meeting. Time is a precious commodity for people and when you don’t listen you disrespect your prospect.

2. Talking too much. It still amazes me how many salespeople think that telling is selling. I see this in virtually every type of sales environment from B2B to B2C to Retail. My personal belief is that your prospect or customer should do most of the talking in a sales conversation. Sales people react to this idea by saying, “But if they’re doing all the talking how can I sell my product?” The key is to let your customer do enough talking so that you can properly present a solution to their problem or situation.

3. Lack of knowledge. In today’s information-rich world, there is no reason for a salesperson to lack knowledge about the products and services they sell. I was recently impressed by the person who gave us an estimate on a new roof for our house. He knew his products and was able to speak intelligently about them and the differences between each. I know that the life-cycles of many products are very short and that many companies introduce new products at an alarming rate. However, if you don’t know enough about your products, you are going to lose your customer’s respect, and in all likelihood, the sale. Do yourself a favor and invest the necessary time learning about your products and services.

4. Lack of follow-up. Many sales people say they will do something and fail to follow through. This ranges from promising to get information to taking care of a problem or concern. Many people use this as a barometer before they make a final buying decision. Here’s how.

A potential customer asks for a particular piece of information and the sales person promises to deliver it by a certain date. The deadline passes and the prospect has to call and remind the salesperson. Because the sale has not been finalized, warning signals sound in the customer’s mind. After all, if the sales person is this slow to respond BEFORE the sale is made (the courting stage), how long will it take him to respond AFTER the sale?

Lack of follow up results in lost sales. A person contacts two or three companies about a particular item or project. All three submit a quote but only one makes the effort to follow up. Who is more likely going to get the sale?

5. Lying. “I don’t care about the customer and I’ll tell them anything I have to in order to get the sale.” Believe it or not, I heard this comment from a participant in one of my sales training workshops. Unfortunately, the number of sales people who lie or intentionally mislead their customers is staggering. This behavior includes; overstating the capabilities of your product, stretching the truth, or giving people the wrong information. Almost everyone has bought a product from someone who was less than truthful, and as a result, has become more skeptical with their buying decisions.

6. Failing to understand their needs. This is an extension of the first two reasons customers dislike salespeople. When a sales rep talks too much and listens too little, they don’t get a full understanding of their prospect’s situation. I have worked and interacted with thousands of sales people over the years, both as a trainer and a buyer. I can state without hesitation, that a mere twenty percent of them actually take the time to understand their customer’s needs, situation, concerns, etc. And it’s this group of individuals who are the most successful.

7. Refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer. Almost everyone in sales knows the importance of persistence. However, there is a fine line between persistence and stalking. While you shouldn’t drop your efforts after the first ‘no’, it is critical to recognize that you won’t gain anything by pressuring people. In many cases, the reason someone says ‘no’ is because they don’t see the value in your product/service or because they are not a highly qualified prospect.

Sales is an honorable profession. Stand out from your competition by avoiding these behaviours.

© MMVIII Kelley Robertson, All rights reserved.

Get your FREE copy of 100 Ways to Increase Your Sales by subscribing to Kelley’s free newsletter, “59 Seconds to Sales Success” at www.Fearless-Selling.ca.

About Kelly Robertson

Kelley Robertson, author of The Secrets of Power Selling helps sales professionals close more sales at higher profits with less effort. Kelley conducts sales training workshops and speaks regularly at sales meetings and conferences. Contact him at 905-633-7750 or Kelley@Fearless-Selling.ca.

5 Lead Management Mistakes That Are Costing You Sales?36

A Guest Post By Bill Rice

Your contact database is stuffed and your Rolodex overflows, but you still seem to miss your monthly quota. How is this possible? Most likely your shortfall can be traced to your lead management processes.

Even the best of sales leads have to be managed to close. Customers, like fish, don’t leap into the boat. They need to be actively nurtured to Yes. 
This is the role of lead management and fixing these 5 common mistakes will help you consistently hit your number.

1. Email is Not CRM Software

This is unquestionably the top killer of sales leads. Email is a communication tool. Meant for short-term discussions or collaborations, not account management. It is not a tool to build sales relationships, with hundreds of clients, over numerous years.

Fact: the human brain can only manage so much information.

Your attempts at remembering to follow-up and diligently stay on top of hundreds of prospects and customers buried in your email is a guaranteed failure. Consistent top sales performance requires a system. A process or software that routinely automates some contacts and reminds you to personally reach out and make others.

2. One Call Closes are Fantasy

One call closes are the stuff sales legends are made of–the Boiler Room like close. But, real sales professionals know the probability of landing the inked deal on the first call ranks up there with winning the lottery. So, if you hit it be sure to celebrate, but don’t expect to pay your bills and feed yourself playing that game.

This is why a disciplined process of following up, on all prospects, is critical to success. Industry surveys show that the average sales lead takes a minimum of 5-7 contacts to close and generally requires 30-60 days (varying greatly by industry).
The important part thing to remember is not to get frustrated and toss out that two week old lead. Simply switch lead management gears on it and nurture it.

3. Sales People Can’t Pick Leads

The Call of the Wild fouls us up on this one too, our primal nature lures us to the biggest fish (whale) and the freshest meat (new lead). Two notoriously bad choices.

We can’t pick the right leads! We invariably gravitate to our biases, which typically works against our sales numbers.

Grabbing for the brass ring (tackling only the biggest accounts) and neglecting the opportunity to land a few small ones along the way, is the perfect example. Your sales management system might even help you create an ideal lead profile for your sales approach. You might be amazed at how different your “perfect lead” looks from your “preferred lead.”

4. Prospects Need to be Nurtured

Are you trashing valuable non-responsive customers? More so than ever, leads need to be effectively nurtured. Challenging economic conditions slows everyone’s buying decisions. Stay top of mind, so you will be first in mind when the pain or the need becomes right for the big buy.

This doesn’t mean just throwing all your old leads into the autoresponder. Smart sales people build a detailed follow-up plan that includes email, mail, and telephone. And don’t forget to add value at each of those touch points–an interesting article or report, an example of success, or best practices session.

5. Get My Next Lead Increases Sales Velocity

Often we forget that sales is really about numbers in the end.

How many times do we spend too much time organizing or getting ready to do something? The best strategy in most cases is to do as my Dad was found of saying, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”

Simply getting onto the next lead will produce more sales than any other strategy. So, stop reading this and do something!

About Bill Rice

Bill Rice leads Kaleidico, leaders in online lead generation and lead management. You can read more of Bill’s sales management tips on his blog at BetterCloser.com.

How the Relationships You Build In Consultative Selling Lead to Better Offers23

A Guest Post By Cindy King

When Tibor asked for a guest post, I decided to read his article No Options simply because it was published on my birthday.  As it happens, this resonated with me with regards to international sales. 

No Options, More Sales

As Tibor says sales people go about selling in many different ways.  And in his article he makes a case for not giving prospects any options during the sales process, but only giving them the one option they really need.  This is a good case for “no options” bringing in more sales.

Consultative Sales Role

I agree with this to some degree and I’m sure there are exceptions.  But it is easier to guide prospects towards the sale when they don’t have a choice.  And this works particularly well when your sales role is a consultative role.

In my experience in international sales, the consultative role covers a wider spectrum.  Because, in addition to selling, you also first need to establish what kind of sales tactics work best for your international prospects.  How should you approach the prospect first?  How does he like to be approached?

And when you work with a wide international audience you’ll change from one cultural environment to another, from one sales tactic to another.  This means your attitude has to be flexible to adapt to each situation. 

Constantly keeping your mindset ready and flexible might seem to go against “no option” selling, but it doesn’t.  This flexibility actually drives you further into the consultative sales role. 

Relationship Selling

When selling to people from different cultures you begin to build relationships at an earlier starting point.  You have to.  People don’t usually like to buy from people from different cultures.  Some people even have issues selling to people from different cultures.  There are always little cultural differences which usually mean you need to adapt your sales approach.

So one of the first things you need to do is to establish how to sell to each of your international prospects.  This means listening and finding a way to establish a relationship.  Relationships are how you overcome any barriers people may have.  And these relationships are slowly deepened further during the international sales process so that the buyer and the seller are comfortable with each other.   

These relationships usually lead to consultative selling.  This means you’ll know more about your prospect’s needs and will be able to provide him with the single best option he needs. 

Read more about why not giving your prospects options can bring in more sales.

About Cindy King

Cindy King writes an international business blog and helps businesses develop globally with social media.

Selling At The Speed Of Silence9

Sometime watching sales people in action is like watching a tennis match; prospect asks something and we lob back an answer right away.  Other times the prospect will make a comment, and we slam back an answer, at times with more top spin than one would ever need.  While there are a number of good lessons in sports for sales people, a meeting should not look like the final match at a Grand Slam event.
There are a couple of reasons this happens and a larger number of factors that contribute to it, all of which can be controlled by the seller.  One reason is we want to convey knowledge and confidence, and by “having the answer” we feel that we demonstrate this; not true.  The second is the lack of a specific goal and related plan with respect to where and how we want the meeting to go and end. 

Don’t Forget today’s Free Webinar       

Today is the first of a three part webinar series on Mastering Trigger Events to Increase Sales.  Today’s focus: Exploit Untapped Opportunities: 3 Strategies for Using Executive Sales Triggers.

1-2PM Eastern (10-11AM Pacific, 6-7pm UK)    

Are You Perfect? – Sales eXchange – 5528

There is no arguing that it is better to do things right, do them right the first time, and then move on to the next thing or task.  But does “right” equate to doing it “perfect”?  I don’t think so, there are a whole bunch of things that can be done right, very right, without the need for perfection or the stress that may bring.  Sales is one of those things.  Unfortunately many sales people seem to strive for perfection, but I am often suspect of their motives.

Many reps I work with seem to suffer a certain type of paralysis when it comes to putting newly learned skills into practice.  As I have mentioned here before, one of the things we do when delivering our Proactive Prospecting Program, is put the participants on the phone at the end of the day.  Three good reasons for this:

  1.  The faster you put newly learned skills into practice, the more likely that they will be adopted and used moving forward, so why wait.
  2. Participants have the opportunity to ask questions based on specific experience, as a result I and their managers know where we need to focus during the Follow-Through ACTION PLAN phase of the program.
  3. You establish a benchmark for metrics moving forward.  Most reps usually end up getting 1 to 3 appointments during the 30 to 40 minutes we have them on the phone.  So if they can do it when the skill is new, they should only improve as they practice the skill day in day out, so oops, no excuses.

As I walk around and see reps just sitting there, I ask them “what’s up, how come you haven’t jumped in?”  This when many tell me they are just trying to make their talk track or technique “perfect”.  Please, nothing smooth’s out rough edges than jumping in and doing it.  I have been on the phone for years and I have a long way to go to perfect, as if perfect exists in this exercise. 

To me this is just an excuse for avoiding the task, a way to look “professional” while not taking the risk of finding out what you have right, and what can use improvement, that can only come from jumping in.  It is the same people who will look at a business card for ten minutes, hold it up to the light, turn it one way and the other, feel the paper and raised print.  I tell them “dude, it isn’t going to grow arms and dial itself, you’re going to have to do that.”   

Perfect in sale equals execution, do it, review it, adjust and do it some more.  At the end of the day, about the only thing that is perfect in sales is the combination of satisfied customers and delivering quota.  Don’t use perfecting something as an excuse for not doing it.  Execution is more important than perfection, by doing you learn and improve, by perfecting you waste opportunity.

Vacation Alert!

After tomorrow I am off on vacation, which offers you a treat in a couple of ways, first the break from me, although I will be back rejuvenated and all; second I have asked a number of sales experts and bloggers to contribute guest posts.  I am very lucky to have an eclectic and expert group of people come to my aide, I know you will not only love the posts, but will benefit from putting their thoughts into action, I am sure you will end up following them as a result.  So I will have a post tomorrow, Tuesday, after that you are in their capable hands, and I will talk to you in August.  Enjoy!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Word UP (a free book from the SBU) – Saturday Sales Tip – 2826

Today’s  post actually offers a multiple bonus in the form of multiple tips from a group of diverse and leading sales leaders.  As many of you know I am a member of the Sales Bloggers Union, a collection of leading sales bloggers from around the world who each month write on one specific topic, giving the visitors to the blog the opportunity to get a dozen diverse views of the same topic.  Each blogger take up the topic based on their point of reference without any coordination around a common agenda or view, just their take, which at times conflicts with another blogger’s take.

The group has just released an e-book called “Word UP“, where each contributor selected one word that for them is the essence of sales.  Then we each elaborated on our word, giving it meat and substance in no more than 125 words.  What you have is 9 words delivered to you to help you Sell Better without having to weed through a Tolstoy like e-book to get to a point you can actually use and make sales with.  The result is Word UP, Less Filling – More Satisfying.  The words and contributors are:

OutrageousDan Waldschmidt
PassionKelley Robertson
ThinkDavid A Brock
AuthenticLeanne Hoagland
EngagementSkip Anderson
BeS. Anthony Iannarino
HeroJerry Kennedy
VelocityCraig Elias
ExecutionTibor Shanto

So the Saturday Sales Tip for today, is download the e-book now, have read it by the time the World Cup final  starts tomorrow afternoon, and put it into practice first thing Monday, and truly have a great start to the second half of the year.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What’s My Job?27

I was doing a follow up call with an inside sales rep and their VP this week when we came face to face with the 800 pound gorilla in the game.  Despite what it says on their business cards, what is the reps role, what do we expect them to do, how do they contribute to the company’s financial health?

Here is the problem, and it is not unique to inside reps, it impacts all sales professionals; while they are told that their role is to engage and sell, they are given specific activities to execute, and those that deal with me, clearly train their teams to perform the activity with skill.  Despite all this, sales reps find themselves doing a whole bunch of things that distract them and prevent them from doing the “assigned” activities.

I am aware that in many instances reps are happy to have a distraction, especially one where they can appear to be helpful or productive.  By being able to ware that mantel, saving the planet or putting out a fire, it eases the guilt of not doing what they are supposed to, be that prospecting, selling or other key activities.

But to be fair to sales people, there is plenty of crap thrown at them, all labelled “important” by others in the company that is not the job of a sales rep, or brings no value to anyone.  Often it is truly busy work created by someone who isn’t doing his or her job, and in the process is preventing the sale rep from doing theirs, and everyone suffers in the process.  What is sad is that there are instances where the sales leadership is one of the worst culprits. 

I worked with one company that invested millions in their CRM, stacking different tools to create their foolproof forecasts, as long as the reps entered the basic data, the system would do the rest, “no way to game it” I was told.  Yet every week the VP would have a conference call with her five regional directors to “make sure the data was accurate”, not to review the opportunities or the state of sales, but to make sure the data was accurate.  If that wasn’t a waste of time, it created a cascading effect that ensured everyone wasted their time right down the food chain; the directors would hold a call with the managers.  The managers then took time from the reps that already entered the data in the “bullet proof” CRM, to review the numbers, again not the opportunities, that was another meeting; this meeting was the CYA meeting.  Gee and the reps didn’t have time to do what they are supposed to, I wonder why.  How many times have reps been told to drop everything and prepare this report or that report, all available in the CRM, by the same people who later question why the pipeline is light and ask “what have you been up to?”

How about when marketing come and takes an hour for something they could have done; finance “need this right away, those calls can wait”; pricing, operations, you name it all lining up to steal the rep’s time.  So when the VP asked the rep what was their biggest barrier, the rep pointed out all the non-sales activities that are expected of them by other groups.  When I suggested that the rep be empowered to prioritize and decide which activities are key, the VP chocked.  “I don’t think the issue is that they do not have the time to prospect” she said, “I don’t see the need to carve out time for sales activities, he needs to make time for both”.  The VP clung to her view even when the rep outlined all the tasks he was made to do by other groups that kept him from making calls and selling.  This of course was a result of the VP asking why the call volume and prospects were declining.  Hmm, let’s see.

By the time the rep listed all the distractions they were made to deal with, I was reminded of Freddie Prinzes, and how they should lean to say “Eez not my job man, you want me to do that, then you make the calls, you go to the meeting and talk to the declining sales activities” 

Perhaps next time you ask why a rep is not doing their job, you should also look at whether they have been allowed to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Three Part Webinar Series27

Master Trigger Events to Increase Sales

With the imminent release of my book on Trigger Event Selling – Turning Prospects Into Customers by Harnessing Trigger Events, my co-author Craig Elias and I will be presenting a three part webinar series hosted by OneSource, an Infogroup company, that will show how to:

1. Exploit Untapped Opportunities: 3 Strategies for Using Executive Sales Triggers
2. Land Your Target: 4 Ways to Win More Deals Using Company-Based Sales Triggers
3. Shorten Your Sales Cycles: 5 Keys to Accelerating Sales with Industry Sales Triggers
The webinars are being held from 1:00 – 2:00 pm Eastern (10:00 – 11:00 am Pacific, 6:00 – 7:00 pm UK) on the 2nd Tuesday of July, August, and September (July 13, August 10, September 14)
The link to learn about and register for all three webinars is: TriggerEventWebinars.com

The link to register for just the first one is: TriggerWebinar.com
Here is your opportunity to learn how to leverage and use Trigger Events to increase your prospect base, increase sales and now to shorten you sales cycle in the process.
This first of three webinars in the series will focus on 3 Strategies for Using Executive Sales Triggers.
Look forward to having you join us for all three webinars.
Please feel free to contact me at (+1 416 822-7781), or email me at Tibor.Shanto@SellBetter.ca should you have questions or comments.
Tibor Shanto
Renbor Sales Solutions Inc.

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