Welcome to The Pipeline.

Coming Attraction Call – Sales eXchange – 7431

People ask me what makes for a good cold calling script or as what some closet cold callers like to call “talk track”.  Frankly both are the same, the important thing is to have one, and use it as part of your engagement process.  Allowing for the differences between industries, products and other broad factors, there are some key elements that make for an effective script (talk track, methods, whatever). 

We present five steps in our approach, and that is what I will refer to it as moving forward.  The important thing is less what you say, there are no magic words; what is important is the flow, the sequence and purpose, that make for a successful call.  While words are important, they are secondary to flow and delivery.  Think of it as when a baseball player hits a home run, no one tells them how they should run around the bases; they can do it calmly, with great flash, the key is no matter how they choose to do it, they must touch all the bases in the process and in sequence, or it won’t count.

So it is with the five steps we follow, you can bring a lot of yourself to it, in fact you should, it is one way to avoid sounding scripted. However, you also need to remember that you are trying to move the process and the potential buyer, from point A to point B, hopefully to C then D and to where ever your close is.  To do that you can be yourself (or whoever you want to be if it helps you sell better), but you need to map out and follow the flow, without skipping steps (bases).

One of the pivotal points in the call, the second of the five referenced, is where you need to fully engage with the person you are calling, and at the same time have them engaged in the call.  One analogy we use that has helped people get comfortable a bit quicker is getting them to think of the initial call as a good movie trailer. 

The key is to speak directly to your audience, in the movies they need to speak to the group and the individual, in a cold call you need to speak to the person both as an individual, but also as part of a collective, specifically their company, address both and all needs in between.  The trailer needs to be compelling, specifically speak to what’s in it for them, what they will get out of coming to the meeting, and as you would expect in any good sale, what they will get out of the experience.

Sounds easy but is not, it requires work, often more work than many sales people are willing to take on.  Some will take half measures, and suffer the risk of not seeing a return.  Think of how many times you sat in the theatre, watched a trailer, and turned to you partner and said either, “ah, we’ll wait for the DVD (download); or “wait till that comes on demand for free”; vs. “man, we got to come and see that when it opens”.

Beyond the requirement for having a good (great) movie, just like the need for a good product, it takes a lot of work to make a great trailer.  At the heart of it is knowing your audience, what turns them on, what turns them off; what their priorities are, and what they will ignore till it easier to consume (DVD), or not be bothered at all (I wouldn’t even DVR that sucker).  There is an understanding of not only what aspects of the story to highlight, but how, in order to get the right reaction from the audience.  Producers sink a lot of time, money and effort into the trailer and related promotion.  Just look at some of the trends over the last few years in using alternate media to support the trailer, and the additional production effort.  You need to not just research, but fully understanding the target audience, then communicating that understanding without preaching or sounding scripted.  Exploring why you had success in the past, and avoiding messaging that missed.  Again, all requiring direct, hard, and hands on effort, not just an afterthought.

Not that different from a cold call, you have to do your work well in advance, put in the time and effort.  Understanding what your audience will respond to, and avoid what will come across as just another schlock feature that wastes their time, effort, and brain cells.  You want to be that call that stands out above the dozens they got that morning.  You want to be the trailer they remember after sitting through a half dozen before the movie, and still be remembered after a good movie.   That’s the one you’ll go back to see; that’s the one that will get you the appointment.  It always has to do with content and length and flash; and you already know the content, because it is there in all you previous wins, and absent in your losses.

Just remember, the trailer, the cold call just gets you in, make sure you deliver; we have all seen great trailers for movies only to find the movie itself was a bomb and the only good parts were in the trailer.  You don’t want that to be your sales experience, the plot, the theme, the whole thing has to hold up throughout if you are going to get the sales in the end.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Please Vote

If you look to the left, you’ll see that I am also a nominee for two categories in the annual Top Sales Awards. Please take a minute to vote.  Thank you in advance.

Status Quo? Really?19

Is this Zebra white with black stripes – or black with white stripes?

Status Quo, one of those expressions in sales that has a nudge – nudge, wink – wink sense to it, we all know how to deal with it, we all know what it means (?), or do we?

The three biggest point of agreement are:

  1. Status Quo (buyer complacency) is your biggest competitor, the biggest barrier to change even where it is evidently needed
  2. The largest segment of the market is in Status Quo, or “not in the market”, or as has been said “happy and not looking”; depending on which data you use anywhere between 50% – 70% of the potential market
  3. And because of the above two points least likely to buy, again you can find data that will peg probability of closing someone in the Status Quo, is 0% – 25%

Time to question some of these views, or at least shine a different light on them to see if they hold up.

While buyer complacency is an issue, it is not as fatal as many will have you believe.  The reality is that Status Quo and/or client complacency is the barrier to selling many will lead you to believe it is.  The key is to understand why the buyer is not in the market, is it because they don’t have any issues, or is it because they do not believe that thee is in fact a suitable solution to the issue in question.

In the real world, where buyers are trying to 16 hours into a 10 hour day, not all is as it seems, or more specifically interpreted by sales people, many see closed doors where none exist.  Often buyers who can’t divine a solution on their own, convince themselves that one does not exist.  Given that they have a million things that have to get done, they have not only convinced themselves,  but have fortified that belief.  Without that fortification, they would occasionally stop and think about it, at times even allow a sales person to come in only to make no progress, and the only thing to show for it is wasted time, and when they look up they realise they now have 16 hours of work but only 9 hours instead of the 10.  As a result, the only solution in their mind is the status quo, complacency, the ability to marginalize the pain so they can continue to function through their day.

Along come the next sales person, averagely persistent, typically reactive, and the draw the conclusion the target is in the status quo, not ready to buy.  They put them into the CRM for follow up (well some), nurture, start a drip campaign, until such time that the target realizes that they want to change.  By this time they have probably gone to the internet, educated themselves, sometimes even with things the rep’s company put out there, and now they’re ready to talk, compare, whatever.

It is the job, the profession of a sales person to not only initiate the process, but to ignite it.  A buyer will not consider that you may have a solution, until they are convinced that someone understands their challenge or issue.  Turning an old saying on its side, “they will not buy until they feel you understand”.  That will take more than just saying it, and the only way to demonstrate it is through the questions you ask.  Questions that will first penetrate the fort, then get the buyer to believe that there “may be” an answer.  Only then will they begin Exploring possibilities, Define requirements, commit to a Game plan, and finally Execute, (EDGE).  How do you know what to ask, not easy, takes had work, as it would any time walls have to be broken down.  You need to stop thinking sales, and think business.

What is the target trying to achieve, what are their challenges, what are their opportunities.  On the other hand, this is not new or foreign, it is very similar to other buyers you have sold to, just as part of the answer is in deals that went to no decision.  The answer is not in the solution, but in the objective of the buyer, driven by their business realities.  So skip the next sales book, (ya, even the one with my name on the cover, that can be next), and pick up a business book, personally I have always liked the The Ten Day MBA, but there are others.  Understand their business, understand their objective, and they believe that you may have an answer, they will move with you out of status quo; absent that, Status Quo baby!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Please Vote

If you look to the left, you’ll see that I am also a nominee for two categories in the annual Top Sales Awards. Please take a minute to vote.  Thank you in advance.

Free Webinar – December 14, 20105

Top Sales World Master Class:
EXECUTION – The Last Word In Sales!
Tuesday December 14th 2010 1PM EASTERN/6PM GMT

There are many great sales methodologies out there, SPIN, Miller Heiman, EDGE framework and others. No matter which dogma you choose to bite on, they all have one common weakness, as good as they look on the page, and they all need to be executed to matter.

The fact is that they usually fail for one simple reason, lack of execution. The sad truth is that sales people know what they have to do, they just don’t do it. You can train them, but can’t make them do it.  It’s the age old difference between the “doer and the thinker”, in sales, doers executes and win.

This Masterclass will look at four key components of Execution.  Regardless of what approach you currently use, these four elements will help you move from Should to Do.

Are you looking for that silver bullet in sales? There are many great plans gathering dust on shelves, but the winning plans are the ones actually executed, everything else is just talk.  That is why Execution is – The Last Word In Sales.

REGISTRATION on Top Sales World is FREE.


How Did You Do?22

On December 31st 2009, I did a post called “What’s The First Thing?” asking readers what is the first thing they will implement in 2010 that will help them sell better.  Being that today is December 1, I thought it was a good time to check in and review progress for two reasons.  First, in case you haven’t gotten on it or made the amount of progress you were hoping to make, you still have a month.  Second, if you did act on it, and achieved what you set out to do, you should pat yourself on the back, celebrate and start planning on how to build on the momentum of your success.

If you belong in the latter group, you should get into the habit of continuously setting goals as a means of continuous development.  The secret is to set small doable goals rather than mega goals that are rarely achieved.  As a result people get a false sense of hope when they set the goal, and a sense of disappointment when they under achieve.  However, when you examine their achievement, they may have missed the big goal, but achieved some incremental progress and improvement.

Setting big goals is good, but they should be broken down to manageable steps; this will allow you to review, and make adjustments to ensure that the plan and steps taken continue to make sense vis-à-vis realities “on the ground”.  Life and sales, rarely follow a straight line, so not locking into a rigid approach gives you the flexibility to continue to move towards your goal, but maintain control and choices of how you get there.

You also want to make sure the goal is not so big that it over shadows or impedes your ability all the other things you have to execute in the course of doing you sales job.  As there are greater demands on the time of the sales professional, it is unrealistic to make wholesale changes without having a negative impact other thing that have to get done.

The other advantage of setting a direction and incremental steps towards it, is that it truly becomes an ongoing process.  For most it seems o be tied to a calendar, we talk about it in December as a means of review (and rationalizing the outcome); then again in January as part of the annual ritual of New Year resolutions.  This approach makes for great sound bite, but little results, almost like a drug, you need another big to do plan just to take away the memory of the last big to do.  While it may be cool and fashionable to talk about “big hairy audacious goals”, I’d rather deliver consistently above average results. By making short term planning, execution and review your routine, you will always out deliver the big and hairy.

So congrats if you did it; if not, don’t sweat it, don’t beat yourself up.  Here is what you do, go and read “Plan Goals and Plan On The Means Of Hitting Them”, dump the calendar, and take your first step to executing your next goal.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  If you look to the left, you’ll see that I am also a nominee for two categories in the annual Top Sales Awards. Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

Vote in the 2010 Annual Top Sales Awards18

The great thing about sales is the variety of methods and processes available to sales professionals, and while there may not be one definitive means of improving sales, there are a number of great resources, advisers, blogs and personalities and books available to those who want to improve.

Now there is an opportunity for some of these people to be recognized, Top Sales World is presenting the first Annual Top Sales Award.  Categories include Top Sales Personality, Top Sales Book, Top Sales Article, Top Sales Star, Top Sales Blog, Top Sales Resource Site, Top Sales 2.0 Solution, Top Sales Tool, Top Social Media Site, Top CRM Solution.

I am fortunate enough to be nominated in two categories, Top Sales Article, and Top Sales Book.  But don’t just vote for me, when you are on the site voting for me, also vote for some other great sales pundits and tools.  Among these are Active Conversion in Top Sales Tools; InsideView and IntroMojo in Top 2010 Sales 2.0 Solution; Salesopedia in the 2010 Top Sales Resource.  The other categories also feature a lot of great choices, difficult choices, which is why it is great that you can vote multiple times, I get to vote for all my favourites; including S. Anthony Iannarino, Skip Anderson, Dave Brock, Wendy Weiss, Paul McCord, Shane Gibson, Kelly Robertson, Mark Hunter, and many others worth reading and following.

The key as with any vote, is to go and vote, and again, the great thing is you can vote as often as every 24 hours.  Then join the ceremony live on line, December 16.

Thank you in advance for participating and your support!
Tibor Shanto

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Sales DMZ – Sales eXchange – 7320

No, we are not talking about recent events in Korea; DMZ is not that “Zone” separating sales and marketing departments, represented by the set of empty (but structurally reinforced) cubicles. In this case, the DMZ stands for the Decision Makers’ Zones. Specifically the various “Zones” and means of navigating a B2B buying decision, both the individuals involved in and the process of the buying decision.

During the workshop phase (one of three phases) of our Proactive Prospecting Program, we do an exercise where we ask participants “who they call on” in a given company (existing client or new), when they are prospecting for new business.    I get a lot of different answers, but one common one is “I call on the decision maker”.  OK, but I have used a lot of directories like Scott’s, I have used services like InsideView, and while they provide a lot of good leads and sources, titles and background info, I have yet to see anyone with the title of Decision Maker.

That’s because companies make decision in different ways for different products.  The goal is to be proficient at dealing across the entire “Decision Continuum“, and be able to effectively communicate with anyone at any point along the line, and align with each player’s specific priorities and agendas.  This unfolds in a number of different ways, Proactive vs. Reactive, at every level of the organization, and presented in a way that they understand and want to hear.

I am not going to spend a lot of time on Proactive vs. Reactive, except to say that all to many sales people and methodologies don’t get much past reactive.  If you look at the diagram, many sales people, often through no fault of their own, mostly with the marching orders they are given and marketing support, end up playing in the Reactive Zone, doing a good job of being a vendor.  Being Proactive allows sellers to shape the decision and put themselves in a position that by the time the buyer is looking for a vendor to implement, they don’t see much point of looking beyond the person/organization that help them shape their vision.  The much talked about, often elusive role of trusted adviser; elusive not because it’s unattainable, but because the approach and resulting conversation with the client is executed from the role of a vendor.

Caution, this does not always come down to calling high in an organization, but more to ensuring that you are talking to the priorities and realities of the different levels involved.  While it is always a good idea to call high with in a target company, it is that much more important to call every level of the organization and to ensure that the message is delivered in a relevant way, so they all reach the right conclusion > buying from you, for their own reasons and requirements.

To do that, you have to remember that they all look at things with different filters and different definitions.  In a simple way, this means more than speaking their language, which helps.  Two simple examples; you ever notice that Sales Managers talk “deals and sales”, while VP’s talk about revenue.  The other, is, which one of these two is playing football:

But beyond that, understanding their time horizons may be, a manager likely to be shorter than a VP.  What is their budgetary authority.  Managers clearly lower than VP’s, how many of us “broke a deal in two” to bring it in under a buying manager’s spending limits to avoid scrutiny.  At the same time, I am sure I am not the only one to have closed a deal with a VP who insisted that he/she had no budget, only to “create” one once they bought into the solutions.

The reality is that a decision is rarely “A Decision” but in reality a series of decisions, even when it may seem simple.  There internal decisions, and external decisions, being aware and proactive in managing them, and being in the right Zone at the right time, with the right approach is key in navigating and winning in the DMZ.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  If you look to the left, you’ll see that I am also a nominee for two categories in the annual Top Sales Awards. Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

The Speed Dial Test31

I have been working with a rep over the last few months, we’ll call him Paul; he is very personable, it is easy to see why he can do well in sales, gets along well with most people, bright, articulate and energetic. He is very aware of his assets, and uses them daily, in fact if you ask me he relies on them a bit too much, to the point where he has resisted any input or coaching provided, until recently.

As has happened to many sales people, Paul had a terrible October, not only did he lose a large competitive opportunity, but he also lost a client he thought he could never lose, needless to say this has put a crimp in his plans for sailing towards the end of another successful year. Now he is ready to take input.

As we were analyzing the loss, two things became clear, first, Paul was to some extent taking the client for granted, and did a poor job of covering it.  Second, while they were an important client too him, he could not definitively say that he was their number one supplier.

I am sure I am not the first to compare sales to dating.  You have to balance a whole bunch of things just so, but executed right, the pay offs are great, done wrong, not only is there no pay off, but you could harm your reputation, and suffer other setbacks.  Paul was making the classic mistake of spending a lot of time and energy in the courtship phase, doing all the right things to gain trust, demonstrate value and reliability, and then when he finally convinced the customer to accept his advances, gave him what he was seeking, he began to take them for granted.  Slowly he began to pay less and less attention, being attracted by others, giving them the impression that the passion and love just was not there like it was when they first met and dated.

No surprise that the ignored party begins to think, “Hmm, maybe I should be seeing other people as well”.  After thinking about it for a while, hoping their initial inclination was wrong, they try to catch the reps attention, but the less attention they got during the first nine months of the year, they began to act on their feelings.  In the case of Paul’s customer, they did act, not only did they see other people, they found a new love, and dropped Paul.  All is not lost, Paul is determined to win back their hearts and minds, and the thing he has going for him is that the new betrothed is likely to do the same, and Paul can work his way back into good standing; of course if they don’t Paul is going to have to find love and revenue elsewhere.

The fact that Paul maybe was not their primary supplier is hardly a surprise given the fact that he spent little time showing them the love he originally did while he was courting them at the start of the relationship.  Paul based his impression mostly on the fact that their level of spending was relatively stable.  But in the three years since he landed the account, he visited them only twice a year; one was always at renewal time, usually late October early November.  Any surprise they dropped the bomb on him this year.  He found out the hard way that while he was still getting a share, the customer was slowly spreading their love.

It reminded me of something my son told me recently, his test for success with a young lady is whether he is on her speed dial, and if so how high.  If he is really smitten with a girl, he works hard to get on and climb higher on her speed dial.  In effect, he not only completes the sale, but works hard at maintaining the love.

Please Vote

Last Sunday, the American Music Awards kicked off the “Awards Season”, seems there is one every other day for almost everything under the sun, and sales is no different.  As you can see top left, I am a finalist in two categories in the annual Top Sales Awards.  I am up for Article of the year (again), and my book on Trigger Events is nominated for Book of the year.  So I invite you to vote early and vote often, becaue democracy works best when it works for you, apparently you can vote once every 24 hours.  So here is your chance to makeup for the outcome of the mid-term elections, and set things right by voting for me, and the other worthy candidates in numerous other categories (do it several times, why should corruption be limited to politics).

Also if you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

Thank in advance!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Is Your Pipeline Managing You?30

Are you managing your pipeline, or is your pipeline managing you?  Pipeline management is integral to sales success, but many confuse having a pipeline with managing their pipeline, and if your fiscal year ends December 31, the question, and the distinction between the two is even more relevant.

Part of the issue is the mixed signals many reps receive; on the one hand, they are encouraged to pursue quality prospects, and then they hear that there is not enough in their pipeline.  They go out and fill their pipeline, just to be told that they need to focus and spend time with “good” prospects.  It is the familiar quality versus quantity question.  To assist, companies or managers should present a more specific profile of what the right prospect looks like.  There are only so many days and hours, you can’t spend your prime time with everyone.  Having a “Right Prospect Profile” helps reps focus and prioritize, ensuring that they work on those with the best fit for the company, whether you measure that in profitability or market share.  I’ll say it, when it comes to prospect, profiling is OK, a thorough screening process does pay off.  While it may seem obvious, at times it is not, often it is not the biggest and shiniest targets that are the best, defining and agreeing can save time and pay dividends.

Another practice that confuses things is when companies set arbitrary targets for what should be in the pipeline.  For example, at 180 days there should be eight times quota, at 90 days five times quota, at 30 days 3 times quota, or variations on that theme.  Isn’t that just another way to tell the reps to go out and fill their pipe with crap, the further out you are, the more crap.    I do understand where this comes from, but it does mislead sales people, and at the very least causes them to spend time filling rather than qualifying and selling.  This type of approach not only messes up your metrics and conversion ratios, but also causes you to lose track of good prospects, prospect ready to commit now, that instead are lost in the shuffle.  Further, you end up carrying questionable prospects into the New Year, and by the time you realise that some have to be swapped out for real prospects, you end up playing catch up in Q1.

Compounding the problem is what I call the “every prospect is sacred” phenomenon (just think Monty Python), where reps are afraid to or are not permitted to fire prospects early rather than later.

Another challenge that arises with a bloated (rather than vibrant) pipeline is a false sense of security it gives some sales people.  “Look at all the opportunities I have, I need to go and work them, I’ll prospect when I move a few through”.  The end result is that your pipeline begins to dictate and manage your activity and success, rather than the right way round.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Hey, if you liked this post, please subscribe so you don’t miss another post…Subscribe Here to receive posts in your in-box automatically.  Go ahead, do it, click here now!

You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

Unreturned Voice Mails – Sales eXchange – 7228

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post asking whether you as a sales person leave voice mail for prospects you don’t know the time you first call them.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that over 90% of those who responded, and there were many, do in fact leave messages, and for very logical reasons. Another thing that was common to most, was the low rate of return calls they get, some were more than surprised to hear that I get about 50% of my voice mails returned, for many it was as low as 10%, and they were still not discouraged. 

At the time, I was working with a group of sales people, and they were delighted to raise their call back rate to 30% of messages left.  But even for a glass half full guy like me, the reality is that 50 – 70% of messages left were unanswered, rather odd in light of the fact that businesses are complaining about the lack of business or how slow business is in general.  For context let me explain that the messages I leave have little more than my name and number, no plot, no theme, no Tolstoy aspects at all; I would describe the messages I leave as cryptic, create some small mystery and look for human nature to kick in, the need to resolve the unknown being the key.

I was discussing this with a couple of friends, and we decided to run an experiment.  One of them, Steve, is a small business owner who said that he had been thinking of buying a new piece of equipment, potentially a cost of $50,000, plus sundry services usually provided by the seller, which was normally a reseller/agent not the manufacturer.  Total estimated cost by the time it is delivered, up and running and productive, about $63,000.  The other fellow, Brad, uses two or three freight carriers in his business, shipping goods to western Canada, and to three or four points in the Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

We decided to leave voice mails for six VP’s, three for potential vendors of the equipment, and three for national freight carriers.  The messages were simple and straightforward: Name, company name, phone number.  Steve left the voice mail for three VP’s at potential vendors, two Sales VP’s one Marketing.  Brad left voice mail for two VP’s and a Sales Manager.

At the end of three days after the voice mails were left, only one return called was received; on the second day the Sales Manager from the carrier called Brad back, took the info about the lanes, and said he would have one of his reps will follow through.  None of the VP’s had.  We found this odd, as if nothing else, they had the company names, and even if they were triaging the calls in an effort to weed out pesky sales types like me, it would have been easy for them to see that Brad and Steve could indeed be real prospects.

On the fourth day, the five VP’s received a second message, the only new element added: “just following up to my message from last Wednesday, my name is…”  We also validated that they were in fact in the country/city, we did want to be fair.  By end of day this past Friday; only one VP called back, one of the equipment vendors, and another had his PA call to gather more data, but nothing since from anyone at the company.

My question is where are the other four?  It’s not like the messages left were meandering soliloquies, or rambling recitations of the marketing brochures; not a lot of detail, but enough to punch into a browser to get a sense that “hey, maybe they could be a buyer”, yes, those very things you have teams prowling the country side for.  I realize they are busy, probably have a million things to do, I would not for a minute blame them for not wanting to call back droves of sales people trying to sell them different and unneeded things; but our message did not have any of those earmarks. 

One of the encouraging things in the feedback to the first post, was the number of people who said that in addition to leaving voice mails, they do in fact call people back people who leave them messages.  So when I look at the fact that about half the people I call do not call back, and the experience we saw with our little “experiment”, I have to ask, is it the ineffectiveness of the message, or the filters of the people receiving them?  I understand not wanting to call back sales people who have clearly declared their intent in the in the most irritating way on their voice mail, but I believe the messages we left did not, and only two returned calls, one direct, one delegated. 

Maybe those filters are set a bit too tight these days, after all, they are about to cause four companies to leave money on the table (or at least in digital limbo).  So I ask you, if you get a message that is not clearly a sales call, one that had a name, a company name, and a phone number, left twice in the span of a week, how do you determine if and when to call back?  Further, why would someone involved in the revenue process not call back, or at least have a team member follow through; allowing for the real demand on their times, there is still room to wonder why.  Lastly why are VP’s surprised that their sales reps are reluctant to leave voice mails based on what they see at ‘home’?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Hey, if you liked this post, please subscribe so you don’t miss another post…Subscribe Here to receive posts in your in-box automatically.  Go ahead, do it, click here now!

You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

Plans and Next Steps25

As you may be aware, last year my article “How to shorten your Sales Cycle”, (look to the left) was finalist for article of the year over at Top 10 Sales Articles.  In it I put a great deal of focus on the importance of having a Next Step to ensure you are dealing with real prospects, who are actively involved in moving through the sales process with you.

I continue to get some interesting feedback to this, much of it similar to the type of feedback (pushback) we receive during our Funnel Management Program. Primarily it is around the question of what really is a next step. Our definition is simple: a mutually agreed on scheduled event, where both you and the prospect are working to move the sales process forward; simple and clear. But many see it as rigid; in fact about three yeas ago one rep called it as being “a fascist view of sales”.

For me like for many others in sales, the only indication of interest is action, and without an agreement between you and the prospect to take action to move the process forward in a defined time frame, you lack a clear indication of interest. Anything short of this is a plan, not a next step; it may be a good plan, the prospect may be aware of the plan, he may even like the plan, but if they do not agree to act on it, it is still just a plan, not forward progress. It’s like looking at a holiday guide and thinking about where you may go, versus enjoying a cold Beck’s beer on a beach in the Caymans.

What’s interesting is the same sales people that insist that “a plan” is indeed a next step, usually sounds like “my next step is…”, as though it was state secret that could not possibly be shared with their prospect; these same people are sometimes reluctant to prepare either an account plan, and almost never see the need for having a call plan for their sales meetings, even with key meetings in big opportunities.

Of course it is not really a surprise that there isn’t always a next step when reps go into a meeting without a clear plan for what they want to accomplish during the meeting, how they want to accomplish it, and what would constitute a successful conclusion for the meeting, specifically a real next step.

I did some work with a consulting firm in Boston. During the meeting we began the process of deconstructing their sale. They volunteered their “best rep”, the one whose skills and knowledge they wanted to transfer to the rest. He described his typical sale as taking three moths, four meetings and a couple of phones calls between the respective support teams. I then asked Mr. “Best Rep” what his expectation for the first meeting is, and how he would define a successful first meeting. His answer was not uncommon: “I want to understand their “needs” and close ‘em”. OK, admirable, but if he could close them in the first meeting, why go back the other three meetings, good coffee?  No it was the lack of a plan, a lack of a next step strategy, leaving him to meander till he ran into a close.

Once we worked through it, it became clear that a number of things had to happen between the initial meeting and the close. Some had to happen in a certain sequence, others did not. But, it became clear that there would be no deal unless specific things happened in a given time frame, and for things to happen in that time frame, you need to focus on securing real next steps, ones that the prospect knows about and has bought into.  To achieve this, you will need both a plan and a next step.

The reality is that if you do not take a few minutes to define and lay out your plan, you greatly diminish the odds of actually attaining your plan. Without a plan, all you are taking with you into your meeting is hope, yes and skill and experience, but even those need a focus.  You know what they say: Hope is not a plan. And sadly a plan is not a next step.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

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