Welcome to The Pipeline.

Sales eXchange – 4012

The Active Coach

Last week in our monthly newsletter, we published a piece on activity that featured a discussion on the need to plan and understand the level of activity needed to deliver against goal. We even included a link to a calculator to help readers figure out the exact levels of specific activities.

In that article the focus was on the front line rep, but as we all know, the front line rep is not in this alone, or at least should not be in it alone.  If the rep is to fully succeed the other relevant participant needs to be the front line sales manager.  The daily coach who can help his/her reps adopt and extend the processes and habits needed to succeed in their daily battle. Unfortunately, many managers fail to deliver full value as a coach their teams when it comes to prospecting.  We’ve discussed in the past, there is a difference between sales management and sales coaching. This is especially true when it comes to the fundamental skill in engaging with new prospects.

There are a number of contributing factors to this shortcoming by some (many) managers.  One reality is that many were ‘so so’ prospectors when it came to their own career. Hunters are a much rarer breed in sales than “farmers” are.  Even where they exist, they often don’t aspire to be managers, seeing it as something that is less rewarding financially and otherwise, different than their “farmer” counterparts. When you step back and think about it, it makes sense.  Those we label “farmers” is sales, tend to be better at nurturing accounts, managing them day to day and tending to their needs.  They are better at managing relationships than changing the status quo.  The growth that occurs from their activities is usually steady, not dramatic; they are more likely to “tend” to things than change things, hence the expression “organic growth”. 

So it is not surprising that when they become managers they are much better at helping their teams and individual members do what they did best when they were successful in their sales careers.  Don’t get me wrong they know what to say, and often use the right words at the right time.  They can tell their reps to go out and get new accounts or get new streams of revenue from existing accounts, but saying it and coaching it are two different things.  Just as customers can differentiate between talk and substance, front line reps can too.  As a coach you should be able to more than just talk to things at an abstract level, you should be able to demonstrate the right process for success.  This is different than demonstrating how to prospect by just getting on the phone and making a couple of calls, or firing off a few e-mails. 

This difference is key for two reasons.  First just getting on the phone and banging out a couple calls is not demonstrating best practices needed for consistent success.  Second, and I think more important, is the fact that it is a coaching skill that can be learned, and with that, there is the promise and hope that even if one was a “farmer” as a rep, you can still effectively coach prospecting when you become a manager.  As with many things it is a question for learning and putting into practice; not that different than what you are looking for your reps to do with prospecting.

So if you are a good manager who was a great farmer, but preferred not to hunt, it would be a good thing to go out and seek some coaching on how to coach the hunting skill, especially if your success rests on the ability of your team to consistently and successfully source new revenue beyond their base.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Related Posts:
The EDGE Framework for Sales Coaching Success

Saturday Sales Tip – 1316

What Is The Impact?

(* A bit late today because my 5:00 pm frpm Calgary last night finally took off at 10:00 pm.)

If you’ve been in sales for longer than two days you are familiar with WIIFM: What’s In I t For Me?  The question every prospect is asking and the one they have the right to know. Still a large number of sales people confuse the ME in the question for themselves rather than the prospect.

This is not because they don’t care, or want to ignore the buyer, but because they confuse what is of interest to the buyer, or how the prospect makes key decisions. Most still think that what is in in it for the buyer is what their marketing brochure or website features.  If you think I am too harsh, take two minutes got to any five web sites at random and see if it speaks to the buyers’ view or the sellers’ view.  With some web site, it’s hard to understand who they speak to at all, or what they are speaking about period.

One exercise we always do with sellers is asking them to answer: “what do you sell?”  For the most part what we hear is product description; on a good days broad benefits, and a great day specific benefits. What we rarely if ever hear is the impact the sellers’ offering has on the buyer’s business or objectives.

Once the buyer can clearly understand the specific impact the seller and their offering can have on the buyer’s business, or conversely, the downside impact of not having our offering will have, then there is a not only a greater likelihood that they will engage, but that they will also act.

The key to knowing the impact rests in two areas, the discovery questions you use, and experience. Now experience does not mean that new reps have an excuse, they can draw on the collective experience of their organization.  This where the manager and the induction process a company has in place will have an impact on the success of new reps ramping up quickly, and by extension the success of the selling organization.

Taking that experience and learning how to turn them into good Impact Questions is the next step.  Again, this is a simple process of building on things many sales people are already good at and taking it to the “Art” level of sales.  Most are good at the old game of feature benefit, all you have to do then is ask the question “to what end?”

From the clients’ stand point, in understanding their objectives, to what end is that feature truly a benefit.  What is the direct and specific impact for the client?  So maybe instead of focusing on the client asking “What’s In It For Me?”  Sellers should answer the more relevant question the buyer is likely asking: “What’s The Impact For or On Me?”

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Better Excuses Inc.20

I think I’ve discovered a new business opportunity. For a nominal service charge, I can allow sales reps to blame me for their lack of performance.  Here is why, with the Great Recession almost behind us, there are less and less things that sales people can use as an excuse for their results, or more accurately their lack of results.

This came to me the other day towards the end of a workshop I was delivering.  With our Proactive Prospecting workshop we always include a call session towards the end of the day. This allows the participants to put into practice what they learned (much) sooner rather than later.  Having done this a few times, you learn that some reps will use the time productively and responsibly to reinforce the learning their company paid for, while others will do the usual nothing, and just to check voice mail e-mail, or anything but what they were supposed to.  But there is no hiding when they come back because we take a tally and the ones that slacked get called out by their peers.  I have learned to tell them in advance that they shouldn’t mess around, and if they do they will be called out by their peers, and that’s when you see the excuse machines power on.

And so it was with this one rep, while everyone was making calls his eye were darting around; he finally spied the service rep, talked to him a couple of minutes, shuffled some paper, but no phone. I guess the pressure got to him, because he chased me down to say the following:

“Tibor I just want to make sure that you understand, I want to make calls, but I am new, I just started in this office two weeks ago, so I don’t have anyone to call.”

“So they haven’t assigned you a territory as yet?”

“No hey have, I am just new, so I don’t have anyone to call; I mean I love your stuff, and I think what we learned is great, I just don’t have anyone to call yet”

Are you kidding me man?  No one to call?  New territory, and you don’t have anyone to call? Does it get any more lame than that?

I mean talk about green fields, all those existing clients who have been without a rep for a couple of months, all those competitive accounts that are just crying out to be rescued from the grips of the status quo, and he has no one to call.  That’s when it hit me, that excuse was just not up to snuff, I could do better, he could do better if he just blamed me.  I could take the hit, and for a small fee, I can come up with an excuse his manage would buy, cause that one, the one he was trying to pawn on me, was below standard for any self-respecting B2B rep; or was it, and I am just on the brink of a new revenue stream.  Hmm!?!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 3913


Last Thursday I posted a piece about reputation in the days of Web 2.0, we referred to it as Reputation 2.0, looking at the impact of people’s “Social Media Footprint”, this piece is specifically about trust, perception of trust and the impact of loss of trust in economical terms. While clearly trust impacts reputation it wasn’t my intent to post on trust immediately, but the question of trust has come up a couple of time in business related discussions over the lat few days; fortunately in both instances neither involved me and my clients, but rather people looking to do business with me, so it heightened my sensitivity of trust and perception of trust in dealing with my clients.

While there are a number of components to trust, there two every sales person needs to be acutely aware of and fight to be on the right side of, they are intent and their track record.

Certain actions can fall on either side of the trust line, and the thing that distinguishes which side they are on is intent. This is especially difficult in sales where on the one hand you want to make sure that your buyer and their interest are your primary drivers, delivering value and exceeding expectations to support it. At the same time you have obligations to your company’s financial health and meeting quota which have direct impact on making a living and staying employed.

Good sales people with good products/solutions work hard and succeed in balancing these two objectives. Others who may not have the most robust or complete solutions have a greater challenge. Full disclosure of all the facts could always leave them as runners up. Some sales people will compensate for this by doing a thorough discovery and exploration of the buyer’s circumstance, helping clients prioritize their requirements, and showing them that based on the client’s specifics, their solution, while not having all the bells and whistles of the top players, still deliver on every aspect needed to address the buyer’s requirements and specs. Unfortunately, there are other sales people, not necessarily bad, just not great, who take a different approach, fudging or omitting facts during their sale.

Now depending on you moral compass the sin of omission may not seem to be a sin, especially in sales. But it is.  Some may be able to rationalize – apologize – editorialize matters; they can fast talk their position.  But being aware of a deficiency vis-à-vis the agreed on requirements of a buyer and not disclosing it, is a breach of trust. Working with the buyer to pin point their requirements, then mutually revising requirements accordingly so the deficiency is no longer an issue, is selling.  Burying the deficiency and side stepping the client’s needs is not.

We have all seen sales people do a nip and tuck on reality or facts to make a deal happen; we have all worked for managers who have told their reps to do whatever it takes to win the deal, and they meant it literally. The challenge for the sales professional is to resist the urge and continue to focus on maintaining trust even if it means the deal taking longer or at times not happening.

Let’s face it these days it is easy to believe that one can and should do things to facilitate their needs and relegate trust to second or third priority. While Tiger may not have harmed most of us directly, he did betray trust. While some sponsors distanced themselves, it was primarily for optics rather than conviction. Disagree?  Well let’s talk again after his “triumphant” return at the Masters, increased ratings, revenues, a commercial catharsis, and the sponsors will be tripping over themselves once more. And who can blame Tiger? He was just doing what he learned from a former president, who was no different than Newt, who just did what Jesse “Rhymin’ Man” Jackson did.  All of them betrayed trust, each with the clear intent to put their own interests first, second and third.  They each breached trust, yet suffered no consequence. 

So what is a poor sales person with real pressures to do?  Well at the risk of sounding naïve, do everything they can to maintain it, as mentioned above, even if it means the deal, because over the long run, those deals will be short lived, as will their reputation and the ability to sell more.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 1218

Time For Spring Cleaning

With the unusually warm weather and spring coming in this weekend, I like most people have had a spring in my feet (sorry) the last few days.  But as we threw open the drapes, opened the windows wide to let the light in, we also illuminated the dreary side of winter, the accumulation of things we could not bother to take out in the cold of winter, it was easier to let it collect in the corner or under the bench, with the promise that it’s alright, we’ll deal with it in the spring. 

With many in sales, this phenomenon extends to their pipeline.  Things accumulated all winter, opportunities that in January looked great, now faded, but you are reluctant to throw them out, and now they are just collecting dust, taking up valuable space.  Time for spring cleaning!

I know it is hard at times to throw things out.  In January you were determined to get a good jump on the year, you organized your leads, and started the process of converting them to prospects.  Some clicked right away, and probably have closed by now.  Others eliminated themselves right away and were relegated back to the leads funnel, or were entirely eliminated.  The third group, well they didn’t quite click right away, but didn’t die fast either, pipeline cancer to be crude.  A few good meetings, some progress, a good feeling, you work it, but the opportunities begin to drift.   The prospect is not saying no, but they don’t always answer your call, always something that delays decisions or next steps; but just as you want to move on, something happens, nothing big, but it keeps you intrigued.  So you keep it in the pipeline, and the next one, and the next one, in fact a whole bunch.  Time for spring cleaning.

As we approach the end of the quarter (for most), it is a great time to unclutter your pipeline.  Let the sun shine in and take a realistic look, and take action.  Don’t just look at the ones with mold on them, look at all the ones that have been hanging around without purpose or movement since the start of the year.  Who are the ones that are not saying no, but can’t seem to say yes?  Looked good then, more than tired now.

Amazing thing, my wife made me clean out my closet, get rid of things I haven’t worn for a while, donate it to the local shelter.  You guessed it, not only do I have much more room on my closet, but I can actually see things I want ware that I had been “looking for”, things that were buried under all the stuff I wasn’t getting any use from for some time.  Same with your pipeline; get rid of the trash and you’ll have room to deal with the good opportunities, and more room to bring in fresh new opportunities with real promise to work on.  As the saying goes, what people emotionally believe their prospect base to be dictates their urgency to prospect.  With a bit of spring cleaning you will find your urgency will increase, as will your prospect base, your sales and success in Q2 and beyond.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Reputation 2.026

Your Reputation Gets Around Even When You Don’t!

When I was young(er) and just entering corporate life, I was lucky enough to meet someone who left a profound impression on me and my professional life since.  He told me, “When you first come in to business all you have is your reputation, and you spend the rest your career maintaining it.  If you lose that you have nothing at the end, not matter how much wealth you accumulate along the way”.
This was valid in the pre-web days, but this advice is that much more relevant today in the Web 2.0 days or for those of us in sales, Sales 2.0.  At a time when information truly moves at lightning speed, you can both enhance and ruin your reputation in an instance.
On the down side, your buyers are much more connected than ever, they are aware not only things you want them to know, and as much aware of things you always hoped they would never know.  Most sellers work hard at influencing their clients, creating an impression of their product, their company and themselves in the process, and while their good deeds are carried across the social waves, so are and indiscretions or simple faux pas, at time with much greater velocity.

Sellers need to be much more conscious and conscientious about their “social media footprint”.  Unlike what many want to believe, there is no separation between their personal and business related Web 2.0 or Sales 2.0 activities, it is all one stream.  We do not have the comfort of looking all very prim and proper on LinkedIn while “letting our hair down” (or other things) on Facebook.  It is no longer a novelty for companies to check out these and other sites when considering potential candidates for positions, or vendors and sellers when it comes to deciding on a purchase, it is SOP.

It goes a lot further than that, it does not take much to see what you Digg and how that jives with the image you are projecting with your buyer.  A disconnect there can only lead them to believe that you are disingenuous and may not be worthy of their business.  And they don’t even have to make much of an effort, there are companies that are happy to do it for them for a nominal fee.

Some may argue that this is not right, what you do in your personal time is your business and should not affect you as a seller, wrong Dorothy, it does.  This isn’t about the “business you” and the “private you”, especially if you are always preaching that people buy from people, yes they do, and now they have a way of seeing the “entire you”, not just the “9:00 to 5:00 you”.  This is also not about being right or wrong, as a friend of mine always asks me “do you want to be right, or do you want to be rich?”, in sales you want to go with rich.

It doesn’t take a lot to guard and be smart, you don’t have to “compromise” or “give in to the man”, you just need to be smart and prepared, which is a basic tenet in sales anyway, so just extend it to your “social media footprint”.  As we said up top, “Your Reputation Gets Around Even When You Don’t”, so make an effort to keep an eye on it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 3826


Undercover Sales Guy

There is not a lot on commercial TV that catches my eyes these days, but there is a program lately that I have enjoyed, it is Undercover Boss.  As the name implies it involves CEO of major corporations going undercover to get a real feel for the state of their operations, see it from a different perspective without their titles interfering with the facts and events.

It got me thinking about how that would play out in sales organization.  Broadly speaking I see two types of executive leaders in sales organizations.  The first group, the more successful ones, ones I admire, and truly enjoy to work with, are the ones I call “Leading from the front”.  Then there is the second group, the ones that “Lead from behind”.  Behind their desk, behind spreadsheets, and behind the cover of their title. 

The first group are hands on and willing to roll up their sleeves and truly lead their teams if not to constant success, certainly to be the best that they can be on a consistent bases.  The processes they implement, the tools they introduce are done with an eye to help their teams deliver.  This is not to say that they are not demanding or have great expectations, in fact usually the opposite.  But they see their role as helping make that happen by getting involved.  I remember speaking to one individual who epitomizes this group, he was in the midst of organizational change and upheaval; during all that he had two concerns, he was not able to make himself as available as he wanted to his team, and felt he was loosing touch with the market as a result.  The second was that it had been a month at the time we were speaking since he had seen a client.

The second group, well not so much fun.  Usually very academic, limited, little or sheltered experience, yet with an ego that prevents them from fully understanding the nature of the beast they are meant to lead.  Looking at numbers, spreadsheets, or dashboards does not tell the story, doesn’t even begin.  These would be the individuals who would benefit the most from an experience the “undercover experience”. It would serve well to separate those who have it in them to learn and just need the opportunity, from those that spent their career avoiding the front line, and see clients selectively for their own purposes rather than the good of the organization and the mutual relationship.

Well, it would be nice if there were a TV producer reading, we could do our own sales version, I even have the name:  So You ThinQ Can Sell!

Sugartone Sweet Business Blogging Contest

Take a look at the Sugartone Sweet Business Contest, (you can learn more by clicking the badge to the left), great place to disocver great bloggers and a chance to support the ones you like. What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 1117

Ya, It’s Personal

One of the dumbest pieces of advice sales professionals are given by bad managers or inept trainers when they lose a deal is “don’t take it personally, make sure you take the lesson and move on”.  While I agree that we need to learn from each deal, good or bad; but not taking it personally, is not only dumb, but shows a real lack of understanding of sales.  Most everyone agrees that a purchase/sale is an emotional event; that applies to both the buyer and the seller. 

The best sales people are very passionate about their product and craft. This means giving the sale your all, and to do that they get involved emotionally, they know that enthusiasm is infectious and they make sure they have what it takes to infect the buyer.  We have talked about this before, that all things being equal, the sales person that wins the deal is the one that really wanted it more.

The down side is that this opens the rep up to extreme emotional swings, soaring to great heights when they win a deal, and painful crash landing when they lose.  So what’s an enterprising sales professional to do to avoid wearing out before their time or lose their mind?  The best thing they can do is have a clear step by step process, and do their utmost to adhere to it.  This allows them to give every situation their full talent and energy, and recover quickly to execute their next sale.

This is not to say that they live in some fantasy world, but in sales you need to be fully engaged, which hard to do if you are not personally and emotionally involved.  The question simply becomes, do you hold back to spare your emotions, or do you go full out, and in the process win more deals, and reduce the times you have to deal with the let downs.

So go ahead, your really have no chice, take it personally, get engaged, win more deals, and use that same strength of character to understand the price of success, and then move to the next opportunity to get involved.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Video Bonus

While at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco earlier this week, I had a brief interview with Paul Simon of AllBusiness.com, about the up coming book I coauthored with Craig Elias, check out the interview below, to lean more about the book and be informed when it is released click here.


Sales 2.0 Conference Reflections29

I had a great time at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco earlier this week.  In a lot of ways it reminded me of my high school friend’s father, he was a nice enough guy, but he had a thing for the song from Casablanca “As time goes by”.  He would collect as many different renditions as possible; he had the original, the Frank Sinatra version, Tony Bennett, all the instrumentals, even the Tom Jones cover.  While I had no particular favourite, at the end they were all pretty much rooted in the original, some were more adventurous, some were straight up, but at the end they were all “As Time Goes By”, and left you wanting to heat the original by “Sam” Dooley Wilson.

There were some great ideas, great products, and in many ways a return to basics: execution.  Much of the focus on execution was aimed at lead origination, nurturing and conversion.  While some of this pointed to automation, and integration of marketing and sales, at the end the discussion always came back to execution. 

There is no denying that technology has enabled companies to think bigger and wider and achieve bigger and wider.  There is no arguing with the data presented that those using up to date tools achieve more and can go farther and faster than those stuck in the past (2002).  But it was also clear that many of these companies succeeded as a result of leadership, discipline and hard work.  Much of the labels or handles used have been used in the past.  Collaboration, a true pillar of success, we heard it in the early 90’s when Lotus Notes was introduced, we heard with portals in Web 1.0, and we are hearing it now, and for good reason, it lifts the successful companies from the pack.

The best presentation by far during the two days again confirmed that Sales 2.0 is much more about evolution than revolution, progressive evolution.  Jeffrey Hayzlett, CMO and VP of Eastman Kodak Company, showed that while Sales 2.0 tools are key to accelerating their turn around success, but the real story the reason for success was based on balls, sweat and tears and a singular focus on execution.

Please don’t get me wrong, this is not a condemnation of Sales 2.0, would say it is a validation, that a plan, in the right hands, given the right people will go much further and faster given the right tools.  But those same tools in the hands of the wrong person or team will get them no where. 

In the end, literally, it came down to sales ability and enablement, a celebration of the sales person as an artist.  With all the science, success still comes from mastering the art.  To paraphrase something bit of the closing address: “A good sales person can accomplish a lot more with his craft than 100 software programs”.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

photo from flickr.com

Sales eXchange – 3719

Look Inside First

I am always surprised how many sales people over look some key resources right at their finger tips, so close yet rarely used. Specifically leaders within their own companies with the same title or function as those they are trying to sell to.

After all, the guy/gal in your company is likely to use similar or same criteria and process to make a purchase decision as their counter part at another company would. May vary by product and personality, but the basic underlying drivers and means of execution are usually not dramatically different. So why don’t many sales people sit down and try to get a little inside info that could reduce the effort and increase the impact.

At the root, people usually buy because of a few core primal drivers, no different than the primal drivers that cause them to act in general. While they may manifest themselves in slightly different ways on the surface, it usually comes down to:

Avoiding risk
Material gain – in business that could be increase revenue or profit; or reduced cost, again driving profit
Ability to get more done with less effort – increased efficiency or productivity
And the one no one really wants to talk about in these gentil days, personal gain. This does not need to be monetary, could be promotion or some other type of sunshine.

Now again this gets dressed up in a number of ways, not the least of which is language. So the simple thing to do, is learn from an inside source, your buyers counter part in your own company. When was the last time you spoke to your .marketing VP, CFO, CTO or procurement head about what they are think, doing and how they go about evaluating.

Let’s face it, if you have a job where a key decision maker you are trying to sell to is a CFO, the first place you should go it to your own company’s CFO or VP of Finance.  Ask them what you need to know: how they prioritize; how they evaluate things; what words they use for different things, the more you speak the language the more smart and knowledgeable you are going to sound. You may have a great message but it gets lost in the words or language along with the sale.

Here is another thing to consider, when your CFO goes to a conference or skills upgrade program offered by the local chapter or national CFO association, guess who else is there?  They are all there learning about the latest trends, shifts, developments, together. Why not sit down with them and learn.

When I want to learn how to make pizza, I go to a pizza maker. Learn why the use the ingredients they use and in what proportion, why bake this way vs. that way. I could learn from a book, maybe even watch a TV show or webcast, but nothing beats the real deal.
So if you sell something that impacts or involves a CFO, VP of Marketing, or whatever, start with a visit to the one in your company.

Sales 2.0 Conference, San Francisco

On my way to the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, see what there is to learn and contribute. The program looks strong, and I’ll be tweeting and bringing you up to date in upcoming blog posts. Let me know if there is anything specific I can keep an open eye and open mind for, and I respond back.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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