Welcome to The Pipeline.

Building Greater Customer Engagement Through Online Communities26

The Pipeline Guest Post – Don F Perkins

Many business owners are finding that a great way to create greater customer engagement is to build an online community of users and fans who share a common interest which has something to do with their product, service or the ideologies behind their business. There are many ways to do this and many formats that will work depending on the participants and their personas. Some of the better known platforms to choose from today are Linkedin, Focus Expert Network, Namesake, Quora, Stack Overflow, PInterest and even Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and StumbleUpon to some degree. Each has their own personality, however there are some common elements. Here are a few guiding principles that are key to successful customer engagement through online communities:

Learning and Growing Through Online Communities

An online community is a great place for people to learn more about a topic, a technology or a skill for no cost and very little time commitment. It also offers a great place for people to showcase their expertise. By creating a LinkedIn group for example, where people can ask questions or poll the group, and others can offer their answers and expertise, which helps build their credibility, both the giver and receiver can mutually benefit from the community’s discussions. Each person decides how often and at what level they will participate, so if you have initiative, you can get a lot out of a group, whether you are a learner or an expert looking for more influence and credibility.

Sharing and Networking In Online Communities

Online community can be an ideal place to build connections, share insights and go deeper on topics relevant to the group as well as to each of it’s members. People are not professionals only, but have many interests and facets to their lives. In online communities, it’s not uncommon to see people build relationships that span other unrelated areas of their lives and build networks of colleagues who then help them get in touch with others in their communities around those shared interests. As an added bonus, online communities generally create a kind of “three way trust” that helps make connecting with someone you don’t know far less threatening and foreign feeling. So for example: She wants to know you. Because I know her and I know you, I can vouch for her character, so you can trust her inasmuch you trust me.

Everybody Has Something To Gain From a Good Online Community

When an online community is working well, it provides important data as a primary element, but it can also be an enjoyable and even entertaining place to be. When this is the case, participants sense that they will not only realize a short term benefit of learning something new or perhaps brightening an otherwise dull spot in their day, but also the long term mutual benefits of making new connections and building credible, valuable relationships.

Developing Clout In Widening Circles

If you take the time to engage customers in online communities – to listen and address their concerns, to help them build their own influence in their chosen field, then the online community becomes an even more valuable resource for them: something that helps the user gain clout and credibility among their peers and beyond. By this, not only can you gain a better understanding of what they value, who they respect and admire, where they are headed and how fast, you can build tremendous rapport and good will as well. Engagement like this can take time, so be patient, but if you will put forth a consistent solid effort, online communities can yield tremendous results and opportunities for continued growth.

About Don Perkins

Don is a sales and marketing professional with over 15 years experience in technology sales, marketing and consulting.

Find a bazillion ways to connect with Don at: donfperkins.com, or check out his sales and marketing blog at: mindmulch.net.

Goal Achievers Radio Interview17

Most of us in sales are familiar with Napoleon Hill and Think & Grow Rich, and the wide following it has, so I was flattered when Tom Cunningham, a Napoleon Hill Foundation Certified Instructor, invited me to appear as a guest on Goal Achievers Radio Interview program.  We covered a number of topics relating to sales and success.

In the segment below we discussed the importance of “actioned information”, and its role in sales success.  Finding the balance between having enough of the right information that you can actually action and move the sale forward, versus the time invested in “researching” and not auctioning the results, especially when the time you invested/wasted is not recoverable.  As always the goal is to provide a couple of actionable things you can implement in your selling.  While this is just one segment, we’ll be posting others in the coming weeks.

Goal Achievers Radio Interview 1

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Top 25 Sales Influencers for 201220

One great thing about this time of year is the research done by others to help you kick-start your year.  The advantage is that you have experts in the field researching specific areas of interest, and delivering valuable resources you can use, thereby saving you time and effort, and allow to utilize and benefit from those resources.

B2B sales is not different, the good folks over at OpenView Labs, have put together a list of Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012.  Needless to say this is a great resource for all in B2B sales, and needless to say the list includes your humble writer, and not so humble sales trainer, myself Tibor Shanto.  On the list with me are some old friends and some new friends, including Mike Weinberg, S. Anthony Iannarino, Elinor Stutz, Jonathan Farrington, and Kenrad Lee.

Check out the list, explore, learn and profit.

Start by downloading our new book: Sales & Consequences

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Not Different – Sales eXchange – 13221

Friday I posted a piece on taking control of your selling, in which I mentioned a VP of sales who felt his circumstance was “different”.  I get that a lot, and I am sure most sellers hear that all the time; companies or individuals who feel they are different, but with all due deference they most often are not.  For that fact neither you or I are that different when looked at specifically from a sales standpoint, what you might sell can be a little different from the alternatives, but studies have shown that most products in the market place share many of the same features and attributes.

As a result, often the only difference is the way sales people sell not the product itself, it is the seller that can best engage, spark the imagination and understanding of the buyer that will truly differentiate the experience and the outcome, not the product itself.  I understand that in the heat of battle it feels like you are experiencing things different from other sellers, but at the core, sorry, not that different. Claiming to be different, especially when you are not achieving the desired results, is just one card in a deck of excuses.

There are however way you can use this sense of “being different” to your advantage, primarily by challenging it.  The most practical thing you can do is challenge their sense of being different.  Yes challenge it, may seem odd, but it is your edge.  As long as the buyer thinks that they are different and unique, they will be stuck in that mode and rarely move to buying.  Thinking they are unique drives them to look for unique solutions; solutions that either have to be “customised”, which usually carries a prohibitive cost point, or solutions that may not exist.

By challenging their perception of being unique, you can focus on those points that lead the buyer to believe that they are that different.  In other words, your offering may meet 90% of the buyers “real” requirements, but if you don’t break it down to that, than you will be allowing the 10% to be the entire thing.  Once you have narrowed it down to the 10%, you can deal with it in specific terms, alternatives, plugins, professional services, all which should address the buyers need, and drive revenue for your company.

More importantly, the mere fact that you are willing to (professionally) challenge the notion of “being different” will make you seem different from the other vendors, who will play the game of chasing the unattainable, especially if they have not isolated the difference, and placed context around it.  One way to this consistently is to use the GAP Selling model.   If you play into their notion of being different, you will suffer the same fate as those looking to satisfy a concept rather than bringing it in to real terms that can be defined, addressed, eliminated.

Most time the process of challenging the “difference” will set you apart, and help the buyer see where they are miss-focusing time and energy.  I remember meeting with a sales VP a few years back, nice guy, I still do some work for him.  When we first met he was crusty and challenging, telling me in a very commanding way that I needed to understand that they were different; every time I tried to explore an area of their sale, he kept coming bank “yes Tibor, but you see we are different”.  I clearly needed to challenge this:

TS:  OK John, I want to better understand how you are different than the hundreds of companies I have worked with.  Let me get this straight, normally you have prospects lined up out the door, round the block, but because I was coming today you cleared the lot, right?

John: No no, my people have to go out find leads and prospect, in fact, I wish they would do more; but they work trade shows, networking, cold calls.  It’s not easy either, they have to work at it and there is always room to improve.

TS: OK, but once they engage with prospect, there is not much selling, no competition, buyers just want to know where to sign.

John: No man, we have to prove our value especially against key competitors, offer up the right solution, and help them sell it internally.

TS: OK, but once you accomplish that, they just sign, no negotiations, bargaining, it is straight to the dotted line?

John: I wish, we go back and forth, I am never sure if it is my team or the customers, but we have even built a cushion in to the price to be able to have a bit of give and wiggle.

TS: So where are you different, because you have just described 90% of my clients?

It was after this point that the discussion really got going, where we were able to deal with some of the things that did make aspects of what they do unique.  Had I allowed myself to go down the “wow is me, we are different” road, there would have been no sale, or a much longer sale cycle.

So when you hear they are different, smile and ask WHY?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Take Control!19

Wednesday I posted a piece about the importance of working your sales cycle, not the calendar.  I had a call from Bob, a director of sales with software company.  While he liked some of the ideas, he felt it would be difficult to follow some of the discipline proposed, because they “we’re a different type of company, and being public, puts additional demands on us, especially at month end and quarter end.”  I have heard this type of argument before, I just don’t buy it.

I had a friend who was a VP of sales, who cancelled a lunch during the last week of their quarter, telling me “you know how it is, last day of the quarter, we’re closing”.  When we did meet I had to ask what they do, the rest of the quarter if they spend the last week closing, he told me they are busy selling.  Apparently not, as closing is part of selling; as is OPENING, without that, you have nothing to close.

I know people don’t like the math side of sales, it takes all the emotion and excuses out of things, leaving you with just the facts.  As highlighted in the piece Wednesday, if you need to deliver four deals a month, and your closing ratio, from initial engagement to close, is 4:1, you are going to have to engage with four people a week, or 16 people in the month.  The reason you have the end of quarter derby, is that most sales people don’t prospect or close enough along the way, and as the finish line nears they go into closing mode.

But what if you know you cycle was 10 weeks, and you diligently added four new viable opportunities to your pipeline every week, and continued to close one a week, would it really matter if it was the first day of the year, last day of the month, last day of the quarter, or February 29.  No, not at all, put sufficient amounts of raw materials in predictable amounts, apply your process, and you have a predictable amount of output at the other end.

It comes down to two things, first knowing the length of you cycle, and your specific key conversion rates at critical junctions of your cycle.  This easy to achieve with or without the latest tools or apps, all you need to know is a crayon and some paper, as long as you poses the second element, accountability.  If you are willing to take accountability for your actions you can achieve a much more predictable sale, disciplined, and I would argue more fun.

More fun, because you actually have a sense of what has to happen, in what proportions, and how you will do it.  This frees up a lot of bandwidth in the old cranium, allowing you to focus much more on the client, their objectives, and how you can help them, and your company achieve their objectives.  If you choose to play the end of quarter derby, you will not only be knackered at the end of each quarter, but set yourself up to repeat it again and again.  If you spend the last week or 10 day of a quarter “closing”, limiting or skipping all other aspects of the cycle, what will you close 10 weeks after the quarter:

  1. ___ Discounted deals
  2. ___ No deals
  3. ___ Haven’t a clue

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Work Your Cycle not the Calendar5

Here we are at the start of a new year, fresh faces, prospects and places to engage, and with what most would lead you to believe, a blank slate, ready to conquer sales all over again.  However, is it a blank slate, has the clock rolled back to the start, allowing you to start things a new, or did we just cross a marker in a continuing trek forward?  I tend to go with the latter, while we may need to mark time for a number of purposes, for sales professionals, and for actual sales, the sales cycle is somewhat indifferent to the artificial rhythms that accompany our travels through the years.

While corporate fiscal years are 12-months, and in many cases align to the 12 calendar Jan. 1 to Dec 31, decision cycles don’t, and as such sales people need to align and manage their cycles not their calendars.  Add to that the fact that budget cycles, including planning, like decision cycles don’t align to the calendar.

Read On…

What’s in Your Pipeline
Tibor Shanto

What’s Your Story – Sales eXchange – 13126

People love a good story; in fact, a good story can make up for other shortcomings one may face.  How many times have you left a movie thinking the acting was great, but the plot – the story lacked, and as result took away from the experience?  Sales people face similar challenges, we have all left meetings knowing that our presentation style, timing, and other elements were really good, but we failed to capture the imagination of the buyer because our story was off or missed the mark.

A good story is integral in a number of ways to sales success, and can often be the difference in a buyer choosing you over a viable competitor.  A good story works on a number of levels, helping buyers get engaged, motivating him/her to take action critical to moving the sale forward.

Buyers ultimately buy into your story before they may buy your product, and best of all will tell “your story”, the one he/she likes, to other people in the company who can impact the sale, as a result, a good story can keep on giving beyond the first time you tell it.  Now I want to be clear, when I say story, I don’t mean BSing your buyer, but rather presenting things in a way that is easier for them to consume, understand and trust.

Think of your own experience with stories, when you were a child, you loved listening to stories, at home, day care, even early school years.  They let you visualize scenes that were good, they delivered subtle life lessons, and formed your outlook on certain subjects.  Add to that the element of trust inherent in a story, think back when you sat with one of your parents, grandparents, or your teacher at story time, people you trusted; a good story invokes a feeling of trust in addition to communicating a message.  Those same ancient elements are still at play no matter how sophisticated one may pretend to be, or where they buy their suits.  The same factors that cause us to flinch when we hear a loud noise or experience thunder and lightning, cause us to have a positive reaction, a warm feel and trust when we hear a good story.  You may own a super-smart-phone, but our instincts are still in caveman.Ø.

In sales, as in earlier days, a story has to have a beginning, a middle, end, and moral.  You need to Engage the buyer, draw them in during Discovery, Gain their trust and commitment, and you have to deliver the goods at the end.  The moral is of course is the beneficial impact on the client’s objective that only your offering can deliver, anything short of that would just expose the buyer to the risks outlined in the plot of your story.

So take time to develop your narrative, don’t overlook the benefit of setting out a story board; while I am not big on PowerPoint presentations, if you are going to use them, make sure you incorporate a good story.  One based on elements that have proven successful in previous sales, while avoiding those that have scared people off.  If like me, you rely on questions and dialogue, you can still plan ahead and make sure that the story of your offering, the direct impact on the buyer is at the core of the exchange, and that the plot moves towards a simple and logical conclusion for the buyer.  What better opportunity for sales and marketing to work together to deliver something impactful beyond glossy collateral.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales & Consequences22

If you are a regular reader of this blog, thank you, you know one of the hallmarks has been a focus on execution.  As you have heard me say, sales is all about execution, everything else is just talk, and frankly with all the demands on sales professionals these days, there is little time for talk.  The challenge is ensuring that the actions you take have the desired outcome for you and your buyer.  While taking action is key, taking the right action is crucial, as actions do have consequences.

To kick off the New Year, a challenging sales year according to the pundits, Renbor has put together a new book looking at actions you can take, and ways to improve actions you are already taking.

Sales & Consequences, looks at sales from different viewpoints and situations, all with a view to helping you execute your sales more efficiently and more importantly in a fun way.  It looks at strategic and tactical aspects, examines the state of sales, decision making, and decision avoidance, either way, making a decision is a long way from taking action.

So click here, or click the picture at the top right of the page, and grab your free copy, hey get one for the cousin you forgot at Christmas.  Take a read, and feel free t comment, but most importantly, take action, cause the only thing with worse consequences than acting, is taking n action at all.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

In Business Interview22

Just before the holidays I was invited to sit down with David Wojcik of “In Business” to talk about sales, specifically about the content of the book I co-authored on trigger events.  I found it interesting in a number of ways, especially since David is not in sales.  He focused on different areas than some sales people do when discussing the book.

httpvh://youtu.be/Dm-QS7C_iWk

I was also able to relate to a musician friend who always finds it difficult talking about his last CD.  While the CD discussed in interviews may be the most current available in the market, he is usually focused on his current project, which is the next release.  Being more than half way in my current book, it was interesting going back to concepts that were current two years ago; also interesting to see how ones thinking on sales progresses.  It was rewarding for me, you be the judge when the book is released.

What’s in our Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

3 January Must Do’s – Sales eXchange – 13027

Start of the year, not a time for a lot of talk, time to do, no secret there, so rather than wasting time pontificating, here are three things to do this week to kick start your sales year.

1.   Fire everyone in your pipeline that you thought definitely close by year end 2011. Forget the stories, forget the hope and the hype, and forget the “oh it’s this one is different”, it’s not. Hold your nose with one hand, and toss it out of your pipeline with the other.  There is no reason why some can’t be revisited, but that should been done based on merit rather than emotion; if it stands up to scrutiny, it may close next time you execute the sale.

2.   Reach out to the top three people in your competitors’ three biggest accounts. This seems to be the time for reviews, and that includes you competitors’ clients’, why not give them an alternative to think about or compare to. Even if you don’t get immediate positive responses, you are at least starting a relationship early. As well, given that you will end up talking. To at least nine people, they could be a great source for referrals in and beyond their current companies. Speaking of which, some of these people will leave where they are today, and may need your offering where they end up.

3.   Replicate your Marquee Client.  Sit down with any group of reps, and the war stories come out about how they won their marquee account.  But does that “one” have to be all that different?  If you review what made that sale great, from who they were, how you sourced them, engaged with them and won them over, is there a reason why that can’t be repeated again?  You can do this more than once a year, and over time elevate your game, and success.

Yes, short, but sweet, because it is more important to “do”, as I have said in the past, in sales it is about Execution, everything else is just talk.

What’s in Your Pipeline?

Tibor Shanto

wordpress stat