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Entourage Selling!23


A sales topic which continues to come up on a regular basis with sellers of all experience revolves around the politics, risks and rewards of “going around” or “going over someone’s head”.  Due to a unique sequence of events, opened the door to a different view on the subject.  First I was working with a team lead by a Francophone VP, and we go around to complete coverage of accounts, existing and new.  We created a corporate map, profiling key contacts their functions and role in the decision process.  The challenge was that despite laying things out, the reps continued to go to their “usual suspects”, often slowing down or completely endangering the sale.  The fact that the team was reluctant to sell “to the whole company” was really critical in light of the fact this was a big ticket item, and almost always decisions are made by multiple stakeholders if not formal committees.  In a moment of frustration the VP said “You have to sell the whole entourage, not just one guy”.

Later that night my wife was glued to her favourite TV program, yup you guessed it, Entourage.  Thee was something going on where someone was trying to get to Vince to convince him to do or buy something or other (short attention when it comes to TV).  What struck me is that Vince wasn’t trying to avoid the individual trying to get to him, but he wasn’t going to make a decision or move with out input from his crew.  As with the reps in question, going straight at, and only at the Vince (playing the role of the CEO in our little drama) was just going to add time and effort to the process, and put the whole initiative at risk from never happening.

Had he stepped back, understood the dynamics of the players involved, their impact, interaction and influence with Vince he may have played it differently. (Hot me now if you are going to, SDM)  He would have spent time individually and collectively with Eric, Drama and Turtle.  If he did his mapping and planning thoroughly, he would go beyond the “company”, and focus on Ari Gold, who clearly has sway on his main target.

If we were to compare the episode to the challenge the sales team in question had, they spent a disproportionate time and focus on Drama, completely ignored Vince, in fact it is more accurate to say they avoided Vince.

These days it does not take much effort to properly and thoroughly map an organization, understand the personalities involved, and even the interrelationships.  Using any of he host of Sales 2.0, tools like IntroMojo, you can even incorporate their social media footprint into your plan, strategy and execution.

As always, selling the “enterprise” is the most effective ways to develop long term success, it not only helps you execute the sale efficiently, but maintain and defend the relationship by have multiple and deep relationships with key players in the organization.  (See 4D – Four Deep – Sales eXchange – 59)  Call it what you like, but it is traditional selling, full and complete coverage of your accounts.  So there you have it, a new label for a traditional approach, taking a page from some of my peers, I guess I am now the creator of “Entourage Selling”.

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.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Always Be Closing?!? – Sales eXchange – 6948

Who in sales has not heard that saying, how many of us, including me, have been entertained by Alec Baldwin’s brief but memorable speech about the topic in Glengarry Glen Ross.  Click here if you have not seen it, or just want to enjoy it again.

There has always been questions around the notion of Always Be Closing, clearly few want their teams to be selling at the extremes displayed in the clip, but there are environments where they thrive on it.  Believe it or not, after high school I had a part time job selling vacuum cleaners; the company I worked for paid a premium for the leads and they never failed to remind me to ask for the order as often as possible, much like voting in some places, the goal was to ask early and ask often.  Those who have read SPIN, know that their research seems to negate that concept, and most of us know that there is a diminishing impact to Always Be Closing in most sales.

Having said that, is the underlying premise wrong, or is the way many choose to execute it that differentiates the sleazy from the professional.  After all, if we expressed it differently, it may have a different level of acceptance.   Most sales leaders I meet express a desire to shorten or reduce the length of their sales cycle, (for a discussion on whether that is realistic by a number of experts see http://www.focus.com/questions/sales/shorter-better/); but if indeed that is a goal, it would require some thinking throughout the sale around when and how you move to complete the transaction.

When you are putting together an account plan or meeting plan, a key driver is closing the transaction, and in the meetings leading up to the final one, the goal is to end the meeting in a way that “advances” the sale, or simply agreeing on a mutually beneficial next step.  You want that next step because it is the a logical progression towards “the close”, and yes I know that there are some other important reasons you want a next step, but they would take us off topic, save the fact that every time you get the desired next step, you are moving a step closer to close.  While you may not always be closing in the boiler room sense, you are constantly thinking and planning how to move the sale forward to close, not bulldozing the buyer but creating a buying environment, which you guessed it, leads to a close.

One practice I recommend to many is to visualize their sale, and work their way back to see what they may have overlooked or would need to facilitate and execute it properly.  By encouraging people to start with the close, it could encourage some to overly fixate on it, and maybe think about how to always be closing.  Clearly that is not the intent, the goal is ensure that they are prepared and ready to fully engage with the buyer and ensure they are able to help them create a buying environment.  The difference is, as it often is, in the execution.  Helping the buyer make a better decision for them, planning and understanding how to best do that is very much about the close, constantly asking for the order or badgering the client is just a waste of time and energy.

A Quick Aside

This Friday I start a regular appearance on a local Toronto web TV www.thatchannel.com, while sales will be at the core of the discussion, I am sure we will meander to other related areas.  I invite you to submit questions or topics of interest, and if we don’t get around to it in the program we will try to respond here.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Bite Me!30

I met with some reps earlier this week, and as they were describing their sale, I started thinking how for some sales people sales approach is a lot like Halloween. On the one hand they psych themselves up for the event, on the other hand leaving all the preparation to the last minute.
They put on their costumes, some get snazzy and put on a snappy suit and tie, others the corporate Polo shirt, logo and all, (the “experienced alpha dogs” put on a polo shirt from a few years back, before the logo changed just to show who is who).
They get their little bag, though not empty, not quite full to the brim, they need some room in the bag as we’ll discuss later; they have their brochures, perhaps some samples, and what not.
After a few parting words from their manager, they head to their route/territory to start their day of “Sales Trick or Treat”.  You’ve seen how it’s done, sales rep walks up to the front door, last minute check of how they look, costume, mask – big smile – put on the persona, and then head in. As soon as they are greeted they do their well practiced trick, smile, and then hold their bag open hoping the buyer throws in a treat in the form of an order.
Unfortunately for many tricksters, buyers have not been culturally bullied into throwing things in the bag and smiling regardless of how bad the trick was.  In fact holding to traditions in some circles, a bad trick or performance always ensures that there is no treat to be had; no orders no business.
Much like many children on Halloween, some are open to input, others are not.   The ones open taking on ideas, even when at first those ideas may seem odd, usually evolve and end up with more candy, deals and glory.  The others who are closed to input, usually are lazier than anything else, and fail to realize that a little effort, a little change, can lead to way more treats from buyers.
As always the managers can also play a pivotal part in how things unfold.  How many times have you seen a father just hang back at the end of the drive and watch his kid get less candy than the next because of the way he was “Trick or Treating”.  While another parent will try to guide their kids in an effort to help them be more successful in their quest for a week long sugar high and early tooth decay.
So this weekend when you are out dodging ghoul and goblins, think of the order takers dressed as sales pros, and make sure that your reps are more than just dressed for the part.
Tibor Shanto

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The Doer or The Feeler27

I do not put myself forward as a sales recruiter, I have done my share of hiring and firing, and as you may have guessed, have opinions on the subject, but it is not what I do. There are times when a client will ask me to sit down with some people on their short list of candidates, or sit in with a hiring manager while interviewing potential sales reps, as I did a little while back.

The manager had been in the role for a few years, had a good track record vis-à-vis revenue goals, and while the turnover on the team was in line, there were concerns about her hiring skills. Going into the interview, I asked her what her game plan was for the interview. She told me she had a set of questions that she used, and based on the answers she was able to narrow her choices.

The candidate arrived, niceties exchanged, the basic warm up question: why are you looking for a new position; why are you considering us; a few other why’s and the main event begins.

“How do you feel about prospecting for new clients?”
“Do you think it is the role of marketing to generate leads?”
“What do you feel is the best way to manage you?”

When we were done, I asked the manager if she liked the candidate.  She indicated that she was ok with him.  I asked how much she felt she knew about him, his ability to sell, and his fit with the team.  She said he was a good fit with the group, had the basics that could start him off well, but would benefit from training once he came onboard.

“What do you base that on?” I asked; “based on how he answered the questions we asked” (what do you mean we…).  I suggested to her that she was in no position to answer my questions based on the questions she asked the candidate.  She was puzzled, sat for a minute and asked the obvious, “why not, I asked him what he thought about prospecting, how he felt about marketing’s role, how he felt he needed to be managed, and he felt about having to both hunt and manage existing accounts, so I base it on that.”  All while trying to suppress her disdain for my observation.

“You know I never really hired sales people based on how they feel” I said, “I much prefer to focus on what and how they DO.  Frankly, it is nice that he felt prospecting was part of the job, my concern is can he and has he done it effectively in the past; and we do not know that based on the interview.”

To her credit, rather than rationalizing she asked, “Well what would you suggest instead?”  I shared with her what I was taught, which is to focus on explicit experiences.  Knowing what the position calls for, ask question that go to the specifics strategies and tactics for executing.  “Tell me about how you prospect for new clients, and what your conversion rate is from lead to prospect?”  Or “Tell me about a situation where you had to tell a client about a delay in the project.”   This allows for quantitative, qualitative and anecdotal to surface.  You can then add, “What did you do in response to or to manage the situation?  What was the outcome?  What did you learn from the experience and incorporate into your selling moving forward?”  This allows you to see what they have done in real life situations, and how they learn and incorporate the lessons.  You can also learn other elements, for instance, if they go back to the same sale/story for each question, you have a dud; but if they can give you different instances for different questions, you take it as a sign of having lived it.

The “feely” questions work well for the “relationship” types, but for the execution minded, experience is much more practical.  There are a lot of great books and blogs out there that will give answers to the “feely” questions, “where do you see yourself in five years?” and that whole lot of questions; but to answer experience questions you normally have to have had the experience (or related experience).  Of course, if someone is a good faker, and gets past this, there is still the old truth of “hire slow, fire fast”.

Again, to her credit, the manager didn’t spend time telling me how she felt about the approach I shared with her, but the next round of interviews had revamped her interview questions to focus on experience required to succeed on her team.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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The Proactive 20% – Sales eXchange – 6825

In a recent discussion I along with some other folks, was asked what was the one single factor or element accounted for the 80/20 rule in sales.  The old Pareto Principle, which as you all know I have updated, and fellow blogger S. Anthony Iannarino, rebranded as “The Shanto Principle”, which holds that 80% of your sales will be delivered by 20%, top 20%, of your sales team. 

For me the difference between the two sales groups is being proactive vs. reactive.  While many of the answers given were sound, they lacked that element of getting ahead of the game and driving the process, rather than reacting to circumstances.  In fact, to some degree many of the people responding to the question, and people providing sales advice in general, give permission even encourage sales people to be reactive rather than proactive. 

At first glance many sound as though they are being proactive, talking about things sellers can do in advance of engaging with a potential buyer.  Tools they can use to prepare, social media, SEO, e-mail marketing, etc., all good things.  But at one point they say one of two things or both, that put them squarely in the reactive camp.  Now let’s be clear, I am not suggesting that they are deliberately sabotaging their followers, many of them will tell you that they are indeed proactive, but there is proactive and then there is proactive, the latter is like the 20% successful sales people would define, and the former is the way the 80% would see it.

The first thing that rings the alarm for me is when they say something along the line “and when the buyer is ready…”  What’s that about, by the time the buyer is ready, doesn’t that sound like “it is time for you to react”; it is code word for “they are in play” and when they are in play everyone is aware of it and you are in a bake-off, a reactionary bake-off orchestrated and choreographed by the buy if you are lucky, and by another vendor when you are not.  Taken to the extreme is this not order taking?   Don’t you want to be there before the buyer is ready, when you can be of value helping them define requirements and the means of implementing the solution?

The second thing that screams reactive to me is how some choose to define and deal with the Status Quo.  To be proactive you have to go where many will not, deep into the Status Quo.  Some advisors seem to give sellers permission not to go after buyers described as being in the Status Quo.  The knock being that these people are happy and not currently looking, and because of that there will be no sale (or buy depending how you look at things).  Inherent in this argument is that people will be “ready” when they are no longer happy with the way things are, at that point they will take steps to become knowledgeable and ready.  Not true, there are those who will act when they see a better idea, a better way of achieving their objective, or a better way to innovate.  They may not be many, but they are out there.

Engaging with them may not be as easy, or more accurately, will require work, but it can be done with the right message and approach.  You need to find and focus on those buyers who are committed to continuous innovation and leadership.  Engaging with buyers who are on a continuous journey of improvement, and who are always open to means of achieving that is the key.  Many of them will enter the market on their own, and they will then begin interacting with the reactive crowd.  But what if you got to them before they were actively looking, and were able to show them how to implement their plans or improve their processes, before they were set upon by the reactive crowd. 

The means to being proactive seller is not that dramatically different from being a reactive seller, it is a question of how you use your knowledge, and where you choose to apply it.  Both reactive and proactive sellers need to understand the value they deliver to their buyers.  But the proactive buyer goes beyond, focusing on the business impact of the solution rather than just the tactical value.  The comfort and advantage of knowing and leading with business impact is that it allows you to engage with multiple people in a company, and take the discussion upstream from the deliverable, to the buyer’s business goals, which at times may be a bit abstract when you first meet.  This is hard for some who are product centric, while they are great at articulating value, they lack the skill or confidence to abandon the solution or processes usually related to it, and taking the discussion to purely business terms.  But mastering this allows them to have discussions that are not dependent of “fixing” something, or a lack of satisfaction with the Status Quo, but rather with people who are proactively driving their plan, just you can proactively driving sales.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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No Respect!33

It is Small Business Week here in Canada, a worthy celebration of the importance of small business’ and entrepreneurs’ contribution to the Canadian economy.  Also an opportunity for every vendor to stand up and tell small business how much they love them, and not just this week, really.  Not to be out done, one of the daily papers put out a supplement to commemorate the occasion.  The section highlights all the things a small business person needs to know and have to be successful.

Man, it is chuck full of advise from the greatest minds in their field, (what a coincidence that the advice just happens to come from the same companies whose adds appear in the section); featured topics include everything from Cash Flow to Supply Chain, also featured are insightful pieces on Branding, Marketing, not just marketing, but Green Marketing, Online Marketing, Advertising, Foreign Markets, Buying Businesses, Financing and Safeguarding Innovation, and of course Hiring Practices.

Guess what was not included? Yup, Sales!  And I can understand why, after all why should a small business have to worry about sales?  Hey, you know how it is, once you get that Green Online Marketing right, who needs to think about sales, the revenue just comes flying in, right?

I don’t want to take this personally, but let’s get real, those same bank advertising in the section, are they now going to base their lending to small businesses on their branding or their sales?  Of course they are.

This disregard for sales is not unusual; we get dissed all the time, especially by those whose lively depends on our ability to generate the revenue that pays them to forget the contribution sales makes.  I remember talking to an associate editor of one the daily papers here in Toronto, they regularly publish articles on marketing in their business section.  I asked him why they don’t have a regular column on sales or selling, “you know, business – sales, there is a relationship there”.  I pointed out that there are way more sales people running around the streets of Toronto than marketing types, therefore a demographic that could attract advertisers (cars, wireless, software, the occasional beer ad, etc.).  He paused and acknowledged that he had not thought of it that way, and then in predictable fashion, continued down his path.

Now I don’t want to square off with other functions in a business, but I am also at a loss to understand which of those other functions could survive without sales.  This attitude about sales is pervasive, when we deliver, it is taken for granted, “it’s your job after all”; when we come up short, “you’re not ding what you are supposed to”.  So next week, when Small Business Week is behind us, how many small business owners will be looking for branding, and how many will be hoping for sales?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Go Ahead, Blow It Up39

I was riding along on a sales call earlier this year, watching as things unfolded in what seemed like torturous slow motion.  Usually I don’t get involved in these calls unless there is a terrible disaster about to happen, and this qualified.  The meeting was going nowhere, the air in the room was being depleted at a tremendous pace, had I not jumped in, we all would have been unconscious in a matter of seconds.  

I finally had to ask the buyer “why are we here?”  He looked puzzled, and said “what do you mean?”  I explained that young Steve had tried to uncover things, did quite well I thought, yet the buyer was almost fighting to stop the meeting from going anywhere, “so why are we here?”  After a pause, he explained that he was hoping to find a new process to help him reduce waste of material, that at the same time would not increase his maintenance cost or down time.  All things that Steve had probed for, and was promptly shunted every time. 

Rather than asking why he rebuffed young Steve, I asked, “what would you be doing about this had we not come in today?”  After even a longer silence, the buyer confessed that he was at a loss for ideas, and since none of the other providers had been able to help him, he met with Steve, but was sure that Steve would also be of no help.  Not entirely accurate, Steve actually had a solution, and after the deal was done, I called the now customer and asked him about the buying experience. 

When I asked what the turning point was, he brought up the fact that I asked why we were there, and what he would have done had we not called.  He said that he realised that by asking those questions, he felt that he had to put up or shut up, and since he did have a real issue, he put up, but said had the direct question not been put to him he would still be in the same mess he was in before our meeting.

While some may find these questions and others asked by some sales people a little direct, it is a lot better for everyone involved than wasting time and getting nowhere.

Many sales professional will tell you that their role is to be a catalyst, to ignite a reaction, to make things happen.  Well that is not always straightforward or easy.  Sometimes (more often than it actually happens), sales people have to say something unusual or radical in order to change the flow and direction of things.  After all, it is the sales person’s job to set and maintain the flow.  At times you can do this with knowledge and experience, you can do it with wit, but other times you have to be more than direct to create a new flow that serves everyone involved; if you have to radically change direction, you may have to be radical in how you do it.

I remember sitting with a great sales person, we’ll call him Harry, we were with a big but difficult client, renewal, budget cuts, you’ve been there.  The buyer was new to the role, looking to make her mark, but doing it in a most unprofessional way.  Rather than dialogue, we encountered attitude, a lack of respect, and stonewalling on every issue, almost every attempt to have a discussion was met with “much of that depends on who we go with, what are you prepared to offer?”  Every time, she rebuffed Harry’s attempt to have an interactive discussion, he politely acknowledged but would hold off a touch longer in asking his next question.  Despite knowing that it was renewal time, the buyer flippantly asked, “so why exactly are you here today?”  Harry calmly looked up, and said, “I am here to see if I can afford you as a customer.”  Needless to say, that changed the flow.  Of course, it helped that before the meeting we had inspected the possible outcomes to the meeting, one of which was no renewal due to the clients inability to meet the required number, so as a result Harry was in fact speaking the truth.  In the end they renewed, new terms, new pricing, still profitable. 

Changing the flow, and at time in a dramatic or direct way is often the best and only way to get a meeting back on track or bring it to a logical quick ending.  This is not to say that one should be confrontational or dramatic for no reason, but it also shows that one does not have to be soft, safe, and solely worried about appearances or relationships.  One does not have to be rude to be dramatic, and the only time you will be called rude, is when there is really nothing there anyways, and walking away, early, is the best for all involved, even if it may seem different at the time.

You can also achieve this through humour.  I remember being the suit at a large meeting, about 13 people from various parts of the buying company, the lonely rep and I from our company, it was a bit of a technical sale.  The crowd was tough, unengaged, some looked like they were having root canal.  Just before all the oxygen was sucked out of the room, the rep looked around, “any questions?”, no response, some re-crossed their arms, the rep looked around again and asked “so no one wants to play stump the sales person?”  After the wave of laughter died down, the meeting took on a new life, and rep had a new client.

So go ahead, mix it it up, challenge them, not for the sport but for the result, you know when you need to do it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Sales eXchange – 6726

I saw my first Christmas commercial on TV the other day, right in the flood of quarterly earnings reports, squarely confirming that we well in to Q4 and approaching the end of the year. Another confirmation came in the form of an invitation to complete a survey track current trends in sales and selling, capturing a snapshot of the current state of events as a predictor for 2011. You’ll see the results early in the year.

While the numbers are important, the big picture will I think continue to paint a familiar picture.  A picture that suggests that despite all the new tools and resources available to the average sales team, the overall results and outputs by sales teams has not changed or improved much.  Please note I said average, which means we have ignore those few on the bleeding edge, and the few that are stuck in the Stone Age forever. 

Now contrast the actual results with the ROI’s quote and highlighted by the various product and service provider in the business of helping sales people succeed.  You have to ask why the gap?  The answer will depend not only on your point of view and where you are in the hierarchy.  You can talk about a disconnect between various parts of the revenue organization, but in the end I think it comes down to the front line sales managers.

This is not pointing fingers or blame, it is more  a case of what in addition to the tools organizations are making available to their managers.  In many instances, the one piece that is missing is helping them coach using the tools.  After all the tool is only as good as the operator, and many reps see some tools as toys or nice to haves, these would be information and alerting tools; or as “big brother” “micro management” implements rather than productivity enhancers.

Not being a conspiracy theorist, I am working under the assumption that the gap is not as a result of some nefarious plot by any of the players involved, it is more a case of no one having helped the managers improve their coaching around the tools and their impact on a sales rep’s output and success.

The challenge is who is responsible for helping the managers integrate into their coaching, and how.  Vendors assume that the tools will make up part of the overall coaching scheme in place.  So if there is no coaching program in place that connection is never fully realised.  Where there is a coaching approach in place, companies assume that either the vendor will include this as part of the rollout and related training; or they believe that managers already have a road map based on the coaching program in place.

The solution, as is often the case, is simple, but not always easy to implement.  With our programs we insist that managers are fully involved in the Follow Up Action Plan, in order to not only ensure adoption, but also to help the managers integrate our programs into their coaching routine, or if there is no coaching routine, this helps begin that process.  So whether you are buying training services, or sales productivity tools, make sure coaching is a purchase criteria, and that there is a clear plan for how that will be part of the delivery and ROI measure.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Not long ago I heard a really absurd statement, an individual who presented himself as a sales professional, corrected me when I suggested a why question be asked of the buyer.  He stopped me and said “you can’t as why questions”.  I had to work really hard not to laugh, but this seemed really strange to me, maybe you feel differently, and please let me know if you do, but I don’t get it.

I asked this person, we’ll call him Jack, what he had against “why”.  The question specifically was directed to a recently acquired new client, a well fought and won competitive win.  If you had read my book on Trigger Events, you’ll know that analysing and examining the specifics of why you win or lose individual sales is a key element to learning and improving.   The question was “why made you choose us?”

“Oh no, no, no, you can’t ask that” said Jack.  I was about to say “why not?’, but I didn’t know how Jack would take it, but alas, I could not think of any other way to phrase it, so I went for it.  He said it is too aggressive and may turn the buyer off.   Ok, how should we phrase he question, Jack suggested “what made you choose us?”

Yes I can se the difference, not!

Now I know that words do make a difference in sales, but in all the years I have asked the question of knew clients, I have never met resistance, in fact I have learned a lot in the process.  In fact, when I asked a variation of that question from buyers who chose an alternate provider, I ended up learning a lot.  For me, “WHY” is one of the two most important words in sales, the other being how.  “How did you make the decision to use XYZ?”

What will get you the facts, why and how will tell you about the decision process.  Why would you not ask, but let me be inclusionary, what would prevent you from asking why?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Toronto Action Summit – October 16 -1714

If you are in Toronto this weekend, October 16 – 17, you should plan to attend the Toronto Action Summit.  This is an opportunity for entrepreneurs, individual business owners, or anyone looking to take things to the next level to not only hear from 9 leading experts, but to network with like minded successful local peers who can be there and help with you success.  From Marketing to Personal Healt, you will hear from people who are involved in making it happen daily.

I of course will be speaking on sales, specifically “Execution – The Last Word In Sales!“.

Register today, take advantage of special pricing offered to readers of The Pipeline.  When you enter the Code: FRIEND25, you will be able to purchase tickets for just $25 versus the regular $97, a $72 saving.

Your Price: $25
List Price: $97
Enter Code: FRIEND25
Please note if you are buying multiple tickets you will need to buy each individually and enter the code separately for each.

Click here for Details and to Register!

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