Welcome to The Pipeline.

Slow to Close or Slow to Die? – Sales eXchange – 12831

This time of year is a good time to ask, and to answer the question “What’s in Your Pipeline?

One of the things we discover are opportunities that have been there for some time, long term tenants.  Most of these are dead and should be tossed, but that may leave the pipeline a little lean, which is why they were left in the pipe to begin with, filler, more for appearance sake than results.  Eventually this build up does clog the flow of deals and opportunities through the pipeline and results in a massive attack on your income and success.

Some of these opportunities are real and need to be continued to be worked, others have been dead for a long time, and are costing you in multiple ways.  The challenge for many is which is which, are they indeed one of those opportunities that don’t conform to the norm, but will yield results, or are they just plaque in the pipeline?

First thing you have to do is define the “norm” that your opportunities need to conform to.  For me it has always been easy based on what I was trained and have practiced since.  First discipline is to understand the average length of your sales cycle, and by definition the average and optimal length of each stage of the sale.  While there may not be an exact number, there is a pattern and if you track it, you can quickly arrive at that number.  This is a breeze with some of the tools provided by leading CRM packages.  If you are stuck in a stage or a sale too long, it is less likely to close.  You know that, I know that, everyone knows it, so you are only fooling yourself by keeping it in your pipeline.  Some think, “If I have plenty to work on in my pipeline I have an excuse not to prospect”.  If something is past it “best before date”, you need to replace it, which is what most are trying to avoid.  At one point, the moment of truth comes and you will have to replace the plaque.  A simple way to change this is to dedicate time every day, every week to prospecting and adding new opportunities to your pipeline, and then you will be able to take out the trash and still have plenty of good in the pipe.

The other discipline was ensuring that you are dealing with buyers who are as engaged as you are in the outcome or sale.  You can tell who is engaged and who is not, and best of all you can ensure that they are, or be at fault when they are not.  The easiest way to achieve this is to focus on how to keep the sale in motion and moving in the right direction, achieving specific milestones in specific time frames.  This comes down to having active opportunities in the pipe vs. inactive.  How do you determine who is active?  Two criteria, first, are they taking steps to move the sale forward, are they investing the time, resources; are they active participants, or passive spectators.  If you are able to consistently get them to commit to actions to be achieved in specific timeframes, you are getting next steps, and steadily marching towards the finish line with a willing partner who is also invested in making this happen in time.  That is an active prospect, if they are not actively engaged; they are not and should be removed.

The challenge sometime are those opportunities that do not conform, but are still viable opportunities, the ones that cause you to ask: “is this one slow to close, or slow to die?”  Valid question, but one that needs to be worked outside the pipeline.  Left in the pipeline, they will distract and siphon time and resources.  Remove them from your pipeline, you can still work them, but not suffer from a sluggish and underperforming pipeline.

We have all won deals that would be called anomalies when compared to the norm, so why treat them as though they were the norm.  Your pipeline should be made up of those opportunities that represent the norm, that is – predictable and manageable.  The goal is to deliver quota with the “norm”, and look at the anomalies as a bonus, for the very reason that they are not predictable, and therefore can’t be counted on.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you do not pursue some of these anomalies, long shots if you will.  What you don’t want to do is pretend that they will come through when you have no way of mapping or predicting them.  If you cannot answer the question “is this one slow to close, or slow to die?”, then you need to remove it from your pipe, and work those that are predictable.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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The REAL Problem with Sales Training18

The Pipeline Guest Post – Jonathan Farrington

It seems that every week we are being told that sales training is not working in a very high percentage of cases – 85-90% was one statistic I read just yesterday

And actually I agree. In my opinion, hundreds of millions of dollars world-wide are wasted every year on irrelevant, unnecessary or inappropriate sales skills development. There are four obvious reasons ….

To begin with, the one off program may supply a short term motivational buzz and provide the delegate with a number of thought provoking ideas. However, in reality, once they are back at the “front-line”, the day to day pressures of hitting quota, etc. take over again and the reactive mindset returns.

Secondly, most – not all – but a very high percentage of courses on offer today deliver what I term “generalized” skills development.

For example, a person operating within the aerospace sector, negotiating multi-million pound contracts can find himself sitting next to a young saleswoman who markets insurance policies and is based in a call center. On her right is another person who is developing a successful career in manufacturing, selling hydraulic components and next to him…..I think
you will appreciate my point.

To achieve sustained success in all of these disparate industries requires specific skills sets and the “generalized” workshops simply cannot deliver them.

Thirdly, most – and again I would estimate it is at least 80% of – training organizations today make the assumption that all delegates are at the same level in terms of experience, expertise and have the same “commercial bandwidth”. This is of course, totally unrealistic.

Whilst it is not possible to equate age and experience with success, the reality is that, although some professional salespeople do have ten years’ experience, most have one year’s experience ten times! The very best salespeople – the ones that consistently exceed expectation, have usually received ongoing skills development from the “emerging” stage all the way through “advanced”, right up to “consultative” level if appropriate, but the keyword is “ongoing”

Finally – and this is the most significant and blatant error of judgment most Sales Directors make – every member of the team receives the same training, i.e.they are all dispatched off to the same course, regardless of whether or not they already have those skills or if indeed they need to have them in their current role.

The point here is that there is far too little planning, assessing and objective setting – it is much easier to abdicate responsibility to the training company… The downside to this approach is, of course, so much money is wasted!

So what is the answer? I don’t have all the answers, does anybody? But I have some of them, and I invite you to download the FREE white paper – registration is not required.

About Jonathan Farrington

Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author, consultant, and sales strategist, who has guided hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals around the world towards optimum performance levels. He is the CEO of Top Sales Associates, Chairman of The jf Corporation and the creator of topsalesworld.com, topsalesmanagement.com and the annual Top Sales & Marketing Awards. Jonathan is based in London and Paris.

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Demo Is a Four Letter Word27

This is not about bashing demos, but more about how many sales reps use, or misuse them, and the lost opportunities that result from the misuse.  The fact is that many in sales love demos because they feel that it creates the sale for them; and while it would be easy to blame the rep, it is often part of the corporate approach.  Many sales processes are built around the demo rather than discovering, deriving, driving and delivering value.  Nothing is more of a throwback to feature based selling than selling by demo.

What differentiates a good demo from a bad one is the demo’s timing and sequence in the sale.  In most instances, a seller meets a prospect, they have the right title, a pulse, and agree that they have the time for a demo; once completed, they spend time and effort retrofitting the “needs” of the buyer to things that seemed to appeal to them in the demo.  The net result is a longer sale, with more work, and generally reduced value for both the buyer and the seller.

Read On…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Go Ahead, Sell On Price – Sales eXchange – 12717

We all know the potential pitfalls of “selling on price”, but usually that statement is incomplete.  If you were to sell at a price that represented full value for you, your company, and the buyer then there wouldn’t be that much talk about the whole thing would there?  Why not, because everyone realised value, and since value is subjective, it is not tied to a specific number, but to other elements, usually the buyers’ objectives and the challenges they perceive in attaining them.

So rather than spending time talking and worrying about price, sellers need to spend that time and energy building value in the mind of buyer, based on their current requirements and circumstance.  First thing we need is a definition of value.  Because this is such an important element of sales success, the tendency among many in sales and those talking to sales (people like me), to over complicate the definition, often introducing the attributes rather than focusing on defining value; once defined you can look at some attributes, and how to leverage those in establishing the level of value required by the client and you.

Lets start with the definition:

Buyers will see value in those things that eliminate barriers and gaps between where they are now, and their objectives.

If their objectives were easily attained, they would get to it and do it.  The fact that they may be seeking a solution, suggests that they are facing some challenges, obstacles and gaps in their ability to attain those objectives, or what I call opportunity.

Knowing what those objectives are require leveraging experience, work and discipline.  Let’s be clear, this does not exclude new sellers, experience includes leveraging the collective experience of your company and fellow sales people.

Experience involves reviewing outcomes of previous deals, not just those you win, but losses, and the ones that went to no decision.  Simply stated, understanding the wins will help you understand what to look for and repeat.  The other two, allow you to spot changing trends and help you avoid the tunnel vision created when you look only at the wins.  The bonus to the no decision camp is the opportunity to rekindle the opportunity with elements learned, and create a win in shorter time frames.

Couple the above with the core elements that impact buying decisions, that is why people buy, and more specifically why they buy your product, and from you.  You now have the base to build from, building the question set, you need to nail the objectives, the related obstacles and gaps.  With this in place you are now ready to Mine The Gap for success.  The interesting aspect of this is that while it is simple, it takes real work to execute, and offers no short cuts; in fact if you do try to short cuts, it will punish you with failure.  Sorry, no silver bullet here.

On the other hand, if you do develop the discipline, you will be able to engage with those who seem to be all set or uninterested, and be pleasantly surprised by the fact that people see the value you bring, and be willing to pay full value for it.  So go ahead, sell on price, full price.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2011

The six elements of a perfect sales meeting19

The Pipeline Guest Post – Matt Heinz

Do you dread the weekly sales team meeting? Feel like it’s wasting your time? If so, somebody’s not doing it right.

Reviewing a pipeline report may not be your idea of fun, but effective sales meetings are well-planned, well-executed, and full of information highly relevant to making reps better and both extracting & sharing information that can help the entire organization accelerate sales, customer and revenue growth.

Here are the six elements that, combined, make for a powerful regular sales team meeting.

1. Metrics
This is where you start. An empirical, objective, numbers-based look at current performance and what’s left to achieve. This is cause for celebration and alarm (often with the same dashboard), and will set the tone for the rest of the meeting. There shouldn’t be any surprises here, but it can drive urgency and focus in both the hour and days ahead.

2. Recognition
Take the time to recognize great performances across the team. It can be something as big as a huge new enterprise deal, or a small as the new guy’s first successful appointment. No matter how difficult your market or month is, there’s always something to celebrate.

3. Voice of the Customer
We’re not selling in a vacuum. At each meeting, the customer should be heard. This can be an overview of new research, feedback from a recent customer briefing, review of new market trends or analyst data, or even a quick presentation or interview (live or recorded) with an actual customer. No matter how you present it, ensure the customer has a place at the sales meeting table on a regular basis.

4. Training
Constantly make your team better. Bring in outsiders to teach a skill or customer insight. Review the latest product features. Practice objection-handling or consultative selling skills. Do role-playing. Review & discuss a new perspective, blog post or article you found. Training and learning is an everyday thing for the best salespeople in the world. Institutionalize this in your organization more frequently than you do it today.

5. Deal Drill-Down
Choose someone on the team to walk through a current or recent deal. This can either be a recently-closed deal and how it happened, or it can be a deal that’s stalled (and how/why it got there). The former allows an opportunity for your team to learn best practices from others in context, and the latter allows the team to help each other break through roadblocks and move deals forward.

6. Motivation
End each meeting on a positive note. This is different and separate from individual recognition. This is about firing up your team to burst out of the conference room and back on the phones or into the field. How great sales managers do this is personal (a video clip, a joke, a motivational quote, etc.), but we know sales is an emotional job. Play to that and send your troops back out to victory.

What have I missed in this list? What are essential elements you have used or experienced in great sales meetings?

About Matt Heinz

Matt Heinz brings more than 12 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations, vertical industries and company sizes. His career has focused on delivering measurable results for his employers and clients in the way of greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.  Matt is President of Heinz Marketing Inc.

Tactical use of Voice Mail13

Voice mail continues to be a topic of discussion whenever sales people get together.  For me the question of whether you do or do not leave voice mails when prospecting is so Sales -1.0, you do!  In the past we have looked at effective voice mail techniques, but here I was asked what other uses and advantages there can be to voice mail.  You can see my answer below, try it out, have some fun, and make some sales.


What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2011

5 Ways to Holiday Proof Your Pipeline! – Sales eXchange – 12614

A few years back I ran an article in our monthly newsletter – also call The Pipeline – talking about the perils of allowing your pipeline to take a holiday this time of year, called Make it a Happy New Year Now.  Rather than rerunning it as I have in some subsequent years, I thought we would take a fresh approach and highlight specific things you can do to make sure you enjoy the holiday season and still start next year in a successful way.

Clear out your pipeline – You know as well as I do that you have collected a lot of plaque over the last 12 months, clogging up your pipeline, giving you the false illusion that you have something to work on, while preventing you from getting to new opportunities due to clutter in the pipes.  Get rid of the dead wood, you can always revisit them later; with the clutter gone, you`ll be left with things you may close by year end, or kick the year off strong.

Re-fill your pipeline – With the cleaning done, you now have room for new real opportunities.

Call every prospect that went with someone else between December 2010 and the end of March this year.   They have had time to experience their decision and some will have realised they made a mistake, and some of those will be willing to do something about it.  The same can be said for deals that did not end in any decision at all.

Don`t allow yourself to be distracted – there are plenty of distractions this time of year, not the least of which are the pressures to “close” for year end and the draw of the holiday related events.  While you can feel good about closing some new business, and meeting with clients and others to celebrate the season, it could put a crimp in your plans to start the year strong.  While I am not suggesting you don’t close what you (realistically) can, or that you don’t celebrate the season, just make sure you continue to prospect, regardless of what the nay-sayers tell you about prospecting during Christmas season.  There are people looking to make decisions, and you should help them make them.

Make sure you have client appointments your first day back – A focus on the above point, but make sure you have at least one new prospect meeting your first day back after New Years, and one with a prospect in the pipeline, and finally with a client you are looking to upsell.  The tendency among most is to come back – catch up with colleagues, move some paper around, plan, and get ready to sell.  Forget that, nothing gets you going better than a client/prospect meeting, make sure you set that up now.

Create an Action Plan – Many sales people spend time planning this time of year, either voluntarily – or more common – they are tasked by their manager.  Many of these plans are big picture, broad and general.  While that is necessary and good, you need to action them.  Make a detailed, step by step plan for achieving specific benchmarks and milestones within specific accounts/opportunities.  Make sure these include, names, times, actions, contingencies, and Plans B and C.  They should be clear enough, that if you win the lottery on December 26, and decide not to come back to work, someone can pick things up without losing a stride.  And since most of us will not win that lottery, it will be good to have that detailed plan to help us win when we come back

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2011

Ten Point Phone Marketing Checkup for Lead Generation and Qualification16

The Pipeline Guest Post – Michael A. Brown

Rate what you do and how you do it. Then add up the points.

1.    The calling lists we rent or buy are based on

Demographics; e.g., SIC code, number of employees. Zero points
Business actions; e.g., moves, mergers, new processes. One point.
Affinities; e.g., related purchases, memberships. One point.

2.    We get our reps ready to call and then improve their skills by

Training and practice. One point.
Teaming with another rep. Zero points.
Throwing them on the phone. Subtract one point.
I don’t know. Subtract one point.

3.    When on the phone our callers follow

Scripts. Zero points.
Call/question guides. One point.
The data fields on their computer screen. Subtract one point.
Their instincts. Subtract one point.

4.    Our supervisors and managers monitor calls and coach our reps

Every day. One point.
When they can. Zero points.
Seldom. Zero points.
Never. Subtract one point.
I don’t know. Zero points.

5.    In how many seconds can your callers describe what your company does?

5-10. One point.
10-15. Zero points.
15-up. Subtract one point.
We’re so well known, they don’t have to. One point.

6.    What portion of lead generation calls results in substantive conversations?

Less than 5%. Subtract two points.
5% – 15%. Subtract one point.
15% – 25%. Zero points.
25% – 50%. One point.
50% up. Two points.
I don’t know. Zero points.

7.    What portion of lead generation and qualification conversations results in the prospect taking the next step in your marketing or sales process?

Less than 5%. Subtract two points.
5% – 15%. Subtract one point.
15% – 25%. Zero points.
25% – 50%. One point.
50% up. Two points.
I don’t know. Zero points.

8.    After the calls, we classify our leads as

Qualified or not qualified. Zero points.
Hot, medium, cool or A, B, C. Zero points.
Rated on a point-scale according to agreed criteria. Two points.
Whatever our gut and experience say. Subtract one point.
We don’t classify, we just send them along. Subtract two points.

9.    Your level of confidence that your own CEO would accept the kind of calls your reps are making

Slim to none. Subtract two points.
Quite low. Subtract one point.
So-so. Zero points.
Pretty high. One point.
Certain. Two points.
I don’t know. Subtract one point.

10.    Your level of confidence that your sales channel(s) will act on the leads you produce

Slim to none. Subtract two points.
Quite low. Subtract one point.
So-so. Zero points.
Pretty high. One point.
Certain. Two points.
I don’t know. Subtract one point.

Ten points or higher? You’re looking good. Congratulations!

Nine or eight? Make the tactical adjustments before your competitors force the issue for you.

Seven or six? Your lead efforts probably are mismatched to your sales requirements and almost certainly under-performing as well. Better make some big improvements.

Under six? Stop reading this and get professional guidance right now.

© 2011, Michael A. Brown

About Michael Brown

Michael A. Brown helps business marketers approach, influence, advance, and sell … via consulting and training. Clients include a “who’s who” of successful companies, from startups to the Fortune 100. Contact Michael in Austin, Texas, 800 373-3966. www.BtoBEngage.com

Vendors, Sellers & Resellers30

Earlier this year i had the opportunity to be the MC a number of events aimed at helping vendors and resellers better leverage the opportunities available to both through a consistent execution of their mutual strategy. The interview below looks at the resources available to both vendors and resellers to help them sell better, take advantage of the opportunities presented by the cloud and managed services. But as with any resource, you need to utilize it to benefit from it, your clients are turning to these new resources, the question is are they also turning to you?

Watch, enjoy, comment, put thing to use and profit, and if you like what you hear, give me a call and let’s discover how we can make it work for you, your team or company.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2011

It's About the Buyer, Stupid! – Sales eXchange – 12527

I was recently read a couple of things that got me to think about some aspects of sales, while not specific to day to day execution, I think worth sharing as we consider how we can attack and win given whatever 2012 brings.

There was one piece in Fast Company, looking at the battle between Apple and Android for mobile and other device dominance. They compared the battle to that of a political campaign, with platforms, the gamble, upside and risks for organizations and manufacturers take on in selecting one over the other. Reminded me of the debate between Sales 2.0 and Sales Un-dot, especially when you are exposed to the passion and noise from all these camps. At one point the article mentioned the factor of proprietary systems vs. open source; this resonated with me as you can see a similar debate in sales; that is those who promote a specific one size fits all approach to selling, versus those who offer a fluid methodology that helps sales people improve their craft in an open ended way.

In many ways, like in technology, the proprietary methods provide great ways to deal with aspects of complex sales, or specific stages or phases of a sale. The downside is that you have to do it entirely their way, it is all about the box, you either love being in it, or risk failure. Never been much of a black & white guy, and I suspect most long term successful sales professionals have also felt restrained by the box, no doubt leading to the term thinking outside the box. I further suspect that most would see themselves in the “open source” sales camp, evolving and improving with the market and customer demands; demands that are forced to evolve with the market and other developments.

The challenge with the “boxed” or proprietary approaches is that they tend to start with a specific challenge in a specific vertical or type of sale. Sometimes these translate well to other types of sales, most often they don’t, hence their limitation. When combined with other “sales systems”, you do get the advantage of a varied approach; this no doubt is how the “open source” sellers leverage the “boxed” without being trapped. The challenge for the proprietary box sellers is that they either need to evolve, rare, or try to retrofit every situation to their “method”, less rare, and less effective in almost every way.

Just as I was getting my head around this question, especially being the co-author of a “boxed type” book, but a practitioner of “open source” selling, which is what the current book will serve up, I read another interesting piece by my friends over at Sales Benchmark Index, always great reading. They were suggesting that you “Don’t read any sales best practices written pre-internet. They no longer apply.” Hmm, bad news for SPIN, Miller Heiman, PSS and host of others.

But I wouldn’t lose much sleep over it since I don’t think human nature (and yes buyers are human), has changed all that much since the advent of the web. Seems like Marshall McLuhan creeping into sales, but in reality for buyers it is not the medium, it is the message, which is why things written before the internet still work when executed properly. Don’t believe me, just watch some old sales training films from the 1930’s and 40’s, and you’ll hear a lot of familiar concepts promoted by the post internet sellers. So to borrow from Marshall and Bill Clinton, “it is the buyer, stupid, not the medium”.

At about this point many of you should be asking what’s the point? Exactly, and for those that didn’t ask, thank you and good selling.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2011

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