Welcome to The Pipeline.

4D – Four Deep – Sales eXchange – 5932

Certain clichés take root and become part of the tapestry without much if any re-examination of their current reality.  Sometimes there is no harm in this, but other times simply accepting something just because it has been around a while, and is repeated by many who have not given it a second thought or spent effort validated it, can lead to issues.  What you generally find is that those who take the time and effort to go beyond clichés , “mottos” or widely accepted wives tails, tend to do better over the long term. 

Sales is no exception, there are saying and myths that are repeated and accepted despite the fact that their time and effectiveness may have passed.  They may be part of the “common culture”, but have lost meaning over time; they looked good at first, but have worn thin over time.  One such saying widely accepted but not always true is “People Buy From People”.

There is no doubt that there are elements of fact in the statement, but there is also potential risk in over relying on this statement.  This is especially so if you are selling a service or a product where retention is key to your company realising a payback over time, or if retention and upselling is key.  Basing your long-term sales success on it can cost you and your company a lot of money and clients.

Saying people buy from people is one of those feel good statement that sales professionals and pundits throw around with “religious conviction”, which allows them to brand anyone questioning it as a heretic.  Cool, I’ll wear the label, and keep the commissions that go with it.

Let acknowledge upfront that personal rapport is important in sales, but not as important as the cliché would imply.  While the individual sales person is important, a number of sources have shown that buyers do look at the overall organization when it comes to a buying decision.  One source I read showed that people want to deal with those sales people who can demonstrate that they can marshal the full resources of their companies.  While the sales person is important, it is the resources and access to them that drive decisions.  Studies have also shown that buyers want to deal with those companies that are committed to research and development, have proven they are innovators over time, and are responsive to the clients’ needs not only in sales, but also in important things such as conflict resolution, i.e. resolving bad invoices. 

One thing to consider is how few customers follow a rep when they leave a company who has proven they are responsive, innovative, demonstrate thought leadership and are customer focused.  I worked with a company that had a high level of turnover in sales people; it was the nature of the trade as opposed to a company flaw.  Knowing they had this issue, they focused a lot on their customers.  Their surveys continued to show a higher than average level of retention when compared to the rest of the sector.  One specific feedback was that despite the many reps clients had, they always had contact from the current rep, and other key people in the seller company; including product, service and the executive.  The result, they always felt attended to and they never felt they were not being serviced.

One way to achieve this is to implement a program known as 4D, or Four Deep.  This is a process of making sure that as soon as someone becomes your customer, or even before, you begin to have relationship on at least four levels with the customer organization.  The first is obviously the sales person with the natural buyer; if you are selling sales training that would be the VP of Sales, IT related services, the CTO or CIO.  Another we recommend is Finance to Finance, that is your CFO reaching out and striking a relationship with the customers CFO or VP finance.  Price and money are always a big deal, so cover it directly. 

At the service level, your service person directly with their service or user support person.  We are not just talking about assigning a name to the account, and entering it in the account profile.  We mean Harry picking up the phone and talking directly to the support person within the account, and developing a relationship with them that goes beyond service tickets or annual parties.  The fourth depends on the nature of the product, but if you are selling anything that can be sold as a “solution”, I would suggest your CEO or President strike a one-on-one with their counterpart at the customer company.

Think of it as a four-legged stool, if one leg goes, it will remain standing.  If you are relying on one or two relationships based on personalities not dependencies, what happens if one goes.  We have all lost accounts when there was a change in a position within the client company.  I know plenty of sales people who covered their “natural buyer”, only to be undermined by a new CFO or President.  Had there been four relationships, this could have been managed and avoided, but with only one direct relation, the sale rep and IT Director or Regional Director of Sales, you are exposed. 

4D goes beyond just having an “executive sponsor” or “executive angel” program that many companies have and benefit from.  Many clients appreciate it, but see it for what it is.  The 4D approach requires a very hands on effort by each of the four involved to not only cement each individual relationship, but also make sure that everyone is aware of the various relationships.  This makes it more difficult for anyone to “just act” without input from the other three.

It is true that people buy from people, but they also stop buying for a bunch of reasons, one common one being price, how many times have you won an account, only to lose it next time around because you were undercut by a few points.  Where are the people buying from people there?  I had a rep work for me in Ottawa selling to the government.  She came bouncing into my office one day telling me that she had landed a big department after a long cycle.  She credited the win to her relationship with the head of IS.  The following year, renewal time – we lost the account; one of our competitors offered another 5%.  What happened to the great relationship, the “they love me”?  Had I had deployed the 4D approach then, I am sure it would have turned different.

Yes, people buy from people, but they stay with the best provider, the best way to ensure that is to provide a great product and service, but also to have the broad relationships that will ensure everyone is aware of the quality of the service and has some interest invested in maintaining it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Trade Me22

One of the sidebar discussions that resulted from the last few posts about sales process and related topics like what to do with your under performers, was a novel concept that will never catch on, but hey, it’s Friday.

Everyone in sales loves sports analogies, right, so what do savvy professional sport coaches and general managers do when they have talent that does not fit in, is underperforming – or does not conform to the system?

They trade them!

What if like in professional sports, you could trade those members of the team that were not following the process, or were deemed to be ‘C’ players based on your specific criteria. 

I know some of you are thinking who would want an underperformer.  The answer and reality is a lot more than one would think or many would admit to.  How many times have you seen companies hire away sales people from their direct competitor?  How many times have they paid a signing bonus to get that rep to sign.  How many times have those individuals crashed and burned?  The answer is lots, don’t even bother to protest, I have had front row seats to this passion play unfold dozens of times.  It was done where I worked, and I see it regularly in all different verticals.  So like it or not, the market is out there for this, the musical chair game is played every day, and more aggressively in up markets, when there is a perception of a lack of talent, when in most cases it is just a lack of bodies. 

Box: Further how many times have companies hired a rep from a competitor in the hope of not only getting talent, but also because “Joe has a good book, he has been with them for years, and he will bring that book with him.”  Ya, right, clients are not stupid, for them to follow Joe, he would have to be a rock star, and if he were he would stay where he is rather than jump ship and leave behind the investment he has made in his account base.  If he is not good, the clients will stay where they are, they know that it is the company that is delivering, not Joie!

But let’s keep in the realm of hypothetical, even I realize that there is a difference between sports and sales, but why not consider trading.  I hear people say over and over that sales people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers, and I have never heard anyone challenge that.  So if you buy that, then who is to say that Susie would do better with a different manager at a different company, with a different process. 

In some ways many companies are living the effect now, they hire a new sales manager or a regional sales director, and they end up bringing “their crew” with them.  If the community accepts this practice, how much of a stretch would it be to move some of the people around at other times?  With non-competes and all, maybe you can frame it as though you were trading for future consideration, hmm?

So what do you think, too wild ha? Oh well, had to bring it up.  Have a good weekend, unless it is the trade deadline in your vertical!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What To Do With Your 'C' Players35

Another line of feedback I got on the post last Friday about the role of the sales process, was about my comment regarding why the manager in question was wasting her time on ‘C’ players. The implication clearly being that it was time not well spent, let me be clear, it is more than an implication; it is my view is specifically that spending time with ‘C’ players is a mistake, and time you will not see a return on.

I know that there are a number of schools of thought on this, and while I line up clearly with one, I recognize that there are other views and roads to success; it a subjective thing, but I believe the approach discussed here delivers consistent results over time.  It is also important to note there is not a lot new when it comes to handling different performers in your organization, the wheel has been invented, and it really does come down to how you spin it, and as always, execution.

It is important that as a manager or a sales leader you rate and rank your team members. These rankings should be objective and equally applied.  One of the problems that tends to develop around the “weaker” team members, is the level of subjectivity managers allow to get into the process, the more objective you keep things the better the result for all involved.  As an example, I remember being involved in a discussion around lay-offs, and the reluctance of an executive to pull the plug on a weak performer, because “they liked them” and because they were striving to maintain a certain gender balance in the team. There is no room for this in issues impacting the company’s revenues, success and the individuals involved.

So the whole thing starts with developing key attributes and criteria by which you are going to rate and rank your reps.  It does not have to be complex, a straight forward process mapped to specific skill needed to successfully execute your sale (click here to download a simple sample).  I like a three tier approach, A, B, C; or 1, 2, 3; red, white and blue, whatever turns you on.  Some like four or five tiers, for me I think three is just right.

With a structure in place, it becomes a question of where organizations, leaders and managers want to spend their time and energies.  I am squarely in the camp of those who say spend the majority of your time with your ‘A’ players, some of your time with ‘B’ players who show REAL potential of becoming ‘A’, spend no time with the ‘C’ players.   This may seem cold to some, and I respect their view, but it is not for me.

If you buy into the fact that your top few players deliver 80% of your results, why would you not spend all your time with them?  I hear things like “they know what they are doing, you should help the ones who are struggling instead.”  But assuming that everyone has been given the same resources, the same hiring process, the question becomes why are they a ‘C’, while others are delivering at an ‘A’ level?

By spending time with the ‘C’ players you are not only insulting the ‘A’ player, but running the risk that the ‘A’ player may leave and the ‘C’ will stay.  Let’s be real, the ‘A’ guy has options, while there is no doubt that environment feeds success, they are likely to be top tier no matter where they go, and they will not lack options.  The ‘C’ player is not sought after, they have no where to go, and by lavishing attention on to them you will only encourage them to stay and keep falling short.  It is much better for everyone involved to face facts, and moved on.

Reward those that deliver and ignore those that don’t.  It will not take them long to figure out that if they want your attention, your “love”, they will have to earn it with performance not a lack of it. 

If you do have ‘C’s the big question is how quickly can you replace them with an ‘A’?  Again I come from the school of “hire slow, and fire fast”.  Everyone is allowed a mistake, sometimes the best sale a rep makes is during the interview process, the question is how fast do you live up to the mistake and deal with it?  Most sales managers get nervous when they have a vacant territory, and they end up settling for things as a result.  You hear things like “oh he’s coming around”, “we’re working with her on…”  While I understand the perceived potential impact and cost of a vacant territory, it is nowhere near the real cost of a bad hire, both if they stay, or if you have to end up replacing them. If you can recognize an ‘A’, then you should strive to hire ‘A’s, and live with a vacant territory until you can; in the long run you will regret it less, and build a stronger team in the process.

Again I realize we are dealing with people here, and I don’t mean anyone any harm.  In most cases once the ‘C’ sales person lands in the right job based on their skills, they look back with relief.  Look at it a different way, if you were managing a ball club, and you had a player who consistently under performed, and one that was a league leader.  Which one would you trade, and which one would you bonus?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales Process vs. Seniority – Sales eXchange – 5830

On Friday, I posted a piece titled Why Have A Sales Process If It’s Not Being Followed, about why some organizations have a sales process when it is not followed or adhered by everyone. There were a number of different responses addressing different aspects of the issues raised, others rationalizing why a sales process does not always have to be followed.

Consider other areas of your company where process is key, would you allow workers there to deviate and do their own thing?  Look at finance, logistics, IT, customer support, etc.  The answer I suspect is no.  So has sales really distinguished itself that much?

One theme was around the question of experience; the notion that process is a good way to onboard new people, but as they gain experience, it is not always vital for them to stick with the program. While no one phrased it like that, the sense was that they had almost earned their wings or parole if you will. Many seem to have the reaction that a sales process is something restrictive, some even responded as though it was a means manipulating a prospect. 

Some people were more specific and instead of just basing it on experience, they tied adherence to success, if you are hitting your numbers, you can skip the process.  While this makes sense on the surface, it still creates issues, and I would argue that it is still not the best idea, here is why. 

As mentioned in the post Friday, a process is very much like a system or structure in sports.  Let’s use the example of Phil Jackson, the Lakers coach.  Having proven his ability to provide a structure for winning, there is no doubt experienced and winning players like Jordan and Pippen had to follow the system the same way as other Bulls.  Just witness the fact that after Jackson took over the Lakers, and O’Neal and Bryant adopted the system they went from being contenders to three time champions.  Again despite their experience, ability and track record.  Why would the same not be true for sales people?  I have seen VP’s of sales introduce a new process (read system) to existing organizations and realize measurable difference.  At the same time, we have also seen sales leaders with little more than Rah-Rah, just make people feel good about their lack of results.

Further to experience, experience without results equals no results.  With studies showing that barely over 50% of B2B sales people making their goal, I am sorry if I do not see a direct coloration between experience, success and the need for structure.  Again, if the argument was made around success, maybe that would be different, but even there I go back to Jordan following the same system as others on the bench. 

One other thing about experience, I often get VP’s telling me that they have “an experienced team 12 – 15 years experience”; when I ask them if that “is 12 – 15 years of growth and improvement, or the same year 12 times over?”  Their silence and crooked smile often provides the answer.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Why Have A Sales Process If It's Not Being Followed28

I was discussing sales process with a sales manager the other day, and her challenge in having her team adhere to it and execute it consistently.  She informed that not everyone on her team “has to stick to it”.  She went on to say that she only has her ‘C’ players “stick to it”.  She explained that those who are working hard and getting the deals in do not have to adhere to it, only those who are not doing well. 

I asked her if her top performers were the same people year after year.  She said not really, but it was hard to say for two reasons, first a high turnover rate; second, as she brought new people on she first focused on product, pricing and order entry,  she introduced the company sales process after the first two or three months.  So who was going with the process? “Those that want to and those that are not making their numbers”. 

This seemed odd to me, why bother having a process if it is only executed selectively.  While on the one hand I understand the notion that if someone is consistently hitting their numbers you may be inclined to cut them some slack.  However, that did not seem to be the case here, she told me that over the last four years (since she has managed the team), the top three performers were always different.

The big concern I have is what is the less than subtle message to here her ‘B’ and especially her ‘C’ players.  I suspect they are thinking that “hey, Harry is hitting his numbers and not sticking to the process, why should I?  I bet that is why I am not doing well, this process thing is just messing me and my sales up.”  Can you blame them for thinking that way?

Further, my experience has been that those who are always delivering usually have a process they follow, so if the company process is optional they will follow their own, but if the company’s process is viable and is the standard, they will execute it on an ongoing basis.  I bet Michael Jordan “stuck” with Jackson’s process/system.

The manager should be working with her ‘A’ players to make sure that they making it clear that they are indeed using the process and is a factor in their success.  I bet “sticking” to the system is one of the things that made Jordan a leader over and above his play.  The reality is that the process Harry uses may not be 100% by the letter, but is more than likely close, and would certainly adhere to the spirit of it.   This should suffice in convincing the ‘C’ players that the process does indeed work and puts money in their pocket.

Of course the other question here is why is she bothering to waste time with ‘C’ players, time is too precious to squander on the bottom feeders, she should be lavishing her time on the ‘A’ gang, the ones making her look good, and putting money in her pocket.  More on that in another post sometime.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

No Right – Just Wrong!23

Sales people, and I suppose practitioners in other fields, spend a lot of time, money and effort looking for the “right way” to do things.  Many work for organizations that support them in this, some financially, some through process. But I sometimes believe and tell them that perhaps they are focusing on the wrong thing, they can realize more progress by focusing on what they are doing wrong.

People are creatures of habit, and changing those habits is a big thing and a bigger effort.  Change is hard for most and as such daunting for most and often leads to little, partial or no success in introducing new initiatives.  We have all seen the lengths people will go to in avoiding change.  This is why we include the FOLLOW THROUGH ACTION PLAN with our programs. Helping teams cope with the stress of change, and ensuring adoption through practice.

What is often overlook the fact is that people can only deal with so many things at once, cerebral cortex  and all that stuff, you can look it up on the web.  If you look at thing spatially, there is only so much room or space, so before you can bring in something new, you need to clear out some of the old.  If you try to cram something in before you have created sufficient space, things will be crammed, jumbled and often broken. This is why sales programs often don’t lead to change and at times leaves individuals further behind than before the training.  Everyone is familiar with the impact of trying to get ten pounds into a five-pound bag.

One way to deal with this in sales is to focus on eliminating the wrong before you focus on introducing the “new right”. (Calm down Fox News fans).

Let’s face it there are no absolute rights in sales, many successful sales professionals use different techniques and steps to achieve success; even sales processes differ across different sales organizations. The one constant is execution, and that is less wrong or right, and more “are you doing it or not”.  At the same time, there are clear and absolute wrongs in sales that everyone can agree to, and many sales people continue to practice them.  So it would make sense that it is much more productive to focus on the eliminating these wrongs before one tries to introduce big change in the form of new rights.

This may be a bit of a departure, but rather than stamping you managerial feet and saying do this do that, do it this way, it is the right way of doing it, first work with your teams to eliminate things they are doing that are just plain wrong.  That in itself would be progress, don’t worry about getting them to do your version of “right” immediately, just focus on stopping the bleeding that occurs as a result of the thing they are doing wrong.  Once you have achieved that you can introduce steps they can take to succeed.

Don’t even say that what they are doing now is wrong, the discussion is not a good use of time.  Simply tell them “We do not do it that way anymore”.  Give them time to figure out what they might do instead, if they move closer to the “right” method, you have progress and momentum to work with.  If they don’t, then you can introduce elements but only after you have eliminated the wrong.

Rather than sweating it and working hard in an unproductive way, take comfort in the fact that there is no right, just wrong.  If you are not a manager, you can take these steps on your own.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Selling Before Not Just After22

Do you remember when you discovered a great restaurant before the mainstream crowds descended upon it?

Do you remember how you were able to relax, take your time and fully enjoy the whole experience?

Do you remember how disappointed you were last time you went to an advertised Thanksgiving day sale, only to find a huge crowd all trying to get their hands on the limited supply?

Do you remember the last time you did a great sales job and the prospect chose someone else? Do you know why?

One big reason for the let down was that you got there at the same time as everyone else, because you all “saw the same ad”. Chances are every other seller/competitor knew the buyer was in play, after all they advertised it like a Thanksgiving Sale! Wouldn’t you have rather had the opportunity to do your shopping in a relaxed methodical way, no hurry, being able to pay attention to detail, rather than becoming column fodder alongside other sellers who “saw the same ad” for the same prospect?

Read on…

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Velocity – Sales Myth or Objective – Sales eXchange – 5728

One of the holy grails for many in sales is “the shorter sales cycle”.  I have written about it, in fact my article “How to shorten your Sales Cycle?“, was voted the number 1 article by readers at Top 10 Sales Articles, you can find others looking at velocity and other ways to achieve this.  But is there a risk of going too far, where the focus on a shorter cycle leads to leads to diminishing returns and puts sales at risk.  Clearly, I believe there is a benefit to having a shorter cycle if it makes sense, otherwise I would not have written about it, but all within context.

For me shortening the sales cycle is about finding that optimal time or length, it is not about continuing to take weeks or days off the cycle.  I must say, I have seen reps take this to a Zen level, where they have got it down to no time spent on the cycle, you see them at their desk, telling me that “when the customer is ready to buy….”, Sales 3.0, and all.

Most people tell me that the quest for a shorter cycle is rooted in the belief that shorter cycles allow for more sales in a given period, typically 12 months.  But that is not always a fact, and putting focus and energy on it just compounds the potential risk or downside.  In fact, I have talked to some who believe that velocity is the key accomplishment and measure of a first meeting with new prospects.  (I guess that is slightly better than the trainer who once told my team that a sale is decided in the first 30 seconds with a prospect.)

A simple analogy for this can be seen if you look at baseball, there is no evidence that the more at bats makes you a better hitter or gets you more hits or improves your batting average or other stats. It still comes down to execution, which comes down to skill and practice.  It really is a question of doing it better, not doing it more and or faster. 

One of the challenges you run into is that many reps and front line managers don’t know how long their sales cycles are, and what the critical points are along the way. Time and again, data (if and when available) shows that actual sales cycles different than reps and managers believe. We recently surveyed the front line teams; they indicated that their average sales cycle for a specific product line was 45 days. When we pulled the data from the CRM, it showed an average 87 days from the same starting point to close.  Beyond the obvious questions about front line management, communication up and down the line and with sales ops, and the impact on the results and the effort resources used or wasted getting those results.

While focusing on shorter cycles sounds good, one of those silly things people say because it sounds good and makes them look in the know when it comes to selling, their focus should really be on finding the optimal length for their sales cycle.  This would be based on their product, buyers, market conditions, other market players, etc.  Armed with that knowledge they should then strive to have the right number of prospects at every stage of the cycle EDGE, and then focus on executing the sale.  This may initially take a bit of work, gathering the data and identifying trends, eliminating anomalies; it will also need to become part of their review routine to ensure that new variables are included and old, no longer valid variables are eliminated to ensure data is current and driving behaviour and results, rather than results driving just data.  It may be uncomfortable at first, but you may discover that you can do more with less, and while it may take longer than what sounds “good”, the proof will be in the results, and you’ll be able to get off the “cycle treadmill”.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

BANTER – Part 320

There are some old sayings that people use not because they are always true, but “they seem to fit”, you know “saving the best for last”, or “last but not least”, well today as we wrap up our BANTER series, it is entirely true that we saved the best for the last instalment.  BANTER again is the acronym for:

Budget
Accountability
Need
Timelines
Execution
Review

Monday we looked at Budget and Accountability, Wednesday we discussed Need and Timelines, today, the best, my favourite EXECUTION, followed by Review.

Execution – just the sound of it makes one feel good.  After all isn’t it the only thing that counts in the end.  How many sales books have been written?  Some great, others just sad.  How many sales training programs are there available to sales organizations, how many have you attended?  But no matter how good, even my programs, they are just words until they are executed.  Almost every sales person I have met knew what he/she had to do; the mystery has always been why they don’t do it.  Further, the difference between great and good is the execution.  I have seen reps put into practice what they have learned right away, they don’t always do it pretty, but they do it.  As they do it they improve, learn, refine and do it again, this time better.  The key is they execute, and as a result, they are way ahead of the ones who can rationalize why they haven’t done it yet.  We have all met that one rep, knows the whole book inside out, can quote you complete sections of SPIN, but haven’t made goal in the three years since the workshop because they haven’t put it into practice, no execution.

No matter what anyone tells you, the only silver bullet in sales is execution, everything else is just talk!

Review – The great thing about executing is it gives you something to review, learn from and build on.  I have never been a big football fan, but the one concept that has always appealed to me was the notion of “watching the game tapes”.  Every successful sales person I have worked with has spent part of their planning time reviewing, otherwise how could they really plan. 

They do this on a number of levels; starting with reviewing meetings to understand what worked what did not, why it did or did not.  How can they capture the pluses and build them into their playbook, and what can be avoided, or what has become outdated, etc.  Reviewing wins and losses are key; some do one, or the other, it is important to review both.  It is important to review, territories, personal sales skills and accounts.

When it comes to reviewing accounts, it is a good idea to do a review for you, but also a separate review with the client as well.  It is a great opportunity to take the focus off “selling”, and put it on what is important to the client.  It is a great way to demonstrate your responsiveness to their needs or to problems when they arise.  What evolves is an opportunity to get the client to discuss and review their priorities; it is amazing the type of insight and information you uncover during a review meeting.   You should involve everyone touched by your product, not just the buyer.  Often one of their people better makes the case for your quality and service than you.  You can also sit back and learn as they discuss internal issues among themselves.  You can then review you that and fine-tune your offering.  While reviews are not set up a sales calls, the fact that the client often get involved and let their “buyer face” down, it turns into a very productive sales meeting.

So now, you can review the whole BANTER series, and get to executing it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

BANTER 221

On Monday – I introduced a framework allowing sales people to fully engage when working with buyers, an easy to follow (which does not always mean easy to execute) process called BANTER:

Budget
Accountability
Need
Timelines
Execution
Review

We looked at the first two, Budget and Accountability, today we will look at Need and Timelines or Time.

Before we get into today’s elements, there are two very important things to remember as you read this series. As I introduce each of these elements, I am giving a couple of common examples based on the work I do with different B2B sales teams. These are not exhaustive by any means, and will vary greatly depending on your product or offering, so look at this as a starting point, but you will have work to do in fitting them in to your routine.

Second and more important is that there is no magic or silver bullet in sales, there is just EXECUTION. You can learn the BANTER elements, you can learn other methodologies, there are plenty out there, but if you do not execute and continuously work on improving your execution, it’s all just words.

Need – This is the one I struggle with a bit, as it fits the flow and the acronym, but may be misleading.  When it comes to discovery, many sales people think their job is to ask the prospect what their needs are, but those prospects who can answer that specifically are past the defining stage and well into the shopping phase, which is usually a disadvantage.   In fact, this is the flaw with some reactive approaches that prepare you for a “ready buyer”; these buyers exist, they have done their research, “know” what they “want”, are preyed upon by many sales people, and will tend to lean to price. 

The goal in the Need phase is to work with and help the prospect define the requirement and the relating opportunity.  By focusing on the buyer’s specific and organizational objectives, you can better link your solutions to those and build a sale where others may not see one.  The goal is to ignite rather than wait for a trigger obvious to all. 

This involves work, knowledge and the discipline to execute the discovery process in a consistent and methodical fashion, without shortcuts or assumptions.  Not always exciting, not sexy, but rewarding when properly executed. 

Timelines or Time – This works on so many levels, and you need to manage them all.  The obvious one is what is the buyer’s timeline?  Can it be accelerated?  Most importantly, can it be leveraged to accelerate the decision cycle?  There is a balancing act in managing your perception of time, and the buyer’s perception.  While it is unwise to push the buyer because you have a sale to make, you also can’t let the sale and cycle linger.  Again, Discovery is key.  By tying time to the clients objectives, and critical times or compelling event you can motivate a client to act.  Quite simply, if you can understand when the critical points in time are for the client, no matter how far in the future, you can usually work a timeline that will show them they need to engage and act well before that, like maybe now.  Internal planning, ordering equipment, training, budgets, implementation times, process alignment and adjustments, and other key steps can be highlighted as the impetus for acting now rather than later.  Again all based on the buyer’s realities.

There is also your timelines, what is the average length of your cycle.  How is that aligned with the buyer’s buy cycle.  Often a small misalignment here will cause great delay or a “no decision” situation.  To keep the sale on track you need to understand the proper timeline between stages; plan and manage what has to be in place at each stage to ensure forward movement.  To do this you need to plan each stage and meeting to fit within the proper timeline.  The challenge is more the number of moving parts, parallel processes, than the complexity of each part.  This why there is the temptation to take short cuts by ignoring some hoping that the others will get you through.  Not a good idea, it is much better to plan things out, I often map it out on paper, and even share it with the prospect.  This not only gets them involved and achieve buy in, but builds credibility and differentiation well before the field gets crowded by those who are sniffing around for “Needs”.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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