Welcome to The Pipeline.

You're Better Than You Think!11

Yes Small

One of the reasons I chose the URL www.sellbetter.ca for Renbor’s web site was to clearly communicate to decision makers and sales people that when we engage with them, we start from the premise that they know how to sell, probably sell well, and we are there to help you do it better.

There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that I didn’t want to come across like many sales trainers who approach their workshops or programs with an air of superiority. I still recall some trainers from my corporate life who literally oozed with attitude (misconception) that they were better than the people they were training. Sadly often they were not, this was especially true with the “adult educators”, who never really sold much of anything, including the gig at which they were looking down on us at.  Their air of superiority, not only made the experience unpleasant, but prevented them from effectively communicating even the little relevant content their programs may have had.

The other reason for www.sellbetter.ca is that many of the sales people we work with are damn good, and our goal is to help them be better and sell better. I always tell participants in our program that a sign of a good program for me is when I too learn something from the engagement, and often I do.

Many of the sales people I work with have more than what it takes from a skills point of view, what they often lack is, leadership, confidence, and as is the case for most of us, they lack time. The good news is that all of these things can be impacted and changed, and as a result benefit many sales reps we work with and as a result help them sell better.

So as we head into this Thanksgiving weekend (yes in Canada it is Thanksgiving this Monday), I would like to encourage sales professionals to take comfort in and gain confidence from the knowledge that as a sales professional most of You Are Better Than You Think!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

And don’t forget to enter our contest at www.soyouthinqcansell.com

Do You Know Why?10

Key & keyhole with light

There are a number of commonly accepted concepts and truths that seem to be ignored when it come to sales. While most in sales would not argue for the validity of these concepts, especially in a room full of peers; most will agree that they should be practiced. It’s just that when it comes to execution, one sees little evidence in the field.

If you buy in to the 80/20 rule, it may explain it. By the way, is it me, or maybe it’s inflation or something but many of the sales teams I am seeing seem to have moved to the less improved 90/10 rule, just an observation.

Two specific and complementary concepts that highlight this phenomenon are that knowledge is a barrier to learning; second, that curiosity leads to learning. Both should be practiced much much more in sales, and why they are not is not always clear and certainly not always the sales reps fault.

Part of the fault sits with those of us in the training world; we wind them up and tell them to gather all this knowledge and make sure that they know everything they need to in advance.  With all that knowledge is it any wonder that sales people can’t follow through on the rest of our advice, ask questions to get the prospect to engage and mutually define value. 

The result of this is that reps go in and demonstrate the great knowledge they have, and with all that knowledge they fail to take the opportunity to learn.

The other thing many reps seem to have lost a taste for is asking the question “why?”  Even when they ask sales questions, they often fail to follow through by asking why; why the prospect said what they did, why is it that way, why do they want do that, why do they want to do it that way, why did they make the choices they had, why did they not act on that, why would they risk not acting.  Why, a great word that can open the world.  But when you know everything, and have lost your curiosity because you’ve done your research and need to deliver and curiosity can slow things down, especially when you already know what the prospect really needs.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

And don’t forget to enter our contest at www.soyouthinqcansell.com

A Random Walk Up Sales Street – 1511

sales exchange

Ever Wonder What The Difference Is Between Number One and Two?

There seems to be lot of talk about the value of training these days (some in the business will tell you that it’s just talk). Much of it highlighting the benefits of training on thins such as client retention, morale, revenue and profit.  I have seen a number of trade journals lately espousing the importance of training, and its crucial role in making it through the recession and its further importance in fully participating in the recovery.

One such trade journal I was reading was in the lobby of a prospect.  This company bills itself and is recognized as a “leading company” in their industry.  During the meeting they informed me that they are most often second or third in a field of three. One of their stated objectives was to no longer settle for second or third; they have their eyes set on taking top spot of preferred vendor more often.  I didn’t get a next step this time (been there before), not the best for me but based on the discussion, I don’t there was good news for either party in the meeting.  They were very clear that they felt that their strategy was well defined, and that they were now in the midst of rolling out their plan (again). 

The current plan was devised and approved in the spring at the height of the impact of the economy on their industry.  As a result they made it clear that beyond product training they were not going to be investing in their team any time soon (contrary to the quote by their VP in the trade pub in the lobby). How did they rationalize this, you know, “our guys have 10 – 15 years experience”, (blah blah).  As usual I couldn’t resist the obvious question, “is that 12 years of continuous improvement or the same year 12 times over?”  The question was rhetorical, the answer was silence.  My goal was not to mock or ridicule, but to understand how it is they have struggled to make their numbers for the last three years, how were they going to ensure that the newest plan was going to be better? (Sort of like when I try to understand how the new improved Tide will get my clothes whiter than white, even whiter than the last improved Tide did).

What’s more revealing to me is that I am also working with another company in the sector, the “recognized leader”, and the one that has been consistently taking top spot in the field of three mentioned above.  With them the discussions are not around if and why, but around what and when.  I know for a fact that they are also working with another provider of sales training, because we have talked to ensure smooth seamless delivery.  This company has spent consistently in all markets, up – down – sideways, it is a core commitment, part of the culture.  It does fluctuate, not as a measure of the economy, but as a measure of revenue.  For years now they have tied the sales training budget to revenue, a fixed percentage.  This allows for two things, first there is always some form of training, in good years more elaborate, in down years more focused more remedial in nature.  Second addressing those things that everyone agrees will help them maximize opportunities.

I spoke with the VP in the latter company and asked why he takes this approach.  He was honest enough to admit that he didn’t have this attitude when he joined the company eight years ago.  He told me that when he first cut the training budget to cut costs, he was instructed to rethink the cut.  His president pointed out that IT training, engineering training, and other areas did not cut in lean times, they sought out way to improve process and execution, so why should sales be different.  He pointed out that he too has team members that have been in their jobs and territories for many years, but his team had always delivered at a better rate than the industry.  His customers have told him that they enjoy dealing with his team because of the enthusiastic and evolving approach to serving their needs.  In the current downturn he points to the fact that while the sector has been contracting a teetering on the brink of commoditization, his team has been able to hold the line or grow, by helping clients consolidate at the expenses and win business from the number 2 or 3 players, i.e. our friends above.

I bring all this up because many companies are currently planning for 2010, and for sales VP’s training is line item that will have to be dealt with.  Many will be tempted to take the path of the first company highlighted above.  2009 was not a strong year, and depending on the sector you are in, and where in that sector you are, 2010 presents more of the same or small improvements.  That being the case it will be tempting to sit out another year of training, especially if you are number two or three in a group.  Add to this the risk that in most instances, the number one player usually does invest in sales training and will continue to do so in order to maintain their “leader” position, and usually in the process add distance between themselves and number two.

Your To Do List

Don’t forget to enter our Sales Contest, read the scenario and submit your best solution, as the rules state, he submissions will be share and put up for a vote, the one getting the most votes will get the glory, recognition and a prize.  So enter now, get your friends to enter, hey put your VP to the test.

Do You Have What It Takes?
Tibor Shanto

Sales Contest – Test Your Strategic Thinking – Complete the Sales Scenario27

Contest

How It Works:

Based on the success of our “Help Trevor Out” contest last month, we thought hey let’s do it again. And so we are. This month, we’re adding a couple of elements to make it more interesting for everyone. As we did last month, we are going to ask you for the best possible solution to the scenario below (it’s based on a real live situation faced by a sales team in the Mid-West).

Read this: To enter and win, please submit your solution as a comment below as well as on your blog, or Facebook, or Twitter, web site, LinkedIn update, or other social type outlets, including this link back to http://www.sellbetter.ca/?p=601. (special thanks to Doyle Slayton).

Once the contest closes on October 17, 2009, we will post the qualifying submitted responses here on The Pipeline and open it up for a week for voting. You will want to get your friends to vote for your submission.  The submission with greatest number of votes will win a free Pipeline Audit, a key component of the Sales Process Audit offered by Renbor Sales Solutions and Compass North Inc. If someone comes up with the actual solution, they will get the free audit and a free sales book.

Good luck and have fun. May the best sales mind win! (Hint: you may want to have a quick read to see what kind of thinking we see working best).

The Scenario:

The Company: large equipment manufacturer.
Market: high tech/communications market.
Average sale: $1 to $1.5 million.
Average sales cycle: 12 to 18 months.

Buying is usually by committee. At the specific prospect in question the Director of Strategic Sourcing (DSS) was more than a gatekeeper; the individual in question was The IRON GATE!  Going “around him” was not an option, not to the president , CFO, even Obama.

The team had been working on the sale for about four months when it became painfully obvious that the DSS had it in for their company and was not going to allow them to be selected. Although there was no formal RFP, the DSS was in a position to steer the selection away from our heroic team of sellers. Even as our team gained support and acceptance from the others on the buy side the DSS was adamant that our team will not prevail and win the sale.

After a couple of more months of manoeuvring, the team realized unless things changed dramatically they would not win this million dollar plus deal, and certainly miss quota in the process. They decided to bring in an outside party to take a day away from the office and strategize and devise a new plan.

The session was a no holds barred affair that examined and considered everything from the ridiculous to the sublime, legal to immoral.  After an exhaustive day, multiple false starts and rejected options, they formulated a plan; a bold and creative plan that not only allowed them to permanently remove their problem, the DSS, get back in the game and win the deal.

Now it’s your turn, tell us how they were able to move the irremovable object and turn their fortune 180 degrees.

As we did in our last contest we will publish the actual solution after the contest closes on October 17, 2009.

Good Luck!
Tibor Shanto

Wise Crack For The Day11

VAlProp

There have been posts on this blog in the past about the “Culture of Rationalization” in some sales organizations or with some individual sales reps.  Last night on Comedy Cetral’s Daily Show, they provided the perfect antonym to the saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail”; “Succeeding means you have failed to fail”.  Good for a laugh.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Thinking Round Corners12

Round Corners

It is clear that what makes some sales people better than others is their ability to see things others have missed, their ability to analyze the same situation as another sales rep and come an entirely different conclusion and by extension different results. One key aspect of this is the ability and willingness to imagine and take into account not only those things that can happen but also to consider and include things that other reps will tell you can’t happen. Both types of reps will credit the outcome to their base of experience, however one will be limited by their experience; the other uses it as a launch point.

I have discussed this with different people and have heard a number of reactions and possible explanations. One fellow suggested that all sales people have a touch of larceny in them. While I don’t take offence, in fact I may agree, I don’t think it covers the question. The ability to artfully embellish and stretch facts is present in good sales people, but has less to do with skill, and more likely with their personality. In most cases it is not lying but could be more accurately described as placing the best highlights in absolutely the very best light, and leaving the less than the best out of sight.  

A view I like better is that successful sales people are able to “think round corners”. Not only able to see around the corner, that is, anticipating and dealing with events and challenges that may not be immediately obvious; but pushing the image further in seeing corners as round when most would see them as straight line or box like.  This goes beyond “thinking out of the box”, or wanting the deal more than the next guy; it goes further than Kennedy challenging us to ask why not rather than why?  They are not only ready to initiate and deal with the conventional, but can think beyond the conventional, initiate and manage the unconventional.

Unfortunately this ability is not a skill or a trait that can be taught, having said that it is something that can be encouraged.  The challenge is finding managers willing to go beyond their own conventions and capabilities.  Managers have to embrace and balance two things, first the ability to recognize the individuals on their teams who are able, and then coach and enable them to make the most of the skill.  This is hard at times because some managers see the ability to “think round corners” as a flaw, and do their best to discourage it, often thinking that it is contrary to their sales process.  Second, even when they accept that a team member or two have the ability they don’t encourage the tacit transfer of the skill to other team members, again because they don’t know how to make it fit the process; and because it is definitely in the 20 part of the 80/20 rule, like most in sales they feel more comfortable and adept at dealing with the 80 part.

There are some managers who do recognize the positive nature and impact of this talent and do their best to incorporate or at least facilitate in to their sales process.  This allows them to continue to manage their teams to help them execute the process, which is the best way to balance the issue.  The upside is great, having a team that sets clear and quantified objectives and then does everything in their power to attain them pays tremendous dividends, and the only cost is the ability to trade convention for victory, which most times is “round the corner”.

Our next post will give a specific example and set the stage for a contest testing your skills to “think round corners”.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Nothing11

a hole of nothing 30

Sales people always ask me “what do I say when they say…” this, that or the other thing.  At times we have tested answers, other times we’ll have options that work to different degrees given the circumstance, and sometime we have nothing, so we don’t make it up, and there lies the difference between us and others, we are not frightened of the void that is ‘nothing’.

I am not sure how it is with other professionals, but since I work with sales people most of the time, I can tell you that sales people hate – and are really frightened when the obvious choice is ‘nothing’; nothing to say, nothing to add, nothing that fits the situation.  I don’t know if it is the absence of ‘something’, the silence, the void or just the Zen of the void; whatever it is, seems sales people just can’t stand it.  You want to freak out a sales person; you can do it with ‘nothing’.

It’s not that they need to talk, most buy into the silly notion that “he who speaks first loses”; it is that many have not come to appreciate the intangible mass of ‘nothing’.  When they are asked a question, they feel compelled to answer, right away.  Some have mastered the pregnant pause, and as a result have witnessed first hand bit of the power of nothing, but most feel compelled to put something where ‘nothing’ belongs.

Watch a lot of sales people when a buyer proclaims that their price is too high or expensive, right away the seller is in there working to counter the claim.  Why, what would happen if you said nothing, as if to wait for the buyer to go on.  There is no law that says we have to respond to that, it is just one of a number of opinions in the room.  But sellers jump in there filling up perfectly good space where the best thing would be nothing.

When buyers question aspects of the product, offering or structure of a deal, sellers right away view that as an “objection” and start “defending” or countering the “objection”.  In many cases it isn’t even an “objection” but a review of the facts, or a vocalization of the buyer reassuring himself of their decision to abandon the status quo.  While you may want to reassure the buyer, it does not have to be instantaneous; things can wait, let the buyer think about what they said before you dive in if you really have to. 

As with all approaches you have to make sure that it fits the situation, but if what most sales people respond with doesn’t address every situation, it must also be true that opting for ‘nothing’ is at time the best way to resolve things.  Try it, next time don’t say anything, see what they say.  What have you got to lose, nothing.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

A Random Walk Up Sales Street – 1411

sales exchange

The Right Resource For The Right Task

I had the opportunity to meet with the president and majority owner of company this wee, we have met a number of times over the last few years, and he did act on a piece of advice I gave him, and that was to go out and hire a VP of sales for his team.  The company is about $30 million, about 125 employees of which 32 are in sales, including three managers, one at each location in Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax.  While they have done well, they were held back by a lack of structure and a standardized approach across the teams.

As we were talking, Frank said “I guess this is not the best news for you”, when I asked why, he told me that his new VP of Sales bring a wealth of experience, and one of the things he would expect is that as result the VP would be delivering sales training to the sale teams.  I told Frank that at the risk of sounding self serving that was not the VP of Sales job, even if he had the time, which in most cases is not the reality.

I have in the past been asked by VP’s of Sales that if they hired me or one of my peers, what would that look like on them.  I always took it a s an ego thing, you know they are the big man about campus, they were hired to improve sales and make a difference, why would they bring on outside experts and risk looking incapable (that is how some have phrased it to me).  In those instances, I can usually overcome this and put a different perspective on it by pointing out “even Tiger Woods has a caddy”.

Frank is a big Toronto Male Leafs fan, so I decided to use a different sports analogy; you gotta love sports analogies and sales.  I asked him what he thought Brian Burke’s role was with the Leafs.  Burke is the President & General Manager of the Leafs, and the latest saviour of a team that hasn’t won the Cup since 1967, we all wish him luck.  Frank listed all the things he hoped for, having spent thousands of dollars for years on his season tickets, when I pointed out that he did not list training and on ice drill as one of the expectations, I asked why he felt his VP should be different.  We went further and explored why the Leafs have both a head coach and specialist trainers for the goalies, etc.

Frank is not alone in thinking that the VP of Sales will also be involved in delivering skills training, but it really isn’t his/her job.  It is not necessarily that of an outside trainer like Renbor, it could be a dedicated resource in house.  Burdening the VP with this task, especially when you consider it to be an ongoing interactive process, rarely deliver results, and take the VP away from accomplishing some important strategic initiatives.

As a result of this comparison to the Leafs, Frank is now happy to bring the new VP and I together to combine our skills and knowhow to maximize returns and sustainable change in his sales organization, tactically, strategically and in the process of execution.

Thank You For The Support

Top 10 Sales Articles winner of Month widget

I am pleased to say that my article “How to Shorten Your Sales Cycle”, was voted article of the month for September at Top 10 Sales Articles, and is now eligible for article of the year in December.  Thank you for all those who voted for it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

You Can't Shrink Your Way To Success10

closed for cycle

This time of year many companies are finalizing their plan and budgets for 2010, a daunting task for many coming in a year that has been accentuated by disappearing or shrinking budgets.  For sellers this translates in to no decisions or at best deferred decisions.  Companies have certainly done away with discretionary purchases, and are now consider which mission critical things they may do without for a while or perhaps do the same wit less.

What you as a seller though were sure things a couple of years ago, where one only had to discuss the renewal price, are now turning into full blow selling efforts.  Both you and the buyer may know that they need what you deliver now, but the buyers have convinced themselves that they can live without it, at least for, now, “pending further review”.

As a result more than ever it is important for seller to toss their “value propositions”, and begin a process “value definition” together with – not for your clients/prospects.  No matter how great your product is, now matter what new innovations it has, efficiencies it addresses, it is now up against an overwhelming need to save.  Knowing that companies cannot save their way into success is one thing, getting them acknowledged and act on that is another.  What makes it more challenging is know that your company is probably saying and doing the same this to your suppliers.

The best way to deal and try to overcome it is to first understand what is behind this trend, not a secret, and deal with that before you deal with your sales.  This may involve bringing in new buyers that are impacted by your produce or a lack of it.  It involves taking new tactics.  Mostly you need to start looking at what you are doing as a “buy” and deal with it that way, not as sale.

The other is you need to know when to walk away and move on to the next “real” thing.  This of course presupposes that you have other opportunities to go to, that you have maintained your pipeline and have built options for yourself.  As prospects try to save and shrink their way to success, as sellers, you need to balance that with a healthy, slightly leaner, but healthy pipeline.  This of course leads to our favourite question: What’s in Your Pipeline?

Tibor Shanto

Two Good Ways To Use Voice Mail10

pics1

Sales people grapple a lot with voice mail, looking for a way to scale this giant barrier between them and their destination.  Sometimes they ask for techniques or ways to “deal with it”, and what they are really asking is to find a way to make it go away.  Sadly it is here to stay, so the challenge becomes how to take advantage of it the way it is.  Here are two ways, both taking advantage of voice mail’s “always there” nature, both are meant to be specifically used outside of normal business hours.

Generating Inbound Calls, in the past I have written about a voice mail technique I learned and used that generates 5 return calls for every 10 voice mail messages I leave within 48 hours, knowing that allows me to minimize my “cold calling”.  Once you master the technique, you can start a regular program of leaving message after hours, to generate inbound calls.  You can get on the phone at say 7:00 pm, quickly leave 10 to 15 voice mails with identified leads, at about 30 seconds per message, this takes less than 10 minutes.  Do it three times a week, say 40 messages, and you have just created 20 inbound calls.  Understanding that not all of these will turn into something, even a 4 to 1 conversion rate will lead to 5 new sales conversations, some immediate prospects, some leads to be nurtured.

Saving Time, being social creatures, at times we allow ourselves to be drawn into conversations that eat into productive time.  One specific is when a sales person has to deliver a simple fact to a client or a prospect, a data point, a spec, a delivery date, anything that is factual in nature and that sales person committed to communicate or deliver by a specific time.  Often what happens is that the rep will call, there will be some small talk, some business talk but not particularly crucial, but in the course of things they end up spending 5 minutes on the call.  Multiple that by 6 or 7 times and you have half an hour; if this happens twice a week, an hour.  Why not call early in the morning or after hours, deliver the fact or data:  “Harry, it’s Jill here, the measurements of the component do fit within the specs you provided, and will be delivered Thursday between 3:00 and 4:00, please call me if you have any questions or comments, I will call you Friday to…, I am at 617 239-8840.”  The rep gets bonus points for getting back promptly to the client/prospect, and does it in a way that over the course of a year frees up a lot of time.

I realize these do not make up for all the aggravating part of voice mail, but you may as well make the best of it in simple ways.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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