Welcome to The Pipeline.

Plans and Next Steps25

As you may be aware, last year my article “How to shorten your Sales Cycle”, (look to the left) was finalist for article of the year over at Top 10 Sales Articles.  In it I put a great deal of focus on the importance of having a Next Step to ensure you are dealing with real prospects, who are actively involved in moving through the sales process with you.

I continue to get some interesting feedback to this, much of it similar to the type of feedback (pushback) we receive during our Funnel Management Program. Primarily it is around the question of what really is a next step. Our definition is simple: a mutually agreed on scheduled event, where both you and the prospect are working to move the sales process forward; simple and clear. But many see it as rigid; in fact about three yeas ago one rep called it as being “a fascist view of sales”.

For me like for many others in sales, the only indication of interest is action, and without an agreement between you and the prospect to take action to move the process forward in a defined time frame, you lack a clear indication of interest. Anything short of this is a plan, not a next step; it may be a good plan, the prospect may be aware of the plan, he may even like the plan, but if they do not agree to act on it, it is still just a plan, not forward progress. It’s like looking at a holiday guide and thinking about where you may go, versus enjoying a cold Beck’s beer on a beach in the Caymans.

What’s interesting is the same sales people that insist that “a plan” is indeed a next step, usually sounds like “my next step is…”, as though it was state secret that could not possibly be shared with their prospect; these same people are sometimes reluctant to prepare either an account plan, and almost never see the need for having a call plan for their sales meetings, even with key meetings in big opportunities.

Of course it is not really a surprise that there isn’t always a next step when reps go into a meeting without a clear plan for what they want to accomplish during the meeting, how they want to accomplish it, and what would constitute a successful conclusion for the meeting, specifically a real next step.

I did some work with a consulting firm in Boston. During the meeting we began the process of deconstructing their sale. They volunteered their “best rep”, the one whose skills and knowledge they wanted to transfer to the rest. He described his typical sale as taking three moths, four meetings and a couple of phones calls between the respective support teams. I then asked Mr. “Best Rep” what his expectation for the first meeting is, and how he would define a successful first meeting. His answer was not uncommon: “I want to understand their “needs” and close ‘em”. OK, admirable, but if he could close them in the first meeting, why go back the other three meetings, good coffee?  No it was the lack of a plan, a lack of a next step strategy, leaving him to meander till he ran into a close.

Once we worked through it, it became clear that a number of things had to happen between the initial meeting and the close. Some had to happen in a certain sequence, others did not. But, it became clear that there would be no deal unless specific things happened in a given time frame, and for things to happen in that time frame, you need to focus on securing real next steps, ones that the prospect knows about and has bought into.  To achieve this, you will need both a plan and a next step.

The reality is that if you do not take a few minutes to define and lay out your plan, you greatly diminish the odds of actually attaining your plan. Without a plan, all you are taking with you into your meeting is hope, yes and skill and experience, but even those need a focus.  You know what they say: Hope is not a plan. And sadly a plan is not a next step.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

Free Live Webinar 2:00 pm EST Today!15

EXECUTION – The Last Word in Sales!

Everything Else is Just Talk!

What’s the one thing all sales methodologies have in common?

Unless they are executed, it’s all just talk!

Join Yves Matson, senior account executive at ActiveConversion, and I Tibor Shanto, of Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., as we discuss strategies around sales methodologies and proper execution.

In 45 minutes followed by a 15 min Q&A you will learn:

•    How to successfully execute sales methodology?
•    Why CRM systems fail to get adopted?
•    Why there is lack of execution?
•    What are the four cornerstones of execution?

Today, Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 2:00 PM Eastern; 12:00 PM MDT; 11:00 AM PST.
Click here to check your local time

Space is limited. Reserve your seat now:

All registrants will receive a copy of the presentation and a link to the recorded webinar.

Download the Execution – The Last Word In Sales! on line book.

Do Leader Boards Work?33

Before you jump into this article, I want to make one thing clear, what we are about to discuss is how to foster competition among members of your sales teams, not about motivation, again not about motivation. While the two do intersect they are not the same, and with that they create a scenario that reminds one of the swings of the pendulum, while there is theoretical middle, it usually swings in one direction at the expense of the other.  Are we good, let’s get to it.

I was meeting with a group of sales managers, all from the same company, planning for the New Year when the discussion turned how to create some action among the reps that have been beaten up by a tight market and price cutting by lesser players in the trade.  Traditionally the company has run contest and manufacturers’ funded spiffs to excite the masses, but funding for these type of injections has steadily been declining, and you won’t be surprised to learn that goals are going up for 2011.

About 80% of the sales team were young Alpha types, of them all but one are men.  It was agreed that money only goes so far in motivating sales people, and there was no agreement that the issue was in fact a lack of motivation.   After some discussion everyone agreed that they could achieve more by creating some healthy competition among the troops.

One thing I noticed during my time with the company is the lack of a leader board in the office, a common site in similar sales environments, bullpens if you will.  Personally I believe in that type of environment, a leader board is a great way to acknowledge and recognize success, while at the same time giving individuals in the middle of the pack something to aspire to.  In case you are wondering what it may do for the ‘C’ players, read here.

Some of the managers felt uncomfortable with the idea, they felt some people would be embarrassed; they felt it was one thing to have the leaders of a specific contest displayed, it would be different to have a constant display of  Goal $ – Actual $ – Appointments for the week, in the open at all times.  I pointed out that this not only worked in many successful sales organizations, but also in other environments.

In many sales organizations where leader boards are used, I have seen the middle group come up, and the bottom group leave, which in effect raised the tide and all remaining boats.  The A’s saw the onslaught of the B’s, and took steps to regain their lead, while the B’s increased the chase.  I have also seen the B’s take on the habits of the A’s in the process of learning, several times I have seen them pick up the books the A’s were reading, put into practice what they were reluctant to before; I have even had some of them approach me for extra input and coaching.  When I asked what prompted them, it always came back to the competitive instinct; they wanted to be winners, not just paid.

For me if you are in a competitive business, which most companies are, then some internal competition goes a long way to stirring energy and action.  A leader board does not betray any privacy issues, but does highlight strengths and weaknesses, and prompts one kind action by the real winners on the team, and another from the bottom segment of the team, the combination of which leaves the team stronger in the long run.

In the end they decided to go with the leader board, starting in December, south wall, in red and white.  What do you think, are leader board a good thing, are they for all sales environments, or is there a downside I overlooked?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

Weekend Musings – Sales eXchange – 7130

I am confused (sort of), by a lot of the sales advice that is out there, a lot of the chatter coming from experts, conferences, and media of all type.  Part of the confusion stems from trying to understand the “buyer”, is he an informed rational being, leveraging modern tools, web 2.0, sales 2.0, and others available today, to make an informed rational decision when it comes to purchasing.  Or, is he a bag of emotions and instincts, open to manoeuvring by manipulative sales predators.   After all, depending who you read and on what day, or what they are trying to sell, combined with the state of the economy, you read that it is any or all of the above.

On the one hand you read that sales is a people game, “people by from people”, manage the relationship is the key.  At the same time you read that buyers are much more informed today, having access to all the information they need before engaging with potential sellers, forcing sellers to elevate their game as never before or run the risk of being figuratively and literally, tossed aside in favour of a solution that better meets their requirements based on empirical facts.  Lastly I am told, people by on emotion then spend time rationalizing that emotion.  So confusing.

There is no doubt that information available to buyers today is greater than ever before, as is the information available to sellers.  But is information knowledge, not always, especially if the information is skewed and filtered based on bias and other irrational factors.  Most agree that two factors that cause people to buy are risk avoidance and self-interest, with those on the mind, there is a very real possibility that a buyer will search and gather information that strictly answers those two requirements and completely ignore economic or efficiency factors.

We have all seen instances where someone made a purchase decision based on self preservation, or despite the facts pointing to the contrary, select a product because their friend liked it, or “everyone is using ZoomVroomBoom”.  I guess the easy way to explain it is that people are all different, but I think that is a bit simplistic, sounds a lot like “buyers that buy my product are knowledgeable and informed, and the ones that don’t are not.”  If knowledge is power in sales too, why is it that knowledgeable sellers with a factually superior products don’t always out sell sellers who lack these components.  Why is it that no one ever gets fired buying IBM, I should ask a DEC sales person.

Again the conventional wisdom is that “knowledge is power”, but it seems that it does not always override other factors.  As stated above, buy on emotion, then rationalize, but is it just emotion, or other primal levers that can be pulled by a savvy seller.  In buying, or with some sellers, is knowledge just a veneer over decisions made on a primal level?

The reality is there is no one clear answer, if there were the book would have been written, story done.  The reality is despite all intellect and rational, knowledge, information or data, there is no clear rationale.  Take the most informed, knowledgeable individual, pop a paper bag full of air right in front of them and you will still see them jolt, can’t help it.  Just like a buyer, don’t believe me, think about this.  Why is it that most investors, no matter how informed, armed and knowledgeable, moved to and stayed on the side line in March of 2009 and again this past July.  Why did iPhone users overlook the flaws initially identified in the iPhone 4?

I guess it is not that confusing, but does demand that sellers have a handle on all aspects of the process.  Not easy, but certainly not solved by a single silver bullet, as soon as it involves people, it involves a myriad of possibilities and factors, each with a different answer; add to this the fact that many B2B decisions are now made by more than one person, everything gets compounded.  Even here, I am told to work the committee, only to be told that I am wasting my time because Ms. Big in the corner office will make the decision.  “But don’t go after Ms. Big, because you can’t go over their heads.”

In the end, information IS key, knowledge IS good to have, sales experience will trump product knowledge, and rather than putting all hopes in one or the other, as a sales person your success will grow by embracing as many sales inputs as possible to be able to execute in more circumstances.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

Making It Real31

Early in the week I was having a conversation with a Director of sales I have had an ongoing dialogue with for some time.  As he was telling me about their plans for 2011, specifically sales training, my fifth favourite topic, his frustration came to the surface.  He turned to me and said, “You know Tibor, we are having such a bad year, I don’t think we are going to do anything different next year”.  I am sure it is not what he meant to say, but I also didn’t want to pick at it, so I waited for about probably a few seconds, which seemed like minutes, but instead of correcting himself, he continued to tell me that they have no appetite for change, or doing things in a new way. 

At first I thought he was talking directly to the topic of training, but as he continued, it became clear that his frustration had locked him in a bad groove.  As we talked about things some more, it was clear that he was not only frustrated by the market, the performance of some of his people, but mostly at senior management who were placing him in a tough spot.  They were looking for higher numbers, and asking him to do it with fewer resources.  With a hiring freeze in place, he was hesitant to let some under performers go, and could not spend on helping them improve.

He finally recognized that he could have phrased things differently, but was so harassed by people offering him a “silver bullet for sales” that his pat answer to people approaching him, was that “we are not doing anything different this year or next”.  However, as we talked, and because we had a prior relationship, he calmed down, and we began to explore what does need to change if he was to get back on the right track in 2011.  Beyond the fact that there is now an opportunity on the table for me, the key take aways for me were as follows. 

First, people tend to give off the cuff reactions to certain questions that are not necessarily reflective of reality, what they are really thinking, if in fact they were thinking out at all, rather than just reacting.  He told me that most of the time when he is approached by sales people from CRM companies, sales training, or DISC types, he just says “we are not planning to do anything new or different in the near or mid future”, it seems to end the conversation and he can get back to where he was before they called.  It is we sales people who must be prepared for how to respond to and manage answers that are clearly absent of thought, and rather than reacting to what is being said, focusing on why it is being said, the root cause.

The other is the need not to always focus on the obvious, forest – tree, and all that sort of thing, but to look past it, in two directions.  First, as stated above, looking for the cause, so rather than reacting to the challenge of “we don’t need what you got”, deal with where they are and how they got there.  Once you have that established, you can turn the conversation to where they actually want to be, and what it would mean to them to be there.  Help them see it, taste it, and be it.  Help them feel the impact of being there.  Without making that point real and possible for them to see, and believe that it is achievable, they are not likely to want to talk about how to get there, because it is not “real” for them at that point.  I simply asked him what would a grand slam would look like at the end of 2011, after think a bit he told me, then I asked, “why aren’t you there now?”  By helping describe the issues, getting him to articulate where he wants to be and what has to change, helping him visualize where he wanted to be, it became real.  Then it was just a question of drilling down on what each step would look like, impact it would bring, and which on the list would be the easiest to achieve first; by the way, that is the one we are starting with in December.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

In Flanders Fields12

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Is 2.3% Growth Enough For You?31

October 19, 2010 was not a great day if you are involved in the economy, and believe me, if you are reading this you are involved, as you read on, perhaps we should say impacted by the economy.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average delivered another banner day, giving up 165.07 points; not to be left behind, the TSX in Toronto was down 97.46 point.  While this may be bad enough, for companies, sales organizations, and sales individuals like you, the really bad news came from a different source, sources to be more accurate. 

On October 19, The Conference Board of Canada cut its growth forecast for the Canadian economy for 2011, using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure, they are forecast a growth of only 2.5%, down 0.4% from earlier predictions, not that 2.9% was a great shake to begin with.  Main culprit, a cooling in spending, that is spending as in the key ingredient needed by sales types like you and I. 

Read on…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Hey, if you liked this post, please subscribe so you don’t miss another post…Subscribe Here to receive posts in your in-box automatically.  Go ahead, do it, click here now!

You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

ThatChannel.com – Interview19

As mentioned last week, I can be seen regularly on  ThatChannel.com, always a lively discussion.  In this, my second appearance, it was all about blogging and social media.  You can and will be able to see archives by going to the Media Archive page here at The Pipeline, or on our SellBetter You Tube page at http://www.youtube.com/Sellbetter.

As always, please send in questions or areas that you would like to see discussed or expanded on and I’ll be happy to include them in future discussions.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Hey, if you liked this post, please subscribe so you don’t miss another post…Subscribe Here to receive posts in your in-box automatically.  Go ahead, do it, click here now!

You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

Things You See While Selling – Sales eXchange – 7027

I don’t know if it was the after effects of Halloween, the mid-term elections, or something else, but it was a bit of a weird week last week, nothing earth shattering, just a number of things people said, silly things, and some things I witnessed that got me thinking.  I am hoping maybe by sharing, some of you can shed some light on them, or explain them, or just be as bemused as I was.

The first set up is a bit long but stay with it.  Here we go:

Last weekend I found myself at someone’s house who I did not know, a friend of a friend type of thing.  He was an avid outdoors type, I am not, my idea of camping in the summer is opening the window instead of air conditioning.  This guy was a big time hunter, no doubt a Platinum Plus shopper at Bass Pro Shop.  When we got there, he was watching some great Canadian outdoor show, hunters, or that is what they called themselves.  I am sorry, but these guys were anything but hunters, or what I see as hunters.  They got all this high tech equipment, super tech ladders to climb up in a tree, and all kind of camouflage clothing and covers, not to mention some Big Time Ultra Fancy Bear Lure.   With all this, these big time bwana hunters, poured the lure on a tree stump, ran up a tree about a hundred yards away, up on their ladder to sit on a branch, cover themselves with the camouflage, grabbed their big gun, (there’s got to be some symbolism at work there), and waited.  When the unsuspecting and unfortunate bear went for the lure, he shot him from the safety of his perch.  Not really hunting, more sucker shooting, hunting would be if he did from the ground, hey if he confronted the bear, I was thinking, let see you do that by going after the bear instead of luring him with scent, hiding and shooting, not very manly.  But that’s not the point.

As I thought about it, it struck me that there are those in sales who call themselves hunters who were not all that different than our friend bwana above.  They go out there load themselves up with all kinds of high tech tools and toys, some on their own, some provided by their companies.  As you know I am the co-author of a book on Trigger Events, just look at how many tools are out there to help sales people with leveraging triggers, all good tools, the question is how they are used.  Much like our friend the hunter, once they have everything in place, they sit back and wait, and wait, until their target shows up, and then they pounce.  The difference in sales and the game hunters is that there are usually many sales people pouncing on the same prospect at the same time, while only one bwana shoots the bear, there is no competition for the same prize.  What you have is a bunch of reactive sales people reacting and sometimes scaring their target.

Much like I said about the hunter, I would be much more impressed if theses same sales people would be proactive.  Real sales hunters use the tools and techniques to proactively seek out and engage with potential buyers, well before the buyers are “out in the open”.  To hunt you need to use trigger action on the part of a buyer, not wait for the buyers action to trigger your reaction, by that time it is too late.  Rather than understanding what a buyer looks like and then waiting for one to pass by, understand their priorities, habits and motivations so you can engage with them before they go looking, rather than hoping they call you first, demonstrate the value of acting before they had intended.  Once they declare their intention, they “are out in the open” and a target for all.

Understand how they define value vis-à-vis their objectives, and use that to trigger action, takes a bit of work, you have to climb down from the tree and enter he fray.

Here is the Spin

The other thing that struck me odd this week was around words and he images they convey.  Watching the result of the midterm elections, you can’t escape the spin and the spin doctors.  One friend commented on how the spin doctors work so hard to spin the facts their way, with only a passing regard to facts.  Just then another turned to me and said “isn’t that what they teach sales people, SPIN?”  Hmm, never thought about that.

While we all know that there is a world of a difference between SPIN the selling program, and spin political pundit style.  On the other hand words and labels are important from a perception standpoint.  While I was amused by the notion of the two being mixed up or lumped together, I was also a bit concerned.  How many others make the same mistaken connection?  On the other hand how many sales people do sound and behave like spin doctors in the process of engaging with prospects.

While I would not at all suggest that Neil Rackham or Huthwaite change the name of their process, but I do think sales people should work at executing the questioning technique in a way that does not make the prospect feel like they are being spun.

You May Have Noticed

If you look to the top of the column to the right, you will see that I have been nominated for one of the Top 50 Influential People In Sales Lead Management 2010.  Please take a minute to vote, you can vote for up to three people, so in addition to me, you select two others.  Thank you in advance.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Hey, if you liked this post, please subscribe so you don’t miss another post…Subscribe Here to receive posts in your in-box automatically.  Go ahead, do it, click here now!

Do You Leave Voice Mails?26

Always a hot topic with sales types, and there are definitely two camps, those that do, and those that don’t.  Actually, the two types are those that are right, and those that are wrong, and in case you are still wondering, leaving voice mails is right, and not leaving one is wrong, and frankly not a good use of their time.

Just to make sure we are all on the same page, I am looking at when you call a brand new prospect you have not spoken to in the past.

I can sympathize with those who don’t leave messages, because I used to be one myself, then again, I used to smoke too.  I know all the reasons why, “don’t want to blow my chance to speak direct”, “I want to make the right first impression”, “They never call back anyway”.  Of course that last one would be true if everyone we called was a clairvoyant, but for those of us who are not, t would be really hard to cal back if the other party did not leave a message.  I now leave a voice mail message every time, I also have a 50% call back rate, yes, one of every two messages I lave gets me a return call within 48 to 72 hours.  One of my biggest sales to, and longest and growing relationships came from a voice mail which got returned.  You can see what I do here.

Yet workshop after workshop, I get push back from people telling me I am just wrong, and voice mail is no effective.  So I put it out to the experts, and posted a question on Focus.com: “Leaving Voice Mail – Yes or No?” No surprise at all, but all the experts who responded backed leaving a voice mail.  I would encourage you to read the comments here.

I think all the responses were great and each introduces specific reasons to leave a message, but I especially liked Charles Green’s response.

One of my main reason for leaving a voice mail, beyond the fact that I don’t like calluses on my fingers from redialling the same number over and over and over, is because of what it takes these days to get mindshare and therefore “time” with decision makers today.  Most people have more that they can handle on their “to do list”, and the only way to move up the list is to be proactive and do it yourself, rather than hoping and waiting.  Various surveys have shown that it could take 5 to 8 touch points to get the targets attention, and that’s if you are good, and your product has some relevance.  The simplest way to achieve this is to mount a proactive campaign using voice mail, e-mail and any other medium.

As an aside, I recently posted on the use of text in prospecting based on a comment made by a CMO who said he was open to being prospected by SMS.  I didn’t have an opinion at the time, I was just reporting what I heard and explored the possibilities, but most readers decided to shoot the messenger, take a look at the post and steam of comments.

I know that there are those that will never leave a voice mail (thank you, more for us), but if you are on the fence, give it a go, you’ll not only live to tell the tale, bit make a few more sales in the process.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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