Welcome to The Pipeline.

Stoke Your Sales Fires23

I had a fitness assessment on the weekend (don’t ask), and as usual we got around to discussing nutrition. We talked about something that I knew, understood, but have chosen to ignore for the last little while; the fact that having a steady number of small balanced meals a day, say five or six, actually result in the body burning fuel more efficiently than when one consumes three “big square” meals a day (and a bunch of snacks on the side). What was interesting was the way he drove the point home.
 
He compared it a camp fire, I told him that my idea of roughing it is black and white TV. He went on to describe the impact of throwing a big fat log on the fire, versus steadily adding smaller amounts of small pieces of fire wood. The big log smothers and burns slowly giving off low heat, the energy consumed in igniting the log.  The smaller steady approach provides good hot flames burning progressively and efficiently, and as a result the preferred method. “I’ll take your word, I’m a city guy”, but it made sense, and I knew the point he was trying to make was true.
 
And so it is for your pipeline and prospecting.

You need to have a consistent steady approach to reap maximum results.  But many sales people approach prospecting as though they were a Huge Log looking for a fire.  You see this manifests itself in a number of ways.  One common practice is the “weekly call blitz”, what a log.  Do nothing all week, and then bam, turn it on, warm up your pipeline, score a touchdown all at once. But what happens if a client calls, or you have an off day, or you have to put out a fire?  What’s the reality of ramping it up and maintaining the level of energy needed for three hours on a Friday morning or afternoon, after having ignored the activity for a week?  Further, by spreading out your prospecting through the week, you have a better shot connecting with those who may not be in their office on your “blitz” day.

Another example is when a rep gets sight of a “big log”, and they spend time, energy, resources, hard work, and practice their craft in landing that big one.  I have seen rep after rep work hard and do the right things in selling that “big one”, but forget to do one thing in the process, prospect for the next one.  They make the sale, and then what?  You spend valuable time rekindling the fire; worse once again they ignore the smaller easy to burn fire wood along the way, eventually they do find the “big one”, and start the cycle over again.  We see it time and again, high peaks – low valleys, feast and famine, the preventable “ups and downs” of sales.  But it doesn’t have to be.  If they would spend just a bit of time prospecting, steadily adding fire wood to the camp fire, keeping the flame strong and hot, strong enough to withstand the impact of the “big log” when it lands, while allowing them to deliver optimal efficiency.

Just like with proper nutrition, as I said above, we choose not to understand or have chosen to ignore the fact that a steady blended approach makes for better results.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Three Elements of Prospecting Success28

The lifeblood of sales is opportunities, and opportunities come from two places, existing clients and new prospects.  While we can spend a long time debating which of the two may be more desirable, the reality is that some existing accounts don’t grow beyond a point, or may grow slowly over time.  Further more the one unchangeable reality of existing accounts is that they tend to go away; attrition as a result of mergers, price or service factors, or a growing factor over the last 18 months, bankruptcy.  The fact remains that unless you are that rare company or rep that can organically replace lost revenues from attrition  and achieve growth from your base, you are going to have to prospect for new prospects.  No fear, we can help.

Read On >>

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 3418

So Listen

We have all ready that is sales a key skill is listening, no argument here, even if it is expressed in the silliest of ways, my favourite stupid listening expression is “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion”.  Yes well, I also have two nostrils, two eyes and a bunch of other sets of two that no one ever advises I utilize to move a sales forward.  But once you get past the silly clichés, listening is paramount, and few if any would argue.
 
Yet when it comes to execution many fall short, even the pundits.   The problem is that most people tend to listen very selfishly rather than in a way that serves the conversation, what can be called restricted listening.  The key issue, and challenge for some, is to listen in a way that puts the prospect at enough ease to fully open up and allow both parties to deal with the facts and move the sale forward.  The opportunity to allow the prospect to be fully engaged, feel at ease enough to open up, and at same time maintain control of the flow and process.  This may not be the easiest balance to achieve, but with a bit skill, practice, patience and a plan it can be done. 

The fact is that no matter what, in sales you have an agenda, which is to sell the prospect on the upside of buying your product, and complete the sale.  As a result, many listen for things that they feel will move the sale forward, and ignore those things that they feel are not relevant to that.  They interpret things with a bias, and most common, they jump in and interrupt the prospect when they here a magic word that they feel will catapult them to a sale or can be found three or more times in their brochure. 

The root cause of this is not a negative, it is just a bad combination of desire and human make up.  As a tribe, sales people are a driven bunch, looking for any opportunity to achieve, and in sales achieving is getting deals.  Compounding this is the fact that we think much faster than people speak or listen, and that racing mind, the pull of the finish line are a deadly combination.  It causes us to mentally get ahead of the conversation, leaving the prospect behind, and in the process endangering or at least slowing down the sale.

One thing that many try is to paraphrase or repeat things back to the prospect as a way of re-synching the conversation and showing the client that you are listening.  But this doesn’t always cover it, because sales people become good at picking out certain words, usually the words that serve their purpose.  And because it has been tried so often, prospects have become not only used to this, but be jaded by it.

So what’s the solution?

Simple really, one that I was taught some time ago by another sales pro, a way to deal with it that allows you to maintain control of the flow but still put the prospect at the centre of the process.  The advice, before you ask the prospect your next question, the one you really want to ask, ask them a specific question based on what they just said.  This is not asking them something lame like “so if I understand you correctly, you just said….?”  No, that is just a variation of the paraphrasing.  To ask the right question you will have to listen, not let your mind race ahead, but fully focus on one the prospect is saying.  You can use the resulting energy (that build up from the friction between what you want to do, and what we are telling you to do), to align the question with the prospect’s concerns with your ability to address it and deliver value to them.  This may not always align with brochures or Marketing’s message, but it will always align you with the prospect, which is what you want.  So just get yourself in the habit of focusing on what you can ask the prospect based on what they just said, not what you want to say.  Thanks Trevor.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 723

Focus On Success – Not Just The Process

There is a big difference between process and routine, just as there is a difference between dancing and putting your feet on the decals pasted on the floor at your local Arthur Murray studio.  As a sales rep you need to focus on success and results not just the process.

 Effective, successful and profitable selling is a unique blend of art and science.  The science requires planning, strategy and thinking, and the art requires creativity.  Both require a curiosity and the willingness to question convention and the obvious, and both depend on execution.

This means that as a sales professional you need to be engaged at all times, ready to tackle the challenges presented by sales.  This means acting, reviewing and adjusting your plan and course of accordingly.

This cannot happen if you are blindly following a process and place greater importance in checking the tick boxes in succession, than in results.  So look at the process as a tool or resource in helping you execute your strategy.  So put the process in the passenger seat, and drive your plan.  Of course that implies there is a plan.  Assuming there is, then get creative in executing it, use your knowledge experience and resources and proven methods.  With that in play, open your eyes and minds to possibilities, ask why and why not, and then go at it again.

One thing to remember, and this is where creativity really comes in handy, especially where sales managers are concerned, never let a good plan get in the way of success!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Enter To Win Tickets To See Seth Godin at The Art of Marketing in Toronto37

Here is your chance to Win Free tickets to attend in what will be one of the most anticipated marketing conferences coming to Toronto in sometime. The Art of Marketing will be in Toronto on March 2nd, 2010 and will feature 6 international bestselling authors and speakers all live and in person including Seth Godin, Dan Heath, Mitch Joel and many others.
 
Enter Now to WIN a Free ticket complements of Renbor.  Draw will be held Monday February 15, 2010.

Don’t like to take chance, you and your guests are entitled to participate in this exciting event and take advantage of the preferred rates being made available by the organizers, by using the promotional code RK28 you will benefit from a $50 savings, additionally groups of 3 or more will receive an additional $50 savings when the tickets are purchased together.
 
We invite you to visit www.theartofmarketing.ca for all the event details including agenda, speakers and ticket availability. 
 

We look forward to seeing you on March 2nd at The Art of Marketing.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

It Can't Happen Here!28

Seems I hit a nerve with my post over at the Sales Bloggers Union (SBU) earlier this week.  For those of you not familiar with the SBU, it is a collective of a dozen sales bloggers from around the world, who blog on a given topic every month.  This allows readers to get diverse views on the same topic from various and different perspectives; with everyone contributing their own perspective, readers benefit from bloggers expanding or conflicting on a given topic, and get a unique 360 degree view.

So the topic this month is “Different Perspectives”, and that is what I did, in my post “And Now For Something Completely Different (for sales)”, I mused about the possibility of companies outsourcing sales.  The piece was posted to a number of LinkedIn groups news page, and man did it get some feedback, well, little did I know that sales is a sacred cow, I guess I missed that memo. 

To be fair some got it, others pointed out that it is already happening, pointing to distribution models, agents, trade or manufacturer’s representatives, not to mention a growing “industry of outsourced sales management” as one comment pointed out.

What surprised me was the complacency of some of the people who responded, bringing up a whole bunch of reasons why sales is different than other functions and therefore cannot be sourced out, please.  This blind arrogance is the same denial that many extinct species in business clung to just before they became extinct.

In case you missed it, call centres are springing up in India, and they are not just taking inbound calls, they are selling to you, your neighbour, and that guy around the corner who used to sell for ACME before they moved off shore.  It is not just blue collar jobs that are going off shore, white collar is right there with them.  But my comments were about outsourcing off shore, but how companies will not only continue but will accelerate the shedding of non-core functions/competencies.  And for those who want to preach that Sales is too central to the success of the company, well what about branding, PR, or advertising?  Looking at the results many sales groups are delivering, it is clear that sales may not be a core competency for many either.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting this, I do not wish this on these people, rather, this should be a wake up call for those who are failing to show up, or show up but don’t play with heart.  They are in control of their future, they can either sit idly by, or they can act.  The fact remains that in most years less than half of B2B sales people make goal, last year it was even less.  The complacency among some in sales needs to be replaced by with innovative and energetic approach to sales.  I know it is not easy, but if they don’t start upping up their game, they may just find they are the next, just as soon as the company finish with the current project of outsourcing their supply chain. 

What’s in Your (outsourced) Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

SBU and Sales Smack27

This month over at Sales Bloggers Union, the group is post about Different Perspectives.  As usual you have over a dozen leading sales bloggers delivering their Perspective on things in sales.  Today I look at the question of whether the sales department is sacred and always needs to be, or can some companies do better by considering alternatives such as outsourcing, revamping, or something different than the current questionable model.

Sales Smack

For more lively discussion on sales, you can join in on Jim Keenan’s Sales Smack, tonight at 7:00 pm Eastern.  This interactive discussion on sales has really generated some great discussions and ideas on sales execution, the future of selling, sales innovation and more.  Join in tonight, have your say, challenge the convention, have fun and contribute. 

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 3327

Putting The Right Things First

Had an interesting discussion with a sales rep, Jim (we’ll call him), at a workshop the other day, discussing whether things were going to get easier for sales people as the economy starts to come back.  This was a rep who has been selling in his sector for some time, he has been with his current company for 12 years, and in that time has missed goal only once, and even then only by a bit.  He sells a product that is critical for his buyers, but due to the number of players in the game, the acceleration in price wars over the last 18 months, the choice of seller has become discretionary.  I give you the background to help you understand that his observations are coming from a position of success, not the usual chorus. 

His feeling is that as the economy improves, things will get harder for many in sales.  Despite the cautious optimism about the economy, and among sales people and sales organizations, many individual reps will not immediately, if ever, benefit from economic growth; organizations will see growth coming from only a few reps, specifically the same reps who were generating revenues during the downturn. 

Jim was telling me that while he made goal in ’09, it was different than in previous years.  His clients were expecting more of him this time around; it wasn’t price concessions, deals or favours.  They were becoming more reliant on him to help them do their work.  As companies were cutting back, his clients were once again left with less to do more; as a result they were looking for more than the usual.  More than product expertise, they were looking for experts who can help them reinvent themselves and how they can do their jobs.  These jobs were getting bigger, more demanding and had to be done with fewer resources.  Their view is that buying product cheaper had way less value than someone who can help them not only cope, but get ahead in an increasingly competitive world.

While some vendors did manage to hang on using price, value was taking on more dimensions.  Cheaper product in the hands of users who can’t cope, ultimately ends up costing more when all elements are taken into account.  The loss of productivity by workers who can’t keep up, are over worked, or spread too thin is much greater than a few dollars saved here or there.

Jim feels the real work he did in 2009 was not hitting goal, but the resource he became to his clients.  As a result of dealing with a cross section of companies, he was able to share best practices and help his clients do their jobs more effectively.  Let’s be clear here, we are not talking about sharing the secrets or inside info of one client with another; but best practices learned from being involved and taking an active interest in how people use his product directly or indirectly.  He sharing of practices would fall into what you may call cross pollination.  In fact at one point he started an informal user group, without the help of marketing, or his company.  They would get together and share ideas, views, challenges, but mostly the fact that they were not the only ones facing what at times seemed like insurmountable challenges.  They would meet at a local pizza place once a month and share, in the process building relationships with each other, and a dependency on Jim.

As a result, Jim is convinced, and I tend to agree, that this dependency will grow as his buyers world’s become even more hectic as the economy picks up, demand improves, production increases, and demands on the remaining workers grow again.  Now the good news is that Jim’s approach works just as well in an up market as they do in the down phases.  When you get past the obvious, and focus on two key things you can always succeed.  First is the welfare of the client, individual and organization, second is the ability to drive revenues for your company in order to ensure that you can continue to work on the former.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 617

Leveraging Executive Referrals

A couple of weeks back, the Saturday Sales Tip 4 looked at the need to pursue and involve executives in your selling process.  Expanding on that, it is important to remember that executives can be great sources of referral, both internal and external to the company you are talking to.

As discussed, executives sit at a high enough perch to know what is going on beyond their functional area,  as such they can make for great referrals source into other areas within the company.  Assuming you make your approach and it turns out that they at that moment are not a viable or qualified lead for you, don’t hesitate to spend a bit of time (if allowed) to explore beyond the obvious.  Two clear areas are first, a better understanding of the lay of the land, second, people who they feel would be either interested or impacted by what you offer.

Remember that just because they may not be an immediate buyer for your offering, does not mean that they do not see the value, they are just not the one who will ultimately make the buy, not his budget, not his direct mandate.  But the adoption of your product/service could have an impact on their area, they could have clear opinions on the need for and fit of your offering.  They can very much steer you to the right people.  Along with that they, being part of the executive team, they are aware of the priorities, objectives and projects of interest to the executive team.  They can enlighten you about the drivers and results the executive has agreed to and set.  This knowledge will help you with positioning your product to the right people, for the right reason, in the right language.  All of which can help you engage, help with your timing, help differentiate you from the others and at the same time accelerate the velocity of your sales cycle.

The other thing to remember is that while executives are competitive by nature, they know many other executives performing the same function at other companies beyond their natural competitors.  So while the CFO at Coke may not be keen to help the CFO at Pepsi, she may well know the CFO at a tire manufacturer, software, construction or other companies not directly competing with her.  She may be aware of someone who can use your services, so why not ask.  If they are agreeable, you can then ask if you can use them as a referrer, when they agree, depending on the rapport you have created to this point, you can go further and ask if they could introduce you.  Looking to the long-term forward, if you are successful with the referral, you can then leverage that when the original referrer is ready to do business.

With either of the above it is just a question of asking, well in fact it is a question of planning and then acting.  If you are not thinking in advance as to what your next move is after you find out that now is not the time to engage with a given individual, then you will never get past that point.  So be prepared, ask who else would find value in the type of discussion you are having, don’t ask who they know is “looking to buy”.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Related Posts:
Saturday Sales Tip 4 – Always Involve An Executive In Your Sale
Saturday Sales Tip 3 – Always Have 5 Targets In Prospect Accounts
3 Things to Maximize an Executive Referral 

Actions Speak Louder Than Words29

There is a great discussion taking place over at S. Anthony Iannarino’s The Sales Blog, examining the nature and impact of competitiveness in sales.  In a piece titled In Defense of Competitiveness in Salespeople , Anthony discusses the topic along with input from Dave Brock.  As you will see from the comment I left, I would have to back Anthony.  For a couple of specific reasons; one was that sales professionals need to be judged by their actions, not their words.  Second was that it is the job of the sales person to drive revenue for their companies, while at the same time delivering value to their customers.
 
One of the threads was around the words and language some of us in sales use to describe our craft and actions in the process of executing our work.  Much of the language came from forums and sites dedicated to sales professionals, written by and for sales professionals, as a result there is descriptive language that is graphic for effect, and as one would suspect, containing more than a sprinkle of bravado.  The concern by some, and valid it is, is that the words we use to describe ourselves and works against us and our reputation.  Maybe so, but I am not convinced.  Main reason being that ultimately, people need to judge sales people or anyone by their actions.  I may sit around and talk mucho with my friends and colleagues, but in the most professional way with my clients, and I would expect that my clients will judge their interactions by what I do, how I treat them, the resources I bring to bear to meet their requirements, and the over all value/ROI I work to deliver for them, their companies, and investment.
 
The reality is that words do have a great impact, and the real professionals understand that while they may kibitz around their craft with their friends, when they are selling, when they are working with a buyer, the mucho talk needs to be replaced with action.  And while some sales people do have a bad reputation for all the right reasons, the same can be said for any profession, and I have enough faith in buyers not to confuse me and other professionals with those who deserve the reputation.
 
My contribution to the whole issue was to refer to sales as a predatory sport, and I will stand by that.  In most instances, I am competing with one or more competitors, (in addition to the status quo).  As a result, it becomes a “predatory” affair between me and the other potential providers, it is not a predatory approach to the client.  The blood sport aspect of it stems from the very survival nature of the game.  If I win a deal, a sales rep from another company loses, goes home with no food (kill) for the tribe that day. The tribe, the company, depends on the sales reps, the warriors, to go out every day, and bring back sustenance for the organization to survive, grow and thrive.  If I win, my tribe eats, his doesn’t.  As long as we don’t rip the customer apart in the process, I think the term is fitting. 
 
But in the process of the sales, the planning, the strategy, the execution, it is very much like a hunt, i.e. hunter, but we are not hunting customers, and we are very much in an all or none game vis-à-vis our competitors.
 
One comment I would make, is working with a number of sales teams in different verticals, it is often the sales professional who finds himself in the role of “prey”, feeling hunted, abused and injured by clients.  Rather than looking for that balance of a fair price and value, many are taking way too much advantage of the current economy, and are bleeding their providers dry, squeezing the last unnecessary penny out of every deal.  Yes, everybody needs to economize, everyone needs to take a buck further, but looking at the way some clients treat their reps and suppliers, it is only a question of time before some great companies, with some great reps, who have great families, are bled dry.  When this happens everyone loses, including the clients who are left with a low cost no value providers, which is bound to impact their ability to meet the expectation of their clients.  And all this is done the while using the most genteel words to describe what they do.
 
What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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