Welcome to The Pipeline.

Saturday Sales Tip – 21 – No Pain Zone18

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Despite of the advances made in sales, there are some things and some sales professional who are still stuck in the Stone Age.  I t amazes me that even in these days of Sales 2.0, or are we now in Sales 2.0.23, which ever, why people still seek to deal in pain.  Time and time again, when I ask groups of sales people what their objective is during the Discovery process, a majority of them will respond by say “I want to find their pain!”  Really, how sad, but not surprising. 

I know back in the early 1990′s Bosworth talked about the pain, latent pain in selling, the who image of the hair challenged buyer.  I remember one fellow who was a “solutions consultant” describing his craft as being “to find the soft underbelly of the buyer, stab, and then offer up the cure.”  Nasty, I have to wash my hands.  I am back, I thought we have made advances since, being a bit more customer centric and all.  Yet many still want to deal in pain, rather than leaving that to the professional in Washington and Wall St.

I would much rather deal in opportunity,  rather than devising question to kick my prospects in his declining assets,  I would much rather spend time finding out where his opportunities are, his objective are and fit into a picture that helps them achieve exactly that.  Now let’s understand each other right from the front here, I am not saying to stay away from pain, if it is there, if the opportunity is driven by a pain they are trying to avoid deal with it.  If their objective is to change something that is not working, help them.  Just don’t go in there looking for pain, go in looking at what the objectives are and base you interaction on that. 

By focusing on their current circumstances, where they are, and where they want to be, you will find opportunity.  If that is rooted in positive things, that is just as good as something that stems from a negative circumstance.  I have a client a leader in their industry, one that most people despise because they seem to make money not matter what the market conditions are.  When you talk to them, they have no pain, they are intoxicated with success, their focus is how to maintain and extend their competitive advantage and lead.  They invest in sales training because they know it is a key element of their success.  I train their people to execute on the company’s vision, which is not based on pain, nor is it painful.  The last thing they want their sales teams focusing or even thinking about is pain, they want their sales teams to go out and spread success to their customers so they can make more money.  Do anyone of us think that if their teams went out seeking to find pain they would be perceived as being genuine or a contributing partner.

The goal is to develop a set of questions that help you understand where the buyer is, what their objectives are, and what the opportunities based on the above.  One last factor to consider, I find that a buyer who is n pain, tends to grip his wallet a lot tighter than those who pursuing a positive objective, because they already know the pay-off before you ever have to sell them.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Taking It All In31

Attitude and mental outlook have a lot to do with success in sales. I meet a number of sales professionals who insist it is their positive outlook that helps them win business. They say things like “I don’t let things get me down”, makes sense; “I ignore the bad and focus on the good”, that doesn’t make so much sense.

Ignoring the bad leaves you exposed, and you could end up suffering as a result.  It would be different if their position was “avoid the bad”, but when I test it and ask a follow up question, many stick with their original statement. “I ignore the bad, I focus on the positive things, people like to deal with people who have a positive outlook, and that’s how win deals.”  However, I would argue that by ignoring the bad, the potential negatives that can impact a sales, these sales people open themselves up to avoidable downside which wastes time, resources, sales and emotion.  I am not suggesting the go gloom and doom, but I also know that planning and preparedness are also fundamental to sales success, and thorough planning involves preparing for things that could negatively impact a sale.

You can do a lot by exploring potential scenarios, some call it visualization, the means and the end are similar.  As you are preparing for a call, or planning a campaign, (assault) you draw out or list the various potential outcomes based on the questions and possible response.  Some like list, others use mind maps, the key is to understand how things can unfold, from the preferred outcome to the least preferred.  Understand what are the approaches and questions that are likely to deliver the preferred, and how to accelerate by mapping them to the buyers objectives and decision process.  This itself may include some testing through secondary scenarios, but it will help you avoid getting out of synch with the buyer, recognize early which paths to avoid, and which line of questions to extend.

The goal is to be prepared for potential risk, and figure out in advance how you will manage, marginalize or eliminate the risk.  Some of this will depend of you level of risk tolerance; some by the buyer and their impression of how you are managing events, some by how willing you are to deal with all aspects of the situation.  It is a lot like planning a road trip; you get the TripTik from the auto league, plan the whole thing out, which areas to avoid, where detours may be, and plan accordingly.  Even then, once you do hit the road you pay attention to the road signs, adjusting things accordingly.  You don’t turn a blind eye to danger, or ignore the signs under the premise that you have a positive outlook and things will work out, you take action to avoid possible downside, you take action to not put things in jeopardy.

The same can and should be done with sales.  Part of the TripTik concept is to draw on the collective “wisdom” of other who have traveled that same road.  The same can be done in sales, drawing on the collective experiences of fellow sales people, industry experts, and most importantly your buyer, and that includes those who did not buy.  By understanding why you will learn; what you learn may not always be pleasant, pretty or positive, but it will always be valuable, especially if you don’t ignore and put it to proper good use.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 47 – What’s Behind Your Execution?23

One thing you learn early in your sales career is that when it comes to having an opinion other than your buyer, practicing the art of persuasion is much more effective than over powering them with facts and logic. It is one of those circumstances where even when you win you lose.

In my experience, there are only two reasons a seller finds himself in a position where they put themselves in a losing situation by winning an unnecessary argument with a prospect/client:

1. Inexperience
2. Ego

The first inexperience can be forgiven, especially the first time, and if the individual uses it as a learning experience and builds on it moving forward.

In the case with ego, it is a bit less forgivable. Everyone in sales has an ego; I think it is a fundamental attribute for successful sales people. But it is an attribute that has to be in check, kept balanced and used in the right measures. (See Ya, It’s Personal). Allowing a big ego or too much of an ego to drive your sales is a dangerous way to hope to excel at the profession.  

As stated above, persuasion is a much better approach. Using question to uncover the facts, issues, impacts and associated concerns involved are an effective way to encourage dialogue. Questions get people to think and reflect, and open up to alternate possibilities.

By at the same time opening yourself up to alternatives, advanced through a Q&A process, answering as well as asking, encourages the other party, the buyer, to open up and take input from you and in the process allow for persuasion to occur in a positive way.

I am hoping this is not news to most sales professionals, I know that most set out to execute this approach or their own version of it rather than brow beating a buyer to seeing the ‘facts’. But hope is only a concept, not a reality, there are still reps out there still insist on not only “telling” their buyer the ‘facts as they are’, but arguing and calling out the buyer in the process until the buyer surrenders.  Fortunately, these types of sellers often find the need to change their career path.

What is disturbing is to see a self-proclaimed “sales expert” or “sales thought leaders”, let his ego overtake reality, allowing their ego to get them into a to and fro with potential buyers, in an argument that even if he wins, he loses.

I was recently invited to a presentation, where the cre4ator of a sales methodology was introducing it to a set of potential buyers. While it is easy to understand that any “sales leader” would be proud of their creation, and that it would impact their ego and view of things relating to it. But as he was presenting things took on an increasingly condescending tone. Not only were his questions patronizing, “are you as smart as I am, let’s see”, and as people gave the “wrong” response, the presenter all but chastised them for it, grade school style, (think 1967), to the point where no one was responding at all, and the event became a monologue.  

At one point he asked an open-ended question, where the actual answer was merely launch point to validated another technique, the answer here being less important than the segue it created.  But no, the facilitator insisted that the attendee give the answer he specifically had in mind before he would move on to the relevant point. He got the answer he wanted losing the prospect in the process who took away an entirely different message and lesson than that which was intended.

The key here is that ‘results driven execution’ is key to sales success. Knowing the desired results, but not putting a plan and related set of actions into play, is no more effective than performing activities unrelated to the desired results, in the case of sales, a happy and paying customer. Without this balance to keep the two things in check – results and execution – you run the risk of allowing unimportant things drive your actions, and those actions leading to undesired results. In some cases it is driven by fear, in others, likes our friend who was too enamoured by his own system and his view of the world, it is ego.

Many sellers see being right as more important than helping the customer arrive at a mutually beneficial solution.  While it may help one sooth their ego after the fact by knowing and make the other person know that they were right, the score in sales is measured by results, and the result of an ego driven approach is always lower than one based on execution driven on desired outcome or results, both for the buyer and seller.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 20 – Why Do People Buy From You?23

There are some specific questions that sales people should just be able to respond to in a clear direct way and without hesitation. One is “why do people buy from you?”  It this case ‘you’ stands for both you as an individual and your company.  It is revealing how many sales people I work with that either cannot answer that question in a clear concise and meaningful way, or have to resort to spewing the first few lines of the company’s latest brochure.

Try it, ask the next sales person you talk to, and most will fail to deliver a meaningful response.  They will hum and ha, fidget and finally revert to a feature, or tell you “they are a leading provider of”, or something less than satisfying.  Especially when you raise the bar and ask them to make it meaningful for the prospect, in the prospect’s terms, language and perspective, not the latest version of the “value prop” or USP crafted by someone in marketing versed in demographics rather than customer expectations.

To answer the question in a captivating way, with some teeth to engage the buyer, you need to remove yourself and your product from the picture, and focus only on what has direct impact on the client’s objectives.

“How do I know what their objectives are if I just met them?” you ask.  Easy, look at your current account base and your prospect base. What resonated with these individuals vis-à-vis their objectives at the timed they engaged with you and when they bought?  While it is certainly not universal, chances are relatively good that if you understand the top three things you and your product positively impacted for you last 15 – 20 clients, you can lead with that when describing. “Why people buy from you.”

The key is to describe it in terms that capture the outcome for the client, not what your product does. Getting to this is simpler than you suppose. First you probably already ask your clients why they bought from you, right? you probably know which issues your clients were looking to change when they invested in you; and you know what they would have done had they not bought from you, of course you do! If this is not the case, and you don’t already do this now, start today. You also do regular briefings with you top customers, once or twice a year, maybe even quarterly, right?  So you have more than clear picture of how your offering is impacting the clients’ realities and successes and day to day business. So all you need to do is focus on the top impacts, and you can meaningfully answer the question.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales Manager: Coach or Trainer?40

A front line sales manager has to wear many hats in the course of a week, for me the most important is to lead the execution of the sales process, and do that leading from the front. Key to that is a balance between Managing and Coaching, for a full view read The Yin Yang of Success for Front Line Sales Managers and The EDGE Framework for Sales Coaching Success.

A question that often arises, is should the front line also be training their team members as it relates to skills. Not the day to day honing of skills, or ramping up a new employee, but the type of training program Renbor or other training organizations traditionally deliver.  Clearly I can be accused of having a bias, but I will try to keep that in check, feel free to keep me honest.

My personal opinion is that they should part of the training process, but should not, need not, and often cannot deliver training their teams need. This is not rooted in the negative, it is that many are not qualified, they have other priorities, and if it were already part of their routine, they would not be seeking, but doing.

I have had a number of sales leaders tell me that they know that their teams need training in one area or another, and in the same breath ask, “If I bring you in, how does that reflect on me?”  This is usually put into context by highlighting the fact that “even Tiger Woods has a caddy”. This usually helps them understand that no one goes it alone, and need to rely on other’s expert input in order to attain their own objectives.

Lately the issue seems to be more economically driven, “let the manager train their teams, that’s what we pay them for”. I have seen this unfold in a number of ways, from one VP telling me each month he has one manger read a sales book and then “pass it along” to the sale force. I attended one session, it was more like someone delivering a book report rather than skills or knowledge transfer.

If in fact skills and knowledge transfer is the means to achieving sustainable behavioural change, change that is demonstrated by results, to by adopting buzz words or performing certain tasks, then it has to be structured, delivered effectively and supported through the adoption phase.  This is why Renbor’s programs all include a formal “Follow Through Action Plan”.

Now we have all worked with organizations that have internal trainers, properly trained and qualified to educate adults in a range of skills and functions.  With many of those organizations a Train The Trainer approach is logical and workable.  But what a number of companies are asking for lately is a Train The Trainer, where the “Trainer” in question is the front line sales manager.  To me this is a recipe for disaster, and this is not meant to be a knock against the managers, but I believe it put undue pressure on them and changes the nature of the relationship they have with their teams.

The reality is that many sales managers have yet to be fully trained on effectively managing a sales process and their teams.  Many were good sales people who were given an “add-a-boy” and “rewarded” into management.  New business cards, new office or desk, some training in diversity and dealing with sexual harassments, and bam, “you’re a manager, forecast meeting Friday”.  See “Management by Osmosis“.

What’s the old expression “penny wise, pound foolish”, describes this approach well.  Yes you can save a few dollars now, you can look to be creative and productive, but in the end, it is not only likely that you will not get the lift you need or the desired results, and in the process discourage both the managers and the front line team.  I can understand the need to save, but in some cases it is better not to do anything over risking a step back just to be able to put a check mark next to the training KPI.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Happiness of Pursuit18

I don’t know what it is, but all too many sales people tend to give up on opportunities way too soon, perhaps it is ADHD (all good sales people share this condition, if you don’t, consider another career), a lack of patience, or some other factor.  Not sure, but the fact is that a lot of reps leave money on the table for their competitors after having done a good job of starting things off right.  You see this not only when pursuing a lead to convert to a prospect, but also once they have engaged with a prospect, they give up when they could have converted the opportunity with a bit of planning and focus. 

Read On…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 46 – Value In A Commoditized World26

A lot of sales advice is presented as though every sale was a complex solution sales to buyers who are new to that solution.  Challenges, objectives, enhancements, sea change and all those big things that change the “world” or at least that part of it that your new fangled “solution” changes.  Great, fantastic, and when it applies to your world, very exciting, you got the “silver bullet” and they have werewolf that needs to be shot.  Unfortunately, most B2B sales are not that dramatic, in fact most B2B sales reps have to go out and sell something to someone that is already using a similar or same type or service or product.  Think freight, wireless, office supply, telephony, courier, uniforms, shredding etc.  It is not a question of providing a solution or creating budget or anything more that redirecting spend; they are already spending some bucks there, and your task is to get them to spend it here.  There is no Sales 2.0, or anything fancy, just raw sales, they have it, I want it, time to get it.

Companies are already buying office supplies, so it’s not like you are introducing a new concept, a new way of doing something, or anything of the sort.  This is not a big solutions sale, there is no abstract concept of value, there is just the challenge of displacing the current provide with you and your company.  The challenge, how do you do it without reverting to price?

The good news is that it is doable; the bad news is that it takes hard work.  Unlike some sales, it can be a slow grind that involves coverage, a thorough understanding of the issues impacting the client, and the patience to work the sale to create and exploit the timing when it presents itself.

Value is the key here as it is in most sales, but here value has to be defined in very specific, pedestrian and tactical terms, not in big picture terms.  Buyers are looking to stretch every dollar, but that does not always have to mean paying less, it could just as easily mean getting better service, greater support, new and expanded ways of using the product or how to get more out of the current spend.  Most price based sales end up being about “how do I get the same as I have now for less dollars?”  But most buyers are just as content to realize more for the same price or even proportionally more.

As an example, if you can deliver office supplies for roughly the same cost as the current provider, but at the same time offer improvements around invoicing, say allocating purchases to specific cost centers in the buyer’s company, thereby reducing the need for resources by the buying organization; reducing invoice errors, and at the same time improving responses to potential errors, again reducing the need for resources being tied up at the buyers side, leading to savings, leading to greater value for the buyer.  One can provide similar examples for wireless, transport, what have you.

Success does not have to be defined in reduced pricing in a commoditized reality, it needs to focus on block and tackle realities.  The good news is that few practice this approach, and even less of the incumbents who usually, even now take their current clients for granted.  Just be prepared that when you wake them up, they will revert to price, so you have to make your case strong and convincing right away, and tell the buyer that the incumbent will come with price, but keep the focus on service and delivery.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 19 – The First Three23

Planning is key to success in execution, and sales is all about execution.  The challenge for many experienced sales reps is that the further they are in to their career, the less planning they do, specifically at the meeting level; they may plan on a broad level, even an account level, but have less of a game plan for any given meeting. 

This is not to say that they do not have a game plan, but that their game plan is either not up to date, not specific to the situation, or both.  They know their market, they know the players, the “needs“, the “pain points“, they (think they) know what the prospect is going to say.  While I would not question their knowledge, experience and past successes, I would question their approach.  Imagine a pitcher who always threw the same combination of fastballs and curve balls to every pitcher, in every game.

Working with sales reps I ask them what they hope to specifically get out of the meeting, I don’t always get specifics; I ask how they will start the meeting, what will their first three questions be, what are they anticipating the buyer`s questions to be?  All too many times, I get back generalities or the glib “it depends! I’ll know when I get there”.  While we all respect a quarterback who can read the field and act accordingly, they always have a playbook, and pick the plays they feel make sense based on the scouting reports, and having watched the game tapes.

Sales reps should have the same discipline; they should have a clear and specific game plan going in.  This should start with an agenda that sets the tone and direction for those you have met with before.  It should also include knowing the first three questions you will ask the buyer after you have done the traditional “small talk”.  You should actually have a lot more than the first three questions planned out, but since sales is an interactive process, you need to include and encourage the buyer to get involved.  If you fully listen, you will be able to include all the questions that are important based on the flow of the discussion, but the first three are key.

These will vary from meeting to meeting, prospect to prospect.  I am not saying you have to rewrite the playbook for every meeting, nor do you have to come up with new and fresh questions for each meeting, but you a) must have a playbook.  And b) know how you are going to execute based on the specifics of the opportunity you are at, rather than relying on past glories and winging it, or doing the something each and every time, and blaming the buyer when it doesn’t work out.  One simple way to achieve success is to know what your first three questions will be.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Can You Save Your Way To Success?23

 

There is a lot of talk about improved productivity these days, especially among companies that seem to be coming out of the recession.  But in many cases the productivity gains are a bit of a false premise, as some will see off loading certain tasks to another party, as productivity.  The thinking is, “we don’t need to do that because someone else is now doing it, our people can now do another necessary function or more of any given function, therefore we have gained productivity.”  Well maybe, or at least sometimes, and the “sometimes usually has a negative impact on sales; sales people and sales numbers.

The concept is fine if you can off load in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on your customers, internal customers or downstream external  customers.  An example maybe automation that does not take away from the experience or result for the customer; this leaves you the opportunity to truly redeploy your people and achieve real gains.

But there are too many times when these so called productivity gains are little more than a shell game that results in no gains, in fact even losses, but also have a negative impact on customers.  This has a direct impact on sales and sales people.  As companies offer less services and support to customers, “off loading” some previously standard expectations, customers tend to push back on sales reps.  This not only chips away at the relationship between sales person and client, which has obvious implications, but has other impact.  

On a simple level, if more time is require to deal with things unrelated to selling, then reps have less time to do what they need which is sell.  These same “efficiencies” also create a longer cycle, which has direct impact on the sales team.  This at a time when many sales teams have been shrunk over the last year and are already dealing with more accounts with less resources. 

As customers realize less services or support, they begin to question the price based on expectation or previous buys, leading to demands for price concessions, negotiations (haggling) and ultimately price cuts.  This leads to a need for sales people to do more deals; then work it back from there, it means more proposals, more meetings, more prospects, more prospecting.  All this leading to more work and greater stress for sale people.
 
While this is unfolding, companies’ public face is that of organizations growing through efficiency gains that often lead to more growth in profits than top line revenues.  Smaller sales teams having to deliver more than before, and while many find ways to step up, growing sales from last years lows, the question remains how much one can squeeze from the process.  The question that really needs to be asked is whether there are more opportunities to grow top line and bottom line gains from continuously shrinking; or can you gain more by strategically investing to drive client satisfaction and sales force success?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 45 – The Real Magic in Sales19

When it comes to sales, the popular and logical comparisons have always been to sports, fitness or diet type programs, or even music.  All of these are open to the question is it art or is it science?  With all of the above, sales included, there are always just a few more opinions than the number of people contributing to the discussion.   I don’t propose to have a definitive answer, and I am always surprised when people proclaim that they do, and then amused when they are washed away by the next tide.   But what I do believe that when it comes to success in sales, sports, diets, or music, the thing these crafts or activities all have in common is the need for commitment and the discipline to consistent execution.

This was driven home recently by a discussion I had with someone in the trade, who is convinced that there is indeed a silver bullet in sales; and would it surprise you hear he thinks it is his methodology?  Right from the start I will say his methodology is good, as with most it is a variation on the theme, you know the wheel has been invented long ago, it is just a question of how one spins it, and he spins it well.  But the measure of success is not the method, the ab machine, or the diet, it is the individuals’ willingness and ability to adopt it, and put it into practice on a consistent basis.  Consistent here means every day, day in day out; not when you get around to it, not when you have time, not right after you are done this, but starting now, and completely.

In the case of sales teams this concept extends to the entire team, including the front line manager.  When you go on a diet, it is down to you; with a training program, you may have a personal trainer or coach.  But when it is a sales team, there is a further challenge, everyone has to adapt and execute the system, if not then everyone is at risk not just those choosing not to play.  So it is down to the manager to ensure that the methodology is executed by everyone, again completely, otherwise everyone has an excuse to revert back to where they were before you introduce the new system.

So not to take away from anyone’s system or methodology, but look at how many organizations were trained by Huthwaite, Miller Heiman or even Renbor, that after a time get distracted, lazy or unfocused and stop executing the system.  This is why at Renbor our programs include a Follow Through Action Plan, that follows reps into the field to ensure adoption and sustained behaviour change.  Without that, it is only a question of time before the silver bullet becomes a rusty nail.  As we al have heard it take 21 day for something new to become a habit, in sales I would argue it takes two sales cycles at least, and without that commitment, the latest and greatest will be a memory waiting for the next “big thing”.

So if you are still looking for a silver bullet, don’t look for a methodology or system, look for consistency in execution, and a partner who rather than telling you they have lighting in a box or the silver bullet, will help you execute.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What is your Best Sale Ever?

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