Welcome to The Pipeline.

The 8% Solution10

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Coming up to the New Year there are a couple of things you can count on as sales people, one of which is that you quota will rise.  That’s not bad, it is just a fact, so the question becomes what can you do, now, to ensure that you can deliver.  The question comes down to how you can become more effective in what you do in the process of becoming more productive.

To help you and your team achieve this we have brought together three sales specialists to share specific things you can do going into 2010 to get and stay ahead of the curve.  Over the next three days we will present three posts focused on things that impact how you sell, and how sales managers can help their teams succeed.

In addition to my post, you will also have the opportunity to get input from:

Trish Bertuzzi – Founder, President and Lead Strategist, of The Bridge Group, Inc. – Inside Sales Consulting.

Steven Rosen, MBA – Founder of STAR Results

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A few years back, in a piece in the Harvard Business Review, it was stated that an 8% improvement in the productivity of your existing sales team will result in the same sales growth as if you were to add 27% more reps.  I am sure the numbers may have changed in the three years since it was published, the underlying reality has not.  In fact what has changed is the ability of organizations and managers to add headcount, in the post-Lehman Brothers-era, cost restraint is the overriding mantra.  So with the added stress and demands on the average sales rep and team, the question becomes how to achieve this productivity without distracting the team or breaking the camel’s back.

To me if you have to focus on only thing it would be time allocation to improve sales velocity.  If you can focus your resources on better opportunities, you will not only move them through the process quicker, but create a way to not deal with opportunities that either will never happen or whose time has yet to come.  If you can allocate your time to those activities that have the highest RPA Return Per Activity, while developing the discipline to only execute those activities that move a sale forward, than you will increase productivity and sales closed.

To achieve this you will need to understand two key things:

1. What activities you should allocate time for and in what proportion?
2. What does the right prospect look like?

While number one is the more important, you really can’t deal with it until you answer number two.  The good news is that it is not as hard as it may first sound; it is laborious and dry work at times, but once you have the basic template, it is easy to update and will pay ongoing dividends. Go back and look at all the deals you have won over the last 18 months, and see what are the most common attributes shared by these.  Don’t just do it on an account basis, that is what these companies have in common, but also on a deal basis.  How did the deal unfold, number of meetings, people involved, roadblocks, accelerators, language, bet right down to cellular level.  Why did they engage with you in the first place, did they engage right away, or did you have to nurture them for a while; if yes then how long, what did they respond to, what were they hoping to accomplish, why did they not engage right away.  As a rule, if you are not the number one sales person in your company, you want to spend time looking at the above factors for the best rep at your company, really park your ego and make some money.

Do the same for deals you lost or did not happen, look at the ones you lost early, half way through your predictable cycle (you’ll know what your cycle is from doing the above), at the end of the cycle.  Again, how did you engage, were they in your lead pipe (different than your prospect pipe which active opportunities) too long or not long enough? 

Once you have done this, you will have two profiles, ones that you want to pursue vigorously, and those you want to avoid like Tiger does the media.  In some ways the economic climate over the last 12 – 18 months provides a good time to do this exercise, as you can truly see who clearly fits in to each group.

Now you can focus on who and how to best engage with the type opportunities that will help you work with people who will act like your successful deals.  When you engage with these people they will move more predictably, not always faster.  Remember that velocity involves both speed and direction.  There is an optimal speed, and when you reach it, it is not a good use of resources to keep pushing.  Where you can add to velocity and results is by fine tuning your direction, and when involved with the “right” prospect, their direction, after all you have the advantage of knowing because you did your work and went after them for a reason.

While it may be obvious, it is worth pointing out that the biggest impediment to productivity is time and resources spent on prospects that will not close NOW, this is why we raised nurturing leads.  Some are not ready NOW, so let’s manage them, put them in the “leads funnel”, which should have rules and attribute like your sales funnel. 

Once you know who (specifically), and how, and how long, you can now allocate time to those activities that are necessary to consistently execute, and not allocate time to things that don’t lead to sales.

Eliminate waste; accentuate the right activities, easy 8% right there.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Lots Going On10

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“An Inconvenient Truce”

You are all invited to join us for a FREE webinar this afternoon at 1:00 pm eastern, when the Top Sales Experts Masterclass series presents “An Inconvenient Truce”.  The webinar is a Tongue-in-cheek and irreverent look at how traditional sales techniques and Sales 2.0 tools can and should work together throughout the sales process rather than just fight for bragging rights in prospecting.

You still have time to register and join in, comment, socialize and maybe take something away in the process.

Sex, Leadership And Rock N’ Roll

We are also excited about the upcoming broadcast of a programme by our friend Peter Cook, author of Sex, Leadership And Rock N’ Roll: Leadership Lessons from the Academy of Rock.   The programme is part of BBC Radio 4 IN BUSINESS series.  It will broadcasts on Thursday 17th December, at 20.30 GMT, and again on Sunday December 20th 21.30 GMT then on the World Service about 8 times shortly after. 
If you are not in the UK, no worries, you can catch Peter’s broadcast at www.bbc.co.uk/radio4 and then follow the link to In Business.  This is something you don’t want to miss.

254

The monthly edition of The Pipeline is out today, and we look at how to best attack selling in 2010.  254 selling days, 2540 hours, how will you use that time?  What if each hour equalled $100, how would you invest $254,000 to earn maximum returns on your investment: Time – Activities – Sales?

Take a read, make a plan, execute!

Vote

Don’t forget to vote in the run off for the article of the year over at Top 10 Sales Articles.  My Article “How to shorten your Sales Cycle?” is in the running, and you can make a difference and vote over and over!

Thank you,

top 2009

Tibor Shanto
What’s in Your Pipeline?

 

A Random Walk Up Sales Street – 2520

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Who Is Prospect 2.0?

Last week I posted a question on a number of LinkedIn groups, asking what Sales 2.0 really was? Many of the answers were predictable, some fresh, some repackaging old concepts in current wrap. A lot of it was about the use of up to date technology and tools, Web 2.0, with a new view to sales. Again, when one uses new in the context of sales, one must remember that sales is the second oldest vocation on the planet; could be the first if you believe the bit about Adam, Eve and the serpent playing the role of the sales person, man did he have a value prop and ROI story, and he too was all about the relationship wasn’t he?

What many seem to have lost sight of in the whole thing was the prospect. It’s all well and good to have Web 2.0, Sales 2.0, even Buyer 2.0, the one thing that hasn’t changed is that you still need prospects, and we do not mean leads or targets, but prospects, willing and engaged prospects. Which brings us to the naïve assumption behind Sales 2.0 (S2.0), who is Prospect 2.0 (P2.0)?

I suppose if P2.0 does exist, they are a very small part of your market. Here is why. According to the pundits, at any given time 7% to 12% of you market is actively in play, actively engaged in the buying process, these would be the Buyer 2.0 we read about. Let’s saw that off at 10%, that means 90% of your market is removed from the market, some, probably 70%, far removed, classic status quo (SQ). The 20% is in the middle, thinking not acting, pipeline fodder if you will. Some S2.0 types also set out to or try to engage with this group.

So the S2.0 types do a lot to capture the attention of the 10% active buyers, and some of the 20% in the middle, but leave the other 70% to slowly simmer till they are ready to enter their SEO and S2.0 wonderland. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

As a professional sales person, I probably know more about what I sell than most of my customers. I don’t just mean product and the competition, but the over all process, potential impact; I am exposed to best and worst practices every day, allowing my prospects and clients to benefit from not just my knowledge, but as a conduit to trends in the market. Because of that knowledge, I also know how to engage with the 70% in the status quo, the ones who have not gone to their browser to do a search on what I sell.

They do not have Twitter account, tweeting and following every subject matter expert. They have not started a discussion in a LinkedIn group, and even if they did, consider this. The Document Imaging Group has just fewer than 3,500 members, half of whom are sales people or suppliers trying to engage with Buyer 2.0.  The reality for many of the 70% Status Quo types is that some hardly have enough time to have lunch. As a result many are off the S2.0 radar, but can still be approached and engaged with knowledge and expertise, the old fashion way, the Sales minus 1.0 way.

The net effect is that while there is a whole bunch Sales 2.0 type chasing a small piece of the market, we traditional knuckle draggers get to forage around in the deep end of the pool. Imagine the difference in the size of things; even if I only engage with 5% of the 70% Status Quo, I am still ahead. More importantly not under pressure because the prospect may have other social network suitors.

Now once you are engaged you certainly can, in fact should use Sales 2.0 tools to foster, nurture and move the sales process along.  Using Sales 2.0 to provide air cover in ensuring that you can continue to have mind share with the buyer and win the sale. Once they become your client you can use S2.0 tools to manage and guide the relationship.

But until Sales 2.0 can proactively reach out and engage with the Status Quo, it remains reactionary.  There is still something to be said for the traditional proactive approach, unless you like being in small crowded and noisy places.

If you would like to learn more about the how to use traditional and Sales 2.0 tools together for greater results, join me for a FREE webinar AN INCONVENIENT TRUCE tomorrow December 15 at 1:00 pm EasternRegister her.

Have you had success engaging with the cocooned status quo using Sales 2.0?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Asking For Your Vote and Support12

Article of the year

Vote For My Article As Article of The Year!

Back in September, with your vote and support, one of my articles was voted article of the month at Top 10 Sales Articles.  As a result that same article is now a finalist for article of the year, and again I am asking you to support me and democracy around the planet.  Being a true democrat, I encourage you to vote right away and vote often.  If there are those who would squander their vote and democratic duty, it is up to you to make up for it.  Tell your friends, neighbours, colleagues, golf pros and their mistresses, and show the world how the readers of The Pipeline execute when given the opportunity.

Again, here is where you can vote, do it now, and every morning between now and December 21.  Remember a vote for my article is a vote for sales freedom!

Tibor Shanto
What’s in Your Pipeline?

An Inconvenient Truce – Free Webinar11

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On TuesdayDecember 15– 1:00 pm Eastern, Tibor Shanto is presenting another in the series his Top Sales Experts Masterclasses of 2009, and you can be there, with my compliments.

An Inconvenient Truce

It is time to move the discussion beyond the current limits of the discussion around effective prospecting.  The debate of Sales (Web) 2.0 vs. Traditional prospecting, while hip and convenient, is narrow and pointless and detracts from the real issue, how can one best utilize both for the purpose of finding and engaging with more prospects.

Each works great, but in different segments in different ways.  Rather than figuring out which works best for you, just accept that they both work, and spend time figuring out how to leverage the best of each.  We will look at how the two need to coexist and how to use that coexistence to accelerate and amplify success in finding more opportunities.

As part of the discussion we will set some basic foundations; look at the hand-offs between sales and marketing; and some practical applications of cold calling and the air cover social media provides. There’ll be definitions, opinions and confusion. Best of all it is all Free!

Fear not this is not a call geeks, social network elites or knuckle dragging cold callers (damn it still works).  It is for those that are more concerned with executing sales and delivering results on a consistent basis.

Tibor Shanto is Principal of Renbor Sales Solutions and publishes the Blog and Monthly editions of The Pipeline, and is a Director and contributor to The Sales Bloggers Union.

Based in Toronto, Tibor works with leading B2B sales organization to improve their new business acquisition activities and results through a process and focus on execution.

Learn more about Tibor and Renbor Sales Solutions here.

Then you can accept my invitation to claim your FREE place for this clash of sales cultures event and register here - http://bit.ly/8O5QTF

Looking forward to having you all join in.

Tibor Shanto

Favourite Interview Question16

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Last week during the Changing the 80/20 rule series of postings, I mentioned that one set of questions I always asked prospective sales candidates revolved around the last sales book they may have read. Since then I have received several communications about people’s favourite interview questions.
 
Some were humorous, some were obvious, some were slick, but I doubt they were ever asked in an interview, they certainly can’t be republished here. One thing that became clear is that due to the nature of sales, it is difficult to know if there is a best question, or which it may be. This of course, as with most challenges in sales, makes for a great industry.

Some companies have adopted elaborate systems of facets, attributes, and characteristic studies, cross referenced with the job description to create interview guides that in the right hands make a great tool, and used the wrong way help little more than to cover the hiring manager’s rear.  Others “ask a bunch of product related questions, if they look good, and I have a good gut feel, I go for it.”

There are some interesting unique approaches, including one local firm, Hire Quality, which creates job simulations that allow employers to see candidates in action performing the critical tasks that drive job success. Simple but effective, see them in action, get beyond words. 

I have always liked the process of experiential questions, asking candidates specific questions as to how they have dealt with specific situations they are likely to face.  I ask them describe the situation, the challenge, how they dealt with it, and what they took away from the experience.  For example, “tell me about a time you had change a clients expectations based on project or product delays?”  A series of these types of questions will help you gauge the breadth and depth of their experience.  If they always go back to the same old same old, then you have a sense that they may have not had that much experience beyond the one they keep citing.  If they are able to give you a different sales experience for each question, you have a good indication that the have been in that situation before.  If they can intelligently talk about what they did and took away from each, you can move to the next step.

As with most systems and interview methodologies, they are not perfect, there are those that would tell you the best sales most sales people make is the one that got them the job, “it’s all down hill from there.”

So thanks for those who sent in some of their favourite interview questions.  Now I invite all of you to do the same, what is your favourite interview question?

Tibor Shanto
What’s in Your Pipeline?

Differentiate – don’t just Delineate10

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Back at the turn of the century, I think it was 2001 or so, I read about a study that was conducted in the USA involving financial institutions and their customers.  The goal was to see how effective their messaging was in help to differentiate themselves from other providers.  Very similar to what B2B ale people have to do on a daily basis.

In the study, they took the messaging from magazine ads, billboards and other non TV or radio ads, for each of the financial institutions, they took the names out, shuffled the deck and then brought in the focus groups.  The goal was to see if the people involved in the focus groups could identify the specific financial institution in question.

Well it won’t surprise you to know that very few were able to match the institution to their message.  Not surprising, think about it, how many times did you have to hold yourself back from laughing at those nicely framed ‘Mission Statements’ hanging in the main lobby, they all sound the same: “We want to be the softest, shiniest, cuddliest company, and oh ya, we want to make money too.”  I guess it is the same people writing these as the messages in the ads.

They spend a lot of time accentuating the shades, not articulating key differences.

B2B sales people fall into the same trap, they want to desperately differentiate, but they end up delineating, and worse, at times it sounds like: “We are just like them, except….”, and when it’s really bad, they go to price.  Now I know it may not always be easy to highlight profound differences, especially on the basis of product, functionality or even intellectual property.  But if you don’t differentiate, then what, well you’re an also ran, safety in numbers.

So how do you differentiate? You differentiate yourself through the eyes of the buyer.  By aligning your offering to the true objectives of the buyer.  If you shake off the marketing babble, the product hype and focus on the client’s real objectives, you will differentiate, not your product but your value to the client.  By real objectives we mean the underlying reasons behind what they are letting you know.  By asking the why, how, what if, the Impact Questions, you can get a view on the motivation behind the purchase.  Some of those will be objective based, some will subjective and personal.  If you are in a competitive industry with real alternatives with only shades of difference, you need to connect with the underlying motivators to truly be different in the eyes of the buyer.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

A Random Walk Up Sales Street – 2410

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Move On or Hang On?

A lot of the chatter on Sales St. this week was about year end, but not the expected banter about closing the year strong or planning for next year. It was more about which team individual sales professionals are looking to be on; and from sales leaders, who they plan to have on their team going into what most believe (hope) will be a better year.

In some ways these two sides of the coin illustrate the disconnect or difference in the way reps and leaders view the profession, their roles and resulting approach.

Many leaders realize that they have people on the bus who don’t belong there, but they are reluctant to let them off at the next stop, thinking that it is worst to have a vacant territory.  It is not. Coming from the “Hire slow, fire fast” camp, I have always believed there is greater risk in having someone who is either not capable or in whom I’ve lost confidence, in a territory than to have the territory vacant. This is why as a sales leader you should always be in interview and search mode; just like your pipeline, it easier to get rid of a dud, opportunity or rep, if you know you have other prospects, options or recruits ready.

So waiting for the new year to part company really doesn’t make sense if you are a sales leader. If the rep is so bad that you want him/her off the team, how much upside can they really provide in Q4?  If you wait for the first of the year, you are not only going to have to allow for ramp up time, no matter how little may be required, but you will also have turmoil when you most want to foster teams. It is likely that you are already introducing new targets, new comp plans, maybe even new territories, why take on more at that time. Seems to me the best time to initiate a departure strategy and related actions is as soon as you realize that the rep is not a fit anymore, not long after you know the situation is far beyond salvage.

Reps are indicating that they are hanging to realize any yearend closes, “having worked on the deal for ever, I want to at least close it before I move on”.  Others are waiting for yearend bonus, or some form of monetary reward they may (or may not) get.  While this may be sound in a few instances, it is not for most.  If you are basing your success on last minute deals based on budgetary cycles or other lunar driven events, you are truly “hanging on” rather than proactively driving business. 

On the other hand let’s say you are a good rep and feel you are limited by your current organization, or feel that you have more to offer and gain elsewhere, you should still make the move now, rather than waiting.  (There is the underlying assumption here that there is somewhere for you to move to.)  If there is, it must be true that you see more potential, then why wait, if you look at it from a 12 – 18 month perspective, in most cases yes, you may leave a few shekels behind, but you will also set yourself up to make a whole bunch more by better positioning yourself in your new gig.

If you make your move based on opportunity rather than “timing”, you will be able to get those yearend closes at your new place, and at the same time tee things up for a great start to next year, I bet this will allow you to make up for what you may feel you leave behind and then some.  So just as with the advice to the sales leaders, the time to make the move is when you know you can do better for you and your organization by moving on.

As with most thing in sales it is about the quality of the execution.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales Bloggers Union – For the 20%11

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It has been a while since I have mentioned the Sales Bloggers Union, but we are very much still here, and growing in fact.  We have added new members and dusted off some old ones, with the end result being a stronger group with more great insights and opinions and skills to share.  Our topic this month is “How Were Your March Sales?”, allows the bloggers to look at the importance of starting your sales now if you are to success in 2010.  While you will be reading a lot in January about what to do to start the year right, that will be too late, because you January sales, February sales have already started, and if you are only thinking about 2010 after January 1st, hmm.  The 20% of reps that hit their numbers every time, know that and that is why they are reading The Sales Bloggers Union, so invite everyone to take a look, share your thoughts, make some money and have fun.

What’ in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

80/20 – Part IV – Your Continuous Development13

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“What was the last book you read?”

When I was hiring sales people in the corporate world, I always asked the candidate three related questions. The goal was to see the character behind the facade, and as an indicator as to whether the person in question was likely to be in the 80% or the 20% group. The questions were:

First Question:

“What was the last sales book you read?”

This would eliminate about half the candidates as they would fidget and straighten themselves uncomfortably trying to come up with a name, before finally admitting that they had either not read one at all, or it has been a long time since they thumbed through Tom Hopkins classic How To Master The Art Of Selling.

Question two:

“Why that one?”

Straight forward, allowed me know if it was part of their routine to focus on self development or it was an anomaly. A lot people ask candidates about self development and they get the standard blurb, I wanted to see it in action. This usually pruned another 20% or so of the heard.

Last question:

“What did you learn from it?”

They were able to impress me with almost anything here, especially if I hadn’t read the book. Of course the ones that said “nothing, I knew most of it already”, went no further.

To this day it strikes me odd that so few sales people actually read sales books regularly. In fact how few embark on a program continuous of self development. Sure there are those that are required to accumulate continuous education credits to maintain their licence. Real estate, insurance, financial advisors, but even these are not all sales courses, many are just product related courses provided by vendors, thinly disguised product pitches. What’s even funnier is when they refer to sales training as soft skills, ha, don’t these people realize sales is a contact sport!

Even in those instances where a book does not present anything new, it still is a positive experience to read it. Last year I was invited to attend a Brian Tracy presentation. When I came back my wife asked me if I had learned anything new. I said no not new, but I remembered a whole bunch of things I stopped doing that I should start doing again. So I did and it made a difference.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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