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Saturday Sales Tip – 527

Touch Your Leads Once A Month

A lot of sales people glorify the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, the famous coffee is for closers line, the contest, and more.  All very entertaining – but not really great sales.   But the really dangerous habit that is reinforced in the movie, is the callus attitude towards leads; the attitude of dial three times and toss, is not only a waist, but gives impressionable sales people of all ages the wrong idea of the value of a lead, even when you are selling moose patch.

Leads are a valuable resource, and more importantly a reusable resource.  You can revisit them over time, and often realize their full potential after the third, fourth or eighth attempt at engaging.  But too many sales people and organizations to fully value their leads, evidenced by the fact that they throw them away, or store them out back, way too soon, in fact with some leads you can revisit them repeatedly over the years and many eventually bear fruit.

The challenge for many is how to strike the balance between time and resources invested in keeping leads health and nurturing them till they do bear fruit, while at the same time interacting with “prospect” that can turn into sales now.  But when you take a step back, there are some things you can do that help you get the most out of both, delivering sales now and ensuring you have enough opportunities to succeed in the future.

First is to have a lead strategy, what are you going to do to maximize interaction with “future opportunities/prospects”, which is really what a lead is, the raw material for future sales.  Let me give you my quick definition of a lead so we are all on the same page.  We look at a lead as those people/organizations that fit within the defined demographic of our best buyers.  It is not anyone in a position to buy from us, but those that have the demographics of our best customers.  You could tier them, Best, Better, Good, but again, the leads I want, the ones that I will work to convert to ‘prospects’, are the ones that have the attributes of my Best (Better or Good) existing customers.

Once identified and verified, I can begin to take them through a process/program of evolving them to the point of becoming a ‘prospect”.  They could come from referrals, people who started down the sales path with us, but didn’t complete the journey of becoming a client, but could in the future, trade show list, cold calls, etc.  We have talked in the past about our Touch > Contact > Engage method for managing and nurturing leads, and clearly all starts with Touch.  So how often do you Touch you primo leads, we think at minimum that should happen once a month.  You may Contact them less frequently, but you should touch them once a month.  How do you Touch them, different ways; I like e-newsletters, it is direct, informative, helpful and creates a curiosity and call to action.  We get in excess of a 20% click through to specific articles, which I believe is higher than direct mail, and likely because they are familiar with the source, subject and quality of the content.  But you can do different things, invitation to webinars, direct mail, etc.  The key is to do it steadily and consistently, to the point where people come to expect it.  When my e-newsletter is late going out, I get inquiries about when it is coming out or “did I miss this month’s Pipeline?”

While it is important to make sure that the Touch is quality and is in a position to add value to the recipient, it is just as important that it is frequent enough to have impact, my view, minimum one Touch per month.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Closed vs. Open Ended Questions24

For the longest time now, open-ended questions have ruled the day, while closed ended questions have been treated like a red-headed stepchild. One of the first things sales reps are taught that they have to probe by asking “open ended” questions. While I would not question the effectiveness of open ended questions, I do have to wonder if it is “the better” question every time, for every situation.  In reality it is a question of context, there are definitely situations when the best type of question is closed ended.
If you are looking to “open” things up, discover what is going on in the prospect’s world, or gain an understanding of how you can impact the prospect’s world, open ended questions are for you.  But if you are looking to finalize a phase of the sale, close down an outstanding issue, or in a situation where you need a yes or a no, you should go with a closed ended question.
Think of this as my sales answer to Timberlake, he’s bringing “Sexy Back”, I am bringing closed ended questions back. 

If you look at the sales process, from lead to long term client, there are stages, specifics will vary based on sector, product and other factors.  As a reader of this blog you have seen us refer to the EDGE process, Engage, Discovery, Gain, Execute; these generic stages, have subsets and sections and they also have specific attributes and actions.  Some stages are better executed using open ended questions, other sections, are better suited to closed ended questions.

The Discovery stage is usually the more crucial and longer that the others, it is also the stage that is best suited to open ended questions.  Looking at sales over the last 10 – 20 years or so, a key challenge has been to get reps to improve their approach to fully engaging with buyers and uncover their objective and opportunities.  This in contrast to the “Pitching” they used to do before that.  It makes perfect sense that sales leaders and trainers world emphasize questions that help reps uncover these things.  So the mantra and the battle cry became “ask open ended questions”, “open things up, get the client to talk”.

At the same time when it come to Engaging a lead and testing if it is time to convert them to a prospect, closed ended questions serve the situation better.  Some question work really well in a face to face setting, others work better over the phone.  For example when you are on the phone with a lead that you are trying to get an appointment with, you don’t want to open things over the phone, that’s better done in person.  But securing the appointment, is at time easier achieved using a closed ended questions.

Towards the end of the sale, when you are dealing with the prospect’s nerves, and they ask questions to be reassured, you want to deal with it, address, close it down and move on.  Closed ended questions could be your friend.

As with most things in life, there are very few absolutes, and so it is with questions.  The art is in asking the right question for what you need to achieve at that point in the sale.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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In Listening

Sales eXchange – 3128

No Options

Sales is one of those professions where there are not as many rights and wrongs, as there are ways that people do things.  While everyone agrees that you want the prospect to feel like they have bought rather than having been sold, how you do that can take many forms and styles.  One aspect of sales that has camps and leads to good debate is the use of options in moving the prospect in the direction you want.

You know  what I mean, giving them the option of Tuesday Afternoon or Wednesday morning for an appointment; giving the multiple options in the final purchase, say three options with three different price points and inclusions.  They tell me the last one is very effective especially if you offer three options, the buyer always goes for the mid-level one.  I am not sure, I would not know, because I don’t think sales professionals should be offering options or choices.

As sales professionals, especially those who sell “solutions” and see themselves as “consultants” executing the “consultative sales”, we should be staying away from options and offering what we believe in our “expert” opinion is the best option.  After all if you went to a lawyer or doctor, would you want to be offered options or their expert opinion?  You would want them to examine the facts thoroughly and take the right action based on the facts.

People like to buy and deal with people who capable and confident, especially when their decision involves change or potential risk to the company.   They want to work with someone reliable who they feel is ready to address a specific issues or opportunity.  That requires that the seller take a leadership role in the process.  If you are a subject matter expert, as most sales people are; and you do a professional job in the Discovery portion of the sale and establish the facts properly, you should be in a position to offer up the best plan.  If indeed you have done a good job uncovering the facts and aspirations of the buyer, why would you need options, you would know what the “right” offering is to the prospect.

Same applies when you first engage with a potential buyer.  People tell me they “don’t like to pressure the prospect” by just giving one choice, giving them two days “gives them options”.  They are not looking for options; they are looking to get an issue resolved, the quicker they can do that the better; the less you dilly-dally around the quicker that is like to happen.

Offering option also invites unnecessary negotiations.  “What’s the difference between the two?”, “can’t I get this for that price, can’t you just throw that in?” 

Avoid all this by not giving options.  Offer up the best answer to the client’s situation and go with that, if they don’t like it for whatever reason they will tell you and then you deal with that specific. But for all you know, they may see the merit in your best choice.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 422

Always Involve An Executive In Your Sale

While it is true that you do not need an executive to be involved in each sale to get the order or complete the sale, it is always an advantage to have an executive be involved somewhere in the process.  Why, because there is little of any downside, but there is a whole bunch of upside.

Why involve executives:

  • They’re the ultimate decision-maker
  • Otherwise… someone else is communicating your value
  • Opens up the rest of the organization
  • Fastest way to penetrate a company
  • Relationship can be a tie-breaker
  • Knowing them helps when you’re in trouble
  • Begin to be seen as an asset to the customer
  • Help shape new project / Get involved early

Most of these are straight forward, I do want to just emphasis three a bit, the first three.  No matter who you are dealing with in the user group, the executive can always bring their own decision, and while you may not want that heavy hand, you want to be aware when that may come into play, especially against you.  You want to be the one that defines your value to the organization.  And from their perch, they can let you know where else there is opportunity or needs.

So why don’t people call more frequently on executives?  Here are some things I hear:

  • I Haven’t Needed to Call High in the Past
  • I’m Not Sure What to Say
  • The Exec Deals with Bigger Issues
  • I Won’t Have Credibility
  • My VP Should Make These Calls
  • My Manager Doesn’t Want Me Calling Execs

All weak, all need to be changed.  If not you will continue to be selling short to the wrong individuals, who may buy, but will always keep you from realizing full potential and penetration.  If you stay with these lower level buyers you will open yourself up to these pitfalls:

  • Competition is Calling High
  • Lower Levels don’t See the Big Picture
  • Many Projects Never Get Implemented
  • May Take Months to “Get Established”
  • Tougher to Move Up Later
  • You’ll be Just Another Vendor

One last thing, you don’t have to always start with the executive, although it is a good idea to involve them early.  But even after you are in business with a company, you can strive to solidify your relation with them by reaching out to the executive.  This time as a vendor, as a provider looking to learn more about how to best deliver Value to their organization.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

When Sales Met Marketing21

Find More Prospects and Close More Sales – Toronto (Markham)

Friday, February 05, 2010 from 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM (ET)

Marketing Will Find More Prospects
Sales Will Close More Customers

We have one goal with this unique workshop. Combine our marketing and sales expertise to help Small and Medium Sized Business achieve the success they deserve.

While most business owners underrate the need to continuously market and drive revenue through proactive sales, they usually excel at one over the other.  Matching up good marketing with intelligent sales practices is an unbeatable combination, and is very doable.

Sales and Marketing can work together to achieve a greater result. Good, well thought out Marketing and a strong Sales Plan delivers a real significant increase in sales and a substantial ROI (Return On Investment).  The secret is simultaneous execution.

Our workshop provides a straight forward methodology, step by step process and action plan for SMB owners and leaders to easily integrate it into their business and achieve greater revenue and market share immediately.

Join us as we deliver a hands-on, highly impactful and unique workshop that will equip you to generate more leads, source more prospects and consistently convert them to more revenue.  By improving your strategy and execution and engaging the right buyers you will see faster and more ongoing returns.

Event Details
Toronto (Markham) February 5, 2010

• Half day interactive workshop.
• Full breakfast.
• 4 follow through conference calls.
• Free $299 credit toward your next purchase from Scott’s Directories* effectively pays for the entire workshop.

Just $299 + GST for everything!

Socializing Sales30

I always find it interesting (isn’t that a polite way of putting it) that companies will spend millions of dollars on “branding” initiatives, but forget, or just don’t bother to include their sales teams in the process.  At times it is hard to tell if this is oversight or malice, the reality is that it could be part of what may cause or widen the divide between sales and marketing, and worst leave the client with mixed signals.
With the increased use of social media or tools collectively known as Web 2.0 or Sales 2.0, clients are being communicated to and with, in a much more direct way by areas of your company that traditionally did not have direct contact with the buyer.  This is a good thing as it reduces the risk of broken messages, misinterpretation and other things that may weaken the message.  Further, the new communication vehicles allow for marketing to much better tailor the message, and segment their markets in a more precise way that makes the experience for both client and the company much more meaningful.
It allows marketing to do a much better job of qualifying and quantifying the lead, I guess the kids are calling that nurturing now.  The other great aspect of this is that it opens up a whole new way to get customer feedback than before, which both in theory and in practices makes for an all around better experience for all. 
Now sales and marketing need to figure out how to improve communication and alignment between them, not just marketing to the buyer, which could in fact be the risk or potential Achilles’ heel in the process. 
I speak to a number of companies who claim to be “social media savvy”, and what it turns out to mean is that they have a new person in marketing who is putting an initiative into practice that could well involve mainstream sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on.  They usually do good work, they may even go as far as creating a group on LinkedIn and seeding it with discussions and so on.  But when you talk to the front line sales people in these same companies they are not aware of online activity by their company.  At times they are not even aware of their company’s presence on these sites; other times they are aware that someone maybe sending some tweets, updating a business page in Facebook, but not much more.  (Think of companies in your State or Province, not just major brands).
You can argue that Sales should take the time to see and learn, but that’s not enough.  You would think that activities in the social space should be part of an overall strategy that is driven by sales and marketing, or just marketing.  But if indeed there is a strategy, then Marketing should take the time to inform the Sales team of the strategy, and as importantly how sales can, use, help, promote and benefit from that strategy.  Without that it really is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is tweeting.
The other risk of not fully engaging with Sales is what happens when a buyer, who gets involved in the company’s social message, asks their sales rep a question that arose from the message; with the rep being out of the loop, unable to capture the opportunity or momentum?
If your company is going to supply air cover for Sales in the form of “socializing”, make sure that Sales is at least aware of the initiative.  But there is so much more to be gained in bringing Sales in on the plan.  I can understand why Sales may not be the group to drive it, but if they are out of the loop, they could well end up being the group that inadvertently squanders it for no other reason than lack of communication and alignment.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Sales eXchange – 3038

Clear Out The Clutter

A lot of companies and groups within companies are going through cost cutting exercises. Travel, equipment upgrades, and training, are just some examples of things that have been cut to facilitate savings. One apparent victim for sales, especially front line sales, seems to be storage space.
Here is what I am talking about; it seems that we used to keep different opportunities in different places. Leads were kept where they could be evolved and nurtured. Stalled opportunities were placed in a queue to be reactivated. Active prospects were kept and worked through the pipeline. But now, it seems sales is just throwing everything into their pipeline, no matter if it belongs there or not. Since they need a place to keep things, the pipeline is as good as any, especially since I guess their “storage places have been cut”.
Well it’s time to clear out this clutter caused by this phenomenon. Failing to do so could be dangerous to the health of your pipeline and sales. Like clogged arteries, clogged pipelines can be hazardous to your success.
A major risk comes from the fact that many sales people are hoarders by nature, this leads to “the more the better syndrome.” By failing to clear out or even organize opportunities in their pipeline they fall into a false sense of comfort. “Look at ALL the opportunities in my pipeline”. This gives them the opportunity to be busy, not productive, just busy; but “doing things” gives the illusion of being productive. Look at all the things I have to attend to.
It also prevents them from prospecting for new opportunities, after all “I need to look after all these things in my pipeline, if I take time out to prospect I may miss out on the chance to lose one of these when it pops up.” Miss out on what? 

The fact remains that sales people’s propensity to prospect is directly inverse to the amount of opportunities (regardless of quality) they perceive in their pipeline. When it is full they tend not to prospect, and not feel guilty about it; when it is empty or thin, they (begrudgingly) will make an effort for find new things to hoard in their pipe. One immediate challenge is that they will leave things in their pipe as a means of having the illusion that it is full, which in turn helps them rationalize the fact that they are not prospecting (which most hate doing to begin with).  It is not always easy, but with input from sales managers and an objective set of criteria, will allow you to clear the clutter, removing those things that don’t belong, and moving those that do through to fruition.

A friend of mine had an interesting way to describe this challenge.  He would point out that when you are on the 30th floor terrace looking down on the lawn, it looks good, all green, all seems right.  Then when you go down to ground level, you realize that while it is all green, on a closer look half is grass, the other half weeds.  At this point you are faced with an option, you can clear the weeds and reseed, hard work needing time and effort, but direct pay-off. Or you can take the elevator back up to the 30th floor, and enjoy the lovely green view of the lawn.  The choice is yours, and so are the rewards.
What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 325

Always Have 5 Targets In Prospect Accounts

With very few exceptions in B2B sales you will need to try a number of different doors to gain access to key decision makers.  To do that successfully on a consistent basis, you will need to target multiple people within the target account.

Based on your offering there may be some obvious roles or functions you will want pursue.  While IT or Facilities Management may seem clear if you are selling document management, you will also want to target senior people in other pockets of the organization.  Who does your offering impact downstream?  Marketing, Sales, Finance?  If so why not contact them at the same time.  These executives can not only influence decisions, but can give you a greater understanding of the terrain and workings of the company that will help you as the sale unfolds.

Depending on the sale and product, we recommend you reach out to the CFO or VP of Finance.  Let’s face it, the invoice ends up in their group, they have a say on budgets, especially in today’s economy, and they do respond positively to increasing productivity, reducing cost, or better yet both.

Regardless of the title or function, you should always have at least 5 people in the account that you want to get to know and whom you want knowing you.  Go for the untraditional buyer, you never know, and you’ll be surprised what you can learn, especially since many have not built the walls the natural targets have.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The One Thing You Can't Change!25

There are a lot of things you can change in life, change in sales; your approach, your style, your energy level or resources. The one thing you can’t change is the direction of time. Time is brutal, ruthless and uncaring.  In reality even in these days of environmental awareness, it cannot be recycled. Use it once, that’s it, poof gone.

Yet it always amazes me how little effort sales professionals put into how they use their time. They waste like there is no tomorrow, and the sad fact is that there isn’t. But for some reason in sales we seem to treat it like the ultimate renewable resource. In the past I mentioned studies that claim that the average sales rep is actively productive less than 30% of the time, I am not sure I buy that number but it certainly could be dramatically improved.

As with most things the best way to start is small steps leading to long term progress, focused and steady. It sounds trite but cut out small time wasters, gain big returns.  For some that may be a simple thing like a few minutes less surfing, a little less talk about the playoff games, and maybe try that coffee in the lobby as opposed to the overpriced goo a couple of blocks around the corner. Doesn’t sound like much, but 15 minutes a day, is over an hour a week; imagine how many old leads (former prospects from deals that didn’t close), or neglected clients whose circumstances or requirements have changed you could reconnect with. Connect with just one a week, do the math, how many could get to buy over a quarter?

Once you achieve that you are ready for bigger game. Go for some big chunks to repurpose. One that always fascinates me is the amount of time people spend “doing research” before they actually prospect. Please note that I said before, I absolutely agree that you have to research and be fully prepared for a meeting with any potential buyer, but before you even reach out to connect with them, not sure it’s a good use of time.

Say you need to make 10 calls to talk 5 people to get one appointment. I hear reps tell me that they will spend 10 to 15 minutes researching a company before they make an initial attempt.  Let’s take the low end, that makes 100 minutes of research to get one appointment, almost two hours to get one appointment. When you consider that you could buy qualified appointment for about $500, why not just do that and spend the two more hours selling.

If you do it differently, cut your research down to half or less, imagine. One simple way is to focus on like companies, all manufacturers one day, service companies next, etc. Even if you do this twice a week, that two hours reclaimed right there.

Another thing you may consider, stop chasing dead deals, put them back into nurturing mode or bury them, but stop wasting your time on things that will not happen. Those are some ideas from me, now it’s your turn, what suggestions do you have to save the most valuable resource you have, time.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 2929

You are the Difference

One of the challenges many sales people face is the sheer volume of direct and indirect competition.   In some cases it is not the worst thing especially if you can differentiate yourself, your company and your product.  But it certainly a big challenge when you are part of an industry that has a lot of players and the reality is that you are fighting of the pressures of commoditization daily.  Consider, transport, telephony, hardware, office supply and others.  You can see how hard it can become to differentiate on the basis of product or company. Just look at Staples latest TV ad, where the guy is looking at the products on the shelf yelling his surprise about how low the prices are.  We think that’s just wrong, but I guess they feel they have run out of options.   Don’t worry you have not.

So if you can’t differentiate based on product, or company, it comes down that the differentiating factor needs to be you, and the way you sell.  Looking at one specific is how you handle proposals or quotes.  In many instances it has evolved in to a strange game that most are forced, even if begrudgingly, to play, not only competing based on price, but allowing the process to be “called in.”

Here is the scenario, you prospect a specific buyer, they tell you their all set, like a pro you persist and they finally give you the opportunity to “compete”, sort of.  “Listen, why don’t send me a quote, and I’ll take a look and I’ll let you know.”  Some see this as a win, an opportunity, “great, I’ll get it together and get it to you then follow up.”  They labour and prepare a quote, then either e-mail or fax it in, wait a day or two of six and then call the prospect, no answer, three voice mails, lots of frustration, then they finally connect;  only to be told that they were too high, or “it looks good, I’ll keep you in mind”, or variations there of.  While this may not be common in some industries, but it is in many others.

But you don’t have to do that, I understand the pull of the process, the opportunity to bid, that shot at some business.  But it also presents an opportunity to differentiate yourself by choosing either not to play the game or play it differently.  Making the choice not to play is straight forward, not easy, I understand that the choice not to play, leads to a clear conclusion, no business.  But if you play, then it is just a question of time before someone comes and undercuts you, then someone undercuts them, and if you want to get back in the game you undercut them, and it just spirals down from there.

Why not take a different tact, first off before you quote get something in return, a meeting, a plant tour, something that will open up the discussion and lead to mutual discovery.  Go further, if pushed for a quote, say straight out that you don’t do things that way.  Tell the prospect “that my experience has taught me that in most instances, when we just send in a quote, it is rarely taken seriously and usually leads to a bidding war.  The customers we win and serve over time are the ones we sat down with, explored their requirements, and then propose something based on a clear understanding.”   I know that this will not fly every time or most of the time, but what happens when you throw that quote against the wall?  Exactly.

Even when you do things right and you find yourself having to send in the quote, do it differently.  Tell them you want to schedule time to submit and review it together.  If they say no, you have a choice to make.  If they agree, and enough will, let’s say to a call Wednesday at 11:00 (a meeting would be preferred, but let’s say you can only get a call), they will usually ask that you send it in advance, and you have no choice but to agree.    Tilt things in your favour, advance is a relative term, could mean a day before, a week before, but it also means 10:59 Wednesday, and that’s my choice.  Why give them the advantage to look at your quote without you having the benefit of heir immediate reaction.  If you send it in a day or two in advance, they may like your quote, but start thinking about how and what they want to bargain.  They may find you less costly and turn to their current supplier to match it, and in this environment they will.  Eliminate that by sending it in just as you are calling, if you have it in you as they get on the phone, you will get their first reaction and be able to work that rather than a delayed, rehearsed or other reaction.

One other thought, if they do go to their current supplier for a price to match yours, get ahead of that too, tell the prospect that the incumbent will offer a match price to keep their business, but where were they till now?

Sales Smack

Jim Keenan, sales blogger extraordinaire, who can be found at A Sales Guy, is taking it up a notch with Sales Smack at TalkShoe.  As Jim says “Sales Smack gets everyone’s opinions. Sales Smack throws down sales topics that never seem to get answered. Sales Smack brings together, sales dorks, entrepreneurs, marketing weenies and anyone else with an opinion on how to run a business better for a full on business, sales and marketing smack-down. Do you have an opinion? Come on now, don’t be shy. SAY IT!”

So join Jim, me and many more on the first of a series of Sales Smack, tomorrow at 7:00 pm eastern, everything you need to know is at Sales Smack.  You want to be there because your competition may be.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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