Welcome to The Pipeline.

Did iPhone 4 Hang Up On Customers? – Saturday Sales Tip – 2622

One of the key lessons every sales professional has to learn and accept (and the earlier in their career the better), is that perception is reality, and the only perception that counts is the buyer’s.  Once you learn this lesson you can begin to focus on communicating and delivering value, the right experience and the right perception to you customers.  Few can escape or buck this reality.  The ones that do, and usually they can’t do it ongoingly, are companies that achieve cult status with their followers and can risk occasionally taking them for granted , most companies can’t.  One company that can is Apple, and it would appear that they may be doing just that.

If you are a read of this blog you know I had an interesting experience with Apple earlier this year.  I don’t dislike apple, the stock has made me money, their phones look nice, and I was considering getting one till the launch of the iPhone 4 this week.  While early reviews were good, users began to complain about dropped calls and a lack of signal.  IPhone 4 flaw can cause loss of cell strength

Most companies would have to respond in a considered way, ensuring that the news and rumours don’t get ahead of the facts and that a viable resolution is offered.  Which is why I was surprised to see the initial response from the manufacturer, here is what Apple put out:

“This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your Phone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.” Wired.com June 25, 2010

Or as the headline in the above story suggested “you are holding it wrong”.

OK, so what can we do about that?

Apple’s suggestion: The problem can be resolved by getting a case for the iPhone, cost $29.

Now don’t get me wrong, $29 makes for a good lunch, but it is the attitude towards that customer that makes this response amazing.  Can you imagine if this was Ford or some other mortal company was faced with a similar scenario?  They would not only have to deal with the recall, but bear the expense of the fix, i.e. the cost of the case.

While this is not likely to unravel Apple and the success of the iPhone 4, it is a good example of how even a small whiff of complacency and customers being taken for granted or even ignored can cost immediate business and potential long-term impact.

While it may be tempting to ignore customers, even if the issue is small and easily resolved, it is not advisable.  It is much better to deal with things, even when it may just be perception, than potentially dealing with the reality of a scorned  customer.  Speaking of perception, what’s you perception of the HTC Android phones?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Right Pipe Equals Options22

I had a call from the rep in a quandary; she had a client who was running her around, being very demanding and at the same time being less than straight with her.  Having worked with her in the past, I know that she was not prone to panic so this had to be a real problem for her.  The challenge or problem for me was that I saw her predicament as different from the one she saw.

As we continued to discuss the sale, I felt that there were a number of things she could try, but was it really worth her time, effort and emotion?  While the opportunity was a sizable one, it may not be worth the aggravation, especially if it does not happen; if there were integrity issues now, they are likely to continue and so will her strife.  So I asked “maybe it’s time to walk away, move on and work on something else and revisit this another time?”

She confided that she can’t, because they were one of only a handful of prospects in her pipe (four really), and this was the largest.  This is what I felt the problem was, not the buyer’s attitude or demeanour.  You can’t always change people, and there is really no way to determine what is behind their stance.  But you can always turn to other prospects and move forward.

It was clear to me that her challenge was that she needed to close this deal if she was going to make plan.  Looking at her track record in the last few quarters, she had a conversion record of 25% of those opportunities at Discovery stage.  Of the four currently in her pipe only three were at Discovery, even if she closed her belligerent client, she would be short of quota, and would need to close another deal, even if it was small.

In past quarters she always kept an eye on the front end of the pipe, she traditionally allocated enough time to prospecting to have at least 10 real prospects on the go, which gave her a cushion based on her conversion rates.  Q1 was good and bad at the same time.  Good: she landed a couple of big deals, doing that kept her busy, and when she was able to Engage with the client in question she felt it would help her maintain momentum into Q2.  Of course, this was before the prospect in question grew fangs and talons.  Bad: because of the above she got a bit and cocky, and stopped Proactively Prospecting, to make sure the deals closed in Q1, and because she was distracted by the potential size of the opportunity in question.

While it may sound overly simplistic, a proportionally filled pipeline gives you options.  Proportionally means packed with the right things, not everything.  Just stuffing it is no better than having too few opportunities in it; you don’t want to clog your pipeline and have an “Opportunity Arrest”.  You do want to have a blended pipe based on size, length of cycle and other factors, one being enough opportunities to deliver the number of deals you need based on your conversion rates.  For an easy way to determine this read Working Backwards From Your Goal To Get Ahead.

As a not so wise short New Yoker once said, even the best sales rep can’t do his thing without a prospect.  The challenge our friend was having is if she walked away from the opportunity in question, she would have virtually no prospects.  Instead, she was faced with some bad choices, put up with the client’s crap knowing that it was her only hope to salvage the quarter, and knowing that they were bound to become a problem client.  She could forfeit the quarter, not good for career or rent. 

Alternatively she could prospect really hard between now and the end of the week and hope to close something by next Wednesday. Sure.  Not only do we have half the city out of commission due to the G20 meeting here in Toronto, but July 1st is a holiday and half of Toronto will disappear mid-day Wednesday.  She could always offer discounts to the other three prospects, but that would just be stupid, right?

At the end we agreed that this will be avoided in the future by ensuring that she did in fact have the minimal number of opportunities flowing through to ensure that she can make rational decisions rather than being forced to make emotional choices for the wrong reasons.

We also agreed that she would meet with the prospect in question, and professionally discuss what she sees as “obstacles” and ask the client to articulate where they are, and in the process either clear the air and have a productive prospect, or make the unfortunate choice of walking away.  Keep you posted.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Beyond Value18

There is no shortage of talk in sales about benefit and value. While it may have taken a bit of time to get sales people to focus on value, not as defined by a “value proposition” crafted by your marketing department, but value as perceived and defined by your buyer. This is why we teach sellers to use the Discovery phase of the EDGE Sales Framework as a mutual process; mutual meaning both discovering things about the buyer, and allowing the buyer to discover things about your offering and in the process mutually defining the common value.

Read On…

What’s in You Pipeline?

Value Propositions – Sales eXchange – 5226

I always struggle with the phrase and the delivery of “The Value Proposition”.  I understand what is meant when people use the phrase, and what it purports to do, but in most instances, usually due to execution, it just ends up being a pitch, a higher quality or level pitch, but a pitch nonetheless.

In many cases the “the value prop” by nature are canned, are developed by marketing; while they may include input from ‘focus groups’ or actual clients, they are usually devoid of direct input from the actual prospects the sales reps is Engaged with at a specific point in time. By virtue of that fact it negates or limits the Discovery process so necessary to real Engagement and specific value the buyer may or may not realize.

This is not to say that sellers should not be aware or know the value they offer, and delivered to buyers, it is a question of how they use it in the process of a sale to specific buyers, rather than assuming that the same proposition will mean the same value to all buyers.  The balance many sellers try to achieve while executing the sale, is one between presupposing and pitching and using their knowledge to Engage; to entice the buyer rather than overwhelm the buyer.

This is especially a risk early in the process when the seller is usually ahead of the buyer in their respective processes. While the seller sees and is genuinely excited about the possibilities, the buyer, having been approached may still be trying to weigh factors to see if they should Engage or not.  At times we proceed to hit them with our “value prop” way before it is time, before they are ready or Engaged.

A better use of the knowledge of how we can deliver value is to use that knowledge to create questions that will drive the Discovery process and lead the buyer to the same point in their buying cycle that we are at in our selling cycle.  Use the understanding of the value to develop questions that establish our credibility, and our expertise, so we can be seen as a resource by the buyer.

There is also the reality of self-discovery by the buyer; no, not discovering one’s self; but discovering by themselves how valuable our solution is based on their specific circumstances.  We have all heard the statement: “Knowledge is the biggest barrier to learning”.  So if we enter into the sale knowing the “value prop”, it may leave little room for “learning” the specifics of each individual buyer. While there are likely many similarities, there are also differences between buyers, not the least of which that each buys in their own way. By taking your knowledge and using it to create questions that involve and Engage the buyer, you’ll do a much better job of asking the type of questions that will get the buyer thinking, and give them the sense that you are an expert because “you understand” as demonstrated by your questions as opposed to you canned “value prop”.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Be A Trader – Saturday Sales Tip – 2522

Selling at its best has always been a game of trading, a balance of give and take.  This may be more obvious and used more often in the context of negotiations, especially price towards the latter part of the deal, but you can barter and horse trade throughout the cycle not only to achieve your objectives, but as a means of accelerating the deal.

As with most things in sales, execution is key, and key to execution is planning, an activity many in sales don’t much take to.  I suppose you can succeed by reacting on the spot and trading something for another; but you can leverage it so much more if you plan it in advance.  By planning and knowing it in advance you will be able to work towards it with the way you conduct your Discovery and Impact portion of the sale.  By planning in advance you can set the flow and move towards objective with more conviction and velocity.

There are a bunch of subtle thing you can “trade” to achieve results.  Many think it has to be tangible but it does not.  One thing you can trade is “personal validation” in the form of an ego stroke.  You can educate a buyer or you can lecture to a buyer, we prefer the former.  To do that the first thing you have to do is open their mind and create the opportunity to learn.  At times, the easiest way to do that is to allow the buyer to teach you something first, to give them the opportunity to be “the man”, to be right.  You’ll find that when you do that they will be more open to “learning from you”.  So plan ways to introduce subjects where you are willing to concede on so you can use it early to Engage and involve the client.

You can also trade access to either people, resources, or things like events.  One simple example would be a trade to meet your executive in return to the buyer bringing executives from his/her (so PC) company.  Other examples would be access to a resource, a buyer could use or has expressed interest in a technician or expert, of equipment, trade that for concrete solid commitment that specifically move the sale forward.  Events would be industry or process events, not hockey or basketball games.

The obvious is trading related to price, but even here you can plan in advance and get not only forward movement, but accelerate commitment time, so even when you are put in a position to make concession, one gain is completing the deal soon, and being able to invoice now vs. the future.  No matter what you choose to trade, make sure it is planned in advance, and moves your agenda forward.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Engaged Manager16

If you have followed this blog you know that I have always advocated that a front-line sales manager needs to lead from the front, not from the back or a remote location.  This applies to all aspects of their leadership, while they may be managers, they are not above the fray.  So it is disappointing to see managers who fail to lead and use their title or role as a justification.

While I may have a bias, I think the most egregious example of this is a sales manager who does not participate in sales training programs and workshops their teams are participating in.  Most of the time they are sitting in their office, moving paper from one pile to the next, check some e-mail, do some real important things.  Must be really important, other wise they would be in the room with their teams, participating, reinforcing, and generally leading the process in a hands on way.

What is the message to team members when a front-line sales managers does not participate?  In effect he is saying that “I am not that invested in your development, things will not be that different after you have been trained”.  This is even worse when the same manager is not even aware of the content, and has not prepared for the follow up needed to ensure adoption.

In most cases we work with managers in advance not only to help them get familiar and comfortable with the material about to be presented to their teams.  We also use the opportunity to develop a structured Follow Through Action Plan, this integral to the success of the program as it goes to ensure adoption.  Most managers see this as an opportunity to not only ensure that the learning experience is a positive one for all involved, and that they, their team and their company realize a real return on their investment and objectives; but they also have a chance to evolve their coaching skills.

But then occasionally you run into a manager who belies that they are the end all and be all, while their teams need all the help they can get, they are great and need no improvement at all.  It will not surprise you to learn that in most cases these are the very managers who could use the most help, and usually are not serving their teams or leading them to improvement.

There are a number of reasons for this, usually it is a case that the individual was not suited to be a manager to begin with, likely got the job because they were a good rep, and got the pat on the back, and in an effort not to lose them the company promoted them.  This usually leads to two problems, a territory that lost a capable rep, and having a manager who neither leads, coaches or manages the team, just plays the role.

At the same time lets not forget that the manager ha a leader as well, and the manager usually gets his signal from them.  If training is just a check mark on a list of KPI, and is discussed in those terms at management meetings, it is likely that the manager will have a laissez faire attitude towards it, and reflect that to their teams.  On the other hand, if improvement and development is part of the sales culture, supported right from the top, that is what will cascade down.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales – Could Be Art But Not Science – Sales eXchange – 5131

A common debate at many sales conferences is whether sales is art or science, and as discussion evolves, it usually focuses in on what the optimal blend of the two should be and how to mix them for best results.  While usually it makes for a good discussion, you always leave the discussion feeling that it was somehow incomplete or somehow it missed the mark. 

The problem with the debate is that while the art does have some place in the sales discussion, science in many ways probably does not.  Too many rules, too many must dos, can dos, don’t dos, and other limitations that do not fit or belong in sales. A much better framework for the discussion would be music.

I know you are going to say that there are rules in music too; but if you look closely those rules are there to be interpreted, broken and rewritten.   What is unheard or unacceptable one day is mainstream the next.  Soon that familiar mainstream fades in to the predictable and then oblivion; it is again resurrected some time later with a new name, same “new” rules but different colors. What was called “compelling events” in the 90’s or last decade are now “trigger events”.  Selling, like music, allows for everything old to be new again, all driven by the need to discover and rediscover.

Rules, instead of being rigid and limiting as they may be in science, become starting points for creative sales people. In many ways this could explain the 80/20 rule so prevalent in sales. We have 80% of sales people who see the rules as things to follow and obey, not questioning the limitations along the way.  Then there is the 20% who constitute the top performers, who see rules as a starting point, guidelines, or merely suggestions or milestones on the road to success.

This is not to say that some of the classic rules are not valid or relevant, but they often fail to grow and evolve with the market and technology, and as result yield less results or fail to help in winning business.  Witness the upheaval caused by Web 2.0 and Sales 2.0, changing the rules for so many buyers and sellers.  You can still win business without embracing the tools, possibilities and new rules presented by these developments, but chances are not to the degree you did before or could if you included them in the mix.

The other thing that makes music a better comparison is the ability to be creative, to improvise.  Music allows that, at times demands it, as does selling, where science does not.   If you think of it, Charlie Parker had to learn the eight notes, just like any other musician, but it was his willingness and ability to then play with the rules, to interpret and improvise that made him the great musician he was.  It was his willingness to flirt, play and buck the rules that allowed him to excel.   While I am not sure John Cage would have been a great sales person, his willingness to rewrite the rules would have made him more interesting and successful than say Einstein.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Dealing With The Obvious – Saturday Sales Tip – 249

Sales people are notorious for their egos, and while it may usually serve them well, often it also gets in the way, especially when it drives to behave in certain ways, especially when it prevents them from dealing with some obvious things.  This usually comes down to two things, protecting their pride, and making assumptions about things they should not be making assumptions about.

As sales people we are often experts in the specific areas; after all we spend our time dealing with different people taking many different approaches to the same challenge.  So we not only get exposed to a range of solutions, but we can usually identify which may fir a specific circumstance, and which don’t.  The problem becomes when we don’t use our expertise to engage with customers, but instead make assumptions about specific situations and act based on those assumptions.  The thing to remember is that the goal early in the sales process is not to be right, but to engage.  So even when something is obvious, it is better to ask or speak about it to facilitate engagement, than to skip past because you’ve seen this before and “you know”.  Even if you know, you may as well deal with it as a means of creating dialogue, which will uncover other facts and maybe opportunities.

Other time it is simply a case of pride, and not wanting to look stupid or to pushy when you are just curious.  As an example, during our Proactive Prospecting Program, we talk about what happens when you cold call a prospect and they say “you know, give me a call in October”.  To us the obvious question is “help me understand what will change between now and October so I can be prepared?”  (This will be the subject of next week’s Saturday Sales Tip).  But many are reluctant to ask, why, here what I hear a lot:

  • Don’t want to seem pushy or salesy
  • Don’t want to look like I don’t know
  • It is not important, I’ll just call back

Not knowing is not the worst, missing a sale is.  What if you asked, and instead of seeming pushy, you seemed thorough?  What if you asked and you found out something that would allow you and he prospect to act now?  What if you all your competitors call back in October, wouldn’t it be better to move ahead now?

Nothing is too obvious, except missed goals and an empty pipeline.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Out Of The Box Thinking23

There is a lot of talk in sales and in marketing about ‘thinking out of the box'; this is big with me because I am sure that when they put me in a box I’ll be dead, and that’s not good. But all too many in sales people are stuck in their boxes, they may say they think out of the box, even when they are too afraid to come out of the box. It’s so warm and cosy, easy to explain, not like outside the box.

Now being in sales, and having the ego to go with it, you’re probably sitting their thinking “phew, can’t be talking about me, I think out of the box, hey even that sales tech said so last week before I bought her lunch.”  Well let’s test things and find out, shall we?

What’s one and one?

Waiting

Waiting

Waiting

Write your answer here: _____

One more, what’s three and three?

Waiting

Waiting

Waiting

Write your answer here: _____

So, what did you put down, 2 for the first one, and 6 for the second?

You’re so in the box!

The first one is obviously eleven; and the second is thirty-three.

Absolutely it is a right answer, look, just step out of the box a minute, yes you can keep one hand on it for security if you need to.

Look here, 1 and 1, or 11, it’s eleven. Again, 3 and 3, 33, thirty-three, right?

Of course it is, if you said two, you choose to only partially listen to what I was asking. Thought you heard one plus one, right? this was amplified by the echo chamber that is your box, and bam, an answer that misses the opportunity presented.  How many times do you face this same risk with customers and blow it?

In sales you must float or ride your experience, not be weighed down by it; like a surfer on a big wave, you can use it to be propelled forward, or be crumbled by its power. You need to interpret and react according to the specific situation, be creative in responding, not predictable with your comebacks.

You need to use and leverage language and imagination in moving sales forward. But if you insist one and one is two not 11, than you need to relax and open the lid a bit more, a lot more.  By leveraging language and imagination you will not only challenge yourself to creatively resolve challenges, but also encourage your buyers to step up and step beyond their limits, especially in how they limit their view of their challenge, and things that limit their perception of “a” solution.

It is one thing to say you think or act out of the box, and then be as conventional as ever in an effort to conform to the buyer’s view.  It is another thing to really step out of the box and take you buyer and success with you.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 50 – The Churn17

As you know we have a big focus on conversion metrics and numbers.  I have become accustomed to many front line reps and managers not being fully aware of key conversion rates, but there is one that most tend to ignore that severely impacts their success, and their ability to plan for success.  That number is the(ir) churn; usually expressed as a percentage, it is the amount of revenue that disappears from the base year in year out.  It varies from industry to industry, caused by various factors, and clearly fluctuates with real world events. 

Most reps and front line managers are aware that there is churn; the problem is that they do not know what the churn is at any given time, year over year, or how the current levels stack up against the trend.  By not focusing on this number, and not taking it into account durum their planning, they run the risk of missing their goals despite better intention.  As a result they usually end up dealing with churn on a case by case basis rather than proactively in a holistic way. 

Let’s look at an example where your base revenue is $2 million, if you are given a goal of 8%, you need to grow revenues by $160,000 for a year end target of $2,160,000.  But if at the same time you are experiencing 15% churn, there is a hidden $300,000 you have to deliver by year end just to stay whole.  The reality for the rep on the ground is that by the end of the year they have to generate $460,000 by year end.  This is a dramatic number if you are not planning for it.  Again the suggestion here is not that it is unattainable, but that if you are not planning for it, you could do well hitting you $160,000, even exceeding it and selling $210,000; your territory will still be under quota.

Of course one thing you can do is work on managing our base, thereby reducing churn, but the reality is that there is a point of diminishing returns.  Companies go under, merge or get bought, or opt for a cheaper alternative, while would recommend you chase the price based loss, it is a loss nonetheless.

The key is to be aware and proactive, first understand that the elephant is in the room, and in your pipeline.  Once you’ve done that, factor the impact into your planning, in to all your sales activities.  It is not just a question of doing more; it is a question of being more strategic.  You don’t have to settle to do more, I would much rather you plan to sell different accounts, selling more with your original sale, so you can leverage you efforts early.

You should also understand in great detail why certain accounts tend to leave.  This will a) allow you to anticipate better; b) pursue accounts that have attributes of those that tend to have longevity; c) avoid those that tend to leave early.  The more you can recognize this the better you will deal with it.  One other opportunity once you become better at predicting who maybe at risk, is to fire them early; this usually has the effect of clearing the air and allowing you to create bandwidth you will need to make up for lost revenues.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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