Welcome to The Pipeline.

A Random Walk Up Sales Street – 1310

sales exchange

What a Waste

I recently read an article discussing productivity that stated that the average white collar non-management employee is engaged in productive activity only about 32% of the time, specifically 32% of work hours.  I have also heard statistics stating that sales people are only engaged in productive activity about 27% of the time.  While I am not sure how one measures “productive” activity, it seems alarming that any way you look at it, the implication is that sales people are only productive or working less than a third of the time available to them for working.

Non-productive activities were considered to be things like surfing the web for personal use, personal calls, office socializing, etc. Not to be overly defensive for sales people, but while being stuck in traffic on the way to an appointment may seem like one is not working, it is unavoidable, and while you can make calls from the car, so it would seem that there is some productivity to be measured there.

Rather than trying to dispute the claims, I think it is much better to step back and see how you can change things even moderately and set up a plan to be consistently more productive.  The good news is that if you are in sales and on a commission plan, any increase in productivity will lead to more money for you, which is a good thing!

Here are three things that will help you do just that:

Remove Yourself

If you do work in an office and have to be present at different points during the week, take steps not to be distracted.  While you need to be social, there is over doing it.  Sharing war stories, discussing the weekend, Michael Jackson’s death, or the next idiotic thing to come out of Jimmy Carter’s mouth; they all maybe good fun, but 10 minutes a day can make a difference.  So discipline yourself to minimize these rituals.  Get yourself out of the office as soon as you have fulfilled your obligations.  If you do have to be there, politely discourage interruptions and of course do not be interrupting.  Find an unused office or boardroom away from your normal workspace and get things done.  That’s 10 minutes a day, almost an hour a week.

Prioritize

Establish your “must do’s”, rank them in order of importance, then DO IT.  A while back in our monthly newsletter I wrote a piece called “Allocate Time – Manage Activities”,  in which we encouraged people not worry about managing time, but rather figure out how much time they need to allocate time to the right activities, then manage they way they do them.  So once you understand and validate you required activities, based on metrics and objectives, rank them in importance, assign the time and do one thing, (multi-tasking is overrated and does not work in sales), don’t do other things.  If those other things really need to be done, then you will have allocated the time, if you did not, then they can wait.  Remove yourself and do it.  While you may not save time, you will make more of your time, and add the 10 minutes above and add it to your top priority, and wow!

One Man’s Research Is Another Man’s Time Wasted

This is specifically aimed at those who “really want to prospect, but never find the time”, you know the ones, who had their list ready, were going to make the calls, you know the ones from the trade show last week, but just as they were about to go at it, the Justice League called and they had to save the planet.  Then there are the sellers who continue to lament their missed opportunity to become a Las Vegas card tick lounge act.  You’ve seen them, they keep shuffling the cards they have collected, when they finally pick one five minutes later, they hold it out, looking for the psychic connection that will reveal all they need to know to make the sale.  A further five minutes is spent looking at the card waiting for it to grow arms and fingers that will pick up the phone and dial it for them.

But the winner of the this category are the “scholar come sellers”, the people who have to study everything there is to know about a company, the executive and the janitor, before they can pick up the phone to set an appointment or better yet, to leave a voice mail.  I have people tell me that they make 10 prospecting calls a day for the purpose of getting an initial appointment, they also tell me that they would spend as much as 20 -30 minutes researching each of those calls.  That’s 200 to 300 minutes, 3-5 hours a day.  Please, they are either lying, sales people don’t do that; not making the calls, or both.

It is important to be prepared, but don’t over do it, do what you need to get the appointment, then when you have the appointment, but don’t do the deep dive before it is needed.  Unless of course your goal is to look productive, instead of being productive.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

I Was A Closet Order Taker!16

girl by phone

And now a word from our sponsor, Order Takers Anonymous:

“Hi, my name is Jane, and I am an order taker.”

Here at Order Takers Anonymous we work every day with troubled order takers trying to live the life of sales person.

We understand the challenges and stress associated with having taken a sales job knowing that you are unprepared, unequipped and unwilling to do anything more than just take orders.

We work with troubled professionals every day looking to free themselves of the lies and limitations of just taking orders. Our goal is to help them shed the guilt and become productive contributing members of their organizations.

As a result of the work we do at Order Takers Anonymous, hundreds of fine and well meaning people are able to stop the charade of pretending to be in sales, to actually selling instead of just taking orders. Those who are unable to make the transition are rehabilitated and repurposed for a productive career in marketing or hospitality.

Through the years we have learned that many of the order takers who come to our clinic are themselves victims of poor management, mixed messages, and a lack of training. We know that these poor souls did not sign up for a career of mediocrity and non-contribution. They were lead there by weak leadership, a lack of direction and process that would help them sell rather than just wait for prospect or buyer to call and place an order just because of their “relationship”.

Our trained staff of professionals know that only those who confront their realities and take action can be successfully reintroduced and integrated into a real sales environment, ready to work, execute and contribute to their organization’s revenue and profit success.

So if you have order takers posing as sales reps in your organization, or if you are a poser yourself, and want to leave behind a life of order taking to become a fully productive member of the sales team, call our toll free number now (800) 661-8760, or visit our web site: www.ordertakersanonymous.com and register for a group meeting near you. It won’t be easy, you will work hard everyday like most sales people, but remember: you are what you sell, not an order you take.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Overcoming Price In B2B Sales12

Chess board guy

Price, the eternal boogieman for sales people is and always will be an issue in sales.  It is up to the sales professional to manage and deal with it, their ability to do that will not only determine their own personal success, but by extension that of their company.

Let’s state up front that we are not trying to make light of the issue, price is a critical factor in any purchase, even more the case in uncertain economic times accentuated by shrinking budgets, delayed decisions, and competitors resorting to discounting to win deals.

As we all know discounting is a cancer, especially when everyone “one downs” the other and while the customers win at first blush, everyone loses at the end. Now you may ask why and how customers lose with a lower price point?  Well contrary to a popular view pushed by some sales pundits, companies do not fail due to lack of revenues, but more accurately due to a lack of profits. Discounted deals result in revenues, but often show little or no profits or worse at times a loss on specific deals. That impacts sellers in the immediate sense, and as profits are reduced across a sector due to discounting, things such as R&D, service, quality, reinvestment decline with it to maintain profits. This eventually trickles down to the customer and impacts them over time.  It may be easy to blame the customers for this type situation, but that simple view may help sellers rationalize their actions, but it is the seller’s job to manage the sale, which includes price.

Consider two facts; first, while price is a big factor, it can be over come. A few years ago I attended a workshop on negotiating; they showed that decisions generally break down as follows:

  • Price – 40%
  • Product quality and fit – 20%
  • Relationship/Rapport between buyer and seller - 20%
  • Internal Factors (politics, priorities, etc.) - 20%

While price is the largest component, it can be trumped. Even if your product is at the high end of the price range, you can still over come the discounters. If you score 10 points on the Internal Factors; 15 points for Relationship; 18 points for Product Quality: and 20 points for Price, still puts you ahead of those who come up short on everything but price.

Second, buyers are sensitivity to “realistic” prices. People understand when something is too cheap to be real and will pass on buying below that level. The same is true for the high end, when something may be great, score top marks for all factors but is just priced way too high, and again no buy.

Now I know you are sitting there, and rightly so, saying “this is all well and good but my clients are still demanding price concessions, so how do I stop the pounding?” I would be. Well to start, and on a very tactical level, concessions are a step up from discounting, concession implies the client acknowledges the value and fit, the question becomes what each party can do, give or give up to get the deal done.

On a strategic level, you have a lot more options, especially if you are willing to work.  One of the most important aspects of sales is that you as the seller need to set and control the flow, this is a must, period. Now before you pop a vein or go puritan on me, I said control the FLOW not the prospect or the client.  Someone has to drive.  Someone has to lead.  This may as well be you.

With that, you can begin to frame the discussion around value and returns, rather than price or outlay. Here we are not talking about some abstract notion of value, but specific elements with teeth. 

Having said that there is not an absolute method, but there are several models and methodologies that can be applied.  At Renbor we look to the financial world, specifically to value oriented investors. When you look at some of the factors they consider, many can be repurposed for communicating and selling value. Based on the buyer’s reality you would accentuate different elements, be they break even time, inherent risks, total cost of ownership or ROI, and more. 

Presented in context ROI is a much better foundation for a sales than price. A 10% return on $10,000 product is still better than a 5% loss on a comparable product priced at $6,500. 

As is often the case in sales, it really comes down to understanding the market, the client, having a plan, the questions to execute the plan, and then doing it.

What’s in Your Pipeline?

Tibor Shanto, Principal with Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., and find out how he has helped dozens of organization to fill their pipeline with real prospects – - driving real revenue.

For more information on helping your team sell better, write to: info@sellbetter.ca, or call 416 671-3555. You can also follow Renbor on Twitter http://twitter.com/renbor.

A Random Walk Up Sales Street – 1211

 sales exchange

What do you want: A client or A deal?

I was sitting with a few friends enjoying a cold beer or two, and since all of us are involved in sales you can bet that it is usually one of the topics discussed.  Before you jump to conclusions, it is not the only topic, but one of, so yes we do have a life.  One of the people involved was Trevor, who was the subject of a recent contest we had, where he had a tough choice to make, and as he says “I made a decision, and have been growing the account ever since”. 

Trevor was amused by the responses and still feels that none of them would have resulted in both deals in question happening, or have a lead to two successful clients.  Adding to his amusement was the latest comment to be submitted just yesterday from a reader that called Trevor’s approach “Cynical and manipulative”, and accused him of being selfish in the process.  After Trevor stopped laughing, his comment was “so what, I got the deal he didn’t, that guy may have made a “friend” or “relationship”, but he would never get both deals, land both clients.”  At that point Trevor quoted a book both he and I have enjoyed in the past, The Hard Truth About Soft-Selling: Restoring Pride and Purpose to the Sales Profession; from which he quoted “I never made a commission for a relationship just for a sale”.

Which brings up an interesting question, what should a seller aspire to, winning a deal or winning a client, are the two compatible or mutually exclusive? Trevor felt that the two are not mutually exclusive, but if he had to choose he would take the deal.  As he tells it, much of the relationship talk in his estimate is just political correctness creeping into sales.  There are a lot of different sayings in sales, and they all serve a purpose, but they also tend to be contradictory.  For example, he referred to the common notion that incentives drive behaviour, “if my company wanted me to have relationships, they’d pay me for that, but they pay me for solid orders that can be invoiced.”

Without getting into the details around his situation, Trevor feels that there two things working against sales people from the soft school. First is that they are too worried about appearances rather than substance. Second, there is a much more real relationship when both the buyer and seller have some skin in the game together; the skin being both having a real need to make things work, and that happens when a transaction has taken place not when there is just talk. Once you and the customer have done business, then you can grow a relationship, is his view, he cites all the times people have told him how much they like him, his company, but still dealt with someone else.

There is some truth to this, as a manager I saw a lot of evolving relationships that never translated to business or accounts. A lot of time, energy, resources and emotion went into these “relationships”, reps working hard to meet demands of people who had no intention of holding up their end of the relationship.  But I pointed out to the others, that there is some truth to the old saying that people buy from people, which makes a relationship important.

This is when Dave jumped in, he is a manager for a product and related services that requires an annual renewal.  He told us about one of his reps who had work really hard, at winning a deal, it was an especially good win as it was a competitor’s account until then.  As they analyzed the win, his rep kept pushing the fact that he had won due to his “relationship” with the decision maker, “the rep insisted that if not for the relationship the deal would not have happened.”  Great thought Dave, they had to make small concessions to win the deal, (not price but in implementation), so a good relationship will at least help, and they would be able to make it up over the life of the “relationship”.  At the time of renewal, Dave had asked the rep to get a 2% increase, it came as a complete shock that they lost the account back to the previous vendor, not at lower cost, but the cost they had won the deal the previous year.  So Dave’s question is how good was that relationship if the rep could not leverage it to get a 2% increase?

Dave’s view is, shared by Trevor, is that relationships are great to have and worth working for, but they will always be trumped by factors such as price, quality, service, reliability and others.  I asked Dave if perhaps they took the account for granted and that allowed the other vendor to develop their relationship, perhaps the 2% vs. the actual experience did not add up for the buyer.  Dave insisted that those elements were explored, and they had serviced and out delivered expectations on all counts.

I guess if there was one definitive truth in sale it would have surfaced by now.  Despite his cynicism, Trevor does believe and work on having rapport with his clients, but always approaches it as a peer rather than a subservient.  At the end he insists, that he is paid to sell and drive revenue, which includes looking after the needs of the customer, but not to to entertain and hope, so when faced with a choice he will opt to have a deal, and then work on maintaining the client, rather than working on the relationship hoping for a sale like he sees many of his peers doing daily.

So take a minute below, and share your view.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 


“I Never Learned How Not To Do What I Can't Do”11

 steelmonkeyys0

I heard the above great expression the other day, I am only sorry that I was half listening to the radio and missed who originally said it, but I think it was Blackwell the fellow behind Island Records. What a fantastic outlook, one that any sales person can learn from.

As a sales coach, and in corporate life I can’t tell you how many times I have seen good sales people limit their opportunities by taking up the opposite mantra, and strictly focusing on how to succeed at not doing things they currently can’t, won’t or even consider doing. Let’s be clear we are talking about perfectly legal things done daily by successful sales professionals every day.  As a result they end up making less money than they could, but more importantly end up enjoying their jobs less than those open to possibilities.

What I have always been curious about is where they learned that they can’t do what they don’t do, especially having never done. I have written before about the “I couldn’t do that”, but this is different; in that case those people were reluctant to change or take on new things.  Here we are talking about people who cannot fathom the possibilities, rather than just reject them due to the effort or change involved.

The freedom of curiosity that come with the attitude of not learning what you don’t know is not only liberating, but make life fun even when faced with challenging and frustrating situations. 

As a sales person, I am challenged everyday, I know how failure and giving up looks and feels like, been there done that, it’s OK and repetitive.  But the wonder of the unknown, now that’s a high, knowing how it ends, but not always knowing what it will take to get there, how deep inside I’ll have to reach to get the deal, is exhilarating.  What will I have to do to get the next high; the next grade of nastiness is much more rewarding than the outcome, i.e. a deal and the commission.  But not giving it a go because one thinks they can’t do it is just average, which is not you, right?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Take The Day Off11

patio people

Tuesday was the first day back to work after the unofficial end of summer as discussed in a post on Monday titled Harvest. This mass return to productivity to stoke the fires of Capitalism included me and the rest of the Renbor team.

Bright and early at my desk, coffeed up and ready to go, my calendar reminders ringing that familiar chime, one after the other leads presenting themselves to be converted to prospects, a lot of calls to make. Why so many today, well like most of you I spoke to a lot of people who for the last few months told me that they would be ready to meet and talk after Labour Day, each with their very own reminder in my calendar.

What is always interesting (and amusing) is the reaction I get, especially from my audience that is mostly sales leaders. Not so much that they are not all ready to meet and get going, but for a couple of other things. First, the fact that many are surprised that I actually took them at their word and created a reminder and followed through as requested. Second and more importantly and to the point, is when they say “wow, it’s Tuesday and you are back at it already.” 

Aren’t their people working today, more specifically aren’t their sales people selling?  Well if they are, then are follow throughs and prospecting not part of selling?  If they are indeed selling, is following through not part of professionals selling?

Well yes I am, I guess I missed the memo stating the policy of not prospecting or selling on the Tuesday after Labour Day, other wise I would not have picked up the phone.  On the other hand, precisely for that reason it is a great day to sell, it seems the other took the day off to recover from the brisk sales of summer.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

A Random Walk Up Sales Street – 1112

sales exchange

Democracy and Sales Training

While we may be in the “Sales Expert” business, we are not ammune to trials and tribulations of day to day selling.  One of the prominent challenges is budgets, or more accurately, disappearing budgets.  This got me thinking about how companies use their “training” or “development” budgets, especially sales related budgets.

The question really comes down to whether sales training needs to be democratic?  Does everyone in a sales organization equally qualify for the same training?  When it comes to sales skills, for most companies it seems to be the case, and the concept is rarely if ever reviewed.  I want to emphasize that we are addressing sales skills, not sales process training; we are specifically talking about things like prospecting, interactive selling, sales leadership, etc. Many of the same organizations, who take a very “democratic” view to sales training, do not seem to have the same viewpoint to training skills outside of sales.

I find it interesting to see how decisions are made around training for sales and other positions.  It seems that most sales organizations take an all or none approach where the training is delivered by a third party at the company; there are a few organizations that will send reps selectively to sessions held in public forums or associations, but when it comes to hiring organizations like Renbor or other training companies, it is very much all or none. With the exception of some on-boarding at some companies, sales training is always looked at as something for everyone.  There is an element of “team” or team building, but I don’t think that plays much into it.

Yet when it comes to training in other areas of the company, these decisions are made much more on an individual level than a collective one.  It is OK to send two or three people for training on say Excel, presentation skills, and so on, without any thought of sending the whole team or department.  I would assume the decision is made based on just how much George may need the skills training, but also on some aspect of ROI; you spend $1,000 on the program, you expect improvements in efficiencies of $1,200 in a year and you have your ROI.  This may or may not include intangible benefits like morale, retention, and also does not include returns realized in years 2, 3 and beyond.

This same logic does not seem to carry through to sales, while sales people and sales leaders spends their day talking ROI; they seem to spend little time doing ROI.  Here is a general example.  About 25% – 30% of the current sales team will likely not adopt anything from programs, and therefore the training will have no impact or potential for return.  Most organizations know who these ‘C’ players are before we ever show up, but have just elected not to act or clean house.

There is about 50% – 55% percent who are putting in some effort, the ‘B’ players; they will put some of the new learned skills into effect, and see degrees of improvement, and the company will see an ROI on their investment in this group.  The last group is the proverbial 20% of the organization that validates the 80-20 rule, the ‘A’ players, consistent performers before the training, and that much better every time they are trained, more consistent and productive as a result.  Not only does the company realize a real return on their investment in these people, but the ‘A’ players are likely to measure their own ROI, based on the time they invested and potential opportunity lost or gained in the process.

In our discussions with customers we set the expectation that the ‘B’ group pays for the program through their improved numbers and habits, and in many cases the training leads to better retention numbers, further contributing to their ROI.  The lift delivered by the ‘A’ is the upside of a clearly articulated and executed training strategy and programme.  As far as the ‘C’ players go, frankly why bother?  Not to be cruel, but they wee underperformers before the training, like distract during the training and the first to make excuses as to why it is the programs fault they are still struggling, these excuses are usually the zenith of their creative output and productivity.

But companies continue to insist on having these people consume training budgets, and other resources, even while they know they are wasting both.  When we ask why they are including, we hear a number of reasons, the weakest of which is that as long as they are part of the team, they will get the same training as all.  These same companies will stratify their client base which in turn dictates service levels, pricing or margins.  Yet they do not apply that same logic when it comes to allocating resources to ‘C’ players.  Some tell me they have to treat all their employees the same, and they will work hard to salvage the ‘C’ players in the hope that they will improve and one day become ‘B’ players.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not about being cold or callus, I know we are talking about people, but are also talking about being profitable, which the life line of any enterprise.  So while it is important that every have an equal opportunity to succeed, it is also important that everyone make an equal effort to contribute and succeed, but if that effort is not there, it should not be rewarded, especially when it siphons off from resources that could go to ‘A’ and ‘B’ players.  By having an “all or none” democratic approach to training, you are encouraging mediocrity, and probably causing the ‘A’ players to think.  Seems to me that it would be wiser to train and reward the ‘A’ team, and help the ‘C’ team transition to a more rewarding career.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

And The Winner Is:

We have a winner in the help Trevor out contest running over the last couple of weeks.  The winner is Amy, her answer received the most vote, 40%.  Congratulations Amy, and thank you to all who participated, we had a lot of great answers, and you can review the by clicking.

Please continue to visit, as we will be having other contest soon.

In the mean time, you can still vote for an article currently nominated for the Best Sales Article for September 2009, over at www.top10salesarticles.com.  Every vote counts, so vote often, now there is democracy at work ha!

Top 10 Sales Articles - Article of the Month - vote here

Harvest12

Harvest c

While summer is not officially over, Labour Day does denote the unofficial end; children are heading back in school, for most vacations are done. Everyone’s attitude reflects the collective return to work, “time to get down to getting work done”; this is even reflected in cultural norms and religion, where everything turns to the harvest; the harvest determines the fruits of your labour and ability to get through the coming winter.

It is no different in sales, now is the time of year to bring it all together. Many sales leaders you talk to about Q4, tend to think of it a unit from Labour Day to December 31. While this may be a longer harvest season than farming the drivers and the end goals are the same, maximise returns on the work done earlier in the planting and growing season.

So as you enjoy you last sunny rest before the mad dash begins, I wish you a bountiful harvest, success in closing things strong, and that for once the pundits may be right that the worst is over and it is fun to sell again.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Someone Has No Clothes11

We are all familiar with the old story about the emperor who paraded down the boulevard proudly showing off his non-existent threads. It reminds me of something I see regularly in a number of sales organizations, specifically when the leadership decides to ignore facts, or look the other way, or not acknowledge and deal with something that is (or not) right in front of their eyes.

Case in point, a national company was struggling to meet targets, and the root cause of this was not their inability to sell once they were working with a prospect, but more their inability (or unwillingness) to proactively prospect, proactively plan and execute the plan when they had one.  As is often the case a lack of productive activity usually leads to a lot of motion and a great deal of busy work. 

After extensive discussion with the leadership, conducting interviews with front line managers and reps we presented a tailored program that not only addressed the visible gaps and also build a platform that will enable them to perpetuate and achieve sustainable change over time using process and metrics to support them along the way.

As regular readers of this blog know, our success has been built on a focus on execution, plans are great, but executing pays the bills in the real world.  While others spend time on reinventing the wheel, we like to spin it better, and measure the results. 

This focus on execution is greeted differently by different people, one of my favourites is when I hear a VP of Sales or a Learning and Development VP say something like “we do that”, “we already have that”, “we’ve been discussing doing just that”, or the more accurate “we used to do that”. 

Frankly the evidence suggests that they are not doing “that”, of ten they have a plan, a strategy.  Many created at an off-site, with input from sales theorists and adult education experts.  First item in the plan is “to implement as soon as we get back”.  Now there is a major difference between communicating the plan, getting “buy in”, even get some chotchkas with the rallying cry or name for the initiative, and actually executing, that is converting the plan to reality, success now and moving forward.

Actioning a plan is hard work, a big commitment to discipline that takes more than most organizations are willing to undertake.  We empathise with the leaders of these organizations, they have both bought and bought into the plan, and they thought they had an organization that would deliver all or most of the plan, the same people who tell them that things are on track, just a question of time.  Learning and development telling them “we have this; we need to explore and study why we are not seeing the results we agreed to at the off-site.”   The Emperor is there surrounded by the minions admiring the plan, ignoring the results, naked to the world.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Vote, Vote, Vote

We offer you not one but two opportunities to practice your democratic franchise.  First, don’t forget to vote for the best resolution to Trevor’s dilemma.

Second is your chance to help your humble blogger by voting for an article I wrote that has been nominated for top sales article at Top 10 Sales Articles.  You can vote by clicking on the tile with my picture to the top right, or click here.  Thank you in advance, and of course if I win I will bring Change and health care reform.

TS

wordpress stat