Welcome to The Pipeline.

Accelerate your sales, revisit your sales process!15

The Pipeline Guest Post – Alan Nieslen

Most companies have one; a sales process that is.   The process can be anything from a definition of sales stages used in pipeline discussions through to a complete manual on how to sell product x or service y.    In the move to CRM’s, often the steps are named out as “stages” and assigned a % likelihood of closing a deal.

As I visit with sales organizations, it surprises me how few of them get ongoing value from their documented sales processes.  Sure they use the stage names in forecasting and within their CRM’s, but beyond using the terminology most companies aren’t getting value.

Companies that get value refer to their sales processes daily. Sales people refer to them when creating call plans, manager’s coach sales strategy using outlines from the sales process.   There are many examples.  You get the idea.

If this is not happening in your company, it is a good indicator that it’s time to revisit and revamp your sales process.

The best sale processes, or maps, are those that resonate with your sales teams, add value to daily sales activities and are used by your sales people.  The best maps help draw prospects into the pipeline, accelerate them through the value identification and value creation stages and ensure proposals reflect the value sought by the client, and the payback expected.  The best sales maps reduce your sales cycle by allowing clients to buy easier, and your team to sell faster. Period.

The best maps are not just a series of stages for forecasting, but also guide and assist the sales team in planning, prospecting, and accelerating opportunities through the pipeline.

Ineffective sales processes reside in a drawer and provide common nomenclature for “stages” in a sales cycle.  They may be hauled out periodically when someone asks if you have a process but they are not a part of daily activities within the sales team.

How can you make your sales process an asset?

  1. Ensure it represents the best practices for your company, your product, and clients preferred way of purchasing.  All too often a sales process is a generic set of milestones that are only loosely related to your products or services.    Your sales process should reflect the best practices of your best people.  Your best people should recognize that their actions have been captured and shared in your sales map.
  2. Use your map to guide the sale.  Great sales maps provide linkages between steps.   For example does your, “first appointment stage” provide suggested questions that should be covered?   Does it go further and highlight questions that gather information to be used directly in your proposal?  Going further = meaningful.
  3. Make it a part of your sales culture.    Use your sales map in your hiring process by looking for people that have similar methodologies and approaches.  Use the sales map to define your induction process, and link your induction activities to your sales map.  Use your sales map in your team meetings, in your pipeline discussions, in your strategy meetings, and of course in your forecasting meetings.
  4. Revisit the map often.   Street maps are published annually because roads are added, things change.   Your sales map should be open to change.  As you bring on new products, as technologies change, as your customers change, as the economy changes, your map should change.  If your map does not reflect the changes that your sales teams face… it is bound for the drawer.
  5. Make it customer centric.   While you many not show your sales map to your prospects and clients you should not be concerned if they see it.   Your sales map should be set up to help the client see value, select the appropriate products or features, assist clients in obtaining internal buy in…. and so on.

Where does your sales process lie on this spectrum?

About Alan Nielsen

Alan Nielsen is the Managing Director of AdAlta Group, a sales consulting organization.   Alan works with his clients to increase their sales productivity and effectiveness by ensuring that all aspects of their sales force are aligned and then applying targeted improvements to meet his client’s objectives and expectations for return.

With over 25 years of experience in sales performance improvement AdAlta Group works to enhance a client’s sales foundation with targeted improvements that are readily adopted by the sales force.   Rapid adoption increases returns and maximizes a company’s investment in improvement.

Qualify and Disqualify20

I was recently invited to contribute to a new venture, BiZ TV Canada Inc.; their mission is to provide small and medium size organizations with relative, informative and entertaining business related videos via the internet.  As part of their launch, I was asked to discuss fundamental aspects of sales the audience and put to use easily that will help them improve and maintain sales growth.

Below is the first topic, “Qualify and Disqualify Your Leads”, looking at the need to disqualify not just qualify leads and prospects.  After all, if like most sales people you have a close ratio of 25%-30%, it is more efficient to remove those opportunities that won’t close early, leaving you the ones that, with effort by you, will close.

What’s in Your Pipeline?

Tibor Shanto

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The Answer is Down the Hall – Sales eXchange – 12440

Companies buy from companies, unfortunately much of that buying happens at single touch points, between a specific individual and a specific seller, leading to the more familiar and accepted facts of sales, that is “people buy from people”.  This works great when there really is just one buyer, and no other influencers in the decision.  For many this not the case, decisions involve numerous people, and if as a seller you are not speaking with them, you put your success at risk.

The logical response is to sell to all people involved in the decision, and while no one would argue the logic, many avoid it.  Some do not even know who is involved in the decision, they are not the ones that we are talking to here; here we are looking at the many that know there others in the decision, know who those people are, yet still refuse to engage them.

Recently I had a seller tell me that they can’t approach an executive they know was part of the decision, “I can’t just call on them, they are an executive”, this is much more common than you suspect, many sellers still believe that there is some caste system protocol they have to adhere to in selling.

When you drill down, one thing becomes clear, the discomfort comes from their inability to talk to those executives, they feel out of place, not knowing the language and customs of the “Executive Caste”.  But those languages and customs can be learned, and integrated into your selling.

I then hear, “well what am I supposed to do, how can I know or learn?”  The answer is that you already know, and if not fully, you have resources that are not only friendly, willing to help and come free.  They exist in your own company.

For example, you come to learn from your deal review (wins/losses/no-decision), that the CFO has played a key role in the decision, but you are not familiar with their customs, habits, and language, and as a result don’t know how to approach and engage.

Well I am willing to bet that your company has a CFO or VO of Finance; why not talk to them, they would have all kinds of insight, things that can help you throughout the sales cycle.  From what makes them take a call from a seller, what kind of things they would be looking for to participate in a discovery process, and all other aspects of their buying habits.

While it is true that each individual is different, there is enough commonality in the role any time that you spent with your CFO, CEO, COO, CTO, and other leadership roles, will pay off in learning about their thought process, likes, dislikes and the general dynamics at that level.

You will still have to work at coming up with valid talking points, but better leveraging an experienced and friendly coach down the hall, than to go at it blind, or worse, not go at all.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Free Does Not Make a Sale47

The Pipeline Guest Post – Mark Hunter

Your company has come out with a new service. It’s a significant improvement over the last version and the entire sales team knows it’s going to be a success.

You and the rest of the team feel good, but within a very short time, obstacles begin to pop up.  Customers are hesitant to buy the new version because they just don’t see enough of an improvement.

We’ve all been in this situation and some of you are in this situation right now.  After discussing the situation with marketing, the decision is made to allow customers to try the new service for free.  Everyone is still sold on the idea that the new service is so superior that once people try it, they certainly will buy it.

Without hesitation, customers begin jumping on the offer to try the new service for 30 days. The response is so phenomenal that everyone in marketing and sales feel great. The problem is behind you, right?

As customers near the end of the 30-day trial, the sales team will reach out to the customer, hear glowing comments about the new service and boom – customers will upgrade!  The beauty is the upgrade will mean more money to the company and more money to each salesperson.

Suddenly the next problem emerges. Customers at the end of the trial period aren’t exactly jumping on board to upgrade.  They’re saying, “Thanks. Love the new service, but we’ll just stick with the existing service.”

Yikes! Suddenly it feels as if it’s Groundhog Day all over again. The sales team begins arguing with marketing, and marketing begins complaining about how sales can’t sell.

The problem is simple – free does not make a sale.

When a customer is offered something for free and there’s no obstacle to taking it, they will take it. This then means the customer is taking without investing anything themselves – which is a big problem for you and your company. The customer now associates the upgrade with the word “free;” even though you meant for them to think about it that way for only 30 days.

Here’s a better approach – never offer anything for free. Never. It just doesn’t make sense.  If you’re going to offer the customer something, make sure they have to invest something in it.  The investment could be any number of things, but the key is the customer has to be invested.  Until the customer makes an investment, there really is very little reason for them to see value in what they’ve received for free.

Yes, offering customers a test is a valid strategy in today’s marketplace, but if you do it, make sure you do it with a plan in place to ensure the customer has a vested interest in truly testing it.

I’d rather offer fewer customers a test and have a higher close ratio at the end than offer everyone something for nothing and have a dismal close ratio.

About Mark Hunter

Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter,” is a sales expert who speaks to thousands each year on how to increase their sales profitability.  For more information, to receive a free weekly email sales tip, or to read his Sales Motivation Blog, visit www.TheSalesHunter.com. You can also follow him on www.Facebook.com/TheSalesHunter, www.Twitter.com/TheSalesHunter and www.LinkedIn.com/in/MarkHunter.

Reprinting of this article is welcomed as long as the following is included:
Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter,” www.TheSalesHunter.com, © 2011

Intrepid Radio36

Earlier this year I had the great opportunity to be on the air with Todd Schnick, of Intrepid Radio (http://intrepid-llc.com/intrepidradio/).  We talked sales, some new nuggets, some familiar favourites, but always with an eye to execution.

Below is Part One of our discussion, use what you can.

Intrepid Part 1

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Different, How? – Sales eXchange – 12336

Differentiation, sale types talk about so much you would think achieving it is so rare and unique.  With almost every group I work with, the item at or near the top of things they want to learn and do better, is to differentiate in the eyes of the buyer.  But as you drill down, you begin to wonder if “differentiation” is something the are really seek, or is it something else?

I sometimes ask, where they want to be different; I often hear them respond, “In the buyers’ eyes”.  OK, different how?  “Different so they buy from us”.  “Different from what?”  “From the other offerings”, and on it goes.  But, consider this, that the way products are today, there is little difference to be found between the leaders of the pack, I recently read that in many instances there is 90% overlap or commonality among leading products/services, this does not leave much to differentiate on.

Worse, when I listen to many reps respond to the question – What Do You Sell?  Based on their responses, you would think they are trying to avoid differentiation.  The reason is that most sellers tend to talk about product features, generic benefits (stuff that any buyer assumes is there to begin with); descriptions such as solutions, “peace of mind”, reliability seem to pop up a lot, like buyers haven’t heard that before.  What most fail to talk about when asked what they sell is the actual impact the buyer will realize.

It is not that they don’t know, it is more that they are distracted by things don’t matter as much.  If there is a 90% overlap, than there is a 90% overlap in what the buyer is hearing, meeting after meeting.  Most also can’t tell you why being different is somehow better.  Well it is not.  Like most consumers, B2B or B2C, most like the safety in numbers concept.  Deal with one of the market leaders and you have the comfort of standards, commitment to continuous development, and other elements.  So buyers are not looking for something different, as much as they are looking have something that addresses “their” “specific” requirements.  Don’t believe me, think about how many times as a sales professional you hear “oh Harold, you see we are different”, and how often are they really different?  Exactly.

So what does that leave for those still looking to differentiate?  Simple, in how you sell.  This comes back to focusing and talking about the impact they will realize when they buy from you.   Since you have successfully sold to others, you know the impacts they talk about, so sell to that, not the product or deliverable.  You have buyers who can discuss with you in specific details what impact they were seeking, how your product help them achieve that.  What you will see is that each will present these as though they were unique, but to you they will not be very different. But sell to those impacts, develop questions that not only surface them, and demonstrate “your understanding”, “your difference”, especially when the other 90% will talk about the same old.  Develop questions to which you know the answers, the impact they seek.  If by chance you don’t hit a bull’s eye the first time out, you will have differentiated yourself in your approach, and encourage the buyer to continue, and share how they “are different”.  They will tell you they are looking to have impact on A, B, or C; and there you are, your differentiation has put the buyer’s issue on the table and now you can present your “solution”.

So if you are really looking to differentiate, differentiate on the most important element of your selling success – how you sell.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Do You Smell Desperate?26

The Pipeline Guest Post – Trevor Stevens

November 1st was a beautiful day up here this year, sunny, high 70’s, in fact so nice I had to treat myself to an afternoon latte.  But when I got to my favorite coffee spot, I was greeted Christmas decorations and Christmas Muzak.  Hang on a minute, I had not even rifled through my kids’ Halloween loot, fought with my wife about Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s Tall Christmas already? How desperate I thought.

But you  get the same desperation in B2B selling every day, and the reality is that your customers can smell the desperation on a sales person, and they know how to take advantage of it every time.  This either results in a sales where you are forced to make unnecessary concessions that are not limited to price, and have long term implications on profit.  Worse they often cause a sale not to happen, as many customers will not deal with someone they perceive to be weak or desperate.

Sometimes there are big signs of desperation, outrageous promos that telegraph your inability to sell; after all your firm is saying “forget all those good reasons to buy, we are giving it away, why would you take it at the price?”  But there are also things that we sales people do and say that erode the buyers confidence and perception of us.  Every time you say things like:

I was just
I was hoping
I just need a few brief minutes
I promise you will see value if you give me a few minutes
What do I have to do to get your business now

I knew one company that had a desperate sales process.  Their whole plan was to reach out to the client at the start of the month, present the latest issue’s table of content, they sold trade journals, and offered to mail it out to them.  They followed up in a week, and again a week later if they needed to.  And they always needed to, because clients had figured out that if they wait to the last week of the month, the company would cave in a sell at a discount.  Many saw the desperation of the company and their reps the last week of the month, and just waited for it.

It does not take much to avoid having to be desperate, but it also doesn’t take much desperation for the clients to smell it on you and take advantage of you.  You can avoid this by spending time preparing and knowing how you can deliver value to the client, and focus on that.  If you make the sale about them, you win, if you come across as focused on the sale and your quota, you smell desperate.  Worse, as you develop a reputation for being desperate. It becomes hard to shake, both as a trait, and as your reputation.

In the end I bought the coffee, wished her a Happy Hanukkah, she asked if that was grande or venti, I told her it was two months too soon.

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Successful Strategies for Prospecting – Roundtable10

Focus Roundtable Free Online Event
Thursday November 10, 2011 3:30 pm Eastern

The message from blogs, webinars, tradeshows is clear: The buyer has changed and so must your prospecting strategies. The question is: What should one’s sales prospecting strategy be? To help answer this question we have brought together top Focus sales and marketing experts to talk about the specific tactics that work for sales people today.
In this Roundtable, we will answer the following questions:

  • How does a salesperson turn a name into a prospect?
  • How should you handle voicemails and emails?
  • What are the biggest mistakes sales reps make and what could they have done differently?

Find out by joining the Focus.com Roundtable this afternoon.  Join me and Matt Heinz, Michael A Brown, and Craig Rosenberg.

More info and registration

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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Strategic or Tactical Sales Training?31

A lot of sales improvement programs start at the strategic level and go light on the execution, the tactical side –  the “how do I do this?”  While this may seem to be intuitively the right and noble way to go, in reality it yields less results than approaching things the other way around; that is leading with the tactical, the tactics of “how to…”  Unless you run your sales force as a military unit – with all the command lines, discipline, and rules – you will always face the challenge around the balance between strategy and execution or tactical aspects of sales success. This challenge is even more pronounced with sales training or education, do you build your training around your strategy; or do you deliver training focused on the tactical aspects of driving that strategy forward?

Read On…

Related articles:
CRM: Culture or Technology

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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"In Time" – Sales eXchange – 12229

With insights from Adam Freedman

If you read this blog regularly you know that I think time and how you use it are fundamental determinants of sales success.  You also know that I am not a proponent of “Time Management”, and would rather have you focus on allocating your time to specific activities, and then manage your activities within the time allocated. You can get an expanded view on this and other aspects of time by downloading my white paper from Top Sales World, titled “Sales Happen In Time“.
One f the concepts explored is the notion of looking at time as a form of currency; looking at the 1,760 hours of annual “face time” sales reps have as $1,760 of investment capital.  Further, if you then look at your quota as the expected returns on your investment of said $1,760, how would you allocate those funds to ensure you deliver the Return On Capital expected? How much would you allocate to bonds, dividend paying equities, derivatives, etc.  In sales the question comes down to what activities you would allocate your time to and in what proportions?
Looked at through that prism, you would think twice about squandering even a minute, never mind throwing away a half hour for coffee with a colleague in the middle of the day.  We are all OK with “a quick coffee”, but we would see it differently if the request was for few hundred dollars, rather than a few “minutes”.
Well on the weekend I saw a movie that takes this analogy to another level. The movie “In Time“, looks at a society where the currency s time; salaries, rent, cigarettes, food, all bought and sold on time.
Beyond the political overtones and undertones, they did a great job of helping people understand time not as an intangible, but as something real and crucial.  Running out of time had real implications, namely death.  While sales professionals may not face death when they run out of time, the effect is still severe for not only the sales person, but also for their companies.
It is the desperation of running out of time that allows the “multi-taskers” to find new converts to their cult, and as with most cults, the promise is much greater than the deliverable.  Trying to jam a bunch of unfinished things into a fast approaching deadline is counter to our nature; things get done, but not effectively, and certainly not at a level where they generate the level of Return On Capital required to succeed.
The other element the movie brought into focus is the need to actively manage your activities.  Allocating time is one thing, but managing your activities within the time allotted is as important.
When all is said and done, in sales as in investing, allocation, timing and execution help one deliver returns on a consistent basis.
Tibor Shanto

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