Welcome to The Pipeline.

Selling At The Speed Of Silence9

Sometime watching sales people in action is like watching a tennis match; prospect asks something and we lob back an answer right away.  Other times the prospect will make a comment, and we slam back an answer, at times with more top spin than one would ever need.  While there are a number of good lessons in sports for sales people, a meeting should not look like the final match at a Grand Slam event.
There are a couple of reasons this happens and a larger number of factors that contribute to it, all of which can be controlled by the seller.  One reason is we want to convey knowledge and confidence, and by “having the answer” we feel that we demonstrate this; not true.  The second is the lack of a specific goal and related plan with respect to where and how we want the meeting to go and end. 

Don’t Forget today’s Free Webinar       

Today is the first of a three part webinar series on Mastering Trigger Events to Increase Sales.  Today’s focus: Exploit Untapped Opportunities: 3 Strategies for Using Executive Sales Triggers.

1-2PM Eastern (10-11AM Pacific, 6-7pm UK)    

Are You Perfect? – Sales eXchange – 5528

There is no arguing that it is better to do things right, do them right the first time, and then move on to the next thing or task.  But does “right” equate to doing it “perfect”?  I don’t think so, there are a whole bunch of things that can be done right, very right, without the need for perfection or the stress that may bring.  Sales is one of those things.  Unfortunately many sales people seem to strive for perfection, but I am often suspect of their motives.

Many reps I work with seem to suffer a certain type of paralysis when it comes to putting newly learned skills into practice.  As I have mentioned here before, one of the things we do when delivering our Proactive Prospecting Program, is put the participants on the phone at the end of the day.  Three good reasons for this:

  1.  The faster you put newly learned skills into practice, the more likely that they will be adopted and used moving forward, so why wait.
  2. Participants have the opportunity to ask questions based on specific experience, as a result I and their managers know where we need to focus during the Follow-Through ACTION PLAN phase of the program.
  3. You establish a benchmark for metrics moving forward.  Most reps usually end up getting 1 to 3 appointments during the 30 to 40 minutes we have them on the phone.  So if they can do it when the skill is new, they should only improve as they practice the skill day in day out, so oops, no excuses.

As I walk around and see reps just sitting there, I ask them “what’s up, how come you haven’t jumped in?”  This when many tell me they are just trying to make their talk track or technique “perfect”.  Please, nothing smooth’s out rough edges than jumping in and doing it.  I have been on the phone for years and I have a long way to go to perfect, as if perfect exists in this exercise. 

To me this is just an excuse for avoiding the task, a way to look “professional” while not taking the risk of finding out what you have right, and what can use improvement, that can only come from jumping in.  It is the same people who will look at a business card for ten minutes, hold it up to the light, turn it one way and the other, feel the paper and raised print.  I tell them “dude, it isn’t going to grow arms and dial itself, you’re going to have to do that.”   

Perfect in sale equals execution, do it, review it, adjust and do it some more.  At the end of the day, about the only thing that is perfect in sales is the combination of satisfied customers and delivering quota.  Don’t use perfecting something as an excuse for not doing it.  Execution is more important than perfection, by doing you learn and improve, by perfecting you waste opportunity.

Vacation Alert!

After tomorrow I am off on vacation, which offers you a treat in a couple of ways, first the break from me, although I will be back rejuvenated and all; second I have asked a number of sales experts and bloggers to contribute guest posts.  I am very lucky to have an eclectic and expert group of people come to my aide, I know you will not only love the posts, but will benefit from putting their thoughts into action, I am sure you will end up following them as a result.  So I will have a post tomorrow, Tuesday, after that you are in their capable hands, and I will talk to you in August.  Enjoy!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Word UP (a free book from the SBU) – Saturday Sales Tip – 2826

Today’s  post actually offers a multiple bonus in the form of multiple tips from a group of diverse and leading sales leaders.  As many of you know I am a member of the Sales Bloggers Union, a collection of leading sales bloggers from around the world who each month write on one specific topic, giving the visitors to the blog the opportunity to get a dozen diverse views of the same topic.  Each blogger take up the topic based on their point of reference without any coordination around a common agenda or view, just their take, which at times conflicts with another blogger’s take.

The group has just released an e-book called “Word UP“, where each contributor selected one word that for them is the essence of sales.  Then we each elaborated on our word, giving it meat and substance in no more than 125 words.  What you have is 9 words delivered to you to help you Sell Better without having to weed through a Tolstoy like e-book to get to a point you can actually use and make sales with.  The result is Word UP, Less Filling – More Satisfying.  The words and contributors are:

OutrageousDan Waldschmidt
PassionKelley Robertson
ThinkDavid A Brock
AuthenticLeanne Hoagland
EngagementSkip Anderson
BeS. Anthony Iannarino
HeroJerry Kennedy
VelocityCraig Elias
ExecutionTibor Shanto

So the Saturday Sales Tip for today, is download the e-book now, have read it by the time the World Cup final  starts tomorrow afternoon, and put it into practice first thing Monday, and truly have a great start to the second half of the year.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What’s My Job?27

I was doing a follow up call with an inside sales rep and their VP this week when we came face to face with the 800 pound gorilla in the game.  Despite what it says on their business cards, what is the reps role, what do we expect them to do, how do they contribute to the company’s financial health?

Here is the problem, and it is not unique to inside reps, it impacts all sales professionals; while they are told that their role is to engage and sell, they are given specific activities to execute, and those that deal with me, clearly train their teams to perform the activity with skill.  Despite all this, sales reps find themselves doing a whole bunch of things that distract them and prevent them from doing the “assigned” activities.

I am aware that in many instances reps are happy to have a distraction, especially one where they can appear to be helpful or productive.  By being able to ware that mantel, saving the planet or putting out a fire, it eases the guilt of not doing what they are supposed to, be that prospecting, selling or other key activities.

But to be fair to sales people, there is plenty of crap thrown at them, all labelled “important” by others in the company that is not the job of a sales rep, or brings no value to anyone.  Often it is truly busy work created by someone who isn’t doing his or her job, and in the process is preventing the sale rep from doing theirs, and everyone suffers in the process.  What is sad is that there are instances where the sales leadership is one of the worst culprits. 

I worked with one company that invested millions in their CRM, stacking different tools to create their foolproof forecasts, as long as the reps entered the basic data, the system would do the rest, “no way to game it” I was told.  Yet every week the VP would have a conference call with her five regional directors to “make sure the data was accurate”, not to review the opportunities or the state of sales, but to make sure the data was accurate.  If that wasn’t a waste of time, it created a cascading effect that ensured everyone wasted their time right down the food chain; the directors would hold a call with the managers.  The managers then took time from the reps that already entered the data in the “bullet proof” CRM, to review the numbers, again not the opportunities, that was another meeting; this meeting was the CYA meeting.  Gee and the reps didn’t have time to do what they are supposed to, I wonder why.  How many times have reps been told to drop everything and prepare this report or that report, all available in the CRM, by the same people who later question why the pipeline is light and ask “what have you been up to?”

How about when marketing come and takes an hour for something they could have done; finance “need this right away, those calls can wait”; pricing, operations, you name it all lining up to steal the rep’s time.  So when the VP asked the rep what was their biggest barrier, the rep pointed out all the non-sales activities that are expected of them by other groups.  When I suggested that the rep be empowered to prioritize and decide which activities are key, the VP chocked.  “I don’t think the issue is that they do not have the time to prospect” she said, “I don’t see the need to carve out time for sales activities, he needs to make time for both”.  The VP clung to her view even when the rep outlined all the tasks he was made to do by other groups that kept him from making calls and selling.  This of course was a result of the VP asking why the call volume and prospects were declining.  Hmm, let’s see.

By the time the rep listed all the distractions they were made to deal with, I was reminded of Freddie Prinzes, and how they should lean to say “Eez not my job man, you want me to do that, then you make the calls, you go to the meeting and talk to the declining sales activities” 

Perhaps next time you ask why a rep is not doing their job, you should also look at whether they have been allowed to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Three Part Webinar Series27

Master Trigger Events to Increase Sales

With the imminent release of my book on Trigger Event Selling – Turning Prospects Into Customers by Harnessing Trigger Events, my co-author Craig Elias and I will be presenting a three part webinar series hosted by OneSource, an Infogroup company, that will show how to:

1. Exploit Untapped Opportunities: 3 Strategies for Using Executive Sales Triggers
2. Land Your Target: 4 Ways to Win More Deals Using Company-Based Sales Triggers
3. Shorten Your Sales Cycles: 5 Keys to Accelerating Sales with Industry Sales Triggers
The webinars are being held from 1:00 – 2:00 pm Eastern (10:00 – 11:00 am Pacific, 6:00 – 7:00 pm UK) on the 2nd Tuesday of July, August, and September (July 13, August 10, September 14)
The link to learn about and register for all three webinars is: TriggerEventWebinars.com

The link to register for just the first one is: TriggerWebinar.com
Here is your opportunity to learn how to leverage and use Trigger Events to increase your prospect base, increase sales and now to shorten you sales cycle in the process.
This first of three webinars in the series will focus on 3 Strategies for Using Executive Sales Triggers.
Look forward to having you join us for all three webinars.
Please feel free to contact me at (+1 416 822-7781), or email me at Tibor.Shanto@SellBetter.ca should you have questions or comments.
Tibor Shanto
Renbor Sales Solutions Inc.

Sudden Death Sales – Sales eXchange – 5426

I was watching the Uruguay – Ghana game with a friend on the weekend, (wrong team won).  As they finished the overtime, and went to the penalty shootout, we started comparing the game of soccer to a sale, when he made the comment that I found interesting, he said: “It’s a good thing that sales does not end in sudden death”.   After a minute of thinking it over, I suggested that he was wrong, (after all he picked England coming into tournament) that every sale is a sudden death game.

Like the World Cup, it is not a permanent death; we all know Brazil and Argentina will definitely be back in four years; just as you will be able to revisit the opportunity in the future.  I also want to be clear that it is not about defeating the buyer or customer, but more about two specific facts.  First, assuming the buyer selects an alternative and that other product or service is not a complete bomb, it is very likely that they will be out of the market for a couple years or more.  Second, either you or the rep from the competitor goes home empty handed.  There could be a whole bunch of reasons for this, not all logical or based in fact; just look at the impact the questionable refereeing has had, any number of teams can argue that if not for the referee…, I am sure USA readers are convinced the goal against England was indeed in the net, all subjective and “might-have-been”. 

The more we talked about it the more it became clear that for the time a given opportunity is in play, it is very sudden death event.  There are a number of things you can do to change or salvage things as long as the opportunity is in pay, but once a final decision is made, and the papers signed, it is sudden death.  My comrade of course insisted that there are differences, first on the list for him was “the relationship”.  What relationship, they just picked your competitor, “you go home empty handed”.  Can you see Diego Maradona explaining human aspect of their fate, “we may have lost, but we did the country proud”; or the French coach explaining things to the parliamentary hearing?  It’s about the plan, the skill, the execution, but mostly it is about the win, in sales as in football.  Which would you rather participate in, a meeting to review why you won the sale or a meeting to review why you lost the sale?  (BTW, after July 12, count the number of former team coaches from the final 16).

Part of the issue goes to attitude and passion.  You can see the passion in the players on the pitch, and in sales you can usually spot those sales people who have the passion to deliver, for both the customer and their companies.  It shows in their preparation, practice and readiness.  You can  see who is there to win, and who is there to collect a base salary.

This attitude very much drives behaviour, if you do not play like it is win or die, you will settle for less, and do less, hoping for a bounce, or hoping your “relationship” will tilt things your way.  The flaw with that is your buyer is also accountable to someone, someone other than you, and their ultimate decision will be driven by what they need to live up to that accountability.  It is our job to make them see that we, our product and company are the ones that can deliver, before during and after making the sale.  Anything short of that leads them to buy from someone else, which is why sales is a sudden death game.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Time Out for Timing – Saturday Sales Tip – 2719

This being a long weekend on both side of the border, both celebrating their respective independence coming conveniently at the midpoint of the year.  (Do you think there was a consultant making a lot of money helping new countries consider the impact on future generations of sales professionals of having their independence day right at the middle of the year.  “Act now, the 4th and 1st are taken, poor France had to settle for the 14th“.) It provides a great opportunity to step back a minute, review and make adjustments for the remainder of the year.  There are a number of things that can be looked, and we won’t go through tem all because I think if you look at one and make adjustments, you will have a positive impact on most.   The thing to examine is how you are allocating your time.

In the past we have spoken about the need to not worry about managing your time, see Allocate Time – Manage Activities, but why it is more important to allocate the right amount of time to key activities, and then managing yourself and activities within the time allocated.  The goal is to understand what activities you have to execute to deliver against goal, how much of your time you need to spend on each activity to succeed, and then allocate the time and stick to the activity.  In the article cited above, the example (example, not a rule or recommendation) is:

Admin 12%
Account Management 31%
Selling 36%
Prospecting 21%

That is the percentage of time over a cycle you spend on each activity.  What we find is that if someone is not on target half way through the year, they have generally not spent the agreed on time with each key activity.   For instance in the above, it may look like:

Admin 15%
Account Management 45%
Selling 35%
Prospecting 5%

 By recalibrating, making sure that they perform things in the right proportion, they are often able to get back on track.  While we understand and appreciate the many challenges a sales professional faces, and all the reason they can be thrown off track, the goal here is not to explore each of those, but to get you to understand the importance of time allocation on each activity, and to get you to take ownership for managing.  Not managing the time, but managing what you do with it.

It is also a good idea to do this at the mid-point even if you are on target.  There could be changes in market conditions, products, etc.  By doing a quick reality check you may find that things are good as they are, or on the upside, you may find an opportunity to make adjustments that will accelerate and propel your success.

The key is that since time is the only non-renewable resource in sales, you can impact a lot of other things involved in your sale by making simple adjustment to time allocation and adhering to the activity it was allocated to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Happy Canada Day, Eh!9

You know the great thing about being in sales in Canada?  We celebrate the start of the second half of the year.  While most of the world celebrates January 1 and the start of the year, we here in the Great White North also kick off the second half of the sales year with a party on July 1.

Think of all the hope and opportunity packed into January 1, after the parties, the rewrapping of gifts, and family finally leaving for home, there is the start of a new sales year, new quota, new beginnings.  But by the time Easter rolls around, and you have sludged through winter, eked our Q1, the mid point at time can be a low point.

But not here, in the land of G20, we know July 1 is party time, hey if it works January 1, it will work July 1.  Forget the last six months, it’s the next six that count.  So get your Canadian on, and party down, Monday it’s a new day, eh!

How Much Research? – Sales eXchange – 5325

No matter what you call it, research, background, prep work, knowledge gathering, there is always a good dialogue to be had around the question of how much of it a sales person should do in advance of and during a sale.  The amusing thing about it is that in the end there are always more opinions than the number of people you asked.

One challenge is that beyond the amount of research one should do, there are also differing views of when and what should be researched.  Some feel that you must do all your research before you make the initial call, allowing them to impress the buyer into Engaging.  Others feel that there is one research activity and focus before you make that initial call, but then once you are Engaged, you need to continue the researching based on what you unfold while taking the buyer through the Discovery process.  I would certainly agree with the latter, especially given the fact that I think the seller needs to set and control the flow, and having knowledge of things in and around the buyer can only help in Engaging and extending the conversation.   Once Engaged, you can leverage your Discovery skills and your newly researched to extend the sale.

Where things get interesting, regardless of where you land on the above, is the question of how much time one should or needs to spend researching before you make the initial call to Engage with a potential buyer.  Again, let’s be clear, this is a first call to a potential new prospect, not someone you have worked with or are familiar with.  The knee jerk response is a lot, with the underlying thought being that the more you know the better.  I would argue not, the deep dive should come once you have Engaged with the potential buyer, and they have agreed to enter into the conversation with you when you meet as a result of the Engagement call.  Doing the deep dive before you have that commitment may not be the best things for a couple of reasons.

Let me give you a specific example, I was working recently with a rep who sells product is used by most B2B businesses, it is readily available but not a commodity, and could very much be sold as a solution based on how it is delivered and integrated.  His conversion rates show that he needs an average 5 new Engagements a week, which usually involve around 10 calls a day or 50 a week.  He told me that in the process he talks to about 15 to 20 people, the rest being voice mail or some other form of message. 

In our discussion he told me he doesn’t have sufficient time to complete enough calls to get to his target, instead he was averaging 2-3 new Engagements per week.  He told me it takes him 3 to 3 1/2 hours per day to complete the task.  “Why so long?’ I asked, “I need to research the company thoroughly before I call them”.  Apparently he does 15 minutes of research for every company he calls, 10 a day, 150 minutes, 2 1/2 hours just for research.

The overwhelming need to know everything about the buyer/account before you ever call them has a number of downsides.  First, this need for thorough research stems from the need “to know everything” about the person and company before you call them.  But if like me, you believe that the biggest obstacle to learning is knowledge, then knowing everything becomes a barrier rather than an enabler.   If you know everything, you will be inclined to demonstrate it by spewing your heaps of knowledge at the buyer, who will be left with no option but to run for shelter, away from the preaching.  Gaining Some knowledge in advance is right, but not an encyclopaedia;  enough knowledge to formulate good questions, to have an understanding of the situation to be able to entice the buyer to Engage is good and needed, knowing enough to bowl them over is not.

The other factor is the cost.  Based on the data, with 30 calls ending in no direct contact (voice mail, etc.), that is 450 minutes a week, just to leave a message, 7.5 hours for what?  Taking that a step further, when you calculate it from a cost point of view, it breaks down as follows:

Monthly quota:                              $75,000
Working Hours per month:       220 (22 days X 10 hours p/d)
Value of each hour:                      $340.91 (75000/220)

Value of three hours:                   $ 1022.73 (2.5 research .5 calling)
You can buy 4 very well qualified leads for that money and still eat a good lunch; I know for a fact you can buy qualified C level appointments for less than that.  So why bother?

Now spending a few minutes on each target; organizing your calls so you can use and recycle what you have researched will allow you to be much more productive.  Let’s say you were going to call 25 companies this week from the same or similar vertical or group.  You can probably do 15 minutes of research to learn about industry trends, etc.; a couple of minutes if need be on each of the targets’ site to learn about them.  When all is said and done, a total of 65 minutes, or 2.6 minutes per company called.  Much more reasonable cost per Engagement, and an infinitely better use of time.

Again, once you have secured and Engagement, you do need to do the deep dive, learn about the opportunity.  But as stated above, learn to formulate questions, learn in order to better position your solution and company based on the buyers objective, and be able to educate the buyer in the process based on you industry expertise and specific understanding.  Which ROI would you want?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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

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