Welcome to The Pipeline.

Saturday Sales Tip – 18 – Take It Away!31

One of the great things about sales is the different challenges you can come across with various customers. Having said that, when you step back and take an objective look, a good percentage of things tend to occur regularly, and as such are predictable and therefore manageable.
 
This allows good sales people to prepare and be more than ready for these occurrence, if not entirely eliminate them, certainly marginalize them, not worry about them, and at times capitalize and leverage them. In some cases, usually tactical in nature, use what some sales people would describe as a challenge or hurdle, to their advantage.
 
Some examples of this include those ominous and common objections we get when making cold calls. You know they are coming, you’ve heard them dozens of time, so you should be ready “take it away” from them. That’s why people who apply this methodology after taking our Proactive Prospecting Program, a) don’t worry about the common objections; and b) do better in setting more appointments than before participating in the program.

The beauty of this technique is that it is not involved or complicated, it is straight forward, but does require you to prepare in advance and be ready to evolve with circumstances and the market.  We will demonstrate with a couple of obvious ones and then one that show how to adopt to market driven forces.

For example, I was working with a major multi-national high end equipment maker, they are well known, and recognized as the leader in their space.  They sold to segments of the market from SOHO, to global banks.  One of the challenges their SMB team faced was the perception that they may be expensive and that they were geared to the needs of large companies.  More 80% of the time when they called on a small business, the owner would say “oh we’re just a small company, way to small for you guys at XYZ.”  So we told them to “take it away”; we asked them to introduce themselves as being “the small business specialist with XYZ”.  What’s the buyer going to say, “oh we are miniscule”, you can only get so small.  The reaction from people they called changed, they were pleased to see that a company of their size and stature would have a “small business specialist”, appointment rates and sales both increased.

When you end up sending a prospect something either by snail or e-mail, what is the most common response you get when you follow up?  Sure they haven’t got to it or read it yet.  So “take it away”; when you call them back, say “Hank, this is Tibor, just follow through on the info you requested – you probably haven’t read it yet, have you?”  Just their nervous little laugh is worth the call, but “taking it away”, gives you complete control.  If they haven’t, you can follow through by saying “Hank that’s why I suggested we get together, let’s do that Monday and I can walk you through and answer any questions you have, how about 3:00”.  If they have read it, great, time to meet.

One other example, one where it is in response to changing markets.  Last year we all faced the recession.  So I quickly changed my approach to “take it away”; as part of my intro I added that “at Renbor we work with companies like ABC who have decided to take a proactive stance vis-à-vis the recession.”  What can they say at this point, “we’ve decided to not be proactive and go down with the status quo”

The key is to recognize a potential hurdle and deal with the decidedly, move to “take it away”.  First time you hear it, take note; second time, confirms you need to deal with; third time and after: “take it away” from them.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

My Best Sale Ever!

Don’t Ask – Don’t Sell38

Time to Revoke That Way of Selling

Sale people like to talk about asking questions, probing for answers; most would not argue that it is a fundamental sales requirement.  Yet at times, they seem reluctant to make full use of them. Making basic queries is fine, but they don’t seem to want to go for the gusto to often especially when it comes to some direct and or advanced questions, many seem to fade.  I am not sure if it is that “relationship” thing, or the soft side of selling is just getting mushy; (check out The Softness Epidemic: Sales is Too Soft, from S. Anthony Iannarino); but when it comes to asking questions which will truly uncover facts and objectives, sales people seem to just hold back or are afraid to ask.

It is really an issue for two reasons, first is obvious, you can uncover things your competitor will never get, because he/she (real PC ha?) is not asking.  The second is that those direct questions really establish your credibility in the eyes of the buyer.  Let’s face no real decision maker wants to waste time with a soft namby pamby type person who is reluctant to deal with real issues. 

I am not talking about personal or out of bound questions, but those that impact the buyer, those where your solution can impact the outcome.  When you consult with other professionals whose help you are seeking, say a lawyer or accountant, do they hold back?  If you were facing litigation, would you feel good about a soft lawyer who is not getting to the heart of the matter, or one that digs down so they can understand and fully deal with the issue to your advantage?  A good sales person should do the same, especially if they like to make an income associated with lawyers or other professionals.

At times I am amazed at the soft balls people won’t ask.  What are they afraid of?  If you have a question on your mind based on the conversation you are having with a buyer ask it, simple as that.  Short of a personal question, like “man why would you ware that tie with that shirt?”, it is our job to ask, listen and deal with it.  Whatever it is you will have to deal with it at one point, so take the lead and find out. Maybe the buyer is not interested, good, let’s move to one that may be, I’d rather know now, then invest more time and energy. 

The other day I had a rep say “I have always wanted to ask how they choose their vendors?”  Now is that a softy or what, but they have never asked.  “Why not?”  I asked, “well can you ask that?”  I reassured them that I had just visited the legislature and there was no law on the books against it.  If you are thinking it, it is relevant; if it is relevant, you need to ask it.   (See Building The Better Question)

Nothing is off limit in the business context.  It’s simple, you don’t ask – you don’t sell!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What’s your Best Sales Ever?

Your Best Sale Ever!22

My Best Sale Ever – is a project aimed at highlighting and sharing best practices among B2B sales professionals when facing a potentially critical challenge moment in an important sale.  Specifically, we are looking to collect and share real stories baed on real events from B2B sales professionals who were in a tough spot in a sale. 

Tell us about a time when you were facing what appeared to be an insurmountable situation in a sale, all seemed lost. No moping for you, you took charge, stepped back, got creative – formulated a strategy, an action plan, then sprang  into action and executed it. Winning the deal and the day!

Here is your chance to brag!
 
In a 1,000 words or less, tell your tale using the following headings:

  • What was the specific challenge facing you, what was at risk, what was the upside? 
  • What you did in specific terms? 
  • What was the result or outcome? 
  • What you learned as a result? 
  • Were you able to repeat it and make it part of your sales execution playbook?

All stories will be reviewed, if your moment of glory is selected you will be notified.

Hope you participate, tell your friends, you never know you may need their vote (not saying anything, but who knows), and have fun.

www.mybestsaleever.com – Have Questions, write bestsale@mybestsaleever.com

Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 44 – What’s New?28

One of the benefits (sometimes frustrations) of giving workshops and working with all types of sales people is seeing the lack of drive among many sales people, and front line managers.  While they all acknowledge that they need to change and improve, they would much rather spend time telling me why they don’t see merit to trying something new, and see more value to try and prove why what they are doing now is perfect, and just a little spit and polish is all their current process needs.

Well I am not here to tell them that they don’t know what they are doing, here on this blog or in the workshops, I am just here to try and get them to think a bit beyond today, to get them to introduce new elements into their routine that will ensure their continued success and employment.  Still, I continue to be amused and surprised at their reluctance to do so.   I realize that they are for the most part working hard, working smart and many do both, but generally within the confines of a small “box”, which if they expanded a bit at a time, could give them an ongoing advantage in the game.  But the push back I see against changing or even updating their game ranges from the understandable (not necessarily acceptable): “I have been doing this for 20 years with relative success why should I change now?” to the ridiculous “you know I tried that once in 1983, and it didn’t work that time.”

Well let’s look at a couple of sobering things that will hopefully inspire you and some others to take steps to change and improve.

“The process you have right now is perfect for the results you are getting.”

So the question becomes really clear, are satisfied with the results you are getting now?  So here is an answer that clearly does not apply to everyone, but should give many pause, and at least enough steam to get you to the end of this piece:

“The percentage of reps making quota in 2009 dropped to 51.8% from 58.8% a year earlier.  As a result, overall revenue plan attainment dropped to 77.9% from 85.9% during the same time period.”  CSO Insights Study Shows Major Drops in Sales Performance in 2009; February 2, 2010

Still some will say that they are part of that 51%, so what does this have to do with me, and for some that is correct; some, and rather than the old 80/20, let’s go with The Shanto Principal, and say 30% of the above group will continue to make goal, grow and achieve in terms beyond just money.  The rest need to think things through. 

Many of the people who made their number last year did so working their base, almost benefiting from the recession as clients trimmed relationships and consolidated business to fewer vendors.  So while one vendor benefits, another goes back to the office hungry.  But this process has a “circle of life” aspect, what goes around comes around, as consolidation happens, it leads to attrition, the base shrinks.  Depending on the industry and other factors, churn can result in anywhere from 5% – 20% of the existing account base.  So at one point you will have to deal with that reality, I would say that time is sooner than many think for two reasons.

First as the economy improves, already has in Canada, will this year in the USA, the benefits of consolidation will likely reverse.  New people, new initiatives, new opportunities will cause clients to review the status quo and make changes, one change may be their vendors, you.

The second also comes from the CSO study cited above:

“Again in 2010 85% of the firms we just surveyed have raised their sales rep revenue targets. We can all hope that an improved economy will be the tide that raises sales performance this year, but it would be foolhardy to count on that. Higher quotas need to be accompanied by increased investments in sales in 2010 or we may be looking at even worse sales performance numbers next year.”  Barry Trailer, Managing Partner for CSO Insights

Seems to me any way you approach it, you will be expected to deliver more in 2010, even more in 2011; unless you change you approach to productivity, that is the working smarter part, you will run out of options.  Working harder will just tire you out, and no matter what there are still only 24 in any given day.

So something has to change! You!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 17 – Forgotten!24

One question or concern many reps often raise is how frequently they should go back or call back a potential prospect. Their concern being that they do not want, or appear to be bothering or over calling a specific prospect.  As a result, sellers tend to leave too wide a gap between calls. 
 
So here is the good news, which some sellers have a hard time accepting: 
 

Unless you were rude or really blew that first call, the buyers have forgotten you, your company, your product, accept it. You are but a blur among the dozens of similar calls they chewed through that week.
 
I know some of you are thinking “hey, I am different, I am good at this”. Well sunshine, if you were that good you would have gotten the appointment and we’d be talking about something else. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you are not a good sales person, but on that one call that day, you were not good enough to overcome the elements, all those things on the buyers agenda that consumed his/her attention more than your call.
 
Why is this good news, well first because as they forget, and they will forget, no, they have already forgotten; you get to call again, you are going to call again, right?  It’s OK to, because your call is a blur, like so many faces on the subway platform as the train picks up speed, how many of those faces do you remember by the next stop?
 
The other reason it is good to call again sooner rather than next year, is based on how well you did your work to begin with.  Assuming that you can impact the buyers world, you have had success doing that with others, then what you can solve for them will likely move up their priority list, and when you call again, or the time after, they will be ready to engage. 

To make it work you need to have a communication strategy, what is commonly called a nurturing program. 

Between calls you need to do some messaging, newsletters, blogs, other tools.  But again based on experience, you need to schedule a task for yourself to call them again.  How long depends on your product and audience.

As a simple example, I target VP’s of Sales; VP’s of sales are born again four times a year, at the start of each quarter.  So the second week of a given quarter is good, they are assessing where they are and what they may do differently in the new quarter.  You need to figure out what the appropriate timeframe may be, sometimes it is monthly, other time semi-annually (contact me if you want to discuss or get input).

By way of example, a couple of years ago I called a VP in March, and in a very gruff and direct way he told me to go away, “I use Miller Heiman”.  When I called him in July he gave me the appointment; when I got to his office, after the small talk, I asked “so you still using Miller Heiman?”.  He look at me with great surprise and said “how d’you know that?” “you told me when you blew me off in March.”

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

BTW – If you want to brag about your selling skills check out www.mybestsaleever.com, more on that next week.

Understand?26

A staple of sales training is listening, active listening (I always picture a sprinter, or the kid next door with ADHD), listening from the heart, all kind of listening; even I wrote a piece on “In Listening”.  But most often this advice falls on deaf ears, partly because many of the people delivering the message don’t always practice what they preach, or maybe they should move the focus to understanding rather than just the act of listening.

Understanding goes more to the point of the issue than listening.  A lot of people listen “well” or “intently”, but they fail to take things in.  No doubt, this is behind the expression “I hear you”.  It is easy to sit on the edge of your chair and look like you are totally involved and “listening”, but the measure is in what actions are taken based on not just what you heard, but what you take in, what you understand, what is ultimately found in the results. 

Results are where you demonstrate how well you disabled your filters, how well you were able to fight the limitation of selective listening, which is what a lot of sales people suffer from.  No matter how good their intentions are, they are victims of what they take in when they are listening. 

If you want clear example of this, see how the paradigm changes when you change the medium.  “Listening” implies an auditory experience; you ask questions, buyer answers, we pretend to “take it in”.  Let’s change that slightly, say to written communication, in theory more conducive to “hearing” clearly, understanding (especially if you both speak English).  But what you will find is that it actually demonstrates how little people do really “listen” or “understand” beyond their selfish needs, their filters, beyond their selectivity.  Don’t believe me, want to see daily example of sales professionals and gurus not listening, just check out some of the discussions in some LinkedIn Groups.

Over the last few weeks I have been part of a number of discussions, some I started while others I have joined in.  I am continuously struck by how many people only read part of the question before they jump in pretending to bring value when they are just disrupting and taking away from the quality of the discussion.  Do any of us believe they would conduct a sale differently?

Now I understand that some just want to promote a cause, a product or a point of view, so they jump into discussion strictly to promote (sell).  But others seem to want to contribute, but they don’t because they are responding to an incomplete question.  Even where they may have a point, it is lost because it is clear they did not read or take in, or more correctly chose not to take in, the entire question or premise of the discussion.  So yes, they listened, selectively, and then respond with little or no value.  But they tell everyone that success in sales comes down to listening, proving Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock right in the process.

In some other cases, there are clear instructions given, things to be address in a clear sequential order, yet a bunch of respondents just spew back unstructured, incomplete responses that simply yell “hey I didn’t bother reading the instructions, I didn’t listen, I didn’t hear what you said, but I’m gonna talk any ways, cause that’s how I sell.”

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Sales eXchange – 43 – Partner 2.017

A lot of people in business and in sales use certain words in ways entirely different than their meaning.  In the past I have talked about the use of the word “relationship” by sales people in a way that is almost laughable at times.
 
Another word that is thrown about with little regard for definition or intent is the word partner or partnership.  When you compare what some people mean or what their intent is when they use the word, versus what the word means you can’t but be struck by how disingenuous some people are.

First let’s define partner:

part•ner: 
–noun
1. a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or   endeavour; sharer; associate.
2. A person associated with another or others as a principal or a contributor of capital in a business or a joint venture, usually sharing its risks and profits.

In my discussions I tend to focus on number 2, with the key word being “sharing”, as I think most people do, but there are many who pick and choose their definition based on very selfish needs.

I remember being part of a business development team during the latter stages of the dot com boom.  We were exploring means of disseminating news and information on mobile and other devices.  I used to get people from small and upcoming companies come and visit looking to work with us, the company I was with had a high profile name due to the two parent companies at the time.  They all opened the meeting the same way, “we want to be your partner in this project”.  This did not mean they wanted to share resources, IP or technology.  What they meant was that they wanted the ability to include us in their next press release and increase their chances in the IPO derby that was so popular at the time.  When we suggested that we share resources, or co-develop, many would cringe. 

This week again, I ran into someone that had a different definition of partner than mine. 
In anticipation of my upcoming book, I find myself in discussions with potential partners, most vendors where there is a natural fit between the product and the methodology outlined in the book.  Some vendors, expect me to not only promote their offering but also expect me to not promote or work with any of their potential competitors.  I have no issues with this and understand the need for this form of “monogamy”.  What is surprising is when you ask for the same in return, that is, that the vendor not promote other competitive authors or vendors.

I use the word “monogamy” specifically, a further definition of partner is:

3. A husband or a wife; spouse.

One vendor I was speaking to was at first surprised by my definition of a partner, my conditions and insistence for mutual exclusive support.  But to his credit he quickly understood and embraced the notion of a true partnership, the possibilities inherent in working together to achieve mutual success.

Another took an entirely different view, I was to promote only his product, use only his product and supplied a list of products, I could not mention, work with or even be associated with.  When I suggested that there were some people that I would like him not to support or promote, he practically laughed.  More a reflection on him than me I think. 

These two examples speak directly to the larger issue of doing the right thing.  If one is willing to screw their partner, and remember a lot of vendors will call you their partner, what would those same people be willing to do to those they deal with that they don’t see as partners?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Saturday Sales Tip – 16 – Don’t Blow Your Second Chance33

No one is perfect, not companies, not sales people; we often make honest mistakes, errors in judgement or other unplanned things that impact our customers. At the same time most customers are also reasonable and are willing to allow and will work with us to resolve or rectify the issue, and with few exceptions get back on track and move on. They are usually accommodating and recognize the effort we take to address and resolve any issues.
 
So what puzzles me is why some companies and reps don’t seize this second chance; why some appear to go out of their way to just compound matters and make them worse, usually leading to loss of business and reputation.
 
It has been shown that the perception people take away from the experience is very much influenced by their last impression. That is, the last thing they experience in a given event will be the lingering one. In the case of restaurants, if a client experiences a bad meal or service, and brings it to the attention of the establishment, how they react will drive the impression.  Those who react promptly to deal with the issue, the customer will leave with a positive impression.  Given the same scenario, but management does not act to remedy the situation, even when they may be right and the customer is wrong, the customer will leave with a negative impression.
 
Taking a turn on the old saying, messing up is human, correcting it is divine. When you do mess up, when you forget to do something, late with a deliverable, whatever it may be, make sure that you take the time to not only correct it but to make sure that the client is aware and acknowledges it.  Doing so will not only confirm to the buyer that you are a professional, willing to do what it takes, willing to address errors, real or perceived, rather than ignoring or glossing over them; but will also allow you to solidify and grow the opportunity.

The second chance we get to address a “mistake” is often all you need at times to get things back on track or to reaffirm a relationship with a buyer or client.  As mentioned above, “the last impression” counts for a lot, and good thing is that a vast majority of the time it is up to us what that impression is, so make the most of it, or the next rep will use it against you.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Change – Or – Improvement20

Change is a big thing in sales, used in so many ways for so many different things; it can be as much a barrier to communication and moving things forward as it can be an enabler.  Sales manager are always trying to change the way we sell.  Unless you are the incumbent, you are trying to get the prospect to change their current practices to include your offering; and we have all been taught (although have not always accepted) that the Status Quo is in fact the biggest hurdle we face in sales.
 
However, understanding that change is king is one thing, over reliance on its mystical powers is another. The over emphasis on change sometimes clouds thinking and as a result, slows or prevents execution. Buyers have built up calluses and are becoming constantly more astute, forcing sellers to demonstrate and deal with the valid question “why change, why change now?”  Change for change sake is no longer sufficient for most, especially in the post Lehman Era.
 
Buyers are reluctant to change, and who can blame them, it is time consuming, expensive, distracting, and at the end often less than fulfilling.  Big expectations at times combined with big promises, lead to little change for buyers other than the source of the invoice for a similar service to the one they had before.  Like Pete Townshend said “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.  Not that they are any worse off, but no real tangible improvement.
 
Tangible improvement, that should be the seller’s objective, not just change.  Change is easier to sell than improvement: “You have blue now, you should get (need) red”.  Why is change easier to sell?  Because it doesn’t require all the effort needed to understand the buyer’s current situation, what their objectives are, what the obstacles may be, competitive issues, impacts, none of that; just that they have this, and now they should get that. We
 
While some vendors will settle to achieve just change, smart sellers will work to deliver improvement for the buyer.  Many sellers will tell you that they do strive for that, that their intent is to help the client in very specific ways, but often they fail to convey that to the buyer, or hope to do so through spewing stats and facts, or what the folks in the copier trade may refer to as “speeds and feeds”.
 
To understand what constitutes improvement for the buyer, you need to make a proactive effort, right from the time you engage, in fact the way that you engage, and extend that initial contact right through the cycle is part of conveying how you will improve their path to attaining their objectives.  At the core this means fully engaging with the buyer, not only on a “needs” level, but as importantly on the process level. (For more on this, see ‘The Buyers’ EDGE‘)
 
The other way to demonstrate to the buyer that you are focused on improvement and their objectives is to conduct a thorough Discovery exercise, a real interview getting to the core issues and opportunities facing the client.  I often get a puzzled look for sales people when I tell them I do not do presentations, use slides or any other cures for insomnia.  I want the prospect excited, and the way to get them excited is to have them see beyond their current state and have them understand and feel the impact my solution bring.  Questions get them to think, questions get them to respond, and with that, they begin to see and live the improvement.  I tell reps that a good meeting for me is when I get my planned next step, having not left any collateral or materials behind, just a prospect anticipating the possibilities; the improvement.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Buyers’ EDGE5

In the past we have discussed our platform for the sales process, a framework we call the EDGE: Engage – Discovery – Gain – Execute.  Within this framework we work with sales organizations to define actions, attributes and metrics that allow them to execute a consistent process mapped to their revenue generating process and activities, from lead sourcing to client retention and growth.  Once rolled out front line reps and managers have a clear road map for success that can be repeated time and again to achieve continued success.  One of the key features is a built in mechanism that allows reps and managers to evaluate and opportunities based on their specific merits, allowing them to prioritize opportunities based on objective criteria by removing the usual subjective factors that cloud people view of an opportunity.  By removing the usual emotional attachment to some opportunities that often leads reps to chase and spend time and resources on prospects that will not close in the current cycle, and as result fail to execute on those that clearly will.

Read on…

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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