What’s Your Question? – Sales eXchange 2150

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


Most would agree that questions are the most powerful weapon; a seller has at their disposal. Yet it is interesting to see how many will either not use them at all, or to their full advantage. As with any weapon, practice is key, not just on the battlefield, but off the field as well, the better you become at the technique the better the outcome for both you and your buyer.

But day after day you see sellers come to play with either the wrong questions, dull questions or just plain stupid questions.

Some questions are so self-serving they leave buyers just depressed and so reluctant to answer, because they know that the “correct”, not the right, answer will just extend a bad selling experience. A couple of weeks ago I had someone trying to sell me a piece of technology that would “just rock my sales”. After a few set up statements, he highlighted the areas that he was claiming his app would help, and then he used one of my most hated forms of question: “Wouldn’t you agree that blah blah blah would be a good thing?” In this case knowing what the prospect was thinking about the presentation. It is a no win situation for the buyer, and everyone knows it. Yes it would be good to know that, but if I pick that obvious answer it does not mean that your app can do it, or more importantly that I want, like or am remotely interested in your app; but if I provide the “correct” answer, I am committing to play the stupid game – or – trap. So I decided to take the less painful route and said no. Which highlights another misuse of questions, no follow up to the “no”; they are all set for the “yes”, because it is the logical answer, but throw in a “no” at the right (wrong) time, and watch the void, in their eyes, sales and pipeline.

This is sadder (funnier) than we think, all it takes is a little practice to know how you will handle any of the potential responses to your question. After all, as sales people we are usually in the advantageous position of asking the first question in most selling situation (if you are not asking the first question 99% of the time, then you are an order taker not a sales person); given that, you should figure out in advance what the answers potentially may be, and then plot a course for each one, except the one where the prospect disqualifies themselves, then just work on replacing them.

People answer the question they are asked, extrapolating that to mean things you “need” them to be can be a mugs game. Avoid this in two simple ways. First make sure that ask a number of validating follow through questions, get to the root of the issues, and don’t just linger at the surface. Second, come at the issue from a number of different angles, things can be interpreted differently by different people based on their views and experiences. By exploring the issue from a few different viewpoints will ensure an understanding, and that you are really working with someone in a position to buy. It may take time and effort up front, but it beats getting one right answer but no sale.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto


Are You Selling Like A Child?10

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Child with PC asking

Maybe You Should!

When you get to be my age you end up spending a lot of time with adults, full of expectations, bound by ritual, shackled by their habits, blinded by their opinions, limited by their knowledge. So it was refreshing to spend some time with some so five to seven year olds last week. Beyond their energy level, I came to see why kids are the best sales people on the planet.

Once I adjusted for the noise level and energy I began to notice their sales skills come to the fore. First I noticed is that they have little or no inhibitions. They will try anything without stopping to figure out “why not”, they are just happy to have the experience. How many times have you coached a “professional sales rep”, asked them to do something they knew needed to be done to move the sale forward or close it, only to have recite a laundry list of why they can’t do that? Keep in mind that what they are being asked to do is not illegal, immoral, or unethical. In many cases these are the very things their colleagues are executing day in and day out to win deals, and exceed goal. Yet the reps in question will tell you why they can’t or won’t, and sadly, often the reasons are the same no matter the activity, a closed mind that limits only their success. While these kids are willing to try anything, especially when their friends are doing it and having fun in the act. In fact you are more likely to tell them not to do things, and they respond by asking “Why?” every sales person secret weapon word.

I was answering a prospect’s e-mail on my handset, and right a barrage of question, “who you writing, what are you writing, why, why them, what for, what are you gonna get out of it, why now, what are they gonna get out of it, what if you didn’t write them, do you have to answer everything they asked, will you buy me an ice cream with the money you make?”

And a million other questions. Brilliant, so energizing, because it made me have to think, just like questions make your prospect think, it challenges them to look beyond the race that is their day, to thinking about specific things. The questions they asked made me think about what and how I answered the e-mail. Credit for getting the next step I wanted should got to the kids.

One other thing about their questions is that they didn’t give a rat’ what about being politically correct, they just wanted the facts, they were not rude, nasty, or anything negative, just not hung up on all the adult things sales people tend to get hung up on.

They are also great closers, the best man. They know what they want, laser focus, and totally consumed by figuring out what they want and how to get it. Can you say persistent? I remember my oldest son approaching me when he was around seven, trying to get cookies for his brother and he.

“Dad, can Ez and I have a cookie? One or Two”

I had to give him permission for two, how many did your prospect give you?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

You Should Lead With Price – Sales eXchange 2072

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


If sales were presented as a play, the typical flow would seem to be: segment, identify, qualify, engage, discovery, gain commitment, negotiate and close. Somewhere towards the latter part of “gain commitment” and “negotiate”, the issue of price becomes central to the plot, in fact with some sellers “negotiate” is really just a code word for “price haggling”.  This would explain why so many sales these days are won or lost on price, especially when “discovery” is rushed or executed in a cookie-cutter way.

The plan (I guess), is build value (place your methodology here, ours is good too), and align to price. The frustration for many is that they may not know the relative role of price till late in the game, especially when there is a low cost provider in the mix.  Wouldn’t it be better if you could learn if price will be the breaking factor much earlier in the play?

That’s the catch 22 of selling I guess, if you don’t build value you can’t justify or rationalize the price; on the other hand, you could spend time and energy building value and be defeated by price. What’s a seller to do?

Well, why not lead with price?

Counter-intuitive, maybe? Risky? Could be, but most things worth archiving involve a level of risk.  The opportunity and skill is in managing the risk and finding the balance where calculated risk consistently rewards the risk taker.

This is not to say that your meetings should start:

“Hi I am George, with ACME Solutions, the price is $42,000, plus 20% annual maintenance fee, ready to go?”

But there may be merit to putting price front and centre much earlier in the process. There is an element of this accepted, if not always executed, by many sellers in the form of exploring budget; in terms of its existence, availability, control and commitment.   But budget is different than price, how many times have you been able to check all the tick marks around budget but still lose on price?

But what if we did introduce process earlier?  The reality in many instances, the price is based on some formula, be it unit based or other elements, and sellers have a sense of what a deal is worth early in the play.  Before you protest the last statement in an effort to seem above the fray, go look at yours or any other forecast.  So why not put it on the table, and make it a way of introducing, driving and accelerating the value discussion.  After all, if they object to the price at that point you can get to the heart of the matter by asking them what they base their remarks on.  It is a great way to go to the real value discussion.  As both price and value are relative, you can find out what they see as value in their reaction to the price.

You can then use all the tools and techniques you would normally use to build value, but this time it can be much more collaborative.  The key is not think of it as defending the price, but as a mutual and collaborative value definition.  In the course of executing it, you can uncover objectives, separate needs from wants and a range of other things that make for a successful sale.  All without the suspense of the traditional ending.

As with most things in sales, we can stick to the same old, or so called fresh techniques that are the same old in new packaging.  Or you can try something that will not only differentiate you, the way you sell, and most importantly the outcome.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What Are You Listening To? (Part II)2

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Listening Patiently

In Part I of this series, I looked at the importance of asking powerful impactful questions if you are looking to have something powerful to listen to, and impactful engagements.  The other attribute of good listening mentioned in the piece was patience.  Seems straight forward, but we have all jumped in to soon, unintentionally interrupting the buyer in mid-sentence or mid-thought.  By developing the discipline of patience, we can enhance the buy/sell experience for both parties.

In a world where most leading products/solutions look very much the same, how you sell, or more specifically, the buyer’s experience during your sale, could be the best way to differentiate yourself and product from the pack.  Sellers have been pitched to death, they unfortunately expect Muzak like questions, and have fallen in to the habit of giving Muzak like answers; in effect they have become conditioned by previous sellers, who have trained buyers to give shallow and brief answers.   Every time they start answering a question in meaningful and detailed way, and they are cut off by a seller, they are conditioned to answer with shorter and less detailed and useful answers.  The interruption may be rooted in excitement about the fit, unfortunately the message the buyer gets, is “this guy is not interested in the full answer, just what serves his needs”.  Each time they are unable to fully express themselves, they “learn” that the seller may not be really interested in the answer, so they provide the bare minimum.

If you decide to take on the suggestions in Part I, and move towards asking very direct and provocative questions, you need to prepare, and more importantly allow for longer and more detailed answers, which requires a patient listening style that encourages the buyer to speak in detail, and create a meaningful dialogue.  It is up to you to recondition and reshape the buyer’s expectations and experience.

The reality is that there are a lot of things going on in a sales meeting, sellers have to keep track of and balance various inputs and cues, at the same time analysing and formulating how to piece the information together in a usable way, while at the same time finding ways to move the sale forward.  It takes effort and practice not to jump in when presented with an opening.  But with a little practice and effort, you can change the experience and the outcome.

In light of the fact that we think and speak faster than people talk or we listen, we need to work hard at slowing down, and being patient enough to succeed, it does take effort not to add to the buyer’s negative conditioning.  As a young seller I was taught a simple two step technique that encourages the buyer to speak more and in greater detail, while allowing me to differentiate from other sellers.  As you ask provocative and open ended questions, divide your note page in half, on the left side take notes as you normally would.  On the left side write down two things, first, all the things the buyer says that you want to jump in and comment on, and save them for later.  The other are questions you can ask based on what the buyer is saying.  This forces you to listen more intently, not race ahead or make assumptions, but patiently and tactically listening with purpose.  Once the buyer has finished (on their) own, you can ask the questions you wrote down, demonstrating that you did indeed listen.  You can also go back and review and build on the points you wrote down rather than interrupting, again encouraging the buyer to expand and elaborate further, and see you as a listener, and someone worth talking to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What are you Listening To? (Part I)2

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


Ask a group of sales people what are the most important attribute or abilities a good sales person needs to master, and “Listening Skills” will usually be near the top of the list.  No argument here, the ability and as importantly the patience to listen are crucial.  Beyond the common aspects of listening, there is the issue of what you are listening to.  Based on the question, you could find yourself doing a lot of great listening, with little progress, or return for the effort.

So while listening is a good discipline, the skill still comes down to the quality of the question.  Great questions make for worthwhile listening; crappy questions lead to… well you know.

Buyers have become immune to the most often asked common questions, some may have been fresh the first time they were asked, but by the third time they were asked “if you could change one thing….?” Or any other question of this sort, they develop a standard canned answer, which if not deflected by the seller, will lead to the same predictable outcome, no sale or discounted sale, I guess that’s the penalty for bad questions.

If you want something good to listen to, you need to ask good questions, the better the question, the better listening, the better the engagement.   Where there is a range of opinions is around what is a good question.  From where I sit, you need ask questions that penetrate the protective shield buyers have developed to protect themselves from the usual lot of overtly self-serving questions sellers ask, of course delivered in a consultative mode.

The questions need to be provocative, spark the buyer to think, at times shock them into thinking.  Think of even though a buyer has granted you an hour, they still have a 16 hour work day they are trying get in to a ten hour day, with all the challenges that go along with that.  Just like we as sellers are thinking (and listening) ahead of where we are, so are they.  Your question need to stop them in their track, get off the tread mill, and actually think about their answers, not just illicit a response, responses don’t make for good listening.

Unfortunately, people don’t like to provoke, they fear making client uncomfortable, so instead they ask Namby-pamby questions, soft and cuddly, almost asking the buyer to be their friend rather than an agent of change, or a person of value.  These kind of soft light questions ultimately lead to light listening, like Muzak at the supermarket.

You can build more provocative questions that help you get below the surface of the issues, getting to the root of what the buyer’s objective are and how you can help eliminate hurdle, identify gaps, and mine those gaps to close them in helping the achieve those objective.  The goal is to get past the here and now, to where they need/want to be, where you can add value.  To do that you need something good to listen to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Shock Treatment – Sales eXchange 1922

by Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca
Jump Start

Last Monday I posted about the overlooked opportunity in that segment of buyers know as Status Quo, pundits and sellers alike commiserating each other about the difficulty of selling to a ready group of buyers, vs. taking orders from self-declared buyers.

I’ll be the first to admit change is hard, especially for business buyers who have their handful, trying to make headway in a competitive market.  Change is time consuming, a drain on resources, creates upheaval, usually expensive, and fraught with risk, for the organization and the individual at the centre of the decision.  Moving the dial with these types of buyers requires more than a bit of effort, which is why change is also hard for sellers; it is much easier and safer to rationalize, and wait for a referral.

This is why there is a healthy and growing industry of sages ready to sell indisposed sellers every mean of just waiting at the edge of the forest, encouraging them to wait for something to come out to them, rather than entering the fray and winning business most sellers seem reluctant to peruse.

How much effort does it take? Well take a minute, step back and look around you and study what it takes for people to make critical changes in key their lives. Frighteningly, you discover that people don’t often make big changes, right changes, preferring to avoid and live with the consequences of the Status Quo.  Even when they know that the new state is preferable to their existing one.  The naive notion which many buy into that people will move to a better mouse trap has cost both sellers and buyers much time and money.  You can build the better mouse trap, Trap 2.0, and people will rodent infestation will maybe look your way, then rationalize why they shouldn’t beat a path to your door.

Don’t believe me, how many people do you know who continue to smoke, even after their father expired due to lung cancer; how many people do you know who continue to biggie size it, despite the fact that they have to buy a new wardrobe every six months?  People can change these with a effort if they wanted to, but it takes effort.  How many times have you watched companies go to the brink or beyond because the devil they knew was a better alternative to the one they didn’t know?

The answer is not offering the “right” or “better” solution, or in becoming their friend.  It is about penetrating the barriers the buyers have erected to protect their current state.  Your only choice is to shock them, shock your way past their fortress of hope.  Hope it will work out, hope it will last, and hope no one will notice.  For the “be found crowd”, this is not an issue, the buyer has dismantled the barriers, and are ready to change, but for the Status Quo, intervention time.

Now I am not talking about clamping a couple of electrodes to your buyer’s temples (or elsewhere); but I am talking about asking hard and very direct questions, which at best could be called provocative, at worst a punch below their reality belt.  One does not have to be rude, but one does have to shake things up, which means the ultimate relationship you have starts out a bit rough, but ends up being a solid one, built on being a reliable resource, not a cuddly friend.

There is plenty of writing and thinking out there about how to succeed with the Status Quo, mine, others who provide means and questions you can use.  But the first step is for you as a seller to recognize and decide how you want to deliver value to your buyer.  Once you decide that you can do more than just take orders from ready buyers, and win more business who may not think they need you or your offering, there are plenty of resources to help you, but as with other changes, you need to first admit that you are a card carrying member of the Status Quo.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto  

Plan Z – Sales eXchange 1831

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca


I think (hope ) it is safe to say that every seller, especially B2B, has a Plan A.  A road map or process for how they plan to engage with a buyer, and work with them to mutually navigate the buy and sale process to arrive at a mutually beneficial situation, each party attaining their objectives.  Having said that, I still see many who wing it.

What surprises me is the number of sales people or organizations who have a game plan or playbook, that is totally one dimensional in nature.  It starts by completing a pastel coloured sheet, same info, same way, every time; some have a Plan B, they go to it based on the push back to Plan A.  Now this would not be a big problem if you are selling a commodity, in what can be described as a “binary” sale, but it is an absolute killer if you are selling anything that involves more than a price decision.

Rather than using a “plan” or playbook approach, it is more effective to use a mind map approach.  This allows you to evolve with the buyer as you uncover facts, opportunities and aspirations.  You can use Plan A to engage, and begin the process, but as each client is different (in big or small ways) you need to adapt rather than try to get the client to fit the plan or playbook.

The way to achieve this is to commit to two basic disciplines.  First, is to commit to reviewing all sales transactions you are involved in, whether you won them or not.  This will allow you to anticipate broad and narrow trends,  and adjust your game in real time.   Think of this like watching the game tapes.

To support this, you need to adopt the practice of follow through questions, not question, but questions.  Most sellers tend to stay narrow and shallow, they hear something that sounds like what they need to hear, and they go with it.  But if you develop the skill to ask several layers of “impact questions”, you not only get to the root of the opportunity, but differentiate yourself from those who stop at the surface or layer two.  Combined these give you the grounding to go beyond what you practiced with on the nice coloured sheet, while not meandering, because in the end you still need to bring home the revenue.

Mind mapDiscipline is one thing, rigidity is another, this is why we introduce the concept of fluidity.  Visually it may be easiest to think of this approach as a three dimensional “Sales Mind Map”.   It forces you to think, anticipate and respond based on client input, while leveraging market and sales experience.  It allows you to not only have a Plan A, Plan B, but a method for having options that may take you to Plan Z, all based on the buyer’s objectives and requirements.

Enter the Art of Sales Contest – Win Tickets

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Who Is a Better Closer? – Sales eXchange 17946

Don’t look around in your office for the answer, look at your prospects.

Who is a better closer, you or the buyer you are facing?  In most cases the argument can easily be made that the buyer is a better closer.  In more cases than not, they end up achieving their objective more than you do.

In the case of active buyers, those in the market, reaching out directly to sellers, or actively seeking input from their peer network; or passive buyers – those buyers who are not actively looking but are no longer happy with their current situation, making entrees into the market, searching the web for “what’s out there”.  The buyers are usually the better closers, simply by closing you on the fact that they have other options, and unless things are done entirely on their terms, you’ll lose the deal.  The more one capitulates here, the clearer it becomes that the buyer is closing the seller on the deal they want.  Discounting is an issue in most verticals, either you close the buyer on the value you deliver, or they close you on what you have to surrender to win the deal.

In circumstances where there is no deal, either because the buyer bought from someone else, or decided not to make a decision, again the buyer was the better closer because they closed themselves on not buying, where the seller was not able to close them on buying.  Assuming you were truly convinced that they had a need, and you qualified them, and they didn’t buy, they were the better closer.

Where sellers seems to be much better closers are with those buyers commonly called as status quo.  Where the seller was able to engage in a proper manner, meaning not waiting around to be found by someone with preconceived ideas and price points, but engaged as two peers around a common opportunity.  This involves a proactive approach by the seller, doing the research as to who is in a position to benefit from their offering and engaging with them as a potential means of achieving objectives, not as a latter part of a buying process that started long before the seller was aware.  Where the seller takes the initiative rather than the buyer, the odds are much more even.

The reason for this is obvious but often overlooked.  In the end, it is not about the close but everything that precedes it.  All the elements of the EDGE Process; beyond the research, it is the prospecting Engage long before the buyer goes to market; the Discovery to help confirm the buyer’s objectives, and build value through a collaborative process that encourages the buyer to be part of the process – and part of the outcome.  Leading to the point where you Gain commitment based on the mutual definition of value, and then of course Execute together with the buyer.

The ability to change the focus from close to outcome allows you to help more clients close on you.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Are You Qualifying for Budget or Out Of A Sale?77

Many people involved in sales seem to be fixated with budget; they want to qualify for it way to early in the process.  I know it is important, but you maybe disqualifying perfectly good buyers for the wrong reason.

Your job in sales is to well, sell, which means identifying requirements or gaps in the prospect’s current situation.  But most, about 75% of potential buyers, don’t know, realize or admit they have requirements or gaps, remember – status quo is your biggest hurdle.  So if they don’t perceive a need, they don’t see a need to allocate budget.  This does not mean that they don’t in fact could benefit from your product, but they have lived with the pain long enough, or on the positive side they didn’t realize they could achieve their goals by taking advantage of your offering.  Ask this type of person about budget too early, and you will end up disqualifying a perfectly good buyer.

If you are talking to the right people in the right way, budget is very much an issue that can be (at times easily) overcome.  Consider these examples, have you ever walked into an electronics store looking to buy a flat screen, you know what you had in mind, you encountered a clerk who “qualified you”?  They asked a bunch of questions, including budget, and then showed you two or three products that fit what you described.  Contrast that with the time I walked into an electronics store, with a specific flat screen in mind, shopped it on line in advance so I had a budget in mind, but I encountered a different sales person.  She asked me why I was buying the TV, had I had a flat screen before?  What type of things would I be watching?  She then continued to ask if I what kind of DVD player I had, telling me about Blue Ray, asked if stream from the web, and of course since I told her I watch music DVD’s, what was I using to maximize the sonic experience.  When all was said and done, I had exceeded my flat screen budget by $250, or 20%; in addition I became the proud owner of an unbudgeted Blue ray player, decided to give my inadequate home theater system to the kids, how else was I going to make room for the new one.

You can say I was an impulse buyer, I would argue that I was maximizing my investment in my enhanced flat screen.  Either way there is no arguing that rather than qualifying me for budget, she qualified me for what I was trying to achieve and how to best maximize that over the life of my new Smart TV.

Corporate buyers are no different, the higher you go in the organization, the truer this is.  Executives are able to create budget, able to shift funds around, and make a buy based on a host of factors beyond budget.  I have many clients who did not have budget for training when I cold called them, but after we engaged, and I demonstrated how their investment in what I do will deliver results and returns that will exceed their investment, and justify an unbudgeted expenditure.

Executives want, no need, to make a difference, show them how you can do that and you will find a person motivated to make things happen.  Show them that you primary interest is their ability to spend, and even those with budget will self-disqualify.  It’s about engagement and investment – not budget.  Go ahead, qualify someone for a better competitor.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Who You Gonna Call? – Sales eXchange 17765

When I work with new companies I ask people at all levels of the sales team a few basic questions, all dealing with ‘who’.

Who do you call on?
Who uses your product?
Who decides?
Who pays?
Who benefits?

In most instances three or four of these people are not the same. It is also true that more often than not only one or two of these people are actually called by reps when they are prospecting.

I start out by asking who they call on first when prospecting a company. Most will only call on one person, when as you can see from the list above there at least three, if not more, that can be called on, one right after the other; if for no other reason than there is safety in numbers.

While reps tell you that they call on the “decision maker”, in reality most will usually call on the user. After all, “you can’t go around them, they may get upset”.  Personally I think sales people should be upset that they are calling on someone who at best can have an opinion in the decision, but can’t take one.

At times all five are one person but you need to address the requirement of each of the five elements to keep competitors at bay, and to sell the deal at full value.

In many cases the most overlook and potentially the most influential party is the last on the list, the person/people who directly benefit from the offering.  There are many examples of this, but let’s look at IT and/or integrators. Most often they will call on their natural counterparts, the folks in the middle levels of IT.  After all they are the users, they speak the same language, get each other’s gestures, and geek out over the same geeky things.  But most often the beneficiaries are in other functional groups or departments.

When the IT folks need something, great, there is discussions, decisions, and revenue; but without that need what do you have.  Seems to me there is more opportunity in speaking with the group who creates the need for the IT project to begin with.  This of course requires a different approach, different language, and different measures of success.  But there is a clear opportunity to “create demand” by this group for functionality, process enhancement, what have you; which in turn ends up creating the need for your IT based product.  Creating demand in a group that indirectly benefits, drives demand and opportunity in your target group.  You can now tie your product to other projects and initiative in the company.

This allows you to have more relationships in the company, deliver more value perceived value, and greater security from competitors still riding a one relationship pony.  When you learn to do this well, it also allows you to deal with the budget issue, as now you have brought on another group that can contribute to a project they “all” seem to want.  Another way to leverage the safety in number, remember sometime it is not that someone does not want to make a decision, they just don’t feel ready until their colleagues also get behind it.

So who you gonna call?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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