Mistakes Are Better Than Regrets – Sales eXecution 2430

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Crossed Fingers

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a sales person say “I should have …”, I could start working a three day week. And for all the coulda shmoudas, the risk for not acting was not that much greater than not acting, but the rewards always measurably bigger. I have never understood how some can live better with the regret of not having gotten a sale because they did not act, versus worrying about not getting an account because of a mistake they made attempting.

We worry about making mistakes when it comes to accounts, or meetings, usually unnecessarily so, and usually due to a lack of a proper pursuit plan, or process. Process here refers to a set of necessary and common-sense activities required to move the sale to close, executed in a logical and sequential stages, not something overly complex just for the sake of being complex, or more expensive. But the ‘process’ is not the end all and be all, as many mistakenly believe, it is the jumping point, the platform that allows you to act and measure progress and recalibrate when needed, but none of that matters till you act. It is when you act and make mistakes that you can correct, vary, and act again. Mistakes can be corrected, regrets you just carry around like so much luggage.

This unfolds with meetings as well, I often hear sales people say after the fact “I should have asked…” So why don’t they? One simple reason, they didn’t write their questions down in advance, and simply forgot, they didn’t want to look amateurish, but many buyers tell me they just see that as being prepared. More often sellers tell me they didn’t want to sound foolish asking such a simple question. What’s the old question: “do you want to be rich or look cool?”

Many sales people tell me that they don’t want to act “until they have it right”. They practice and rehearse – a good thing – till they feel they have it “perfect” – not a good thing, because no one is ever perfect. Selling is not like figure skating at the Olympics where you get a score for “artistic merit”, more like speed skating, successive qualifying rounds, semi-finals, and finally the big race. Perfect is not as pretty as success, and success is not always pretty.

While the intent of doing your best is a good one, and I have always said that intents go a long way, buyers are very much in tune with your intent, and are very forgiving when they know your intent was good, despite questionable execution. But without action on your part, there is no way for the buyer to see or gauge your intent. It’s a lot like not leaving a voice mail because “no one ever calls back”, how could they if you don’t leave a message or number?

If you’re going to err, err on the side of acting and dealing with the outcome, not on the side of staying on the sidelines and rationalizing the might-have-beens. In sales, it is about execution – everything else is just talk!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

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Self-Serve or Full Service? – Sales eXecution 2422

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

stake and wine

I overheard an interesting discussion recently at the airport. Two guys talking about eating out a lot, could even have been road warrior sales types. One was waxing poetic about how is sick and tired of seeing tipping jars at staff cafeterias, or fast food places. When his buddy asked why, his reply was that the people in those place do not do anything that merits a tip. They stand at the cash, ring you out, and sometimes even muster a “thank you”. Even at a place like Starbucks, the baristas are nothing more than a short version of a short order cook.

He felt waiters deserve a tip because they create and add to the dining experience, and are often the difference between a great night out experience, and a meal eaten outside the home. He felt that waiters are with you from start to finish, making recommendations, the good ones take time to understand your preference and what you are hoping to get out of the experience and more. They also sell and upsell you from wine to desert and everything between, helping their restaurant sell more profitable items, increasing the size of the bill, their tip, and your experience. In other words earning their tips. To quote “WTF does the guy behind the counter at Starbucks add to the experience?”

This got me to think about some of the current discussions in sales, and how people are confusing roles and outcomes, sometime innocently, sometimes intentionally to drive their own agenda, even at the expense of their buyers and facts. When I read that “buyers are over 60% of the way through their buying process before they reach out to sales person”, I get confused. Sales person, really? I think not, more accurately, the person they call when they are 2/3 of the way through their “buying” process is an order taker, there is no selling taking place here, there is just taking an order the buyer by definition arrived at on their own. Looking at that experience as a sale, is like confusing a sandwich off a stand outside Penn Station with a dinner at Carbone.

Sales people seek out and engage with people who have not started the buying process, had not intention on doing anything different when they went to work that morning. That is why it is a “sales process”, not a “buying process”. Sales people are not standing at the checkout counter waiting for the next buyer to walk up. They study their territory, understand who potentially will benefit from their offering. They segment and prioritize, and develop a pursuit plan based on where they are most likely to engage with potential buyers, buyers who without the seller’s initiative would remain on the sideline, and unnoticed by sales people waiting for a call from someone who has completed 2/3 of their decision. Not to mention the pundits who promote this type of lazy order taking; how can one present an entire “sales” methodology predicated on taking orders rather than making a sale? I am with my man at the airport, let’s not call the combo meal at the local sub shop a four course dinner. Now shut down the browser, and go out and sell, the incoming orders will come anyways, look at them as you bonus, not your goal.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

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I Made a Sales Mistakes, Have You? And then What…?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Mistake

Seems it is a week of posts about sales mistakes, Monday I discussed a mistake made by a company trying to sell to me. Today, it is one of my mistakes that takes centre stage.

We all make mistakes, it is a trait of being human. The real opportunity is in how you deal with mistakes you make. The fellow I discussed Monday choose not to do anything about his, below is an example of a recent one I made, and how I dealt with it. What was a sales mistake you made in the course of selling and what did you do about it?

Last week I made a fatal, or near fatal error. I had sent a prospecting note to senior executive, and I let the auto-correct get the better of me, as a result I got the individual’s name wrong, interestingly enough their name is a common vocation, and I allowed the phone to replace it with another common vocation starting with the same letter. Not excusable, I should have caught it, I messed up with a capital F. With a name like Tibor, you can imagine I get my name rearranged on a regular basis.

The individual in question wrote back chastising me for the error, pointing out getting the name right was Sales 101. I don’t blame them for doing so, but it occurred to me that my mistake was not related to Sales 101 at all.

Sales 101 in my experience relates to actually acting, as in the act of proactive prospecting, acting on an idea, or acting in a way that gets the results you set out to get.

On a daily basis I hear sales people say they can’t do this, or can’t do that; I sometimes get the sense that what they are really saying is wont. I also hear that they find it difficult to get in front of their prospect, they can’t write to senior executive, “e-mail don’t get a response, they are never opened.”

Well clearly the one I sent was opened, otherwise my mistake would not have gone unseen, the technique works, one point for me, let’s keep using it. The goal of having a call was not eliminated, and whatever the ultimate outcome, their response allowed me to address my mistake. I apologised directly for my error, no excuses, humanize the process, and continue on. A case of taking lemons and making lemonade, I’ll let you know whether my intended prospect adds some sweetener, I suspect not, but I did my part.

My Question To You:

What was a sales mistake you made that you had a chance to deal with in a positive way, and snatch success where others may not have? Leave a comment below, or send a tweet to @TiborShanto.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

Inbound, Outbound and now Nowhere Bound – Sales eXecution 2410

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

OOOPs

I have recently become a victim of some bad, no absolutely terrible, attempts at prospecting by people who bring little to their chosen profession, sales. But while it may be easy to blame the reps alone, their companies need to share in the blame and shame. Last week I was so pissed, I had to pick up the phone and call the rep and the company directly. Not surprisingly they did not understand what I saw them doing wrong.

To begin with, I or anyone in my company, has no absolute need for their “solution”. Yet another example of “solution selling” gone bad, unleashing a rep who runs around the country side looking for a problem. So why they would have wasted time and energy pursuing me is beyond me, but they did, and here is how it unfolded.

Last month I got an e-mail, presented in “very familiar” way, and it started this way:

Tibor,
Happy New Year!
I wanted to follow up to determine an appropriate time to….

I speak to a lot of people, did not recognize the name of the rep or the company, maybe this was due to the excesses of the holidays. So I did a quick search through my e-mails, sales software, LinkedIn, but nothing. I looked at the company page, not anyone I had prospected, nor were they at the top of my hit parade. Not wanting to be rude, or miss an opportunity, I sent them a note, asking what it was he was looking to “follow up to?” as I had no recollection of prior contact. No response, not a peep, and I promptly forgot about him, his note and his company.

Four weeks less a day later, another note:

Hi Tibor,

As a follow up to our last touch point, I wanted to see if now is perhaps a better time to briefly discuss….

He’s got balls, I’ll give him that, not much integrity or ethics, and I say this as someone who has proclaimed to know where the line is, happy to step close to it, but never cross it. He clearly had no issues in crossing it.

I called him up, introduced myself, not saying what I do for a living, just enquiring what we were following up to, as per my earlier note. He told me that they do it all the time, and he further defended it by saying that this is done all the time. I suppose that’s true, and everyday people get swindled in a number of ways, does that mean you have to do that too.

I am sure this kind of net cast every day, and I am sure the catch is healthy, otherwise they would make the effort to sell ethically. But I have to believe that if they did put the effort in, and assuming that their product has some merit, they would do much better than misleading potential prospects, and relying on those with bad memories. And while the debate over the pros/cons and merits of inbound vs. outbound will continue, and will the results of both, I hope we can all agree that this type of prospecting is truly nowhere bound.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto  

Please, New Is So Old Now – Sales eXchange 2360

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Future

I got a note from one of the pundits in my inbox telling me things I should do for sales success in the New Year. You may expect these type of things mid-way through December till maybe January 10th, but after that it is just an indicator that they don’t really understand B2B sales at all, and the customers they get as a result, they deserve.

As a sales person your really do need to live in the future, and fulfill in the present. You need to live in the future for two simple (probably more) reasons. First, if you are going to deliver real and lasting value to your customers you need to leave “ahead of them. If you are going to deliver to and drive their objectives, you have to be where those objectives will unfold, and that is almost always in the future. Especially with business leaders, be they leading small or large global companies. If you speak to these folks and you should, (as well as speaking to everyone else in the organization, it is not one über the others), you will notice that their horizon is in the future, based on who they are it could be six, twelve, eighteen months or more in the future. The have delegated the present to others in their organization, in the case of small business, they have relegated it to a different part of their thinking.

So if you are going to align and sell to them today, you need to be thinking and talking to things they thinking about, which means they have been in 2014 for some time, cranking up you preparation now, like the pundit suggest, nay, scream to the buyer, “This guy is no for you”, as my fellow Tull freaks will say he is “Living In The Past”. If you are going to step in to the roll of thought leader for these buyers, you need to recognize that you need to lead from the front.

The other reason you need to live in the future, is driven by the realities of calendars, fiscal years, invoicing and the payable cycles of your buyer. Let’s say you have a three month sales cycle (handshake to close), and you get paid when the first invoice is paid, 30 days is acceptable period for an invoice to be paid, you are going to need four months of run way for a deal to count towards your number this year. Which means anything you start after September 2, will be next year’s number. If it counts and you get paid, when the contract is signed, then that date moves to October 2nd. So if you were going to look at doing things a new way for 2014, you will have need to start that process last September or October, not January 26.

This is not to say that you should not always be adding new elements to your selling, just look at that as an ongoing part of your personal development, not an event tied to the New Year. Yes, I know the pundit needs to sell too, but you don’t have to buy if it will not help you now, or in the “now future”.

I am going to keep this mail as I am certain it is the exact same one she sent last January, with dates changed. I am not sure if I remember because it irritated me last year, or the fact that they used a stock photo used by a million other sites.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Go For That Hail Mary Now – Sales eXchange 2331

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Hail Mary

When we hear the phrase Hail Mary, we think of the end of half or end of game, a last chance play or pass, a buzzer beater, usually accompanied by some level of desperation (perceived or real). This a ritual not limited to sports, it is practiced in B2B sales, but under different names, fueled by the same need, and with all the same negative connotations; the end is nigh, and you know the drill. We’ve all seen it or lived through it, the end of quarter (or other sales period) deal coral and round up time. All rules and reason go out the window, it is all about the close; your manager’s vocabulary is reduced to four words, “Have you closed _________?”, no vacations, and god forbid if your wife goes into labour before the 31st.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with long shots, this is more about which, why and when. I love long shots, some of my best opportunities resulted from me taking a shot on things others ignored, or by taking an approach everyone would have bet will lead to disaster. But you have to pick them, because as we have said here repeatedly, time is a non-renewable resource. But they are long shots for a reason, and you need to select them for the right reason, and more importantly make sure you select them, rather than them selecting you, in the form of an all or none situation.

Long shots should be over and above the real opportunities in your pipeline rather than the only things in the pipe. This allows you to stretch, experiment and discover new ways to sell without bringing unnecessary risk to your quarter year, or overall success. With a blended pipeline with ample coverage, long shots are fun, and can be rewarding. When approached as a bonus, they allow you to explore new sectors, prospect new people, and expand your repertoire, expand markets, and open new referral channels.

Plan your long shots with the understanding that will need a lot of run way. Why most sales Hail Mary’s fail is that they are not given enough time to unfold properly. Instead of waiting for the last Wednesday of the quarter, start your pursuit on the first day, start two, as chances are that at best one may work. But make sure you start with enough time to have a “shot”.

Make sure you not only have a plan B and C, and beyond. Just due to the nature of these opportunities, you are likely going to need a plan G, M and maybe even a plan T (plan T;s are my favourite).

One of the things I enjoy most about Hail Mary’s is the opportunity to talk to people in roles I don’t normally deal with, and in types of accounts outside my normal ones. This is not only challenging in a way that allows me to sharpen skills, but is fun, and you do have to have fun. When I win, there is more than money, and if I lose, well it is not my core pipeline.

So yes, take the long shot, go for the Hail Mary, but do it now, not March 25.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Dude – It’s Not Really A Duck!0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Duck

What’s the old saying:

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck.

While that may be true for Donald or Daffy, it is not the case is sales. But a number of sales people I have worked with seem to believe that this Duck Method is a good way to sell.

Here is an example, about a month ago I got a call from a rep selling a “sales productivity” tool. The usual shtick, intro blah blah, big value prop, around how the tool drives engagement in sales call and increases productivity, sales and could (if it worked) deliver truckloads of money. It was clear that they did some research about me, but did bother to validate some of their assumptions that were truly wrong, first mistake. I guess they figured that I look like one, spoke like one, I must be what they assumed I was one, when I am not. Just because the word Solutions is part of the company name, I don’t deal in IT.

Then came the real Duck sale, the series of unrelated questions that if answered affirmatively, they hoped will lead to a close.

Before I share the conversation, it is worth noting that while the idea behind the product was conceptually good, and must have looked really good on the white board, you know like world peace, or a fifty cent gallon of gas. But the idea that drove the concept was not really present in the product. While they were trying to flog it as a ready for market product, in my view it had little or no application in the real world. In some ways I think he was aware of that too, which is why he went for the Duck.

Him: Tibor wouldn’t you agree that if you could measure engagement it would be a good thing?

TS: I guess (shrugging my shoulder)

Him: Great, and wouldn’t you also agree that if you could then increase engagement it improve your results?

TS: Sure (this time I only raised one shoulder and an eyebrow)

Him: So if you found a tool that could do that, you would see it as a good addition to your tool kit?

TS: Sure, if I found one

Him: Great, that’s why I think our Thing-A-Ma JIG is the perfect application for you, and I am glad you agree and are ready to get started.

TS: Quack?

Just because I agreed to a couple of concepts does not mean I am at all interested in your offering, or that there is a line on the planet that remotely connects those dots.

While the above is an extreme example, badly executed to boot, it is not an uncommon approach. You see it daily. If you agree with point one, and agree with point two, then point three must be true. No I am sorry it is not.

The only question is this, are there people actually buying when they are Duck sold? You would think that if there aren’t any buyers, there would be no sellers using the technique, but it continues to thrive, along with the Ben Franklin close and other such tricks, one has to wonder why.

So if you are tempted to sell like Donald Duck, or are being sold by one, just remind them that Donald’s best friend was Goofy.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

How Much Revenue Did You Lose at Quarter End?0

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Impact Question

There is an all too familiar ritual that unfolds at the end of every fiscal period, for some it is monthly, for most it is quarterly, and at year end. Being that Monday was quarter end, I was reminded again. A friend who is a rep with a technology company, cancelled a meeting we had set for this afternoon, and you know it, his voice mail this morning at 8:00 simply said, “Man, I need to change our meeting, last day of the quarter, you know how it is.”

On the one hand I do, on the other hand I don’t. I am sorry if your quarter comes down to the last day of the quarter, a Monday of all days, there is a whole bunch of things you are doing wrong, and a bunch of money you are leaving on the table.

To start with, a good number of the deals that are “Driven in” on the 30th of September, will happen because of some concession made by the seller to the buyer. Sometimes these are small things, baked in specifically so they can be “conceded”, often not. These can be a price concessions, either in the form of a price adjustment, or the inclusion of goods or services that normally would have had a price tag, but being the last day of the quarter, “and we need to bring in the numbers”, they are thrown in to secure the deal “today”. Although once you offer it, it’ll be there October 2, or even next week, the buyer has seen weakness and will not give it back. And – it will be the first of many to come, you’ve set the precedent, both you and the buyer have been conditioned.

Not only do you never see that money again, but there is the lost momentum and opportunities as you deviate from your routine, stop prospecting for a few days as you focus on closing. May not seem that bad, but if you don’t prospect for a few days, you’ll create weakness in your pipeline, and when the next quarter end comes around, guess what. So now you are out the revenue you gave away in concessions, and the revenue from prospects you will either never have, or will closer later than they could have.

The alternative is requires a bit more discipline, but results in less of a roller coaster ride and more money! It comes down to owning your time and being accountable for your actions, (grab this e-book for details). If you know your conversion rate at critical stages of the cycle, you can focus on executing the key tasks you have to throughout the cycle, and not sweat the days. Some things in sales are straight forward, if you have a three month cycle, and you close one of every five deals you qualify into your pipeline, it doesn’t take much to see how this quarter end dance will hurt. If you don’t prospect from the 27th to the 30th (of any quarter), then your next sale will be delayed by so many days. Sure you can make up for it in some ways, but then you’ll have other distractions, the ones you can’t help, but this one you can.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

 

“Parasales” Reps – Sales eXchange 2090

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Art00005

Dictionary.com, defines a paraprofessional as “a person trained to assist a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or other professional, but not licensed to practice in the profession.”  One example would be a paramedic “a person who is trained to assist a physician or to give first aid or other health care in the absence of a physician, often as part of a police, rescue, or firefighting squad.”  The Paralegal Society of Ontario adds “Usually paralegals have taken a prescribed series of courses in law and legal processes, which is much less demanding than those required for a licensed attorney.”

In certain instances one can turn to a paralegal to get the job done without the price tag of hiring a lawyer, simple filings, traffic court are a couple of examples.  But I don’t think that I am that different when I say that when it comes to “serious stuff”, we tend to shell out for the lawyer, or whatever the “profession” called for.

Seems some sales organizations are taking a page from other paraprofessional playbook, some effectively, others, maybe not.  Those in the effective camp are using capable people to execute specific tasks that help in the revenue process, allowing their “full blown” reps to focus on tasks that require their training, background and experience.  In organizations with a large and blended team, inside, outside, pre-sale, post-sales, responsibilities, these parasales people have an opportunity to learn and evolve, gain needed experience and expertise while still contributing to the outcome.

Having a career path for people not only allows one to service client better with the right assets, but also allow the sales team to develop and succeed in adopting and executing the company’s sales process.   I have worked with a number of sales organizations that have brought people in as say sales admins, then they move to inside sales, either in a support, or some form of outbound calling, then to field sales, all the way up to enterprise or national account status.  This has worked well in developing and maintaining the right talent, and the ability to identify skills in individuals who take a related path, such as field management, and complementary functions such as marketing.

The flip side of this movement is not so good, where organizations either by intent or ignorance, choose to trust their entire revenue generation to people who can at best be described as parasales reps.  With all due deference to paraprofessionals on all fields, in this particular case I specifically mean sales people who are not qualified to or ready to carry the responsibility for the company’s revenue and ultimate success.  I have seen organizations who will hire a couple of “not ready for prime time” sales reps, because they can get two for the price of one fully qualified and proven sales rep.  All too often the two end up producing less than the qualified rep could.

Other times it is the parasales reps themselves who pass themselves off as fully qualified reps.  A regular lament I get from managers is that the best presentation a rep had was the one they did for the job.  This highlights the need for a more planned and patient hiring approach.  Many sales managers freak out if the territory is vacant for a day, and will “settle” for a “parabody”, not taking into account the impact on customer satisfaction, revenues, both in terms of lost deals and lost or unrecognised opportunities; there is something to be said for hire slow fire fast, it would certainly help reduce the number of parasales reps.  A good corporate hiring plan would also eliminate the “para-sales-manager”, you know the ones who were better politicians than sellers, or who were good reps and got promoted to failure.

As in the other professions, para is good, in the right place, the right time, for the right reasons.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 

Better Never Than Late (#video)1

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Biz TV

Packaging counts for a lot.  Many companies know that while the content of their offer may be similar to others, they can gain traction with potential buyers through presentation and packaging.  While no one may get fired for buying IBM, often what they were buying was less about the quality of the product and more about other factors, just ask some former DEC employees and customers.  But IBM was able to convey “better”, through means other than product specs.

B2B sellers can do the same.  They may not be able to alter their product, but they can alter perceptions.  One way is through steps and actions that are very much in their control.  But many seem to ignore these levers in their control, and as a result attain less success and less sales.

Here are a few examples:

Better Never Than Late

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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