Inventory Clearance B2B Style0

By Tibor Shanto –

This time of year is an interesting time for the retail trade.  As memories of the holiday season begin to fade and the last of the Boxing Day (week, month) sales come to a close, retailers begin another annual ritual, the “Inventory Clearance Sale”.  Makes sense, retailers want to clear old and non-selling inventory, freeing up cash, so they can reinvest it in more profitable inventory. In the process the can also open up shelf and storage space, again to make way for newer more salable goods; not so much out with the old in with the new, more like out with lower potential goods and in with better margin and turnover potential.

There are some lessons here for B2B sales people as well.  Consider your pipeline as your inventory of prospects and opportunities, add to that the notion of time representing your shelf space, both finite, both needing active management.  As such, applying the concept of inventory clearance could be very beneficial for B2B sellers.

When you look at your inventory of prospects, the reality is that no matter how much potential they had when you first decided to carry them, over time and as a result of a number of factors, the likelihood of that inventory turning over changes, usually diminishes, often to a point where they have a negative impact on your pipeline and success.  Prospects are similar, in as much that some will close, many more don’t.  Either way they need to be removed from the pipeline, or else you can’t bring in new inventory.

This is why sales people need to develop rules for purging their pipeline of bad prospects.  Sales people hang on to bad inventory, many look at their pipelines emotionally, the fuller they perceive their pipeline to be, the lesser the propensity to prospect for new opportunities, fresh inventory, confusing a lot of inventory with quality salable inventory.

Bringing shelf space into this in the form of time, you can begin to remove bad inventory before it hit “best by date”.  Prospects and opportunities time out, if 80% of your sales close in 75 days, what’s the point in keeping it in the pipeline on day 121; if 80% of the time you can complete the Discovery stage in 3 weeks, should you really continue the Discovery into its 10th week?

It is important to remember that these concepts also apply to your account base, not just prospects.  How many low margin accounts are using up resources that if applied to other accounts or new ones would make for better revenues, margins and all around customers.  Putting those accounts on the clearance list would allow you to achieve more, be happier, and probably have a better attitude towards new opportunities.

Clearing out bad inventory, be they clients or prospects, should be an ongoing process throughout the year, but even for where it is not year-round, doing it at least once a year, at the start of the year, can bring immediate and yearlong benefits.  So good ahead, develop your policies, and hold that “Inventory Clearance”

The Art of Sales Contest Winners!

Congratulations to:
Kristin Geenty and Alan Hart, they are the winners of the tickets to the Art Of Sales, in Toronto next Tuesday January 29.

Enjoy and profit!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto



Know The Why – Sales eXchange 17689

While the sales industry continues to improve and move the dial on “pitching” less, and asking more questions, adopting the “Don’t Ask – Don’t Sell” philosophy.  But many are still asking questions that serve their purposes only, not so much for the buyer’s, and even when they do they seem to lack the skills or courage to deep enough with their question to truly make a difference for either.

Probing question most often concentrate on the ‘what’, ‘when, ‘where’, and the ‘how’ of the situation at hand.  No doubt these are important, but on their own, they fail to deal with factors that underpin value and foster a true relationship, one delivering mutual benefits for both seller and buyer.  Sadly one contributor to this shortcoming are sales experts in my own field.  Many actively tell their clients not to ask ‘Why”.  I have yet to get a good answer as to why they say this.

Most tell me that it is too intrusive.  What does that mean?  It is my job to be intrusive in that way.  Most present intrusive in a negative way, but being “disruptive” is part of my mandate to help my clients evolve, change and move forward for the better.  After all they don’t buy things to stay the same.

The main purpose for asking the why question is to get to the real underlying reason for them engaging with you.  Now it’s one thing if you’re one of those “wait to be found sellers”, the buyer is way ahead of you in their buying cycle, and you’re just one of a number of participants in the bathing suit contest.  But if you got to the potential buyer before they were even thinking of being in the market, you need to ask a whole bunch of ‘why’ questions before you are in a position to offer up a solution.  Unless you want to be a solution running around looking for a problem or pain, you need to get used to asking why, and even when the buyer answers the first why, you will likely have to ask follow up whys.

To understand the buyer’s real motivation, to get them to understand that you really do have their interest at heart, you need to park the product, and focus on the person.  It takes courage to ask a buyer why they are thinking of doing something or doing it in a specific way, especially if all the other sellers lined up and say whatever they think the buyer wants to hear to get the order.

I sometimes wonder if the main reason some are afraid to ask why is because they don’t know what to do with the answer they get.  They haven’t been trained again, because it is still about selling the product.  If only they accepted that more sales made when it is about really helping the buyer, even when the buyer initially thinks they need to go one way, but end up in a better place after a genuine and intrusive why.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Don’t forget to vote

Plan It and Write It – Sales eXchange 17551

As we head into the home stretch of the year, we are faced with the usual rituals and customs of the season.  Closing business, failing to prospect, and ensuring the traditional lull in the pipeline and related activity at the start of the year.  In this headlong rush to the end of the year, you need to carve out a bit of time to plan for next year.

Plan on what you want to achieve, not just financially, but specific practices you want to improve, steps you specifically want to take to ensure next year is really different than this.   Implicit in this is a certain level of self-awareness, which may not always be present, especially if you have not used formal planning in the past.  First step then is to step back and inventory where you are, where is that vis-à-vis where you want to be, what needs to happen to get you there, and of course what needs to change to make that happen.

When I speak to sellers about this practice, they respond “Ya, I already do that man”, with that “this is old news” look.  To which I respond “Cool, show it to me.”  This usually brings things to a grinding halt, because of course they have nothing to show me, it is all in their heads.  “Don’t you have it written down?”  I ask, and they tell me no, they have it in their heads and work the plan from there.

To be successful, a plan is not a plan unless it is written down, anything short of that is a thought.  It may be a good thought, but thoughts are fleeting, that’s why people write important things down, they do not want to be victims of that fleetingness.  How many times have you thought of something relating to an account or opportunity as you were driving between calls, only to have it leave your head by the time you get back to the office?  In the past I used to have a pad on the passenger seat to jot these down, now I just record it on my iPhone.

When it comes to a serious plan, a crucially important one that will help you improve, sell better and generate more commissions, you need to write it down.  It need not be a heavy dissertation or a Tolstoy type work, but it needs to capture key thing you want to achieve, and how you may change what you are doing now to achieve it.

There are plenty of examples on the web; it will vary on what you sell, how long you have been selling and a number of other factors.  Set targets, so many sales, or so much commissions, so long as it is measurable and has an associated action item(s).  It can include new things you want to try, perhaps organizations you want as clients, certain size deals (bigger than any you have done to date), generally things that would be a bit of a stretch, a learning experience, and help you succeed.

One thing you want to do with your plan is review your progress regularly, adjust your activity accordingly through the year, and as market conditions change, you can update your plan.  This is a great benefit, and one that you cannot do if it weren’t written down.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Houston, We Have The Solution!74

On Thursday October 18, The Proactive Prospecting Workshop is coming to Houston, specifically to Four Points by Sheraton Houston Southwest, at 2828 Southwest Freeway, Houston.

If you are in B2B sales, and need to engage with more new prospects, mark this date on your calendar, then sign up for this full day interactive prospecting program.

Whether you are with a small company or large,  veteran or just launching your career, this workshop will give you the fundamentals needed to connect and engage with more qualified buyers.

We leave dogma at the door, this is not about old school vs. new school, this is about executing a proven methodology for prospecting more effectively and filling your pipeline with the quality prospects in the right  quantities.  This is the same program that has helps thousands of sale professionals improve their skills and increase prospects and sales.  Sales professional in dozens of companies are using the methods and process delivered in the Proactive Prospecting Workshop to deliver consistent results.

What you’ll learn…

  • Overcome the fear of cold calling
  • Develop techniques for making successful cold calls
  • Take a proactive role in filling your sales pipeline
  • Write effective e-mails – Leave voice mail messages that get returned
  • Handle Objections – win more  appointments

To learn more about the results sellers have realised just click here to read success studies, or watch what they said after attending the Proactive Prospecting Workshop.

Every New Customer begins as a Prospect!

Start filling your pipeline with Real Prospects!

Learn more at
Sign up today, seating is limited to 100 people!

Early Bird Specials Available – Multi-Attendee offers
ADDED BONUS – 500 FREE leads from
The Proactive Prospector’s Guide to Objection Handling Booklet
Call – (855) 25-SALES

Sign Up Today! And always be confident when asked:

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Are You Too Smart for Prospecting?113

Prospecting is a unique skill set, this is why hunters are always in greater demand and earn more than people who can sell but can’t prospect. One quality is knowing when and what to bring to bear to move the sale forward, what resources you really need and which are superfluous or a distraction.

A common killer is research.  Stay with me a few more lines before you completely frank out, I am talking about the degree/level of research and when you do it.

Doing research on a prospect is a must, you need to know the facts, their potential objectives, opportunities, etc.  But that’s for a prospect, implication being that they have agreed to engage and initiate the sales cycle with, no promises, no guarantees, but a solid start.  And yes, you need to know your stuff inside out going into that scenario, which means spending time in advance of the meeting/call.  The key being that you have a willing participant.

It important to remember that time is a precious non-renewable resource, you need to seriously consider where you are spending it, or as is often the case, wasting it.  I n light of that, what I find odd, and a great waste of time, is how much time and effort people put into research before they even pick up the phone to get a potential buyer to commit to engaging.

Since the prospecting call is an exercise solely meant to get that first meeting/sales call, it does not call for the level of research many inexperienced prospectors put into it.  You need to have prior knowledge and understanding, issues facing your target and how you can contribute, but you don’t the type of encyclopedic knowledge some sellers seem to want before you pick up the phone.

For example my prospecting numbers are 12 dials > 6 right prospect conversations > 1 solid engagement. Now many sellers argue that they need to spend 20 – 30 minutes researching each company/individual before dialing the phone.  Even at the low end, 20 x 12 would mean an investment of 240 minutes FOUR HOURS for one appointment. I don’t know what your time is worth, but you can buy an appointment for a lot less.  At $500 per hour, that’s $2,000!

You can do it differently, first start by complying your lists based on verticals, and roles within verticals.  This allows you to do research you can stretch and recycle across a list of targets, even if you research issues for an hour, and use it while pursuing 40 target, that less than 90 seconds per, add to that a few minutes for company specific data, and you have a manageable time-frame.  Again remember you are trying to engage, get an appointment or a commitment for a call, not sell them.  When you set out for the appointment, do the deep dive.

One other reason you don’t want to do the deep dive before the prospecting call.  It makes sellers want to show all the great knowledge they accumulated during their research, showing off all they know, after all look at the time and energy you out in.  But in the process you turn off the buyer, leading many to believe they need to do even more research rather than less.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Prospectors’ Guide To Objection Handling – Part IV – “No Time” – Sales eXchange 16464

One of the easiest ways to dismiss Interruptions and to get the most out of Conditioned Responses, is by telling the caller that you are busy.

Prospect: I’m really busy, can you call me back?
Caller: Sure, when is a good time?
Prospect: Call me Tuesday morning!

Chick chack, back to work in less than five seconds.

Let’s look at the replay in slow motion.

First notice how little effort was exerted by the Prospect, making full use of his Conditioned Response.  Did you notice the head fake by the Prospect, deking out the Caller by offering false hope in feigning interest by asking the Caller to call back next Tuesday, as if there was a glimmer of hope; of course what he didn’t bother telling the Caller is that he is off on vacation starting Monday.

A key reason it was so easy for the Prospect to deke out the Caller is that like most untrained cold callers they are more focused on getting off the phone than to completing the call successfully, given the opening by the Prospector, the Caller went for it with the most predictable and welcomed line.

Different Prospect: I’m sorry, but I am really busy right now
Caller: I just need a few minutes of your time
Different Prospect: Which part of busy now do I need to break down for you? [click dial tone]

Prospects love the busy objection, the shortest line between ring and back to work. It sucks in the Caller by making them deal with the wrong element of the call, the focus should be on action, in the form of a meeting, not time.

That’s right, the best way to deal with the busy Conditioned Response is to take the off time, and put it on action/outcome.

Prospect: Jim, I am really busy right now
Jim: I understand, in fact I thought you would be, (Acknowledge)
Jim: in fact I only work by appointment myself, which is the only reason for my call (Credibility, Involvement through curiosity); and the opportunity to differentiation yourself by the approach you bring.
Jim: can we do that Friday at 10:00? (Call to Action)

No fuss, no muss, just an effective way to deal with the prospect’s Conditioned Response.

As with the other Conditioned Responses, be they Status Quo or Lack Of Interest, this paves the way for them responding to your Call to Action in the form of a time to meet, which in fact will be another objection, but this time no conditioned, but a direct response to you, and a start to a, rough, but nonetheless, a conversation.  An opportunity for you to engage based factors relevant to the buyer.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Just The Facts!38

Sometimes pipeline reviews can be more of a bother than they need be, both for reps and managers.  The nature of the reviews that we do are part of a multi-touch approach to understanding what’s in the pipe, what needs to happen (be done) next either to move the deal forward, or replace with an opportunity that will move forward.  Looking at the upside, downside, and planned next step if, the next meeting goes as planned.  To further simplify it and keep it clean, we only want to look at meetings in the immediate week, with many clients requiring a minimum number per week.

Simple straight forward, and most importantly no room or time for stories.  Assuming you have everything required, it takes about five minutes per rep, even with a team of eight reps, in – out and done in less than 45 minutes.

Unfortunately the assumption is not always correct.  Mostly it falls down in two areas, first, having the required number of opportunities.  Some don’t like this, but it is simple, if your closing ratio is 5 to 1, and you need to deliver 5 deals a month, you are going to need to either improve your closing ratio, or engage with 25 potential prospects.  Even if you focus on improving your close ratio to say 3 to 1, still need 15 opportunities.  A simple question of working backwards from your goal to understand the activity level you need through the cycle and in each stage. 

Second, is a lack of a real next step.  As discussed in previous posts, a next step needs to have a couple of basic but non-negotiable elements.  They need to be agreed on by both the buyer and you, and they need to have a time frame.  “We will meet to review this on Tuesday at 11:00 in order to finalize the floor plan and order the braces”, or “”we will have a conference call Friday at 2:00, with you and the engineer to finalize the specs for…”, or as simple as “we will meet Wednesday at 10:00 to present final proposal”.  Concrete, clear, and MUTUALLY AGREED ON.  But often what you get is what people think they should do next, things they have yet to present to buyer.  Remember a plan is great, action is even better.

When you have the two above, the reviews are quick and productive.  When you don’t, it becomes long, winding and unproductive, especially for those who do have their act together.

The ones who don’t, know they are fooling no one, least of all themselves, they have nothing or little to fill the pipe.  And in trying to fill the void, they try to fill it with words, stories.  Stories that meander everywhere but to a point or opportunity.  This stretches the time, and makes the meeting longer again.

A pipeline review is just that, what’s in the pipeline, not a never ending story going back to Adam and Eve.  There are other opportunities to do a deep dive deal by deal, I think they call that a deal review.  If you don’t have the requisite opportunities to discuss, there is no need to make up for it with unrelated words, just stick to what you have, just the facts.

Execution – Everything Else is Just Talk!
Tibor Shanto

The Mighty Weak Link – Sales eXchange 16274

Most of the time in sale we focus on ensuring we connect with and sell to the key decision makers, influencers, those driving the strategy, in order to build a solid understanding of the buying organization’s objectives and capabilities to realize those objective.  We work hard to align our offering with their key business goals, and help ensure that they can realize maximum benefit, regardless of how they measure it (revenue, market share, productivity).

But we have all been in situations where we did all we had to, did it well, by the book, only to have no sale at the end, or the sale coming much much later than forecasted.  If you look back and examine these instances, what you will often find is that there were some key people overlooked and not engaged.  Not in the decision making process, but in the implementation process. 

The reality is that we are not just selling to get a decision made, but selling to have something delivered, implemented and paid for.  To be more successful you need to sell the organization not just specific people.  This cuts both ways, you need to ensure that your are engaged with everyone who can impact your success, this includes executive, middle management, users, AND implementers.  On your side it needs to include not just you, but other people/departments they will be dealing with once you have done your part.

For example, if you sell IT related solutions (software/hardware/applications) you have all faced a scenario where everything was in place, then someone in the IT group throws up the argument that they can build it better, or decide to put it so low on the priority list that you’ll likely retire before it moves far enough up the list.  What appears to be an unimportant link, undoes all the work you did to that point.

Awareness is the first step, with that in hand you can take steps to deal with it.  First and foremost, understand how and who will be responsible for implementing whatever it is you sell.  We often enquire who will “own” it, who the day-to-day administrators or users will be, but we take implementation for granted.  Find out who they are early, really early and then engage them.  Sell them on the upside to them the way you would anyone else.

One obvious question is to have them tell you about an implementation that went bad, really bad, take in the specifics, ask them how it specifically impacted them.  Most importantly ask how they would have done things differently, what the vendor should have done things differently, focus on different – not better – you want their view on things need to be done, not value judgments.   You will now be able to position your offering in a way that aligns with their views and wishes. 

The implementers can also be a great source for information about some of the business decision makers, users, and others involved in the deal.  Remember they have been through this type of thing before, they know who is mover and makes things happen, and who is all talk no results.  Great way to know who can help you move the deal forward, better, and faster.  Getting their support early may take away any reluctance or doubt from the business decision makers, knowing they will be able to get things done; by removing even a small unspoken doubt, you can move things along and gain velocity in the process.

Since you are already there, talking to all the “key” people, you may as well include everyone who can help you, or stop the deal dead, they may seem inconsequential early, they could be your eak link in the long run.  So don’t forget the guy with the screw driver.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The Binary Sales Syndrome – Sales eXchange 16087

I have written about my friend who owns a gym, and his love of January, the month where everyone makes resolutions, a high number of which include “getting in shape”.  They sign up for a year, they give up in month; retailers make their year in January, gyms in January. 

He also tells me about people’s approach to the whole physical training thing, which in great measure the reason for them giving up and their ultimate failure.  They go from doing nothing for years, not even minimal walking or cycling, straight to “Green Beret meets Navy Seal” program, or any of the infomercial touted programs that promise to give you a whole new you in 90 days.  And the fact is that they do given two things, you were in some shape to begin with, a shape other than a potato on a lounge chair; second is that you do it the way you are told to do it.  According to my friend most who give up fail on both counts, they go from doing nothing for years to fool blown Insanity.  Others, decide to mess with the formula, and do things their way, still expecting the results they see on TV.

Having dealt with the second issue a couple of weeks back in a piece called Why So Picky?   Let’s look at the former, the feast and famine phenomenon, people either doing (or not doing) the same thing year in and year out, to sudden turbulent change.

I recently met a rep Jill, again a “70 percenter”, in her territory for years, but she was different than most reps in one respect, she loves to read sales books.  Unlike most reps who refuse to read a book even when they get one free.  I remember reading a frightening stat that stated that only one in ten full time sales reps read a sales book in a given year.   Jill’s problem is that she reads a book, puts a few things into action, and unlike the cup-of-soup she has for lunch, there is no instant result in minutes.  So she logs on to her favourite e-retailer and downloads the next audio or e-book, touting the latest and till now the most insane approach to B2B selling.  She consumes it with force, and puts some recommendations into action, and gives it till the end of the day to see results. 

BTW, her sales cycle is about 90 days, I always tell sellers that any change in results when trying a new (hopefully proven technique) should be minimum a cycle and a half after putting things into practice Properly.  So while I commend Jill for striving to learn and improve, she suffers from the same issue my friend’s gym clients do, they expect instant miracles from incomplete efforts.  Assuming they don’t change the formula or recipe, they need to give it proper time to take effect. 

What’s worse for Jill is that in hoping from one technique to another, she is limiting her success because she not spending enough time really engaging and selling to specific buyers, but instead experimenting with her most crucial resource, prospects.

The binary approach does not work for B2B sellers.  While doing or changing nothing, Ø, is clearly not a good approach; implementing massive change and expecting instantaneous results is as ineffective.  There is a third option, not available in a binary environment, allowing you to avoid the negative side of the syndrome.  Decide which methodology or practices really address your sales situations, yes read a number of things that apply.  Then develop a plan that allows you to implement them, making sure you can logically assimilate them without negatively disrupting current opportunities.  Measure and adjust so you can perfect the technique.  It’s not black or white, you can make money in the grey.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Are You A Sales Hoarder?114

A few weeks back I posted about how good sales people are prone to Attention deficit disorder (ADD), well it turns there is another popular condition that many sales professionals suffer in silence, namely hoarding.  While not a new, hoarding has come to the fore as a result of recent coverage on TV, and while sales people may look and see themselves as different, many are indeed hoarders.  You can see evidence of this in two important areas.

First, their pipelines; don’t get me wrong having a full pipeline is a good thing, but it needs to be full of the right things, opportunities, not clutter.  But some sales people are reluctant to get rid of any opportunities once in the pipeline, not matter how old, unreal, or how much mold it has on it.  It is almost like they are living a role in a Monty Python movie, every prospect is sacred, not to be removed.

Every sales person should have a mechanisms for cleaning (or in some cases flushing) out their pipelines, getting rid of deals that are not going to happen.  Specifically not going to happen now, meaning in the current cycle, or next.   Yes, many will happen in the future, six months, a year from now, but they don’t belong in the pipeline now.  You should nurture them somewhere other than where you are dealing with active, engaged buyers.

There two things you can use to gauge when it’s time to pull an opportunity from your pipe, first is the buyer’s engagement, are they actively engaged in the sales cycle, or dispassionate observers.  Are you able to consistently secure the “next step” you need; specific time bound actions they need to take to move matters forward.  Regardless of what they may say, are their actions supporting the lip service, because if they are not, than it just leaves the service part; no action = no interest = out of the pipe.  Time is the second factor, if something is taking longer than it should, it is likely not taking at all.  That applies to the sub-stages of the cycle as well, if it is taking you too long to gather the information you need to move the sale forward, take it out of the pipeline, and revisit it down the road.  Of course the challenge is that if you take an opportunity out, you have to prospect to replace it; I guess it is easier to live with the clutter than to prospect for new opportunities.

Set up guidelines for removing stale opportunities, leaving you to deal with only those that are viable.  Yes they may be fewer, but at least they are real and closable.  You may feel better with a fuller pipeline, but the clutter is just keeping you from seeing and realizing the real good stuff hidden by your hoarding.  One company I worked had relatively short cycle, 45 days, they had a rule that if an opportunity did not have a real next step for more than 14 days, it was removed from the pipeline.  This kept things focused, opportunities were qualified or disqualified, closing the former, revisiting the latter.

The second area where you see strong evidence of hoarding is in their approach to territories.  Sales people want to hold on to every account they can, and add as many as their eyes can see.  Even though the reality is that they can only cover so many effectively.  Time after time we see scenarios where the top 10 accounts in a rep’s territory accounts for up to 60% – 80% of their revenue base, if you look at the top 20, that number is even bigger.  Reps we survey often never get around to directly touching accounts beyond their top 30, leaving accounts 31 and above, lonely, abandoned, and ignored.  Well not quite alone, your competitor is likely calling on them when you are not.  So why not let someone else in your company cover them properly, and you focus on growing your top 30, OK stop sniffling, top 40.

But no, the hoarding class just wants to add more accounts and geography, as though it represents some form of wealth.  Company after company that take the smarter course, and shrink territories to create focus and growth, succeed; where as those who give in to the hoarders, don’t grow as well, have client satisfaction issues, and reps whom despite the size of their empire do not meet revenue or coverage targets.

Just like the hoarders on TV, sales hoarders are victims of their own actions, not wealthy collectors, just lost in a clutter of their own making.  Once their houses are de-cluttered, and they get the help they need, they live quite well with not so much less, but the right amount of belongings; or in the case of sales, the right pipeline.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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