Football substitue 2

Change The Candidate – Not The Rules!0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

I am not big on politics, but it’s hard to avoid, seems to be everywhere one looks and steps, believe it or not, I have even witnessed it in corporate boardrooms where apparently, business was supposedly being conducted. But I was recently struck by an interesting parallel between some current political theater, and things unfolding in some sales organizations.

In the circus surrounding the recent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, Chuck Schumer was making the rounds with a well rehearsed set of talking point regarding the potential for filibuster in an effort to delay Gorsuch’s confirmation. While I could care less about the confirmation, Schumer made an interesting argument in the face of the “Nuclear Option”, I paraphrase: “If you can’t get the requisite 60 votes, don’t change the rules, change the candidate.”

Many sales leaders could learn a bit from this motto. If we expand the concept of rules, to include the broad sales environment, there is a lot of wisdom in the notion of taking another look at what they need to change to achieve their desired outcomes.

Football substitue 2I see too many organizations making too many accommodations to suite the talents, or shortcomings of their sales teams. Don’t get me wrong, it does make sense to do things in a way that allows more people to succeed, but it should be done in context of the overall organizational goals.

Assuming that the goals and objectives of the organization and by extension the sales team are realistic, then we need to strive to bring together those assets and skills required to hit or exceed those goals. This may not always be a safe assumption, we have all seen companies that set such audacious goals, that they went way beyond being big and hairy, to being crushing, discouraging and counterproductive in every way.

But if the goals are doable (not easy), then sales leaders need to look at how they assemble the right assets to achieve those goals, which includes their team. But many organizations seem to make different accommodations for their human assets than other key resources. We have seen organizations change the rules, incentives, quotas or other things, mid stream, just to accommodate an underperforming rep, or asset.

Imagine if new rules were introduced in the middle of the second quarter to balance out the inability of one quarterback to hit a receiver or complete one hand off, never happen. The player would be pulled, and eventually traded. All with the support of the fans and pundits.

Organizations that choose to change elements once the game has started as a means of leveling the playing field for underperformers, in most cases are just delaying the inevitable, the rep either leaving due to frustration, or being fired for underperformance. While I fully believe that everything reasonable should be done to help reps develop the skills and habits to win. Some will take longer to ramp up, some will hit slumps, but there are some, obvious to most, who will never cut it without some form of “corporate subsidies”, i.e. changing quota, territory, or just allowing compromise on required activity or metrics.

Unlike the Gorsuch discussion, where Schumer could do little more than just talk, sales leaders have the ability to change the player rather than the rule. Rather than a temporary fix between now and the inevitable, that will lead to current and ongoing success.

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The Microphone

Process and Execution Rule in B2B Selling – #Podcast0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

For those not familiar with Andy Paul, here is your opportunity to discover a great resource. Not only is Andy knowledgeable about all elements of B2B selling, author of two great books: Zero Time Selling and AMP Up Your Sale; and most relevant today, he hosts one of the better blogs looking at all areas of successful B2B selling and everything around. His guests address very specific strategic and tactical aspects of sales you’ll be able to implement and benefit from right away.

In the episode below, it was my turn. Andy and I look at process and execution. Have a listen, and feel free to reach out if I can expand on anything or help you implement.

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Pensive businessman sitting at the table with ball in office. Looking away

March Sadness0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

I recall reading Skip Miller’s “ProActive Sales Management”, where he states: “If you, as a sales manager, do not know if you are going to make the year after the first quarter, the battle is over. Now you better be lucky.” I should think we can include front line sales people. Given the “advancements” in sales technology since the above statement was made, there is no reason why sales people should not be in a position to know how their year will turn out and what they have to do to make sure it turns out above quota. But based on numerous sources, many do not have a clue where they are at the end of Q1, and are destine to continue to travel the rest of the year in the same clueless bliss.

Well, whether you’re a manager or a rep, Q1 ends this Friday, where are you going to be come Monday?

Reps need to have much greater control of things in their pipelines than they do over events in their brackets, where they have no direct control. There are two key things reps need to do to avoid March Sadness, have a clear positive view of the path forward, and exceed quota.

 

Your Quota Is Not A Plan

Part of the challenge is that many do not take the time to plan, either in a big picture way at the start of the year, quarter, and each month. Sure everyone has a strategy, but your architects aren’t gonna build your building, you need construction guys to do that, with their tactical plan and skill to translate the architect’s output to a viable structure.

Too many sales people see their quota as a plan, it is not, it is a destination, and should be leverage as such. It is still up to you to plan your step by step success and execution that leads to it. Despite the talk of ABM, many reps do not extend that work into a territory execution plan or account plan. Activity based on KPI’s is not execution of a plan, sure things get done, sometimes even according to “plan”. Given that the prospect/client is yours, the quota is yours, should not the execution plan and actions taken also be yours? If you answered yes, then why are so many sellers achieving less? Sure a paint by numbers painting is a picture, but it is hardly art. Hitting KPI’s set by someone else, is not selling.

Who is the Villanova in your Pipeline/Base?

I had a number of conversations with reps last week looking at the end of Q! and forward. One common factor is the lack of a viable pipeline. I know people don’t like to bring numbers in to sales, seems to confuse the issue with facts, but it is not hard to look at people’s pipelines to see that much of their sorrows can be addressed with a bit of prospecting. But there is no shortage of excuses as to why they can’t or won’t prospect at sufficient levels to drive quota. If you have a close ratio of 4:1, it is not hard to know what you should have in your pipeline, and if you’re short, you gotta prospect.

Instead many tell me that they can make up the gap from existing clients, or they have a big opportunity they are working on, “a sure thing”.

You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, just substitute brackets with pipelines, and then take a look at yours:

brackets tweets

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Make you own path

Objections Are Only Negative IF You Allow Them To Be4

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Not everything prospects say that does not align or agree with your view is an objection, and more importantly, you shouldn’t react to everything as if it was. On the other hand, you also know that there will be some specific objections that are going to come up, and how one deals with that often separates the high performers from the also-rans.

One advantage of reviewing deals, as we do with our 360 Degree Deal View, is that you become much more aware hot how things turned out, why they turned out that way, and what you need to change in your approach to change the results in your favour.

As you continue to make the review central to sales approach you will also better understand which “objections” tend to come up at specific points in the cycle, and you see the impact those objections and how you handle them, have on the turn out.

As you begin to accumulate data, you will be in a much better position to know which are real objections, potentially derailing the deal, and which are not objections, as much as say questions the buyer has that are not well articulated, the prospect thinking out loud, almost reassuring themselves in the process. Other times, especially when the individual you are dealing with is part of a buying group or committee, they think through the reaction they anticipate from others on the team, and as they work through them, they may come across as an objection.

Some objections/questions, especially when you know when and where they will appear, are actually good. Yes, good, because as you get better at anticipating them, you can begin to leverage your response to move the sale forward further than if the objection had not come up. If you know that most new buyers don’t fully understand how something works, handling their objection and giving them knowledge goes much further to lower resistance than if they had not come up. Knowing this, you can steer the conversation in a way that almost forces the objection to come up. When it does, look at it like a fastball down the middle, you just need to hit it out of the park.

Make you own pathKnowing which objections/questions are going to come and when, allow you to elevate your status as a subject matter expert. Again, with the most common objections, some are best when left to the prospect to throw out, but some you should put out before the prospect does. Doing this will right off the top confirm that you are a pro and have does this before, validating your status, and allowing you to set expectations. While most of the also-rans try to avoid or hide from specific hard objections, thanking god when they don’t come up.

But you know the bridge will have to be crossed if you are going to make the sale. It has come up in every deal, when managed well, you have won, and when mismanaged you’ve lost. With that reality, it best to get it out, and over with. Timing is crucial, but again, with reviews you can quickly know when to put the objection out there before they do. It does not have to hard or dramatic. It can be as simple as “in my experience, most prospects are thinking about (insert topic), which makes sense in light of the facts, so here is what you need to know/consider/explore/change….”

Objections are only negative when you allow them to be.

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Question Direction

Questioning The Path You Are On0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

The fate of an unscheduled call to a prospect, a cold call, is determined in the first few seconds of a call, one can argue even before that. By before that, I mean the hundreds if not thousands of practice calls the prospect has had to hone their craft and perfect their means of blowing us off. One can argue that the callers, the sales people have also had the opportunity to practice; true, but there is practice with a goal and purpose in mind. For example, the prospect, has the singular purpose of blowing the interruption, and every call they get is an opportunity to practice, unless the caller does something different.

Unfortunately, sales people make it easy by conforming to basic elements of calls that accelerate the outcome, allowing the prospect to get back to what they were doing, and the seller to be frustrated, and use it as an excuse to reaffirm their belief that cold calling does not work. The solution, is changing the way one makes the call. Unless we change the path or direction of the call, we risk falling into a familiar pattern that the prospect has practiced hundreds/thousands of time. Given that sales people do not like to practice, review the “game tapes” and make adjustments, the prospect will always have an upper hand.

Everything counts, right from the first breath, which means it has to be counter to expectations, especially those of the prospect at the other end. Starting with a rambling introduction about your company, and who you are, is just setting yourself up for failure. I mean really, does it make a difference to the prospect that you are the Mid-Atlantic Key Account Executive? I am sure your wife or mother or both are really proud. You know what the prospect thinks, “Add another title and notch to my belt.” As I have said before start with the outcomes first, outcomes tied to their objectives, and impacts you have delivered for others with similar objectives. Start with the ending, the outcome, the impact they will see in reaching their objectives, and those impacts on their business. It’s even worse when it comes to handling objections.

Most think that handling objections is somewhat like a tennis match, the prospect lobs their objection over the net, and we have to lob it back. No! If you want to change the path and direction of the call, the objection, then you need to not fall into the pattern set by the prospect to accelerate the end of the call.

Question DirectionInstead of just lobbing back a response to their objection, keep it, and throw back a question instead. In the above tennis example the prospect is in control of the flow, and therefore the outcome. One way to wrestle control away, and more importantly change the path or direction of the call is to ask a question. Questions demand answers, there is no law that they have to answer, but condition, especially social conditioning tends to kick in, and they will answer. Questions get people to think, when their mind is racing to get past the call, a good question related to something they were thinking about before the call, like their objectives, will get them to slow down, focus, and usually provide an answer.

We call these Impact Questions, for two reasons. One is that most are closed-ended, so we needed to do some rebranding. More importantly is that because they relate to specific impacts on their business, they have a direct impact on the prospecting call.

It is important to remember that what we are working with here are dynamics, including flow and momentum. You need to fine tune your listening skills, not for words, but all the other things going on in the call, think of it as nuance. When you ask a good question, not every prospect will answer the same way, giving you an opening to ask for engagement. But they will all pause, a momentary break as they digest the question, and process that indeed it does relate to them, and not just another walking brouchure on the phone.

Impact Questions, strategically place in a prospecting call, as part of the intro, as part of the reason to meet, and certainly as part of the taking away objections, will help you change the direction of a call, a sales meeting. If you find yourself on a path leading to a brick wall, use Impact Questions to change the direction, the outcome, and the health of your pipeline.

We’ll be looking at some specific use of Impact Questions, and objections in the monthly edition the Pipeline, sign up here.

businessman with umbrella and thumb down rain

Rejection In Your Face4

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

In the late 1990’s or early part of the last decade, I remember reading a piece about a study in one of the Scandinavian countries, who were early adopters of text messaging, SMS. It pointed to the fact that more and more young people were choosing to initially interact with potential dates using SMS, one of the key reasons that rejection was easier to deal with when it was not direct, in your face. The rate of rejection or acceptance did not change much, may have even gone up as it is easier to ignore a text message. But the lack intimacy, direct contact, not having to be in direct contact at the time of rejection, made it more bearable, despite the result.

There is no doubt that the reason sales people do not like to prospect, specifically direct prospecting, for instance telephone prospecting, is rejection. Who can blame them, no one wants to be rejected, and it is only compounded when that rejection directly impacts one’s ability to earn a living, eat and generally succeed in their chosen vocation. This is why so many sales people and companies spend time and money trying to avoid objections. The thinking being, “if we can avoid rejection, we will have greater success.” Understandable but hardly practical, if you are going to make unsolicited calls (cold or pre-warmed), you will face rejection. If you are going to play football, you will get tackled, you will get bruised, and if you have any intention of succeeding, you will get back up and ready yourself for the next play. Not so for many in sales.

This became even more clear during an unsocial discussion with a proponent of social selling. He was trying to convince me that there is less rejection with his approach than with telephone prospecting. While neither of us had the stats to prove or dispute, what was clear is that his focus was not the rejection itself, but more how he did, or did not, have to deal with it. Much like the adolescent lovers in Scandinavia, for this person, and I suspect for many who exclude telephones from their prospecting routine, it was more about how direct the rejection was.

“I don’t mind if they don’t respond, I just don’t want to have to deal with the reality of it.”

Which is another example of where the driving factor in executing a sales is not the desired outcome, but how it “feels”. It feels good when someone puts a like on your LinkedIn or Facebook post, allowing us to pretend that those who choose not to like it, who ignore and reject the message, just don’t exist. But from a desired outcome perspective, no different. So why not go direct?

One of my first sales jobs required that I make 160 dials per day, speak to 30 people, and get a yes from ten. My manager helped me by highlighting that if the 100 people who “rejected” me through the week were all in the subway car with me on my ride home Friday, they would have no idea it was me who they blew off on the phone. To this day, I look at the people in the Starbucks line, and wonder which one blew me off on the phone that morning.

While rejection may not be fun, it is part of sales, and will happen no matter which approach you take, it just a question of how direct, and how you deal with it, choosing not to deal with it does not change things. The real question is what is more important, achieving desired outcomes, or???

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Hot and cold phones

What’s The Difference Between A Cold Call and Warm Call?2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

The simple answer is that one is scheduled, and the other is not. Some may add that in a warm call the recipient may be aware of the person calling and the reason for the call, usually in the form of a referral. Some may add that one can “warm up” a call by doing research and having something relatable for the recipient, so they don’t blow you off as quick.

But the reality is that the difference is in your head.

Any unscheduled call, be it from a referral or from an overly informed rep, is an interruption. That’s why I tell people that I work with to reorient how they think about their work. If you are calling people who do not have a call scheduled in their calendar, you are interrupting them – next time someone asks you what you do for a living, I want you to say with great pride – “I am a professional interrupter; I interrupt people in the process of helping them achieve their objectives and delivering positive impact on their business.”

Download your copy of the Objection Handling Handbook

The challenge for most sales people, and the reason the call leaves them feeling cold, is that they are unprepared for the series of events and reactions their interruption sets into process.

After having research the company in an effort to warm the call, they figure that they have something relevant to say, and fail to take into account the interruption. So they wax poetic, all the while the prospect is thinking “how can I get back to work”. This is just compounded when they are usually talking about “solutions”. Given that 70% or more of the market is not looking for a solution, the interruption just seems worse when they deem the message to be irrelevant. Add to this that they have heard this same approach a thousand times before. So what can you do, focus on Objectives, not pains or needs; every business has objectives, align with those, and you’ll go from an irritating interruption, to an interruption with possibilities. Yet few research, they continue to research for problems some may have that fit their solution, rather than the other way around. You want the reaction to be “I was thinking about this”, not “WTF is this guy talking about”, leading to a click or objection.

When the objection comes, most sales people take the rejection personally. After all, they spent all this time researching the company, the person, and god knows what else, and at the moment of interruption, it seems all for not. As soon as it is personal, people get defensive, and it’s all downhill from there.

Managing and overcoming objections on a cold call starts long before they come up in the call. We interrupt, that triggers specific reaction. As before, if the initial narrative was a “solution” based intro, most reps defend and double down on that narrative, thus accelerating their fate. But if the intro was based on Objectives, doubling down on those allows you to expand your potential value rather than limit it.

If you can accept that you are an interruption, and focus on objectives and impacts, you will be in a position to manage and take away objections, and move towards a conversation – a sales conversation about their objectives, not pains, needs or solutions.

Download your copy of the Objection Handling Handbook

Hot and cold phones
Sales_Cartoon_sales process

Never Let A Good Plan Get In The Way Of Success!2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

In some sports and other skills based endeavours, for example figure skating, you can score points for artistic merit, and you also get scored on execution. Sales on the other hand is more like hockey or football (North American), while Artistic Merit is admired, execution is key, but the only measure that counts at the end, is the outcome, did we win, or, well really, what else is there? Execution is a means to an end, not an end on to itself, which is why teams and coaches use playbooks to help their teams execute better, but better execution without the results, i.e. winning a client and the revenue that leads to, does not lead to long term sales success.

Sales_Cartoon_sales processWhile I have always been a proponent of a good sales process, and having a playbook to assist and improve execution, let’s not lose sight of the overall objective: Revenue! I worry when I see sales managers and leaders put a greater emphasis on process and playbook than results. I have seen to many mistake one for the other, where sales people who delivered results were questioned about why they did not follow the process, rather than given credit for assessing the situation and acting.

You can see the opposite of this when sales people who continue to underperform, but are maintained (and rationalized) because they were “compliant”, followed the process. Don’t be that seller who continuously achieves also-ran status with high artistic merit, and low points for execution.

A process and playbook are meant to be dynamic and evolving, the only way to improve and to ensure that it is effective in the only thing that counts, Revenue, to continue to evolve it based on market realities. The market and out prospects continue to evolve, treating your playbook and process as though they are impervious to change will only lead to more work, and over time diminished results.

Playbooks are a collection of best practices, which requires we continue to test, examine, deploy, review and execute again. They are guidelines not divine declarations, every day your process does not evolve in some way, is a day you fall behind. We cringe when prospects say “because we have always done it that way”, yet we seem to be comfortable with allowing that thinking when it comes to playbooks and processes.

Too many sales managers and organization spend too much valuable time on pipeline reviews, a deep dive of ass covering. Instead they should be doing process and playbook reviews, after all what is in your pipeline is a result of how good your process is and how well it is executed. In fact, they should be doing Pipeline Previews, this allows my clients to look ahead, and understand which elements of their playbook and process will help move the sale forward, and which need to evolve to ensure they win the sale. Good execution of a bad process or playbook means nothing at the end of the day; may look good, but little more.

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Concept of afraid businessman like an ostrich

The Power of Denial0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Wanting to understand “why” and “how” are a curiosity we are all born with. Just look at infants and toddlers, they are always asking “why” and “how” questions, something may be mundane or old hat to me, is brand new and completely unimagined to them until they see or experience it. But as they enter the school system, things change; a small minority maintain their constructive curiosity, not settling, they continue to push the envelop to discover more, discover “how” things work, and “why” things have to be the way they are, “why” not different. are keen to change, add to, or take away from a technique, to see what incremental change will lead to incremental gains that add up over time. Even when they succeed, win first prize, they are never satisfied, because they know more will be required tomorrow, and certainly the next fiscal year.

And then there is the rest, the majority, those who from the time they enter school, seem to look for little more than the opportunity to exist and sustain. They are taught and quickly learn to “fall in line”, accept how “things work”. Their success (as such), is based on, and thrives by continuing to tow the line and play to the current wave. Rather than leveraging curiosity to propel them further, they wait to be told “how” to do things and “why”. Success here of course is not measured by quality of output, but by how well they play within the lines and being able to deny any and all things outside those lines. They learn how to rationalize and deny; and with years of practice, they are ready to move into the work force, prepared to deliver. Needless to say, some of these people grow up to be sales people, where playing between the lines and denial as an art form, seem to be core and sought after capabilities.

If you doubt this, ask yourself why so many underperforming reps continue to be employed, while continuing to miss quota. Or why the Pareto Principle, the 80/20, is so entrenched, and unchallenged in the sales world; rather than challenging the principle it, people operate as though it was divinely ordained. Interestingly, someone was sharing some data with me recently, that suggested that it is now 13% of reps delivering 87% of the revenue.

It takes a lot of attitude and effort to avoid the seduction of denial. As we progress from school to post secondary, the art of denial is fine tuned and reinforced. Speak to the “average” students, and they have learned to rationalize their results much better than learning the subject matter they “averaged” in. They point to those A+ students as anomalies, denying the facts at hand. By the time they arrive at work, their habits and attitudes are set, faced with a choice of taking a different tack than their peers or denying results, and the latter wins with most. Their managers, themselves plucked from the pool of deniers, just reinforce the whole mess, and cycle continues.

Don’t disperse, while the power and seduction of denial is great, there is a way to overcome it, and it is a tactic that will help your interactions with buyers as well. Make a difficult, but important change. Rather than telling people, including prospect, “why” and “how” things are, change to asking “why” and “how”, and then deal with the answer. Most exceptional sellers I know, the 20% (13%), fear failure, and are willing to go a path less followed; while the 80% (87%), fear success, and everything that brings, and opt for the power of denial!

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Done

Just Do It?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

No, I am not questioning the message behind Nike’s well known slogan or mantra, nothing to do with Nike at all.

I am talking to and about sales people who regularly fail to follow through on expectations they set for people they work with, but most importantly, prospects and customers.

We have all familiar with old sales adage: “Under Promise – Over Deliver”, well it seems many sales people feel that only applies to some things, some actions, but not all. While most get how to leverage this from a product perspective, they seem to feel they have immunity when it comes to actions they have committed to. While existing clients may be a bit more tolerant of tardiness, (although they should not have to be), prospects who have never dealt with you, have nothing else to parse a decision around than your ability or willingness to actually follow through, in the way you said you would.

Buyers long ago have realized that even products claiming to be bleeding edge and “revolutionary”, are at best evolutionary in nature, or last year’s model with a fresh coat of paint. This leaves the interaction with the rep and the selling organization as one the determinant and differentiator in a decision. While it is always an advantage to be able to deliver insight that prospects can action and achieve more than they set out to achieve, or take any action they otherwise would not have. But absent that, and believe me in a world of feature, buzzword and price selling, it is very absent, the only thing left is how we sell, and core to that is how we deliver on even the smallest commitment we make.

DoneWhile I understand that there are more demands than ever on sales people’s time, there are (or so we are told) just as many new tools allowing sales professionals to maximize their time. This really is a situation where you are in control, both in the commitments you make, and the ones you chose not to follow through on. The fact that many, pundits and buyers, recognize that you are having to pack 16 hours into a ten-hour day, does not equal having permission not to do something, especially things we committed to with prospects/buyers. Things includes the “smaller” things, but in a world “same”, it will those little things that will swing decisions.

There are some simple things we can do. Starting with prioritizing, and not just in creating a list, but in how we set expectations for prospects. If something indeed is “small” in your estimation, then the expectations you set around it should also be small. You can tell a prospect you will have an answer for them much further out than you would for delivering something impacting an impending buy decision.

Couple this with other useful practices. One is the old Urgency/Importance matrix, allowing you to prioritize activates, and make sure they are done. Add to this the practice chunking, where you set allocate specific time to the practice of setting out “chunks” of time for specific tasks. Where many limit their success is not extending these to their calendar. If it has to be done, it needs to be scheduled! If you don’t have the time, and you know it going in, don’t promise, or know who you will delegate it to. While I appreciate the power of intent, it does not replace do, or make up for something you don’t do that you led the prospect to believe you would.

While it is natural to focus on the on the visible, the things that you get done, but buyers are more likely to remember the things we don’t do.

Want to maximize your sales time, grab your copy of “Sales Happen In Time”, and make time work for you!

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