Solstice

Is Sales A Winter Sport?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

This post makes most sense read on Labour Day, on a deck with a cold one in hand, which is where you should be today!

Being that it is Labour Day, and the de facto end of summer, I thought we can take a look at a lighter side of sales while still giving us something to think about without having to think too hard, something many of us in sales are already good at most days.

I’m not a big Shakespeare fan, but one of the things I did like was his use of the environment (skies, landscape, etc.) as tool to accentuate or contrast elements of the plot, or the inner conflicts of characters. Next time between calls, check Macbeth or The Tempest. You can see similar things unfold in sales, or at least those of us observing the drama, often the characters, you the sellers, are too close to see what the audience sees.

More often though, it is more the case that sales people tend to reflect their environment, which is good in the context of a sales meeting, but not when the environment influences their view and execution.

The Tuesday after Labour Day signals the unofficial start of the home stretch for most sellers. This conveniently comes only a few weeks from the Autumn Equinox, (well only here in North America, for our Aussie and southern hemisphere followers it would be the Spring Equinox).

I have always found that the time between the two Equinoxes to be the most productive for sales people. Not just because of the “Year End” or “Start of year” dynamic, but other factors and trends. (Speaking of drama, and Shakespearean predictability, are you braced to see an avalanche of “How to end the year right” posts, quickly followed by “How to start the year right”). An obvious one being the productivity cycle of their market and buyers. There is a natural cycle where businesses are more focused on doing business, less distracted by things like opening the cottage, getting the kids ready for collage, and more.

The Autumn Equinox brings with it shorter and shorter days, less light more darkness; it is dark when you start your day, and dark before it ends, making it easier to focus on the task at hand during day light house. An almost Shakespearean effect of the days narrowing with your opportunity to retire quota. Everything coming to a crescendo with the arrival of the Winter Solstice. While many will run the race right December 31, most will build their efforts to peak days before Christmas. And just as we return to work January 2, new beginnings, fresh opportunities, and longer days, more light, more energy.

Just a crock of sh#t you say, you’re probably right, but how deep do you want to be on the “last” day of summer, with a frosty on a deck?

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LinkedIn Serves Up Catholic Like Feature2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

endorsed 2

People always seem to be looking for a means to repent and ease their guilt. Whatever the cause or underlying motivation, people feel better when doing something, even if it is not the right thing for the wrong reasons, acting gives the illusion of accomplishment. So when it comes to sales, social media offers an outlet more immediate and less demanding than going to a confessional, when they know they have wronged and are feeling guilty.  All with the added bonus of being socially impersonal.

I look at this phenomenon as the sales equivalent of “slacktivism“.

I came to learn about this from a rep I am working with. He highlighted that a prospect had missed a scheduled call, one agreed to during the last meeting, invite accepted, and specific to the deal at the time. When he called as scheduled, he did not get a response. But the very next day the prospect in question “endorsed” said sales rep for two sales related skills on LinkedIn. Brad thought this just to be a coincidence, but saw it happen in other instances. He mentioned that he met someone at an industry event, the usual “ya, this is what we are looking for, definitely give me a call.” Follow up – no response; a few days later, follow up – no response, voice mails left on both calls, with return number. Lo and behold, a couple of days later, a LinkedIn endorsement.

I have always been flattered when I get LinkedIn endorsements, making a mental note, occasionally reaching out, but never looked for the correlation Brad mentioned. But, since it was brought to my attention, I have seen that I too have been a victim of this “social confessional”, a cleansing of guilt brought in when folks don’t follow through on commitments.

I say “social confessional” for two reasons. First, as people use social outlets to communicate things in a way different than the past, it only makes sense that it would creep into their communication of their guilt for not following through on their commitments, and in to their communication with whatever deity they hide behind when they mess up. So why make the trek down to the local church, just give them three endorsements, a “social” form of three Hail Mary’s and a candle. “It’s not like I ignored you, dude, in fact I endorsed you, three times man, let it go.”

The second reason, well, these days you stick “social” in front of any old thing, and it’ll just seem hipper.

So Catholic, or not, even atheists, can now endorse and move on with their day, without the bother of being accountable for their commitments. The Church can learn something here.

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Facts Vs. Reality2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Haa2

The other day at the Sales Performance Summit, fellow presenter, Tim Hurson referenced an old Russian proverb; and I am paraphrasing:

” Nine pregnant women for one month do not make a baby.”

It reminded me a lot of many people in the revenue process. I say revenue process, because people in both sales and marketing say silly things, often causing the loss of revenue instead of enhancing the experience and leading to results.

Having watched many presentations and webinars, you see people falling into the trap of citing a string of unrelated facts that they believe will make for the truth, when in reality, they make for a string of unrelated facts and a loss of credibility with anyone listening.

I had a chance to take in a presentation from an expert making the case for how much things have changed, and that everything is being disrupted, and if you are not disrupting, blah, blah, blah. I mean really, when has that not been the case, just ask the horseshoe maker, and the guy who used to deliver ice blocks for the ice box in your granny’s kitchen. Another example of this intellectual masturbation, is when they cite facts that have been around for ages, as proof of change.

One example this person used was the fact that that over 80% of the companies that made up the Fortune 500 are no longer there. Not entirely true, as many are there in merged or reformed entities. Their argument is that this the fact that it is no longer business as usual, we are in the age of business unusual. Well I am sorry, when has there been a state of business as usual. Walk down any main street and see if the same store dominate as 25 years ago. Seems to me that a whole bunch of banks and investment houses disappeared in 2008, little to do with technology, millennials, or any new trends, same old corruption and rip offs.

The velocity of change has changed, but that change has been balanced on both sides, sellers are keeping up with market evolution and buyers evolving habits, and in many cases shaping and leading them. Same thing causing and allowing buyers to evolve are there also helping the seller evolve, just look at Amazon, Apple, Uber, and others that have led the buyers to do things, rather than the other way around.

As a seller you should take two things from this. Buyers will follow if you make sense. Just because it sounds good, it does not make sense. And if the buyer smell the BS, you’re fried, no matter how interactive or mobile friendly you are.

But they kept going, so let me share. Making the point that 2/3 of searches are now done on mobile devices, they couldn’t resist say that despite the number one search was still for pubs and bars, confirming that while people may change their method of searching to the most convenient and easiest mechanism, the underlining motivation has changed little.

Because it sounds good in a boardroom or focus group, it does not really going to help you sell. Another innovation that was supposed to enlighten us was the movement to benchmarking your company not against you peers, but other industries. Example given, two organization who apparently benchmark their timing/speed, against an F1 pit stop’s time for changing tires, seems they do that now in less than 3 seconds, vs. 67 in 1950, not sure what the point of that was other than ya, it’s faster. Oh what they failed to mention, in 1950 you can only have 4 crew members work on the care, whereas the 2013 example they were comparing it to had 18 crew members hands on car. But the belly laugh came when they told us about how now West Jet is benchmarking their turnaround time on the ground at airports against this. Further that operating rooms are also benchmarking themselves against the F1 pit stop. I don’t know about you, but given that the jet liner is already built on components provided by a lowest cost provider, I somehow wouldn’t mind if the pilot and crew took an extra minute on the ground, and take that walk a little slower to ensure that we don’t crash faster than we did in the 1950’s. Or that the surgeon take a couple of extra minutes before sowing me up. I know time is money, but there is cost to instruments being left in your body, and the cost of retrieving them.

The only purchase that resulted in this was me increasing my coverage to cover the downside of speed surgery.

Tibor Shanto

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So What If You’re Wrong – Sales eXecution 2842

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Wrong Lens

The other day I was on a call with a rep, she was well prepared, she met with her manager and I in advance, and started the call as planned. A few minutes in she asked a question laced with assumptions, and as luck would have it, all wrong assumption. It wasn’t a major point, but you could feel her discomfort. While I understood, I also know from experience that this could actually turn out to be a good thing.

As often happens, the prospect started correcting her, not to in a mean or demeaning way, just wanting to keep the facts accurate. But in the process of explaining, the prospect actually shared a lot of useful information which really helped our intrepid rep to better understanding the buyer’s biases, preferences, mode of thinking and purchase decisions.

Our friend the seller recovered quickly, and picked up on the fact and perpetuated the dialogue by asking more questions, presenting different scenarios, which got the buyer to open up even more, allowing our rep to gain insight better align her and her company’s vision and real value. By the end of the meeting she was a lot further than she had hoped to be, and the buyer was much more engaged and looking forward to the next meeting.

I see this a lot, human nature kicks in, the willingness to help others when they may have made a mistake, and nicely correcting them; only human right?

But most sales people are too hung up on being right, maintaining the facade that comes with that, they spend time trying to cover innocent mistakes, rather than leveraging them. There is nothing wrong with making an honest mistake at times – better yet there is nothing wrong with planning that mistake in advance.

If you know that there some area you need to uncover that may take some work, like a subject area that would be good to nail down earlier rather than later. A subject that you traditionally feel you have to wait till later in the sale to broach, think about making a mistake, specifically to be corrected, specifically to learn.

Reps tell me they are hesitant to go in certain directions in the discussion because they feel the prospect may not be ready. Well, rather than using the front door, why not go to the side door instead? Ask a question or make a statement that you know is based on a wrong premise, but is related to the topic you need to explore, and then wait to be corrected. Letting human nature kick in and accelerate the sale, or most often just break down barriers or log jams in the conversation.

I remember being with one of the best sales people I know, who was presenting at a well-known company. The meeting was very one sided, he couldn’t get them to engage or exchange information at all, they just sat stoned faced. Without their input and contribution, he was dead in the water. As a natural break came between subject areas, he asked if anyone had questions, a few shook their head to indicate no. Rather than continuing, he looked at the room, a dozen or so senior people, and asked “So, no one wants to play stump the sales person?”

A bit of a chuckle from some, quickly followed by a stream of questions. Some taking him up on the challenge, working hard to stump him, but most took the invitation lightly and asked some great questions. The ice melted, they were now fully engaged and he was learning more than had he continued with the presentation as many would have and do.

Don’t worry about being wrong, worry about moving the sale forward.

Tibor Shanto

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What Can Sales People Learn From Ebola?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Haa2

Probably Absolutely Nothing At All!

I just wanted to be the first to jump on one of the silliest bandwagons among bloggers, sales blogs being no different; trying to squeeze a sales lesson or morals from every significant event to make headlines.

Just do a search and you’ll find titles of all sorts all linking sales to some insignificant angle in sales to some unrelated event in the headlines. “What Can Sales Learn from the World Cup?”. I don’t know, how to dive? Or “Sales Management Lessons can be had from the Swallows of Capistrano?”

So now that we have the first confirmed case on the continent, it’s time to start capturing lessons. Lesson One: People tell you what they think you want to hear – Thomas Eric Duncan, did exactly that, lying in answers to questions in order to get on his flight.

So what can sales learn from Ebola?

I haven’t a clue, do you?

I invite you share your ideas for lessons to learn, or actual lesson you learned from Ebola that helps you get more sales. Leave your comments, and maybe we’ll have a winner, or learn something.

Looking ahead to creative thinking and originality in new highs, or lows.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

It’s A Fact! – Sales eXecution 2540

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Haa2

I was always a big fan of The Kids In The Hall, not only because they were Canadian, but also the way they captured the bizarre reality of daily life. One of my favourite recurring segment called It’s A Fact . First and foremost because it was funny, but also because of the absurdity of some of the claims, as though they were fact, highlighting some of the silly things people are willing to believe if they hear it enough times, and especially if it had the backing of an “expert”. And in sales there is no shortage of experts, pundits, or those that try to pass for either.

I was reminded of the segment when a friend sent me a link to a piece by an expert pontificating on the state of sales now, and where it will be in three years’ time. On the one hand I admired the so called expert, having the kahunas to make a prediction so easily validated or disproven in only three years; I have put the date in my calendar, and I look forward to seeing how close they were. Of course we don’t have to wait, we can just go back and see what they predicted three years ago and see how much of that we are seeing now. I have always questioned whether it was the role of sales experts to predict the future, or to help their clients sell better. Certainly we need to look 18 – 24 months out from a strategy standpoint, but not so much to play the Nostradamus of sales. At least he had sense enough to make predictions that he did not have to be around to answer for, and with enough vagueness that allowed the reader to infuse their own bias and allow everyone a level of deniability when it came to accuracy.

The other thing that reminded me of the Kids In The Hall, is that the piece actually started with the very words “It’s a fact”, well what choice did I have but to bring out my solar powered BS meter and have a go. I mean you gotta love pieces that have the headline or begin with things like:

  • The Secrets to… (Is this being revealed due to some freedom of information act request, a court order?)
  • The Five Secrets of Closing Every time
  • Uncracking the Blah Blah Code (do they have to pay Dan Brown royalties when they use that?)
  • Or my favourite, as my coauthor insisted on soiling the cover of our book with this one “The Silver Bullet in Sales” What are we hunting here revenue or werewolves?

What they were predicting, long way from a fact, was an idea that has been recycled a number of times, usually as a means of selling product, “this is coming, and I have the cure”. And with the benefit of hindsight, we have seen that the prediction has never really come true, and therefore, does not at all qualify as a fact, but more as promotional opinion.

The “facts?” we were presented with were validated and deemed to be a fact because leading sales experts agree. OK. Well I am not big on the whole religion thing, but this sounds a lot like the following. “There is no god, and the proof is that ten out of ten atheists agree”; or “god exists, ten out of ten Rabbis agree”.

At best unsubstantiated predictions may spur some thinking around how you sell, review your approach, and make adjustments. But if you want to be able to cope with life as a seller in three, five, seven years from now, focus on execution, not whether you should dress to the left, or dress to the right, or whether Jupiter is aligned with Mars. Sales is about execution, everything else is just talk. It’s a fact!

Hey, if you liked what you saw here, invite me to speak at your next meeting!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

The Sales Version of Chicken or Egg – Sales eXchange 2050

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Chicken or egg

For many the age old question continues to be which came first the chicken or the egg, and while some have claimed to have the answer, there is a similar one playing out in B2B sales.

Most agree that you need to develop and maintain relationships with buyers (then clients) to succeed in B2B selling, but there is lot of debate about which comes first the relationship, or the sale?

First thing you have to do is define “relationship”, it is one of those words in sales that people use without often quantifying or defining its meaning.  Maybe the assumption is that “everyone knows” the meaning, but that is a false and risky assumption.  Some use it to hide their lack of knowledge or understanding of sales, and relationship is one of those sunshine words, if you keep using it, you sound as though you are in the know and good at sales.  I see this a lot when I ask sellers I work with to define sales, they’ll talk around the question, and throw in “relationship” at a few critical junctures where their response looks weak.

When you get into more formal definitions, you find two main camps. One basically states that the primary objective is the building of long-term relationships with customers from which repeat business will flow.  The other, believes that relationships evolve from good results delivered on sales that were initially made before there was a relationship, based on a positive experience, the interaction continues, relationships build and evolve.

Both agree that relationships are important and make for better and more sustained business, but like the chicken and the egg, they seem to disagree on which comes first, the initial sale or the relationship.  For the sake of disclosure, I tend to line up with the “sales comes first, relationships evolve” camp, rather than the camp that feels that sellers need to focus on the relationship first, and then business will flow, a definition borrowed from a popular sales glossary.

Relationship do not ensure sales.  I remember having a rep in Ottawa who finally landed a big government department, when asked by her peers how she did it, she told them she established a solid relationship.  She failed to mention the 10% discount she negotiated with me to close the deal.  A year later, she lost the department, the only one of the many we had as clients, as we were reviewing the deal, I couldn’t help but ask what happened to the relationship?

We have all seen or experienced where buyers, not just new buyers, but established customers, ones  sellers thought they had a relationship with, who end up buying from someone else. It usually comes down to either price, the other seller, the one without the relationship, being cheaper. Or even more biting, the other seller was able to convince the buyer that they can move them closer to their objectives than you.  In outselling the relationship, they show that attaining objectives will trump relationship for a buyer every time.

We work in a world where companies and reps need sales to thrive, sales in the current month and quarter.  This is why companies all pay commissions for sales, not for relationships.  This is why it makes more sense to develop a sale, delver to or above expectations and use that as the platform for building a relationship, rather than building relationships with customers from which repeat business will flow.  To be clear, I am not saying no relationship, or relationships have no vale, but that there is a sequence that delivers more for both parties, and that sequence is, start building the relationship and the sales as soon as you engage, but get the sale first, it will take time to build a real and worthwhile relationship.

So there, we have solved that one, and if you are interested, and have a sense of humour, the question of which came first the chicken or the egg, has also been answered.  Again, if you have a sense of humour, you can learn about it here.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Time To Grow Up – Sales eXchange 1980

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

grow up

When my kids were young and they would wish for something not real, or as a way to avoid a task, like “I wish I didn’t have to clean my room”, “I wish I could grow up to be a princess”, their grandmother always responded by saying “If wishes were horses then beggars would ride”.  It’s interesting how that expression has great significance and application to many sales people and sales advisors, all now grown-ups.

I am speaking specially of advice doled out by some sales pundits that serves more to placate and patronize readers than help them improve their selling skills and success, delivering clichés and politically correct feel good myth, instead of proven and practical road tested advice based on experience.  While we all want to make our audience feel good, I think it is more important to provide pragmatic advice that yields measurable results, even when it requires effort on the part of the reader and will often force them from their comfort zones.  I for one do not see a problem in challenging readers and sellers, and do not apologize for creating some discomfort in helping them succeed.  Much better than some of the sugar coated buzzword riddled schmaltz others seem to be peddling in an effort to make sellers feel good and allow them to rationalize their lack of effort, inventiveness and results.  But as we all know sugar highs don’t last.

If you are wondering why I am on about this, it’s because once again I have someone taking a shot at my often debated, never disproven voice mail technique, not because it doesn’t work, it does, but because it does not appeal to their “sensibilities”, a sensibility that leads to no returned calls.  As usual the technique is misrepresented, making it easier to cast in a questionable light, they then schmear a load of subjectivity mixed with value judgment, and raising but not speaking to the specifics of words like “trust” or “ethics”.

The reality is that there are no absolutes in sales, nothing works all the time, every time, most things don’t work most the time, so when you have a technique that proves to be 30% – 50% effective, you have something worth adopting.  What’s more, while the technique may seem counter intuitive at first, those who try it, report back a consistent success rate.  Recently there was a debate in a LinkedIn group, there were many who questioned the technique, who once they tried it, liked it, mostly because it got them call backs and appointments.

Most recently, the technique was again misrepresented, and labeled asinine.  I bet I can find some internal memos at most record companies dating back to 10 years ago that called iTunes an asinine way to sell and consume music.  I bet there were some Blockbuster folks who called Netflix asinine.  Interestingly few are willing to challenge it head on.  One challenger was invited to debate the technique on “This Week In Sales” webcast, but declined, I wonder why; not the worst thing, I had the whole show to myself.

As an industry, “sales enablers”, we keep highlighting the fact that only 50% of B2B reps make quota, well what is our role in that?  If we do not push them to better themselves by trying, new, alternative, and yes at times outlandish but effective methods.  We should challenge our audience, not just dust off the edges of tired techniques that play to the emotion of the reader even while ignoring the fact that what is being peddled are just retreads with new labels.

In the end it is down to the reader, our consumer, they choose how they want to make or not make quota.  In the end the readers are like we the pundits, some know what is Shinola, and what’s not.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

The “Right” Measure45

No this isn’t about metrics, this is not about steps you can take as a manager, no, it’s much more cynical and entertaining than that.

It is about a game that sales people and managers can play while presenting or watching a peer present is a selling situation.  It is about measuring how many times a sales person will say “right?” looking for agreement from the potential buyer.  As in: “Our integrated approach delivers efficiencies through process improvement and alignment, right?”

I don’t know!?

“Our e-commerce solution increases business by 12.6%, right?”

I guess, who knows, if you say so!?

The game is to measure the number of time the seller say “right?” without a meaningful response from the buyer.  As the game advances, you can score bonus points when the buyer asks the seller a question, and the seller responds with a statement again, ending in “right?”

The concept or the game came to me the other day when I was watching a rep present his solution to a group of decision makers.  The rep was dead out of the gate as he started off with a soliloquy about the company’s problems, and where they are “losing money, right?”  After some silence, he continued, “cutting edge solution, right?”

The biggest among the communication faux pas our boy made was clearly telegraphing to the group of decision makers is that he was squarely focused on his agenda, and all but oblivious to theirs.  “I am unprepared, I have no clue how to engage you, but I need to make this sale, I hope you go for this, right?”

In terms of the game, it is a lot like golf, the winner is the seller who needs to fall back on the fewest “rights?” while leaving the meeting with a real Next Step.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

3 Reasons To Call Senior Executives First – Sales eXchange 15046

Few sales people are true hunters, and even among hunters, few call outside of their comfort zone, specifically senior executives. We can pretend it’s not true, but based on my discussions with sales VP’s and business owners it is.  They tell me their people don’t do it enough, and they hardly hear from sales people selling things that impact critical parts of their business.  But let’s not dwell on why some don’t do it, and let’s focus on why they should and how it will help them win.

1.  Top Man/Woman on Totem Pole – no matter how big or small the company, the President along the VP’s set the strategic direction for their companies, and the more you are aligned with that the better you will do. The challenge is that these are rarely expressed in terms of product, but objectives, thing the want to and need to achieve. So if you sell using the the language of product, you need to stop, and start speaking the subject “here is how I, my offering and company will help you exceed your objectives”. Once you do that you will have a number of doors open to you, both figuratively and literally. The literal part segues us to the second reason.

2.  Use My Name, Please –  No one knows better who the real decision makers, influencers, movers and shakers are within their organizations. That knowledge and understanding alone is worth gold, but an introduction, a recommendation, a direct mandate, well, thats like a cocktail mix of gold, oil, and more. Want to be the gold standard, nothing beats being sanctioned by the leader of the organization.

3.  Friends in High Places – we have all faced scenarios where the decision was down to you and an alternate provider, that is when you want to have the right people in your corner, and who can be more “right” than the president or VP.  When there is a tie, you want to have a tie breaker, and of you master point number 1 above, that tie breaker will break for you.

These are three reasons why you ALWAYS WANT TO CALL HIGH, in the organization that is. Master this and you will win more deals, not only due to the points above, but the process of mastering them will set you up for continuous improvement and success in engaging with the entire organization, and help you play to win.

Next Step

  • Call everyone involved in the success you can deliver
  • Sell in a multilingual way
  • Don’t hesitate to lean on your friends
Tibor Shanto
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