3 Must Have Attributes of a Real “NEXT STEP”1

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Definitions are an important factor in sales success, talk to the best sales people, best here being measured in results, not likability, and you will find that they thrive on clear definitions, it is their competitive edge.  To identify weak sales people, look for those with plenty of opinion, but little or no clarity in approach or definitions for core elements of their success.  One common example is “Value”, it is part of almost every sales conversation, yet there are numerous, at times conflicting definitions.  I ask a group of five also rans to define value, and you’ll end up with seven different definitions, because the first two will change their mind based on what the next three say.

Another common element of successful selling that is all too often undefined (and usually unenforced), is the discipline of next steps.  Sure, everyone pays lip service to “next steps” (or advances, or other synonyms), but what they say is not what they mean, and not at all defined, agreed on, or universally supported.

I was brought up in the sales school that held that without a “next step” you are likely working with someone who is fully not engaged, if at all, and therefore not a prospect, but a lead.  This makes a “next step” a crucial delineator between real opportunities, or those pretend opportunities, taking up space in your pipeline or CRM, but lack any empirical evidence to suggest that you are working with a real prospect or an opportunity that will convert in a predictable time frame.

There is not an opportunity review that goes by where a reps is asked:

“Do you have a ‘next step’ with this prospect?”

Rep: “Sure do!”

“What is it?”

“I’m calling him Monday to set a meeting”, or “I told him I would call Monday to see what he thought of the proposal”

“What time is the call scheduled for?”

“I don’t have it formally scheduled, I told him I’d call Monday, and he said fine, I’ll do it after I am back from the Northern demo.”

Sorry, but that’s not a next step.  It’s a plan, may even be a good plan, but at this point it is little more than hope in the form of a thought, and you know what they say about hope, and people addicted to hopium.

For a “next step” to be real and productive it needs to have three attributes, that when combined and successfully executed form a platform for sales success that can use to plan, strategize and execute their sale, usually in a shorter time frame than they had anticipated.

1.   Must Be Agreed On By Both The Buyer And The Seller – by agreed I mean that it is booked and confirmed, not just a “ya OK”, whispered as you are walking out. These days you can have an invite fired from your phone while you are still there.  The physical act of pulling out your phone to put in the time and date will lead them to go to their calendar, if they don’t you may have a problem that you need to address right then and there.  It is not unusual for my prospects to have accepted the next meeting before I leave or by the time I am checking e-mail in the parking lot.

Many will settle for this as a “next step”, but I don’t want you to be one of those.  There are people, even with the demands on time, who will meet with a sales person without a specific reason.  This is why the next attribute is so important, in fact of the three the most important.

2.  Moves The Journey Forward – going back without a clear purpose is a waste of time, you can sit at your desk twiddle your thumbs without adding to you carbon footprint. You want to go back to continue to move the process forward in a way that helps the buyer make the decision that you can help them achieve their objectives.  This can be asking them to do something that will validate their engagement, involvement and commitment to the buy/sale moving forward.

I suggest that you think in advance what that may be, leveraging your personal and organizational experience, map out the journey, understand the critical milestones, and how you have successfully arrived there in the past.  If you know that achieving something opens the door to the next phase of the process, then think of what has to transpire in the meeting to get the buyer to see that as a logical path forward.   This could be any number of things based on what you sell.  One example is to ask for the opportunity to interview other people impacted by the decision, and set a time to comeback, debrief and plan the “next step”.  You’ll often hear me say:

“So we’ve agreed that it would help if I had a chance to get the front line view, if you can give the names of three sales people to interview, I can set that up for next week, and be in a position to come back to review with you by next Wednesday, does 2:00 work for you?”

Now if they do not agree to the action requested, i.e. the team interviews, but do agree to meet next week to hear my recommendations, you have some choices to make.  Does it make sense to have that meeting without the input, can you viably make progress without that.  If not, then you need to understand where you and the buyer parted ways during the meeting, what you may have missed, whether it is an indication that they are not a real buyer, or do you need to retrace and build the value up again.

This is where “next steps” drive success long before the meeting, and how you bring the past to help you now.  Perhaps the most important aspect of “next step”, specifically how they help you plan, strategize and execute.  Since we can only speculate based on experience, it makes sense to visualize the meeting unfolding in a number of ways.  Again, we are not shooting for perfection, but to cover the most likely set of outcomes.  Therefore you need to have multiple “next steps” going into any meeting.  In essence, Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and more base on your reality.  Based on the above if Plan B is the follow up meeting without prior interviews, fine.  But if your experience shows that second meetings without an interview end in no sales, or lower margin or quality sales that take 50% longer than the average sale; you can comfortably walk away know you did not go into a trap.  Remember you can always revisit the opportunity down the road, rather than wasting time and energy traveling that unproductive road.

3.  Agreed On Timelines – This ties the first two elements together. And while it may seem too obvious, too many sales people have a plan going into a meeting, find areas of agreement and action, but leave the timing open ended.  Don’t believe, lock your office door, and have a true look at the opportunities in your pipeline, and see if you have any with no time lines.

Seems to me that if you are going to propose specific actions you and the prospect will take as a result of today’s meeting, and prospect agrees that it is something worth doing and they take on doing it, why not agree on a deadline or timeline.  Some sales people tell me they don’t want to seem pushy, when I hear that it sounds like “I am afraid of seeming professional”.

By suggesting a specific time you are helping the buyer (and yourself but let’s keep focused on the buyer), people have a lot coming at them, a lot of demand on the time.  Those things with times attached, deadlines, in their calendar, in their face, with purpose, leading to a desired and agreed on outcome, will be the ones that get done.  Those with any elements of looseness, like no specific time, who know, could be today, tomorrow, “hell, I lived with it this long, could be next quarter”.  Solidify you sales success using time.

Above I asked you to look at your pipeline and see how many opportunities are without a time line.  While you are in there, take a look at the 3 attributes highlighted above, and see where some opportunities in your pipeline come up short.  And then go and fix them, set a meeting, execute your plan, and secure the “next step”, as defined.

So if you are not using “next steps” as success driver, not just in the meeting, but long before, then you are probably working harder than you have to.  Further, if you are not clear on what “next steps” really are, and are working with a different definition than above, you are likely not as productive as you could be.

Your next step now, put the above into practice, it is a discipline.  Need help, your next step is call me: +1416 822-7781.

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Tibor Shanto

 

 

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Is Your Pipeline Constrained or Constipated? – Sales eXecution 3022

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Pipeline plunge

Sales people have an interesting relationship with their pipelines, definitely emotional, sometime rational, and often, regardless of how they protest, predictable. The key is that how they manage their pipeline very much reflects how well they execute their sale, and how successful they may be.

First let’s look at the notion of pipeline and how it unfolds in sales. For the most part it is built around the concept of “Flow”. If you look at pharma, it looks at the flow of product from concept to being brought to market. There are several stages along the way, some products make it all the way, and some will die along the way for any number of reasons. In the oil patch, again flow, carrying the product from Alberta to points south (well it would if politics didn’t get in the way). But it’s all about flow, anything impeding or adversely affecting the flow, including speeding it up too much, creates an imbalance, a lack of efficiencies and desired results. In sales, that is clearly a lack of clients and revenue.

In sales there are two common pipeline conditions that result in insufficient sales. The first we will not deal with in this piece, specifically a lack of new things coming into the pipeline, no prospecting, leading to an empty pipeline. The second is an overly full pipeline. Some may not see this as an issue, but it is. The first problem is that sales people have their emotions driven by the state of their pipeline, when it is full, they have less propensity to prospect, “look man, I have so much sh#t in my pipeline, let me go close it.”

This leads to the second problem, the fact that there is so much in their pipeline, specifically a lot of sh#t. These people think of their pipeline as something to fill, not about flow, having it full is their goal, not moving it through from lead to client in a consistent and repeatable fashion. This usually results from either their unwillingness to take things out of the pipeline, constrained; or inability to close prospects they have in their pipe, constipation.

Constrained – we have seen these sellers, partly optimistic, partly naïve, partly lazy, and mostly squandering time and their success. Nothing ever dies, every opportunity is sacred, just like a scene from a Monty Python movie.  These sales people feel they are more successful as they have a bigger and bigger pipeline, I have some tell me that as long as they can bring more opportunities, the more are like to close. These where the downside of relationship selling shows itself. “If I can engage and have relationships with more and more buyers, deals will close themselves.” No they won’t. If they cleared out the trash from their pipeline they would not only see this, but would feel the urgency to act more decisively. Often these sellers have skills, they just don’t apply them, their optimism and naiveté constrain their ability to deal with more of the right prospects and close more deals.

Constipated – these are sales people who have difficulty closing. To their credit, they prospect, and prospect well, they continue to bring opportunities. What they lack is the skills to qualify, or more accurately, disqualify, leading them to grow their pile of prospects. They also can’t engage well enough to conduct a proper discovery with prospects, and as a result can’t close the sale. Often if you can hold your nose, and pick through, you’ll find prospects who have long bought elsewhere. They are good at the front end, but blocked at the back end, constipated.

Once in a while you can flush these out, but unless you change the pattern, it gets blocked again. The answer to both is having a clearly defined process and active management. The process with stages, actions, objectives, tools, and evaluation to determine if the opportunity has merit, ready to go to the next stage, or needs to be dispatched to the recycling bin. Notice not garbage bin, but recycling, yes, leads are recyclable, you can always come back when the timing is better. This will help create balance and help opportunities “flow” through to results.

Active management is important to help both type of clogs to be cleared. And to be fair to sellers, it is often their managers that contribute to the problem. An active manager can help both sellers be better sellers, or as we like to say around here Sell Better! Active management focus them on the right activities at each stage of the opportunity, and allow them to get rid of things that don’t belong. This may lead to a thin pipeline, then active management needs to turn to better prospecting. But in both cases management needs to have an active role beyond highlighting the problem.

So go ahead, give your pipeline a flush, and then focus on flow not volume.

Tibor Shanto    LI Bottom banner

Are You A Relationship Manager?2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

relationship

While I don’t want to get into the discussion as to whether relationship selling is dead, limping or doing just fine, there some aspects of relationship selling that need to be rethought. Specifically the kind of sales managers that relationship sellers end up being. If you are a reader of this blog over the years you know that while I think relationships and the ability to foster and maintain relationships are very important traits of a successful seller, I have always taken issue with the sequence of things.

There too many sellers who give a disproportionate, if not too much, of their focus and energy for gaining a relationship, rather than getting the sale, which what they are paid to do. As is clearly articulated in: “The Hard Truth About Soft-Selling: Restoring Pride and Purpose to the Sales Profession”, sales people get paid commissions for closing sales, not relationships. There are too many sales people try to secure the relationship first, then worry about the sale, rather than the other way around. The best way to build and grow a real and solid relationship is to deliver value, and keep delivering it. You can argue, but there are too many examples of people sellers thought they had a relationship with who ended up buying from someone else, despite that relationship.

Most sales people mistake the need for loyalty with relationship. Consider that “75% of customers who leave or switch vendors for a competitor, when asked, say they were ‘satisfied or completely satisfied’ with the vendor they left, at the time they switched.” Customer Loyalty Guaranteed’ Bell & Patterson. I’ll bet you every one of those sales people would tell you they had a good relationship with their buyer, but they still lost the revenue. Like it or not, The Challenger crowd raises some interesting questions about relationship sellers.

So what happens when a relationship seller gets promoted to a manager? They have spent their careers nurturing relationships as a means of achieving revenue, wanting more to be the customer’s friend and advisor, rather than a subject matter expert fit to challenge convention, willing to shake it up a bit and get the buyer to buy what’s right, leading the process instead of trailing behind or just being a passenger.

Well they continue being that same way when it comes to managing. They don’t so much lead from the front, but more manage from behind a desk. They present expectations rather than set them. But mostly they fail to help their reps because they would rather have a relationship above all else.

I see too many sales managers (former relationship sellers), who dance around expectations, who don’t inforce and reinforce things, who see metrics as a nice to have not as a means of driving change and improvement, as something that needs to be inspected, and no it is not OK if it is missed. Managers’ goal should be to lead sales people out of their comfort zones, build calluses and develop their skills and talents. Sometimes getting them to stretch requires more than a smile and suggestions, it requires challenging the rep, setting some nonnegotiables, and following through with the consequences. Hard to do when you are fixated on relationships above all, some of your best sales people will not always be your best friends.

Speak to most people who were in the service, and one of the people they speak most highly of after the fact, the ones they have the most lasting and genuine relationships with, and they’ll point to their first drill sergeant, the one who helped them most to make the transition from civilian life to military success. And believe me, it wasn’t based on relationship first. It was success first, and relationship on that foundation.

Why Are You Still Doing Pipeline Reviews?2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Nigeria Sale Concept

Why?

While this long entrenched ritual has some utility, it more often than not ends up being a painful and torturous waste of time. Reps are rarely truly prepared and while this is not excusable, it is usually because they feel that regularly these are a CYA exercise their managers go through. Numerous times I have seen mangers schedule their pipeline reviews just in advance of their review with their higher ups in the hierarchy, not much in that for the rep but the stress.

The whole concept of a pipeline “review” is flawed and a practice that should be a relic of the past, a past where CRM’s did not exist, and managers had to submit everyone to the grind, be that one-on-one or a group agony. Some still tell me that a pipeline review meeting is conducted to confirm and validate the information in the pipeline on each deal, be that end date, deal size, weighted likelihood of closing, and other data are all accurate. Why? Their answer “Managers need to ensure that their sales forecast is accurate, questionable opportunities that could impact accuracy, need to be identified, flagged and or removed.” CYA, fun with numbers, the manager brings his/her subjective bias to things, the Director adds his/hers, and by the time it makes it “upstairs” the plot and theme of the story has little to do with the rep.

The other subtexts is about coaching “Great coaching opportunity”, but is it. I find most use it to talk deal and tactical strategies to closing the deal now, a good thing, but not coaching. In fact when I ask most front-line managers if they have an annual coaching plan for individual reps, the answer is no, which is why the coaching is tactical and situation, all of which would improve if they were aligned to an ongoing development plan.

Others will point to the need for data quality, but I have always wondered why focus on the quality of the data rather than the quality of execution, if you had that, the data would be much better to start with.

So what is the alternative?

Switch gears, go from reverse to forward, from Reviews to Previews. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against reviewing deals, why we win, lose or get no decision at all, and there are many lessons to be gained. But if you want to help reps with their pipeline, and change ongoing performance, close more and beat quota, you need to look forward. Do pipeline Previews. Look at active opportunities they will be interacting with in the coming week, a better focus. Who are they going to see, why that person, what are they looking to specifically accomplish that will move the opportunity forward or allow them to disqualify it, yes take it out of the mix, what are the potential roadblocks, resources they may require achieve things. Examine how many new (real) opportunities are in the pipeline this week over last. These are not only more forward looking, more telling about the quality of execution but an opportunity to coach in the present, when it can make an immediate and long term impact, rather than review the past. Question of Leading vs. Lagging indicators and related actions. Do this regularly, weekly, rather than monthly, do it as a team, great learning by osmosis opportunity. Do not do this at the same time as a coaching meeting, schedule those individually, and another day of the week; yes formal coaching every week, over and above the situational daily coaching.

As I said above, want to increase quality of data, focus on improving the quality of execution. If they were allowed and instructed to take trash out of the pipeline, and coached on how to get real opportunities in, and then how to usher them through to close, the data would not only be impeccable, as well as the results.

Tibor Shanto

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Sales Management is not Cloning – Sales eXecution 2660

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Clone not
There has been lots written about the common mistake companies make in selecting new sales managers; specifically the habit of promoting some of their best sales people to the management ranks, whether they are suitable or not. To be fair, the thought behind the move is positive, rewarding deserving contributors, keeping good talent in house, and all that. There are also smart sales people who realise that management is not their first choice, who prefer and make the choice to stay in a sales role, usually with greater career satisfaction and financial rewards.

Adding to the challenge is that often these new managers are not given much help in the transition from being contributors, to effectively leading a sales team. Sure in companies of a certain size or better, they get basic training, you know, how to conduct performance review meetings, do’s and don’ts of harassment, racial sensitivity and other important “things”. But leading a sales team while managing a sales process is another thing, something HR often assumes will be provided by “the sales leadership”. In instances where this happens, it is sometimes worse that no help at all; what happens if the current sales leaders went through the same pattern of evolution, they just perpetuate the model; and the model is one of cloning.

While not isolated to the new managers above, cloning is a common and costly problem. The thought is “I was successful, they made me a manager, and they didn’t give clear direction to the contrary; so they must want me to make my team just like me.” Partially true, “they” do want you the make the team successful, as successful if not more than you were, after all the sign of a strong leader is one who surrounds themselves with people more talented than they. But this rarely means creating “mini me’s”, or even full size “me’s”.

The role of the sales manager, and other sales leaders, is to develop and bring the best out of all their teams. To shape individuals not in their image, (as man did with god), but into the best that their direct reports can be. People who can do that best, are not those who were the best front line reps. Just look and Wayne Gretzky, on the ice and behind the bench. Two different realities, two different results.

The notion that the best managers are those who have done it is simply not right. Most sales people know what they have to do, the challenge is getting them to do it. This requires a different skill set, different methods and tools, than those relied on for being a number 1 rep. Saying “here’s what I did, you can do it too”, is useless.

Every sales leader wants to surround himself with superstars, just as every coach wants a bench full of superstars. But they need to have excelled in the role of a coach. Hire someone who can lead a sales process, who can lead people to execute, the how is secondary.

Again, I understand wanting to reward star sellers, but there are other ways, ways that allow you to avoid leaving a territory short, and a disappointed sales team. The reality is that many of stars made managers often decide to go back in to the field to sell, and because of egos and politics, it is often with another company that is looking for a star, not a future manager or cloner.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

3 B’s Of Pipeline Success0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

3Bs

How you manage and stage your pipeline can be the difference between an OK year or career, or a consistently great one. To use a sport analogy, your pipeline is your core, no matter what sport you are in hockey, tennis, or running, a strong core, a well exercised and maintained core adds to athletic performance and lifts one competitor to victory over a comparably talented athlete with a less conditioned core.

Below are three things every seller should consider and do, no matter which methodology they use to sell, to lift their execution and results.

Bold – This speaks to who or which opportunities you choose to peruse, there is the element of pursuing ALL REAL potential prospects that others either ignore, or completely miss due to personal or corporate blinders. There are many potential buyers that are overlooked by a large number of sales people. Some don’t see the dots and as a result can’t connect them; others see the dot’s but fail to or are afraid to connect them. There is a lack of imagination and boldness in their approach.

Some will overlook things that fall beyond conventional qualification measures, an over reliance on BANT if you will. The key here is that they be REAL, meaning given the right circumstances they would buy your offering, and qualifying comes down to how you view your market, and choose to align your offering. Are you limiting your sights and pursuits to those people that have the pains or other mundane signals, those your product has traditionally addressed? If so, you’ll likely miss many REAL prospects or opportunities.

But if instead you look to see how you may help someone achieve their business objectives, your universe of REAL potential expands considerably. This is huge from a pipeline perspective, the more REAL potential prospect you’ll be able to identify, the more REAL opportunities you can fill your pipeline with. Since sales is to a degree a numbers game from a conversion ratio perspectives, more opportunities translate to more and or better sales, and at the minimum more options for you as a seller.

Binary – Leveraging the above, being binary becomes easier and more productive. Let’s explain what I mean by binary. Your pipeline should contain only active opportunities, those prospects you are engaged with now, and in turn they are engaged with you and the sales process; it should not contain anything else. All those potential “prospects” you are not currently engaged with, as great as they may be, are leads, and should be managed in your leads funnel, not your active opportunities funnel or pipeline. But many sales people, and by extension their sales organizations, hold all kinds of inactive opportunities in their active pipeline, distracting time and resources. There are some common examples of this: former prospects who you met once or twice, who smiled, told you they were “really” interested but have not met with you or returned your call in weeks. Sure, they send you e-mails, saying they are still interested, they are just tied up, or on another project, or are waiting for some event, or maybe just waiting for Godot.

These are not engaged prospects and need to be moved out of your pipeline. This is not to say that they are not worth pursuing at some point in the future, but in popular vernacular, they are in the nurturing phase, not active selling phase of a pipeline. Alongside these are those “prospects” who are talking to you, but are doing less than nothing to move the process forward, move them out, they are just filler, and you can’t have that. The only opportunities that should be in your pipeline are those where the buyer is taking reciprocal action, executing their buying process as you are executing your selling process, and together you move to a mutual agreement. Binary – active – not active; taking action – avoiding action; on or off; keep the on’s and get rid of the off’s. Don’t clog up your pipeline with crap, not a place for a heart attack.

Many fool themselves by looking at their pipeline and thinking, “wow, look at all the stuff I have in there”. Exactly, stuff not opportunities. This false sense of doing, just messes you up, and most importantly sucks up your time for a number of reasons, and most deadly, prevents you from prospecting. When we are stuffed we don’t eat, when the pipeline feels stuffed, you don’t prospect.

If you want to see this clearly, just look at any pipeline using the 90 – 60 – 30 method and watch how it piles up, what happens in the last 30 days; for validation just look at how many times opportunities are recast in the 30 day segment.

Blended & Balanced – I remember learning this lesson the hard way, I fancied myself an elephant hunter, and ignore many smaller and shorter cycle opportunities. Till one year the elephants went to a different field, and I was left short on my target. My friend on the other hand, she focused on the small and easy, didn’t over extend. Interestingly enough we both came in behind someone who had a nice blend in their pipeline, big, small, short, long, and everything in between. Seems obvious, but not always easy to execute. There are a lot of distractions, things to entice you, being a home run hitter has its appeal. But with planning and discipline, you can map out a prospecting regimen that helps you balance the pipeline just so. I now use a Plan P approach, P being for pursuit, this allows me to continuously balance things, think of it like balancing and rebalancing a portfolio actively to maintain the optimal mix for you requirements. This allows you to be Bold in you pursuits, forces you to remove the inactive opportunities clogging up your revenue artery, and maintain a productive and profitable pipeline.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

 

How Much Revenue Did You Lose at Quarter End?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Impact Question

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

 

Your Funnel Should Be A Horn Of Plenty3

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Harvest c

Most would agree that sales is not strictly a numbers game, but as with other issues such as closed ended questions, the pendulum at times seems to swing too far in one direction. While no one will argue that there needs to be a greater focus on quality than quantity, you also can’t get away from the fact that numbers play a great role in sales success. Just the plain simple fact that we are measured on our success with numbers, leads to the integral, if sometimes inconvenient fact that sales is a numbers driven sport.

I bring this up because of reaction to my piece the past Monday on how to deal with prospects who are reluctant to commit. At one point I mentioned that anything other than a firm yes is a NO, regardless of what it sounds like, and how much hope a statement may allude to. I went as far as to suggest that if you can’t get a next step you should walk away. Some questioned the soundness of that strategy, why would you walk away?

Well two things to consider, first, when I say walk away, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever revisit that prospect in the future, whether that be three months, six, or a year, you can come back. But the reality is that if you don’t walk away and engage with a real buyer, you will miss your quarter, and may not have your job by the time this prospect is ready to go. With all the tools available from e-mail, e-mail marketing, social media, you can be present in the prospect’s world, without having to spend valuable time while they are coming around. Walking away is not forever, it for your sales success.

The other which goes straight to numbers, has to do with the quality and quantity in you funnel. If you needed 5 prospects to close a deal, and you had eight real ones in your funnel, if one went soft, you wouldn’t lose much sleep, after you’ve got the five, plus a couple for insurance. On the other hand, if you needed five prospects to close a deal, you had three real prospects in your funnel and one went soft, you have a problem. Leading to the obvious conclusion that quantity does give you options when facing a quality issue.

Most companies struggling with their sales are struggling more from a quantity of opportunities perspective to a much greater degree than quality. The issue is that prospects they have are good, they just don’t have enough of them. In that scenario the logical approach would be to go out and get a few more good prospects, the numbers side of the equation. But most sales people believe they can breathe life into a dead deal with more ease than going out and prospecting more good opportunities. I never understood why they prefer being rejected by a prospected they have invested time, money and emotion in, than being rejected on a prospecting call.

Starting from a position of plenty, meaning more prospects as measured in numbers, gives you options, allows you to execute on the best opportunity. Having a small number of “good” prospects, will give you some quality but in insufficient amounts to assure success.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Does Your Pipeline Need a Stent?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

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The fourth quarter of the year holds a unique challenge for sales professionals. We not only have to close what we can by year end, but we have to prospect with more vigour than ever to ensure we go into the next year with enough momentum and opportunities to ensure a strong start to the year and our eventual success.

Coming out of the summer, we also have a lot of opportunities that have been parked, on hold if you will, due to the distractions of summer. All with the hope, and I mean hope, that now with everyone refocusing on business, they will revive themselves or be rekindled and result in sales. But experience has shown that despite the hope, intention and solid promises few if any come back on line with the promise they had when they were parked in June or so.

This leave pipelines full of names that some mistake for real opportunities, and end up consuming time and energy before we realize that all hope had left these “opportunities” soon after they were parked, or often even before.

All these opportunities in the pipeline end up looking and acting like plaque in ones arteries, creating blockages and bringing with it the risk of deal flow being restricted if not entirely cut off, by these blockers that we confuse with opportunities. Many confuse a full pipeline with a healthy pipeline, and nothing is further from the truth. Having a pipeline full of names, unverified “opportunities”, bring the same risk to your sales, as clogged arteries do to your health. It is important to clear the path, and allow real deals to flow unencumbered by wishful thinking and names in the pipe.

One impact relates to what a former colleague once said about having a pipeline full of names rather than opportunities: “What people emotionally believe their prospect base to be, triggers their urgency to prospect!” The illusion of all those names in the pipeline, the tendency or the need to follow through with each one, just distracts one from prospecting for new opportunities. “Look at all the stuff I have to work on”, leads to a lack of prospecting, and by the time you realise you need to adjust, that year end is close, and the ability to build momentum in to the coming year is gone or badly diminished.

The goal is to establish good rules for requalifying the pipeline, and not being afraid of letting go of all the crap that is just not real, and clogging things up. Rather than trying to make it real, as many will, learn to let them go, for now, you can always revisit, say it after me: “Leads Are Recyclable”. Eliminate the “maybes”, and move on the real ones, the ones willing to take proactive steps to make things happen now. Start by inserting a “Next Step Stent”, if they are unwilling or unable to act in a way a buyer would, then get them out of the pipe, they are a distraction, and again – you can call them back.

Work on those behaving like a buyer, not a tire kicker, if the story hasn’t changed since May, their status in your pipeline should.

Get that stent in there, clear out the cloggers, and close the real opportunities.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Surf’s Up! Riding the Pipeline to the Shores of Success1

Surfer

The Pipeline Guest Post – Susan Payton

This might come across as mind-blowing, but here’s the secret to better sales:

It’s not about getting tons of leads into your pipeline. It’s about how you treat them once they’re there.

When it comes to your sales pipeline, if you’re focusing on quantity—and not quality—you won’t realize the conversion rate you could if you instead worked on the following three goals:

  1. Qualify leads early
  2. Direct leads into the appropriate funnel
  3. Customize messages to each funnel throughout the journey down the pipeline

Know What a Lead Looks Like
No, “everyone” doesn’t qualify as a lead. Look at past customers you’d like to replicate. What characteristics did those customers possess? What were the actions they took to arrive in your pipeline? Those actions might include:

  • Downloading a white paper on your site
  • Signing up for your emails
  • Signing up for a free account or trial
  • Visiting a specific page multiple times

Technology allows you to be very specific in the actions you track online, so there’s no reason you should treat all leads equally.

Set up lead scoring criteria to help you identify hot leads early in the process. Assign a numeric value to the transactions that landed them in your pipeline, as well as a lead’s job title—for those B2B marketers—and demographics data if you can get it.

Target, Target, Target
You probably can identify certain types of leads or customers based on your past experience. You probably have seen leads who ask a lot of questions and are slow to buy—if they buy at all. You’ve also probably encountered those who want to make a decision now, and don’t require a lot of handholding. You can probably think of other types as well.

The point here is: you want to break down your initial lead bucket into as many funnels as possible so you can maximize the impact of your marketing messages to each segment. The quick decision-maker shouldn’t get the same automated emails as the questioning customer, because his lead time will be virtually nil.

Master the Marketing Message
Make sure your messaging fits the lead profile. That slow-to-buy lead will want plenty of information about your product, not a promotional offer. The quick customer may respond better to a $10 off coupon via email. Test until you’re getting the best conversion rate possible. One way to do this is with customer relationship management (CRM) software.

That software will allow you to align your offline marketing and sales efforts with the needs of each customer profile. If you’re using CRM for marketing and tracking valuable customer data, it’s easy enough to create categories for customer types, as well as develop a key your sales team can use to know how to best approach a given type of customer.

For example, if it’s customary for a salesperson to call every lead personally, he might not want to do so with a quick decision-maker. It might be unnecessary, and if all of the lead’s other behavior has been online, he might not welcome a phone call.

Track Everything
CRM software will only come in handy if you’re tracking the right information, which is pretty much all information about a customer. Every person who interacts with a lead should make notes about their conversation, as well as provide recommendations for future communications.

You should be able to look at a lead’s profile and get a sense of what he has responded to. If you’re automating email messages, you shouldn’t need to do much, provided the communication is effective. If it’s not, look at results across that particular segment and see if the lack of response is indicative of the bigger picture. If so, tweak the message and try again.

Continue to Tweak the Process
Sales isn’t an out-of-the-box solution for most brands. It’s a continual effort to discover what works to increase conversion and sales. But over time, if you’re paying attention to your leads’ responses, you’ll see better results, making the corrections smaller and smaller.

Your pipeline should net you a better conversion rate (and generate fewer dead leads along the way) if you’re truly paying attention to what makes your customers tick.

Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s also the founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners. She’s written three books: DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and contributes to several sites, including ChamberofCommerce.com, The Marketing Eggspert Blog, CorpNet, Small Business Trends, and BizLaunch. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.

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