Stand and deliver

Pipeline – Stand And Defend0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Lately I have had a chance to sit in on a number of “opportunity reviews”, and it is interesting how the format and tools have changed, the plot and the theme have not changed much beyond the costumes, props, and players.

Real or Fantasy

What was striking is that for the most part, these “events”, fall in to one of two groups, they are either objective, fact based exercise, leading to a realistic view of their opportunities, with the conviction one gets when one is fully engaged and working the opportunity.  The rest, they are much more subjective based, open to how people feel about what happened, with or without input from the buyer(s).  This has allowed the former group to act and speak about their pipeline with conviction backed by results, the subjective group, spends more time rationalizing the outcome than driving it.

It would be easy, and unfair, to blame sales people for this, but in many ways, it is the fault of their managers, and others in the organization that are paid to enable sales.  First, when it comes to opportunities, it should be less about reviewing, and more about moving them forward to a win.  Even after all the advancements in tools and other aids, many managers, especially those new to the role, look at these gathering from the wrong angle.  Above I referred to these rituals as an “event”, when they need to be ongoing process, reviewing the specific actions of the buyer, and planning and taking the next appropriate steps; do that and your pipeline and the opportunities in them, will fare better than if you’re just performing a CYA routine.

Of late, what has helped those with the subjective approach has been the rise in statistics they can present to support their cause; again, when you’re looking for cover, stats are great.  On the other hand, when you are looking to win deals, you want to evaluate things much more objectively, you want to examine the facts as presented by the interactions with the buyer(s), this ensures you are focused on things that lead you to quota, and maximize your most precious resource, time.

Statistics

A new wrinkle is now available to the subjective group, one they feel lends a bit of weight and validity to what they are doing, namely statistics.  Thanks to the sales tools and technology, there are more stats than ever available, and sales managers being the creative lot they are, are using them to shore up the state of opportunities in their pipelines.  Stats are good, but much more malleable than facts.  I’d much rather work with sales people who can present probabilities based on actions taken by the prospect, and all the people involved in the decision, than on comparing a current deal to statistics gathered in past leads.

Stand and deliverWhile it is true that there are many similarities between deal of the same product to generally similar companies, when you get close enough to read the numbers, they all unfold in their own way, even within broad parameters.  Each deal is different enough, that looking at stats derived from a collection of varied deals over time, to figure out how things may turn out in a current deal, does little to help you close that current deal.  On the other hand, if you look at opportunities based on actual things the prospect has said and done; your ability to speak to specific elements of the decision you need them to make.  How well you know the why, how, and what of their decision, based on what they say, and more importantly do, will have a greater impact on your success, than doing regression on a series of unrelated deals.

Execution – Everything else is just talk

The more you can stand and defend a deal based on actual things in the deal than subjective elements, the more likely you are to make right plan, take the right actions, and win based on the merits of each deal, than a regression model of the last 100 deals; especially since those have been won, and this one is still up for grabs.

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VR

The Change Game0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

No matter how one slices it, sales is a game of change. If you are the incumbent, the best way to avoid a client to change vendors, is to continuously introduce change in how your product helps the client achieve their objectives. If you are not the incumbent, then it is all about regime change. Both require that you capture and maintain the buyer’s focus, and have them adopt the change you represent. At its core, it is about first changing how the buyer/prospect views their reality. To do that, you need to do two things:

  1. Fully understand the buyer’s current view of their current state
  2. Get them to change their current view of their current state

Buyer Current State

This is not as easy as it first sounds, which why many sellers ignore it, and pay the price. Main reason is that it requires that we completely let go of our product and service, and immerse ourselves, not so much in the buyer’s view of our product, but their world, how they see it, where they see it going, why and how. Before you can change their view of their current state, you need to “live it”, so you can look at the issue the way they do, not the way you hope they do, or think they do.

It has been shown that opportunities have a greater likelihood to fall apart long before the talk of vendor or selection begins. Once they (buyer(s)), agree that there is a specific worth addressing, they then go on to see if and how it can be addressed. It is only once everyone agrees that that it is indeed addressable and how, does the internal conversation on the buy side turns to with whom, i.e. which vendor(s).

They may turn to the vendor community for information in the middle phase, but it is really for subject specific not product or solution specific info. Many vendors confuse this as a signal to pitch, when the buyer is actually looking for insights on the issue, how it impacts them and their objectives, and what others have done, see, and thought about in this stage, they are not looking for product stuff, they are not there yet mentally. And if you lead with product at this stage, you are putting your chances of being considered in the selection stage at risk.

So without an understanding of their current state, and how that state informs their views and actions; you will not be able to see what it will influence their views in a way that leads them to a view, which by extension, leads your product. Changing their state, their objectives, and the filters blinders, starts with you adopting their view, not hoping that they adopt yours.

Key here are their objectives, if you can align to those, especially those agreed on internally in the first stage “is this addressable?”, then you will be in a position to share how others have dealt with things, not how your product changed things.

The goal is to change their vision and outlook, and the impacts they want to deliver to their organization, it is not about getting them to change vendors to do the same as they are with their current vendor, with slightly fresher hue. It really is about doing something different, not just doing things differently #sellbetter Click To Tweet.

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Reach for goal

Who Is Your Best Prospect?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

On Monday, I posted about understanding and knowing the very next thing that needs to happen if a specific opportunity is to move forward to becoming a client.  Because I wanted to focus on a specific question, I glossed over the question I am sure many had as I set out a scenario, specifically when we ask sellers:

“Who is your best prospect?”

Talk about a loaded question inviting interpretation and misinterpretations.  If you do this with a group, you will get all kind of answers, about the only thing most have in common is the overload of subjectivity most have.  Once they finish describing the opportunity, ask:

Reach for goal“Why did you pick or go with that prospect or opportunity?”  To which I hear:

“It is the largest opportunity in my pipeline” (Be that dollars, units, etc.)

“They are the furthest down the pipe”

“I have been chasing them so long that…”

“They were a customer once, then they left”

Here is a challenge for you, what is the most bizarre response you get to that question.

At first glance you may put this off to different companies, but I got the above from people on the same team.

For the moment, it really does not matter which I, or anyone else, thinks is right or wrong.  What’s scary right off the top, is that there are multiple definitions of what is a “best” or a good prospect.  What I found that unless you get a uniform answer to that question, you can bet that they don’t even know what a prospect is.

That lack of definition is rarely the reps’ fault.  If based on your process and onboarding, and related training, there is still a divergence around this core issue, you need to stop, step back and plug this hole.

Not knowing what a prospect is, is a common problem, and it not only leads to pipeline full of crap instead of opportunities, that crap drowns out the few viable opportunities that do exist.  Definitions are important, they are not like some like to say, limiting, they help you utilize your time in the best possible way.

I was taught early that we need to call things what they are, and if I referred to someone or an opportunity as “Prospect”, it clearly stated that the “Prospect” was fully engaged, and if they were fully engaged, my manager should be able to see a clear Next Step relating to the opportunity in CRM.  Next Steps also need to be defined, you can see mine here, but to summarize, they need to be clearly agreed on by both you and the buyer(s), needs to move the opportunity forward, and be tied to a specific time.  I continue to be amazed at how many sales people have things at various stages of their pipeline without any clear next step, or in some cases plan.  Even worse, these are the things that go into your forecast, an opportunity sitting at 60% communicates something to the manager, sales leadership, finance and the entire organization.  So when a rep has something sitting at 50%, all because they had a good phone call, and the buyer told him to call back after vacation, what’s that going to do to you quarter, especially since they have not called them back yet.  I had a pipeline review with a rep once, he had 42 opportunities coming in.  Before getting to the nitty gritty, I asked which of these there were formal next steps with, only 2.  I know this is an extreme, but you need to go through your pipeline and ask how much an extreme, how many opportunities do you have a proposal stage without a next step?

This lack of definition why sales people’s time is consumed creating a narrative for their pipeline, rather than working their pipeline, especially when a manager’s idea of a pipeline review is having a story for their review with their superior. This is why many managers, never trained in finance, become experts at factoring.  When your time is spent adjusting forecasts up or down based on past experience with a rep, forcing you to live in your spreadsheet rather than that expensive CRM, you are not leading from the front or adding value to your team, just revaluing worthless numbers and forecasts.

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Prospecting Dynamics0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Proactive Prospecting Summer – Part 6

In this segment of Proactive Prospecting Summer, we look at the importance of the unspoken in prospecting calls.

Telephone prospecting, after all, is an exercise in communication. If we take the experts at their word, communication is roughly 60% body language, the one thing we don’t have working for us on the phone, or e-mail, or LinkedIn; 30% intonation and expression, and only 10% the words used to communicate. Yet most of the effort by sellers in prospecting is focused on words “the messaging”, and little effort to compensate for the 60% not available to at the time of the game. Which is a lot like getting the best warhead, then placing it on a delivery mechanism that is bound to miss the target.

When we call someone unexpectedly, unscheduled, we need to ensure that we are cognizant and balancing for environment, on both ends of the call. What’s gone on before the call, going on during the call, and things likely to happen as a result of the call? Managing all that, is managing the dynamics of the call, take a look.

Next Step

How to prepare, manage and execute is dealt with in much greater detail in the Proactive Prospecting Program available on-line at Sales Gravy University.

 

Concept of afraid businessman like an ostrich

Inaction Risk0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Risk is a big factor in sales, and there are many ways to manage, mitigate and manoeuvre risk. One can argue the biggest risk for both buyers and sellers is unforeseen risk, by any involved in the journey. But there is a big difference between unforeseen risk, and ignored risk. If you are breaking down the game tape after each meeting or sale, you should be in a position to continuously identify and or anticipate likely or common risks that come up.

As we have highlighted when discussing prospecting objections, while we can predict the five or six most common objections, there will be instances where there is a new objection. The second time you hear in short succession, it confirmation that it is an objection, a “risk” in the prospecting sense; as professionals, it is up to us to be ready to deal with it in a way that preserve and advances the opportunity. The same with risk, the more you review and prepare, the less likely that you will have unforeseen risk.

But there is a risk that is right in our face, yet many choose to it, and that is the risk of inaction. For the most part, we are talking about inaction by the buyer, but if you are a manager, you know that at times, it is rep inaction that brings risk; although I must say, the latter one is much easier to resolve.

Sellers know that the Status Quo has a lot of allure and comfort for buyers. We have been told again and again, that client complacency, the Status Quo, is our biggest competitor, no argument, and we have been trained in so many ways to get the prospect to see us, our product, the concept of a change, in a less risky light. But there is no getting away from the fact that unless the missile is headed right at the building, most people’s propensity is not to act, or act in as minimal a way possible, so as to not change or shake the Status Quo.

 

One of your goals going into any sale is to deal with the potential of inaction. Given we live in a “good enough” buying environment, and the fact that most products are indistinguishable from the competition, the buyer’s unwillingness to act is likely the biggest risk you face. If you can get them to move even in the slightest way in the right direction, you can build on that small momentum using all your usual methods. They say life’s a bitch, but I vote for inertia.

The only way to deal with it is head on, meaning you need to raise the subject in a way that a) does not scare them; b) gets them to put their fears out in the open. Remember there is more to it than your product. There are internal processes, impact on other departments, personal and “corporate politics” risk, implementation, and the potential snipping from those whose project got passed over to implement yours, and more. If you can get them to surface and articulate, you can deal with it.

You can start the ball by putting an example out there, a solid one based on your review of previous similar sales.

“You know Martha, I was working with this company in Cleveland, and they had the following concern about __________________.” See how they respond to that, if they ask for you to elaborate, it is a sign that they are acknowledging and willing to explore, this is your opportunity to open things up a bit more. If they don’t react, continue providing more detail, “as a result they stayed on the sidelines for a long time. It was only after  (this happened, they saw, customers left, reduced market share, etc.) , that they finally implemented the system, but ….”

If we do not remove in action as an option, it is one of the most common risks in B2B sales. It is important to remember that dealing with the risk of inaction is part of the formula, you still need to understand their objectives, what you can add, and all the things that give you momentum during a sales cycle. But getting them in motion, to be open to the other elements of your sale, you need to move them, and eliminate the risk of inaction.

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Why You Want Sales To Be A Numbers Game2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

If you follow this blog you know that I do not understand or stand with those who say sales is not a numbers game.  While I agree that the focus should always be about quality over quantity, the reality is that no matter the quality of your prospects, you will need a given (minimum) quantity of quality sales in order to meet, or better yet, exceed quota.  Now, unless you are one of a privileged few, there is no getting away from the fact that your quota is a number!  You’re going to have to deal with, and use numbers to meet or exceed that all important number.

Numbers = Accountability

I find it amusing that many of the pundits who insist that sales is not a numbers game, will drone on for hours about conversion and conversion rate.  They are absolutely right, without those ‘numbers’ (conversion rates) it is not only hard to plan, but know where you are, so you can refine your plan and execute.  This may explain why so many sales people fail to achieve quota.

Knowing your key conversion numbers gives you the power to take charge of your success and be accountable for your results.

Can’t Measure Everything – But You Should Measure Some

Part of the problem is the lack of imagination displayed by many managers, sales leaders and enablement types.  They use numbers as a weapon, and each time they are at a loss to explain why things are the way they are, they add another measure to the mix, leading to their people working the numbers rather than the sale.  The fix is in focusing on key numbers that help one plan an improvement plan that will the rep execute and win sales, not just hot arbitrary and meaningless numbers.

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What to Measure

I find four numbers give you the opportunity to continuously leverage them to improve your sales approach and execution, and by extension your success.

  1. Deal size
  2. Proposal to Close
  3. Discovery to Proposal
  4. Initial meeting (live or virtual) to Discovery

To change any of the above, you will need to develop a strategy for change and improvement.  As you implement the plan, you will be able to measure and review, and make changes based on the results.  Numbers 1 & 4, will require you to change your territory and account planning, while challenging who you prospect and how.  Number 3 & 4, forces you to examine and how well you can engage and help the client articulate how you can help and deliver value, and maintain focus, if not urgency.

These are tip of the iceberg things, the devil is in the detail, and the execution.  We plug these into a proprietary tool that helps our clients develop improvement plans for their reps, based on real world inputs.  This in turn allows them to plan specific improvement plans for individual reps, while still supporting a standard sales process.  And what makes it work are the numbers.

Failing to focus on numbers in sales, always results in the number on your commission check decline or dwindle; but you don’t care cause sales is not a numbers game, and neither is your mortgage, right?

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no-rules

There Are No Rules In Sales3

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

It’s hard not to laugh sometimes when I hear sales people say something like “Well, it’s supposed to go like this…”, or “I was told to do it that way, cause when we do that the prospects do…” But instead I am empathetic to their plight and innocence. Empathetic, because some manager or pundit told them that if they took a specific step or action, the prospect would react in some specific way. But we all know there are no rules in sales, especially rules that prospect will behave in any way just because of what we may do.

Now pundits have books to sell, and managers have their own agenda, a common one they share is their need for you as a sales rep to act on what they say, hard to do if they mentioned that there are no guarantees, usually because there are no rules.

Studies continue to show that less 20% of Sales Qualified Leads actually close, call that handshake to close, less than 20% – so even if pretended there are rules, they clearly don’t work if the measure is success. I suspect that that as long as sales continues to dependent on interaction between two or more people, rules are hard to articulate or impose.

no-rulesI keep hearing, buyers have changed, and one reason for that is their greater access to information, information about you, your competitors, and if you’re active on Facebook, where you had and what you had for dinner Friday night. You know what else they have access to, sales and sales related info. You think only sellers buy and read sales books; you think that sellers are the only ones who can subscribe to sales blogs and update. I bet more buyers read sales blogs than sellers who read blogs about purchasing, or role specific sites that speak to the different functions covered by the 5.4 people likely to be involved in your sale. There are no secrets.

With buyers who have gone through a few buying cycles, are likely more familiar with “Seller Personas” than many sellers are with buyer personas. In fact, I know buyers who place bets on which category of sales the next person to visit will wear. Based on what they see, they too adapt a persona, just to mess with and see where the seller goes with it. The only time they are genuine when dealing with a genuine individual.

To be genuine, you need to understand what you are doing well, here defined as things that people respond to, and what is not getting you traction with real buyers. By real, we mean, not exclusively price driven, and does indeed buy in a realistic timeframe from when you initially engaged. Since people differ, leading to differences in experience, your best shot is to commit to a formal process of reviewing all the opportunities that qualify to be active in your pipeline. As you gather and grow data, you will be able to bell curve the data and begin to see what works more often, and what doesn’t. As you approach similar situations, you will be able to use those things that have worked in similar situations in the past. Think of it as trial and error with the unfair advantage of data and experience. It will take a bit of work in the form of analysis, but given the apps and tools available today, gathering the inputs is easy. I guess the only rule may be that there are no silver bullets or codes to crack, just act-review-apply learning. A simple but effective rule.

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businessman on the beach

Dog Sales Of Summer1

Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Given that we are right in the middle of summer, and that today is a holiday long weekend here in Toronto, my mind naturally drifted to a summer theme, no doubt helped by things I’ve consumed by poolside. Looking around the water’s edge, you begin to see things here that remind one of sales. I was going to start with bikinis, but I got tagged by the Politically Correctness Police (PCP) last week, so we’ll save that for below.

There is no denying that vacations and other factors lead to summer slowdowns, but that may be just what you need on deals that may have stalled in Q1 or Q2. It’s important to remember that this has internal implications for your prospects as well that you may be able to leverage to restart discussions and the stalled deal. First thing to understand is why is it stalled, at a high level what changed if anything. If their objectives have changed, then any decisions related to that objective will be put on hold. The good news is that many long term objectives do not change as often as some tactical plans. The stall is usually in the how “we get there”, not “where we’re going and why”.

It is entirely possible for objectives to remain steady while tactical plans change. At times the initial path considered may not prove to be optimal, and while they review or adjust, everything gets put on hold, but not everything gets changed or replaced. In fact, it is during these “stalls” that you can step into the void and take on the role of a Subject Matter Expert. When you do, you can circle back with more than “I’m just following up”.

Instead of looking for the deal to be back on, you need to first help them recommit to their objectives. This allows you to be a resource to help them get “unstalled”. In my own practice I had a client that acknowledged they wanted to use my services, but had a number of obstacles that had to be dealt with, and it was clear that they weren’t going to do it on their own, given the number of people and strong opinions. Changing gears, I worked with their VP of Strategy to set up a meeting at a hotel around the block, the meeting was advertised as an objective review session, seemed like the right time of year for an “off-site”.

It was clear that not only had their objectives did not change, they were all still committed to them. But there were some lesser “departmental things that loomed large when they each sat in their office, but paled when on the whiteboard with the bigger more important objectives. This made it easy to not worry about the lesser things and refocus on the bigger objective. Without this I would still be working the deal.

Once you confirm that the objective(s) has remained in place, you can pivot to helping them unclutter things, refocus them on the impacts on their business they set out to achieve, and how that is only a gateway to further success. This approach is often more likely to be considered during the summer lull rather than when the pace is hectic. What else you gotta do?

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Cross training

Five Reasons Your Sales Team Should Be Cross-Trained0

The Pipeline Guest Post – Chase Hughes

As small companies grow, they often see a specialization emerge in their salesforce which only grows to increase its segmentation from one another. The sales department grows to become independent from the customer service, marketing, and other areas of the business. As a startup company, many sales forces intermingle with other departments as they are often in the same floor, right next to one another, and may even be the same person. As companies grow, they can learn from these early stage companies by cross-training their sales team in other areas, or at least promoting engagement with other areas that impact sales. This admittedly does require an investment, but in this article, we will explore five points for why it is helpful to cross-train your sales team.

1. They have a deeper understanding of the customer

The most effective companies have a very strong understanding of their target customer including their demographics, psychographics, and on an emotional level. If a lead generation salesperson has very little interaction with the customer, it would be very difficult to understand any of these points. However, if they interacted with the marketing department, they would be able to effectively understand the quantitative variables from the marketing team and the emotional aspects from the account managers.

2. They understand how their behavior impacts the company more

When a person playing a single role within a company does not have substantial interaction, it is unlikely that they will understand how their behavior impacts others in the company. For instance, a salesperson that only focuses on closing may say things to the customer that negatively impacts the relationship. They really may not care so long as the deal is sold, but the customer may not last long.

3. They feel more engaged with the company

If salespeople understand the role that they play in the pipeline, then they may see the significance of their engagement with it. If they are highly isolated from the company, they do not have much interaction to see how their results influence others in the company, the customers, and the company in its entirety.

4. They have a better understanding of the unique selling proposition

The unique selling proposition for a company is generally not something simply listed on paper; it must be fully understood. If salespeople are interacting with everyone and cross-trained in some other areas, they may see the ‘big picture’ about how the company is actually unique, not just read a script which states why.

5. Other customer facing employees may benefit from their sales experience

Cross-training sales teams and getting them exposure to other parts of the company isn’t just for the benefit of your sales team. There may be product managers which can benefit from interaction with your account managers and ‘closers’ benefiting from training from lead generation experts. Everyone has something to learn and it may not be your sales department at all.

About Chase Hughes

Chase Hughes has six years of experience working in the consulting sector and three years in the private equity sector for large multi-nationals and emerging startups. He is the founding partner of Pro Business Plans, a service that writes business plans for debt and equity capital for startups.

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New Or Improved

Same New, Same New!0

Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

We are familiar with the expression “same old same old”, indicating that little has changed save the packaging. This is why you don’t see marketers and ad folks lead an advert or campaign by proclaiming that this “new thing they are presenting, is really the same as previous versions or releases, but we did slap a fresh coat of paint on it”. Instead we are presented with yet another new improved dish detergent, that leave the plates no cleaner than last year’s model. We have all seen our favourite web site introduce “upgrades” that feature little or no new functionality, just buttons moved around like the deckchairs on the Titanic.

I think that in sales, for something to qualify as “new”, not swept clean or rinsed off, but truly new, it should have two elements, A) it should allow you to do something in a measurably more efficient way while leading to more prospect and/or sales; B) it should change your behaviour and how you execute moving forward. For example, when BlackBerry introduced the first device to combined e-mail and phone in one handset in 2002. Clearly made one more productive in a sales context and clearly changed the way sales people, and all business people behaved after it’s adoption. Many of the specialized productivity apps you find on tablets, had the same impact on many roles.

As sales professional your most valuable asset is your time, your most valuable tool is your sales process or sales-flow. Any “new” thing, be it a sales tool, app or methodology, should be measured against those two elements, do they free up time that you can reinvest into selling, and do they help you execute your process better, leading to you being able to sell better and more? If they do great, the time and effort invested, the momentary distraction of applying something new, are all worth it given the increased sales and productivity that will follow, and on an ongoing basis. If not, then is it really worth your time and distraction?

While I know a lot of Apple groupies, few get every release of the iPhone. The question that needs to be answered is whether the change was either needed, due to a shift in the market or a flaw with previous iteration. If not, it is a safe bet the biggest beneficiary is the person/company selling the “New”. Did the provider of the service, hardware, software or what have you, manufacture the impetus for change, and is the only one pointing to it, or did it evolve because of a hole in the market? If it is the latter great, especially if that hole is impacting your ability to succeed. If on the other hand the only one impacted by the “new” is the guy selling it, you should spend time elsewhere.

If leveraging your process to better use your time and improve execution to sell better is something new to you, start there, worry about buying something new later. New does not equal good, good equals good, and the test for that is not newness.

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