Do you have a clogged sales pipeline?

clogged sales pipelineWhen your pipes are clogged, you call the plumber.

When your sales pipeline is clogged, who do you call?

You can speak to your sales manager. Maybe he can help you. Or, you could speak to your co-workers and seek their advice.

But at the end of the day, your sales pipeline is your responsibility.

Before I move forward, let’s define what a clogged sales pipeline is – it is a pipeline in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system where you have too many leads that you are not following up on, or have fallen through the cracks.

This can happen for several reasons. Maybe you are spending too much time attending trade shows, and you haven’t had time to make follow-up phone calls. Maybe your sales territory is too large, and you don’t have time to cover it all. Maybe you are receiving too many inbound leads, and you don’t have time to call them. Whatever the reason, a clogged sales pipeline can hurt your ability to increase sales, which in turn, means smaller commission checks.

What is the solution?

1). Winnow down your leads – review them on a monthly basis and eliminate the leads that are not high priorities, and you strongly suspect are not going to buy soon. That doesn’t mean that you should drop them completely. You can always circle back in a few months. But for now, put them on the back-burner and focus on ones that will close soon.

The biggest mistake a lot of salespeople make is that they sit on leads far too long when they know in their guts they are not going to order. Keeping those leads in your pipeline only distracts you, and makes you look incompetent. And depending on how leads are distributed to your sales team, you may be hurting yourself from obtaining fresher and better leads from your sales manager.

2). Do you have real leads? Or are you sitting on a bunch of prospects? What is the difference? A lead is a client that has either contacted you and has expressed an interest in your products or services or is a referral that you received from one of your existing customers. A lead is also someone who you have contacted directly and is interested in speaking with your further, but he hasn’t “sealed the deal” yet. On the other hand, a prospect is a potential lead that fits your client profile, but you haven’t contacted him yet.

My point is to make sure you have a pipeline of active leads that could close soon, and not a bunch of prospects that you have to weed through.

3). What is your sales cycle? Every industry has its own sales cycle. Depending on what you are selling, it can take anywhere from a few days to two years to close a sale. For example, if you are selling products or services that historically have a two-week sales cycle, but you are still sitting on leads after six months, maybe it’s time to close those leads lead and circle back later. Or better yet, make sure you are actually contacting the right decision maker. Maybe the real reason your sales pipeline is clogged is that you are contacting interns and secretaries rather than the CEO or someone in upper management. And check the phone number – I actually know of salespeople who spent months calling the same phone number only to find out later they were calling the wrong number. Or worst, they find out the hard way that the lead left the company months ago, and the HR department never bothered to forward the phone calls or emails to another employee.

4). Are you following up enough? Another reason you may have a clogged sales pipeline is that you’re not following up enough. As a general rule, when making cold calls, space your contacts out every 4 days. Unless you’re told otherwise by a lead, stretching out your contacts too long could be hurting your sales. Make at least 8 to 12 attempts (by phone, voicemail, and email). After all of those attempts, if you still haven’t talked to your lead, put him on the back-burner and contact him later.

Clogged pipelines are not difficult to clean. Just use some best practices and common sense, you will find yourself back on the right track.

Note: If you like my post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

The 10 spookiest things about Selling

spooky things about sellingWhat keeps you up at night? Is it the imaginary monster you remember from your childhood that is still hiding underneath your bed? Is it the ghostly sounds that you hear outside your window while you’re trying to sleep? Is it your black cat that’s scratching your bedroom door?

With Halloween fast approaching, what are the 10 spookiest things that scare you the most about selling?

1). Not getting enough qualified sales leads

Do you want leads? Sure, here’s the Yellow Pages – start calling! Seriously, most salespeople complain about the lack of leads or the quality of what they receive from their marketing team. But hey, thanks to the Internet, there are tons of free and paid sources now available. So stop complaining, and don’t be afraid of doing a little research.

Need help? Here are a couple of books you should consider –

New Sales. Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development, by Mike Weinberg and S. Anthony Iannarino.

Power Prospecting: Cold Calling Strategies For Modern Day Sales People – Build a B2B Pipeline. Teleprospecting, Lead Generation, Referrals, Executive Networking. Improve Selling Skills, by Patrick Henry Hansen.

2). Getting little or no training

You were told by your employer that you would receive training after you were hired. Instead, you were introduced to your work area and given a prospect list – now start selling. What should you do? Start reading. That’s right – start reading sales books, blogs, and articles. Start watching YouTube videos about selling. Study your company’s products and services inside and out until you know them by heart. Do what you have to do to be successful – because while your employer may not care, you better give a damn about your job. After all, what’s even scarier than little or no training is standing in the unemployment line.

Don’t know where to begin? Here’s help –

Here is a link to a guest blog post I wrote for Will Reed Jobs, an Austin based job hunting agency for young salespeople –

Ten books that New Salespeople should Read

And HubSppot has a list of the 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.

don't panic in sales3). The “no show” prospect

I know. The prospect accepted your meeting calendar invite to view your short webinar, but he disappeared. Where did he go? Did he fall down a pit? Are you going to curse the darkness? Of course not! Don’t panic. Just pick up the phone and try to reschedule the appointment. Things happen. Prospects get busy. Don’t take it personally.

4). Competitors who lie, cheat and steal

Hate them or respect them, competitors exist in every industry. You can either be afraid of them or fight them. The choice is yours. While you may want to boil your competitors in a cauldron of oil, the better approach is to stop worrying about your competitors and just do your job. In the long run you will succeed while your competitors fail.

5). Cold calling

A cold call isn’t cold unless you make it so. Do a little research first before you call a prospect. Is he the key decision maker? Do you feel you have a solution that will help him? Or better yet, try to get a referral.

6). The mysterious marketing department

You heard about the mysterious marketing department, but you’ll be damned if you know if it really exist or not. Is it a ghost department that only comes out at night when everyone else has left work? You were told that the marketing department was going to provide you qualified leads, but you haven’t seen any for a while. Did the leads end up in the quicksand?  (See number 1 about finding your own qualified leads). And if your company’s social media efforts are still in the dark ages, start your own blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account, and become more active on social media yourself. While your marketing department may be invisible, you shouldn’t be.

salespeople pouncing on trade show attendees7). Trade Shows

So you’re afraid to stand at your exhibit booth during trade shows. Don’t be. Chances are, most of the attendees are just as scared as you are because salespeople are pouncing on them like vampires every time they near a booth. Rather than asking good qualified questions, those salespeople are sucking the life out of attendees. Don’t be like that. Act cool. Show some respect. Don’t scan and scam. Take a more consultative sales approach when meeting with attendees. Believe me, in the long run it will pay off.

Here is a good article from Jane Applegate on “How to Work a Trade Show.”

8). Conversions of your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system

You love your CRM. It helps you keep track of your sales notes, customer contact information and all of the records you need to do your job. But another salesperson came along and sold your employer on a better CRM. Now what? It’s conversion time – that long, lengthy, agonizing period of exporting all of your data into the new CRM. Scared? Hell, you should be. Because sometimes important data has a way of ending up in a dark hole that will never be found again. (I’ve gone through 5 conversions in my career. In one case, the programmers forgot to transfer our sales notes. In another case, they forgot to transfer all of our expired clients). But don’t be afraid – instead, download and save all your information or print it out. But whatever you do, protect your information or it may disappear.

Here a good article from Chuck Schaeffer on “Lessons Learned in CRM Data Conversions.”

bogeyman as a sales manager9). Bad sales managers

Yes, we’ve all been there, done that. But your sales manager may not be the bogeyman you think he is. Like you, he’s under pressure to make quota or achieve sales goals. The only difference is that he has to depend on you and the entire sales team to make it happen. That’s scary. There are a lot of books and articles on how to deal with difficult managers – here are a couple –

A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses: Dealing With Bullies, Idiots, Back-stabbers, And Other Managers from Hell, by Gini Graham Scott Ph.D.

Dealing With Horrible Bosses: How To Handle Bad Managers at Work! (difficult managers,poor boss,difficult bosses,work bullies,bad bosses,bullying at workplace,bullying at work), by Damon Lundqvist.

And VorsightBP, a Northern Virginia based sales consulting firm, has an excellent webinar on “10 Tips to Transform Sales Leaders From Micromanagers into Great Coaches.” (You have to submit your contact information to watch it, but it’s worth it).

10). Slow sales periods

Every industry has its slow periods. You know, that time when most clients are not buying because it’s the holidays, or it’s the summer or whatever lame excuse you are given. So does that mean you slow down? Hell no. Find other prospects to contact. When I once worked in the accounting industry, tax season was considered a slow time to call on CPAs, accountants and tax preparers. Unless you loved getting chewed out by stressed out accountants facing the April 15th tax deadline, you pretty much left them alone. While that made sense, we didn’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves – instead, we contacted libraries, nonprofit organizations and financial institutions that we thought would be good candidates for our tax research program. You do what you have to do to hit your quota.

What scares you about selling? Please send me a comment.

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

10 ways to Shorten your Sales Cycle

Let’s face it. No one likes a long sales cycle. The longer your sales cycle, the longer it will take you to earn your commission.

I’ve had sales cycles that have lasted anywhere from one week to two years. Sure, sometimes a high-priced item will take longer to sell. That’s a given. But don’t let your prospect treat you like a wimp. Sometimes you need to use a little tough love to ensure that you are not wasting your time. You’re a professional. Act like one.

So, how can you shorten your sales cycle?

1). Decision Maker – make sure you are speaking to the right person at the beginning of your sales cycle. Yes, some prospects will lie and tell you that they are the decision maker. OK. Play along. But start doing some research on LinkedIn or the company’s website to make sure that you are talking to a heavy hitter and not a summer intern.

herding prospects in salesOne good way of avoiding the “decision maker lie trap” is to ask about the decision-making process. Note, I said process, not who is the decision maker. By asking about the process, hopefully your prospect will not lie to you and string you along. Instead, he will explain how his company makes purchasing decisions.  More companies than ever have more than one decision maker, especially if you are dealing with a mid-to-large company. Just like herding cattle, you have to be patient and rope in all the decision makers.

2). Time Line – it doesn’t hurt to ask upfront what your prospect’s timeline is for making a purchasing decision. If they tell you within the few months, hold them to it. If they tell you in 6 months or longer, maybe you should circle back when they have a budget and interest in making a purchasing decision.

3). Pain Points – why now? Is there any urgency in them buying your product or service? What type of problems are they having that you feel you can solve for them? But just don’t ask about pain points – make sure you have a solution that will help them. Clients don’t buy products or services – they buy solutions. Make sure you have one that they can use.

4). Budget – do they have budget to make a purchasing decision? If not, maybe you should check back when they are ready. Sure, you may do a short demo or presentation of what you are selling to gauge their interest, but don’t devote too much time until they are in a better financial situation.

5). Competition – don’t be shy. Ask upfront if they are considering other vendors. Sometimes prospects will surprise you and honestly tell you that they have already considered others, but now they are considering you. That’s great. Ask why they didn’t consider the other vendors to ensure your service or product will meet their expectations. This will put you in a better position to offer real value to your client.

6). Limit Trials – depending on what you are selling, some prospects will want to do more than one trial. That’s OK, but don’t let them string you along.

Salesperson making a phone call, closing7). Firm Scheduled Call-backs – try to set hard scheduled call-backs or follow-up calls. The more specific the day and time of your next appointment, the better chance your prospect is really interested in what you have to offer. Send a calendar invite. Send a short email the day before reminding them of the appointment. Try to hold them to it. If a prospect isn’t willing to schedule firm appointments, maybe he’s not serious. The last thing you want to do is make endless phone calls, or leave countless voicemails and a stream of emails.

8). Ask pre-close questions – along the way, try to measure the client’s interest and determine if there are any objections. The sooner you overcome objections, the  better chance you have to close quickly.

9). Call High – stop wasting time calling low or mid-level managers who don’t like making decisions or who may not be the right people to speak to. Call the CEO or the president. You will be surprised that sometimes he will recommend the best person to speak to in his company. So when you call the real decision maker, you can drop the CEO’s name, and hopefully move the sales process a lot faster.

10). Use various cold calling techniques – making phone calls isn’t enough anymore. Use a combination of email, voicemail and social media (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn) to move your sales process along.

To learn more about shortening your sales cycle, please read Lean Selling: Slash Your Sales Cycle and Drive Profitable, Predictable Revenue Growth by Giving Buyers What They Really Want, by Robert J. Pryor. 

Mr. Pryor’s main argument is that selling is a process, and to be more successful, you need to adopt his best practices and advice to achieve your goals. But he cautions that you can’t do it alone – your entire sales department – indeed your company, must adopt his program.

What are some key Cold Calling Techniques?

cold calling in salesWhile some sales experts argue that cold calling is dead, I believe that cold calling is very much alive and well – and needed, if you are going to increase your sales. While it’s great to receive inbound calls or make warm calls to prospects who are already familiar with your company, at the end of the day, you have to make your share of cold calls in order to survive.

Gavin Ingham, sales motivational speaker, argues that cold calling will make you feel more control of your destiny and more empowered.

I agree. Sure, you can sit around waiting for the phone to ring. But really, is that a great plan? No. You have to be more proactive. While social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) and marketing (e.g., trade shows) can help, you have to reach out to your prospects directly if you want to increase new business.

Mr. Ingham offers 10 tips for making cold calls. I will add some tips and insights of my own below.

1). Plan and prepare your opening statements. A good way of doing this is to tell the prospect upfront who you are, why you are calling, and mention that you have a product or service that could help them (e.g., save money, improve productivity, save time). And then ask the prospect if you could ask him a few questions.

For example, you may say “Hi, I’m Bob Smith with ABC software company. We offer a software program that can help you prepare taxes for your clients more quickly and efficiently.”

Then you go on to say –

“We have helped our clients reduce their workload by 40%, so they can focus their time on other activities like seeking more clients. I’m confident that I can do the same for you. Would you like to learn how?”

As Mr. Ingham points out, put yourself in the client’s shoes – what will your product or service do for my business and why should I care?

All prospects have fears and concerns. Is your price too high? Are you a highly reputable company? What is the availability of your customer service or technical support team? What is the difference between your product vs. your competitors?

And also, what value are you offering your prospect? What makes you different compared to all the other vendors out there selling similar products or services? You don’t have to go into a long explanation, but find something that stands out that your client will remember you, and hopefully, he will be asking you questions.

What you don’t want to do is use deception or tricky when you reach your prospect. Do that, and you will be dead in the water before you had a chance to proceed.

2). Get in the right state of mind, and expect success. You don’t feel like making cold calls today? Too bad. Whatever negative feelings you have, bury them deep, think positive thoughts, and start calling. Maybe watch a positive motivational video on YouTube to get you in the proper frame of mind. Or take a short walk around the block to clear your head.

3). Know why cold calling is important to you – it’s unrealistic to assume that you are going to close a sale on the spot with the first call. So why are you making a cold call in the first place? Simple – to set an appointment. That’s it. Your goal is to set up an appointment so you can go into more detail later about what you have to offer. An appointment can be a face-to-face meeting, a phone conference or schedule a webinar (demo).

4). Practice delivery. You should have a couple good opening statements written down. Practice them repeatedly until you feel so comfortable making your statements, that it sounds natural and unrehearsed.

questions for cold calls5). Plan and prepare relevant questions – I always have a list of questions to ask before making any calls. Also, it helps to do a little research on the prospect of contacting him. A great source is LinkedIn, the company’s website and industry newsletters.

At the end of the day, you have to find out if what you are selling is going to help solve your client’s problem. But sometimes your clients may not even know if they have a problem until you ask good questions to raise some concerns.

What you don’t want to do is ask lame questions like “How are you doing today?” – especially to high-level clients who are probably very busy, stressed out, and most likely are not doing very well at all.

And never ask “Is this a good time to talk?” – because you are giving your prospect an opening to end the call on the spot before you even have a chance to speak further.

6). Have your support tools to hand – don’t forget to have pens and paper handy for taking down notes. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to have a comparison sheet of your products and services vs. your competitors, or some other notes highlighting some of your key benefits. In short, be prepared to answer questions.

7). Divert calls and minimize interruptions –  If you are working in an office, from home, or in a high cubicle, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, it may be more difficult to do when working in an open space environment. Hopefully, your employer is using white noise to minimize the noise level, and you are sitting in an area where you are not going to be distracted, or dealing with a lot of multi-tasking projects.

8). Set clear objectives – don’t wing it. As mentioned above, your goal is to schedule an appointment to move the sales process further.

9). Don’t put your phone down or better yet, wear a headset. Personally, I prefer wearing a headset so it frees up both my hands.

10). Master your physiology. Sit straight. I know of some salespeople who use a small mirror to force themselves to smile while speaking to prospects.

I would also add that using scripts could help you when making calls. Eventually, you will develop your own voice and techniques and abandon the scripts altogether, but in the beginning, using scripts can help. Yes, of course, your goal is to understand the value that you can offer your prospect, understand his problems, and ask good qualifying or needs based questions. But using a script in the very beginning can help you until you feel more confident speaking to prospects until you can get it down cold.

Speed matters too. I don’t mean speaking fast, I mean have a process and system in place that allows you to make a lot of calls on a daily basis.

Here is Mr. Ingham’s video below –

3 Tips for building Trust and Rapport

Michael Bernoff, a sales and business coach, makes 3 key arguments about developing better trust and rapport over the phone with prospects –

trust in sales1). Tone matters – are you excited when you are on the phone or do you sound exhausted? I once received a phone call from a salesperson who was selling financial services. He sounded very exhausted and I could tell that he had been making too many phone calls. I advised him to take a break, drink some water and relax for a few minutes. He told me he couldn’t because he was required to make between 80 to 100 calls a day! I told him good luck with that.

2). Physiology check – how do you feel? Are you sitting straight in your chair or slumping over? When I speak over the phone, I always pretend that the person on the other side is seeing me. It helps me to stay focused. I’ve known salespeople who actually use small mirrors next to them while making calls. It forces them to watch their facial expressions and ensure they are projecting a positive attitude.

3). Emotional drivers – you need to better understand people’s emotional drivers. If they are worried about paying their mortgage, don’t focus on the worry, instead focus on finding a solution. In sales, our goal is to be problem solvers. Yes, find the problem, but don’t belabor the point. Instead, focus on asking good qualifying questions and then slowly arrive at a solution.

Below is his video –

Recommend: Close.io “how to sell” video presentations on YouTube

Steli Efti, Founder & CEO of Close.io, has created an excellent 16 part video series on how to sell. The series is posted on YouTube. While the presentation focuses mainly on inside sales and start-ups, some of his advice can also help outside salespeople and those working for major corporations.

Here are some of the key takeaways –

Salespeople need to hustle1). Hustle –  you have to hustle if you want to make sales. Sitting on your ass and waiting for the phone to ring isn’t going to work. If you want to get into the money zone you need to get out of your comfort zone. You have to be proactive. While you hope your company has a good marketing department that can provide good inbound leads, you have to take responsibility for your own success. Remember – the marketing team isn’t working on commission – you are. So start calling.

2). Show up, follow-up and close – really, in summary, that’s what selling is all about. Just showing up daily (and on time), making your calls, following up with more calls and emails, and closing is the key to your success. It’s not rocket science. You just have to be consistent in your actions. Sure, there are certain techniques that you can learn along the way. There are a lot of books, articles and blogs to help you. But when you think about it, selling is like acting – you just have to bury your negative emotions and bad mood, and professionally play the role you were hired to do. You have a process, use it well, and you will be successful. But don’t try to fake it until you make it. Clients can spot a phony a mile away. Just make it work – now.

3). Rejection is your friend – Embrace it. If you are not getting a lot of rejections, you are not doing your job well. Don’t focus on just the low hanging fruit – go after the high hanging fruit  with the potential of bigger sales. Low hanging fruit is for order takers. Salespeople don’t take orders – they make orders happen.

4). Be a Journalist –  Ask good questions. Listen more and talk less. If you really want to help your clients and solve their problems, you need to dig deep by asking good qualifying or needs based questions. You want to be seen as a problem solver, not a sleazy salesperson trying to peddle his wares.

5). Value – focus on selling value, not features. When you do a feature vomit on your client, he will run, not walk, away from you. Remember – it’s not about you, it’s about your client. What value do you offer that’s going to solve his problems? If you don’t have what the prospect needs, be honest, and move on. As the old saying goes, there are plenty of other fish in the sea to catch.

6). Lead generation – as I mentioned in other posts, there are many ways of finding leads. But before you start buying or developing leads, review your existing customers (if you have any). Create a client profile of your top 5 to 10 best customers. Who are they? Why are they buying from you? Do you see any patterns? Once you have a good idea of who your clients are, you can then start targeting prospects that fit the same pattern. It’s better to narrow down your prospects than waste time going too broad. Yes, a wide net will catch a lot of fish – but do you want big fish or minnows?

7). Objections – there is a lot of advice on how to handle objections. In my opinion, the most common objection is price. However, it’s always a good idea to list some common objections and have answers prepared for them. In short, it’s better to be ready and respond with one or two sentences, then fumble around sounding like a fool. Because if you sound like a bumbling idiot, the next sound you hear will be “click.”

8). Send emails – contrary to popular belief, cold calling is more than just making phone calls and leaving voice mail messages. You also need to send emails. Some clients respond better with emails than by phone. No problem. The key is to connect with your prospect and hopefully get the sale. Phone, email or carrier pigeon, do whatever it takes to make the connection. Get a response. If it’s no, OK…but don’t cross your prospect off your list too fast. Try to circle back later. Maybe he will be in a better mood or have budget to move forward. Based on studies I’ve read, you need to make anywhere from 6 to 8 attempts before a prospect will acknowledge your existence.

To help you learn more about selling, Close.io is offering a free 30-day startup sales success course sent to you via email.

Here is the link – http://close.io/free-sales-course

I thought the videos were on point. I have two criticisms – First,  I wish the Close.io would put the videos on an organized playlist on their YouTube channel to make it easy to follow each presentation. I found myself jumping around too much trying to find the next video in the proper order.

Second, Mr. Efti argues that start-ups shouldn’t hire traditional salespeople because they don’t know how to adjust to an ever-changing work environment. I disagree. I’ve worked at major corporations that constantly go through reorgs and other changes throughout the year. I also know salespeople who have worked at major corporations who had their compensation packages changed every quarter – if not every month.

For example, one of my friends uses to work for a popular large car dealership in the Washington, D.C. area. Every month, the car salesperson with the lowest sales of the month would be fired – regardless of his seniority or his sales record YTD. Why? Because the sales manager wanted to keep his sales team “on their toes.”

Nice guy.

My point is this – any good salesperson has to know how to be flexible in order to survive. The business world – whether we are talking about start-ups or major companies – is changing all the time. If you are seeking a nice, safe conservative job, become a banker or an accountant. The sales process is constantly evolving – either keep up or switch careers.

Close.io has other videos I would recommend that you check out. Also, the company has one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read about selling. Yes, they are promoting their product to some degree (hell, we are all in sales). However, the blogs offer great sales advice that you can apply in any industry.

Below is a sample video from the 16-part presentation –