5x Steps To A SALES PIPELINE That Delivers INCREDIBLE RESULTS

Norman Behar is a proven sales leader with over 20 years of senior sales management experience. He is currently the CEO and co-founder of Sales Readiness Group and on this episode of the Salesman Podcast, Norman reveals the 5 steps to a sales pipeline that delivers incredible results.

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Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Norman Behar
Senior Sales Management Expert

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Transcript

Will Barron:

Does your sales pipeline suck? Well, in this episode you’re going to learn the five steps, the five processes you need to go through to make it kick ass.

 

Will Barron:

Hello, Sales Nation, and welcome to today’s episode of The Salesman Podcast. On today’s show we have Norman Behar. He is CEO of the Sales Readiness Group, he is the author of The High Impact Sales Manager. And on today’s show, we’re diving into pipelines. Whether yours is good, bad, atrocious, we’re going to help you out with five ways that you can normalise it. Go through, get rid of the clutter and essentially, improve your win rate, which is a really important metric for sales success. So with all that said, let’s jump in to today’s show.

 

Will Barron:

Norman, welcome to The Salesman Podcast.

 

Norman Behar:

Will, it’s great to be back. Thank you so much.

 

Will Barron:

Glad to have you back on, mate. We’re going to dive into a topic today, which I think has real practical use for the audience. I like these episodes, when there’s a practical step-by-step or takeaway that they can implement and hopefully up their game straight after listening. We’re going to talk about win rates, we’re going to talk about opportunity management.

 

Why Are Your Win Rates Low? Why Do You Suck at Closing Deals? · [01:03] 

 

Will Barron:

And, where I want to start with this is somewhat of a leading question, because I’m pretty sure I know where you’re going to go with this. And that is are win rates, if they are low, are they typically low because we do all the hard work and then we suck at closing the deal at the far end of it? Or, is it because we’re not qualifying correctly at the beginning and then managing our pipeline as we go along?

 

Norman Behar:

I think for sure, the latter. We’re just not doing a great job of qualifying. I think when someone looks at your first point, about maybe not doing a great job of closing, there may be some closing techniques that can improve and things that can marginally improve how you close. But, win rates are generally determined really from the very beginning of the sales cycle. How you prospect, how you call plan, how you qualify, how you present, how you manage objections.

 

“Win rates are generally determined from the very beginning of the sales cycle. How you prospect, how you call plan, how you qualify, how you present, and how you manage objections.” – Norman Behar · [01:42] 

 

Norman Behar:

So if you focus just on closing, closing may be a little bit like going to the doctor and saying, “I’ve got something that hurts.” But actually, what’s driving that may not be the actual item that’s hurting, but maybe some deeper symptom. So to your point, I think it’s much earlier in the sales process and particularly around qualification.

 

The Acceptable Win Rates Salespeople Should Be Aiming For · [02:11] 

 

Will Barron:

So this is very likely turns the whole sales conversation on its head, for a lot of the audience and a lot of the management that are listening as well. And obviously, I appreciate it changes per industry, per product value and things like this.

 

Will Barron:

But, is there a rough win rate that we should aiming for? Or, do we need to be looking at historical data within the organisation?

 

Norman Behar:

Well, I think to look at your actual win rates so that you’re doing a pipeline forecast, you would definitely want to look within your organisation. And, some organisations have very, very high win rates, some organisations have lower win rates. So clearly, reverse engineering your wins to take a look at your win rate makes a lot of sense.

 

Norman Behar:

The actual win rate, I think, depends on the industry, the complexity of the deal, the size of deal. If you’re in a very transactional type of business, you probably have to have a very, very high win rate. As the deals get more complex, I really think qualification becomes more important.

 

Norman Behar:

So I don’t have an absolute number for you, but I would say if I had to throw out a number, I’d say at least a 30% win rate on opportunities.

 

Will Barron:

And just to clarify this, for myself and the audience here, we’re saying 30% of the people within our pipeline, CRM, however we’re storing this, they will close. Something like that?

 

Norman Behar:

Maybe that’s a little bit high, if we think about qualification being the very, very beginning of a pipeline. Because at the qualification stage, you could be talking to a lot of people. But, once it becomes what I would call more of a developed opportunity or a qualified opportunity, I would think you’d want to win 30% or more of your qualified opportunities.

 

Will Barron:

Okay. I want to dive into how we qualify, perhaps in a second. I want to dive into the role of the salesperson and the sales manager, and the responsibilities that they perhaps have. Because I feel, a lot of the time, that salesperson want to have all the responsibilities for this, they want to control it. I’ve never been in management, but it’s probably the same for them because their targets and their quotas are based on, obviously, the performance of the people that they’re working with so they probably want to have control of this as well, so I want to dive into that dynamic.

 

Why Most Salespeople Manage Sick/Weak Pipelines · [04:15] 

 

Will Barron:

But before that, are we filling up our pipelines with just too much crap and not qualifying enough at all? Because seemingly, from the conversations that I’m having at the moment, whether it’s a debate on cold calling’s dead, cold calling’s around, social selling is working, it isn’t working, it seems like we’re all just scratching to get an anything that we possibly can versus really doubling down and qualifying on things.

 

Will Barron:

Are we too trigger happy to bring people in to our pipelines in the first place? Because clearly, that means it’s harder to clean up after the fact.

 

Norman Behar:

I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think it’s okay to have a lot of opportunities come in, depending on how you define your pipeline. But most of our clients, and we internally, have the first stage of our pipeline as initial qualification. So to the extent you have what I would call sales qualified leads, leads that meet your general parameters in terms of target audience, the person you’re talking to and a legitimate interest, I think you could spend a little bit of time right there, just in terms of initial qualification. I actually think having a lot of opportunities at the beginning is a good thing.

 

Norman Behar:

I think the problem is that those opportunities are often then left in the pipeline, so you get what we call a bloated pipeline. This is an area we’ve written quite a bit about, in terms of how do you manage a pipeline. But, what happens is the opportunities are in there for too long a period of time. Some of these should be only in initial qualification for a relatively short period of time. Either it’s qualified and then progressing through the pipeline, or it’s not qualified now and becomes something that you nurture, and really more of a lead as opposed to an opportunity.

 

Norman Behar:

It’s not a matter of having too much in the very beginning of the pipeline, but more a matter of having too much that stays in the pipeline, as opposed to getting qualified and either advancing or moved out of the pipeline.

 

Will Barron:

I think you’ve stumbled on something here, which I think is important for the audience. Some management listening and yourself probably are going to do this, and face palm in a second. But, I think there’s quite a lot of salespeople that don’t understand, and I’ve suffered from this in the past, that don’t understand the difference between a lead and an opportunity. Obviously, there’s different ways of defining this.

 

Leads Versus Opportunities in a Sales Pipeline · [06:20]

 

Will Barron:

But, I know in the first medical device company I was in, there was no real separation between the two. Especially as they were being documented, it was everything goes in. And then, at some point, hopefully it moves along the funnel. Versus, should we be thinking about these as two separate entities? Of we’ve got leads that, as you use the word, then nurture. There’s perhaps relationships we need to build around them, especially if it’s a more complex sale. Perhaps we need to get into the account. Perhaps things aren’t quite as simple as what we first, when we get a response from someone downloading a white paper or we get an inbound lead, perhaps it’s not as clean cut as what we think it is.

 

Will Barron:

Should we treat those differently than what we call an opportunity, where someone has really raised their hand and there is a genuine opportunity to close business here?

 

Norman Behar:

I think we should. And sometimes, one leads to another. Many companies are running lead generation campaigns. Social selling is a way of generating leads. Marketing partners are a way of generating leads. Perhaps, this interview may result in some leads for our business, people might be interested in some of the content.

 

Norman Behar:

At that point, you really want to try and have a discussion. That could be an email discussion, it may be a phone discussion. Their first interest, if they were downloading content or attending a webinar was simply learning more. So figuring out what they wanted to learn more about, as opposed to what you can sell them, is really important. Because ultimately, they’re going to start to self select, they may be an influencer, they may be a decision maker. So I think treating that lead more as a suspect is probably a better way of looking at that.

 

Norman Behar:

And then, as you start to identify that there is an opportunity you can work on now, it should go into your pipeline. If it’s something that’s going to happen much later, much better to keep it classified as a lead.

 

Norman’s Definition of an Opportunity From B2B Sales Context · [08:00] 

 

Will Barron:

Just as we drill into this, because this is fascinating for me, what in your mind, or your process here, Norman, what defines an opportunity?

 

Norman Behar:

I like to use a simple acronym that pretty well used in our industry and it’s more of a marketing term. But, you’re probably familiar with the term BANT. BANT is an acronym for budget, authority, need and timing. So it may not have all of those criteria, so if you held every single lead to that criteria, you may not have enough opportunities.

 

“Just because someone shows interest doesn’t mean they have a need. So you really need to start asking the right type of qualification questions to understand more about their business, what problems they’re trying to solve, is it a compelling problem. If you can build around need, then you begin to understand, does the person I’m talking to have the authority, do they have the budget, and how soon do they want to solve the need” – Norman Behar · [08:33]

 

Norman Behar:

So certainly, the most important one of those initially is the need. I think that just because someone shows interest doesn’t mean they have a need. So really, asking the right type of qualification questions to understand more about their business, what problems they’re trying to solve, is it a compelling problem. If you can build around need, then you can get to, “Well, does the person I’m talking to have the authority, do they have the budget? How soon do they want to solve the need?”

 

“Quite often, the problem with leads is there’s more an interest than a genuine need.” – Norman Behar · [08:54] 

 

Norman Behar:

I think, quite often, the problem with leads is there’s more an interest than a genuine need. So I would say, think about as you’re moving it down the pipeline, I think they really do need all four to buy, budget, authority, need and timing. But, as a first step of qualification, what is the business need?

 

Will Barron:

Okay. Let’s paint a picture here, of Sam the salesperson, they have done well in their qualifying. But, they’ve got a whole, big mound of pipeline that is not moving as fast as what they’d like and they’re not winning as much deals at the far end as what perhaps they’d like. So they’re going to sit down with their sales manager, they’re going to do a pipeline review.

 

Will Barron:

There’s going to be quite a lot of salespeople right now who are shivering and getting a hot sweat on. And, I used to hate these because I used to see it as an opportunity for the manager, not always but potentially, to have a go at me. And to complain about this, this hasn’t moved forward. And, what’s going on with this one? It was almost like the pipeline wasn’t under scrutiny, it was me personally that was under scrutiny. We can dive into that, perhaps another time, of the insides of the mind of the sales professional, as we go through this.

 

The Science of Pipeline Management · [10:13]  

 

Will Barron:

But, if we are to sit down with our sales manager, what are the responsibilities, what are the things that we should be doing on either side of the table, as we go through a pipeline? What’s the end goal of a pipeline review, or things like that? Those kind of meetings where we sit down, and we want to clean out the rubbish and progress things forward, go after the low-hanging fruit. What’s the roles of each of the individuals in that scenario?

 

Norman Behar:

So, let’s talk a little bit about the management or company role, in terms of how the pipeline is defined, because this is a problem that we see over and over again in organisations that really creates a lot of confusion for the salespeople. I would call it, first, the science of pipeline management. There’s really three things that the company or the manager needs to do, particularly in a large organisation, it really needs to be consistent from manager-to-manager.

 

Norman Behar:

One is to clearly define what the pipeline stages are. So what are your pipeline stages? Maybe there’s five stages to your pipeline. And, what are the criteria associated with each stage? One of the problems that we see is that the stages are named, but there are no criteria associated with them. You could have salespeople with different opportunities in very different stages. So making sure that the opportunities adhere to the criteria would be the first one.

 

“I think companies often get too caught up in their sales process as opposed to the purchase process. But, for an opportunity to advance from let’s say solution development to proposal, is a customer actually asking for a proposal and willing to review a proposal?” – Norman Behar · [11:32] 

 

Norman Behar:

Second, would really be to take a look at what are the exit criteria. So to advance from stage to stage, what action does a customer have to take? I think companies often get too caught up in their sales process as opposed to the purchase process. But, for an opportunity to advance from let’s say solution development to proposal, is a customer actually asking for a proposal and willing to review a proposal? So having that velocity driven by the customer.

 

Norman Behar:

And then, third really comes to time in stage. If you have a six month sales cycle, what’s a reasonable amount of time for an opportunity to be in a particular stage? Maybe that’s 60 days. I think that you get these bloated pipelines, and the company, by the really just setting clear criteria, tracking velocity and really looking at the advancement, that’s the science of pipeline management.

 

Norman Behar:

I think there’s really five things that we need to look at, as we’re doing the pipeline review, in terms of advancing those opportunities. These can be done in a dialogue with the sales manager, having a discussion, very appropriate during a pipeline review. But, to the extent that the salesperson can start asking themselves these questions, even before they meet with their manager, they’re going to really understand how well qualified their opportunities. And, as we set out in the title of this podcast, really improve win rates.

 

Norman Behar:

The first question is what’s a customer’s business need? I think, quite often, we have a temptation because we’re excited about leads, to confuse interest with a need. So we have to ask a lot of questions, we have to be really great listeners and really understand, is there a business problem they’re trying to solve, and asking questions that would really lead them to understand the impact of that business problem.

 

Norman Behar:

The second is to really make sure, if there is a business problem, is there a unique solution we offer that’s clearly differentiated? In other words, start really figuring out, can we present our solution in a way that it aligns with their business problem, so that we are highly differentiated.

 

Norman Behar:

A third area, and we see this all the time, is not a clear understanding of who decision makers are. So quite often, if you really think about particularly marketing leads, many of them may come from influencers. So we’re out spending a lot of time, but we aren’t necessarily understanding what the decision making process is. Great salespeople really will ask, “Let’s say you decided to move forward with us or one of our competitors. What would that approval process look like?” And, really starting to navigate who are the key decision makers are what’s our relationship with them.

 

Norman Behar:

So what’s the business need, what are our unique points of differentiation, who are the decision makers and do we have access to them. And then, a simple question. Who are we competing against and how are they going to try and beat us?

 

“By understanding who you’re competing against, it gives you a chance to really understand what are their strengths and how are we going to position yourself.” – Norman Behar · [14:16] 

 

Norman Behar:

I was just on a call yesterday with a prospective client that was issuing an RFQ. And just asked him, “I’m just curious, you’re talking with us but you must be talking with some others. Are there other companies?” They just volunteered. So by understanding who we’re competing against, it gives me a chance to really understand what are their strengths and how are we going to position ourselves.

 

Norman Behar:

And then, the final question and I think is really key, is why will we win? And, can the salesperson articulate, based on the business need, our unique points of differentiation, our access to decision makers, our competitive positioning why we’re going to win?

 

Norman Behar:

So these five simple questions that a manager can ask a salesperson, or better yet a salesperson can ask themselves, will really help get the salesperson to go back to the customer to either find out more information about the need, maybe find out more about the decision making process, or to start to maybe disqualify and put less emphasis on deals where the probability is low, just given the facts.

 

Customer Actions That Warrant Movement in the Sales Pipeline · [15:10] 

 

Will Barron:

So there’s loads to go at here, I’m going to take it back to when we were talking about the science of the pipeline, perhaps the sales manager side of things. You said something that was interesting to me and somewhat nuanced, I just want to define it. Are we looking to move someone along the pipeline when the customer reacts to us? When they agree, when they send us information, when they do something. Or, are we looking to move them down the pipeline when we do something? Of we’ve sent the proposal, we’ve done XYZ. Which way around should the pipeline work?

 

Norman Behar:

Definitely be driven by the customer action. In other words, we could take every single action, but the goal of the sales process is to take the customer through their purchase process. So we should really define what are the criteria, and then the exit criteria, the advancement as you said, from stage to stage, to be driven by customer action.

 

Norman Behar:

So yes, we in fact are going to be sending the proposal. But, think about all the salespeople who will send proposals out and then get radio silence. The customer has agreed to review the proposal on such-and-such a date with us, we have a meeting to review the proposal. Or, we have an online meeting. But, it’s got to be driven by customer action. The customer basically has agreed to the proposal and asked us to review an agreement. We have to make sure that it’s driven by customer action, otherwise we may be fooling ourselves.

 

“By asking the customer to take action, we’re really seeing how motivated they are to really move forward with us.” – Norman Behar · [16:20] 

 

Norman Behar:

I also think that it takes friction and two sides to a sale, the customer and the salesperson. By asking the customer to take action, we’re really seeing how motivated they are to really move forward with us.

 

Will Barron:

So this, anecdotally, is something that I’ve experienced with sending quotes and having the sales process, as it’s defined and as it goes through the CRM, being on the back of my actions rather than the customer’s actions. And, just a very quick example of this.

 

Will Barron:

Medical device company I used to work for, Japanese philosophy, it’s all very monitored, it’s all very Kaizen and step-by-step process. And, at the end of every year, financial year and then at the end of every year that we were targeted on, there would be a big push for us to send quotes. Now, no one, no procurement officer in the NHS here in the UK is spending 100, to a million, to two million pounds on something because they’ve got an invoice. Sorry, they’ve got a quote on their desk. It’s never going to happen. So I never really understood why we did this. When I asked management about it, it was very clear to me that they were told from higher up that, “more quotes means more deals.”

 

Why You Need to Move the Sales Conversation Based on Customer Action · [17:32] 

 

Will Barron:

What if we were to turn this on its head and had the next point of the CRM, the next point of the process of, as you described, we’ve sat down with the potential customer, we’ve gone through the proposal, gone through any objections. Then, that warrants moving along the CRM, it warrants perhaps sending quotes, as long is its got that backup. There’s always a really interesting differentiation there, between the two, that I wanted to just clarify a bit further with you.

 

Norman Behar:

Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting point. It not only applies to the pipeline, but just generally to a sales conversation with a customer. In other words, if we go on a sales call, and quite often the manager and the salesperson get in a car after a call and they might say, “Great call.” But, what really defined a great call? But, if they had a customer driven call objective coming in, “Hey, if we’re successful in this call, the customer’s going to set up a meeting with three of four of the decision makers and let us provide a demo,” then we have some clear criteria in which we can evaluate this call.

 

Norman Behar:

We also recommend having some customer driven objective going into a call, so we can actually say whether this was in fact a great call, or what additional work we need. I think, quite often, when there are not customer driven criteria, whether it’s associated with a sales call or associated with a pipeline, you end up with a lot of bloat.

 

Norman Behar:

It sounds like, in your prior experience at that medical device company, you guys got a tonne of quotes that didn’t go anywhere towards the end of the year.

 

What is a Business Need? · [19:00] 

 

Will Barron:

100% they didn’t go anywhere and it was a pain in the ass to send the quotes. And, it was a pain to then document it all. It was just time spent, not doing stuff that works.

 

Will Barron:

So moving on from this then, from the management side to the questions that we should be asking about our own pipeline. A few things I want to define here, that I think we can go a little bit deeper with. So the business need, is it a qualified lead, is it a useful lead? If we know that the customer or the potential customer has a need, but they don’t know it yet. Or, is it only qualified when they raise their hand and they say, “I’ve got this problem and you might be able to help or solve it?”

 

“If we know a prospect has a need, it’s not going to be enough. They have to articulate the need before it becomes a qualified opportunity” – Norman Behar · [19:33] 

 

Norman Behar:

Well, I think it’s a little bit of both. In other words, if we know they have a need, it’s not going to be enough. They have to articulate the need.

 

Norman Behar:

So as a sales professional, we have to be skilled enough in asking questions and creating a dialogue with a customer, where we’re asking open ended questions that really help them articulate what their need is. If we know there’s a need, or even suspect there’s a need, it’s not going to be enough until we get them to articulate that need. And at that point, when they can articulate the need, then it becomes a qualified opportunity.

 

How to Get Your Prospect to Articulate a Particular Need · [20:01] 

 

Will Barron:

To use the target as we were describing just then, should the target be that the customer has physically said the words towards, “I have this problem?” Or, it’s in an email. Is that the target that you should be aiming for with that?

 

Norman Behar:

Yeah. I think you want them to express what the need is. And then, if that need’s not clear enough, that’s where you want to ask additional solutions.

 

“We not only want to identify what a prospect’s need is, but we want them to really start thinking through what are the benefits associated with solving that need.” – Norman Behar · [20:36]

 

Norman Behar:

You also don’t want to just understand what the need is, but then you want to tell them the benefit of solving the need. Because a need, in and of itself, I have many needs, many of which I might leave unsolved. Why would I want to solve this need, what will be the impact on your business. We not only want to identify what the need is, but we want them to really start thinking through what are the benefits associated with solving that need.

 

Will Barron:

Okay. And then, number three which was decision makers and relationships. How far along … because that’s almost a separate pipeline around the conversation. That’s almost we’ve got the account pipeline and then we’ve got the individual pipelines of relationships we need to build as well.

 

When To Be Excited About a Lead · [21:02] 

 

Will Barron:

How far along those relationships do we need to be, before we can say that this is really qualified and I’ve got a reasonable opportunity of winning it? Is it that we’ve defined the decision makers, we know who they are, perhaps we’ve looked them up on LinkedIn and we can see that we perhaps have some access to them. Or, is a lead really qualified and really something to be excited about, once we’ve started having those conversations with them?

 

“Once we know that there is a need and we can help them understand the benefit of solving that need, then that lead definitely belongs in the pipeline.” – Norman Behar · [21:33] 

 

Norman Behar:

I think once we’ve gotten someone, hopefully an influencer, maybe lucky enough to have a decision maker, articulate the business need, then it’s an opportunity. Once we know that there is a need and we can help them understand the benefit of solving that need, then it definitely belongs in the pipeline.

 

Norman Behar:

Now, advancing from stage to stage, I certainly wouldn’t want to necessarily have a proposal that we would send out without necessarily understanding who needs to evaluate and review that proposal. So as I’m starting to understand that business need and working on a proposal, I’m going to want to start asking, “Well, if you were to move forward with a solution, who would be involved? Who are the other key stakeholders?” I don’t even have to ask exactly who the decision maker is, I really want to understand who are the key stakeholders.

 

Norman Behar:

If we’re selling a CRM solution, clearly sales is going to be a stakeholder, finance is going to be a stakeholder, IT is going to be a stakeholder. And then, eventually who’s going to have to sign off, so I do want to understand that.

 

Norman Behar:

If we held ourselves to all these criteria as entry criteria, we would have an empty pipeline which is the opposite problem of a bloated pipeline. I think we want to start with what is needs identification and then start to have a solutions dialogue that really gets to the need. Just using our own pipeline, then we would go to create proposal, review proposal, agreement, and either closed won or closed lost.

 

Norman Behar:

I think to the extent we’re really true to each of those stages, to figure out what do we need to do in each stage. But, first stage we want to identify what is the business need. As I mentioned before, as we start to move the deal through, the budget, the authority and the timing are also going to be very key elements of pipeline management.

 

Will Barron:

And, I think you’ve probably answered the next question with that previous answer, Norman. It seemed that you’re using specific wording with number five, of why we will win versus why we could win the business. Again, is this a binary of if we go at this, we’ve got a real high chance of winning so you can have the belief in yourself. Because this is almost, I can imagine, the sales manager sat opposite going, “How confident are you?” And you go, “Well, I think we can do it.” And they go, “No, you will do it,” and they’re screaming down and trying to get you motivated. Which is great, but it’s obviously a different conversation altogether.

 

What Are Win Themes and How Do They Influence a Salesperson’s Win Rates · [23:30]

 

Will Barron:

But, when we’re talking about pipelines, when we’re trying to be analytical about things, is something worth going after if we could win it? Or, should we be focusing our time … In complex B2B sales, so I’m talking about selling 500 widgets a month. I’m talking about those three to one deals a month, a quarter. Should we be focusing on the deals that we will win versus trying to just a bunch in the pipeline that we possibly could win?

 

Norman Behar:

We’re not going to have 100% win rate. Even the best organisations don’t have 100% win rate. So the question why will we win is not to guarantee that we’re going to win because we wouldn’t expect to have 100% close rates. The real question is making sure they can articulate some win themes and that they’re pretty confident in the win themes. Now, it may be that a competitor had better win themes and we were outsold. Or, maybe they just had a solution that better aligned with the customer’s needs. But, we have to be able to make sure that we have win themes.

 

Norman Behar:

I think having the salesperson be able to say, “Here are the key win themes,” which really get back to our points of differentiation and why they’re important to the customer. So if our competitor is selling how large they are and their global footprint, a win theme for us might be, “Hey, we’re much smaller, much more personalised and as a result, you’re going to get to work directly with one of our managing directors, who has deep expertise and will actually be able to better understand what your business problems are.”

 

Norman Behar:

So being able to articulate key points of differentiation in the form of win themes. If you think about advertising and any kind of marketing, there’s typically two or three messages you want to drive home, that really gets to what are our win themes. After we’ve done all the discovery, why are the key reasons we think we will win?

 

Why You Need to Start Being Realistic with Your Sales Targets and Expectations · [25:30] 

 

Will Barron:

You touched on something here, which I think is an interesting thing to perhaps deliberate on a little bit further, Norman. That is how real we should be with this, because I know not the last sales manager I had but the one before that, if I’d had said to him, “I think the competition has a good chance at this. I’m somewhat confident, but they’ve got these aspects that we don’t have.” I’d have immediately been nervous of being whacked around the head with a heavy object. He was trying to motivate and coach, less so coach but perhaps more motivate and get me pumped up and riled up, he wouldn’t accept that. He would say, “Your products are the best on the market,” which they were. And then, he would give me 500 reasons to focus down and win the deal.

 

Will Barron:

Do we need to be more real in these conversations? Again, with ourselves, but then with the sales manager as well. Do we need to have an open and honest conversation, rather than this stereotypical bullshit, bravado sales professional that is going to win everything and is going to save the world?

 

Norman Behar:

I think you’ve already answered the question in the way you phrased it. But, I think we do need to be intellectually honest. And we should understand who we’re going up against and what their competitive points of differentiation are, because to the extent what they are going to be positioning as their win themes, we may be able to come up with more compelling reasons as to why they should select us.

 

“We shouldn’t fear the competition, we shouldn’t be intimidated by the competition, and we shouldn’t discount our own role, in terms of the impact the salesperson has in the sales process. But, I think being able to take a look at who we are competing against is much better than the bravado of saying, “I don’t care about the competition, we’re going to win anyhow,” only to be surprised you didn’t win.” – Norman Behar · [26:45] 

 

Norman Behar:

We shouldn’t fear the competition and we shouldn’t be intimated by the competition. Hopefully, we’re representing a great company, a great product, a great solution. And we shouldn’t discount our own role, in terms of the impact the salesperson, their relationships have, in the sales process. But, I think being able to take a look at who are we competing against, what are their win themes going to be, and then why are our win themes going to be more compelling is much better than the bravado of saying, “I don’t care about the competition, we’re going to win anyhow,” only to be surprised you didn’t win.

 

Will Barron:

Yeah. That makes so much sense.

 

How Often Should We Be Doing Pipeline Reviews? · [27:15] 

 

Will Barron:

We’ll wrap up with this, Norman, of how often should we be doing pipeline reviews? And clearly, it depends on many people’s in the pipeline, how fast the pipeline moves. But, is this a quarterly deal? My experience is it’s a yearly deal, when it’s coming up to target setting time. People are trying to suss out how much money they can squeeze from you this year. How often should we be doing this process?

 

Norman Behar:

My answer differs pretty radically from the way you phrase the question, but I would say weekly and monthly.

 

Norman Behar:

I think weekly, we want to look at the top. Which new opportunities entered? Because the problem with not looking at it very often is that we’ll end up talking about the same opportunities, over and over again, as opposed to what’s new. I think it’s important to just do a quick level set, what’s new, what’s advanced, what’s stalled. I think that can be done weekly, and then probably a much deeper dive.

 

Norman Behar:

But, I think at a minimum saying what’s new, what’s advanced and what seems to be stalling out would be a great way to at least have a short conversation about the pipeline weekly.

 

Will Barron:

Interesting. That’s almost an email you could, for no reason, just send it to yourself on a Friday, just to force yourself to look at it, so that you can set your priorities for the next week. Even if your sales manager ignores it, I think there’s almost value in just doing that.

 

Norman Behar:

I think there is, but I think if I was on the sales management side of it and we do a tremendous amount of work with management teams, I would say that having that weekly phone call. Even if it’s just to wrap up, “Hey, that’s really exciting.” The manager’s going to be able to ask questions and add value, and also just show interest and also motivate. Even if it’s just a short conversation, you’ve got a very experienced salesperson. “Hey, that looks really exciting. How can I help you?” It’s basically sharing a comradery. “I don’t think I need any help, but I’ll keep that in mind.” I think just some discussion about this would be very helpful, on a weekly basis.

 

Norman Behar:

But clearly, the salesperson can do a lot of this themselves. They can ask themselves those five questions. And they can also just say, “Hey, what do I have going on that’s new? What can I move forward? And, what seems to be stalling out on me?”

 

Will Barron:

Makes total sense. And I guess, just by doing that … It sounds so simple, when you put it like that, Norman. But by just going through that process, you stop a lot of the problems that tend to build up, which is what we’ve been almost trying to diagnose the whole show. By the very virtue of going through those, they don’t exist anymore, which I love.

 

Norman’s Advise to His Younger Self on How to Become Better at Selling · [29:40] 

 

Will Barron:

So with that, Norman, I’ve got one final question, mate. You’ve answered it before but I’m going to ask you it again. We wrap up the show with this. And that is, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would be the one piece of advice you’d give him to help him become better at selling?

 

Norman Behar:

I would say focus on qualifying opportunities. I think that there is such a high level of excitement when there’s new leads and new opportunities. And, that although quantity does have some advantage, too much going too far is not a good use of your time. It’s much, much better to … The funnel should look like a sales funnel or pipeline, and I think quite often, it gets very, very bloated in the middle. We have some images of a bloated pipeline.

 

“If you aren’t solving a business need and helping a customer understand how you’re going to help them solve that problem, and understanding how that decision is going to be made, you can chew up an immense amount of time only to find out the opportunity was never truly qualified.” – Norman Behar · [30:32] 

 

Norman Behar:

So I would say better qualify by really understanding the business need and whose involved in the decision criteria. It’s interesting that, early in their career, salespeople may not want to ask those questions. But, if you aren’t solving a business need and helping a customer understand how you’re going to help them solve that problem, and understanding how that decision’s going to be made, you can chew up an immense amount of time only to find out the opportunity was never truly qualified.

 

Will Barron:

Amazing stuff, right there. Tell me if this is right or wrong, but it seems that this is even more important right now, where we are in the internet age and the age of speed. Whereas if someone has sat in the middle of the pipeline, you might actually burn them as a contact. They might not want to deal with you, when they’re not getting requests through quickly, when you’re not getting back to them on time, when you’re not progressing them through the funnel that hopefully they want to be moved down. It seems like, if you’ve got too many people coming in the top, they’re getting stuck in the middle with a bottleneck. You could almost lose business that you would have won anyway.

 

The Benefits of Having an Internal Pipeline Review · [31:20]

 

Norman Behar:

Absolutely, I see it all the time. We do internal pipeline reviews in our business, we help clients with their pipeline review and pipeline management as part of the sales management training, and also part of the sales training offering, to really understand that it is supposed to look like a sales funnel and there are supposed to be criteria associated with each stage. There are supposed to be reasonable percentages.

 

“If you’re the salesperson, if you’re asked to forecast what you are going to do in business this quarter and you’re forecasting off a bloated pipeline, you’re going to submit an unrealistic forecast. It’s actually in both the manager and the salesperson’s interests to make sure they’re working on what we term an active sales pipeline so they can accurately produce a sales forecast.” – Norman Behar · [31:40] 

 

Norman Behar:

The problem, if you’re the salesperson, if you’re asked to forecast what are you going to do in business this quarter and you’re forecasting off a bloated pipeline, you’re going to submit an unrealistic forecast. It’s actually in both the manager and the salesperson’s interests to make sure they’re working on what we term an active sales pipeline so they can accurate produce a sales forecast.

 

Parting Thoughts · [32:02] 

 

Will Barron:

Makes total sense. Well with that, Norman, for everyone … I like this show, there’s lots of practical steps to take away. For anyone who wants to learn more about this, and then of course the sales management angle which we briefly touched on, where can we find out more about that?

 

Norman Behar:

Visit us on the internet at salesreadinessgroup.com. We just finished a wonderful survey on the five hallmarks of great sales organisations, I think that’s fascinating reading. There were over 400 respondents from 20 different industries. Really good insights about sales management. We have a very active blog, lots of interesting things for salespeople to access on tips and techniques, and some of the latest trends that are taking place in the industry.

 

Norman Behar:

So again, visit us at salesreadinessgroup.com. There’s a phone number there, give us a call, we’d love to chat with you. And, we’d just really enjoy having sales conversations.

 

Will Barron:

Good stuff. Well, I’ll link to all that in the show notes to this episode, over at salesmanpodcast.com. And with that, Norman, I want to thank you for your time, your insights, your work on this. Clearly, there’s a lot going in the background to come up with these insights, so we all appreciate that. I want to thank you for your time and joining us on The Salesman Podcast.

 

Norman Behar:

Will, thank you again, appreciate it. 

 

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