Renbor Sales Solutions, winner of more than ten awards, provides programs helping B2B companies improve new business acquisition with a focus on execution to win more business. Delivering sustained behaviour change supported by a proven approach and solid measurements.
I recently saw a photo of a protest addressing climate change, that read “There’s No Planet B.” Technically and scientifically speaking I am sure there is a Planet B, but the point was not lost. We best figure things out cause there no second chances. That level of urgency and intensity has a different effect on different people, but it leads to action. Pundits are convinced that the reality of the moment drives action and results. Whenever you burn your ships at the shore and have nothing but your resources, it creates focus, a and results. The question is the quality of results. So do we need a Plan B or no Plan B?
Just Another Choice
I have posted in the past about choice, and how it may appear to be helpful to all, it can, in fact, hold things back and deliver less than stellar results for clients. No one ever factors in “buyers’ remorse”, but when forced to make a choice, remorse is more likely. If you sell the best solution, you can keep other choices in your pocket.
So as a declared “limit choice in B2B” type, I was thoroughly fascinated by two separate views about the value or risk of a Plan B.
The B in Plan B is For Bad
One fellow with a proven and credible track record and life experience made a compelling argument for not having a Plan B. He insisted that any energy, time, anything at all, directed away from Plan A, is foolishly squandered. No matter how small or brief, any power diverting any assets from Plan A is a critical waste. May sound extreme at first, surely we can function while thinking about two related things. The question is not whether we can, but whether we should, his answer was no, he is not alone.
The other person started life in the no Plan B camp but converted to possibilities. To support his case, he shared his experience with a group of you entrepreneurs launching a start-up. While evaluating the opportunity to invest in the start-up, he recalled a couple of things that made him uncomfortable. One specific concern was the level of commitment of the founders to their Plan B; their “just in case.” Other steps did not conform to expected norms, but this notion of a Plan B was vital. The company went on to be one of the leaders in their category. Based on this result, he is now in the “having a backup, is good.”
What You See Is How You Do
While they both made compelling arguments, each was different enough to prevent you from making a definitive conclusion. For example, the no Plan B individual, literally had to survive, allowing him to draw on elements only present in that state. The start-up was led by a recent graduate, who had all the resources and options available to people at that point. The former fellow was entirely self-sufficient. Not alone, which is different, but being self-sufficient was something he was able to leverage. But no resources, no alternatives, it is amazing how having nothing and having to eat can focus the mind.
The other group had, relative to our self mad man, more resources, no doubt allowing them to explore more alternative paths with less pressure. Shelter and food were not the primary drivers. They were both driven by success, but each had a different view, each shaped by their experience. Very much like two salespeople, both have a quota; one has a base, the other does not; they will attack things differently. Which explains why so few salespeople are willing to work strictly for commission, and why those that do, make way more. Same goal, different experience.
Plan B is a Luxury
In my experience, Plan B is a luxury, not always present or available. Whether you measure time, or energy or any quantifiable resource, it is easy to understand why Plan B can be a resource suck. Simple math would suggest if you have ten units and apply them all to one task, you achieve more than by using eight or nine units.
Some make the argument that there is truth to “change being as good as a rest.” Taking a break and focusing on something else can help the creative process; adding Plan A by extension. While this may sound good, it has flaws. I see the value of “cleansing the pallet” as a means of getting more out of the next course. However, thinking about Plan B is not cleansing the pallet, but confusing the pallet. If the “break” was reading a novel or something different than what you are working on, sure. But Plan B is not a distraction or cleansing; it is by design, a consuming exercise that if done thoughtfully and completely, will deplete resources from the primary goal.
The New Plan A
I think the best approach both borrows from both while being different enough to carve out a third option, one I tend to be most comfortable with. A bit like the old EDS commercial where they are building the plane as it is in flight. As you are head down working on your plan, you are continually making decisions. Some micro, you don’t even notice them, some more demanding, but well in the auto-pilot supervised mode. But there are some bigger decisions that you will make using your traditional (for you) approach. As you are doing that you are evaluating thousands of scenarios, looking for the right one for the moment. In the end, you land on the one that addresses the issue at hand while moving the project forward.
This process allows you to evaluate, eliminate or repurpose a range of alternatives. Think of them as embryonic Plans B, C, D, and often right down to T. This is a continuous process of creativity, adding to, taking away, bending and fitting things together in ways that move everything closer to your goal. Some do it more consciously than others, but this constant shuffling and stacking and reshaping ideas, allows you to make revisions to plan A.
The process of continuously refining your Plan A based on ground truth forces you to always have a Plan A, rather than having a singular monolithic, sometimes sacred, Plan A. Taking on a mindset of continuous improvement, allows us the luxury of considering alternatives, but in the context of improving Plan A. The notion of a Plan B is odd. Sure, there is the safety net aspect, but that implies that it is the only or best safety net. It is not, the best safety net is to deliver Plan A successfully. For many, count me in, hearing about Plan B, raises the question of “when are you giving up on Plan A?”
If in the process you discover a better alternative to your current plan, great, you have a new, improved, and energizing Plan A. The stimulus for this was a means of moving your plan forward. With Plan B, it sounds like you have some, even if minor, doubts about Plan A, and are preparing for your doubts to materialize.
Shifting attention from one task to another harms both activities. If you are writing an elaborate proposal, and are interrupted by a co-worker, it will take you several minutes to get to the same level of focus as when you were interrupted. I see thinking about a Plan B as having that effect on your attention to Plan A. Focus on delivering the best you can using a process of implemention: review/access, adjust, implement again; review… You’ll have the comfort of not ignoring or missing anything while maintaining focus on your Plan.
There is a line in the original animated Aladdin when Jafar states, “You’ll be surprised what you can live through.” Something that can also be used to describe sales and prospecting. For two reason, first is that change always comes outside our comfort zone. Making any growth or development we achieve, as something to have “lived through,” nowhere more so than in prospecting. People are paralyzed by the thought of being rejected when prospecting. Rather than picking up the phone or reach out directly to a prospect. One has to ask if rejection is limiting your success.
As I have discussed in the past, I understand that rejection is not pleasant. I don’t like it, most people good at prospecting don’t like, but they have put things in context. My context, I have made the coloration between prospecting and my kids eating. It seems they want to eat every day, so I have no choice but to prospect every day. Developing the ability to deal with it does give one an advantage. Please note, I said, “developing the ability to deal with,” I did not say coming to like it.
It helps to understand some of the underlying facts about rejection if you are going to deal with it as a seller effectively. Let’s start with the fact that when a human being is rejected, there is a real pain and other actual physical and other impacts. Trying to pretend that this is not the case leads to more challenges. A bit of a catch 22, in as much as the old “suck it up and make another call” seems to fall short. However, there is no escaping the fact that part of the solution does involve doing a version of exactly that.
It’s Not Just in Your Head
Studies show that the same zones of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when feeling pain. And given the fact that we tend to remember emotional pain longer and more vividly than physical pain. I can understand why after a rough Friday on the phone, is not erased by a good weekend. Apparently, and I am just the messenger here, but Tylenol indeed helps with the emotional pain we feel when rejected.
Rejection also causes us to be defensive and less prepared. While we are not happy about being blown off by a prospect, rejection had much more severe consequences for our ancestors. Being rejected by your peers, your tribe, was a life sentence; with those stakes, it takes on a lot more dimension, much of it still with us today. Rejection undermines our sense of belonging, what could be worse for an alpha sales type.
Rejection negatively impacts our self-esteem, not a strong suit in sales. We have to deal with the not just the immediate rejection, but the creeping sound of that voice questioning whether we’ll make quota. Add to that the sharp gaze of your peers as you struggle through the next call. This leads to the following side effect of rejection, an increase in anger and aggression. This rarely leads to actions that give us self-esteem. Then the cherry on top, it temporarily diminishes your IQ — just the right toxic mix for prospecting success.
Ignorance Is Bliss
Now somewhere out there, I can hear someone snickering, “that’s why I don’t use the phone, I use e-mail and social selling.” Good for you lamb chop, but you are being rejected, even more than your phone collogues, you just don’t know it. Or more accurately, you have chosen to hide from it. Not only that, but the price you pay is working harder for the same or lesser results.
First, it has been shown that the best conversion results come from combining e-mail, LinkedIn InMail, and the phone. Higher than any other combination, so there is no escaping the phone. And you must, I mean must master voicemail.
Add to that an interesting little study. In an experiment, people were asked to go out and solicit help from strangers, basic stuff nothing crazy. The results were fascinating, people who were asked to use e-mail, got the same result with e-mails, as those who were using the phone. Oh one small fact, the e-mail people needed 200 e-mail to get the result the phone people got from six calls.
Take that in a second!
That’s a lot of work, not just writing the e-mails which can be automated, you gotta find that many more leads, e-mails, time, effort, wouldn’t you just rather talk to them? I was talking to one investor a couple of years ago who said he was happy “pouring 1,000 leads into my stack, and if we get 3 – 4 opportunities, we’re doing good.” OK, where is my phone?
No matter how you slice it, the e-mailers were being slaughtered; they just didn’t know it. Or more accurately, did not want to or have to deal with the rejection. They can be socially correct and intact, even as they miss quota.
No Room For Reason
What makes rejection more challenging is that it is hard to reason it. While I can tell myself it is not personal, they don’t know who I am, and all the other lines, it still hurts the next time. What you can reason is what Jafar said, you understand that you will live through it and act to take advantage of that.
It is no different than the pain we feel when we hit the gym. It hurts, but we understand that done right, with proper training and conditioning, you will attain desired results. This isn’t some rah-rah motivator; it is a reality of sales. Next year your quota will go up, and you will be given the exact same amount of time to deliver as this year.
Fear of rejection is natural, inbred in fact, how you use that fear will dictate where in sales you’ll land. You can’t kiss every girl at the ball, and you won’t land everyone you prospect. Your strategy should be to learn to understand rejection, how to balance it rather than avoid it. When you do, you’ll find the rewards you can afford. As a result, allow for many treats to soothe the soul.
As with all subjective things, there is often a chance to look at the issue from a different perspective. While there is no avoiding rejection in sales, there is the ability to understand it. Once you do, you can adjust and gain more success and more appointments. Watch this video, and then ask yourself why you are feeling rejected?
Not a popular refrain among sales types, which may explain why nearly half of B2B reps will miss quota this year. In a world obsessed with ‘big,’ even more so than sales success, make it small may seem counter-intuitive. And so it is, but so is being a card-carrying member the 80% on the wrong side of the 80/20 rule.
While I am not working with sales teams, I am buying. Specifically, tools, apps and services that help my business success. While I am impressed with some of the big numbers presented, I am also skeptical about many of the claims presented. Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting the big claims are false, but more the anomaly than the norm. Sure, some clients have realized a 55% increase in “whatever.” However, for the most part, these clients are outside the bell curve, most clients fall inside the curve. They experience more earthly numbers, which is not only OK and acceptable but more importantly, more believable.
I Wanna Believe
The risk is that buyers will discount your claims; you need only look at feedback buyers are providing.
Vendors focus on providing material that buyers don’t find very useful or trustworthy
Buyers don’t trust all vendor claims, nor do they expect to
These are just two of the many opportunities for sellers to calibrate with buyers.
Once they discount claims of success, how soon before they discount what they believe your product can actually do?
Can You Repeat That?
Buyers are looking for predictability and repeatable success. I had one client where, based on their internal measures, my Proactive Prospecting Program increased their appointments by 666%. About 600% of that was environmental; they weren’t prospecting before I showed, then they were. Was it me, sure, could I repeat it, not where there are living and breathing salespeople.
It is much more practical to lead with your average results. I know I can sustain those over several renewals, and potential upsell. On the downside, you are more likely to miss small than miss big by starting small. I doubt most are selling the significant number as “just year one, then, you know…” Most are selling it like typical expectation, no foot point.
If You’re Gonna Fail, Fail Big
When you look at things that drive change, while the “big bangs” make the news, most overnight sensations are years in the making. Leading with a “go big or go home,” attitude may seem inspirational and motivating. But I bet the manager telling you that, doesn’t take the same view of your quota. I would much prefer the take the alternate path, incremental, predictable and repeatable success. A work-flow that allows us to review and adjust, apply and repeat, all in small, manageable increments.
Taking the incremental approach allows you to be more agile and responsive to markets and client expectations. If an increment goes wrong, it is one of many, no big holes. When a big deal goes sour, it brings equally large holes from which to dig out. I remember one year I was neck in neck to be number one in revenues, till a big deal I invested time in, died. The person who ended up being number one, did all with onesie-twosie, in small increments.
On Tuesday I posted about the need for salespeople to own their own time. Had a number of folks reach out to see what steps they can take to ensure they are maximizing from this resource. Based on a couple of calls, I decided to follow with a specific methodology for better use of your time.
Get Out Of The Zone
As with most transformational things, we need to take specific and uncomfortable steps. As you know change happens outside our comfort zone. In the video below you will find specific elements you need to track and adjust based on the data your activities generate. Couple these tactics with the output from the Activity Calculator, you can take it further. With the two you have a proven way the bend time your way and get more of the right things done. Take a look, and let me know what you think, and when you’re going to start.
Time is a truly critical element of sales success, yet too many take a very passive approach to their time. If not careful, time can be stolen by or wasted on the wrong opportunities. The most successful sellers will tell you to guard and own your time, not letting others waste it. To succeed in prospecting, in fact, in any element of sales, you need to own your time. People, important people, will be tugging on your time every which way they can, but you need to be vigilant and own your time. Dole it out in ways and to people who can give you a return on the time you give or invest in them.
Time is a finite resource. Daily, we are issued 24 hours, and how we utilize those 24 units, determines our success. Not vis-à-vis others or quota, but a simpler view, “did I use the units to deliver maximum progress and results based on my goals?” This view allows us to focus on results versus intentions. Too many sales organizations measure lagging indicators rather than actionable leading indicators. They should lead with the leading indicators.
Optimizing and maximizing how we utilize this finite resource is a must to surviving in business today. More than ever, time is THE currency of sales. There are many views, there are even more truths, but time marches on without change — an opportunity for those who spend it productively, most return on units. As we can’t change the time side of the equation, our only option is to work on our use of it.
As alluded to above, all humans fall into this 24-unit paradigm, including prospects and clients. Like you and I, they will spend and invest their time in those things that bring them the best return on their time. This provides a couple of specific ways sellers can use the time to improve buying and selling.
Lend or Stretch
Buyers look at the time invested in a sale a couple of ways. “How much time is this buy going to suck out of my life and days over the next three months?” Before we jump into the answer to the above, it is essential to remember that it will be more than three months. Studies show that buyers are finding that the buying cycle is taking twice as long as they anticipated.
There is no reason to believe that smart buyers are similar to smart sellers. Which means they will have allocated a certain amount of time to buying. The time I tell salespeople to allocate prospecting, is time buyers allocate to “Scoping or Exploring Option.” You can add value and deliver insights based on your experience in similar cycles. Not ideas about the product or solution landscape, but what they are likely to face through their buying cycle. Specifics can help them better utilize their time and get more done, and better. Leverage your experience by focusing your time with the prospect, on examples given them more units than the 24 they started with that day.
It is vital to be cognizant of how long an opportunity should be in each stage of your sale. Like any product, there is a “good till” date, then it will start to rot. If your typical deal is in discovery an average of six weeks, you have to ask what’s gonna change week nine? Wouldn’t it be more honest to take it out of Opportunity, put it back to Lead, and examine? Maybe it can be revived, never resuscitated. Let’s be real; if it were that grapefruit back of the fridge, you wouldn’t eat it.
It’s just a fuzzy ball of hope you hang on to so you can have something to hope for. Take it out, get hungry, get scared, get going.
Maybe the time is not right, you can waste more time confirming it, or you can invest your time in a new opportunity — time to prospect.
Remember that leads are recyclable, that buyer that went sideways can be re-visited next year. The time you took to read this piece – thank you! – is spent forever; the only thing left is the value it added. And I hope it did for you.
Most trade shows I attend, I do so to prospect, not as an exhibitor. Organizers kindly line up prospect in neat little stalls, one after the other. A couple weeks back I went to an event where I was indeed interested in what they were displaying and selling. This time I got to experience trade shows like most mortals do. What I have to report that it wasn’t a great experience. Sellers need to exhibit something different from the usual lack of preparation and apathy towards outcomes.
I understand that vendors need to realize an ROI, as a result we should expect to be “sold.” However, the behaviour of the people in the booths worked counter to that goal. I was greeted and properly scanned, the highlight of my experience, downhill from there. No doubt they were told by marketing that because they were so innovative and cute, they don’t need to sell.
Who Is Driving
After a few awkward seconds at the booth, I felt the need to break the silence if they weren’t going to make the effort. My mistake. After I asked, “what do you do?” I was treated to a barrage of words. The enthusiastic young lady unloaded every use case she and everyone in her company practiced and remembered. Some of them could have applied to me, but I never got a chance to explore. Full disclosure, she did ask what I do as soon as she ended here soliloquy. She wasn’t my problem, she was following orders – to the letter, or what someone led her to believe was her job.
I am not a trade show expert (check out Alice Heiman for that), and I recognize that environment does make a difference. It does not change the nature of the sale. If ever there was a person open for questions, willing to dispense info requested, it was me at that booth. Yet the question came too late and too low to qualify, I was looking for an exit.
Exhibit Next Steps
Vendors lack a strategy for their trade shows, without that, you fall back to the spray and pray default. I asked about their recent show in Vegas, and their strategy. He thought for a minute and said “get as many good leads as we could,” at least he said, “good leads.” That may be a good goal, but not a strategy.
The booth is a stop along the cycle, and since most cycles are not one call closes, your focus needs to be to know what needs to happen next. Given that the strategy, just like off the show floor, should be to make that happen, to that next step. Which is why the Tolstoy Dump approach doesn’t work. Most people are much more ready to be influenced than buy at a conference, here is your chance to influence.
Beyond putting you to sleep, it has other costs. While she was regaling me with every use case under the sun, 6 people stopped, looked, looked again, and walked on. Unscanned, unengaged, unimpressed; and she’ll never close me to boot.
Go For Balance
It is better to have a 3 – 5 pre-developed qualifying questions that first engage the client by their nature. These should be questions they are asking themselves, not things you ‘need’ to know, those will come. The right questions of this type allow you to execute your next step strategy, an off-floor dedicated meeting/call. If you get that next step, great. If not, you still have a lead that can be nurtured and further test by the marketing experts.
With the right questions, clients are challenged to think, always leading to good things. And are also left feeling unharassed and having a more positive experience than they have at other booths. All of which pays dividends later. For example, when they start getting the follow up calls, everyone they visited, you can leverage you strategy to prepare them for the call in a different way. The follow up will allow you to link to something specific, not generic. The booth experience making it more likely that they will take your call and listen to you message.
All Scanned Together
While there is no arguing the power of community, in this context it does have a downside. But without some basic qualification, everyone looks or scores the same, leaving all leads looking much the same. I bet that I got the same score as someone more willing to buy, only because I did not interrupt the speech.
I know, none of this is new, none of this is rocket science. So, why did I just experience what I did in 2019 at a SaaS type booth? Again, this was not an old school industrial company, it was a SaaS company fighting to find their spot in the stack, claiming to help your folks sell the modern way.
Prospecting is never easy, but there are steps you can take to lighten the load. One thing that has made prospecting a bit easy-er for me is eliminating the worry of sourcing leads. Before I hung my shingle, I ordered my first copy of the Scott’s Directories, and basically have used it almost daily since. It was a habit I picked up on one of my first sales jobs, where we used old book version to prospect. That was back in 1985. This why why I am so pleased to be working with Scott’s on a series of webinars all around prospecting.