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March Madness and the Search for Pipeline Predictability

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Mar 31, 2023

Today's topic: March Madness, the ongoing search for bracket and sales pipeline predictability. The March Madness tournament can be somewhat predictable, but upsets are expected. In the world of sales forecasting, you have the same problem! 


Hello, everyone. Tony Cole here. Thanks for letting me into your day once again. My topic: March Madness, The ongoing search for bracket and sales pipeline predictability. Good luck with that, right?

The NCAA tournament for men's and women's basketball is somewhat predictable, but upsets are expected. Just take a moment to consider this year men's and women's brackets. 13 seat Furman beats number 4 Virginia. 15 Beats Arizona, number four and seven, Missouri. Not to be outdone, number 16 Fairleigh Dickinson from New Jersey beats number one Purdue. And there were others on the women's side, number eleven, Mississippi State beats number six, Creighton, number, I think was eight, ole Miss beats number one, Stanford. And on the bottom 66, Florida Gulf Coast beats number five Washington State.

The predictive data would have suggested that you would not have picked those or bet on those teams to win. Over the two days of 32 games in each tournament, you would have predicted 16 teams would eventually win. That would be 100% certain. That is a valid prediction. Predicting the exact 16 teams would be more of a challenge and less credible because of upsets. And this year's upsets proved that premise. In the world of sales forecasting, you got kind of the same problem.

Predicting future revenue and based on sales is critical. As an example, many companies the first quarter of the year is normally a good predictor of how sales will play out for the balance of the year. Two other predictors to consider that you ought to have, should have, so on and so forth, are pipeline and sales activity. You ought to have those two pieces of data. I hate to assume, but assuming you track your pipeline, if you do, you should look at two other sub data points.

Number one, pipeline validity. In other words, if a 90 day pipeline predicted $100,000 in sales. Did $100,000 in sales actually show up? How valid was the number? And then there's pipeline credibility. Did the predicted opportunities actually close? So company A, B and C were predicted to close and be part of that 100,000. Did A, B and C actually close? Or did you get A, B, and R? Right? Did the predicted opportunities close or were there some upsets that you weren't predicting? Now the upsets on the plus side are good. Upsets, on the downside, not so good.

Tracking these two data points helps you as a manager minimize the opportunity for salespeople to flood the pipeline just so it appears that they have enough activity to hit their goal. And it also weeds out some of those kind of hold things back the sandbaggers until those things actually close. Sales activity is a leading indicator, so let's talk about that. It should be based on a success formula So that each salesperson team knows two very important things. Those two things are effort needed in their prospecting and outreach activity, and two, their effectiveness. How effective are they from one step to the next step in the sales process? You see, when salespeople fail to hit their goal, fail to hit objectives, it can only be because one or two contributing factors the effort wasn't there or the execution wasn't there to help your people close more business, more. Quickly at better margins.

You must provide them this kind of business intelligence so that they can accurately predict and you can accurately predict their likelihood of success. I know this sounds like micromanaging, but I'm a fan of Jim Collins, who states, there's no such thing as micromanaging. You're either managing or you're not managing. As a sales manager, we tell our clients and our sales development expert program our sales.

As we tell sales managers who participate as we tell sales managers who participate in our Sales Managed Environment certification program, their job is to lead, manage and coach. If you don't manage activity, then coaching to improve skills and change behavior is nearly impossible and effective at best. There's your message for today. Enjoy the rest of your day and the tournaments. As always, thank you.

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Selling Value Without Selling, Part 3: THE SOLUTION!

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Mar 24, 2023

In part 1, I gave you a sample of how the ‘selling value’ discussions sounds.  Here it is again.

Prospect: Why should I do business with you or your bank / company?

Sample traditional response:  Because we bring a value added approach to our relationships. We do more than just get you great rates on loans and deposits. We approach your business from a ‘trusted advisor’ approach. We work hard to understand what your overall objectives are and then search to find solution to help you achieve those objectives. Our staff focuses specifically on the agriculture segment. We have a combined 135 years of experience. Our bank has the biggest market share in this area and our branches are conveniently located throughout your footprint, we have extended hours of operation and our on-line banking deliverable is second to none. If you are looking to work with a bank that can do those things, has that kind of focus, then I’d like to show you, and tell you more about how we can help you and your business grow and prosper.

Here is a sample of how someone might respond if they are ‘positioning’ value.

Prospect: Tony, why should I do business with you and your company?

Tony:  I know this may sound strange but maybe you shouldn’t. We really haven’t gotten too deep into your business. I don’t even know your business objectives or priorities. I don’t know the challenges you face that might be unique to you and your business. It would be arrogant of me to assume we should do business. But, maybe the best way for us to figure out any potential business relationship is engage in a conversation that I have with many business owners the first time we meet. Okay?

Key Take away: Prospects are used to salespeople telling them why they – the prospect – should buy from them.  When a sales person says, ‘maybe you shouldn’t’, the prospect is hearing something that they NEVER hear from a salesperson thus accomplishing the goal of: Don’t look, act or sound like a sales person. It’s one thing to have a marketing piece that touts your organization’s uniqueness, differentiators from the competition, it’s another to have people on your team that truly are unique in their approach.

Prospect continues: Sure, where should we start?

Tony: It may not be the case with you, but with many ag business owners / operators have come to me with questions / problems with the following:

(keep in mind that you MUST understand your target market so well that you can verbalize EXACTLY the problems / concerns prospective clients deal with seasonally or year round. Then you must use that deep domain knowledge as part of the conversation with new prospects)

1. Maintaining or Growing the margin between receivables and accounts payable.

2. Making sure that their financials are strong so that when required they can get access to cash on a costs favorable and timely basis

3. Have solutions that help them grow or maintain a sustainable or scalable business.

When you take those moments at the end of the day, week or month and think about your business which of these three, margins, strong financials, sustainable / scalable business is top of mind or close to it?

Key take away: When a salesperson is attempting to position value they do so via the questions they ask. They do so by telling stories – working with my other clients.  They demonstrate their expertise not by telling the prospect they are experts in cash flow analysis, business transition strategies or providing favorable terms and conditions for specific equipment leasing or land purchase.  No, they demonstrate the expertise by asking questions.

Prospect continues:  At this point you can assume a prospect will react one of two ways:

1.     They will pick one of the three items or,

2.     They will share with you another one that happens to be top of mind.

A strong qualifier/ value seller will weave into the conversation questions, comments, stories analogies and metaphors that tie into the problem the prospect identified. It is critical that you become awesome at story telling because story telling leads to right brain – emotional – thinking. And that is the side of the brain that makes decisions. The framework for the discussion would follow a planned script rather than a canned script.  It might look something like this.

Prospect saysMy biggest concern is making sure my business is sustainable and scalable. If I don’t do that, 1 or 2 things will happen. We’ll either go out of business or get bought by someone bigger and I’ll be working for someone else.


  • Tell me more about that.
  • How long have you thought about that, or how long has this been going on?
  • Is that a problem?  Why?
  • What have you done to try to fix it in the past?
  • I know you have a banker, what have they done, what have other advisors attempted to do to address this.
  • Let me ask you a question:  When they suggested a solution that would do A, B and C.  What happened?  (You are counting on an answer that sounds something like):

Prospect:  No one has brought something like that to my attention.

Tony:  I wonder why?

Key take away: When you ask, “I wonder why”, the prospect will be wondering the same thing. This, is what Randy Schwantz calls creating a wedge.

This dialog would last probably 20 to 30 minutes of the prospect sharing experiences that have or have not happened because of the current relationship.  This would eventually lead an elite salesperson asking this question:

Tony: Suppose there was a solution, suppose we could do for you what I’ve done for others in this situation? What would happen next?

Key take aways:

  • STOP selling VALUE.
  • START gaining clarity on what your target market VALUES.
  • Learn how to start the conversation so that your prospect talks instead of you.
  • Have a framework for your dialog that starts with a question, provides accurate possible answers, and then allows for a framework beginning with, so that it starts with “tell me more about that”, and ends with “suppose there was a solution”.

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Selling Value Without Selling: Part 2

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Mar 17, 2023

What your salespeople must ‘have’ to be successful at uncovering value.

From a sales strategy and process perspective, positioning value not only requires a great VALUE PROPOSITION but also supporting Will to Sell, Sales DNA, and Sales Competencies.

Using data from just one of our dozens of community bank clients, this is what we found out about top 25% of the team vs the bottom 25% of the team.     

First and foremost, longevity may have some impact, but consider that the average years of service for the top 10 was 25.22 years the bottom 10% still had significant years of service of an average of 18.44 years.  Do you really expect someone with 18 years experience to be outperformed by an average of 4 to 1?

The top 10% outperform, are better at, and are more likely to execute than the bottom 10% in the following areas.

  • 69% more committed to succeed in selling – willing to do everything possible to succeed assuming legal, ethical and moral standards
  • 41% more comfortable discussing money issues
  • 46% better at qualifying prospects
  • 50% better at asking questions
  • 100% better at getting introductions to new prospects.
  • 75% better at getting a real budget
  • 44% better at positioning the companies value proposition
  • 80% better at protecting margins (selling value)

In addition to these findings, our own personal experience in talking to, role playing, and during pre- and post-call debriefing sessions during 1 on 1 coaching sessions, we find the following to also be true:

Top sales people understand the value of telling stories, using analogies and proof of concept examples.

  • They pre-call plan and prepare
  • They post-call debrief to make sure they covered all the steps in their sales approach
  • They ask the right questions, the right way at the right time AND if they find that they missed a question they do NOT hesitate to re-engage with the prospect to get closure on open items.

Year in and year out, continue to scratch their head trying to figure out why:

  • Sales growth is such a struggle
  • The sales team pushes back when ‘new goals’ are established
  • How to protect margins and pricing strategies
  • How to flatten the performance bell curve so the success of hitting the sales goal doesn’t continue to fall on the backs of the few 

Some of the answers to those questions can be answered by understanding the make up of your sales team. Additionally, companies that we work with have bought into the idea that spending money on sales training without investing in a solid approach to a ‘Sales Managed Environment’ is a waste of money, time and resources.

The sales leadership and sales management team must be capable of positioning, teaching, and coaching sales people the concept of selling value instead of just telling them to sell value.  The recruiting effort and the development effort of the company must address items that you see in the chart below.


Let me close part II of this three part series with this:

There hasn’t been a single company that we’ve worked with for 30 years that has a strategy to be the low cost provider, beat the competitors price to win deals, and compete with a commodity mindset or go-to market strategy. No one’s strategy is:

  • We are the most expensive solution you can find
  • Our people aren’t very good at what they do
  • Our service model is terrible.
  • We hope you buy from us

No, not a single client or prospect we’ve talked to approaches the market with those bullet points. EVERYONE is talking about

  • We value our customers
  • We are competitively priced
  • Our people go out of their way to make sure you are 100% satisfied
  • Our people are well trained and ready to serve
  • Our product offerings are top shelf, best in class and guaranteed

So if everyone in your market is pitching the same pitch how do you differentiate yourself.  Be ready for part III. But be really ready because it WILL require a changing in thinking and doing which will require a change in coaching, training, behaviors and skills.

Free STAT finder to help me understand if my people, my team has what it takes to execute our outbound sales strategy

Can’t wait for part III? Need to talk to someone now? Call or text me (513) 226-3913


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Selling Value Without Selling: Part 1

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Mar 10, 2023

Selling value as a strategy for selling is not effective. So, what should you do instead?  Watch part 1 of our my new 3-part series, Selling Value Without Selling to find out.                                   


For the longest time now, about five years, I've been wondering about this whole idea of selling value. I've come to the conclusion that selling value as a strategy for selling, is wrong. There, I've said it, let the criticism begin. But here's my reasoning. Selling value puts salespeople in all industries, services, and products in the same position of the old approach of selling features and benefits. What I mean by that, is the sales professional is still trying to sell something. Instead of trying to find out what would possibly motivate a buyer to buy, what would possibly motivate a buyer to make a change? Add a new relationship.

Here's an example of selling value in terms of dialogue. A prospect says something like "Why should I do business with your bank?" The lender says, well, because we bring a value-added approach to our relationships. We do more than just get you great rates on your loans and deposits. We approach your business from a trusted advisor approach. We work hard to understand what your overall objectives are and then search to find solutions to help you achieve those objectives. Our staff focuses specifically on your business segment. We have a combined 135 years of experience. Our bank has the biggest market share in the area, and our branches are conveniently located throughout your footprint. We have extended hours of operation, and our online banking deliverable is second to none. If you're looking to work with a bank that can do those things, has that kind of focus. But I'd like to show you or tell you more about how we can help you and your business grow and prosper at a role play.

I don't care what you call it. Consultative selling, value based selling, relationship selling, ect. It doesn't matter. All of that you just heard, it's still a sales pitch. What I'm suggesting is to keep the word value to teach your sales team how to uncover what the prospect values. The only way to do that is to change the dialogue in the very beginning of the relationship and make sure the focus is entirely on what the client needs and wants and requires to meet their objectives. To accomplish this, your sales organization must understand the following principle: the quality of the phone call will determine the quality of the appointment.

To have a high quality appointment, your salespeople must have accomplished five things before meeting a prospect. Number one, they must determine the prospect's role in any decision making. Two, they must have uncovered some level of motivation to make a purchase, make a change, change the current relationship, or add a new relationship. Number three, they must have asked if the problem with the opportunity is a must-fix or want-to-fix, they will kick the can down the road for want-to-fix problems. Number four, they must have gotten invited to meet. To discuss the item further. In other words, get invited versus begging their way into the appointment. Can I come by and see you need week? Number Five. They have to have an agreement on the outcome of that meeting when it's over. In other words, it's quite simple. When we finish, we're both going to know if we should keep talking, or stop talking. Failure to do those five things on the phone leads to failure at uncovering what our prospect values and forces a salesperson into selling mode.

Stay tuned for part two, where I will discuss with you what your salespeople have to be made of in order to be extraordinary at positioning value. Thank you.


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#1: Faith | Tony's 5 Key Takeaways from 30 Years in Business

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Mar 03, 2023

These last few weeks, I've shared 4 key things that have helped us grow and serve others in the last 30 years, hoping they will be helpful to others on their journey. Today I share the final key takeaway, #1: Faith.

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Topics: Sales Management Training, Leadership Skills, banking sales training


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    Anthony Cole Training Group has been working with financial firms for close to 30 years helping them become more effective in their markets and closing their sales opportunity gap.  ACTG has mastered the art of using science-based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss our weekly sales management blog insights from our team of expert contributors.


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