Tibor Shanto Shares His Insights on Sales & Blogging
How he got started
I got here somewhat by accident. At one time, I had the title “Director of Sales Strategy” within the company I was working for. We found that our salespeople were good at managing existing relationships and taking orders in an up market, but in the low economic time, were not strong in prospecting and winning new business. So, I had to develop a training program.
Since I was the first sales rep in Canada back in the ‘90s, they felt I had some ideas on how to win new business. But it was a learning curve for me to understand, not only what it takes to consistently execute a sale but also, how do you communicate that to a group of people, specifically adults, who learned differently than we used to when we were kids?
At that time, I was living down in the States. And when I wanted to move back to Toronto, I came to that proverbial sort of fork in the road on which way I wanted to go. And somebody suggested that I try and extend some of the work that I was doing internally at the company to create my own business. And that’s how I got here in 2004.
What it means to do sales prospecting today
I think there is the opportunity to be a bit more intelligent about sales prospecting just by virtue of the various sources of information that you have access to. With some of the peer groups and social outlets that are out there, you can always get a different view of the companies through the eyes of their customers, through the eyes of their suppliers, and so on.
So I think that affords you a greater opportunity of prospect. But at the same time, the challenge specifically around accessibility, or how you get through to someone, has changed a lot both due to technology and a number of other factors. Some industries where companies would have open doors prior to 9/11, now, due to security, everything is funneled through the front door which often doesn’t have a receptionist but a phone with a guide. So what you gained on the knowledge and visibility side, you lose on the accessibility and the fact that people are trying to pack 16 hours into a 10 hour a day. Chances are, they’re going opt to continue finishing their day as opposed to taking time to talk to you.
How the internet and social media have affected sales
There’s this perception that we’re in a brand new world. One of the advantages when you get to be old like me is you’ve lived through several cycles of “new” and you come to realize that there’s very little that’s new.
So I think at the core, why customers buy something and how a business grows hasn’t really changed that much. I think what has changed is the access to information they have, and their perception that information gives them knowledge or the ability to make a good decision. And the, there are the tools that salespeople interact with, things like LinkedIn or CRMs.
The analogy I always use is if you look at a car from the ‘90s and you look at a car currently, there’s a lot more computers and automation and all of that on board. But the core tenets of safe driving haven’t changed that much. If you drive a car in 1995, you can drive one now.
So I think sales is like that as well. I think there’s a lot of discussion and wasted energy on the peripheral, instead of continuing to focus on the core.
How blogging has played a role in his business
I have a big mouth, so blogging has been a key thing for me. There’s no way to downplay it. I think I got turned on to blogging relatively early. I had the good fortune to meet some bloggers who were smarter than me, who turned me on to other tools. So while everybody and their sisters seem to be on Twitter these days, I think I was on there around 2007. It opened my eyes to different things.
But even from the beginning, before LinkedIn was what it is now, I saw it initially more as a syndication tool than a networking tool. Because I have a big mouth and I have opinions and they’re not always right but they’re opinions, I figured out early that if I do blogging and get people to notice me, it’s probably a lot cheaper than any other form of advertising.
If somebody reads my blog, they see who and what I am. So if they reach out to me, I’m assuming that they have some sense of what they’re reaching to. It also makes it easier to sell because if they’ve read a few of your pieces, they have an expectation. And if you match that expectation, then that makes that conversation easier.
In 2007, I almost immediately started pushing my blogging content into LinkedIn. And I strategically joined the maximum number of groups. I believe it’s 50 that you can join. I was trying to join groups where my target audience was. So while I am in sales-oriented groups, I try not to go into groups where my peers are. If I want to hang out, I’ll go to a bar. But LinkedIn is for business. If something that I write in one of my blogs resonates, then there’s an opportunity for conversation. From day one, I looked at LinkedIn as a syndication tool, not so much a networking tool. I think it has evolved on both sides.
I can point to a number of engagements where people have read something that I’ve written and that was the reason for them to call me or if I call people they’ll say, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen your stuff here and there.” Or even if they haven’t before when I prospect them, the natural inclination is for them to check me out, and it’s not hard for them to come across one of my posts. As a result of that, it has been quite a positive experience both in terms of business an in connecting with people who have helped me in different ways, peers and customers and so on.
Favorite Cloud service
I use Google Apps. I don’t know if I’m old or paranoid or some combination of both, but I’m still hesitant to put my stuff up in the Cloud.
I like SalesIQ. It helps me track who has been on my site, and I can engage with them and bring them into the sales process. I use Hootsuite and Triberr. I like an app called “Charlie” that helps prepare me for meetings. So there’s a host of tools that I use. And I speak about them regularly in my blog if I come across one that I like, because I figure since I’m a sales guy if it makes sense for me, it might make sense for others.
Favorite business book
The 10-Day MBA. I think every salesperson should read The 10-Day MBA because chances are, the guy behind the desk hasn’t been reading sales books but may have an MBA. So it might be a good idea to know how they think and speak.
The current favorite I have in terms of helping salespeople sell is The Challenger Customer.
Favorite internet giant
I like Google. Being a small business and primarily working with myself, it’s an easy way to manage my business on the fly.
How he keeps balance with his personal and work life
I don’t try and separate business and personal the way most people do. Sometimes I’ll run really hard, and then I’ll decide I’ve had enough of this and I’ll knock off for a day or two and not pay attention to anything. And then other times, I’m able to focus a lot on the business and with the exception of family, I might put some leisure activities to the back.
I don’t sit and say to myself, “OK. I’m going to have this day or that day.’ I might wake up tomorrow with a burst of energy and get like a week’s worth or a month’s worth of blogs done and I’m done with that, or I might wake up in a very lazy mood and say, “You know what? I’m just going laze around.”
I think we all go through these waves of energy and creativity. I always think if a good wave comes, you’ve got to ride it. You can’t be picky.
I do set goals and I run my day by the calendar and all of that. So it’s not like I’m going to blow off this meeting because I don’t feel like going.
But on the other hand, specific to how I maintain sanity between business and life, I think if you live life, that sorts itself out. If you’re strictly worrying about that thing, then you’re probably going to worry about it even when you don’t have to.
His advice to the new entrepreneur
I think the one thing you need to make sure of is that you find some way of having fun. Sometimes you’re going to work hard and it’s going to be frustrating and you could bang your head against the wall. You’re going to have to remind yourself why you’re doing this. And if you can enjoy it, even when it’s a bother, then you’ll get more highs than lows.
I think you have to look and see how you can enjoy aspects of it at any given time because sometimes the whole thing is going to be a big thing to push uphill. So you’ve got to take the little pleasures here and there. Look for how you can have fun and enjoy what you’re doing, even though you might be struggling to get your business going.