Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

March Madness: A Sales Lesson - March 17, 2018

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day and the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness), I am going to leave you with a short post this week. Two things come to mind this morning that I cannot help but directly relate to sales: luck and expect the unexpected.

 

As any ‘A’ level sales person will testify, no matter how educated you are in sales, your company, the client, or the competitive landscape, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of luck on your side too. I’ve been very blessed over the course of my nearly 25 year career so far in being in the right place at the right time. I call this luck. I also believe that I’ve paid my dues, have always taken the high road in sales, and have always put my client’s best interests before my own, so I’m also a believer that sometimes luck is on my side. This is also known as being optimistic. Optimism is a core characteristic of any ‘A’ level sales person. You cannot nor will you ever be an ‘A’ level sales person without optimism.

 

With regards to March Madness 2018 all you have to do is look at any sports or news website, newspaper, or blog over the past few days to understand that for the first year of many there is no clear frontrunner or favorite in the tournament this year. In fact, history was just made by UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) the 16 seed knocking off the 1 seed University of Virginia. One headline said it all: Expect The Unexpected. Well doesn’t that just about sum up anyone in sales.

 

If I had a dollar for every time this statement was made to me about sales or for when I’ve said it myself, I’d be retired by now living on yacht. Expect the unexpected is the most important statement anyone can say about a career in sales. You must be mentally strong and prepared for whatever comes your way. Just like the number 16 seed beat the number 1 seed, there are so many stories told about the “sure thing” sale fizzling out at the last moment only to be given to the competition.

 

My former CFO and I used to preach to all employees, not just sales people, that the deal isn’t done with the signature, it’s done when the money clears the bank. I’ve had signed agreements come my way only to be pulled off the table due to funding issues a week later. I’ve been given the verbal approval to never get the formal agreement signed. I’ve been told yes directly to my face to find out the next day the deal was inked with the competitor down the street. Expecting the unexpected is a sign of resilience.

 

Being resilient is another characteristic of an ‘A’ level sales person. Nothing is a sure thing and how you manage your emotions, being resilient, will pay dividends. Your prospects and clients will look at this resilience as a strength and they’ll want to do business with you more so because of it.

 

Cheers!

Reconnecting With Old Colleagues - March 10, 2018

I was wide awake early today. I am quite excited for today, the start of my son’s new lacrosse season, something I look forward to each year in late-February and early-March. Three scrimmages are a lot of playing time on a very cold day, but it will be fun. I’m also excited for this upcoming Tuesday. I’ve been invited to join old friends and business colleagues at a dinner event. It has been a while since I’ve spent time with these guys and I am looking forward to talking shop and hearing about their families.

 

As a sales person I often get buried in the here and now. I’m constantly working on a new deal with a new prospect. Rekindling the old flames (clients) in hopes of staying engaged with them. And, if it’s not for my own sales, I am working with my team overseeing their efforts. When you combine the working here and now with the family here and now, the constant list of kids’ activities, there doesn’t seem like much time to reconnect with old colleagues. So, I’ve been looking forward to Tuesday the closer the day comes.

 

Reconnecting with old colleagues can be good for you. In a similar way to catching up with an old friend you’ve not seen in a while, reconnecting with old friends on the business front can also be refreshing. At one time you may have had more in common, but it is also important to learn anew what these people are doing. You can become referral sources for one another. You can educate one another on industries outside of your daily scope. You can introduce one another to others in the group you’re with that may extend your own professional network. And, who knows, you may just very well land them as a new client.

 

I was lucky this go around by being invited to the upcoming dinner event. I immediately said yes. In part, I am intrigued by the guest speaker, and in part I want to break bread with my old friends. But, I also have to admit that I’ve been lacking in my own approach to staying connected or reconnecting with old colleagues. I’ve tried to take an approach that every six months or so I get former business colleagues together for an event, a lunch, or simply over coffee to, well, reconnect. And, as I admit to be a bit of a slacker in this area, I am excited at the idea of pushing myself back into this practice.

Public Forums Are Just That: Public - March 3, 2018

Let me start with my description of a public forum: for the purpose of this post I am referring to a public program such as a speech, awards ceremony, educational presentation, and the like. And, when I state public is just that – public, I am targeting my competition.

 

I’m not sure why some sales people, and other business colleagues for that matter, don’t like the idea of “checking out the competition”, but I find it to be extremely useful. I’ve long made it a practice to attend programs where my competition is presenting or being recognized. I do this for two reasons: (1) it provides insight into who they are, what they’re about, how they present themselves, and what level of knowledge they possess; and (2) they oftentimes entertain their clients at these events, so I can learn who they are doing business with and why.

 

When the various forums are open to the public, whether free admission or paid, I want to take advantage of the opportunity to educate myself on the marketplace. Many time’s I learn of new competitors through random chit chat. This is also an opportunity to take the temperature of the marketplace on a specific topic. For example, if the presentation is on a new trend in digital marketing, I can gauge the interest of the audience and plan my own firms’ strategy based on seeing and hearing feedback on the topic firsthand.

 

Some sales people have worried themselves about what to say or how to act if confronted by the competitor in these situations. My answer has always been to be complimentary and gracious. I can assure you that your competition will do the same and attend public forums where you are speaking or being recognized. It is a “business 101” tactic. I encourage you to become aware of these opportunities, attend, identify potential business or educational experiences from these forums, and use this newly acquired information to advance your own business and/or sales agenda.

The Anti-Role Model - February 24, 2018

Going all the way back to grade school we’ve been asked about our role models. We’ve written papers, given presentations in front of our classmates, and for some we’ve even sent thank you notes. Through college and into my career I have been asked to talk about my role models. They’ve included my father, coaches, and some I’ve been proud to call mentors. And, likewise, I have asked others about their role models. Who are they and why?

 

The term role model also has a tendency to get thrown around by famous actors and sports figures. Fans put their favorite basketball player on a pedestal and idolize the person as a role model. Why? Musicians make it big by winning a television singing competition and next thing you know high schoolers are calling that person their role model. Why? What makes these public figures role models?

 

When we evaluate our time as students, athletes, professionals, parents, etc. we are guided by the role model principle in that we should look up to these individuals as role models because we want to be like them, emulate their behavior, and hope for success (differing definitions of course) just like them.

 

Have you ever been asked about your anti-role model?

 

I have long believed, as a sales manager and mentor, that while discussing the positive attributes of one’s role model is worthwhile, uncovering the negative attributes of someone’s anti-role model can be even more beneficial. Who do you not want to be? Who do you not want to act like? Who’s behavior is questionable regardless of their level of success? What would make you want to run the other way if you saw the person walking toward you?

 

As a student, in sports, in your community, in your career, in your church, local politics, civic leaders, there are many that simply should not earn the respect they sometimes garnish. I oftentimes think of the professional athlete that is held up in the public eye as a great person but has a substance abuse problem, has been arrested for domestic violence, and has little regard for the fans that pay money to watch him or her play a game. Another comes to mind in a former coworker, a sales person, who would cut corners and lie to customers simply to get the sale. He never did any follow-up work after the purchase order was obtained. He burned bridge after bridge in an attempt to pad his pockets. There was no sense of loyalty and once all bridges were burned he would find another company to sell for and repeat the process. Outside of his professional environment he treated his personal relationships much the same, dating multiple women at the same time, and even two becoming pregnant by him at the same time. He abandoned them too and moved. He jumped for money, period.

 

In recognizing these people as anti-role models, we can build a list of characteristics that we want to avoid. A positive role model can help you define who you want to be while an anti-role model can also help you define who you want to be. Sometimes it can be helpful to remember the old saying: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Anti-role models are easy to spot. True role models tend to be humble which makes them role models.

Big Data / Small Sales Team - February 17, 2018

The term Big Data is being used on a frequent basis in business today ranging from marketing teams analyzing product penetration to sales teams comparing and contrasting customer buying habits. The misnomer is that big data is for big organizations. It is not. Regardless of your company size, and for this post the size of your sales team, analyzing “big data” can be for everyone.

 

From the sales managers seat I am a big fan of big data. To me big data is like a bedtime story. Sometimes there is a happy ending and sometimes I wake up in cold sweats in the middle of the night. No matter what the information (story) is, you can use it to your advantage.

 

First let’s talk about gathering big data. We all have prospect lists, client lists, order histories, meeting histories, etc. This information is likely stored in our CRM, Outlook, ERP or some other internal system at the office. And, the beauty of this information, it can be exported for reporting purposes. Determine what you are seeking, such as buying cycles, or types of clients that have purchased product x, and then pull your reports.

 

Then begin the bedtime story. A happy bedtime story is one that showcases your successes in the form of positive trends. You can identify certain buying attributes of your prospects and clients. You can look at calendar or seasonal trends. You can determine that certain types of clients are better suited for certain types of sales people. Whatever the data tells you, you can positively manage your sales processes and teams based on it.

 

We also have the bedtime story that can be nightmarish. The data points downward. The data tells you that you’re losing market share. The data tells you that you’ve been managing the wrong way or that you have the wrong people selling for you. You wake up in cold sweats wondering if the data is wrong. But, what if the data is correct. What do you do?

 

Data, hard cold factual data, does not lie. The metrics in front of you are not trying to trick you. Numbers are numbers and facts are facts. You should learn to accept big data as a compass helping you point your way toward success. Report often. Analyze often. Use the information that is at your disposal. Don’t dismiss big data as something out of your reach, rather grab a hold of the information, digest it, and use it to your advantage.

Feelings of Inadequacy - February 10, 2018

Throughout a sales person’s career there may come a time or two where they may feel inadequate. I don’t mean junior level or inferior to a more seasoned sales person. I am referring to the feeling as though they do not belong at the table, in the sales call, or even worthy of calling on such a prospect. It happens. It is the “second guessing” of one’s capabilities. And, typically, it happens without notice.

 

I am in no way, shape, or form going to make light of someone that may suffer from a panic or anxiety attack. However, being overwrought by a feeling of inadequacy during the sales process can bring the best sales person to their knees. Where does this come from and why does it happen? More importantly, how do you get past it?

 

While I am not a psychologist, having been faced with these feelings a time or two in my own career, I can attest to just what went wrong and how I corrected the situation. Also, I should point out, this is a topic I’ve been asked to address for some time, but one that can be very sensitive.

 

For me and for those sales people close to me that have shared their stories, the feeling of inadequacy tends to rear its ugly head when we are feeling exceptionally well and on top of our game. As if nothing can go wrong, deals are closing left and right, and then out of nowhere you have one in front of you that shuts you down. You get this sense that either you are not the best fit for the sales role, your company cannot deliver, the clients expectations are beyond your capability to deliver, or simply the client is too good for you. It tends to come out of nowhere and makes you question your entire sales skill set.

 

At least for me, as I look back on these situations, it was a grounding effect. My ego was likely getting in the way of being clear-headed. And, what I found to be the common link was that many of the closed deals leading up to this moment were simply “layups”. They were good deals, but they were easy. My sales process became a bit robotic. I didn’t necessarily need to bring my best to the table in terms of proposal writing or even prospect communication and yet I was closing, closing, closing. Well, then comes the deal that shook me to my core. The deal that would require me to put in a lot of early mornings and late evenings. The deal that needed much more attention to detail, time spent with the prospect, and my absolute best. It was the deal that both thrilled me and scared me.

 

I began to question my capabilities and if we were the right fit to win such an opportunity. I began to feel inadequate in the face of the competition and in front of the prospect. Things prior were coming way too easy and now I had to truly earn my sale. I needed to step up, rise to the occasion, and do what I was trained to do – close the damn deal.

 

It was not an easy situation to mentally process. It took its toll on me physically by losing sleep and skipping meals. It took its toll on me mentally because I was questioning who I was and what I was doing. But, in the end, I did rise to the occasion. I put my best out there and I closed the deal. I swallowed my fear in losing the deal and with it all the feelings of being inadequate. I made myself believe I was the right fit for the right prospect. I needed to look myself in the mirror and admit I took advantage of the low hanging fruit leading up to this deal, but regardless, I was worthy of sitting at the table.

Become a "Conversation Generalist" - February 3, 2018

We’ve all been there, trying to hold a conversation with a complete stranger, only to be pushed right out of our comfort zone. It can happen at a social event, a business meeting, or sitting in the stands at your kids basketball game. A conversation begins innocently enough, but either by your own accord or the other person, it gets pushed into a corner where you or the other person become lost and can no longer be a part of the discussion.

 

Here's a recent example I went through: I was at my daughter’s basketball game and sat down next to another dad from her team. He’s a very pleasant person and is a surgeon by trade. We had about 10 minutes before game time and we so we began to chat. The typical “nice day”, “girls have been looking good out there” kind of stuff. And then, without giving it much thought, I asked how work was going. Without skipping a beat Larry jumped right into telling me all about a recent procedure that was way above my head. Unfortunately, Larry did not pick up on my queue’s and kept going right up until tipoff.

 

Larry is a brilliant surgeon, but in social settings, he is a bit awkward when it comes to being able to hold a general conversation. And, because of this, he loses people like he did me. He is not what I call a conversation generalist.

 

Sales people must learn to become conversation generalists. It is not a difficult skill set to learn, but it does require commitment and time. You, the sales person, must be willing to read. And I mean read, read, read. Think about breaking the ice when you first enter a sales call. In almost all cases you exchange pleasantries with the other person by entering into a brief conversation. But, what do you talk about?

 

Keeping up on the headlines, especially locally, may be a start. Another way is to prep yourself with a little background on the person you’re meeting with and reading up on something that may be of personal interest. For example, if the person you’re meeting with is a youth sports coach, find something relatable that you can discuss.

 

Over the course of my nearly twenty-five year career I’ve watched many a sales person lose the deal before it even started because they could not break the ice and hold a general conversation with the person across from them. They were either stopped in their tracks with fear of what to say or they jumped immediately into their pitch. Nothing has changed. Sales people still need to master the art of the general conversation. 

Interview the sales candidate without their cell phone - January 27, 2018

This is a short post this week. I want to share with the hiring managers out there a tactic one of my clients has implemented during the hiring process and one you may want to consider. While my client uses this tactic primarily when interviewing candidates for sales positions, you could certainly apply this approach to all of your interviews. It is quite simple and yet so telling. Here you go…

 

When the candidate arrives at your office, intentionally keep them waiting for a few minutes, and provide them a relaxing environment to wait. Take their coat and hang it up, get them water or coffee, and let them know they just need to wait a few minutes. The likelihood is the candidate will immediately reach for the cell phone. It has become second nature whenever we’re given a few minutes of “down time”.

 

When it is time to begin the interview, have your own cell phone in your hand (on silent) and walk the candidate to your conference room, office or wherever the meeting will take place. Have a table with a drawer, a file cabinet, or a desk in the room, anything where you can tuck your own cell phone away during the interview. Prior to sitting, announce, “oh by the way, we have a policy of no cellular distractions during meetings, so if you don’t mind I’d like for you to place your cell phone with mine in this drawer, that way we’re not interrupted until the end of our meeting”. Then put your own cell phone away and gesture for the candidate to do the same.

 

That’s it – end of story. Well, sort of.

 

Here’s what will happen. You will immediately gauge the comfort level of the candidate by removing one of the most addictive devices of all time You’ll require the candidate to communicate openly without distraction, making eye contact. No vibrating texts in their pocket. And, some candidates will be perfectly fine, comfortable, professional and a delight to interview. Others will lose their “security blanket” and be fidgety the entire time. They will be uncomfortable. They will be distracted wondering what is happening inside their digital world. They will become anxious.

 

Such a simple tactic can be oh so telling of how the candidate can handle themselves in real one-on-one situations. They either can or the can’t; and generally speaking there’s no in between.

 

Give it a try, I know I will.

Another Matthew Kelly Quote - January 20, 2018

Over the past two weeks I have written about, generally speaking, being a good person not just a good sales person. There are many good people that are lousy sales reps. There are also great sales people that are not-so-good human beings. I’ve always strived to be both, and truly believe one has everything to do with the other.

 

Referring back to my post about author Matthew Kelly and the philosophy of becoming the best-version-of-oneself, I feel the need to use my post this week as a follow-up to the past two by sharing my thoughts on another Kelly quote:

 

“Who you become is infinitely more important than what you do, or what you have.” 

 

I’ve come across this quote throughout many of the books and posts I’ve read by Mr. Kelly, and at first I simply glossed over it, never really giving much thought to the real meaning. However, over the past year, while I’ve worked diligently to enhance my own life physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, these words have been my silent mantra. Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with my typical sales advice or posts. Please allow me to explain.

 

Although I’ve read Mr. Kelly’s works off and on for several years, as you’ve recently read through my posts, it was not until mid-2017, when I was 45 years old, that I consciously chose to work on becoming a “better-version-of-myself” in hopes of someday being the “best-version-of-myself”. I believe Mr. Kelly’s words that I am sharing today are the key to my becoming the best-version-of-myself on both a personal and professional level. Here is how I’ve broken down this quote to have such a great impact on my life and it is my hope this short message will resonate with you as a person and as a sales person.

 

It took me a while to digest this message and it was only after a lot of quiet ponderance that I was able to dissect the meaning of the message. And, when I say I dissected the meaning of the message, I have done so as it relates specifically to me and not to anyone else. The meaning of this quote finally hit me when I studied it in reverse, as in what do I have, what do I do, and ultimately who am I.

 

What I have is a pretty good life and lifestyle. I have a great wife and wonderful children; a stable family. I have a very good career, solid company, and I’m surrounded by hard working professionals. I have more than enough material possessions to make myself and my family and friends happy. What I do is work as a sales person. I’ve coached youth sports. I volunteer personally and professionally from time-to-time. But, then I ask myself, "who am I?"

 

I am a loving husband, father and friend. I am a fair employer. I am a successful sales person. I am a business owner and entrepreneur. I am a coach. I am outdoors enthusiast. I am a faithful Catholic. I am all of these things and more, and yet I am continuing to seek ways to become the best-version-of-myself.

 

As I continue to dissect this quote from Matthew Kelly: “Who you become is infinitely more important than what you do, or what you have” I am reminded that it is not my career or possessions that define who I am rather those are byproducts of whom I am today and who I want to become. They are intertwined and by recognizing that it is vastly more important to be a good person, each day striving to be a better-version-of-myself, while on the journey of becoming the best-version-of-myself, it is my character that will be my personal compass. Staying true to myself in all that I do, as a husband, father, friend, boss, sales person, coach, volunteer, etc. will ultimately be what defines me and not just being known as a successful sales person who accumulated stuff because of my accomplishments.

Who Do You Hang With? - January 13, 2018

I woke up extra early this morning for a variety of reasons. One, I am anxious to participate in a competition today with my Labrador Retriever, a hunting-retrieving contest. Second, it is my forty-sixth birthday, and other than the number, I am feeling better than ever physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And, third, I read an article yesterday afternoon which contained a quote that I simply cannot stop thinking about.

 

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.” Warren Buffett

 

I’ve long admired people for who they are more so than what they are or what they have. And, I have written and spoken at length about surrounding oneself with success. I feel today’s post is very personal for many of the same reasons as to why I woke up early, and I would also like to share my opinion on this quote.

 

For years I have worked diligently toward a successful career as a sales person, manager, business executive, entrepreneur; and on the personal side a good husband, father, son and friend. I have abandoned old “so called” friends in favor of new friends. I have distanced myself from family members who are more about exploiting others to get ahead in life. And, I have exhausted myself more times than I can count in an attempt to rid my organization of bad clients while replacing those bad with good. All through this journey I have enjoyed myself more than I have had regrets.

 

Around May of last year I experienced an unexpected change of plans in my business when a longtime management team member left the organization rather unexpectedly and with little notice. I was also starting to feel more like a sixty-five year old instead of a forty-five year old. I was enjoying IPA’s matched with a juicy burger too many times per month and not enough fresh fruit and salads. And, I was doing a great job of convincing myself that I was getting a good amount of exercise in.

 

Then, for some reason I’ve yet to put an exact finger on, I stopped the nonsense, took my own advice, and heeded the words Mr. Buffett states in the quote above. I looked around at the people I was associating with, personally and professionally, and realized I was very much their equal (at least in many ways), but I was not feeling it. It dawned on me that I needed to be a healthier person. I needed to get back to basics in terms of sales. I needed to read for enjoyment again. I needed to be more active with my family. I realized I could be a better person and I needed to start working on it immediately.

 

I asked myself, “who do you hang with?” The answer was not bad, not in the least, but it shed light on where I wanted to go as a person both personally and professionally. Here’s a glimpse: I would come home in the evening from work, shoot some hoops with the kids, and have a few beers in the driveway with my neighbors. My neighbors, my beer buds, are good people. We don’t have too much in common in professional terms though. One change I made was to stop drinking the beer. That led to less nights with the neighbors but more time with my kids shooting hoops. And, while shooting more hoops I realized I should be exercising more, so I joined a CrossFit gym. Fast forward and I am spending more time (hanging with) other business professionals who are into health, wellness and exercise, CrossFit or other forms.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I have not abandoned my good friends or my beer buddies, rather I have made choices over the past several months more so about the amount of time I’m spending with people, while trying to expand my network of those whom I deem to be positive influences on my life and career choices. Take for example the fact that I do work as a freelance consultant in the area of sales, sales management and sales performance. There are those I work with who look to me as a positive influence and I am flattered. In return I look to surround myself (hang with) those that can give me good advice, help me explore new opportunities to advance my organization, and who do so “leading by example”. I look for those whose actions speak louder than their words.

 

I know that I’ve taken on this challenge at other times throughout my life, in high school, college and in my career, where I’ve needed to push ahead by putting some people behind me. I feel I am in a very good place today, and I believe I am hanging with those that I not only admire, but those that want to hang with me for equal reasons.