Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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To My Wife-Happy Anniversary - October 14, 2017

She knows I love her. I tell her often and try to show it even more often. I care deeply for my wife. She is the mother of my three great kids. She is my rock and my support at home. But, I’m not sure she knows just how much her support means to me during the work day.

 

As a career sales person I have had to make sacrifices along the way. I’ve missed a kids activity to attend an evening work function. I’ve brought work home from the office only to sit at the kitchen table after dinner trying to stay on top of email and contracts. I’ve handled conference calls from a hotel room during a family vacation. And all along my wife has been their supporting me, never criticizing my career choice.

 

We all know that sales is not easy. Having a network of support is an absolute must to becoming an ‘A’ level sales person. It can be a family member, friend, even co-worker, but must also be your spouse (or significant other). I was recently sharing the story of a sales person that worked for me who’s spouse was not at all supportive. It was a real shame because Brett had solid sales skills.

 

Brett spent about a year in a sales role under my management. He knew the business and he knew how to communicate. Brett did not lack capability, but he did lack personal support. Brett’s wife did not like his career choice of salesman. In fact, she never gave him a pat on the back or a “congrats” when he closed a deal. She was, however, very quick to criticize him openly for losing a deal. She had no problems questioning his abilities as a sales person. She told him, in no uncertain terms, that she felt he was not a good husband or father because he did not close every single deal he bid on. She never understood sales herself so she made him question his career.

 

My wife has been the opposite. She has been my biggest cheerleader and never a critic. She offers her ear when I need to vent. She leaves me alone when I need quiet time. She reminds me that I am a good father and husband. She supports me today, as she did yesterday and the day before that, and my choice of sales as a career.

 

Every sales person needs to have someone standing behind them. Thank you to my wife for 18 years of marriage, through good times and bad, ups and downs, and for always being my real support when others weren’t there.

Hire Fast / Fire Faster - October 7, 2017

My human resource friends have long used the phrase: hire slow, fire fast. In today’s business climate I tend to disagree with this approach. My post this week is based solely on opinion and personal experience.

 

When it comes to sales people, the real-deal ‘A’ level sales people, if I take my time and move slowly through the hiring process, I’m likely going to miss out on the best talent. Sales people, the ‘A’ level sales people, are always in demand. Most can call their shots, whether they are not actively seeking a new opportunity, or are hot on the job market, they are in demand. You know them when you meet them. They exude confidence and can back up the career story with proof. You want to hire them after the first interview. And, you know you’d much rather have them on your team than on the opposing team.

 

Hiring fast does not mean you’re jumping the gun. It doesn’t mean you “might be missing out” on someone else. It means you’re using your experience as a sales manager to make a judgement call about a candidate. You also do not need to short cut your interview process, but it does mean you may need to consolidate the calendar into a tighter window.

 

When you come across a candidate you feel strongly about, being expeditious in the interview process may also play favor in your hiring negotiations. Candidates don’t want to linger and wait. Even if they are safely employed elsewhere, your excitement about their candidacy may win them over, and they will want to reward you with a yes to your offer.

 

As such, being fast on the firing trigger must remain a key component to your management processes, as well. Nothing can hurt an organization more than allowing a poorly performing sales person stay too long. If their behavior becomes toxic, they must go. If you’ve tried to no avail to change their ways, they must go. Leaving someone in place too long can cause more damage because it tells others you are more willing to allow such behavior or poor performance rather than your willingness to address it for the betterment of all.

 

Hire fast and fire faster. In the end you will have the ‘A’ level team you’ve always wanted.

Stop Emailing - September 30, 2017

Okay, okay, you’ve heard it before…stop emailing. We live in a society where we are too quick to text someone versus calling them. I’ve been laughing at my son recently as an example. He met a new girl that he is very interested in. They’ve been communicating over social medial and texting a lot. But, finally, he had to call her. He even Facetime’s her. He’s found out what I’ve been preaching to him for some time, communication is much stronger when you actually talk to someone. You must hear their voice. You need to look someone in the eyes. Communication is better done live.

 

In business, as in our personal lives, there comes a time when email just won’t cut it. Too often people don’t proofread their emails before they hit send. Spellcheck is not entirely reliable. And so one’s message may not be entirely clear or convey the overarching meaning they want to deliver.

 

Believe it or not, while people are busy, they want to talk. They want to be heard. They want their message to come across clear without confusion. And, no amount of emailing can convey the same message as someone’s live voice. Stop emailing and pick up the telephone.

 

Long before email existed the telephone was a primary tool for a sales person. You could have a conversation, hear objections, answer questions, discuss concerns, and ultimately use your own voice to convince someone to buy. Email cannot replace your voice. Tonality and how you say something is as important as what you’re saying. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe email has its place, but so does the telephone.

 

Unfortunately, we also live in a society that has learned to hit delete very quickly. We get spam email. We get jokes from our neighbor. We get solicitations and newsletters. We hit delete, delete, delete. And, because of the nature of email today, we also have become conditioned to skim versus read. The true meaning of the message is not being digested as it should be. But, a telephone call can overcome these issues.

 

Try it before you dismiss it. Pick up the telephone today and call your clients. Talk to them. Ask them how they are doing both personally and professionally. Let them hear the sincerity in your voice. Make them believe in you and your company. Do what email cannot do…tell the story of why they should be doing business with you.

Repeating History: sometimes its a good thing - September 23, 2017

An old saying: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. History has a tendency to repeat itself and oftentimes this statement is associated with bad or poor performance. However, history can be repeated and can be a good thing.

 

Not that long ago I was told by a younger (in terms of career not necessarily age) sales manager that I was “old school” and that my way of selling should remain a part of the “history” of the company. He took a firm stance that his way, a more modern way, of selling was necessary for the growth of the company. History, as he firmly put it, should not repeat itself. And, as he was taking this position, my fellow executive management team members and I watched his performance slip along with his direct reports. It would seem that his firm stance about history not repeating itself was biting him square in the butt.

 

You see, I am not so foolish as to believe “my way” of selling is the “only way” of selling. I am open to change. I believe I’ve evolved and have grown in my own sales career quarter-by-quarter, year-over-year. But, at the same time, I am also not so foolish to ignore where my firm has come from, how we’ve grown as an organization. History, as I strongly believe, can and must repeat itself when and where it’s been most successful. In other words, I believe we can use our experiences from the past, from the times where we’ve achieved great levels of success, to make our selling decisions today. You should not abandon where you’ve come from, make dramatic changes to your selling approach, unless what you’ve been doing has not been working.

 

My now former sales manager has moved on. He believes that the grass will be greener on the other side (see last week’s post). He believes that he can move into a new organization and make changes for the sake of making changes and ignore where his new organization has come from. His naiveite is going to catch up to him and cost him another position if he continues to ignore history.

 

History tells stories. History, when analyzed carefully, can highlight the times where you were at your very best and at your worst. You can draw up a game plan based on this analysis. There is no reason to change simply for the sake of change. Instead you should use your history, or your company’s history, as a guideline for when and where to make the necessary changes. History does not have to repeat itself in negative terms. Embrace your history and allow it to repeat itself when success comes into play.

How's The Grass? part 2 of 2 - The Employee - September 16, 2017

As a follow-up to last weeks post about the client, this week I’m going to touch upon the employee who departs for greener pastures. But, first, a little personal story.

 

Close friends of the family moved their son from one school to another last year. He was entering seventh grade. They had no problems sharing their / his reasoning. He did not like his classmates at school one. He felt the teachers were against him at school one. He was having a hard time concentrating in class at school one. He had too many run-ins with teachers and the principal at school one for getting into scuffles with other kids or talking back to adults. Everyone around him at school one was to blame for every little problem he encountered. So, on to school two he went, and sure enough everything went off without a hitch in the beginning. He made a few new friends at school two that seemed a better fit. The principal and teachers were new and so he was not getting himself into trouble. His grades seemed to be better as well. And then the honeymoon period, so to speak, was over. He settled into school two and he began to get into a bit of trouble. It would seem the other kids were at fault for his talking back to teachers. The other kids were tempting him to start trouble on the playground. School two was harder than school one, so he said, which caused his grades to decline slightly. It was the other kid at school two that started the fight for which he received in-school suspension (the other kid did not). My, my, my, wasn’t the grass to be so much greener on the other side?

 

As it turns out, our friend’s son in this story was the issue all along, but because his older brother was a model student, his parents did not see that he was not bullied but rather the bully. Employees are like this boy at times. Everything goes well for a period of time, the honeymoon phase if you will, and then over time their performance slips. It is never their fault, rather everyone else’s around them. Instead of owning issues, they pass the buck. And so the story goes.

 

Being an employer can be great at times and very frustrating at other times. Employees are people too. They have relationships of their own and life “happenings” that impact them day-to-day. An employee is not a robot that is at your beckon call. However, with that said, the employee too has obligations to you as the employer. All too often, especially in sales, an employee leaves a company because they believe they are not being treated fairly, they are being undercompensated, or they are wooed away by another company with the promise of the grass being greener.

 

When an employee expresses displeasure or takes the ultimate step of resigning, conduct an exit interview, and blatantly ask why they feel the grass will be greener on the other side. It may shed some light on your own organization or it may shed some light on the thought process of the employee. The grass is certainly not always greener on the other side. Caution should arise when interviewing and managing employees, especially sales people, who use this phrase. It is typically a sign that they will jump for less-than-valid reasons and you’ll want to avoid these types of hires.

How's The Grass? part 1 of 2 - The Client - September 9, 2017

Nowadays, if you ask someone how the grass is, you may get an answer about the legalization of marijuana. But, for this post, let’s get back to the old saying that “the grass is not always greener on the other side”. I’ve experienced two scenarios recently that have provided me much food for thought in writing my blog. This week I am going to focus on the client that left because they believed the grass would be greener on the other side.

 

After a 9 year business relationship, as several previous posts have eluded to, I had a client leave me. There were several factors that weighed in their decision process, but admittedly, none more so than the addition of a new management team member. Regardless of our long-term relationship, she felt the need to come in and make her mark on the organization early on, and in doing so my firm was dismissed. Her approach was to make the owner and his right hand, those I had been working with weekly for years, question decisions I (and my firm) have made in our services to them. She had them, in very short timing, believing that it was time for a change and that said change should have been made a while ago, and that she had just the right firm to change over to.

 

Now, Cleveland being a small community, it didn’t take long for me to find out that she has several personal and extremely close relationships with management of this other firm. Pausing for a moment, let me point out that I am not at all bitter, rather I sincerely feel bad for my former client. They hired someone they believed would put their company’s interest before her own and in doing so sold them on the concept that the grass would be greener on the other side. Now, back to my story, she did not disclose to her new employer just how close she was to this other firm. Might this change have been in the works before she even got the job? Maybe.

 

The decision by my client was quick and abrupt. One day we were knee deep in work and the next we were dismissed. In fact, the owner didn’t even have the courtesy to call me and breakup, rather he sent me an email from the airport just prior to departing the country on business. It’s like breaking up with someone over text, kind of a chicken sh%t move. (Ok, maybe that was a little bitter.) Nevertheless, without much thought, my once active, long-term client was no longer my client.

 

It’s only been a few weeks since the change, but through the grapevine I am hearing that my client may be second-guessing their decision. Or, at the very least, wondering if they overreacted too quickly without much forethought. You see, as it turns out, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.

 

In the time since my client left, the new firm has shown their lack of technical capabilities, in that they’ve never had such a complex client before. They’ve never built nor managed an e-commerce platform that competes on an international stage. And, they are uncertain on how to best maintain the platform. Moving on, they are also making the same marketing related recommendations that we were making for the better part of one year, and showing the client no signs of any unique skill sets. So, why then did the client make such a change?

 

Relationships and human nature kicked in and emotion drove a decision that the client likely now regrets. Think of it in personal terms for a moment. We’ve all been in relationships with a significant other that for some reason did not work out. Whether it was days, weeks, months or years, we’ve had a regret or two, and wondered what if. Why did the relationship come to an end? Was it you? Was it me? Was it us together? And, was it abrupt without much thought only that the grass must be greener on the other side?

 

I’m not suggesting that this old saying is right or wrong in every situation. There are certainly times where a departure of the same old-same old is necessary and the grass truly is greener on the other side. As a career sales person, it is my job to be focused and see clearly the warning signs of when such a change may be coming. And, it is my job to counsel the client on how such a decision may impact the relationship going forward and their business.

 

Would I invite my client back? Maybe. But, the ground rules have changed, as they’ve shown their true colors. Only time will tell.

Context - September 2, 2017

We live in a rather political climate where oftentimes we hear people say, “you took my comments out of context”. Sales people have long been accused of taking clients comments out of context, or vice versa, the sales person says their comments were taken out of context. Why does this seem to happen frequently and how can it be avoided?

 

Sales meetings with clients can sometimes be tricky. Each side has an agenda and sometimes will share just enough to make their points. Sometimes too much information is shared. In either case, making sure both sides have a mutual understanding of what is expected as the outcome from the sales process is key, and it may require extra effort beyond a conversation.

 

In past posts I have shared ideas on documentation, especially in the form of email follow-up’s, which more times than not works to solidify an understanding. Summarizing the conversation, expectations, next steps, deliverables, etc. all can be covered in an email. It is imperative that a sales person make this a requirement in their daily sales process.

 

I was recently asked by a few newer sales people what to do when this approach may not be enough. There are times when the conversations with a client are on the extreme side when it comes to details, especially when you are selling an intangible service, and not a manufactured product. A comment can quickly be taken out of context which may result in misquoting the project/service or worse a loss of revenue.

 

In such cases where conversations can be lengthy, very detailed, and require multiple steps to layout the “game plan”, take others on the sales call with you, and also ask the client to bring others into the conversations. Note taking is valuable throughout this process, summarizing the notes afterward an absolute must, and open communication with the client a necessity. When you have multiple people involved from both sides of the table, summarizing eliminates the possibility of taking something out of context. You enable many, instead of one, an opportunity for review, Q&A, and feedback prior to the engagement.

 

Remember, asking others for help in the sales process should not be viewed as a waste of their time, rather a time savings for when the engagement begins post sale.

Collaborative Selling - August 26, 2017

There are a variety of ways to sell a product or service and you’ve probably been taught more than one. For nearly twenty years I have been focused on relationship selling and consultative selling. A few years ago I found that blending the two and engaging the client more than not in the sales process leads to a different approach with higher levels of success: collaborative selling.

 

Collaborative selling is quite similar to relationship and consultative selling. The idea that the sales person converses with and doesn’t necessarily talk to the prospect reigns supreme in all of the approaches. When using relationship selling techniques, the core concept is to give the prospect a personal feeling for what it will be like to do business together. When using consultative selling, you are building a trusted relationship while serving as an expert advisor because in the instances you do know more than the prospect. Collaborative selling takes the key components of both approaches and brings the prospective client into the mix of the selling process. That’s right – they are helping you sell themselves.

 

Especially in professional services, and in most cases, the prospective client does know more about their own company, its history, and their clientele than you do. While they may need your help to overcome a problem or to expand their business, you need them too to help navigate through the knowledge they and others in the organization possess. So, if you need them to be a part of the engagement, why not have them be a part of the sales process.

 

My personal success with this approach is based upon the idea that I want long-term relationships with my clients. I don’t want one project or engagement, rather I want a client that will retain my firm for years of services. Knowing this is my primary goal brings me closer to the client throughout the sales process. I talk with them and not to them. I ask more and more questions. I ask for their help. I want them to share their knowledge and experiences. And, along the way, I will chime in with my expertise to say back, “I am listening and I can help”.

 

Collaborative selling takes a little longer and requires a little more patience than other approaches. You are not just building a relationship to close the deal, you are developing the foundation of a relationship that must work together for a longer period of time, a trusted relationship, that will achieve results. You are showing the prospect that you are their consultant with experience while at the same time letting them know they too are a valuable part of the engagement, and success is only achieved collaboratively.

 

And, finally, the prospective client should have a hand in outlining the proposal. Notice I did not say write the proposal, rather outline the proposal. In most cases of collaborative selling I will work through a series of summaries with the prospect in advance of the formal proposal, including pricing, so they have a say in the direction of the initial engagement, the timeframes, and ultimately what they can and/or are comfortable spending. Keeping in mind the goal is to work with the client long-term, I am generally more open to working with the client on their initial budget, knowing that I will retain them for a longer billing period of time.

Job Shadow - August 19, 2017

I participated in my first job shadow when I was in eighth grade. For a class assignment, I shadowed my father, a corporate attorney, for two days. My assignment was to observe and document what his day consisted of, such as meetings, luncheons, etc., and not so much any specific context of a particular meeting. I shadowed others in high school and college, both for class assignments, and for personal experience. And, now that I’m twenty-five years plus in my career, I’ve been shadowed a few times too.

 

Job shadowing can be fun for both the student and the employee. You get to show off a little bit, sharing stories, and in many ways trying to convince someone that your chosen profession is something they should consider for themselves. There is also another form of job shadowing, one that can take place between two employees, that can be enlightening and quite valuable to organizational performance.

 

Take the queue from the traditional job shadow, a sales person can and should spend a day or two shadowing their sales manager, but also the president of the company. When a sales person has an opportunity to watch and learn what takes place within their own organization, beyond their smaller perspective or daily grind, it enlightens them as to why their own role and decision making is so important. Sales people, by the nature of their chosen career path, enjoy the engagement of others. Conversation is a key to a sales person’s skill set. What better way to learn more about their own company and potential career advancement opportunities than to shadow those ahead of them. Conversing with these leaders while watching intently on what they do every day to drive company success can be more enlightening, and ultimately helpful, to a sales person than any other form of training.

 

Another approach to the job shadow is to do so during an interview process. How often do you bring in prospective sales candidates for a half or full day and allow them to shadow you? Not only will the candidate get firsthand experience on a “day in the life of”, you too will get firsthand experience of the candidate. You’ll have an opportunity to witness how this person interacts with others in the organization for whom they will be required to work with should you hire them. You can gauge their level of interest in what you do and how you do it based upon the type and volume of questions they ask. You’ll also glean some insight into their personality, more so than in an interview, especially since you will be spending so much time with them going forward. Will they be a cultural fit for the organization?

 

Consider the reasons you’ve either participated in or hosted a job shadow in the past. Now, consider what value this approach will have for your business today, and for your business in the future.

Recharge Your Sales: Work Remote For One Week - August 12, 2017

No matter how long you’ve been in sales, every so often you need to recharge your sales approach, otherwise burnout may set in. I’ve long been a believer that everyone should take time off, go on a vacation or stay-cation, and simply unplug to recharge their personal batteries. Sales people oftentimes get the bad rap for having flexible schedules, client entertainment, etc. The truth is though, sales people rarely ever turn off. Heck, I once sat on a beach in Florida, struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me over some frozen drinks, and a month later signed a contract for my firm to provide marketing services to his company.

 

Sales people, like anyone else in the company, do not have an endless supply of vacation days. Between driving all over the place to meet with clients, juggle personal schedules with networking events, and oh yeah, making dozens of phone calls every day, a sales person’s business life can become hectic. Taking a break without actually taking a break may be just what is needed for a quick battery recharge.

 

Every so often I will plan an entire week of work from home. When planning ahead I make sure my wife and children have their regularly scheduled routines in place so that any time spent in the house is for me and the dog. My kitchen table becomes my office. Calls to the office forward to my cell. I schedule one or two client meetings, maybe a client breakfast or lunch, but otherwise leave the calendar somewhat open. And for what?

 

I’ve found the alone time, except for the dog, therapeutic. I am more relaxed and when I am more relaxed I tend to feel less stress and tension. I plan ahead for the next few months and documents my plans. I read, write, rewrite, and send hundreds of emails in one week that I’ve been trying to do for over a month or two. I make more phone calls in two days than I can typically make from the office in one week. Unless I am seeing a client, I wear shorts and t-shirt, I take time to go for a walk with the dog, I go out of my way to make myself an awesome (healthy) lunch, and I set time aside to reflect on the past few months and what is ahead.

 

What I don’t do is take this time for granted. I do not waste this time. I do not watch television or surf the internet. I take business as serious as if I were in the office, but I do it from my kitchen table. I still go to bed and wake up at the same times. But, I am not worried about traffic. I recharge while getting work done.

 

This approach to managing myself and my sales teams requires trust. I must trust that work will get done. I must trust the person is mature enough to handle this autonomy. I must trust that when the person returns to the office that we move forward without having skipped a beat.