Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Confidentiality & Non-Compete Agreements - Be Very Careful Of Your Actions

I was planning on a different topic this week, but I received a telephone call yesterday afternoon from an old colleague, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. He was presented with a new opportunity. He is being recruited and is an attractive candidate. But, he is faced with a tough situation. The potential new employer wants to talk in very, very specific detail about some of his recent experiences. In order to best answer the questions, he may violate his current employment agreement.


You see, he’s a top-notch sales professional, well respected in his industry, and his industry is small. While this new opportunity is slightly different, and wouldn’t necessarily be in direct competition, his current employer may feel differently. Further, as I just mentioned, he is being asked to share specific examples of his selling cycle, process and problems that he has directly solved for his clients. He called for my advice; he wants to get my take on how I would handle it. So here’s what I told him.


Watch your back my friend, because you never know who knows who, and you certainly don’t know what conversations may take place without your knowledge. The geographic market you are in is a tightknit business community and you cannot risk divulging information that may come back to bite you. It is best to be upfront with this prospective employer and ask them to put you into scenario-based interviews or role play. But, cut them off before they can continue to ask, and let them know you are bound by a confidentiality agreement, as well as a non-compete, and make sure they want to continue. If they do, they will understand, and they will put assurances in place that you will not be violating your existing agreement.


Pretty straight forward stuff, huh. So, why then can I not stop thinking about this situation? Well, because although it seems so obvious to take the ethical high road, such proper behavior seems to elude so many faced with this same situation. Therefore, here are a few cautionary points to consider if you are ever faced with the same concerns.


First of all, did you sign any type of binding agreement with your current or past employer? Does is restrict what you can or cannot say? Do you have a copy of the agreement? Are you aware of the ramifications of violating any portion of the agreement? These are question you should ask each and every time you are faced with a possible opportunity to change employers. Most companies will rely on you, the prospective employee, to disclose such information. If you do not, you may be fully responsible for your actions, and if you violate an agreement you may well find yourself in court and without a job.


Second, why would you take such a risk? Ethical behavior is in question here. If you do not take the high road and disclose your agreements to a prospective employer, they may wonder if you are hiding something or if you can be trusted. Be upfront with them and you’ll have a high percentage chance they’ll understand. You will gain their respect and they will find an alternative method for interviewing you.


Third, do not volunteer any information that may come close to the line or cross the line, it simply is not worth the risk. Again, your current employer trusts you, and the prospective employer needs to gain trust in you. You must avoid sharing details of a recent sale, a successful project, or any details of your customers.


Finally, have copies of your agreements handy. Make sure you can share the information in the agreements, but assuming you can, leave a copy with the prospective employer. Let them know you want to interview, that you are serious, and providing such access to your binding agreements will say this to them. 

Good Cop Bad Cop - February 21, 2015

C’mon you’ve seen this on the crime drama, in the movies, or even between lawyers in contract negotiations. It’s called the Good Cop Bad Cop scenario. One person (the good cop) is friendly, pleasant and befriends the subject while the other person (the bad cop) plays hardball, makes threats, tries to intimidate, all in an effort to win something (a result, a verdict, and admission). And then there are times where one person has to play both roles. So, you may be wondering what this has to do with sales.


In many transactions the sales representative is the good cop working with the client to achieve a specific outcome. The sales manager tends to be the bad cop and must stand firm with payment terms, contract restrictions, availability of product quantity, or deadline for service delivery. These are roles played over and over every day of the week in sales. There are two scenarios I’d like to share in this week’s post.


The first is the sales person as the good cop and the sales manager as the bad cop. For those that are the sales person – remember a few rules of engaging in this approach with a client. You must first earn their trust. You must have a commitment from them that they want to do business with you. They are ready to buy. They have the pen in hand and are ready to sign the contract. It is only when this is the state of the sales process that you are ready to put your arm around their shoulder and let them know that there is one final part of the sales process. Enter the sales manager. As a sales manager – you cannot be a jerk. You can’t come into the meeting with a raised voice or bad attitude. You can be friendly but firm. Your goal is to have the prospective client accept a term or element to the business dealing that they may not want. Here is an example: your standard payment terms are Net21 and the client wants Net60. You don’t need to throw them out of the office if they cannot agree with Net21. However, you can negotiate and compromise on Net30 or Net45. But, you must be firm that these terms, once agreed upon, must be adhered to and the client must make payment without delay.


Now as for the second scenario – here’s one for when the sales person has to play both good cop and bad cop. Take the above payment term example. Your sales manager came in and finalized Net30. Your company has been working on an eight month engagement and you’re into month four. So far the client has been delinquent on the past three invoices. The project manager has finally put the project on hold. While still maintaining the friendliness of the good cop, you must now take on the role of the bad cop, and you must explain to your client that there is an issue. Be firm. Be professional. But, don’t be a pushover. Try this – Mr. Client, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your project has been suspended. The past three invoices have been delinquent and the most recent is now outstanding. You know you’ve got me in a tight spot over here. My sales manager went against company policy and extended terms to you beyond our norm, and now he has egg on his face. I’m in the hot seat and you need to help me correct this situation.


Clients want to do business with sales people that have a backbone. Be professionally courteous, but make sure you hold your ground too. You can be the good cop, but to be an effective sales person, to be the ‘A’ level sales person, you must also be comfortable being the bad cop.

A Piece Of Rope - February 14, 2015

When I began my career after college graduation, I knew that my world of learning was not over, and here I am twenty-plus years later and I’m still learning. I am also now teaching. I find myself every day sharing advice and guidance on sales tactics and sales management that I’ve learned over years of trial & error, and from those that have gone before me.


I was recently leading a group discussion with a few relatively new employees and I used the story of A Piece Of Rope that I was taught in the first few weeks of my career. So, this week I thought I would share it, because it has as much meaning today as it did in 1994.


I’ve written and ranted about that nasty word entitlement in previous blog postings. As a business owner, as an executive, as a sales manager – I do not owe an employee anything. I’ve provided a welcoming place to come to work. I offer excellent benefits. I provide a career path for each person to grow and expand their own goals and plans. This is not something I owe the employee, but rather how I run a business. Entitlement, nasty nasty entitlement, comes when the employees feel that benefits are a right not a privilege. Entitlement is when the employee feels they absolutely must have the latest and greatest laptop because it will make them a better sales person. Entitlement too is when an employee believes they are more valuable to your company than they actually are and that we, the employer, should kiss the ground they walk upon. Well, that’s just not how the real world works.


And so A Piece Of Rope. A good employer, and speaking directly to the area of sales and sales management, should provide the necessary tools for an employee to be successful. A safe and welcoming place to work. Up-to-date training on sales techniques, on the company’s products or services, and on the competition provides an edge. Fair compensation – you know – an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. In other words, you have provided each person with a piece of rope.


The successful sales person, the A level sales person, does not see this piece of rope as anything but a means to make a ladder and climb. The rope is all of the elements or tools provided by you, the employer or the sales manager, to make this individual person successful. They listen and apply the lessons from training in the real world. They recognize that when successful, their employee review or evaluation will reflect their success, and their compensation plan will reflect the success too. That when all of the tools provided to them are used to their fullest potential, the sales person (or any employee) climbs that ladder of success.


And so A Piece Of Rope can also kill a person’s career. Those same tools, lessons, benefits, etc. when ignored, looked down upon, or criticized, can become a noose for which the career is hung out. All too often, especially in the area of sales, individuals with a sense of entitlement overlook all of the positives available to them; they overlook the opportunity to make a ladder and climb toward great success. Rather, they complain that the training is not enough, or this company or that company offer a greater incentive to sell, and they thumb their nose at their own employer. They, without sometimes realizing it, hang their careers.


A Piece Of Rope – make a ladder and watch your career climb; or, make a noose and hang your career. The tools are all out in front of you, but you must make the ultimate choice.

When is it time to stop being nice? - February 7, 2015

This week I am taking a step away from my normal routine to answer a question from a colleague:


Dear Kevin,


Thank you for letting me pick your brain on the phone the other day. I appreciate the advice you shared about a contract I’m trying to negotiate. But now I’ve got an entirely different question that I’m hoping you can help me with. You see, I have a client that my firm’s been working with for about 4 years now, and he has progressively gotten worse to deal with. He feels he’s the center of the universe and treats me and my employees like nothing more than his servants. We recently completed a fairly large project for him and not once has he said thank you. The project experienced a few delays, all of which were on him, and he never acknowledged his hand in the delays. He is not enjoyable to work with and my employees feel his disrespect is cause for us to part ways. I’ve tried to maintain my composure but even I have lost my faith that this will be a salvageable relationship. When is it time to stop being nice and just tell him like it is? That he’s rude, disrespectful, ungrateful, and we don’t want to work with him anymore. Your thoughts and ideas would be appreciated.





Well Ken, the short answer is it is never okay to stop being nice, but there may come a time when you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your client. I am not a fan of email or text messaging when confronted with these situations for two reasons. One, such correspondence does not allow for true feelings to be heard, and the recipient of the note may not grasp the seriousness of how you feel the situation is at the moment. And two, it is the cowards way out, which I know you are not a coward Ken.


I myself have heard people say “that’s just how I am” or “that’s just me” when confronted with poor manners or poor business behavior. That is simply who they choose to be. And so, if they choose to be a rude and disrespectful individual, then you need to consciously choose to tell them they are being rude and disrespectful, and you need to carefully explain why you’re sharing this information with them. My guess is that human nature will kick in and they will not be happy at all. So, here is my advice and answer to your question, but please make sure you give this a lot of consideration before you act upon it.


You do not need to lower yourself to their way of behaving and you certainly do not need to be baited into an argument. You must keep your composure and treat this person with respect. You may share your displeasure in how you and your employees have been treated, but try something like this: “You know James, we’ve dealt with a great number of clients and projects over the years, and sometimes we run into situations that don’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I know you feel this project didn’t go as planned, but it is a shame that you feel we are entirely at fault.”


It is your right to continue and share with James that your employees have always given him 100% of their effort in the most professional manner even when he was venting or treating them with disrespect. He should know that his poor communication skills are both a reflection on him and his company. And finally, you must state for the record, that you have a responsibility to attract and retain clients that are healthy for your firm now and in the future. You are now questioning if a relationship with him and his company offer such a healthy opportunity.


The likelihood is that you will be treated with continued disrespect and that James will not be pleased with your “questioning of his behavior”. But it is your right and your duty to protect your most valuable asset, your employees. They need to know that you have their backs and you respect them even when the client does not. Your client may hang up on you, he may fire you right on the spot, or he may simply have something sarcastic to say.


Remember this, you must remain professional, and be nice. You must take the high road. Yes you must let the client know what has transpired and that you simply may not be the right fit for him anymore. But you must always remain true to yourself and your employees. There are plenty of prospective clients out there that want to work with you and who will show you the respect you deserve. Don’t let this one poor client bring you down.