Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


If You Don’t Want To Be Here – Please Just Leave - May 30, 2015

Last week my wife and I were at a dinner party hosted by friend who has spent the past twenty-one years in human resource management. We were having a drink before dinner, swapping work stories, and so I took the opportunity to pick his brain on a subject I am currently facing. I asked, “How would you handle a conversation with an employee that doesn’t seem to want to be with your team anymore?” His answer was a bit surprising, maybe because I was expecting it to be rather politically correct, or more sensitive in nature. So, here’s his answer, and this post goes out to all of the sales managers who face this same situation.


Sit the employee down for a five minute conversation over a cup of coffee, look them square in the eyes, and ask them, “Do you enjoy working here?” Then, stop talking, no matter what.


What transpires next will be the determining factor for the rest of the conversation. If the employee pauses, looks as though they are pondering their answer, and then begin to speak – whatever they say is not entirely true. The real answer, at least 9 times out of 10, will be blurted out unexpectedly. It is human nature when faced with such a blunt question that the employee doesn’t even realize they are answering so quickly and honestly. Yes, of course I like working here, why would you even ask that question? (or) Most of the time, but there have been some things bothering me lately. (or) No, actually I haven’t been happy in some time.


Whatever the answer is, if it comes instantly when asked, be prepared as the sales manager to then deal with the fall out. Keep in mind that if the employee really is happy, you many have now caused them to wonder why you asked. But, if the employee says most of the time or no, then you must be diligent in your response – well then why are you still here? Why don’t you leave?


It may sound harsh, not politically correct, or too quick to judgement, but it will flesh out exactly what is going on with the employee. When employees, especially sales people, are unhappy in general terms of their employment, they become unproductive, but also have a tendency to bring others down around them. A good sales manager will recognize this behavior quickly and will resolve to remove this person before too much damage can be done.


As the old saying goes (and I was reminded of during my conversation) – hire slow, fire fast. And, in some cases, help an employee recognize when it may be time for them to make a change and simply leave.

Are Networking Events Still Worth Attending? - May 23, 2015

Although the question seems rather simple, I find it can be difficult to answer at times. Are networking events still worth attending? I am asked this question time and time again. And, at least for the past few years, here is my answer…It Depends.


Generally speaking, I have always been a fan of the networking event, but with careful consideration of the event itself. You see, many believe that any event that drawls people together, especially at a bar or restaurant, is considered a networking event. You are networking to meet people, right? Well yes, at least in part. But, all too often, this is simply a way for a sales person to socially interact on their company’s dime. The sales person is tricking themselves into believing this is time well spent and that their agenda of meeting new people is being upheld.

Ok, so you’ve met new people. Who are they? What role in their organization do they hold? Are they a decision maker, or an influencer at the very least, that can open a door for you? Or, are they a peer? That’s right, are they another sales person, from another company, trying to do that same as you?


All too often networking events end up being peer events where everyone hangs out, shakes hands, grabs a beer, and swaps stories. There is no real networking involved and so when this occurs my answer becomes, very quickly, no these types networking events are no longer worth attending. Go grab a beer on your own dime with your friends. So, when are they worth attending?


Using the term networking is somewhat loose in my answer, but a good networking event is one in which you have specifically planned ahead and targeted because you know you will have less peer pressure and more opportunity to meet a decision maker. How do you scout out these events you may ask yourself? The answer is rather simple, stay out of your own industry, and attend the events that are designed around your target prospects industry. For example, if your end goal is to meet CFO’s, well then, go to accounting and finance oriented events, such as a CFO of the year award sponsored by your local business publications. Or, if you target CIO/CTO level decision makers, attend larger, nationally sponsored events that cater to this audience, such as one sponsored by Microsoft, Oracle or Cisco.


The goal of networking is simple: put yourself in a place where you are guaranteed to meet at least one decision maker. In doing so you can always ask yourself whether this event or that event increases the odds that you walk out with a “real introduction” and if you cannot answer with confidence that it is likely you will succeed then the networking event is not for you.

Lessons Learned From Coaching Kids - May 16, 2015

It was late to bed last night and up early this morning. I’m doing a little work from my hotel room in Columbus, Ohio where later today I’ll be coaching my son and his teammates in the Ohio Middle School Lacrosse State Tournament. I’m excited for the boys to participate. They have worked hard since late February preparing for this weekend. It’s not to say they’ve taken the rest of the season lightly, and there are still a few weeks to go, but this weekend eyes from around Ohio will be on them. And, to a certain extent, on me too. My mind started to wander back to work, my sales team, and on to lessons I’ve learned over the years. You see, much can be taken from coaching experiences, as a youth sports coach, and as a sales manager.


Like sales, you plan ahead and work closely with each individual and the team as a whole, in an effort to be the most prepared in the marketplace. You study your competition, learn the in’s & outs of your own company and services (or products), and you practice. You practice your pitch; you practice what to say when overcoming objections; and, you practice how to best interact with your prospect to “get the job done” – closing the deal.


When coaching youth sports, much like sales, you work hard to prepare your team for the playing field. You study the competition and how your team will match up. You plan ahead by working with individuals and groups to make sure they understand how to face challenge. And, you guide by experience. Regardless of the age, patience is a virtue in youth coaching, just the same as it is a virtue in sales management.


Of course, not everyone may feel you are doing a good job, both in management and coaching. On a personal level I’ve been coaching lacrosse for a number of years. There has never been a season where a parent or player has not complained. They don’t like the amount of playing time their son is receiving. They feel their son should be on the A team and not the B team. Their son is a superstar now and will certainly play NCAA Division I…of course he’s only in 7th grade currently. Forget that fact that there are 42 other boys in the program. Forget the fact that planning for the season started 5 months before the first practice. Forget the fact that I am a volunteer and trying very hard to accommodate everyone. The reality is, it is impossible to make everyone happy all of the time, and the same is true in sales management.


No matter what the size of your sales team, whether you have 2 or 22 sales reps, you will not make everyone happy all of the time. You must remain true to the team and plan not to play favorites but work hard to treat everyone equally. You must accept that, like youth sports, you will have some sales people that are A players and some sales people that are B players, but that is life. Giving each sales person or player an equal opportunity to succeed is all that you can do and all that should be expected of you.


Sales management, like coaching, can be emotional. You want the best for your team, for all team members, and to avoid disappointment. Working toward this goal is a step in the right direction as you become a leader in your organization. But, accepting too the reality that not everyone will be happy all of the time, is also part of being a leader. Be open and available to your team at all times. Do not shut them out. Treat the team member in a mature manner and listen to their concerns. Keep in mind that they may still be a B player, you can help them be successful still, and avoid disappointment down the road.


There are many similarities to being a coach and a sales manager. The best advice I can offer you is this…try to always be supportive, try to ignore the negative commentary, and work hard to stay true to your principals. Give everyone an equal opportunity for success.

The Owner Finally Showed Up - May 9, 2015

Last week I was talking, over dinner, with a few friends. We are all in sales within the service / project industry, and while slightly different offerings, we tend to have similar tales to tell about client experiences. It must have been a full moon or something because we all had a recent similar story to share.

It is not uncommon for us to call upon companies that are small-to-midsized where the owner of the company is the president or CEO. And, as such, we are often engaged with this person during the initial sales process. You go through the routine of presenting your company, learning about their company, engaging in various conversations to see if the relationship would be a good fit, and then off & running we go. However, all too often, this is the last time we see or talk to the owner until the project is coming to or just came to a close. He or she put “their people” in charge. The director of marketing or information technology becomes the project lead with the supposed authority to make decision on behalf of their company. They become the voice of their company, including the owner, and so the projects continue. And, although everything appears to have gone smoothly, here it comes…the owner shows back up.

“This isn’t what I wanted!” “I expected this or that.” “Why did you choose to go in that direction, didn’t you understand I wanted to go in a different direction?”

Well, where were you? You gave your team members the authority to drive the project on your behalf. So, why are you now questioning or complaining? As a sales person, we are now on a slippery slope. We can become agitated and defensive. We can throw the clients team under the bus. We can throw our own company under the bus. Or, and here’s my approach, we can address the matter one-on-one with the owner in a professional but blunt way.

Mr. or Ms. Owner, please understand it has always been our goal to make your wishes a reality with the service or project we’ve provided. That is why we spent so much time working with your team to check and double-check along the way. Naturally, we expected your team to keep you in the loop, especially since you told us they were the people you wanted us to work with. I understand you may not feel as though you had much input after the initial sales process, but let’s also be frank, we did specifically as the contract had stated. And, you should be patient and allow your team the opportunity to share with you the project’s success.

Your firm needs to be compensated for the work it did. The owner’s team should be held accountable for their decisions. And, in the end, you may need to suggest that you work directly with the owner going forward. Whatever the outcome, if the owner finally shows up at the end and doesn’t like something, well then he or she needs to accept that it was their responsibility to be more active during the engagement, and they need to respect everyone else’s role.

Opinion: NDA's Should Seldom Be Signed - May 2, 2015

The NDA. The Non-Disclosure Agreement. A legal agreement that seems to be at its height of popularity. What does this have to do with sales you may be wondering? Everything. And, here is my opinion.

To put a few things about me into perspective so you’ll understand where my opinion comes from, let me first start by pointing out that my father was a corporate attorney specializing in contracts, and my roommate from college is managing partner of a very successful law firm. While I am not an attorney, I have a pretty good grasp on contract law. And, now that I’ve been in my own career for over twenty years, I can’t help but think “wow, when did sales become so enamored with legaleeze?”

Contracts are a way of life in business, especially in sales. A purchase order is a contract. There are service level agreements (SLA’s) which are contracts. There are employee contracts and non-competition agreements. Ok, Ok there are contracts. But, I’ve never seen anything quite so obnoxious as the constant use these days of the NDA. Certainly, they have their place too in business, but everyone seems to be carrying one with them everywhere they go, and no one wants to even have a general conversation without a signature. And, what make matters worse, they are blanket NDA’s with nothing specific being covered. In other words, they basically cover everything that “might” be said rather that what “will specifically” be said in a conversation.

Think about it for a moment. If, as a sales person, you are bound by a NDA for every (or even every other) conversation you might have with a prospective customer, then you will run out of topics to discuss rather quickly. In my opinion the NDA should not be a tool utilized for an initial conversation. So, how do you deal with the request (demand)?

First of all, you need to understand your own company policy with regards to the NDA. Does your legal counsel have a certain position the company takes on whether a NDA will or will not be executed. Second, you should have a standard response for the customer or prospect when asked. And, third and finally, do not waiver and sign one and not another. Your policies should be across the board.

The NDA has its place, but get through the initial conversation, and make sure you and your customer or prospect are interested in furthering the relationship. Have your attorney draft the NDA, not the customer or prospect, and make sure there is a place to be very, very specific on what is to be covered by the NDA. And, it must be limited in timeframe, none of this lifetime stuff, or even 2 years. The NDA should survive one year at most.

Hopefully you’ll not need to deal with the NDA, but if you do, I hope my opinion sheds a little light on this popular contract.