Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Don't Be Risk Adverse - July 25, 2015

Being a father and a youth sports coach I often watch over kids taking risks. They may seem small to me at the time, like my daughter going off the high dive at the pool for the first time. It could be asking a player to try a new position that he’s not entirely comfortable in. Or, it could be asking a child to trust you when you tell them no, because you know from experience what a certain outcome might be to their request.


In business, leaders are expected to take risks, and to be a good sales manager, you must not be risk adverse. You cannot afford to always play it safe. This may be taking a risk and promoting someone into a higher-level sales role, knowing they may not entirely be ready yet, but also having a sense that this person will rise to the challenge and succeed.


Risk in sales is an everyday occurrence. It may be cold calling the “whale prospect”, you know, the one that would put you and your company on a different level. If you don’t take the risk and call, you’ll never know if they might be interested. And, so it goes in business, risk must be accepted and embraced and managed very carefully.


What happens then when members of the management team do become risk adverse? What do you do, as a leader in your organization, when your peers begin to worry and ask more of the “what if we do X and it backfires” versus “what happens if we don’t do X”? In other words, what happens to your company when those entrusted with leadership positions no longer trust in you, your employees, or even themselves, to take a risk in order to grow the business.


Speaking specifically to the sales managers reading this post, you cannot afford to become risk adverse and be asked to still grow your company (market share, revenue, etc.). It is simply not possible to do the same old, same old and expect different or better results. Taking risks, even small risks, will help you and your sales team stay competitive and ultimately grow.


I am not suggesting that you blindly throw caution to the wind and take on so many risky propositions that you go backward. ‘A’ level sales managers and sales representatives must learn how to control their risk-reward balance. Maintaining balance between what is tried & true, knowing what will create an almost guaranteed sale, generating revenue with a solid profit margin, with taking a risk on the bigger client, the new market segment, or the new hire takes time and patience.


Do not be afraid to take risks. It is the risks in your life, personally and professionally, that more often pay the biggest dividends. 

Do not try this at home, we are trained professionals - July 18, 2015

Okay, the title might seem like a silly play on words, but I hope this message will be heard by the sales managers out there. I had dinner this past week with a personal client that I counsel on sales management topics. The CEO asked me to meet with her and her two sales managers. They recently, as of January, hired a few very junior-level sales reps, and these new team members have had a few recent struggles in the lead generation and prospecting area. I was asked to help understand the possibilities of why this was occurring and what could be done to change course.


As the conversation progressed, it did not take long for me to realize that the two sales managers have stopped managing the juniors, and have left them to “watch & learn” from the more senior folks. Instead of teaching and mentoring, they put the juniors in the position of shadowing, and told them to simply emulate what they see and hear from the senior sales reps.


And so, as I expected, the junior-level reps were watching people 10, 20 and 30 years their senior making cold calls, talking with long-time clients on the telephone, and engaging in sales meetings with relative ease. The problem is, these seniors have experience. They’ve been there and done that – long before these juniors were in school. They are the trained professionals, but no one told the juniors not to do this at home. In other words, the juniors were asked to emulate their seniors, but they themselves were not senior (ie experienced or trained).


We spent the remainder of our evening talking about the best way to right track the course they were currently on. And, it wasn’t that hard to do. The first part of the plan was to immediately pull the juniors back from shadowing. Put them in a classroom (conference room) and use this as an exploratory opportunity. Talk with the juniors about what they’ve seen, heard and learned. What are the positive elements? What are the negatives? What has worked for them and what has not?


The next step is to put in place a “back to basics” training plan. Teach from the ground up how to prospect and develop a qualified lead generation plan. Work through the telephone calling and emailing approach that is both personal and professional. Teach and make sure these young sales talents understand that they must not only act mature but truly be mature in order to match wits with the prospect.


The reality is this: you are not me and I am not you. We may learn from the same teacher, but our approaches to sales may be slightly different, and they should be. It is important that each person showcase their talent and personality in the sales process without losing focus on their company’s game plan and strategy. It is perfectly acceptable, and in fact expected, that young sales people shadow their seniors. But, in theirs and your best interest, don’t ever ask them to emulate someone else. We are trained professionals – do not try this at home.

A History Lesson - July 11, 2015

I awoke this morning in Gettysburg, PA. I’m here with my family for a lacrosse tournament that my son will be participating in and I can’t stop thinking about the historical ground for which we will walk. The tournament is taking place on the athletic fields of Gettysburg College which butt-up against the Gettysburg Battle Fields. In fact, the tour busses come within a few feet of the end lines of the lacrosse fields with monuments so close that the boys can read the inscriptions from the sidelines.


As we were arriving yesterday afternoon, driving right through the center of town, my children were bombarding my wife and I with questions. We very quickly needed to get our history caps back on and remember all that we learned in high school and college. It’s been a long time since I last visited Gettysburg, but it didn’t take long for me to begin to remember its significance, the great loss of lives on the ground around me, and the sacrifices that were made many, many years ago.


I’ve been sitting in the hotel lobby quietly thinking of my topic for this post but my mind keeps wandering to the history around me. And it hit me…history. You see, all too often in my own blogging, as well as all of the writings in the market about sales, we focus on the here & now. We focus on what we need to do today, learn today, to prepare for tomorrow. Very rarely do we go back in time and think historically.


I am sitting in one of the most historic places in our country and it has me now thinking backward in time. What was it like during the Civil War? How far have we really come? And then my mind continues to move from one place in time in my own life to another. Quickly I became entranced by my own history, living in Maryland, North Carolina, Florida and eventually moving to Ohio. I began to think about how I’ve spent the past 20+ years and then I began to think about my career and how it has developed over time.


It didn’t take long for me to realize the history, my (your) own history, can help me (you) prepare a path for my (your) future. Examining the previous paths taken, decisions made, deals won or lost, will certainly be a benefit in planning for the future. Sometimes it’s good when history repeats itself. How did I win that client? Can I repeat the process? And, other times, it is best to let a past situation stay in the past…let it stay history.


The most important reminder, as I wrap this post up and get ready to head to the lacrosse fields is this, history is taught in grade school, high school, college and beyond for a reason. In order for an individual or a society to grow, one must first learn where they’ve come from. Your sales career should be no different. Learn from your past, plan for your future based on this historical knowledge, and grow.

Referrals: Better when unsolicited! - July 4, 2015

I have read my fair share of sales books over the years. I have attended countless numbers of seminars. I have been a part of several “more formal” sales classes. And, one consistent theme is the referral ask.


This can be a very tough topic for many sales reps and managers. It seems everyone has a different approach, but all based on the same trained theme, you must ask for referrals. Why is this? How did this approach of YOU asking for the referral become the norm? Is this ultimately the best way to obtain a referral lead?


About 16 or 17 years ago I was introduced to a new concept for referrals. Well, there really wasn’t anything new about it, except no one was really practicing this approach. It is so simple that everyone should be doing it, yet no one was (or still is) on a regular basis.


Here it is: Don’t ask for a referral…rather do your best work – make a client your biggest fan – and the referrals will come to you unsolicited!!!


Taking on this approach was not easy. I had to break myself of the habit of asking my clients and colleagues for people they know or “who may know who for an introduction”. It can be a little scary even, not asking for referrals and waiting & hoping you get them coming to you. But, with good work comes happy clients. With happy clients come referrals.


There is a small amount of training that comes into the mix with this approach. Mostly, it begins in the initial sales process, when you make mention that you do not ask for referrals, but rather you hope your work will speak volumes and you, Mr. or Ms. Client, will be so happy that you’ll share my information with your own clients and colleagues.


Staying in regular contact with your clients after the sale is complete is the next part in obtaining unsolicited referrals. Make sure you are not overbearing in your approach, but consistent enough that you will stay top of mind. Have a schedule of when and why you will contact your clients; and, mix it up with a combination of email, hand-written notes sent in the mail, telephone calls, and face-to-face conversations. Staying top of mind will increase the likelihood of your client mentioning you and your company in other business conversations.


Lastly, entertain your clients in small group engagements, and always offer for your client to bring a guest. It may be a round-table style educational luncheon covering a new industry topic. Or, instead of playing 18 holes of golf over the span of 6 hours and then hoping for conversations to take place over lunch, try playing indoor golf over the span of 3 hours where your entire group of attendees are together in the same room. This is a great way to spend intimate time with your clients and guests on a rainy or cold day. It’s something different, yet familiar enough that enjoyment will be had by all, and the conversations will lead to referral business.


Asking for a referral can be easy. Obtaining an unsolicited referral might be a little more difficult and take a slightly longer period of time. But, which one do you believe will net better results?