Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Email - January 30, 2016

Did I really send that Email to my new prospective client? Did I? Did I really send that generic, salesy, full-of-corporate-jargon Email? Please, oh no, please tell me I didn’t do it. Damn, I did. I really sent that full-of-crap, salesy, full-of-corporate-jargon Email. What was I thinking? What in the bloody hell was I thinking?


Clearly I wasn’t thinking. I lost my way momentarily. I was in a haze, a terrible corporate-salesy haze. I did something I’m not proud of – I sent an Email to a client that made me sound like “that guy”. You know the “guy” I’m talking about. The one that throws around lots of sales-speak trying to keep up with or impress the other “that guy” you met with. Wow, what was I thinking?


Now here’s the thing, and it’s rather funny, I got a very favorable reply leading me to believe I am going to be awarded a new contract. So, what is wrong with that? What could be so bad that I’m beating myself up about an Email? Simply put, it didn’t sound like me, doesn’t reflect my style of communication, and it made me sound like a pompous used car salesman trying to impress someone.


It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I catch myself and beat myself up about it. Being yourself, even in an Email, is important to remember when choosing sales as a career. ‘A’ level sales people are known for excellent communication, but the excellent communication is an extension of “who they are”. It is about their sales style and their personality.


Way back when, I had a college professor that taught professional writing for daily use in business. This was pre-Email, pre-Internet days. But, I’ll never forget her favorite saying, “write like you speak”. She wasn’t talking about contracts, proposals, or letters-of-intent, but rather letter writing on a more personal-professional manner. The introductory letter. The thank you letter. Nowadays the Email. “Write like you speak”.


I beat myself up pretty good about this recent brainfart of an Email. It wasn’t me. It didn’t sound like me. It was a momentary lapse of moderate (not even good) writing. I am a firm believer that my communication skills, your communications skills, are the keys to a sales person’s success. Don’t be “that guy”. Write it like you say it.

Dysfunctional Inside Sales - January 23, 2016

It isn’t very often that I cover the topic of inside sales. Although I am experienced in managing inside sales teams, I tend to get more questions about the outside sales process. But, I recently had an opportunity to meet with a company that is built around the inside sales team. Outside reps are simply in place as client relationship managers, whereas the inside sales team handle 80% of the quoting and order processing.


So, the question posed to me was, “what do you do when your inside sales team is so dysfunctional that we are losing at least 5 deals per month?”


My immediate reaction was to clean house and start fresh. Unfortunately, this was just a simple reaction, certainly not based in any reality. The reality of the situation is that the inside sales team simply has too much knowledge about their products and processes, and when I learned the whole story behind the dysfunction, my recommendations for improvement became much more clear.


Setting the stage, without a doubt, the inside sales team are the lifeblood of the business. It has been this way for over 25 years. Local management understands this situation, but the parent company (executives) either are not aware of the issues or they don’t care to understand what is going on. It wasn’t always dysfunctional, rather there were times when the company was the leader in their market. They could manage client expectations, turn quotes around same day/next day, and closed 70%plus of the deals quoted. Customer service, an extension of the inside sales process, was considered premier, they set the industry standard.


The company was acquired about 10 years ago. Technology was on the brink of changing how business was being done. The Internet was driving the quoting process. Email was overtaking the telephone. Geographic markets began to expand because of search engines. Outside sales reps found themselves traveling more and more. Request for quotes almost doubled in approximately 2 years. The world around this business was changing dramatically, at a running/sprinting pace, while this business was walking with concrete shoes.


Fast forward now 10 years. The internal IT systems have not changed. New systems have been attempted to be introduced, but without much user buy-in or success. Outside reps are in many ways disconnected from the internal corporate systems. Quoting is being done on one native system while orders are processed on an unconnected ERP system. Yep, duplicate manual data entry. And the parent company wants to know why they can’t keep up the pace of 10plus years ago. Try this one on for size: in a cost management approach, personal printers were removed from the desks of the inside sales team, and centralized in the department. Every quote and every order is “required” to be printed. This means each and every inside sales team member must leave their desk every 7 minutes to retrieve materials from the centralized printer. Dysfunctional from beginning to end.


As I reviewed the various components to this company’s sales process, it did not take long before I realized another glaring issue – the inside sales team have stay silent for the past 10 years. Not one person has stepped up and challenged any of the decisions. When I spoke with management, they too were as surprised as I was that no one would call attention to the problems.


It wasn’t long before I was able to convince management to meet with the inside and outside sales team for a real heart-to-heart conversation. Once everyone began to vent, so to speak, they also began to listen intently to one another. And, it wasn’t long before some, not all, of the issues began to have action plans put in place for improvements.


My message this week is simple: we all have our own individual responsibilities in the sales process. But, when we realize we are also all on the same team, and we open the lines of communication, we can improve the necessary processes to become more successful. Dysfunction in many instances is a result of poor communication. Yes, systems and processes play a role too, but starting with open and honest communication is the best way to start making changes. Change is not always fun. Change can be painful. Communication can help alleviate some of the pain and make change a bit easier to management. We’re all in this together…talk to each other openly. Embrace change and you’ll get rid of the dysfunction without having to replace people with knowledge.

Planning Client Entertainment - January, 16, 2016

It’s crazy, I spent several hours last night with my wife and a calendar, and we were putting plans in place that span the entire year. Isn’t it only the second week of the new year? Yep it sure is. So, this morning I spent time putting events into my Outlook Calendar so they’d sync with my phone. And, as I did this, it made me realize that I also have to add plans for some of my client entertainment throughout the year.


If it is not too early to begin planning ahead for my personal schedule, it is certainly not too early to plan ahead for client entertainment or engagements. Now, if you’ve read my posts before about entertaining clients, you’ll know I am very particular. I’m not a big fan of playing golf with a client because it simply takes too long. I also don’t believe in waiting until November or December to say thank you to a client by scheduling a bunch of lunches. Rather, I’m a big fan of combining education with entertainment, and so this is the planning I’m doing now.


During the year I like to find ways to bring clients together, in an offsite setting, to hear a presentation related to my industry which may have an impact on their business. Then, let’s hang out a bit together and enjoy each other’s company. But, I cannot wait until the month before, the week before or last minute, not if I want to have a real impact with my clients. Therefore, I plan now, lock in the dates on the calendar, and proceed with scheduling venues in advance.


In doing taking this approach I also plan ahead by setting goals for these events. For example, I may want to increase sales with a particular client or two, so I will plan to invite them based on a specific topic. Or, I may plan an event at a particular venue that will win favor with this client. Whatever the goals are, they need to be defined, and not delayed. You don’t want to fly by the seat of your pants and hope for a salable outcome from your entertainment.


Planning now, early in the new year, will also provide you the opportunity to schedule your daily and weekly routine around these events. You’ll know well in advance of when and where these entertainment opportunities will take place, and so you’ll also know how to use these when selling to prospective clients.


Planning for the larger, multi-client engagements should happen now, and then you will always be able to handle your individual breakfast, lunch and one-off visit type of meetings later.

New Year New You - January 9, 2016

Yes, I stole the title for this week’s post from a fitness center ad. Like clockwork, TV, radio, print ads, social media, etc. etc. have been inundating us with advertising about health this and that – fitness this and that – diet this and that – start the year off right. A new year can mean a new you. Blah Blah Blah.


Enough already. I understand it is trendy to think about weight loss and better health as the calendar ticks forward. I’m in my mid-40’s now and as far back as I can remember this has been a theme at the beginning of a new year. But, what about with your career? What about your sales position? Have you ever considered taking this approach when starting the new year off in your role versus with your exercise routine?


My kids are the ones that brought this to my attention. They were laughing at the volume of messages out there about health. And then it dawned on me, have I ever considered taking on this theme with my own career. The more I thought about it the more the answer was yes, I just didn’t make a big deal over it. Then I thought, why not?


Every year I conduct a personal retrospect between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I look at how my year went in direct sales, sales management, overall company performance, and if there was anything I could have changed to better perform. Between Christmas and New Year’s, like the same clockwork of fitness advertising, I evaluate what I plan to do in the coming year. What are my new goals and objectives? What can I do to be a better sales person or sales manager? What are my personal and family related goals for the new year? How will my work performance impact my personal plans? Once I have answers to these questions or plans laid out, I then take a step back, and appreciate what I can been afforded.


As I look back over the years of my career, especially the past 12 or so years, I have in fact taken a New Year New You approach. I kick off the new year more energized because I feel I have a clear understanding of my goals. Maybe not in reality, but optimistically I feel like I can leave some baggage behind, and move forward on a clean (or somewhat cleaner) slate. I’m not foolish to think that the tick of the calendar forward erases the past. I do however feel, much like the advertising of health this and that, that it is never too late to make changes, take on new challenges, and to work on better health. In this case it is my career health.


Don’t be afraid of self-evaluation. Plan for improvement. Challenge yourself. And believe that a new year can bring on a new you. Happy New Year and Happy Selling! 

The CYA Client - January 2, 2016

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my post from last week. I shared the issue of a client hiring you for your expertise, but then wanting things done their way. The issues I have been personally facing recently continue to bother me. Did I miss something in my sales process? Was the client always intending to have things done their way, regardless of hiring my firm under the premise of expertise? What could I have done differently?


It has been bothering me so much that I reached out to another client for a bit of advice. This gentleman knows my other client on a personal level, yet was willing to talk with me in confidence. And, his take on the situation was rather eye opening. He very matter-of-factly said, your client is in a state of “cover you a%^*!”” That’s right, he told me the client is fearful of change, because he is afraid that change may have a negative impact on his position and career.


Instead of accepting that change is inevitable and being more willing to lean on my firm’s expertise, this client retreated and reversed course. He no longer was willing to accept how his organization should handle certain usability standards in web and digital marketing, based on the calendar being 2015-2016, and went backward to 2005. He felt more in control then. He felt as though change was not as rapid and consistent 10 years ago. He felt he knew his business and his customers so much more than what analytics and best practices could tell him. Ultimately, he lost trust not only in my firm, but in many ways the realities of what changes are taking place around him.


Unfortunately, this client pushed and pushed his own agenda, ignoring our pleas to listen to our guidance. He believe we were using a ploy or sales tactic when we told him not to spend additional fees with us, that’s how adamant we’ve been that he is making a mistake. He made the demands and we have been forced to follow.


I have no doubt that he will terminate our relationship. His demands will not be successful and failure is an almost guarantee. He will continue to move in the opposite direction of the realities around him and he will ultimately pay the highest price. The project will, in fact, be deemed a failure. My firm will not be at fault. We did our very best to show him the facts and steer him in the right direction. He made the final call and he will get what he deserves. As I’ve said before, this is harsh commentary, but true commentary. I like this client. I wish him well. And, I sure hope he stops worrying about CYA and embraces the inevitable…change. He can then look toward more successful days ahead instead of living in the past…living in fear.