Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Chart A New Course - April 30, 2016

When is it time to throw in the towel? What are the indicators that should make you leave your current company or sales position? When is it time to chart a new course? These are questions I’ve been asked recently by individuals seeking change and by sales managers trying to guide their employees.


Oftentimes we want to believe that we, as career-oriented sales professionals, have a firm grasp on our capabilities. In most cases we do (or we should). But, sometimes circumstances are outside of our control, and our careers are just not going in the direction we want. It may be due to the direction the company is headed by design or by chance. It may be that the style in which the new sales manager manages is not in line with your own approach. The company may have been acquired and you are jockeying to keep your position. Or, it may have something to do with your personal life, such as a health issue or family-related matter. Whatever the reason that your sales career is not going as planned, it is not too late to chart a new course.


Whether it’s happening to you or you are attempting to guide someone down a new path, it is important to keep a few tactical points in mind. First and foremost, be careful what you wish for, because the grass is not always greener on the other side. In other words, make sure your reasons for considering a change are valid, make complete sense, and are not going to be a detriment to your (financial) well-being. Second, if you have others relying on you such as a spouse and/or children, be sure to have a roadmap in place to minimize any burden they may feel. Charting a new course with your sales career can be exciting and rewarding, but with any rewards, you must also accept risk. And finally, seek the counsel of others who’ve gone before you, whether from your current employer or those that have made similar changes.


Change can be scary and change can be a breath of fresh air. Making sure that you are changing for positive reasons, a step in an advanced direction, and changing in order to put all of your talents to work will ultimately drive the rewards you are seeking.

Too Many Coaches and Not Enough Players: Part 2 of 2 - April 23, 2016

When Joe, the CEO, called and asked me to meet with him, his call provided me an opportunity to also apologize. I was not intentionally trying to hang any of his people out to dry. He appreciated by verbal gesture, but assured me that I witnessed a serious concern he and a few other C-level executives have had for some time. They are “top heavy”. I obliged his request to meet one-on-one and we had breakfast early yesterday morning.


While it is unclear today whether we will do business together, the odds are in my favor. My laughter in his parking lot was that final moment when Joe realized “enough is enough”. Early in our breakfast conversation he even eluded to the famous Teldar Paper remarks by one Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street. Gekko was lamenting on the state of corporate America where there are 200 VP’s in a company. What do these people do? More importantly, what value do they bring to the table?


Joe and his executive team have been concerned for some time, but must also take much of the blame. You see, they used the title of VP as a means of promoting a sales person, loosely based on accomplishments. The problem that went along with the title promotions – these sales reps became less involved in selling – and more involved in managing their positions. They became coaches or assistant coaches and were no longer players. That is about to change.


The company is going to embark on a new journey, one in which each person associated with sales will be an active participant in selling. They will have quotas and books of business. Each person will be held accountable directly by the CEO. And, in six months, a new organizational chart will be announced. There will be two heads of sales and all others will be reassigned as outside sales reps. They will no longer be VP’s pushing paper and ideas, but sales executives on a mission to sell, sell, sell.


Joe was appreciative that I would come back for a follow-up meeting and we are going to continue to talk through how my firm may be of marketing assistance. With more feet on the street, we may be able to bring value to this client. I feel better knowing the organization is taking steps to “right their ship” which should enable them to implement stronger growth plans. Too many coaches and not enough players will not provide a sustainable plan. Ask yourself…does your team have enough players?

Too Many Coaches and Not Enough Players: Part 1 of 2 - April 16, 2016

I’ve used my own personal stories of coaching sports in sales training for years. I am fortunate to be able to coach lacrosse, a sport I played in school, and one that my children enjoy. Coaching offers me an opportunity to teach, encourage, and build what may become a foundation for someone to grow upon. The game of lacrosse, like many sports, is based on a team concept, that one person cannot win a game and one person cannot lose a game. What does this remind you of? To me, I draw a direct analogy to sales, from the team play to the coaching.


As with any team sport, you cannot have more coaches than players, otherwise you become top heavy and do not have the stamina players to make it all the way through the game. What do I mean by this statement? If you have too many sales managers, all wanting to be decision makers and drivers of ideas, and not enough sales reps on the street closing deals, you will quickly end up being top heavy. You’ll be full of great idea people and no one implementing the ideas.


On a recent sales call of my own I came across a company that had 9 VP’s of sales and 4 outside sales reps. The VP’s still went out and sold, but much less so than the outside reps. When I asked about the role(s) of the VP, I clearly touched a nerve. A few became defensive. They (tried to) explained what their role was and what they did every day. They had this idea and that idea. They managed this concept or that concept. They talked about this stat or that stat. And, when they were all done with their explanations and sitting proudly with their chests pumped out, that’s when I hit everyone in the room right between the eyes. I asked one simple follow-up question: So, who here is revenue king? Who in the room is responsible, on a day-to-day basis, for ensuring the company is producing revenue? The room fell silent.


You would have thought I’d just ask them for their blood type. Better yet, you would have thought I just asked them to strip naked, run out into the middle of Main Street, and to start doing jumping jacks. The utter shock that I would ask such a questions caused an immediate disruption in the meeting. I was asked to leave the room for a moment, and when I returned, I was informed that my firm (moreover me) was not going to be a fit for them to do business. I thanked them in a very professional manner and walked out.


I didn’t even make it to my car before I cracked up laughing. I was laughing by myself so hard that I caught the attention of a gentleman 100 yards away. Maybe he could not tell I was laughing and thought I was injured or something, but he approached. As he drew closer I realized it was the CEO of the company I had just met with and he too knew who I was. He wondered by I was laughing so hard and remembering the honesty rule (Out of the mouths of babes!) I shared the story of the meeting that just abruptly ended. He apologized, wished me a good day, and told me he would call me. I dismissed his final remark as being polite.


Four hours later the CEO called me, again apologized, and asked me to return at my first possible schedule opening. He wants to meet with me one-on-one and promised he was leaving all of his “coaches” in the locker room. Stay tuned…

Never Do Business With A Handshake Alone - April 9, 2016

Here we go again, contract time. It never ceases to amaze me, how we live in such a litigious society, and yet people expect to still do business with a handshake. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of doing business with a handshake, the old "a man’s word is his bond" saying, but the realist in me says “no way”. We all need to cover our butts. And, there is nothing wrong with a written contract.


My post, although brief this week, is a reminder to posts past. There are three generations of sales people out in the business world right now: an older group who fondly remember the days where the handshake was the guarantee; my group where the handshake sealed the deal in addition to the signature on the dotted line; and, a younger sales force that know nothing but legalese because that is how they were taught to close a deal.


I’d like to believe that my group, the middle of the pack I just referenced, have the best closing approach to sales. You’ve read my posts about relationship this and relationship that, I’ve built my career on relationships, so the handshake is the kiss that makes the marriage official. But, don’t forget you still need a marriage license (i.e. the contract).


Make sure you are aware of why the contract is necessary. In other words, don’t get bogged down in sections describing force majeure or arbitration, but really understand why you need a contract. What are you protecting and what protections are you offering your client in writing. Know these protections inside and out and be able to clearly explain these to your client.


When you finally present the written contract to your new client, having been informed in advance that a written contract is in fact a requirement, the handshake will still close the deal.

3 Reasons You (not your company) Will Get Fired By A Client - April 2, 2016

I was recently asked by a friend to brainstorm with her sales team on the topic of “being fired”…as in being fired by a client. This is a company that has a rather solid reputation and is not accustomed to losing clients, yet in recent months two of the four outside sales reps have lost clients. They were fired. My friend became concerned as to the reasons why because the clients were not willing to talk about the relationship (or the decline in the relationship). I was brought in to help uncover what may have occurred.


During the first hour of our review we discussed a variety of possibilities centering on company performance, delivery times, quality of service, billings, etc. We looked at the possible elements that would point to the company itself. After a brief coffee break we then began to discuss the individuals involved in the sales process. And that’s when it happened. The lightbulbs began to go off and the sales reps quickly realized they were the reason the company was fired.


Now it’s not to say that a company won’t lose a client over poor quality, mediocre customer service, poor delivery times, or even price. These are all reasons you may lose a client. But, in my experience, You the sales rep, are more often the reason for being fired by a client. Why? Simple, you are the face of your company.


There tend to be 3 main reasons a client will fire You (not your company). Avoid these reasons and you will certainly increase client retention. Here they are:


1 – Poor Communication. Taking a relationship for granted tends to point toward poor communication and clients know this. When you only talk to, email, or visit with your clients when it’s order time, they will sense your lack of caring and become dismissive of your attempts. I’m not suggesting you text your client “sweet dreams” every night at 9:30 PM. But, staying in close contact with your clients shows you care about them and about your relationship with them. Communication doesn’t always need to be about an order, it could be about a piece of industry related information. Whatever the reason for making contact, keeping in touch pays dividends.


2 – Lacking Personalization. No two fingerprints are alike and as such no two clients are alike. Getting to know your client goes well beyond what they need to buy from you. Knowing who your client is will go a long way. Again, I’m not making any unusual suggestions, such as to become weekend beer drinking buddies with your client, but getting to know them on a semi-personal basis will carry weight. Think about this for a moment, if you are robotic in your sales approach, show no emotion (or caring), and treat every sale’s call as a manufactured process, then don’t be surprised when you get replaced by the rep down the street who goes out of her way to truly get to know “your” client.


3 – Not Believing You Have Competition. Sales people are easily tricked into believing they are good communicators and are personal with their clients. They do this to themselves. “They’ve been my client for several years now, look at their order history, of course I’m in tight with them.” Then, out of nowhere, you’re fired and replaced. You can’t understand why, well that is until you really dig in to reasons 1 & 2 above, and tie those to the realization that you DO have competition and they are better at 1 & 2 above than you’ve been. No matter how niche your products or services, there is always competition. Sales people who do not monitor competitors closely with an eye on their own client relationships may very well find themselves on the losing end.


If you set relationship goals every day and every week you will likely not fall into the trap of neglect. Managing a client relationship, much like a personal relationship, requires time, patience and practice. But, just like a personal relationship, they will grow and get better with time.