Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Outsourcing Candidate Interviews - June 25, 2016

Over the past few years I have taken notice of a trend in outsourcing the interview process for senior level executives and sales reps. This is not the same as utilizing a recruiting agency (headhunter) to seek candidates for an open position. This is about utilizing sales experts, psychologists, and professional sales trainers for the purpose of “assisting” you during your interview process for a new hire.


I’ve had opportunities to work with several organizations over the past few months that have adopted this approach. Although a brief post this week, here is my summary on such hiring practices.


The most important lesson I’ve learned is probably the most valuable of them all: you will gain an independent, unbiased opinion from an expert in hiring. They are not a recruiter, so they have no commission to earn. In most cases you are paying a per interview fee for a serious critique of the candidate. They do not know the candidate and they have nothing to lose or gain in them being hired by your company. They are an expert in their respective field and so they are using their own experiences to truly judge the qualifications of the individual. You really can’t ask for anything better.


The second lesson learned is what I’ve come to call the double team approach. The most successful uses of the outsourced candidate interview is when it is a combination of a psychologist interview (get in their head and see what makes them tick) and the sales executive or sales trainer. Each may evaluate a candidate on similar criteria but through different lenses.  Getting two opinions and then blending them with your own interview process will net much greater results in narrowing down the selection.


Obviously your primary goal when interviewing candidates is to make the best, most qualified decision for your company, with the expectation that the new sales rep will be the right person for the job. It is often difficult to find an unbiased, expert opinion internally because your team has preconceived ideas on what makes a candidate the right candidate. Utilizing an outsourced interviewer will bring clarity to your process.


If you’ve gone down this path, either as an employer or candidate, I would be happy to hear your opinion on the process and the outcome. Please drop me a line.

Am I Boring You? - June 18, 2016

Nothing grinds on my nerves more than when a sales person yawns or ignores me when I am speaking. Whether this is a direct report in my firm or an employee of a consulting client, I am in a position of authority, and more importantly experience. Maybe you’ve heard something I am saying before. Maybe you know something I don’t know. But either way maybe you should show me the respect I’ve earned and pay attention.


I am venting a bit because I have faced this scenario a few times recently. I am asked to give my opinion or advice and yet I am ignored or the sales person has simply glossed over my words. And, what makes matters worse, I have been giving advice on sales issues the sales person is facing and my advice has been ignored to their detriment. Yep, in two similar cases, one sales person lost a very large deal with a new, prospective client, and the other lost a long-term client.


Not to come across egotistical or boastful, but I have been around the block a time or two. Absolutely there are many sales managers and consultants with more experience than me. And yes, I will admit, I have made the wrong call here and there. However, I have an above average success rate for well over 20 years. I’ve been faced with many sales challenges and difficult closing scenarios. Listing to me as a senior in sales may not always work, but ignoring me is not going to help you (the sales person) either.


The “I” in this story is not just about me, but rather the “I” is a sales manager, a senior sales executive, a business owner, a sales trainer, sales consultant, etc. This week’s post is a message to you, Mr. or Ms. Sales Person, to please listen intently to those that have gone before you. Seek advice and guidance to become a better sales person. Learn from others successes and mistakes. Participate in a conversation with your seniors and don’t just assume they are blowing smoke at you. Be willing to try their advice because it may well just work in your favor. 

Probationary Periods For New Sales Reps - June 11, 2016

There are companies that have sales cycles that are done in days or weeks and there are sales cycles that last months. I am often confronted by sales managers concerned about how best to hire new sales reps on a probationary basis when the sales cycles are more complex and take longer. It almost always comes back that these managers are worried that by the time a rep closes a deal or not it is far into their employment and then it becomes difficult to measure success (or possible future success) or terminate based on lack of success.


A true probationary period does not necessarily need to be about a “close win” or “close loss” scenario. In fact, I have met many a sales rep that is ultimately not a good fit for a company in the long run, but had relatively okay “close win” success. So, how then does a probationary period come into play? I always fall back on day-to-day performance.


Day-to-day performance is based upon a grading scale of knowledge and understanding. Before a sales rep can be successful in the “close win” column, they must first become fully immersed in the company culture, understand the way in which the company sells, have a solid grasp on what is and is not a good customer, and has a full understanding of the company’s products and/or services.


The evaluation process and grading scale should be determined before the interview process, explained in great detail to the candidate, and should be documented for the new sales rep to acknowledge by signature. This is not an extreme measure in the hiring process, but rather a safety net for both you and the new sales rep. All expectations are out in the open and thus there will be no room for interpretation.


Criteria falling within the evaluation process certainly will differ from company to company, however there should be a few factors that everyone should consider. First and foremost, within 90 days, a new sales rep should show all positive signs of “fitting in” with the company culture. If they do not, this would be grounds for immediate dismissal. Someone that cannot work within the environment will have difficulty learning. Second, there must be a proven commitment to self-education with regards to company policies, procedures, and products and/or services. If the new hire is not learning, does not seem to be a self-starter, or is not showing initiative in wanting to fully immerse themselves into a learning process, well then they won’t make it and should leave now. And finally, the sales rep must have a 100% perfectly firm grasp on what makes a good customer for the new company. If they struggle in this area at all, regardless of the other characteristics that may make them a good candidate, this may be the most detrimental of issues with long-term negative effects on your business. Cut them loose.


Please keep one final thought in mind, while this may seem like an uncomfortable topic, nothing can be worse that the faces of your company not being the right faces for your company. It is much better to show your new sales rep the door than to have a client or prospective client show you to the door.

Q&A 4 of 4 - June 4, 2016

Q: Hey Kevin, how do you know when it is time to move from sales into sales management? I am considering the promotion of an employee and I’m curious to see if my criteria for promotion matches your ideas.


A: I have long been a believer that there is no magic formula for promoting anyone from a day-to-day sales position into a management role. I believe every scenario is as different as the people involved and no two people alike.


Certainly there are large corporations that have rigid organizational structures that promote based on statistics. For example, I have several friends that are in pharmaceutical sales, and some are sales reps while others are in management. Almost all that are in management are in those positions because they’ve been with their company for x period of time, have managed x dollars of market value and/or have successfully marketed x number of different products. There’s nothing wrong with this approach because the majority of pharmaceutical companies have thousands of feet on the street. But, this approach to promoting into sales management oftentimes is the exception and not the rule.


Sales managers are a slightly different breed than the everyday, feet on the street sales rep. Sales managers need to be jugglers. You can teach a young child to juggle three tennis balls. It takes expertise to juggle three chainsaws and two flaming torches at the same time. It is this juggling expertise that is the first identifier I use for promoting into sales management.


Unlike other types of managers within a business, a truly successful sales manager must first know how to sell, be a top producer in sales, and must have an understanding (and I mean full and firm understanding) of how & why they’ve become successful. In many cases it is due to their ability, their expert ability, to juggle. Success in sales comes when you can manage multiple accounts, entertain clients while balancing your kids sports calendars. You must be able to enjoy a quiet dinner with your spouse while not being interrupted with business calls, and yet you must have your business calls under control. While many day-to-day sales reps can handle this type of juggling, it can be nerve racking, and only a select group of sales reps can take these juggling challenges head on.


The second criteria I evaluate is the “team player” aspect of the sales rep. Can the rep not only manage their own sales responsibilities, but do they also lend a hand of guidance to those around them? Are they a team player? Are they willing to spend their personal time, knowing they’re juggling many responsibilities, to help a fellow sales rep? If the answers are yes across the board, then sales management is within sight.


The final criteria - how well will the individual fit in culturally with others already in management roles? I do not want clones. I can’t afford a bunch of “yes” managers. I want individuals with individual strengths and attributes. A cultural fit to me is someone that brings something new to the management team while at the same time fitting in perfectly like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.


Not everyone is meant to be in management or is cut out for the rigors of managing others. It does take a unique combination of personality, patience, willingness to learn, existing successes, and a passion for being a career sales person. Sales managers should be able to not just “talk the talk” but “walk the talk”. Effective sales managers lead by example. Lastly, this is not so much criteria I seek in promoting, but a requirement of being a sales manager: YOU MUST CONTINUE TO SELL!