Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Mentor a Future Sales Person - July 30, 2016

College interns are great. They are aggressive in their learning, they want to please a potential future employer, and they generally bring a sense of enthusiasm into the workplace. The downside, however, is that they’re already headed in a specific career direction. How can we influence a future generation of sales people?


Being in a position to mentor young adults does not have to start with college interns. Oftentimes high school students are assigned class projects to “job shadow” and these opportunities can be a launch pad for some to explore careers in sales. These bright students are seeking opportunities to learn about a company, a career path, or a certain industry. They are open minded and want to learn. They want to be challenged. They want their preconceived ideas about sales to be flipped upside down. They just don’t know it yet.


I recently hosted a young lady, a soon-to-be high school senior, at my office for two days. Her parents are friends, mom being a doctor and dad an attorney. Her parents have instilled in her their own desire for learning. She is smart and personable. But, she has already stated that she does not have an interest in following her parents career choices. So, what about sales?


When Ann Marie first talked with me she had a notion that professional sales was more like retail or automotive. She lacked the understanding that sales took place in a variety of verticals from pharmaceutical to finance to technology. When I received a thank you note, she highlighted a few points that she learned: sales requires constant continuing education; sales requires professional character and a positive demeanor; sales is not easy.


Having an opportunity to be influential on a young adult while guiding them toward a career in sales is rewarding. I had a few individuals do this for me, keeping me from law school many years ago, and I am extremely grateful to this day. When asked to be a mentor or to have someone shadow you, say yes.

Treat Your Sales Career Like Golf - July 23, 2016

There’s no ‘I’ in team. Sales has to be a team sport. Don’t forget your supporting cast. These are phrases I’ve used often and do believe in. But, from time-to-time, treat your sales career like a round of golf. Golf is never a competition against the other members of your foursome. Rather, golf is a competition against yourself. Some days everything goes in your favor. The course conditions are great. The weather is perfect. And, you seem to be playing above your norm. Other days are just bad. It starts to rain. You can’t hit a straight tee shot. You three putt every hole. You want to put the clubs back in the car and call it a day, but you don’t, you fight through until you wrap up eighteen.


Your sales career is not all that different. You have good days and bad days. You have beautiful sun-filled blue sky days and dark dreary days. Like golf you will have your ups and downs. How you finish out eighteen is a testament to your character. When you give up or throw in the towel, you show weakness. But, stand strong with your head held high, and you will come out a winner (regardless of the score).


Don’t get me wrong, sales is now and always has been a team sport, and sometimes so is golf. I know a few guys that are single digit handicap golfers and not one would say they’ve done it on their own. They have coaches. They have pro’s that offer mental stability. They have shops with professional club fitters. They have fitness or yoga instructors. They take the game very seriously and know the support team behind them is necessary to excel. They plan for greatness and then act upon their plan.


Sales people should do the very same thing: plan for greatness and act upon the plan. While many times it comes down to you, the individual sales person with a strong character to close the deal, being prepared means making sure you have the right team helping you prepare. You may be by yourself in front of the prospect asking for the signature, just as you’re by yourself holding the putter aiming for birdie, but you must realize you are not alone. You have others cheering for you.


In golf and sales, as with other sports, musical instruments, public speaking, etc., practice makes perfect. Treating your sales career like golf is just that, making sure you practice, and then proceed onto the course. Knowledge in sales is like muscle memory in golf. It does not come with one visit to the driving range. Practice in sales can sound mundane, but it is not. Only the best sales people rise to greatness. Greatness comes through relentless practice. Just like golf.

Employee Becomes The Boss - July 16, 2016

Ted has been employed by a technology consulting firm of going on 10 years. By title he has been the Director of Sales and overall has had a successful career. He joined the company after spending his previous 8 years with a similar firm, so he came with experience. He has opened many doors, closed some of the larger accounts, and has been a mentor to several younger sales reps.


About 2 years ago Andrew joined the firm. He had been working for 2 years prior with a smaller consultancy while going to school at night for his MBA. He joined this firm upon completion of his advanced degree ready for a bigger challenge. Ted, being the Director of Sales, was his mentor and immediate supervisor. Andrew was a quick study and within a few months was out in the marketplace on his own, gaining traction, and began to close new deals. In fact, Andrew closed the largest deal in the company’s history on the day of his 6 month anniversary with the firm.


Andrew does not sit still well. In fact, he never sits still. While he does have a rather solid work-life balance, he is taking his career very seriously. He has never been one to shy away from taking on more in an effort to help the company and to personally grow. It came as no surprise that Andrew befriended the CEO on a project and stood out as a future star. So, it also should not have come as a surprise when Andrew was promoted, although it did to Ted, and now Ted works for Andrew.


This is a story that’s been played out in companies for years. The young up & comer becomes the boss. While it is not new, it was to Ted, and it became hard for him to digest. I’ve known Ted and the CEO for several years. I’ve done business with their firm and also have gotten to know them personally. When Ted began to struggle with the change, I was asked to intervene.


Ted’s biggest issue was not that he had a new boss or that the boss was younger. The big issue for Ted is that he felt blindsided. He was having trouble grasping what he did wrong, why Andrew overshadowed him, and did Andrew intentionally go around Ted to the CEO in a spiteful manner. Of course, Andrew didn’t do anything spiteful, simply Ted himself ignored opportunities to grow.


It took a few meetings over a couple of months, but Ted finally awoke to the fact that he missed the signs for growth opportunity that were right in front of him. While he enjoyed sales and being a sales manager, oftentimes he did not stay late, take on the extra projects, or work to build tighter relationships with his superiors. In essence, he is doing today what he did 10 years ago, nothing less and nothing more.


It was a hard pill for Ted to swallow, but as I shared my opinion on this scenario, he seemed to realize two things: (1) He was happy being a sales manager. He enjoyed the “more set schedule” and less stress of executive leadership. He still loves the thrill of sales, but has come to realize he is not interested in taking on more responsibility; and, (2) Andrew is perfectly suited to be the VP of Sales and Marketing. Andrew holds Ted in high regard and is appreciative for what Ted’s taught him. He is excited for his new role, but also wants to make sure Ted stays on board and stays involved as the Director of Sales. He values Ted’s experience in the trenches.


This could have gone horribly wrong. Ted could have thrown in the towel, quit, and moved on to a new company. But, it didn’t go wrong. He gave it time to sink in. He came to the realization that Andrew was the right person for the job. Be careful in your sales career not to overreact. Be patient when change comes your way…it may be a benefit to your sales career.

Mid-Year Health Review - July 9, 2016

If you go back over time with my posts you’ll find several regarding the health report card, state of sales, or related topics. I am a firm believer that conducing routine checkups on my sales career is as important as going to the dentist every 6 months. It is important to the health of my career now and in the future.


Yesterday I had a few hours of quiet time while traveling with my son to a lacrosse tournament. He put on his headphones, as did everyone else in the car, and listened to his own tunes. This was an ideal time for my mind to wander a bit. I thought about how quickly the first half of the year has gone by and what successes I’ve accomplished. I’ve also had a miss or two and those also came to mind. I gave consideration to the how’s and why’s I did not win the business. And, I thought about where I am today and where I’m going this coming week, next month, and for the remainder of the year.


These are times of reflection (as I very frequently refer to in my posts). It is important to take inventory of what is going well, what may not be going so well, and more importantly what needs to happen between now and the end-of-year for hitting goals previously set. I also take this time to set one new goal.


Goal setting is critical to any business and especially for any ‘A’ level sales person. As time goes by changes occur. Changes can sometimes be in or out of your control, but I do accept that change is inevitable. And, because I accept change, I like to add a new goal or two to my second half of the year.


A mentor who helped guide me in the early days of my career once told me to balance business with personal goals. For every one business (or sales) goal I should have one personal goal. This is a form of insurance. If I meet my business goals, then I should meet my personal goals.


Use this date on the calendar, the month of July, and reflect on how your year is going so far. Make the necessary adjustments to target, meet and hopefully exceed your goals, and share with others how you are doing. This mid-year health review will keep you on track.

Your Supporting Cast - July 2, 2016

Happy 4th of July - a short post this week.

At some point over the years I am sure you’ve watched an awards show. Whether the award goes to a best actress or to a singer, it is rare that an acceptance speech comes without acknowledgement of their supporting cast. You’ll hear: “I’d like to thank my wife”, “I could not have done this without a great director”, “This wouldn’t have been possible without a great band backing me up every night on stage”. I honestly cannot recall a time where the supporting cast didn’t get a shout-out. And deservedly so.


I believe this same situation occurs in sales. A sales person is only as good as their supporting cast. That supporting cast may be an assistant, manager, customer service rep, accounting department team member, or the CEO. Regardless of the market you serve, the products you represent, or the services you sell, you are not alone.


I admire ‘A’ level sales people for the fact that they know they are not alone and they routinely acknowledge their supporting cast. It has always been my mission to give credit where credit is due. I’ve been very fortunate to have great supporting casts for years. Giving them props also does not mean you have to buy them lavish gifts all of the time. Sometimes it’s a simple thank you.


Whenever I interview a new sales candidate for my firm or work providing counseling to a sales person, sales manager or business owner, I will make it part of the Q&A to gain perspective on how they acknowledge the contributions made by their supporting cast. It goes without fail that those that provide a little token from time-to-time blended with fairly regular praise tend to be much more successful sales people. Those that do not, well they almost always get ranked as a ‘B’ or ‘C’ level sales person.


Keep your supporting cast in mind next time you win a deal. Give them a nod for their efforts. And then watch as your relationship with them and your client grows.