Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Promoted Too Soon - March 25, 2017

A little over one year ago I was providing guidance and mentorship to a younger sales person. He finished grad school just a few years prior and moved his way into a sales position within his uncle’s business. He had done quite well and was meeting or exceeding the goals set forth for him. In fact, the only reason I was asked to provide some direction was more refinement of sales tactics than anything new. I spent two hours per week for about six weeks and when we parted ways I was rather confident he would continue to grow and hit his numbers for the foreseeable future. What I wasn’t expecting was that he would be promoted.


Mathew continued to meet and exceed his sales goals. Each month following our sessions he was gaining more and more confidence, and was willing to take on the toughest of sales calls. And, with the tougher sales calls, the larger the deals became, and his closing rate was nothing short of outstanding. So, the management team felt it was time for Mathew to take on more responsibility, and his uncle agreed with them and promoted him to director of sales.


Mathew embraced the new role and added responsibility with open arms. He continued to do well with his own sales and began the planning stages for advancing and growing the sales team. He laid out well intentioned strategies for marketing, lead generation, and a sales team, and he obtained buy-in from all around him. A problem, however, soon arose. Mathew had no experience in this role, and he bit off more than he could chew.


Growing sales is one thing, but growing a sales organization requires patience and the ability to be a mentor and manager, while at the same time leading by example. Mathew’s best laid plans were not working out. While he hired a few genuinely nice people, they were much like himself, young and ambitious, but with little-to-no experience. Mathew’s eyes were big and bright and full of “spitfire” (as his uncle called it). He easily rallied the management team around his ideas for growth, built a small (new) team he called his own, and he set off on a course for amazing sustainable revenue growth.


Mathew is now about a year into his new role and his team is struggling. The numbers are not adding up, so to speak. While effort is being made in the areas of cold calling, marketing through online advertising, blogging, and emailing existing clients, sales are going down. Mathew’s team are now making excuses and I’ve gone back in to help dissect the issues.


In talking with his team, to begin with, it appears the excitement and drive is still in place. However, it would appear to me that a new sales tactic is being discussed every other day. Instead of relying on what has worked in the past, the lack of experience is overriding commonsense, and the young team is beginning to grasp for anything that works. Mathew, himself, rose to fame within the organization rather quickly, and had never experienced a slump. Thinking in baseball terms, Mathew did not manage a batters slump or two in the minor league, he went straight to hitting doubles, triples, and home runs in the majors. Now, unfortunately, he cannot manage to get out of the slump he and his team are in, and much of it lies in experience. He’s not “been there done that”.


Now, some of the blame does rest on Mathew’s shoulders. He continues to talk a good talk, seems to always be agreeable with upper management, but then lacks the fortitude to step back before stepping forward. And, some of the blame rests on management, especially his uncle. Mathew did not have any go at the sport of sales in the minors. In other words, instead of dealing with at least one sales slump and learning from it, he is finding it difficult to deal with his own slump which is currently compounded by his team being in a slump.


Sometimes, with all of the best of intentions, we promote someone too soon. We, us in management roles, talk ourselves into the promoting of a subordinate for a variety of reasons, but none worthy of the disappointment when the promotion does not work out. Maybe you, as the vice president of sales, are worried you’ll lose a good sales person, so you offer them a promotion. Maybe the president of the company just likes the sales rep, believes a promotion will be healthy encouragement, only to find out they don’t really want to be in management after all.


It is important when promoting to play a bit of devil’s advocate, so to speak, and consider more about failure than success. Has the person failed in a sales call, lost a deal or two, or truly managed themselves out of a sales slump. What does the future of this employee look like if they cannot manage the promotion successfully? Will they leave, accept a demotion, or will you fire them? In Mathew’s case, he wants to take a step back voluntarily, and learn. He wants to take a few management classes directly dealing with sales and sales people. And, he wants to be patient and accept a promotion again down the road, once the necessary experience is in hand. Fortunately, for Mathew, his uncle owns the company and he’s being afforded this opportunity. Not everyone has the uncle as owner. Management: be aware of the pitfalls of promoting too soon. Sales Person: be aware of the pitfalls of accepting the promotion too soon.

Me: Unapproachable – Guilty As Charged - March 18, 2017

It has only happened one other time in my nearly 23 year career, I’ve been accused of being unapproachable by a few (newer) employees, and all I can say is, “Guilty As Charged”. Now, I must admit, when this accusation was lodged against me, I did almost feel criminal, and I became slightly defensive. Naturally I wasn’t expecting to be called out like I was this week, but nonetheless, it was true. And, I’m not one bit sorry.


You see, I’m the guy that has always been approachable, asked for help, and even referred to as the “last resort” or the “closer”. Sometimes I’d rather be brought into a sales situation sooner, but regardless of the timeframe, I have always made myself available to help. I’m the guy that hasn’t taken a vacation in over fifteen years without fielding at least one telephone call from a team member seeking advice or guidance. I would say I’ve been approachable. I’m the guy that has met my sales reps at a coffee shop at 8:45 PM on a Thursday night to help finalize the details of a proposal. I would say I’ve been approachable. I’m the guy that has represented my firm at numerous networking events, shook the hands of many an attendee, when no one else seemed interested in going (or there was some lame excuse). I would say I’ve been approachable. And, I’m the guy who’s tucked his kids into bed, and jumped on the phone in an attempt to calm down an upset sales rep because they lost a deal. I would say I’ve been approachable.


In all times and in all cases where I’ve been needed, I was approachable. However, as this recent accusation began to sink in, the more I pondered the past few weeks to few months, I say again, “Guilty As Charged”. But, the more I’ve given thought to being unapproachable over the past few weeks to past few months, I’ve come to the conclusion as to why. And, I didn’t need therapy, counseling or court-mandated rehab, I needed to explore and evaluate what’s been going on with me and with my entire organization. I had the a-ha moment Thursday evening as I sipped a cocktail and chatted with my wife. I am back to carrying the weight of my organization on my shoulders.


Urgent Note Here To My Team: don’t take this the wrong way, it is not a true, literal sense of carrying the weight of the company, more of a feeling I’ve been going through.


You see, for many years I’ve not only served as the head of sales and operations, I have been the senior-most lead on the sales team. I have carried the weight of the company on my shoulders from time-to-time, driving nearly 70% of the revenue by myself, but that is not the case anymore. No, not now. But, I would say the feeling of need by my team came back into play a couple of months ago, as the company was expanding. Those assigned to oversee the expansion were doing their job, yet I have not been feeling very comfortable in our sales performance. Instead of talking through these issues with my team, I closed myself off to them, buried my head in my own sales efforts, and closed deals, all the while remaining in my executive management role.


Most people would think this is a good thing, closing deals, generating revenue, etc. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing, but in doing so I became unapproachable. Even in years past, when buried by my own sales, I’ve always made time for others. I’ve always been approachable. So, what changed this time around, the second time in my entire career?


Besides the feeling that my own sales efforts were a necessity for growth and success, I admittedly became belligerent toward my team. I didn’t go so far as to become an asshole to them in the office, at least I hope not, rather I took an “I’ll Show You” approach with my attitude. When asked for advice or my opinion, I went against my own traditional open stance, and became much more matter-of-fact. I became someone I don’t like. I became the directive giving sales manager versus the teacher.


Part of my attitude lately has been driven by my team and what I’ve taken as a somewhat lack of respect. I am now surrounded by the youngest team I’ve ever worked with and instead of them seeking my wisdom, they have, at times, brushed aside my advice. You’ve read this term in recent posts, but I’ve been called “old school” more than once lately, and it has not been a compliment. While I’ve been around the block a time or two, I am not foolish to live only in the past. Sales tactics have evolved, expanding with digital inbound marketing efforts, designed to compliment traditional selling. Yet, some younger sales folks just don’t have the willingness to listen and/or appreciate the wisdom of an older sales person like myself. And, when you don’t listen, don’t take advice, fall short of your sales goals, all the while ignoring me, well then I become unapproachable. At least this is my guess at this point.


So, to my own sales team, I apologize for being unapproachable lately. For those that know me, this is out of character, but I acknowledge it to be true. Know this, I am not always right, nor do I want to be viewed as a know-it-all. I am simply in my role to be a teacher, a leader, a mentor, a big brother, and I will continue to do so by example. Use my experiences to further your own career. Learn from my mistakes, so you too can avoid some of the pitfalls from sales. Take advantage of my availability, bend my ear, and allow me to accompany you on sales calls. And, if you choose not to take me up on this offer, so be it. I will immediately get back to being approachable for those that want my help, appreciate the wisdom I can share, and I will outsell/outperform those that want to go it alone.


And on a final note, while this is a very personal story, many sales managers and executives can relate. Take my story to heart, try to always be approachable, and lead by example.

In Sales There 's No Such Thing As Secret Sauce - March 11, 2017

One small indulgence I give myself is watching the food shows. Some of my favorites travel from city to city and state to state visiting diners and little holes-in-wall. I’ve always preferred a local greasy spoon to a high-end steak joint. So naturally I gravitate to these shows. Every so often I get drawn in to the explanation by the chef as they describe the recipe and how to’s in putting a dish together. I’m never afraid to try something in the kitchen, and by watching these shows, I will give these new dishes a shot.


Every so often though, just when I’m getting excited about a new food item, the chef blurts out – it’s a secret sauce (or secret ingredient), and my frustration kicks in. How dare you get my taste buds so excited and then shut me down. Then I laugh and move on to something else on my honey-do list.


I thought about these food shows the other day when being solicited by a “sales coach” who wanted to pitch me on using his services. He wants me to hire him to bring a “secret sauce recipe” to my sales team. Once again I laughed and moved on to something else on my (business) honey-do list.


When it comes to sales, there is no secret sauce, and you will be hard pressed to prove otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there is a time and place to seek sales training, but even with the biggest sales training programs out there, think Sandler Sales Institute as an example, the training is based around management of real world processes in business. Sandler doesn’t necessarily have a secret sauce, instead they have a teaching style, and those who learn from Sandler learn methods that can be applied in a variety of sales settings.


Although I am Sandler trained, I’m not a spokesman, rather an observer of the sales world around me. Over the course of my 23 year career I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of third-party training programs and I’ve also taught many on my own.


Selling, at its core, is about building a relationship with someone. Nothing more, nothing less. Is there a secret sauce to dating? Is there a secret sauce to starting a new school? Is there a secret sauce to interviewing for a new job? Some may say yes, but I say no. Implying that you need a secret sauce to be successful in relationships, at least to me, is a sad testament to our culture. Instead, I would prefer to guide sales people toward training that is grounded in openness.


A short post this week, but one I felt the need to write. Not only have I been contacted lately by the snake oil salesman pitching his secret sauce to sales training success, many of my colleagues have as well. Successful sales people can be trained. Successful sales people can learn new techniques. But, truly successful sales people, the ‘A’ level sales people, know there is no secret sauce. Their success comes from building relationships with their prospects and clients, managing those relationships with care, and sticking to traditional fundamentals of selling. Remember the old saying, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Don't Touch A Hot Stove - March 4, 2017

How many times have you either been told this statement directly, overheard the statement being made, or even made the statement yourself: “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”? And, how many times have you, or someone else, touched the hot stove? After the ouch factor, you then look at the person that warned you with a stare of wonderment, in a “why didn’t you warn me” manner, only to get the “I TOLD YOU SO”.


It’s happened to all of us at some point in our lives. This type of scenario even happened to me recently. I was traveling with my family and my kids told me the pool water was cold, but I jumped in any way, and it was freezing. My reaction, of course, was to ask, “why didn’t you tell me it was this cold?” My kids just rolled their eyes, laughed at me, and walked away.


These little “I told you so” moments happen in sales too. Rather than “I told you so”, I have always tried to make these learning moments, both as the student and the teacher. As my career has evolved over the years, I do find myself serving more and more as the teacher, and yet I still learn from these moments through my students eyes.


First of all, no one ever wants to hear “I told you so”, but mature, level-headed sales people will recognize and understand that constructive criticism can go a long way in building one’s sales career, because these teaching-learning moments almost always are based upon experience. It doesn’t take a master’s degree in education to be the teacher in these scenarios, rather it takes a story teller’s approach.


Sales people, so I’ve come to learn over 20+ years, tend to be more receptive when being told a story versus being given a directive. When a young sales person comes to you for advice, or you are placed in a situation where you may be tempted to offer advice (as in be careful the stove is hot), sales people have an increased likelihood of listening to you (avoiding the stove) if the advice is told in story format (such as: let me tell you, that happened to me once, and here’s how it turned in my favor). Giving a directive, the “do this” and “don’t do that” approach generally doesn’t come with any “why reasoning”, and instead comes off just as it sounds “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”.


Think of the parent-child relationship for a moment. It’s happened since the dawn of the hot stove. Parent says to child, “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”, child proceeds to touch stove, and child then gets a burn on his or her hand. Instead, the scenario could have played out like this: parent says to child, “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot, and trust me it will burn you. In fact kid, I did not listen when I was warned once, and boy oh boy did that burn hurt. It doesn’t look hot, but it left my skin so severely burned that it took two months to recover. I just wouldn’t want to see you go through what I went through.”


In sales we could take the directive approach: sales person tells sales manager they are being met with resistance to their closing approach on a sizable deal. Sales manager says, “go tell them XYZ and come back with a PO”. Unfortunately, that is a directive, whereas the sales manager may have taken this approach: “here’s how I would handle their objection, but realize it is all in your delivery, so you may want to try this tone of voice, use these words, and give them a few examples such as these, and also be prepared for a follow-up objection, which I’ve encountered too and here’s how I dealt with it…”. Do you see the difference?


Most sales people have an ego and asking for advice and guidance is not always their first choice. More times than not the sales manager or other seniors in the company tend to overhear the sales person talking and they chime in. They mean no harm, they simply want to be helpful. When you’re in the advice offering seat, be mindful of your message delivery, offer advice and guidance, and wish them well. If they ignore you, call you old school, and end up losing the deal, well then you can say, “I told you so”.