Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


"I want my two dollars!" - April 29, 2017

After a rather heavy topic last week, based on sheer stress of the job, I counseled a client the other day that made me laugh. Both the situation and the imagery that came immediately to mind was comical and almost brought me to tears. I’ve been counseling a personal client and her sales team on how to improve receivables. The sales team have been haggling with one client in particular that always has an excuse on why they haven’t paid their invoice or why its late again.


First of all, being compensated by a client is never a laughing matter, but sometimes the excuses become reason to pause and chuckle. I’ve heard them all including the “dog ate my invoice” (not kidding). And, in this case, my client began to read off the list of excuses why they were not being paid by their client. Every excuse was made from the “didn’t get the invoice” to “I thought we already paid you” to “sorry about that I will drop the check off this afternoon” (only they never show and dodge your calls for two more weeks). As they read their list out loud to me, I began to recite a few that were on there, and I did not see the list prior to our meeting. Comical to say the least.


I then pulled up a clip from an old 1985 (sort of cult) classic, Better Off Dead, starring John Cusack. One famous line from Johnny the paperboy has been stuck in my head for over thirty years, “I want my two-dollars!”. As a career sales person, this is the ultimate collections phrase, that is if you’re old enough to remember or even know this movie. The Myers family has owed Johnny two-dollars for paper delivery for some time, but he cannot get paid. Throughout the movie Johnny shows up in every other scene screaming for his two-dollars. This catch phrase has become synonymous with collections for years, not necessarily in a funny comical way, but in a comedically frustrating way. How often are you yelling out (figure of speech here), “I want my two-dollars”?


Repeating the comment above, being owed money by a client is never a laughing matter, but is an issue that businesses, Accounts Receivable departments, and sales people face on a weekly basis. So, what does a sales person do when they are owed money, and the excuses are piling up? My answer is based solely on one fact: your firm is legitimately owed this money without question.


Generally, I almost always make the sales person a last resort in attempts to receive compensation, that is before being turned over to collections or legal. In most cases I advise someone other than the sales person, preferably in accounting, to make as many attempts as possible to contact and gently nudge the client toward payment. Documenting each and every step is a key to successfully being paid. But, this should not be a full-time job. After 3, 4 or 5 attempts by a combination of phone calls and emails, then the sales person should get involved.


The sales person has a unique relationship with the client, one that should be treated as fragile almost, because when the sales person gets involved in collections, it may never be the same relationship again. The sales person needs to lean on their personal relationship with the client. An explanation of why their lack of payment is a detriment to the relationship if not addressed. I’ve even witnessed sales people go so far as to explain how the lack of payment is causing them personal issues with their employer.


Sales is all about relationships. Typically, sales is talked about in terms of closed deals, won business, signed contracts, etc. Sales doesn’t end with a signature or PO#, sales is ongoing, and the sales person can be an effective tool in business-client relations beyond taking an order. Collections too, at times, is a part of the sales process. Sales people should never be afraid to say, “I want my two-dollars”.

The Spirit Of The Law / The Letter Of The Law - April 22, 2017

To say this week was stressful would be an understatement. I knew it was coming. I could see it coming. And, as much as I wanted to believe the meeting would go differently, it went as expected. To say the meeting went poorly would also be an understatement. Pleasantries aside, a longtime client’s newest executive team member is as cold as she is calculated, and I found myself quoting a saying my father taught me many years ago: “we’ve gone from working under the spirit of the law to working under the letter of the law”. Furthermore, my internal crystal ball is telling me to prepare for this longtime relationship to end sooner than later.


I’ve long been a believer that there is no single, right way to enter into an agreement with a client, rather every firm/company does things a little differently. My personal approach for practically my whole career has been based on the handshake (yet still written) style of negotiation and agreeing to do business. What I mean is this, my handshake is my bond, and our relationship is more valuable than a signature on a legally binding contract. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not naïve and I do believe contracts are a necessary tool in business, but I prefer to err on the side of “spirit” versus “letter” of the agreement.


I believe in the good that is within people I choose to do business with, and I believe both my client and my firm will treat one another with respect and fairness. Leaning on the fact that no one is perfect, or that perfection does not exist, means that people are human and make mistakes. Owning up to one’s mistakes is a sign of honesty and maturity. Sometimes my side makes a mistake and sometimes a client’s side may make a mistake. How these situations are handled is what separates one firm from another, one firm being calculated in every aspect, while the other firm may be more open to changing the rules of engagement along the way for mutual benefit.


Going back to the point that various firms have varying ways of working with clients, in the area of professional services, the time & materials approach is likely the most common, and on occasion you’ll come across fixed bid contracts. Time & materials tend to lean on terms like “estimated”, “approximate”, or “ballpark” in the description of fee’s and timeframes for deliverable or engagements. In many case’s there are simply unknows at the time of execution of the agreement that both sides just don’t know how much that engagement may total by the end, at least not down to the penny. Unfortunately, there are those individuals in business that either do not agree with this approach (or like this approach), or they simply cannot grasp the concept. And, these are dangerous business people for long-term healthy relationships. These are the cold and calculated, and are the type of individuals that believe in the vendor-transactional approach to business, not the human-relationship approach. They tend to think of it this way: business is business and personal is personal and never the two shall mix.


Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dealt with these types of clients in the past, and will likely deal with them again in the future. However, you generally know what you’re dealing with or getting in to in the beginning, and can then plan your business engagement and agreement accordingly. However, when this type of person comes into your existing business relationship, after years of being treated not as a vendor but as a partner, well your relationship is about to be torn apart.


Dealing with these types of individuals and so called relationships requires tact in the sense that you must remain level headed at all times. Additionally, you must move away from the spirit of the law or the spirit of the relationship, and work on the letter of the law or the letter of the contractual relationship. This can be tough on a person or a firm that believes in always putting the clients best interests first. Regardless of the situation, you will be held accountable for the details in writing, and not the intentions you’re attempting to display. It will no longer matter if you have a better idea, a better solution to their problem, you must abide by the documentation set forth, or else you may wind up not being compensated or you’ll lose the client.


It is a hard lesson to learn and one that I hope you’ll learn through my experience. My client does not see the detriment for which their new executive has already caused in our relationship, but my guess is they will after it is too late, and we are done doing business together. It may not be tomorrow, it may not even be in six months, but I’ll bet in a year’s time this client will come to regret their decision to hire the cold and calculated executive. The Rolling Stones sang: You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. When those in business always demand they get every little detail of an agreement fulfilled, ruling only by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, they will then get what they want and rarely get what they need.

Disconnect To Recharge - April 15, 2017

It's the time of year where vacations increase. Many grade school aged children have a week or so off for spring break and so many parents take time to travel. Gearing up for vacation can be a stressful time for many executive and sales people. The thought of being away from the office, away from email, or away from the telephone for any extended period of time, creates a feeling that something will happen while you’re gone or something will not get done as it should. Now, I’m sure your immediate reaction is, take your smartphone with you. You can go on vacation and remain connected to work, your employees, your clients, etc. But, I challenge you with this question, are you truly enjoying your time with your family and are you recharging your own battery?


We live in a connected world. Not only do we connect to social media, news media, email, text, files in the office, telephone call calls, etc. all from our handheld devices, at some point those devices need to have their batteries charged. We plugin or connect, re-juice the battery, and away we go with our connected world. Sometimes we are too connected. I’m as guilty as the next parent in the case of pulling out my smartphone during one of my kid’s sporting events. I’ve checked Facebook or answered a text from an employee while awaiting my turn at the annual parent-teacher meeting. It bothers me, it really does, but I’m connected.


I learned a hard lesson about six years ago when I went on vacation with my wife and children and stayed connected. Not every day, but every other day, I connected to my office. I checked email, called my assistant, worked on a contract, and even skipped an event with the kids to talk with a prospect via conference call. That did not sit well…with me. I realized that vacation was stressing me out more than being in the office. I was trying to make sales calls, close deals, while spending time on the beach with my young children. I saw it in their eyes…c’mon dad finish up so we can do things with you. I vowed during that trip to change.


From that point on I vowed to limit my connectivity to the digital world around me. I disconnected to recharge. I’m not sure I coined this phrase or overheard it from someone else, but I’ve used it ever since. I’m an early-riser and so on subsequent vacations I would only check email once per day early in the morning before others were awake. I turned off automatic email notifications and forced myself to login. I also turned the phone off during the day. Whether sitting on a beach in Florida or skiing in Utah, what phone call could I receive that would be more important that the time I was spending in those moments with my family. It was easier to do than I initially thought. Like eating potato chips though, you need to have the willpower to NOT check your phone constantly.


A few weeks back I was talking with my friend Jonathan. Jonathan has done some traveling with his family, a vacation here and there, but now that his kids are older, they are going on a “real spring break”. Jonathan was a bit nervous to leave for a full week. He was anxious and looking forward to the trip, so he said, but he was very busy with work. It seems he was trying to plan ahead for being gone, but as each day passed the workload increased, not decreased. My advice to Jonathan was this: do what you can before you go, the rest will be waiting when you return, and if you really want to relax and enjoy your family time, disconnect to recharge.


Jonathan didn’t wait for his return to work to call me, he called me on his drive home from the airport, and all he said was “thanks”. Apparently, the idea of disconnecting to recharge worked out. The first day or two was a little difficult. The kids were fighting with each other and he had a hard time relaxing at first. Then, before he knew it, all was peaceful. He had a great trip and spent time with his kids playing and exploring. He checked in with his office from time-to-time, but never during the day or evening when it was family time. He disconnected to a point he called “98.9%”. Well, that is a lot more than he thought would happen.


In our ultra-connected world, it really is okay to disconnect here and there, especially if it means you’ll recharge your own battery. Plan ahead for your downtime. Turn off the outside noise or influences, realize your own business world will not stop because you’re gone for a few days. And relax (or try your best to relax). Disconnect to recharge.

Lead Without Excuse - April 8, 2017

I’ve almost always left religion out of my writing. On a rare occasion, such as today, I will borrow from my Catholic upbringing and education in an effort to drive a point home. Religions, regardless of specificity, are based on faith. Faith is a belief or belief system. I’m reminded of faith and belief from a line in the book & movie Polar Express: “seeing is believing, but sometimes believing is seeing”. I was raised to believe in certain things even though I could not see them.


I have read the bio’s of many business leaders, and although not all, most have a belief system of some sort. Most have faith in a higher level beyond their own capabilities. And, I’ve found that these business leaders live a common mantra of lead without excuse. They rely on their beliefs, their faith, that a decision must be made and stood by, and without excuse. One may make a mistake along the path toward success, but one must own their mistakes, and never make any excuse for a loss or failure.


It is through faith, a belief in my abilities as a sales manager, that I can lead by example and without making excuses. I am not perfect, but it is by striving for perfection that I have been successful. The term lead, leader or leadership is not a guarantee of being good at these things. There are bad leaders, poor leadership, which may result in poor performance. Keep in mind, there are great sales people, great sales managers, and sometimes individuals that are great at both sales and management. They are never exclusive. You may possess the skills of one without having the skills of the other. It is rare to find the combination of skills to be both the great sales person and sales manager.


Leading without excuses is the first step in becoming a great leader. Believing in yourself, the skills you possess, and having faith in your abilities and the system for which you sell within will lead you to becoming a true leader that others will follow. Never making an excuse for a mistake or a loss is a key fundamental. Removing excuses is the first step.


The second step to becoming a great sales manager, a true leader, is doing so by example. It is sharing with those for whom you mentor that you are made of something beyond stats, technical terms, product data, etc. You believe in yourself and the skills you possess. You have faith in your abilities and your sales system. And, you have faith in them. You will accomplish your goals as a sales person so that you can showcase to your team members “how it’s done”. You must manage a loss publicly to them, so they too can have a small taste of defeat, but only to be pushed aside by your faith that the loss was for a good reason. You must move on, without hesitation, and win the next deal.


Lead without excuse. Show your team, as a sales manager, that sacrifices must still be made even though you’ve “paid your dues”. Attend the business networking event, be in the office early to make a few cold calls, keep your writing skills sharp. Always be mindful that eyes are watching you. Lead by example, make no excuse, and become a great sales manager. Believe in yourself, believe in your skills, have faith in your system and abilities. Then, and only then, will you be a great sales manager and business leader.

Not An April Fools Joke - April 1, 2017

Here I am, putting my weekly post together on Saturday morning, today is April 1st. It wasn’t hard to come up with the theme for this week, out of sheer frustration, but I wish it weren’t so. This is not an April Fool’s Joke on me, nope it is a reality I’m dealing with and it is not fun. I’ve written multiple posts over the past year or so about managing millennials in sales, becoming the elder in the group, and most recently having my experience ignored for what has been referred to as “old school sales”. Unfortunately, the declining sales performance of a few sales people close to me is not a joke today; it is certainly no laughing matter. My frustration is peeking and changes are on the horizon.


As often as I counsel others in the areas of sales and sales management, I am now being counselled as well. I’ve turned to Tim, a close friend and confidant, with an extensive background in successful sales, sales management, training, mentoring, and executive leadership. Tim and I are the same age, and although we grew up in different parts of the country, our careers have emulated one another for the past 20 years or so. I am fortunate to have someone I can turn to for such important advice and guidance, especially because he will be blunt.


My frustration with a few individuals today is not new, it has been growing for weeks, if not months. I can swallow my pride, I can own my faults, but I cannot sit back and watch my efforts and those of many others be squandered by sales people who refuse to listen. Listening skills is a requirement for any ‘A’ level sales person. Unfortunately, these few individuals have not yet honed that skill.  


Where this frustration stems from is simple, but the fix isn’t. And, in talking with Tim, he recently went through a similar situation. I just hope I can manage in the same way as he did. As if taken from a bad TV sitcom, I feel as though these sales people view me as an old man in a retirement home, where they visit, pat me on the head, and ignore any consideration that I’ve been there done that, and might just have a little wisdom to impart on them. As Tim put it, they don’t have a clue on what I can bring to the table, and it will ultimately be their loss.


Why the frustration has come to a breaking point, again no joke on the first day of April, is sad and simple. These specific sales reps performance is dismal. They are not having success on the telephone, in email, during meetings, and their revenue sold is so low that they cannot come to terms that they are at fault. A genuine lack of effort is to blame. And, to make matters worse, they are making excuses. Just when I thought I’ve heard them all, they’re telling me it is the market, the lack of qualified leads in our database, and we don’t have the proper tools for them to be successful. Did I mention they’re all still new in their careers of sales (6 months to 3 years). When I shared these excuses with Tim he told me they were all crazy.


Well, I’m not entirely sure they are the ones that are crazy, maybe I’m crazy for allowing this behavior to happen and continue. Let’s start with the market conditions: you cannot use this as an excuse when other sales reps in your own organization are closing deals, and you cannot say this when your competition are announcing new client acquisitions on a consistent basis. We have never, and I mean never, had a lack of qualified leads in our database. Each sales rep is responsible for their own lead generation, and while some are excelling and keeping their pipeline full, these certain reps are not taking the necessary steps to grow their leads. And, tools, what tools do you need other than a telephone. It is not hard to make 30, 60 or 90 phone calls in one day. You do not need a tool to do this other than your voice.


Tim reminded me that patience is a virtue. But, his words of wisdom also went beyond this old saying, and his words did not fall on deaf ears. “Patience is a virtue that will never be wasted on a person that cares about their career and the company they represent. The key is determining if the reps that are struggling do, in fact, care about their careers. And, they must also care about your company too, the two are not exclusive. Caring about their career only is selfish. Caring for the company shows a desire to be successful, and to do what is right. If they care about both, your guidance and wisdom will eventually break through to them, but if they only care about themselves, then they will pat you on the head and appease you. They will never follow your advice and guidance, they will not seek your wisdom, when they only care about themselves. For, you see, they don’t care about the company and therefore they don’t care about you, and they are smarter than you. So they think.”


As my frustration has grown, I am now forced to take Tim’s words to heart, which may be difficult in weeks to come. The conversations I will be having may not be pleasant. They may be downright disappointing. I will be challenging these reps to determine why they are in sales, why they work for our company, and what they plan to do to be better versions of themselves. I have a feeling I’m not going to like some of the answers, and we may be a few reps short sooner than later, but it should be in the best interest of the organization, never the rep. Boy oh boy, I sure wish this was an April Fools Joke.