Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Hand Grenade Complacency - May 27, 2017

Close your eyes for a moment and visualize, if you will, a scene from a movie or television show: a hand grenade is thrown into a group and the reaction is to scramble and get the hell out of the way. Everyone in the scene knows it will explode. They don’t want to be in the way, so they get a burst of energy and move, no matter how exhausted they might be.


It is the latter part of the description that you should hang on to for this post. I’m not insinuating that you, as a sales manager, should blow up your team. Instead, metaphorically speaking, you may need to give them a jolt from time-to-time. I’ve been there before, it’s not always pleasant, but it does work. Here’s what I mean.


Complacency in sales is terrible and can be detrimental to your entire company if not addressed swiftly. Sometimes complacency sets in when the sales team feels like everything is going just fine. Complacency can also set in with one person and become contagious whereas the other sales team members begin to make excuses based on the actions of one person. Complacency tends to never come into play with ‘A’ level sales people, but then again it is rare to find an entire sales team made up of 100% ‘A’ level sales folks. So, what is a sales manager to do when complacency creeps into his or her team? Throw a hand grenade into their circle.


They need to be jolted alive. They need a wakeup call. They need to realize they are being complacent and that complacency is not normal in sales. And, to give them this awareness or awakening, they need a shock to the system. I reached out to a few friends in sales management for ideas on how they throw hand grenades at complacency.


Jim has been in enterprise-level software sales for 27 years. He’s been in sales management for the past 10 while also being the lead sales person (individually) each year. He noticed, not too long ago, that 8 of his 12 sales reps appeared to be going through the motions. Sales were neither slower than normal or better than normal, but their activity was decreasing. Meetings were not being scheduled with prospective clients or existing clients. Client entertainment was minimal. When he asked his reps how things were going the standard answer was status quo. Yet, he and the other 4 reps were increasing sales. They were getting prospective and existing clients to meet where discussions on upgrades were taking place. Jim became very tired very quickly of the obvious complacency with the rest of his team, so he threw a hand grenade into their daily routine. Jim contacted the top client for each of the 8 complacent reps and scheduled 8 face-to-face meetings. He was able to do this all in one day. When scheduling the meetings he also made sure his reps would be available to attend. The next morning was their mid-week sales meeting. Jim announced to his team the meetings that were scheduled with their clients, he set an agenda for each meeting, and he explained that these meetings were not difficult to schedule. In fact, the clients were anxious. He then sent the entire sales team home for the day with one question to ponder: “if you want to be in sales, if you want to return tomorrow and keep this job, come back in the morning prepared to discuss the ways in which we’ll never be complacent again”.


Maria manages a small sales team of 3 people for her family owned manufacturing company. Although the organization may seem small, the components they make are used in high definition radiology scanners. Her team had a tremendous year in 2016 adding several new clients and increasing sales from existing clients. However, the first quarter of 2017 did not keep pace. In her words, “my reps were still hungover from the success of 2016”. But, she wasn’t. She knew there were more opportunities with prospects and existing clients. And, of the 3 sales people, one really didn’t seem too concerned about slowing down. Complacency was okay by him because he was basking in the success from months ago. His commissions were still rolling in and he felt he could turn on his sales jets whenever he wanted. So, as both the sales manager and an owner in the business, Maria threw a grenade at the sales team. Becoming frustrated with the lackadaisical attitude of the one complacent sales rep more than the others, she went on her own mission to meet with and sell to his top three prospects. Without announcing her plans, she spent one week traveling to Indiana and Michigan, met with all three prospects, secured sales (PO’s) from all three, and quietly traveled back to her home office in Columbus, Ohio. The grenade was thrown the following Monday morning when she announced to the sales team her success from the week before. The complacent sales rep was visibly upset by what he called “back door tactics”. He felt she stole these prospects from him. He called her a lousy sales manager and demanded to meet with her brother, the president of the company, unaware that he was on the conference phone the entire time. Maria simply asked one question…”why did I close these deals and you didn’t?” He couldn’t answer the question and was subsequently terminated for lack of performance. He went from being the star of the show in 2016 to being a lazy bum in 2017. He didn’t feel motivated to continue his successes. He let complacency take over. And, with one week of visits, Maria showed her organization and the remaining 2 sales people that complacency has no place in a growth oriented company.


Maria’s case may be a drastic example. However, it happens every day in sales. Good sales managers, like ‘A’ level sales people, can recognize when someone (or a team) is becoming complacent. Stop it before it sets in otherwise you’ll need to throw a grenade at them.

Cold Calling Is Not Dead - May 20, 2017

If you know me or have read previous posts prepare yourself because I’m about to “beat a dead horse”. This past Tuesday I was provided an opportunity to not only attend a client sponsored conference, I was also asked to be a speaker. Various topics were shared throughout the program, but they all led back to one key component for all growth minded organizations, ‘A’ level sales people/teams. In the span of about four hours we covered the importance of hiring and retaining ‘A’ level sales people, sales processes that support the ‘A’ level person or team, and what separates the ‘A’s’ from ‘B’s’ and ‘C’s’. By the time the third speaker was wrapping up, I almost burst out laughing.


Cold calling was an attribute that was mentioned in all three of the presentations before I stepped up to the microphone. And, when the audience was polled by show of hands how many valued cold calling from their sales teams, the result was almost unanimous. What’s even more reassuring to a senior sales guy like me, the audience represented about two dozen different industries. There was manufacturing and software development, logistics and advertising, financial services and construction.


In some respects we could have renamed the conference “cold calling is not dead”. Now, don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a teaching program on how to cold call. No one was comparing numbers or statistics. It just came down to the fact that each and every attendee acknowledged that cold calling was as important today as its ever been in their business development efforts.


I’ve preached about cold calling throughout my entire career. Some sales people are better than others. Maybe I’d go so far as to say there is a little art form to cold calling. But, to hear younger sales people or those not classified as ‘A’ level sales people tell me cold calling doesn’t work in a digital age, my response is: bullshit.


The single-most important factor with cold calling is patience. And, what do you think one of the top attributes is in an ‘A’ level sales person? Patience. Cold calling is not dead, far from it. Sales people need to embrace the cold call. Even the best inbound marketing programs, those that drive tons of leads to your company, can be supplemented by cold calling. What’s more, as a sales person myself, there are companies out there that I’d really like to meet with, but I don’t necessarily have a warm lead in. So, I cold call them.


Cold calling is not dead, oh no, it’s alive and well. If you don’t accept this as fact, don’t embrace cold calling as a part of your sales process, then be careful, because your competition mostly like is.

Closing With A No - May 13, 2017

As a sales person there is nothing I find more frustrating than waiting on an answer from a prospective client. Think about it this way, you’ve put in your time throughout the sales process, meetings have gone well, the prospective client has asked for a proposal, and then nothing. Silence. No return calls. No replies to your emails. They’ve gone dormant.


These things happen. You don’t want them to happen, but they do. And, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in sales or how great your closing rate is, the dormant prospect scenario still happens. So, what do you do about it?


Although we all want the prospective client to say yes, to sign the agreement, to become an active client, a no is still a close. So, make a no answer your goal. Chase the client down and ask them to say no. At this point you are probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind. Sometimes I wonder that myself, but more when it comes to being a father of teenagers, and not from a sales management perspective. Indulge me for a moment and you’ll soon see where I’m coming from.


Whether you use a CRM system to track your prospect activity, a simple spreadsheet, or even a notebook, you have a list of prospective clients holding proposals. If you’re like me, you want to move through your list in a fair amount of time, opening new opportunities and closing those you’ve been working on for some time. This is where a close becomes a close regardless of yes or no.

Time is valuable. Time is money. Time is precious and should not be wasted. Time, time, time. Every attempt to reach a prospective client in hopes they will respond with a yes, only to receive nothing in return, is a waste of your time. This is time you could be using to contact other prospects, writing other proposals, or entertaining existing clients in an effort to drive more business.


Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that as a sales person, we must sometimes play the chase game to nail down the prospective client. And, sometimes they genuinely feel terrible for not responding sooner, but regardless, you still need to efficiently manage your time, your organizations expectations, and the client communication process. When you get to the point of feeling frustrated and you’ve given the closing attempts due process, give this approach a try. I call it “No Close 3 In 1”.


This is a simple concept that only requires you, as the sales person, the willingness to walk away from the sale. My goal is to obtain a no answer from the prospective client in 3 scheduled communication attempts in 1 week. After the third attempt, I mark the proposal closed, schedule 1 follow-up note for 1 month out, and then close the account altogether.


The first attempt is a voicemail along the lines of “Ms. Smith I’ve been trying to reach you for days/weeks now to finalize our agreement and have not heard back from you. Please call me as soon as possible even if your decision is a no, thank you”. A few days later follow up with an email similar to – Dear Ms. Smith: I’m dropping you a brief note to follow up on my voicemail from a few days ago. I’ve been trying to reach you, but have been unsuccessful. It seems like everything was going well in an effort for us to work together, but now it seems I may be wrong. Although I’ll be disappointed if your answer is no, at least I will then know to move along and stop bothering you. Please get back to me at your earliest convenience. Thank you, Kevin. And, if these two attempts fail, then go to the US Mail approach, and send a formal letter. Rather than write this out in its entirety, here’s a synopsis: thank you for your time recently; it seems we’re not a fit as we initially thought; I am going to close this opportunity for now but could always re-open in the future if you’d like; please don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything; pleasant closing and another thank you; mail it.


Move on sales person, move on. You need to put some closure to this opportunity, shift your time and attention to your other sales responsibilities, and don’t look back. Well, one time look back, and then close it for good. The one time you should look back is about a month or so after you mailed the final letter. Give the contact a call. By conversation or voicemail just ask how things are going, if they ever made a decision with another firm, and remind them that you’re there if they need you. Be pleasant, say thanks again, and move on.


Remember, a no answer to a proposal is still a close. It may not be the close you want, but a close is a close, and you can shift your time toward getting the type of close you really want – a yes close.

The Loss of a Mentor - May 6, 2017

It’s been two years since Bill (aka BG) passed away unexpectedly. BG was an older fraternity brother who lived near campus. He became more of a big brother than a fraternity brother. He was a longtime friend. He was one of the key influencers in my decision to choose sales as a career. And, he was one of my original mentors. My relationship with BG began 26 years ago, and although there were times that physical distance caused a distance in our relationship, he was never forgotten.


I had an admiration for BG from the moment I met him. While he graduated a few years ahead of me, his chosen path in sales allowed him to live nearby campus, and so I was able to see and talk with him often. BG was a realist. He lived in the moment. He never painted a false picture of his sales career. Sure, he definitely spoke fondly of the pros of sales, such as flexible schedules, travel, client entertainment, and of course compensation. But, he also was not afraid to share his frustrations as well. Long weeks of driving through multiple states. “Shitty food”. Constantly being told no. And, of course compensation.


As my years progressed as a “still undergrad” and my relationship with BG grew, his career blossomed. I watched this man go from a struggling salesman to a sales manager to a vp of sales in a short period of time. And, for some reason, BG kept me in the loop as if he knew I was watching closely as I was trying to determine my own course post-college. Many of our fraternity brothers and friends weren’t aware of this, but BG kept a journal. It wasn’t a diary, rather it was what he referred to as a “business-life lesson notebook”. He kept it close to his vest, in that I never held onto it for long, but he would let me read some of his notes about wins and losses, cold calling successes and failures, and even a few short blurbs about what hotels to stay in and restaurants to eat and entertain.


With only a few weeks remaining before graduation I was faced with the ultimate decision. It boiled down to law school or a sales position. BG could see that I was struggling with this decision. I didn’t want to let anyone down by my decision, yet it was ultimately MY decision. BG showed up on my doorstep on a Sunday afternoon and demanded I join him at a local bar for a beer. We hadn’t even been served yet when he slammed his hand down on the bar, looked me square in the eye, and said we weren’t leaving until I made a choice. We spent nearly three hours talking and making lists. And, in the end, I chose sales.


The choice was not because I wanted to be like Bill. Rather, it was because Bill brought something out in me that many others could not. He had the ability to make me face my fears of post-college. His support was not that of a family member or an employer. He had nothing to lose or gain, quite frankly, so he played devil’s advocate. He pushed me to answer really tough questions about who I was then and who I wanted to be. How I wanted to spend my early post-graduate days. And, what did I want out of life, at least for the foreseeable future (way back then).


I share this post to those that are graduating from college soon and seeking direction in life. I share this post with those that may be considering a career change. And, I share this post with my fraternity brothers who knew BG. Everyone needs a mentor. If you have one may he or she be as valuable to you as BG was to me. If you don’t – use this post to help you identify someone in your life that can match the qualities of BG – for this is the type of person that will have a lasting impact on you.