Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Coach Don't Manage - June 24, 2017

Some of the best coaches are the ones we had when we were kids. Just think about how many professional athletes give praise to their youth sports coaches. Since his entry into the NBA, LeBron James has and continues to praise his high school coach, because he was the most influential in LeBron’s career. Think about this a bit more, LeBron has played for two NBA teams with multiple management executives, and a number of other head coaches (who in professional sports are more managers than coaches).


A coach, a truly impactful coach, is more than the title given to him or her. A coach is a manager, a mentor, and tour guide through portions of your life. As a manager, a coach sets the course toward goal achievement, much of which is by some level of directive. As a mentor (think big brother or big sister), a coach leads by example and teaches from a “been there done that” standpoint. And, as a tour guide, a coach has the ability to provide insight into ones future, regardless of short-term or long-term.


Sales managers, the best I’ve ever come across, are more like coaches than executive leaders. Don’t get me wrong, every organization must possess strong executive leadership, but a sales manager needs to be more. A sales manager must be a coach in order to get the very best from their team members, the sales reps. In most cases, sports are coached by someone that has played the sport, and most likely with an above average level of proficiency. It is not an easy task to coach an eighth grade girls volleyball team if you’ve never even played organized volleyball. Positioning and the rules are not easy to ascertain without having been there done that. In sales, many sales managers fail because they either don’t have a deep or broad enough sales background, or in some cases they did not come from sales at all.


In taking a coach’s position as a sales manager, doing so should feel natural to both you, the sales manager, as well as the team members, the sales reps. I’ve come across many sales managers who have described their roles as nothing short of uncomfortable in the sense that they feel like “task managers”. They have mediocre report with their team members and tend to train and manage from a spreadsheet versus from the history book. They cannot tell relative stories from the been there done that standpoint and therefore these sales managers fall short in exploiting the best from each sales rep.


Coaches on the other hand know how to manage people from a talent and emotional perspective. They know what makes their team members work harder than others. They know what drives or motivates them. They know how to not only ask, but expect, each sales person’s very best each and every time they are in the game (of sales).


Ask yourself this question: Am I a coach or a manager? Who do I want to be? And, how can I become the winningest sales coach in the game?

Be Careful Not To Overpromise - June 17, 2017

An old saying “under promise and over deliver” has a tendency to fall short with sales people. In an effort to win over a prospect or client, sales people oftentimes embellish when giving their pitch. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is, yet sales people still take this approach.


I pride myself on being mindful and very careful that my words are simply a representation of my company. Whatever I promise in a meeting oftentimes must be delivered by my team. Therefore, I tend to be much more cautious when describing my firm, our services, and what the client should expect in the end.


I’ve fielded a few phone calls recently by clients that were overpromised by either a sales rep and even in one case by our sales manager. It wasn’t a stretch of the imagination so much as it was how much emphasis was placed on delivery of service. Timeframes were tight and budgets even tighter, and in both cases, my sales people gave the clients the old “no problem we’ve got it”. Unfortunately, that was a theme they chose to lead with in the sales process, and no matter how much complexity crept into the project, “no problem we’ve got it”.


Our internal team was none-to-pleased to find out that unrealistic deadlines were being imposed by their own sales people. And, the fact that the client would have accepted an additional amount of time from the beginning, this put a burden on our resources which simply did not have to happen.


Being enthusiastic in a sales role is a requirement for success. But, being enthusiastic doesn’t mean giving in to any sort of unrealistic requests or demands from a client, so be on your toes. Practice how best to pitch realistic pricing, deadlines for delivery, and rebuttals to concerns raised. Speaking from experience a client is much more appreciative when given realistic information rather than being overpromised. 

Competition From Within - June 10, 2017

Most sales people are trained to “know the competition” to some degree. You may be well versed in their products or services, have a grasp on their pricing matrix, or even know people within their organization. Knowing the competition helps a sales person prepare to put their best foot forward in hopes they outshine when the decision making process takes place.


But, what happens when the competition is from within the prospective client’s own company? There are several scenarios that may cause a company to go out to bid, such as lack of internal capacity or time, limited resources with the necessary experience, or a desire to learn from others. And, sometimes leadership may simply want to challenge their own internal resources by bringing in the “outsiders”.


Regardless of the reason why the project or service is being outsourced, a sales person is generally at a disadvantage when they do not know the competition, especially when the competition is from within. There are two ways to level the playing field. First, asking the right questions, and second, researching the internal team members (ie competition).


When asking questions, a good sales person needs to be fluid as with all questioning of a prospect, but also a bit more invasive while being calculated. Naturally questions arise around the why’s and when’s as well as the budget and decision making process, but questions also need to be asked about “how come you’re not doing this yourself?” A series of open-ended questions, where you get the prospect talking, needs to be a part of this sales process so you can best gain perspective on why they feel it is better to bring you in.


Th next step is understanding who the team members are within the prospective company that would likely take the project on. This may sound daunting, but with LinkedIn, it becomes easier. Imagine for a moment that these individuals were another agency that you were bidding against. Learn who they are, what skill sets they have, what their qualifications or lack thereof they possess, and then plan to present why you are a better choice as if they were an agency and not full-time employees.


In presenting your proposal, the final step, the key approach is not to state reasons why you are a better fit than the competition, as would normally be the case, rather state all of the facts as to why your firm will be a great compliment to their organization. Paying compliments to their current capabilities will play favor with them while also showcasing how you can jointly take on the project. You don’t want to make them feel inferior or give them a sense that is what you’re trying to do, instead showing how your two groups can collaborate will likely increase the odds of you winning the business.

Do You Really Want To Be Here - June 3, 2017


Relationships are hard. Relationships require two people to learn to communicate effectively. Honesty is required in any relationship. Disagreements happen, but must be managed with respect. And, whether the relationship is personal such as a marriage, or the relationship is business such as a sales rep to sales manager, your dialogue needs to be open and in a willingness to open up to one another. This can be the toughest part of a relationship.


Let me focus on a personal situation first. It’s said there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Divorce rates hover in the 50% range. Marriage counselors can be found with the click of a mouse. Relationship blogs are everywhere. Advice abounds on how to effectively communicate with your spouse on topics ranging from kids to finances to intimacy. No matter the topic or the source of information, you will almost always find one common theme, open communication. In many of these examples, asking your spouse tough questions is tough enough, but being able to maturely handle their answer can be even tougher. Imagine asking your significant other if they really want to remain in the relationship. Can you handle them being honest if the answer is anything but a resounding and firm “yes, of course I do”? What happens if they say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or a flat-out “no”? How do you move forward from this answer?


Now, shift over to the business relationship between a sales manager and the sales rep. There is a relationship in place. Sales managers need to place trust in the reps. Reps need to be honest with their managers when they are not feeling things are going 100% in the right direction. A sales manager and a sales rep need to have an open dialogue about what’s working, what’s not working, and what can be done to make the situation and their relationship better. Oftentimes the sales manager is the embodiment of the entire company for whom the sales rep has the most intimate relationship. Intimacy in this case is not the same as a spousal relationship, but is important nonetheless. A sales rep must open up to the sales manager, exposing their weaknesses, so the sales manager can help develop their skills, making them stronger sales reps, thus creating a stronger relationship. What happens when communication breaks down or wasn’t that great to begin with? What happens when a sales manager begins to lose faith in their rep? What becomes of the relationship between the sales manager, the sales rep, and the company when the time ultimately comes to ask the question – do you really want to be here?


I’ve had to ask that question a time or two in my career. I’ve not only asked that question of employees from a management perspective, but I’ve had to ask myself that questions as I looked in the mirror. I’ve asked that question in personal relationships throughout my adult life. And, I’ve asked that question looking directly into the eyes of the best sales rep I’ve ever had in my employ. It seems like such an easy question to ask, yet it may be the hardest one.


Over the past few weeks I’ve been counseling a sales manager who has been struggling with her relationships with two sales reps. Susan is a solid sales manager. She’s been through her share of ups and downs in sales for many years now, so it did take me a bit by surprise when she asked me for help. Her struggles are in managing her own emotions because she takes her relationships very seriously with her team members. She has mounting evidence, if you will, that Jonathan is just not performing as well as he should after being with the company for 18 months, yet she “likes the young man”, and wants to be supportive. She knows Grace (the newest sales person) is watching Jonathan struggle and must wonder if his struggles are acceptable.


Susan needs to come to grips with her responsibilities in both her relationship with Jonathan and with Grace. With Jonathan she needs to take a little more tough-love approach. He needs to be made aware that he’s become a bit complacent (see last week’s post), he needs to increase his overall sales performance, he needs to open up to her more, and he needs to be accountable for his communication in their relationship. Grace needs to be shown, by Susan’s actions, that Jonathan is struggling but cannot take advantage of his relationship with Susan.


Ultimately, Jonathan needs to be asked one poignant questions, “do you want to be here?” Susan has a relationship with Jonathan as a sales manager to sales rep. She needs to be as open and honest with him as to with herself. The relationship between them, between Jonathan and the company may simply need to end, and that is tough. He may not like the question and she may not like the answer, but the question must be asked. And, Jonathan needs to ask himself the question. Should he move on, for his and the company’s best interest, and seek a professional divorce?


It is a hard question to ask yourself or someone else, personally or professionally, but it needs to be done. Handled carefully and the question can save a relationship.