Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Modern Conveniences - March 31, 2018

It would seem as though my post from last week caused a bit of a stir among a few clients. Not necessarily in a bad way, but definitely opened the door for commentary. Many of my clients that reached out expressed their own frustrations with the younger generation of sales candidates, especially those that just don’t understand what sales is really about. Several clients asked me to elaborate on the topic as it pertains to “modern conveniences”.


You see sales, at the very core of the role, is about human relationships. It is about becoming a partner or trusted advisor to the customer. It is about being not only capable of having a conversation, but managing a mature conversation in sometimes very tough settings, such as at the negotiation table. It is in no way about modern conveniences. What do I mean by modern conveniences?


Modern conveniences are tools we use every day to do our jobs. It’s the Internet, Email, smart phones, Google, Skype, or any other technology aimed at empowering us with communication. The fact of the matter is most young sales candidates and sales professionals cannot make it in their role without these tools. These modern conveniences have become crutches for which the sales person relies too heavily upon. So, when the hard work of sales comes knocking, these individuals do not know how to handle the situation.


I’m sure you’ve heard the term “body language”. Nothing has changed in over a thousand years when it comes to reading someone’s body language. However, you cannot read the person through email or even over a telephone call. Only in a face-to-face meeting can this occur. Another old saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword” can be very true, so long as the person holding the pen has experience. And, where does experience come from? In the trenches. No one can win a debate without being trained in debate, having done their homework, and practicing.


Modern conveniences even extend to the ways in which young sales people are compensated. All too often companies will provide a comfortable base salary with a small commission and/or bonus structure for sales people. Where is the incentive to work hard? Give me someone that wants little-to-no base salary and a hefty commission plan. They want success and they are willing to work for it. Here is an example:


Joseph (Candidate #1): He is graduating with a four year degree in business administration and interviewing for an entry-level sales position. He has not participated in any internships although he does have a rather high grade point average. Joseph has a positive attitude and is fairly well spoked for a young man of 22 years old. During the interview process he was not afraid to jump right in and ask questions. He asked about the starting salary. Will he get a company car? How many weeks vacation will he receive during his first year? Does he get a laptop and company iPhone?


Kerry (Candidate #2): Kerry graduated from the same school in the same class as Joseph. She majored in business administration with a minor in marketing. She participated in three internships from her sophomore through senior years. She was polished and professional; kind yet with a sense of urgency. She too was anxious to ask questions. However, none asked had anything to do with compensation, perks or modern conveniences. Instead Kerry asked questions about expectations set for her. Who will train and mentor her? How will her successes and sometimes failures be measured?


Kerry became the candidate of choice. She understood the sacrifices that would need to be made in order to learn and advance her career. She accepted with appreciation for the compensation plan, tools, and training that would be provided. She even challenged herself during the final interview and offer process by talking about her first year plans and how to exceed the goals set for her.


Modern conveniences are great and can be used to advance ones agenda on a day-to-day basis. However, these tools are only as good as the person using them. Young sales candidates should be prepared to work hard without the tools until the foundational skill sets are in place. Once these skills are learned, then and only then will these modern conveniences be of help.

I’m In Sales, I’m An Account Manager – No, You’re Not In Sales - March 24, 2018

As springtime approaches resumes from soon-to-be college graduates start flowing in. I am receiving at least a dozen every week now seeking a variety of positions. Although I am not in hiring mode right now I do take time to read them. Unfortunately, they frustrate me for a variety of reasons.


One such frustration is the continued lack of understanding that an account management position, although a close relative to the sales position, is in fact not the same. To paraphrase an old saying, there is hunting and there is farming. Hunting is sales while farming is account management.


With account management comes a set of requirements that a sales role must also have, such as solid relationship building and management skills, good follow through, excellent communications skills, and a general likability. Sales, however, requires a much greater sense of urgency. Sales typically is a commission driven role that requires negotiation skills, a take no prisoner attitude while maintaining ones composure, and again a sense of urgency. Did I mention sales must have a sense of urgency.


I find today’s younger generation of professionals lacking in a sense of urgency. Many think they want to be in sales because it offers freedom and flexibility during the work week, an opportunity to entertain clients, and a high-level compensation package. Yet, when someone with experience explains the sacrifices it takes to be successful in sales, the long hours, dedication to the craft, not being handed accounts on a silver platter, well then they balk and look for the easy route, the account management position.


Last year I spoke to a group of graduating college seniors about life as a sales person. I engaged my audience in conversation rather than presenting to them. It struck me as odd that everyone believed sales, account management, and marketing are so intertwined that they did not know the difference. Moreover, most of these young ladies and gentlemen thought they had the skills already in place to be paid a high base salary, work no more than 40 hours per week, did not want to travel, expected company benefits (including a car or car allowance for sales roles), and the key phrase I noticed was “they expected it”.


Many companies have account management positions, and they can play a vital role in an organization, but account management and sales are certainly not one in the same. I believe we, those of us who’ve been in sales for most of our careers, owe it to this new, young, and up & coming generation to educate on the role sales plays and what it takes to be in sales. We need qualified sales people to grow and replace us at some point. It is our responsibility to guide them toward career choices and to help them understand the difference between account management and sales. It will benefit them greatly and it will benefit us as well.

March Madness: A Sales Lesson - March 17, 2018

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day and the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness), I am going to leave you with a short post this week. Two things come to mind this morning that I cannot help but directly relate to sales: luck and expect the unexpected.


As any ‘A’ level sales person will testify, no matter how educated you are in sales, your company, the client, or the competitive landscape, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of luck on your side too. I’ve been very blessed over the course of my nearly 25 year career so far in being in the right place at the right time. I call this luck. I also believe that I’ve paid my dues, have always taken the high road in sales, and have always put my client’s best interests before my own, so I’m also a believer that sometimes luck is on my side. This is also known as being optimistic. Optimism is a core characteristic of any ‘A’ level sales person. You cannot nor will you ever be an ‘A’ level sales person without optimism.


With regards to March Madness 2018 all you have to do is look at any sports or news website, newspaper, or blog over the past few days to understand that for the first year of many there is no clear frontrunner or favorite in the tournament this year. In fact, history was just made by UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) the 16 seed knocking off the 1 seed University of Virginia. One headline said it all: Expect The Unexpected. Well doesn’t that just about sum up anyone in sales.


If I had a dollar for every time this statement was made to me about sales or for when I’ve said it myself, I’d be retired by now living on yacht. Expect the unexpected is the most important statement anyone can say about a career in sales. You must be mentally strong and prepared for whatever comes your way. Just like the number 16 seed beat the number 1 seed, there are so many stories told about the “sure thing” sale fizzling out at the last moment only to be given to the competition.


My former CFO and I used to preach to all employees, not just sales people, that the deal isn’t done with the signature, it’s done when the money clears the bank. I’ve had signed agreements come my way only to be pulled off the table due to funding issues a week later. I’ve been given the verbal approval to never get the formal agreement signed. I’ve been told yes directly to my face to find out the next day the deal was inked with the competitor down the street. Expecting the unexpected is a sign of resilience.


Being resilient is another characteristic of an ‘A’ level sales person. Nothing is a sure thing and how you manage your emotions, being resilient, will pay dividends. Your prospects and clients will look at this resilience as a strength and they’ll want to do business with you more so because of it.



Reconnecting With Old Colleagues - March 10, 2018

I was wide awake early today. I am quite excited for today, the start of my son’s new lacrosse season, something I look forward to each year in late-February and early-March. Three scrimmages are a lot of playing time on a very cold day, but it will be fun. I’m also excited for this upcoming Tuesday. I’ve been invited to join old friends and business colleagues at a dinner event. It has been a while since I’ve spent time with these guys and I am looking forward to talking shop and hearing about their families.


As a sales person I often get buried in the here and now. I’m constantly working on a new deal with a new prospect. Rekindling the old flames (clients) in hopes of staying engaged with them. And, if it’s not for my own sales, I am working with my team overseeing their efforts. When you combine the working here and now with the family here and now, the constant list of kids’ activities, there doesn’t seem like much time to reconnect with old colleagues. So, I’ve been looking forward to Tuesday the closer the day comes.


Reconnecting with old colleagues can be good for you. In a similar way to catching up with an old friend you’ve not seen in a while, reconnecting with old friends on the business front can also be refreshing. At one time you may have had more in common, but it is also important to learn anew what these people are doing. You can become referral sources for one another. You can educate one another on industries outside of your daily scope. You can introduce one another to others in the group you’re with that may extend your own professional network. And, who knows, you may just very well land them as a new client.


I was lucky this go around by being invited to the upcoming dinner event. I immediately said yes. In part, I am intrigued by the guest speaker, and in part I want to break bread with my old friends. But, I also have to admit that I’ve been lacking in my own approach to staying connected or reconnecting with old colleagues. I’ve tried to take an approach that every six months or so I get former business colleagues together for an event, a lunch, or simply over coffee to, well, reconnect. And, as I admit to be a bit of a slacker in this area, I am excited at the idea of pushing myself back into this practice.

Public Forums Are Just That: Public - March 3, 2018

Let me start with my description of a public forum: for the purpose of this post I am referring to a public program such as a speech, awards ceremony, educational presentation, and the like. And, when I state public is just that – public, I am targeting my competition.


I’m not sure why some sales people, and other business colleagues for that matter, don’t like the idea of “checking out the competition”, but I find it to be extremely useful. I’ve long made it a practice to attend programs where my competition is presenting or being recognized. I do this for two reasons: (1) it provides insight into who they are, what they’re about, how they present themselves, and what level of knowledge they possess; and (2) they oftentimes entertain their clients at these events, so I can learn who they are doing business with and why.


When the various forums are open to the public, whether free admission or paid, I want to take advantage of the opportunity to educate myself on the marketplace. Many time’s I learn of new competitors through random chit chat. This is also an opportunity to take the temperature of the marketplace on a specific topic. For example, if the presentation is on a new trend in digital marketing, I can gauge the interest of the audience and plan my own firms’ strategy based on seeing and hearing feedback on the topic firsthand.


Some sales people have worried themselves about what to say or how to act if confronted by the competitor in these situations. My answer has always been to be complimentary and gracious. I can assure you that your competition will do the same and attend public forums where you are speaking or being recognized. It is a “business 101” tactic. I encourage you to become aware of these opportunities, attend, identify potential business or educational experiences from these forums, and use this newly acquired information to advance your own business and/or sales agenda.