Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Q&A 1 of 4 - May 14, 2016

Over the next few weeks I am dedicating my posts to Q&A. Each week will be my answer to a popular question I am asked frequently. I hope this information will help you sell or manage sales. Thank you for following SaturdayMorningSales.


Q: Kevin, I’ve often heard sales professionals in Northeast Ohio (as well as other parts of Ohio and the US market) talk about seasonal selling. Specifically, these sales professionals discuss concerns and workaround planning for the summer months. Do you believe seasonal selling is a real thing? How do you handle this time of the year?


A: Thank you Michael S. from Elyria, Ohio for submitting one of the most frequently asked questions I get year-over-year. I absolutely believe seasonal selling exists and have experienced this issue directly for many years. Not only does it exist in Northeast Ohio, but it also exists in many other parts of the country where there is a dramatic change in weather. And, to be specific, I am not talking about a seasonal product, but rather trends in buying & selling behavior.


Using Cleveland as the basis for my answer, we must first talk about Cleveland weather. Here we are, Saturday morning May 14, 2016, and I am waking to 37 degree temps. It is cold and damp and it’s May. Not only is it cold and damp, but the forecast is calling for snow flurries and snow showers tonight and into tomorrow morning. This is the perfect starting point to my answer. While most of the country is enjoying springtime weather, we are experiencing borderline misery.


Business people in the decision making seat feel exactly as we do when wanting to go outside and enjoy spring. There is a slight feeling of depression in the air. All we want is to escape the cold, the gray skies and the snow. We want green grass, warm air, and a chance to enjoy the outdoors for a little while. And so the seasonal selling season is soon upon us. Once those temps warm, people flee their offices for time off, and getting those decision makers to talk or meet becomes a real challenge.


June through August poses a variety of challenges for sales professionals. When you throw in graduations, kids moving to and from college, as well as family vacations, getting a decision maker to commit time creates challenges with their calendars. Beautiful days are numbered in Cleveland, as an example, and so the decision makers want to take advantage of the time they have and work remote, take half-days, entertain their own clientele and employees, and they don’t want to be bothered with, well, making decisions.


Planning ahead and working on scheduling activities for June through August, beginning in April and early-May, can be the most critical step to minimize downturns due to seasonal selling. Finding opportunities to meet with the decision makers in unique locations where great weather can be enjoyed by both of you will help up your chances of getting and keeping the appointment.


Having an agenda that proves worth and value to the decision maker is the next step. You cannot expect this person to meet you for lunch at a waterside restaurant on sunny Friday afternoon if you have nothing important to bring to the table. You must be diligent with your strategy of “delivery news of importance”. It may be a new service you are immediately offering and you want them to be the first to know. Keep in mind, you’re asking this person to possibly sacrifice time on their own, so make it count.


Lastly, do not become discouraged if things slow down, because they will. Use your time wisely when someone cancels or does not want to meet until September. Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. Typically, the Tuesday after Labor Day is when the seasonal selling season ends and sales life, as we know it, gets back to normal. I have always found the slowdown a time to reflect on my year up to this point and what I need to do to accomplish my annual goals. I build lists. I research new prospects. I plan for networking events in the coming months. I will look outward all the way to December and lay down the roadmap to successful sales. And, I too will enjoy the outdoors, because when the winter months come and my calendar is full, I’ll be able to look back on time well spent with family and friends. Enjoy it while you have it…the weather that is.

Teach An Old Dog New Tricks - May 7, 2016

There’s an old saying: You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks. I’ve never believed that to be true and as an old dog I am continuing to learn new tricks.


I am very fortunate. During the day I work for a firm that specializes in website design, development and marketing. I am surrounded by many talented people that are younger than me. I always say, “I learn something new every day”. And I do. But, in my role as a leader of the organization, much of what I learn from the younger team members does not necessarily get applied. I am not a designer or programmer. So, how do I learn new tricks? I read, watch and listen.


Reading, as I’ve been preaching lately to my children, is an absolute must in life. In order to stay on top of my industry and my role, I must make time to read. From a sales leader’s standpoint, I find it necessary to know what my competition and clients are doing in the market. And, every so often I come across a solid leadership, management, finance or marketing book that provides enlightening approaches to dealing with many of the rigors I face.


Watching comes into play on a daily basis. With the ease and speed of uploading video to YouTube, I can source information in quick, digestible chunks. I try to watch 3-5 video segments per business week regarding my industry or similar industries. I rely on my coworkers and colleagues to share ideas on trends or people they value. I find this to be a great way to learn at least one new idea (or trick) to apply that week or the following. My goal is to at least “try” it and sometimes these new ideas (tricks) work out and I keep them in my routine.


And finally, I listen, and I mean listen intently. I have a driving routine every morning when I head into the office. I listen to the same talk show on the radio for news and interviews. It is my starting point for the day of learning something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love music, and do need some downtime when driving. But, I find my daily journey of learning new tricks really begins with being prepared for the day ahead, and what better way than a routine of news.


Can an old dog learn new tricks? Absolutely, I am proof, but you must be willing to learn. Accept that learning is a part of your day, week and month. Do not be hardheaded, but rather open minded. You too will learn new tricks, and when you do, you’ll become a better sales person and sales leader.

Chart A New Course - April 30, 2016

When is it time to throw in the towel? What are the indicators that should make you leave your current company or sales position? When is it time to chart a new course? These are questions I’ve been asked recently by individuals seeking change and by sales managers trying to guide their employees.


Oftentimes we want to believe that we, as career-oriented sales professionals, have a firm grasp on our capabilities. In most cases we do (or we should). But, sometimes circumstances are outside of our control, and our careers are just not going in the direction we want. It may be due to the direction the company is headed by design or by chance. It may be that the style in which the new sales manager manages is not in line with your own approach. The company may have been acquired and you are jockeying to keep your position. Or, it may have something to do with your personal life, such as a health issue or family-related matter. Whatever the reason that your sales career is not going as planned, it is not too late to chart a new course.


Whether it’s happening to you or you are attempting to guide someone down a new path, it is important to keep a few tactical points in mind. First and foremost, be careful what you wish for, because the grass is not always greener on the other side. In other words, make sure your reasons for considering a change are valid, make complete sense, and are not going to be a detriment to your (financial) well-being. Second, if you have others relying on you such as a spouse and/or children, be sure to have a roadmap in place to minimize any burden they may feel. Charting a new course with your sales career can be exciting and rewarding, but with any rewards, you must also accept risk. And finally, seek the counsel of others who’ve gone before you, whether from your current employer or those that have made similar changes.


Change can be scary and change can be a breath of fresh air. Making sure that you are changing for positive reasons, a step in an advanced direction, and changing in order to put all of your talents to work will ultimately drive the rewards you are seeking.

Too Many Coaches and Not Enough Players: Part 2 of 2 - April 23, 2016

When Joe, the CEO, called and asked me to meet with him, his call provided me an opportunity to also apologize. I was not intentionally trying to hang any of his people out to dry. He appreciated by verbal gesture, but assured me that I witnessed a serious concern he and a few other C-level executives have had for some time. They are “top heavy”. I obliged his request to meet one-on-one and we had breakfast early yesterday morning.


While it is unclear today whether we will do business together, the odds are in my favor. My laughter in his parking lot was that final moment when Joe realized “enough is enough”. Early in our breakfast conversation he even eluded to the famous Teldar Paper remarks by one Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street. Gekko was lamenting on the state of corporate America where there are 200 VP’s in a company. What do these people do? More importantly, what value do they bring to the table?


Joe and his executive team have been concerned for some time, but must also take much of the blame. You see, they used the title of VP as a means of promoting a sales person, loosely based on accomplishments. The problem that went along with the title promotions – these sales reps became less involved in selling – and more involved in managing their positions. They became coaches or assistant coaches and were no longer players. That is about to change.


The company is going to embark on a new journey, one in which each person associated with sales will be an active participant in selling. They will have quotas and books of business. Each person will be held accountable directly by the CEO. And, in six months, a new organizational chart will be announced. There will be two heads of sales and all others will be reassigned as outside sales reps. They will no longer be VP’s pushing paper and ideas, but sales executives on a mission to sell, sell, sell.


Joe was appreciative that I would come back for a follow-up meeting and we are going to continue to talk through how my firm may be of marketing assistance. With more feet on the street, we may be able to bring value to this client. I feel better knowing the organization is taking steps to “right their ship” which should enable them to implement stronger growth plans. Too many coaches and not enough players will not provide a sustainable plan. Ask yourself…does your team have enough players?

Too Many Coaches and Not Enough Players: Part 1 of 2 - April 16, 2016

I’ve used my own personal stories of coaching sports in sales training for years. I am fortunate to be able to coach lacrosse, a sport I played in school, and one that my children enjoy. Coaching offers me an opportunity to teach, encourage, and build what may become a foundation for someone to grow upon. The game of lacrosse, like many sports, is based on a team concept, that one person cannot win a game and one person cannot lose a game. What does this remind you of? To me, I draw a direct analogy to sales, from the team play to the coaching.


As with any team sport, you cannot have more coaches than players, otherwise you become top heavy and do not have the stamina players to make it all the way through the game. What do I mean by this statement? If you have too many sales managers, all wanting to be decision makers and drivers of ideas, and not enough sales reps on the street closing deals, you will quickly end up being top heavy. You’ll be full of great idea people and no one implementing the ideas.


On a recent sales call of my own I came across a company that had 9 VP’s of sales and 4 outside sales reps. The VP’s still went out and sold, but much less so than the outside reps. When I asked about the role(s) of the VP, I clearly touched a nerve. A few became defensive. They (tried to) explained what their role was and what they did every day. They had this idea and that idea. They managed this concept or that concept. They talked about this stat or that stat. And, when they were all done with their explanations and sitting proudly with their chests pumped out, that’s when I hit everyone in the room right between the eyes. I asked one simple follow-up question: So, who here is revenue king? Who in the room is responsible, on a day-to-day basis, for ensuring the company is producing revenue? The room fell silent.


You would have thought I’d just ask them for their blood type. Better yet, you would have thought I just asked them to strip naked, run out into the middle of Main Street, and to start doing jumping jacks. The utter shock that I would ask such a questions caused an immediate disruption in the meeting. I was asked to leave the room for a moment, and when I returned, I was informed that my firm (moreover me) was not going to be a fit for them to do business. I thanked them in a very professional manner and walked out.


I didn’t even make it to my car before I cracked up laughing. I was laughing by myself so hard that I caught the attention of a gentleman 100 yards away. Maybe he could not tell I was laughing and thought I was injured or something, but he approached. As he drew closer I realized it was the CEO of the company I had just met with and he too knew who I was. He wondered by I was laughing so hard and remembering the honesty rule (Out of the mouths of babes!) I shared the story of the meeting that just abruptly ended. He apologized, wished me a good day, and told me he would call me. I dismissed his final remark as being polite.


Four hours later the CEO called me, again apologized, and asked me to return at my first possible schedule opening. He wants to meet with me one-on-one and promised he was leaving all of his “coaches” in the locker room. Stay tuned…

Never Do Business With A Handshake Alone - April 9, 2016

Here we go again, contract time. It never ceases to amaze me, how we live in such a litigious society, and yet people expect to still do business with a handshake. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of doing business with a handshake, the old "a man’s word is his bond" saying, but the realist in me says “no way”. We all need to cover our butts. And, there is nothing wrong with a written contract.


My post, although brief this week, is a reminder to posts past. There are three generations of sales people out in the business world right now: an older group who fondly remember the days where the handshake was the guarantee; my group where the handshake sealed the deal in addition to the signature on the dotted line; and, a younger sales force that know nothing but legalese because that is how they were taught to close a deal.


I’d like to believe that my group, the middle of the pack I just referenced, have the best closing approach to sales. You’ve read my posts about relationship this and relationship that, I’ve built my career on relationships, so the handshake is the kiss that makes the marriage official. But, don’t forget you still need a marriage license (i.e. the contract).


Make sure you are aware of why the contract is necessary. In other words, don’t get bogged down in sections describing force majeure or arbitration, but really understand why you need a contract. What are you protecting and what protections are you offering your client in writing. Know these protections inside and out and be able to clearly explain these to your client.


When you finally present the written contract to your new client, having been informed in advance that a written contract is in fact a requirement, the handshake will still close the deal.

3 Reasons You (not your company) Will Get Fired By A Client - April 2, 2016

I was recently asked by a friend to brainstorm with her sales team on the topic of “being fired”…as in being fired by a client. This is a company that has a rather solid reputation and is not accustomed to losing clients, yet in recent months two of the four outside sales reps have lost clients. They were fired. My friend became concerned as to the reasons why because the clients were not willing to talk about the relationship (or the decline in the relationship). I was brought in to help uncover what may have occurred.


During the first hour of our review we discussed a variety of possibilities centering on company performance, delivery times, quality of service, billings, etc. We looked at the possible elements that would point to the company itself. After a brief coffee break we then began to discuss the individuals involved in the sales process. And that’s when it happened. The lightbulbs began to go off and the sales reps quickly realized they were the reason the company was fired.


Now it’s not to say that a company won’t lose a client over poor quality, mediocre customer service, poor delivery times, or even price. These are all reasons you may lose a client. But, in my experience, You the sales rep, are more often the reason for being fired by a client. Why? Simple, you are the face of your company.


There tend to be 3 main reasons a client will fire You (not your company). Avoid these reasons and you will certainly increase client retention. Here they are:


1 – Poor Communication. Taking a relationship for granted tends to point toward poor communication and clients know this. When you only talk to, email, or visit with your clients when it’s order time, they will sense your lack of caring and become dismissive of your attempts. I’m not suggesting you text your client “sweet dreams” every night at 9:30 PM. But, staying in close contact with your clients shows you care about them and about your relationship with them. Communication doesn’t always need to be about an order, it could be about a piece of industry related information. Whatever the reason for making contact, keeping in touch pays dividends.


2 – Lacking Personalization. No two fingerprints are alike and as such no two clients are alike. Getting to know your client goes well beyond what they need to buy from you. Knowing who your client is will go a long way. Again, I’m not making any unusual suggestions, such as to become weekend beer drinking buddies with your client, but getting to know them on a semi-personal basis will carry weight. Think about this for a moment, if you are robotic in your sales approach, show no emotion (or caring), and treat every sale’s call as a manufactured process, then don’t be surprised when you get replaced by the rep down the street who goes out of her way to truly get to know “your” client.


3 – Not Believing You Have Competition. Sales people are easily tricked into believing they are good communicators and are personal with their clients. They do this to themselves. “They’ve been my client for several years now, look at their order history, of course I’m in tight with them.” Then, out of nowhere, you’re fired and replaced. You can’t understand why, well that is until you really dig in to reasons 1 & 2 above, and tie those to the realization that you DO have competition and they are better at 1 & 2 above than you’ve been. No matter how niche your products or services, there is always competition. Sales people who do not monitor competitors closely with an eye on their own client relationships may very well find themselves on the losing end.


If you set relationship goals every day and every week you will likely not fall into the trap of neglect. Managing a client relationship, much like a personal relationship, requires time, patience and practice. But, just like a personal relationship, they will grow and get better with time.

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes! - March 26, 2016

You’re probably wondering what in the world this title means this week: Out of the mouths of babes! This saying is older than me. This saying has been around a very, very long time. And yet, no matter how old, this saying has meaning in 2016 especially if you are a parent. Children are innocent creatures with no filters. They speak the truth no matter where they are or who is around. So, what does this saying have to do with sales?


For generations, maybe as long as the profession of sales has been in existence, a sales person has been given a bad rap for being untruthful, dishonest, or a “bender of facts”. It has become a stigma that many a sales person cannot lose. And, in many cases, it is a stigma earned.


I have worked with and counseled sales people for over twenty years and I can’t begin to tell you how many of these folks were taught, that’s right taught, how to bend truths to sell their product or service. Sales people have gone to training programs taught on the basis of how to only share the minimal amount of information to close a deal, nothing less and nothing more, and boy oh boy can that come back to bite them.


When I first began my sales career there was a gentleman I admired for his success. His success, and I mean BIG success, was based on one simple rule that he set for himself: Out of the mouths of babes! What, or more importantly why, did this saying become a business rule for my mentor? Because, as he put it, if you always tell the truth and provide more information than may be required, your customer can never come back and question your intentions for selling them a product or service. Ultimately you will win more than you will lose.


Prior to becoming a parent, I would have this saying trickle into my thoughts every so often, and now it seems to be ever present. The meaning behind it always stuck with me though. I’ve tried to make sure sales people I encounter, either by management or customer, always abide by this rule. You should ask yourself if you abide by this rule (or if your company does). Are you in a position to never have ethics questioned in a deal? Does your customer recognize you as an honest, stand-up sales person? Or, do they view you as the typical order taker, and only do business with you out of necessity?


Becoming a real success as a career sales person means that you must always be honest with yourself and with your customers. Are you?

Recharge Your Battery - March 19, 2016

I was having lunch with a few colleagues the other day in the office. Someone asked if I was looking forward to my upcoming vacation, and before I had a chance to answer, another person commented, “it must be nice to go on vacation again, weren’t you just skiing?” Unfortunately, I was not having the best of days, and I let my agitation with this person get the best of me. I blurted out, without thinking, “if you put in even half of the time and effort I have since January 1st you too would want to go on vacation”. I quickly walked away and later apologized to everyone that was in the kitchen at the time of my outburst.


Stress! I have been under a tremendous amount of stress lately. I tried to watch some March Madness games last night at my neighbors and could not focus on the game. I found myself walking home and going to be at 10:00 PM. I was tired. I got a decent enough night’s sleep last night and felt good coaching lacrosse practice this morning. I guess I just needed the rest.


You see, I made a few adjustments in my role internally at my company as well as with my freelance schedule, and as the old saying goes – I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. As a career sales person I have never been a nine-to-fiver. And this couldn’t be more true of the past 80 days. I’ve always explained to sales people, you can work 30 hours per week or 65 hours per week, the key is making sure you are always exceeding expectations (your own and those of your boss). Being my own boss, I have much higher expectations for myself than I do of my team, and my goal has been to exceed.


And so this has been my mission. I consciously chose to set extremely high goals for myself for the first quarter. Knowing that I had a spring break vacation planned at the end of the quarter meant that I needed to exceed my goals by mid-March and I accomplished my goals. I sit here today feeling good that I exceeded my sales goal while maintaining a full schedule of other responsibilities. But, I still feel a little upset that I was short tempered with my coworker earlier in the week. I blame it on stress.


Sales people tend to be viewed as happy-go-lucky. “Hey man, how’s it going” – “great, couldn’t be better”. Sales people never own up to being stressed out or having a down month or quarter. Happy-go-lucky always. We are sales people, so we are good at covering our real feelings. And so it has gone for me, everything has been great, and for the most part is has. I mean really, while I’ve been stretching myself thin, I have also exceeded goals. But, in reality, I do need a break and so it is time to recharge my own battery.


A sales person should monitor their behavior on a daily basis. When feeling stressed out at work or at home it is time to take a break. A break may be as simple as taking a walk around the block at lunchtime. Or, if you’ve really been going hard at a relative non-stop pace, you may need to disappear and head to the beach for a few days. Whatever works for you, hiking-camping-skiing-shopping-a walking tour of Boston, do something non-work related and relax (or try your best to relax).


There are too many people in the business world that do not fully understand or grasp the concept of being a career sales person. They don’t understand the sacrifices made every day, every week and every month that we take on ourselves to ensure our company is generating revenue. They are unaware of the nights spent at networking events or traveling to visit out-of-town clients, time spent away from our families. And, to a certain extent, they don’t care. We chose this profession. With that in mind, avoid burnout, and take break. Recharge Your Battery!

Sales Stand-Up - March 12, 2016

What is a stand-up? What specifically is a sales stand-up? Should I employ a sales stand-up with my team?


In the world of software development (and similar types of industries) there is a process/belief/methodology known as Agile. Very similar to other concepts in management, like Lean, the premise of Agile is transparency in all steps of your business. This includes sales. My company employs Agile at the core of everything we do, and have for a few years now, which includes how I manage the sales team. The practice of Agile includes a brief daily meeting known as a “stand-up” and I have begun to teach this technique in my own freelance work.


So, let’s begin with the most important element to a sales stand-up, and that is transparency. The concept of transparency, at least on the surface, is rather straight forward. Each sales person is an open book on every single aspect of activity and performance. That is to say, each and every sales person must know exactly where every opportunity, prospect, proposal, PO, email, etc. is in the sales process for each and every client and prospect. Now, here is the tough part, the sales person must be 100% open and honest about these aspects of their sales, meaning they must not sugarcoat the chances of closing the business. And, all of this information is presented daily in front of the entire sales team and management team.


Being transparent seems easy and it is once you become accustomed to being an open book. Think about this for a moment: if you forget to make a phone call to a prospect, you answer for it openly to your team, by admitting you “forgot”. If you are being blown off by a prospect, you acknowledge this openly to your team. If you were told to pound salt and never call the prospect again, you acknowledge this openly to your team. Then and only then are you going to become truly transparent.


So, back to the original questions, what is a stand-up or sales stand-up? A stand-up by basic definition is a meeting. A quick meeting where everyone “stands up” in a circle, hence the name, and randomly gets 2 minutes to talk. The sales stand-up is done daily, first thing in the morning, and should allow each sales person an opportunity (again in 2 minutes or less) to share with the team (1) what they accomplished yesterday, (2) what is on the schedule for today, and (3) what they need help/support on from other team members or management.


Naturally trying to get a sales person to talk for less than 2 minutes can be a challenge. We’re sales people, we love to talk. But, this is not time for idle chit chat. In my office we pass a football from one team member to another. As soon as the sales person catches the ball the clock starts. A typical sales stand-up includes 7-8 people and we are done on average in 13 minutes. Most important thing – these meetings are driving success.


Going back to transparency, the fact that we move quickly through our sales “happenings” in a brief amount of time every single day, there has been a reduction in short notice “hey can you help me” meetings. Planning for all team members, especially management, has improved. Including non-sales folks when need be has also improved, because the others within the organization have advanced notice when they may be needed.


I’ll wrap up with this final note and that is team bonding. All too often sales people go, go, go and find they only communicate with their fellow team members in a weekly sales meeting or sometimes only monthly. Taking a few minutes every morning, even though the sales person is speaking briefly, builds comradery among the team members. Each person will come to realize they are not alone in the trenches. Give the daily sales stand-up a try. If you need more advice or guidance getting started, shoot me a note.