Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

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.

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.

"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.