Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Dysfunctional Inside Sales - January 23, 2016

It isn’t very often that I cover the topic of inside sales. Although I am experienced in managing inside sales teams, I tend to get more questions about the outside sales process. But, I recently had an opportunity to meet with a company that is built around the inside sales team. Outside reps are simply in place as client relationship managers, whereas the inside sales team handle 80% of the quoting and order processing.

 

So, the question posed to me was, “what do you do when your inside sales team is so dysfunctional that we are losing at least 5 deals per month?”

 

My immediate reaction was to clean house and start fresh. Unfortunately, this was just a simple reaction, certainly not based in any reality. The reality of the situation is that the inside sales team simply has too much knowledge about their products and processes, and when I learned the whole story behind the dysfunction, my recommendations for improvement became much more clear.

 

Setting the stage, without a doubt, the inside sales team are the lifeblood of the business. It has been this way for over 25 years. Local management understands this situation, but the parent company (executives) either are not aware of the issues or they don’t care to understand what is going on. It wasn’t always dysfunctional, rather there were times when the company was the leader in their market. They could manage client expectations, turn quotes around same day/next day, and closed 70%plus of the deals quoted. Customer service, an extension of the inside sales process, was considered premier, they set the industry standard.

 

The company was acquired about 10 years ago. Technology was on the brink of changing how business was being done. The Internet was driving the quoting process. Email was overtaking the telephone. Geographic markets began to expand because of search engines. Outside sales reps found themselves traveling more and more. Request for quotes almost doubled in approximately 2 years. The world around this business was changing dramatically, at a running/sprinting pace, while this business was walking with concrete shoes.

 

Fast forward now 10 years. The internal IT systems have not changed. New systems have been attempted to be introduced, but without much user buy-in or success. Outside reps are in many ways disconnected from the internal corporate systems. Quoting is being done on one native system while orders are processed on an unconnected ERP system. Yep, duplicate manual data entry. And the parent company wants to know why they can’t keep up the pace of 10plus years ago. Try this one on for size: in a cost management approach, personal printers were removed from the desks of the inside sales team, and centralized in the department. Every quote and every order is “required” to be printed. This means each and every inside sales team member must leave their desk every 7 minutes to retrieve materials from the centralized printer. Dysfunctional from beginning to end.

 

As I reviewed the various components to this company’s sales process, it did not take long before I realized another glaring issue – the inside sales team have stay silent for the past 10 years. Not one person has stepped up and challenged any of the decisions. When I spoke with management, they too were as surprised as I was that no one would call attention to the problems.

 

It wasn’t long before I was able to convince management to meet with the inside and outside sales team for a real heart-to-heart conversation. Once everyone began to vent, so to speak, they also began to listen intently to one another. And, it wasn’t long before some, not all, of the issues began to have action plans put in place for improvements.

 

My message this week is simple: we all have our own individual responsibilities in the sales process. But, when we realize we are also all on the same team, and we open the lines of communication, we can improve the necessary processes to become more successful. Dysfunction in many instances is a result of poor communication. Yes, systems and processes play a role too, but starting with open and honest communication is the best way to start making changes. Change is not always fun. Change can be painful. Communication can help alleviate some of the pain and make change a bit easier to management. We’re all in this together…talk to each other openly. Embrace change and you’ll get rid of the dysfunction without having to replace people with knowledge.

Planning Client Entertainment - January, 16, 2016

It’s crazy, I spent several hours last night with my wife and a calendar, and we were putting plans in place that span the entire year. Isn’t it only the second week of the new year? Yep it sure is. So, this morning I spent time putting events into my Outlook Calendar so they’d sync with my phone. And, as I did this, it made me realize that I also have to add plans for some of my client entertainment throughout the year.

 

If it is not too early to begin planning ahead for my personal schedule, it is certainly not too early to plan ahead for client entertainment or engagements. Now, if you’ve read my posts before about entertaining clients, you’ll know I am very particular. I’m not a big fan of playing golf with a client because it simply takes too long. I also don’t believe in waiting until November or December to say thank you to a client by scheduling a bunch of lunches. Rather, I’m a big fan of combining education with entertainment, and so this is the planning I’m doing now.

 

During the year I like to find ways to bring clients together, in an offsite setting, to hear a presentation related to my industry which may have an impact on their business. Then, let’s hang out a bit together and enjoy each other’s company. But, I cannot wait until the month before, the week before or last minute, not if I want to have a real impact with my clients. Therefore, I plan now, lock in the dates on the calendar, and proceed with scheduling venues in advance.

 

In doing taking this approach I also plan ahead by setting goals for these events. For example, I may want to increase sales with a particular client or two, so I will plan to invite them based on a specific topic. Or, I may plan an event at a particular venue that will win favor with this client. Whatever the goals are, they need to be defined, and not delayed. You don’t want to fly by the seat of your pants and hope for a salable outcome from your entertainment.

 

Planning now, early in the new year, will also provide you the opportunity to schedule your daily and weekly routine around these events. You’ll know well in advance of when and where these entertainment opportunities will take place, and so you’ll also know how to use these when selling to prospective clients.

 

Planning for the larger, multi-client engagements should happen now, and then you will always be able to handle your individual breakfast, lunch and one-off visit type of meetings later.

New Year New You - January 9, 2016

Yes, I stole the title for this week’s post from a fitness center ad. Like clockwork, TV, radio, print ads, social media, etc. etc. have been inundating us with advertising about health this and that – fitness this and that – diet this and that – start the year off right. A new year can mean a new you. Blah Blah Blah.

 

Enough already. I understand it is trendy to think about weight loss and better health as the calendar ticks forward. I’m in my mid-40’s now and as far back as I can remember this has been a theme at the beginning of a new year. But, what about with your career? What about your sales position? Have you ever considered taking this approach when starting the new year off in your role versus with your exercise routine?

 

My kids are the ones that brought this to my attention. They were laughing at the volume of messages out there about health. And then it dawned on me, have I ever considered taking on this theme with my own career. The more I thought about it the more the answer was yes, I just didn’t make a big deal over it. Then I thought, why not?

 

Every year I conduct a personal retrospect between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I look at how my year went in direct sales, sales management, overall company performance, and if there was anything I could have changed to better perform. Between Christmas and New Year’s, like the same clockwork of fitness advertising, I evaluate what I plan to do in the coming year. What are my new goals and objectives? What can I do to be a better sales person or sales manager? What are my personal and family related goals for the new year? How will my work performance impact my personal plans? Once I have answers to these questions or plans laid out, I then take a step back, and appreciate what I can been afforded.

 

As I look back over the years of my career, especially the past 12 or so years, I have in fact taken a New Year New You approach. I kick off the new year more energized because I feel I have a clear understanding of my goals. Maybe not in reality, but optimistically I feel like I can leave some baggage behind, and move forward on a clean (or somewhat cleaner) slate. I’m not foolish to think that the tick of the calendar forward erases the past. I do however feel, much like the advertising of health this and that, that it is never too late to make changes, take on new challenges, and to work on better health. In this case it is my career health.

 

Don’t be afraid of self-evaluation. Plan for improvement. Challenge yourself. And believe that a new year can bring on a new you. Happy New Year and Happy Selling! 

The CYA Client - January 2, 2016

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my post from last week. I shared the issue of a client hiring you for your expertise, but then wanting things done their way. The issues I have been personally facing recently continue to bother me. Did I miss something in my sales process? Was the client always intending to have things done their way, regardless of hiring my firm under the premise of expertise? What could I have done differently?

 

It has been bothering me so much that I reached out to another client for a bit of advice. This gentleman knows my other client on a personal level, yet was willing to talk with me in confidence. And, his take on the situation was rather eye opening. He very matter-of-factly said, your client is in a state of “cover you a%^*!”” That’s right, he told me the client is fearful of change, because he is afraid that change may have a negative impact on his position and career.

 

Instead of accepting that change is inevitable and being more willing to lean on my firm’s expertise, this client retreated and reversed course. He no longer was willing to accept how his organization should handle certain usability standards in web and digital marketing, based on the calendar being 2015-2016, and went backward to 2005. He felt more in control then. He felt as though change was not as rapid and consistent 10 years ago. He felt he knew his business and his customers so much more than what analytics and best practices could tell him. Ultimately, he lost trust not only in my firm, but in many ways the realities of what changes are taking place around him.

 

Unfortunately, this client pushed and pushed his own agenda, ignoring our pleas to listen to our guidance. He believe we were using a ploy or sales tactic when we told him not to spend additional fees with us, that’s how adamant we’ve been that he is making a mistake. He made the demands and we have been forced to follow.

 

I have no doubt that he will terminate our relationship. His demands will not be successful and failure is an almost guarantee. He will continue to move in the opposite direction of the realities around him and he will ultimately pay the highest price. The project will, in fact, be deemed a failure. My firm will not be at fault. We did our very best to show him the facts and steer him in the right direction. He made the final call and he will get what he deserves. As I’ve said before, this is harsh commentary, but true commentary. I like this client. I wish him well. And, I sure hope he stops worrying about CYA and embraces the inevitable…change. He can then look toward more successful days ahead instead of living in the past…living in fear.

I appreciate your expert opinion but... - December 26, 2015

It has been an interesting few weeks with one particular client. And, as I write this post, I am sitting on an airplane waiting on a small mechanical issue to be corrected, and then off I go on vacation. What do the two have in common? Expertise.

 

You see, I am in no position to be of any assistance to the mechanics on the airplane, even though I’d love to share a thought or two. I would like to depart as close to on time as possible. Maybe I could give some advice to the pilots on how to make time up in the air. No, wait a minute, I didn’t go to flight school. Heck, I’ve never sat in a cockpit. Granted, I work in technology, so how hard could it be.

 

Instead, I’ll just chuckle to myself, and I’ll let the mechanics and the pilots do what they do best. Besides, I’m putting my trust in their expertise, I mean that is what I am paying for, right?

 

Back to my particular client. Why did you hire my firm? Do you not feel we have your best interests in the forefront of the project? You are making a sizable investment into the project, so why is that you selected us? Wasn’t it because you thought my team were experts and could deliver a superior outcome? So why then are you constantly dismissing our expert advice and opinions and making poor decisions?

 

In sales we work very hard to identify what might be considered red flags. I would never intentionally bring a client in for a project that would not use us for our best work. So, what should we do? Handling these situations takes patience and tact and ultimately a willingness to walk away.

 

Clients that hire you for your expertise but then want everything done their way get what they deserve. That may not seem professional, but what is the alternative? You should take into consideration the toll it may take on your team members if you force them to continue with this type of client. It diminishes their and your value. You and your team have been at this for a very long time, building your professional resumes in a particular field, and for what, to have a client tell you they know more than you.

 

This is harsh commentary, however very real on an everyday basis. These types of clients should be dealt with professionally and swiftly. End the engagement. Dissolve the relationship. Fire the client if need be. These are clients that will end up firing you down the road for a lack of results even though you told them otherwise. They are their own worst enemy and the results of “their project” should fall entirely on them.

 

Oh yeah, and as I post this week’s blog, I am now sitting in another airport having missed my connection. I’m a bit disappointed that I won’t get to my destination on time. But, I trusted in the mechanics and pilots to keep me safe, and they did their jobs. I can handle the slight delay. They are the experts, that’s why I hired them.

The "Know It All" - December 19, 2015

This touchy subject has come up again – how to deal with a “Know It All”. There are two sides to this subject in sales. First is the customer / prospective customer. Second is the sales person. Both can act like “know it all’s” and both can become detrimental to a successful relationship.

 

On many occasions I have shared my opinion of the word relationship. A sales relationship is often similar to a personal relationship. There’s the dating and courtship process which leads to the engagement and then many times the marriage. When dealing with a “know it all” one side of the relationship may become turned-off or uninterested.

 

In looking at the customer / prospective customer side of the relationship, when they constantly act as a “know it all”, these individuals tend to burn bridges, are not respectful of the sales process, or end up buying less than needed for their specific need. Many times it is because their attitude is less-than-desirable so the sales person does not want to put up with them. They are a turn-off and so the sales person may simply rush through their own process simply to be done with them.

 

Likewise, when the sales person is the “know it all”, the customer / prospective customer will become quickly frustrated. When this type of sales person is attempting to move through their process, they tend to listen less, and they wind up talking more. They believe their words are more important and they sell what they believe is necessary, not what the customer / prospective customer ultimately needs.

 

Use your own personal lives as examples. We all have friends or acquaintances that can come across as the “know it all”. How do you engage with this person? How do you feel after conversing with them? Do you go out of your way to talk with them? Do you want to spend long periods of time with them? Or, although they may have their moments of likability, do you want to avoid one-on-one conversations?

 

Translate this personal example into business. Ask yourself if you have any of these tendencies. Evaluate your most successful sales and determine what characteristics were in your favor from the relationship side. And then act accordingly. Don’t be a “know it all” and try to avoid those that act this way as customers.

Selling To A Committee - December 12, 2015

Selling to an individual can be stressful. Selling to a committee can be downright frustrating. One of my newer team members recently was in a sales process where the prospect had a committee of eleven individuals. I’ve sold to so many committees that it seems like second nature, but to him it was rather new. He was concerned about “being outnumbered” or how best to manage a crowd. It dawned on me that many sales reps may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable in this type of sale, so here is my advice.

 

Inevitably there will be an individual on the purchasing committee that simply does not like you. And, just the same, there will be someone that thinks the world of you. The rest will fall right in the middle. Identifying these individuals early in the process is key to the success of the remainder of the meeting.

 

When presenting, asking questions, or sharing examples, give equal attention to the one that seems to be the “lack of caring” as much so as to the individual that is fully engaged. Second, when calling out those in the room, you will never remember each person’s name, but attempt to call on at least two others, besides the two already referenced, by their first name. This shows the entire audience you are giving it your best.

 

Make sure to make eye contact with every single person when you are speaking. Don’t ignore anyone, especially the quietest person in the room, as they may be a key factor in the decision process. Every individual in the room, even the one that came in late, should receive your business card. Do not let anyone leave without having your card. And, encourage each and every person to contact you with any questions at any time.

 

Be prepared with your deliverable's. In other words, if you were told that ten people will be on the committee and in the meeting, take two or three extra copies of your presentation or proposal. It is much better to have extras than to not have enough.

 

Last, relax and be yourself. Selling to a committee can be intimidating. You are basically standing in front of a room full of strangers and hoping they will buy from you. Often I’ve even pointed this out, stating I’m here to sell you, but with a bit of humor. They too may be uncomfortable with the process, so putting them at ease will go a long way in winning them over.

 

You may not win over every single person in the room, but go for it. If you come up one or two people shy of a unanimous decision, the majority may suffice, and you will likely win the business.

EOY Planning - December 5, 2015

Wow, this year has sure gone by quick. Those words have been flying around my office all week. And they are true, this year really has gone by quickly. Either that or I’m just getting old…probably both.

 

Every year since I began my career I enter the month of December with the idea that I will plan ahead for the start of a new calendar year. In the early years I’d procrastinate and then pay the price. I eventually learned my lesson and took the planning process seriously and have continued to this day.

 

I am often asked, however, if it’s really a big deal to plan for nothing more than a calendar change. What is really the difference in moving into the new month of January versus moving into the new month of September? Isn’t it just a date? And, if it’s just a date, why so much worry around planning?

 

The short answer is yes, it is just a date, but for many it is a fresh start. It is a fresh start to their annual budget, the money the customer/client can spend with you, or a fresh start to your customers/clients own list of projects. Since an overwhelming amount of companies now work on a calendar-fiscal year, January 1st is both a real start to the fiscal spending season for you, but also gives many the sense of renewal they need to forge ahead with their own business plans.

 

On a personal level, think of all of the New Year’s resolutions people make, and more importantly why they make them. With doing the research I am not going to pretend I know when this tradition came from. What I do know and what we as a society have been shown & told, is that the New Year is a time of personal renewal, a time to start things over again. And, this has also trickled into our business lives.

 

Our own company’s set annual sales goals based upon revenue and gross profit. They set goals on adding or releasing to the market new services or products. Goals by the company are then broken down by department, and for the sales teams and sales reps, these become our own goals for which performance will be measured.

 

And so, for the sales reps out there, don’t hesitate. Begin today, if you haven’t already, in preparing your EOY plans. Set your goals for the New Year. Work closely with your management on what is expected, and then prepare your own plan on hitting those expectations. And, finally, be proactive. Don’t wait for your manager to set your goal, rather set your own goals. 

Finding Time When Your Calendar Is Full - November 28, 2015

If you’ve ever heard the saying, “the clock is your enemy”, well then you probably played sports at some time. However, have you ever heard the saying, “the calendar is your best friend”? If so, you must be a sales person. I not only love the saying, but I wholeheartedly believe in this saying. So, what do you do then when you feel as though the calendar is full?

 

I have yet to meet a sales person that hasn’t struggled, even a little bit, with time management at some point in their career. And, the most common thought, the calendar is full so how can I squeeze anything else in there? This week’s post, although brief, is for my own team members as you enter the final month of the calendar year. Yes, it will be very busy, but you can always fit in one more call or one more email.

 

I remember the early days of my career, the pre-Internet / pre-cell phone / pre-smart device / pre-mobile existence days, when accessing work information required you be in the office (regardless of whether the office was in or out of the home). Today, however, work is at your fingertips. And, because you can access your office anywhere at any time, there seems to be an expectation that you can and should do more. To a certain extent this is true, but a sales manager must also manage with an expectation that his or her sales team also have personal lives.

 

Assuming for a moment you have a great sales manager, one that encourages you to spend quality time with family and friends, then how can you squeeze in one more call or one more email? Planning!

 

Having your calendar on your computer and smart device can be the best tool in your sales arsenal, as long as you use it to its full extent. Here’s how…

 

Put every single personal and professional appointment in the calendar. I mean every single one. If you don’t want someone in the office to know about your unusual rash and subsequent doctor appointment, mark it private. If you don’t care that your coworkers know that your daughter has a piano recital tonight, then don’t mark it private. The point is…every time you need to be someplace, put it in your calendar.

 

Second, evaluate your week, and then put “blocks” in your calendar. A block is a period of time that you cannot be bothered for a meeting. You have work to be done and you will get that work done in those blocks. Blocks should also include the personal time with family and friends.

 

Finally, when you feel as though something cannot be added to your calendar, look for the time in between your appointments and blocks. Before you know it, you’re squeezing in one more call from a parking lot prior to a meeting. You will find the 5 minutes needed to send an email while waiting to pick your son up from football practice. You’ll come to realize that you wake up at 7:00 AM on Saturdays and can spend 20 minutes reading that industry article you didn’t get to on Wednesday.

 

My point is this, please consider the small windows, the 5-15 minute windows here and there in your calendar, because these are valuable to making sure a little more can get done. Most importantly, these steps in time management will help you reach your weekly goals without intruding upon your own personal time.

Thank You - November 21, 2015

I am thankful. I woke up a little earlier than normal this morning to join my son in activities that are one of the bonds of our relationship. Last week I wrote of a reflective period during this time of the year. As I sit outdoors this morning watching the sun rise with my first born, I can say nothing more than thank you.

 

Being thankful is being appreciative for what you have. As a career sales person I am thankful for all of my clients. I am grateful for you placing your trust in me to guide you toward success. I am thankful to my parents for their wisdom that have helped me continue to grow, even as an adult.

 

Thanks too goes to the team around me that support my business goals every day. Through the achievement of our business goals I can meet my personal goals. Together we are on a mission and together through supporting one another we will achieve our goals.

 

And, of course, thanks goes to my wife and children. Without your support and understanding I would not be in this position. I awake every morning and take on the challenges of my career specifically for you.

 

Thank you.