Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Co-Selling Works - November 19, 2016

There is an old quote from Abraham Lincoln that I often translate to sales, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”. In other words, in legal practice, you can’t always go it alone. You may need assistance or guidance from time-to-time, especially if your own “life” depends on it. And so goes the same in sales. I translate the Lincoln quote at times to mean “He who tries to close the deal by himself has no one to blame if he loses the deal by himself”.


The world is full of lawyers, some good, some average, and some just plain bad. The world is also full of sales people, some good (the ‘A’ level sales person), some average, and some just plain bad. What makes a lawyer good or a sales person ‘A’ level? It is a simple answer to write down, but not necessarily simple to act upon: the willingness to ask for help.


This is often a hard lesson in one’s career to learn, yet those of us who’ve been at the sales game for a while, have learned the lesson the hard way. We’ve all been there. We’ve all tried to be the cowboy who rides in on his white steed and saves the day by closing the deal all by ourselves. It is an awesome feeling when it happens. But, what a terrible sense of failure when it doesn’t. And, to make matters worse, many of those times when it doesn’t come your way, there may have been an alternative by asking for help.


I was asked recently by a friend to speak with his now adult daughter. She has been out of college for about a year and a half, in a sales role, and is struggling internally with how to approach management. She is fearful that she will be turned away or that by asking for guidance or help would be a sign of weakness in the eyes of her superiors.


Taking a small step back in the story, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that Colleen has been rather successful in her short time as a sales person. She has learned quickly how to cold call, write proposals, and is embracing consultative selling more and more each week that goes by. She has had a small taste of success, but now has had her first real taste of failure. Colleen lost a fairly large deal she believed was well within her grasp. And, she is struggling with the reason why.


Colleen, for all intent and purpose, did everything right. She counseled the client off and on through the pre-sales and sales process. She brought in experts for review calls with her prospect. She went so far as to tell me, “Mr. Latchford, I dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T’, I just don’t know why they didn’t go with me”. I pushed her a bit in reviewing the steps and then it dawned on me. She didn’t ask anyone in her organization for help, as in anyone from her management team.


It was obvious from the beginning of the sales process that Colleen, although accomplished already, was young in her career. I’m not talking about her age, but rather her experience in her role. She did almost everything right, but she never asked anyone from the management team to be involved in her sales process, not even from an introduction standpoint. In her mind, she should have been able to close the deal on her own, and was fearful that her VP of Sales or the President of the company would find it disappointing that she’d need their help, or that she couldn’t handle it on her own. She couldn’t have been more wrong – and it cost her the deal. The prospect wrote a pleasant thank you, but explained the competitor made it a point to introduce senior leadership as a part of the sales process.


Asking for help is NEVER a sign of weakness. Rather, asking for help is a sign of maturity. Your senior leadership team does not need to be inundated with mundane requests for help ten times per day, but will never say no when it really counts. Colleen learned a hard lesson by not asking for help, but I'll bet she doesn't let that happen again. Don’t be afraid to approach your superiors, that’s what they’re there for.

Post Election: Block Out The Noise - November 12, 2016

I must say that I’ve never witnessed behavior in a business setting like I’ve seen over the past few days. It doesn’t matter the volume level, I call it all noise. From quiet whispering to outright screaming matches and everything in between, there has been quite a bit of hostility in people’s tone of voices.


The presidential election has brought out the best in some people and the worst in others. Voting in general is a privilege and it should not matter who one votes for as their candidate of choice. It is a personal choice. But, as much as it is a personal choice, taking a stance publicly and vocally can impact your position with your management team, in a negotiation with a client, or in the eyes of your co-workers. Being a part of the noise may not serve the purpose you may ultimately want.


Please don’t get me wrong, free speech is a wonderful thing, something we should all celebrate and champion. However, in the career of sales, one that likely pays your bills, keeping your opinions to yourself may be the better option over contributing to the noise. I’m sure by now you’ve hear the term “sales chameleon”. The sales professional needs to blend in with his or her surroundings in order to win the deal or win the day. So often sales people agree with this approach, pride themselves are being “good chameleon’s” and yet at times do not know when to bite their tongue.


Over the years in my career I have witnessed individuals commit professional suicide over their opinions and remarks. I’ve written many posts about sales being a game and how to play the game of sales. Blocking out the noise is a part of being an ‘A’ level sales person. And, it doesn’t have to be a presidential election, it can be commenting on your favorite NFL team when standing in front of a diehard fan from the opposition. I’ve been in meetings in Pittsburgh when the topic of Browns vs Steelers comes up. Instead of running my mouth, I’ve poked fun at the rivalry or simply let comments pass. Why stir the pot if it just needs to simmer.


So, this week I’m keeping the post rather simple, and just offering a little piece of advice based on the past few days of observations. Here you go: Sales is a game and ‘A’ level sales people know it is a game. You must recognize that even though you may have a strong opinion about a political, religious, sports, or business topic, it is sometimes best to stay quiet. There is no need to contribute to the noise. And, if you are wise and can block out the noise, others like your management team, co-workers, clients and prospective clients will take notice, and you will be regarded as a steadfast sales person. Keep business business and personal personal. There’s always a time and place to voice your opinion and the workplace isn’t always the best place.

Managing Emotions - November 5, 2016

While there are a variety of career options where emotions come into play, there are none more so than in sales. You’ve heard the term emotional rollercoaster, well that is a phrase that perfectly describes the life and times of a career salesperson. Managing emotions can be difficult, but when done so, can separate the ‘A’ level salesperson from the rest of the pack.


No one is bulletproof when it comes to managing their emotions. Emotion in one’s personal life, like their career, can be a heavy weight to bear, and sometimes creeps in and ends up on display. It may be the death of a family member or the birth of a child. It could be watching your hometown team make it to Game 7 of the World Series or it could be the 9th defeat in a row for your beloved NFL team. It also could be the loss of a client or the win of a new deal. Regardless of the event or activity, sometimes emotions build up, and you simply let those emotions show.


I awoke rather early this morning, feeling overwhelmed about my life this past week, having ridden a rollercoaster of emotion from last Saturday through last night. I attended a funeral for an old friend who was just 46 years old when he passed away a few days ago. I received news that another friend and former colleague celebrated the birth of her son. I worked closely with a long-time client that was more than a bit upset with my firm over what amounted to be miscommunication. I identified a great, new business opportunity through a partnership program. I received news that a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer. And, I attended parent-teacher conferences for all three of my kids, all with very positive feedback and remarks on their progress year-to-date. It was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster this past week.


My wife also woke up a little early today. Like me it was a long week with emotions all over the board. However, she did not have the client high’s & low’s to deal with, nor the amount of activity on her calendar as I did. She commented about how well I’ve handled these up’s & down’s this week, speaking directly about being on an “emotional rollercoaster”. She asked how I was holding up and if I felt exhausted. I had a simply reply: “I haven’t stopped to really dwell upon one thing or another, I’m just taking everything in stride”.


Throughout my career in sales I have been faced with a number of challenges. Managing a hectic calendar, juggling personal matters with networking events in the evenings, and growing my individual sales funnel all have prepared me for the unexpected. I’ve learned over the years to put each and every life instance into perspective. There are few things in life that I have complete control over. I cannot manage traffic on the highway, and so from time-to-time I may be late for a meeting. I’m not a doctor and therefore cannot help a friend or family member that has fallen ill. And, just the same, I can try my best to remain healthy, but I also cannot hide from the common cold. There are so many scenarios that play out in my daily life that I simply cannot control or even foresee, but I’ve come to accept anyway.


Recognizing that unexpected things happen in life is step one in managing emotion. Second, putting each unexpected item into perspective, that is ranking each on a level of importance, helps me prioritize my daily schedule. Third, I make sure that my family comes first, company second, and everything else after. And, lastly, if I feel emotion taking over, I try to walk away for even just a few minutes.


Managing emotions will help you get ahead in both your professional and personal life. Sometimes you just need to accept that emotion is human and showing emotion happens. 

Time To Move On - October 29, 2016

Here I go again, writing about the significance of understanding that sales is about relationships, and the reality of relationships is that at times you have to let go and move on. I’ve watched colleagues for years work on their sales skills by reading a book, watching a video, or attending a seminar. These are some very bright, well educated individuals. However, they take the text book definitions and attempt to apply lessons learned without understanding some of the key principals – relationships are learned through experience.


Think about this for a moment, you don’t learn how to date someone, propose marriage, and walk down the aisle through a lesson in a “How To” book. You date someone, then you date someone else, you make mistakes, you learn from your mistakes, and then you apply the lessons you’ve learned through these experiences. That, my friend, is relationship management.


What some of my colleagues lack at times is the perspective I have from being a parent. Having children ranging in age from grade school to high school, I’ve become a believer in “little kids little problems, big kids big problems”. And, through my parenting experiences, I feel as though I am yet again learning life lessons that I can apply in business and in sales. Sometimes simply being an observer of my children offers me reminders of lessons learned through experiences in relationship management.


Over the past week or so I’ve been witness to two scenarios with my children that remind me of a golden sales lesson – you have to learn when it’s time to move on. In the first scenario my youngest daughter found herself in a rather uncomfortable situation. One of her close, longtime friends was not being kind to someone else over text and social media. My daughter tried to explain to her friend that she was being mean. Unfortunately, her efforts were futile and while she should have walked away she did not. She was punished by my wife and me, and now she realizes that it is better to walk away, move on, and possibly even change the dynamics of her friendship, in order to do what is right.


Another example is based around a young man that attended grade school with my son. This young man has moved on to high school and is beginning to make new friends and build upon his new high school life. However, in doing so, like many others moving on in life, his own mom does not believe he’s having a good experience. In fact, she believes his older, grade school friends are turning their backs on him and leaving him out. She has turned to making false accusations toward other young men and other families. She believes her son is being excluded intentionally and refuses to acknowledge that these boys are growing up and moving on with their lives. She refuses to move on and in her refusal she’s not accepting that her son needs to also move on.


In our careers, in sales, just as with personal relationships with our friends, significant others, and our children, lessons must be learned with experiences applied. In other words, my reflection this morning while having coffee reminds me that my children must learn life-lessons even when they’re difficult lessons, and then apply these experiences in the future. Sometimes it is best to move on. In sales one must always realize that lessons are learned more on the street than in the classroom. Sure, foundational ideas can come from a book, but nothing can replace the experience of learning hands-on. Lessons will be found in wins and losses. You’ll earn new client relationships and lose some. And, some must be lost, must move on, in order to grow.


My daughter, as well as the young man now in high school, must move on. They must seek new relationships in order for themselves to grow. Sales people need to grow, add new client relationships, and yes, sometimes this means moving on or allowing others to move.

Age & Memory - October 22, 2016

Age and one’s memory are topics that can be funny and, at times, very difficult. For so long we as a society have pondered the relationship between getting older and becoming forgetful. And, in no way, shape or form am I attempting to make light of such a situation. I have watched individuals very close to me suffer from forgetfulness, so I am sensitive to the topic.


In business the age of a relationship between you and a client can also become a matter of forgetfulness. It seems the longer (age) we work with a client, there are times when we forget some of the details of our business. I’ve had a rather tough week in this regard, dealing with a longtime, valued client that has become forgetful of our business dealings.


My client is a bit upset because a project is taking longer than any of us had planned. The use of a third-party for a functional piece of work impeded our progress. In fact, my client selected the third-party, and the third-party has caused a three-month delay in the overall timeline of the project. While we worked diligently to keep our client apprised of the situation and the delays, what appeared to be understood was forgotten. And, so we face an upset client that wants to shift blame to my firm rather than accept any part of the responsibility.


What has frustrated me more so than this one matter is the forgetfulness of the end goals of the project. I feel as though the age of my business relationship has put in place “assumptions”, as in my client assumes we’ll do this or that, or they assume we understand what they intended beyond what their words stated. And, topping it all off, I have two executives representing the client side of the relationship that oftentimes are not on the same page, and are forgetful of independent conversations they’ve had with me or others in my company.


In much the same way as dealing with a loved one who may be experiencing memory issues, you have a responsibility to both your company and your client to gently remind them of conversations. I’ve been accused more than a time or two of being somewhat longwinded in my email correspondence. I'm maybe a bit over-the-top, so to speak, in details. However, when called upon for a gentle reminder, I tend to have something available in an email that helps shed light.


Clients, just like a friend or family member, don’t like being told they’re wrong or they forgot the details of a conversation. But, if and when handled properly, the gentle reminder goes a long way. Reminders don’t have to be a “I told you so” moment, instead they can be a “here is the recap email I sent you three months ago, take a look, and then let’s get back together so we’re on the same page”. I will say that over the many years of my career, this approach works more times than not, but never 100%.


Frustration sets in, as mine did this past week, when a client remains adamant that they are right, you are wrong, and there is no further discussion needed. When push comes to shove you may have no choice but to deliver the cold, hard facts. The fallout may not be pleasant, but the alternative is worse. You must always take a step in reminding your clients of forgotten details otherwise you will lose revenue, lose profit, lose employees, lose clients, or lose all of the above.

Accepting Rejection - October 15, 2016

I can’t believe they said No!


You’ve got to be kidding me, he got promoted and I didn’t?


They chose another (company/product/service) and not mine, it’s their loss.


Being told no, being rejected, can garner a reaction that sometimes is telling about how you handle not just other difficult lessons in life, but success as well. Rejection is inevitable. There is no perfect, 100% close rate in sales, just as though no professional quarterback can go an entire career without throwing an interception.


Understanding and accepting rejection is not a comfortable topic, but I’ve been in my career long enough to know that there are also more up’s than down’s, if you know how to accept rejection and move on. There are many who’ve chosen sales as their profession, but who have poor attitudes when it comes to loss. Some become angry while others blame the customer or client. Some gloss over a loss or rejection and never take any time to consider reasons why they were not chosen. And yet others hold onto the loss for far too long, constantly reminding themselves they lost a deal, and dwelling on possible shortcomings in their own process. All self-destructive attributes that in no way lean in the direction of success.


One of the first steps any sales person should take in building a successful sales career is accepting that rejection does happen. It may be something you did in the sales process. It may be a price-sensitive issue. It may be the client simply never wanted to choose you in the first place, but was required to get a competitive bid. Regardless of the reasons, being rejected is a fact of the sales life. Accept it and move on.


That is the key – accept it and move on. However, there is an “in between” stage between accepting it and moving on. This is the reasoning stage, as in there was a reason, and you need to uncover what the reason is or was. The process of uncovering the reason you were rejected may take a little extra doing, it may require you to call the customer and ask, but it is a necessity. Through rejection or loss there are lessons to be learned. And, through these lessons, wins or gained business will come.


I am not suggesting that rejection is easy, something you should be comfortable with or take as a norm, rather be willing to accept that it is a part of one’s sales life. Accept that you are being presented an opportunity to learn, so that win’s become even more valuable in the future. 

The Cost Of Being In Sales - October 8, 2016

I’ve had the pleasure recently of mentoring several college seniors readying themselves for graduation and their entry into the world of sales. It excites me to see their level of enthusiasm and their passion for wanting to start their careers. All bright minded individuals, they also each have unique backgrounds. Some have parents that have built their own careers in business while others have families that work in construction or industry.


During our round-table discussions and one-on-one sessions, I would often steer the conversation around topics of preparedness, being mentally tough for sales, interviewing techniques, cold calling skills, etc. etc. Through them all there was one topic that raised the most eyebrows and created the most interactive level of conversation: the cost of being in sales.


One young lady shared a story she read in a business magazine which described how a sales person, a true expert in sales, can name their price. She took that to mean that in sales, with some experience and a relative amount of success, you can get a high paying job easily. When I introduced the idea that there is a cost to being in sales, this poor young lady almost hyperventilated.


What is the cost of being in sales? The answer is a simple, single word – sacrifice – but the concept of sacrifice is very difficult for many to understand. And, more importantly, is the cause for many a sales person to change professions.


I began the exercise by having each person in my group define sacrifice as it pertains to being in a sales career. The majority spoke about salary, as in entry-level terms for compensation. One described a recent interview where he was informed there would be no vacation during the first year of employment. Another chimed in about the pathway to an outside sales role, ultimately where she wanted to be, having to go through an inside sales training program. She dreads the idea of cold calling for 8 hours per day 5 days per week. She looked at that as sacrifice.


Each of these young, soon-to-be professionals had a general idea about sacrifice for their new career, but each barely scratched the surface. I then shared my definition of sacrifice. I did this by describing not only my own experiences but those of many an ‘A’ level sales person I’ve come to know.


Sacrifice, the cost of being in sales, is about long days and long nights. Constant learning: reading, watching, listening, attending, with no graduation date in sight. Learning is a lifelong endeavor that must be a part of the sales person’s daily program. Sacrifice is about traveling, sometimes for days on end, living out of a suitcase and not seeing your spouse or children. It is about missing your mom’s birthday dinner because you could not miss a conference on the other coast. Sacrifice is about relocating, sometimes frequently, because your employer wants to promote you. Sometime relocation's are to places you never considered moving to. Sacrifice is about putting 20,000 miles per year on your car (or more) for the sake of making meetings face-to-face rather than over the phone or over the Web.


There is a cost to being in sales, but such a cost (the sacrifices) can be viewed as an expense or as an investment. For those that view the cost as an investment, the return on investment can be enormous. The sacrifices made today can afford you luxuries later. Skipping happy hour with your buddies next Thursday may allow you the ability to skip work on Thursday five years from now so you can attend your daughters first piano recital.


Sacrifice is about paying your dues today to reap rewards tomorrow. Are you willing to pay the cost of being in sales?

Better Friends After The Breakup - October 1, 2016

Throughout the past few years I’ve written a variety of posts pertaining to hiring & firing of both sales people and clients. Yes, it is a touchy subject, and yes it oftentimes does not end pleasantly. But, every so often, as in personal relationships, two people or two companies can end up being better off once the breakup takes place. In fact, the breakup may strengthen the relationship.


I was reminded of this recently when I was asked to assist with the parting of ways between a sales professional and his employer. Gabe, the sales professional, is a truly personable individual. The “really good guy” in the group. He is pleasant and easy to talk to. He tries hard to make people comfortable in the business setting and on the telephone. Unfortunately, sometimes one just has a black cloud over their head for a while. Sales became more and more of an obstacle course. As one obstacle would be pushed aside by a closed deal, it then seemed as though ten more obstacles appeared.


For Gabe’s employer, patience in sales performance became an obstacle for them too. I counseled the company for some time on how to work on change plans and growth plans from the sales team side of the business. Unfortunately, the topic of Gabe began to dominate planning meetings. It was never an exciting topic because he was hitting home runs, rather it was a disappointing topic due to poor sales performance. All the while everyone complimented his personality and desire to remain steadfast in selling for the company.


Eventually a decision had to be made, one that meant Gabe needed to leave the company, and he could do so of his own choice or be terminated. Not surprisingly, because Gabe was not bread with a sense of entitlement, he chose to resign. He recognized the struggles he’d had for many months, and although not one to quit, Gabe also was a realist. He knew that by staying it was nothing more than a matter of time before he would be terminated. He had missed quota too many months to make up ground.


Gabe took the high road. He was overwhelmingly complimentary of the company. Without hesitation he contacted his clients and prospective clients. Without going into detail he shared with them that he was parting ways, but that the decision was more than amicable, and one that would allow him to pursue new opportunities. He made introductions to other team members, and he then followed up on his own time, to make sure these clients and prospective clients were being taken care of.


There are many who would part ways with their employer and never speak again. Instead, Gabe has stayed in contact. He has made an introduction to a new prospective client and he’s referred a sales candidate to the company. If he has hard feelings, you’d never know. Not everyone is cut from the same cloth as Gabe. My hope behind this week’s post is simple, learn from Gabe on how to be humble, you may find that you’ll be better friends after the breakup. And, you never know when your paths may cross again.

Referrals Without Directly Asking - September 24, 2016

I have been a believer of referral business since I began my career. Nothing is more gratifying that having a current or previous client provide you with a referral. It is a true testament as to their happiness with the service or product you are providing them. And, referral business is so important, there are books and training programs surrounding this very topic.


Successful sales people in pretty much every industry will tell you that referral business is a must. It is THE key to becoming successful. Yet, many will not share how they obtain referrals. There is a real knack for obtaining quality referrals. Many in the sales training industry teach various methods on how to ask for the referral or how to build a “referral program” which is aimed at compensating for an obtained referral. But, I believe there is a way to obtain a referral that doesn’t cost you anything and you don’t have to blatantly ask for it.


Obtaining a referral without directly asking is the same as navigating the sales waters to go from a cold lead to a warm introduction. The goal, of course, is to gain an in with a prospect by having someone introduce you. Think about personal introductions: Jane, I’d like to introduce you to Keith. Keith is an old friend. The statement that Keith is an “old friend” is the testament. What Jane hears is that you value your friendship with Keith enough to not only make an introduction, you are stating that he is an old friend, which places emphasis on your personal feelings for Keith. You just made a referral. You’ve said to Jane that it would be worth her while to meet Keith (for whatever reason).


Obtaining a referral in business is similar. When you identify a prospect that you feel is worthwhile and worthy of your time spent trying to sell, you need to expedite the introduction process. Here are the steps to gain the referral without directly asking for it:

  • ·         Identify a mutual acquaintance, friend, colleague or client
  • ·         Send this person a note by email or even text asking not “if they know Joe” but “how they know Joe” – this accomplishes two tasks – first you will confirm their knowledge of the person you wish to meet and second how they know them
  • ·         The next step is the most critical. You need to phrase your follow-up question so naturally that your client (or whoever fits this spot) doesn’t even think twice. Question: Craig, sounds like you’ve had a great business relationship with Joe for a while. His name has popped up on my radar more than once. In fact, I’ve tried to get in touch with him a few times to talk shop. I believe he’d be a good fit for my company, maybe not as good you (insert laugh), but a good fit. What do you think?
  • ·         Although I’ve had conversations basically end here, more times than not my client (or whoever fits this spot) immediately offers to make the introduction. I thank them and even encourage ways on which to make the introduction.


Referral business can be a difference maker in moving from a ‘B’ level sales person to an ‘A’ level sales person. Being tactful, and sometime stealth in your approach, will ultimately drive your referral business higher and higher. Don’t sit back and wait for referrals to come your way…drive them directly.

Careful With Criticism - September 17, 2016

Just because you place the word “constructive” in front of criticism, it’s still criticism. Since well before I began my career, maybe even back in my high school days, I learned that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. This is so true, especially when providing feedback to a salesperson.


I was having lunch with a client recently. In attendance was the owner, the vp of sales, and two of their sales team members. The conversation went along quite well until we were done eating. That is when I inquired as to how the sales folks were doing. Before they could answer, the vp of sales chimed in, and in a rather unflattering way began to critique her sales team member’s performance. She did not come across professional, polite, or even anything close to it. Instead, her so called constructive criticism was just criticism.


Demeaning a team member serves no purpose. Criticism may be earned, and when handled correctly, can serve a valuable opportunity for the person to learn from others more experienced. But, true constructive criticism should never be considered a loss, rather an opportunity to learn.


The woman I sat across from at lunch went on and on about how her team screwed up, missed big opportunities with new customers, and berated those team members for not learning from her teachings. Quite frankly she was rude and ignorant. I was utterly shocked that she was spewing her thoughts so candidly in front of the company owner – her boss.


The owner asked me if I had or could offer any insight. Seeing as though I was in good with the owner, and really did not need to win over the vp of sales, I offered by own constructive criticism. I did so only after I asked questions about each sales situation with follow-up questions on the how’s and why’s of each individual sale. I gave some feedback, but in my tone was empathy for the sales person, and through the conversation I was able to showcase possible reasons for losing those deals. I continued, even when giving my own thoughts on the sales processes gone wrong, to ask poignant questions for each person. All the while, I could see the vp of sales growing angry in my apparent intrusion into her world.


At one point, near the end of the lunch meeting, she demanded I mind my own business. My client, the owner of the company, very politely asked her to apologize to me and move on. Later that evening I received a call from my client’s phone number. To my surprise, it was not the owner, but the vp of sales. She called to apologize and not because she was told to do so. She came to realize that she was not being a good manager. She was struggling to communicate effectively with her own team members. She blamed some of her own losses in sales for skewing her judgment and she asked for help.


We’ll see how this plays out as I begin to counsel her. One thing to take away though, your sales team needs your help. They need to feel appreciated, even when they lose a deal. What you say and how you say it can make your sales person a better sales person…and you a better manager.