Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Being Thankful - November 22, 2014

As I mentioned this week, as a sales person, I do not wait until the final six weeks of the calendar year to show my appreciation to my clients and prospects. That is something I strive for every day and every week. So, with this week’s post coming a few days before Thanksgiving, I wish to take this opportunity to say thank you to my support network.

 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that an ‘A’ level sales person never flies solo. They surround themselves with their own advisors and support network. Thus, I am grateful and wish to thank each and every person that I consider a part of my support network.

 

To my personal board of advisors: you are attorneys, financial consultants, accountants and fellow business owners. You have again this year provided me with your guidance and professional encouragement to seek and make the right decisions with my sales efforts even when some of those decisions have been difficult.

 

To my fellow management team members: thank you for allowing me the opportunity to spread my wings and push hard toward our business goals. You have entrusted me with some of your own business goals and have given me the opportunity to utilize your expertise so that together we can move forward with our plans.

 

To my team members: you go forward each day striving to accomplish your sales goals that we have collectively set and you work so very hard to hit those goals. Thank you for your efforts. Keep up the good work.

 

And to my family and friends: I am so very grateful for the faith you have placed in me which helps guide me every day so that I may provide for you. Sales is not an easy profession and one that comes with a certain level of stress. You have been patient with me and have given me the strength to come back each and every day. Thank you.

 

May this Thanksgiving holiday and the holiday season ahead bring each one of you joy and happiness. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of you and keep selling.

Lunch-Dinner-Party - November 15, 2014

Here we are in mid-November and heading into the end of year festivities. Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away and the Christmas and New Year holidays are right around the corner. In so many professions this is the time of year when celebrations occur. Whether the office party, a get together with your client over lunch, or a team dinner, it is a time to be extra careful as a sales person.

 

Several factors come to mind as a sales person. Prospects and clients love to be entertained. And during this festive season, many have built up expectations that they will be taken to lunch, dinner or a sporting event. Many have come to expect a small token (a gift) of your appreciation. And many simply don’t know any better because they’ve been trained to act this way by all of the sales reps that have gone before you.

 

Sales people do not have an open ended bank account or credit card. ‘A’ level sales people know this and know how to manage their expenses, but more importantly, they know how to manage their client’s expectations during this time of year.

 

I have never been a fan of using the last 6 weeks or so of the calendar year to show my appreciation toward my clients. I believe this should be done all year long. I also try to spend a little more time in September, October, January and February with my clients, so I can avoid the mad rush to lunch during the holidays.

 

Sales people also have a tendency to be viewed as the party goers or the drinkers in the crowd. It is a stereotype that has been around as long as the sales-client relationship. But, this is the time of year to be extra aware of this stereotype, and to break the trend. Entertaining clients should not be limited to just the holidays and should not be an expectation by the client. This is a good opportunity to send a hand written letter of thanks in place of the beer after work. Save that for another time.

 

Leading by example goes beyond the manager-rep relationship and can stem into the rep-client relationship. Show your appreciation for your clients in your words and let the actions follow by being on time for meetings and delivering on your promises. Remember, clients have their own personal lives and company commitments too. A good sales person does not wait to show appreciation until the last 6 weeks of the year but makes their appreciation known all the time.

Selling Season Follow-Up - November 8, 2014

Last week I gave some personal insight into how this time of year is my personal selling season. I was very surprised by the number of readers that contacted me and (laughing) agreed with my commentary on how weather impacts sales, especially in my backyard of Northeast Ohio. But, several people asked about the budget discussion with clients, as in how can they begin or open this conversation. So, this week as a follow-up, here are a few ideas on how to engage your client with the topic of remaining budget before December 31st hits.

 

For the seasoned sales veteran, you should already have a sense of how your client’s budgets are determined. For example, does your client run on a calendar year budget cycle? Do they have a use it or lose it policy? Do they have any special payment terms that would infringe on the idea of spending in short order? If you know the answers, it will make the initial phone call much easier.

 

If you are new to sales or new in a relationship with a client, the questions are the same, but you may need to set your client up with a series of preliminary conversations before making the ask. Talk to the client and engage in conversation regarding how they are planning for next year. While in discussion, slip the previous questions I mentioned into the conversation, and make sure to note when and how budgets are determined for the following year.

 

And then it is time to ask. The ask must be done live either by telephone or face-to-face. The ask is about sincerity. It is about wanting your client to know that you would like to help them spend their remaining budget, but that it is to help them not you. The ask is about gaining the trust of the client by wanting to help them achieve their goals before the end of the year which will lessen the spending burden in the coming year. And most importantly, when you engage in the ask, you must be willing to drop the subject quickly if the client does not want to discuss it any further.

 

The end of the year ask is not about a pressure sale. It is not about quotas. And most importantly, it is not about you. It is about wanting to help your client. Sincerity when asking about remaining budget being spent with you will be the win or the loss. It is entirely in your hands.

The Selling Season - November 1, 2014

Depending on where you live and work, the weather in your respective area may have an impact on sales. Coupled with the calendar and you may be entering your own selling season. This week’s blog post is a bit more personal, a perspective on my own sales career for at least the past 12 years. You see, living in Cleveland, Ohio I have found there are specific times during the calendar year where my sales are directly impacted by the month and the weather outside. Let me share…

 

In the Northeast Ohio region, along the shores of Lake Erie, the winter months tend to drag. January through March and sometimes into April can be brutal with heavy snow, frigid temps and long grey days. In this area we tend to feel stuck inside with little options for getting outside for fun with the exception of maybe a quick trip to Florida or Arizona.

 

However, once June hits, everyone wants to break free and run for the outdoors. It’s boating season, golf season, motorcycle season, anything outside season. And, I’ve witnessed firsthand for years that no one really wants to be beholden to their offices in June, July or August. Sales tend to slow down a bit. I’ve compared my own scenario with other sales people in different industries with like results.

 

So you may wonder why I’m commenting on this topic today, Saturday November 1st? Well, to me, this is the prime selling season. By mid-to-late October and into early-November many clients have wrapped up their budget planning sessions for the upcoming calendar year. And, many now realize they may have some budget remaining for this year that they can spend. This is a fantastic opportunity to call upon your existing clients (and new ones too) to have the discussion on what can be done to help them spend their budget. And, yes, this is a perfectly acceptable topic. If you don’t believe me, just ask one client, and you’ll see that they are very willing and open to talking with you.

 

Second, many clients and prospects are ready and willing to meet face-to-face, have budget conversations, and make sales happen before the Christmas holiday. Like you, your clients will want to achieve certain business goals before the end of the year, and before they take personal time during the holidays. They may not realize that buying from you is a goal (yet), but have the budget conversation, and they soon will.

 

It becomes a win-win situation for you and your client. You will help them spend their budget before they lose it when the calendar starts over on January 1st and they will help you increase your sales at the end of the year. Best part, this will set up your relationship for January, when you’ll have an opportunity to talk once again with your client about what’s next.

 

It is my selling season and it should be yours too. Good luck as you make the run toward the end of the year.

Patience Over Greed - October 25, 2014

I’ve often bee asked about the timing between sales, as in when is the best or appropriate time to reengage with a new client. My standard response is always “patience over greed”. In many cases I get a puzzled look and the “what do you mean”?

 

No matter what career path someone has chosen, we are all consumers. We have purchased a home or a car. We stand at the deli counter waiting our turn. We’ve made purchases at department stores and online for personal products or gifts. And, being on the consumer side, we sometimes must restrain ourselves and be patient not greedy. As the old saying goes, “patience is a virtue”, but what does that mean for a sales person?

 

When talking with sales people about “patience over greed” I often start the explanation by asking about personal experiences where they are the consumer. How does it feel when either they or the sales person get aggressive in the process or you feel as though you or the sales person are being greedy? Is it a pleasant experience? Does it make you want to continue to work with this particular sales person or the company they represent? How does this feeling change when you and the sales person show restraint in the sales process and show patience? Are you more at ease? Does it help guide the sales process and provide you the information to make a more informed decision?

 

Once we’ve evaluated the answers to these questions, we then move on to the calendar, and we evaluate a schedule. That’s right a schedule to manage when you will contact your new client. This is about not coming across greedy and showing patience. But, you cannot be too patient, or the new client may find someone else to manage their needs. Timing is everything.

 

In past blogs I’ve talked about keeping a journal. A journal is a great tool for reviewing when you’ve had a truly wonderful sales experience with a client. You should keep notes on when you reach out, how often, and why. These notes become your frequency pattern and provide you a road map for future successful sales relationships. Every industry is different and so your touchpoints (as I call them) may be different than my own. However, there is always a frequency pattern to successful sales.

 

Journal and manage your frequency patter. This will lead to a greater understanding of the touchpoints you’ll need and when with your new clients. And, ultimately, these plans will lead to more sales from your existing clients.

Paint A Picture - October 18, 2014

Have you ever watched a movie where the scene flashes forward and shows what life around you would be like if you did not exist or were not present? The director is painting a picture for the character and for you. These tend to be used as “ah ha moments”, ones that drive home the point of the plot. When selling, you too can use this approach, to drive home the point of the plot.

 

Mr. Prospect, let me paint a picture for you, of what it will look like to work with my firm. Mrs. Client, let me paint a picture for you, of what it will look like if we stopped working together and you chose another firm to partner with. In either case, you can be an artist, and you can use the painting of a picture to close the deal.

 

There are several tactics that must be applied at the same time for this approach to closing to work. First and foremost, you must be sincere. Sincerity when describing the future relationship, both with ups and downs, is the key to having the prospect or client believe in you. Two things were also just said that are important to point out. You must describe what it is like, in reality, to work with your firm. Of course, there will be many highs or ups. There may also be lows or downs. Being believable is being honest. Most sales people only want to paint the picture filled with beautiful colors. A true artist must sometimes show the dark side. Describe what happens when something does not go just right. Outline how you handle resolutions when a change in the relationship occurs. Explain how you will get past a possible disagreement. And the other point is they must believe you. You represent your company and therefore you must be believable because you will be held accountable not your company.

 

Other factors in painting the picture for working together is through story telling. It is okay to have a small tangent in your closing process to tell a real story that your prospect or client will relate to. And, if you can then provide a reference to validate the story, the picture you are painting becomes even more prevalent to the close.

 

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, ‘A’ level sales people understand how to build relationships, and recognize the building process may take time. Like an artist, the outcome of the final product is unknown in the beginning, but takes shape throughout the process. And, so does selling. Unfortunately, there are too many ‘B’ and ‘C’ level sales people that want to rush through the process. I call them “paint by numbers sales people”. They think they are using their best skills, but they are simply trying to speed through by copying another’s work.

 

Be yourself, be honest, be realistic and paint a picture for what is to come. You will qualify your prospect or client. You will make them desire to work with you. And, you will be able to refer back to the sales process and the picture you’ve painted if ever you need to review your relationship with them. Until next time, keep selling.

Breaking back into jail -- October 11, 2014

Here we go again, the second week in a row, where I’m using a bit of a cheesy phrase. Don’t break back into jail – it is a phrase typically heard when a recently divorced person begins to date too seriously too quickly. Or, at times, when two exes get back together. It is not the nicest comment and it is not intended to be.

 

And so the story goes in sales, where a relationship ends, and then somewhere down the road someone wants to do business together again. Do you not remember why you broke up in the first place? Chasing revenue, to a certain extent, is a sales person’s priority. But, there is a difference in chasing revenue, and ultimately chasing quality relationships that drive revenue. When you break up with a client, you may not want to break back into jail.

 

Even in a global economy the market you sell in tends to be small and so you will inevitably cross paths with a former client. Depending on the reasons why the relationship ended may determine how you treat each other when your paths do cross for a second or third time. Break up’s happen. It is a fact of life when dealing with relationships of all sorts, both personal and professional, when you’re younger or older. I have found, especially in business, to keep meticulous notes about the relationships I have with clients including each individual I encounter.

 

Note taking must always be an important part of a sales person’s role. And, at no other time do your notes come in handy as when a past relationship is called into question. My notes tend to follow a pretty standard pattern. Here is a breakdown of what I track: who are the primary contacts and what are their specific responsibilities; how do I get along with each person; are there any common (non-work related) activities or hobbies; have we dined together; how do we get along on a personal level; have we disagreed and how have disagreements been managed; do compromises tend to be considered fair by both sides; what happens when we do not see eye-to-eye; is the client level headed; and, how do we manage next steps after a disagreement.

 

It may seem like profiling and it is. Trust me, your clients have a profile on you too. The key is making sure you give the business relationship every possible opportunity to succeed. It is only when the relationship must come to an end when these profile notes come in handy. And, more specifically, when there is a possibility of doing business together again. Be careful what you wish for – you may just get it – and end up back in jail.

You had me at goodbye - October 4, 2014

I know the title of this week’s blog is a bit cheesy, sorry about that. I’m sure you’ve heard the play on this title from a famous sports agent movie, but not too sure you’ve heard goodbye. Long before the movie was even released this is a phrase I’ve come to love in the sales world, “you had me at goodbye”. So, now you’re probably asking, “what in the world is he talking about?”

 

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret that I’ve been using in sales for over 20 years. No matter how good or bad you feel a meeting has been going, the tell-tale sign is the goodbye. I’ve sat through decent meetings that I thought went well until the goodbye. That’s when the decision maker hurried me out the door because of another meeting and barely uttered goodbye. That particular deal never happened. And, in an opposite manner, I very recently had a meeting that I thought was just oaky, but the decision maker provided me with parting words that made it all the worthwhile. Not only did she say goodbye, she referenced several talking points from the meeting, expressed her gratitude for me driving to her office, asked if she could visit my office for the next meeting to meet the team, and wished me well as I walked out of the door. We are now very close to signing the contract.

 

Keep in mind, especially in a first meeting, that saying hello can be awkward. There is sometimes a moment of silence, or the need to break the ice, and then get down to the business of the meeting. Meetings, depending on the topic and attendees, can be quick and easy or long and drawn out. It is your goal as the sales person to remain in control of the meeting, keeping the agenda moving forward, and hoping you’ve kept their attention to move forward toward a signed contract at some point.

 

I have found that when it comes time for goodbye, this is the moment of truth that will set the stage for whether your potential new relationship has legs to stand on. If it appears genuine you’ve done your job. If it appears rehearsed or rushed, keep your fingers crossed.

The Sales Manager from Hell - September 27, 2014

Not every sales manager should be the sales manager. We’ve all experienced the sales manager from hell at least once in our careers, whether as a rep or as a buyer. So what defines a sales manager from hell and why should you run away from them?

 

Over the past several months I’ve been counseling a sales representative that was a one-time owner in his company. He and his partner sold their business a little over one year ago and as part of the transaction they were to remain onboard for a period of eighteen months. My client Dan has always been the top producing sales person in the company, and now even in a larger organization, he remains at the top. However, he is no longer the head of sales, but rather reports to the Vice President of the company. Enter the sales manager from hell.

 

Susan does not trust her employees. She requires employees to be in the office way to much when they should be visiting clients. She requires pre-approval for every expense, even when buying your client a cup of coffee, otherwise she refuses reimbursement. She threatens to put tracking on the sales reps cell phones so that she knows where they are at all times. She admits to reading the reps emails. And she contacts clients to check up on her reps. Trust in her team is a foreign concept to her.

 

Dan has been completely frustrated. The company he loved so much is now in the hands, at least partially, of a woman that has no idea how to sell, manage accounts, build relationships with clients, and trust in her reps to continue growth. Dan is beside himself and is visibly frustrated. As he comes close to the end of the eighteen month required stay period, it is clear that he is going to immediately leave. With Dan’s 20+ year career experience as an ‘A’ level sales person, you may be wondering why he’s asked me for help.

 

Dan’s frustration being under the thumb of the sales manager from hell is completely new to him. We’ve been working on how to handle the current situation so that he can exit amicably. But, Dan is concerned about what comes next. He has a non-competition agreement, so he’ll be seeking a new opportunity in a new industry. He’s concerned about entering another organization and being managed by another Susan. It’s been my job to assure him that the Susan’s of the sales world are the minority.

 

 Sales managers from hell can be toxic to both an organization and the sales reps within. Most ‘A’ level sales people know how to avoid these managers or work around them. They know what to look out for and are careful to manage themselves rather than letting the sales manager from hell take control. So, I’ve been helping Dan identify the characteristics to avoid: (1) keep an eye out for the overly personal questions, maybe skirting the HR boundaries just enough, from the person you will be reporting to; (2) be upfront about your own working style, schedule, time management, etc. and watch carefully the visible reactions from the sales manager (read their body language for agreement or discomfort); (3) ask as many or more questions of the sales manager as they are asking of you (an interview with a new company or for a promotion in your own company is a two way conversation); and, (4) whenever possible, place the sales manager into hypothetical scenarios, and have them explain their management style.

 

This is an approach recommended for any interview process, but it is very important to use the scenarios as the key to make sure your methodology for selling is a match for the person you’ll be reporting to. And as for Dan, he’s going to come out on top, while Susan’s very bad flaws will eventually be her demise. Sales managers from hell always lose in the end.

What's In It For Me? - September 20, 2014

As a career sales person I’ve had the opportunity to attend many events as a means of client entertainment. Many years ago I was at the inaugural NASCAR race at Homestead (Florida). I’ve been to other NASCAR races, a variety of major league sporting events. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to wonderful cities and dine in some of the best restaurants. And, most importantly, I’ve always, always, always been grateful. Sometimes I believe these fortunate opportunities were mine because of my role in sales. Other times I just feel downright lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Either way, I’ve also made sure to make the most out of each opportunity presented to me.

 

Not that long ago I was reminded that there is another side to client entertainment: “what’s in it for me?” I was shopping in Costco when I ran into an old client contact Joe. Joe left the client’s organization about 2 years ago to move onward and upward as he put it back then. While he was the director of marketing, he also worked in a sales capacity, and whenever the contract was up for renewal he would ask me for tickets to a Cleveland Brown’s game. That’s right, he came out and asked me, and made sure I knew something had to be in it for him directly.

 

As we continued to talk he explained that he just started another new position with another new company. He claimed he “didn’t get any good perks you know, tickets and stuff”, from the previous position. I couldn’t believe he was saying these things, but sure enough, there just wasn’t anything in it for him. Well, nothing other than his salary, commission, bonus, benefits and fantastic vacation package. So, he moved onto a new gig in hopes that he’ll get more perks from others wanting to do business with him.

 

This is a horrible position to take and one that sales people should be very careful of when dealing with a “what’s in it for me?” type of person. Sales people, even the best ‘A’ level talent, want to please a new or existing client. Whether it’s a nice thank you lunch at the hottest steakhouse in town or a couple of tickets to a game, saying thanks with a small token of appreciation is not a bad thing. Most clients are very receptive and do not take advantage. But some do.

 

Here are a few tips to help you avoid the “what’s in it for me?” group: after a nice lunch the prospect or client suggests another lunch at the same or equally higher end restaurant for the next meeting instead of at the office; when he asks if you can score him an extra ticket or two to the game; when she invites others to the dinner meeting that you’re paying for without telling you or even asking you; when instead of saying thanks for taking them to an event they say that it was good and look forward to the next event (on your dime).

 

I’m certainly not suggesting that you cease client entertainment. I’ve closed or celebrated some of my largest sales in such a manner. But, I do caution you to watch out for these “what’s in it for me?” characters. They can become a real drain on your time and resources and can keep you from being productive.