Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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Good Cop Bad Cop - February 21, 2015

C’mon you’ve seen this on the crime drama, in the movies, or even between lawyers in contract negotiations. It’s called the Good Cop Bad Cop scenario. One person (the good cop) is friendly, pleasant and befriends the subject while the other person (the bad cop) plays hardball, makes threats, tries to intimidate, all in an effort to win something (a result, a verdict, and admission). And then there are times where one person has to play both roles. So, you may be wondering what this has to do with sales.

 

In many transactions the sales representative is the good cop working with the client to achieve a specific outcome. The sales manager tends to be the bad cop and must stand firm with payment terms, contract restrictions, availability of product quantity, or deadline for service delivery. These are roles played over and over every day of the week in sales. There are two scenarios I’d like to share in this week’s post.

 

The first is the sales person as the good cop and the sales manager as the bad cop. For those that are the sales person – remember a few rules of engaging in this approach with a client. You must first earn their trust. You must have a commitment from them that they want to do business with you. They are ready to buy. They have the pen in hand and are ready to sign the contract. It is only when this is the state of the sales process that you are ready to put your arm around their shoulder and let them know that there is one final part of the sales process. Enter the sales manager. As a sales manager – you cannot be a jerk. You can’t come into the meeting with a raised voice or bad attitude. You can be friendly but firm. Your goal is to have the prospective client accept a term or element to the business dealing that they may not want. Here is an example: your standard payment terms are Net21 and the client wants Net60. You don’t need to throw them out of the office if they cannot agree with Net21. However, you can negotiate and compromise on Net30 or Net45. But, you must be firm that these terms, once agreed upon, must be adhered to and the client must make payment without delay.

 

Now as for the second scenario – here’s one for when the sales person has to play both good cop and bad cop. Take the above payment term example. Your sales manager came in and finalized Net30. Your company has been working on an eight month engagement and you’re into month four. So far the client has been delinquent on the past three invoices. The project manager has finally put the project on hold. While still maintaining the friendliness of the good cop, you must now take on the role of the bad cop, and you must explain to your client that there is an issue. Be firm. Be professional. But, don’t be a pushover. Try this – Mr. Client, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your project has been suspended. The past three invoices have been delinquent and the most recent is now outstanding. You know you’ve got me in a tight spot over here. My sales manager went against company policy and extended terms to you beyond our norm, and now he has egg on his face. I’m in the hot seat and you need to help me correct this situation.

 

Clients want to do business with sales people that have a backbone. Be professionally courteous, but make sure you hold your ground too. You can be the good cop, but to be an effective sales person, to be the ‘A’ level sales person, you must also be comfortable being the bad cop.

A Piece Of Rope - February 14, 2015

When I began my career after college graduation, I knew that my world of learning was not over, and here I am twenty-plus years later and I’m still learning. I am also now teaching. I find myself every day sharing advice and guidance on sales tactics and sales management that I’ve learned over years of trial & error, and from those that have gone before me.

 

I was recently leading a group discussion with a few relatively new employees and I used the story of A Piece Of Rope that I was taught in the first few weeks of my career. So, this week I thought I would share it, because it has as much meaning today as it did in 1994.

 

I’ve written and ranted about that nasty word entitlement in previous blog postings. As a business owner, as an executive, as a sales manager – I do not owe an employee anything. I’ve provided a welcoming place to come to work. I offer excellent benefits. I provide a career path for each person to grow and expand their own goals and plans. This is not something I owe the employee, but rather how I run a business. Entitlement, nasty nasty entitlement, comes when the employees feel that benefits are a right not a privilege. Entitlement is when the employee feels they absolutely must have the latest and greatest laptop because it will make them a better sales person. Entitlement too is when an employee believes they are more valuable to your company than they actually are and that we, the employer, should kiss the ground they walk upon. Well, that’s just not how the real world works.

 

And so A Piece Of Rope. A good employer, and speaking directly to the area of sales and sales management, should provide the necessary tools for an employee to be successful. A safe and welcoming place to work. Up-to-date training on sales techniques, on the company’s products or services, and on the competition provides an edge. Fair compensation – you know – an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. In other words, you have provided each person with a piece of rope.

 

The successful sales person, the A level sales person, does not see this piece of rope as anything but a means to make a ladder and climb. The rope is all of the elements or tools provided by you, the employer or the sales manager, to make this individual person successful. They listen and apply the lessons from training in the real world. They recognize that when successful, their employee review or evaluation will reflect their success, and their compensation plan will reflect the success too. That when all of the tools provided to them are used to their fullest potential, the sales person (or any employee) climbs that ladder of success.

 

And so A Piece Of Rope can also kill a person’s career. Those same tools, lessons, benefits, etc. when ignored, looked down upon, or criticized, can become a noose for which the career is hung out. All too often, especially in the area of sales, individuals with a sense of entitlement overlook all of the positives available to them; they overlook the opportunity to make a ladder and climb toward great success. Rather, they complain that the training is not enough, or this company or that company offer a greater incentive to sell, and they thumb their nose at their own employer. They, without sometimes realizing it, hang their careers.

 

A Piece Of Rope – make a ladder and watch your career climb; or, make a noose and hang your career. The tools are all out in front of you, but you must make the ultimate choice.

When is it time to stop being nice? - February 7, 2015

This week I am taking a step away from my normal routine to answer a question from a colleague:

 

Dear Kevin,

 

Thank you for letting me pick your brain on the phone the other day. I appreciate the advice you shared about a contract I’m trying to negotiate. But now I’ve got an entirely different question that I’m hoping you can help me with. You see, I have a client that my firm’s been working with for about 4 years now, and he has progressively gotten worse to deal with. He feels he’s the center of the universe and treats me and my employees like nothing more than his servants. We recently completed a fairly large project for him and not once has he said thank you. The project experienced a few delays, all of which were on him, and he never acknowledged his hand in the delays. He is not enjoyable to work with and my employees feel his disrespect is cause for us to part ways. I’ve tried to maintain my composure but even I have lost my faith that this will be a salvageable relationship. When is it time to stop being nice and just tell him like it is? That he’s rude, disrespectful, ungrateful, and we don’t want to work with him anymore. Your thoughts and ideas would be appreciated.

 

Thanks,

Ken

 

Well Ken, the short answer is it is never okay to stop being nice, but there may come a time when you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your client. I am not a fan of email or text messaging when confronted with these situations for two reasons. One, such correspondence does not allow for true feelings to be heard, and the recipient of the note may not grasp the seriousness of how you feel the situation is at the moment. And two, it is the cowards way out, which I know you are not a coward Ken.

 

I myself have heard people say “that’s just how I am” or “that’s just me” when confronted with poor manners or poor business behavior. That is simply who they choose to be. And so, if they choose to be a rude and disrespectful individual, then you need to consciously choose to tell them they are being rude and disrespectful, and you need to carefully explain why you’re sharing this information with them. My guess is that human nature will kick in and they will not be happy at all. So, here is my advice and answer to your question, but please make sure you give this a lot of consideration before you act upon it.

 

You do not need to lower yourself to their way of behaving and you certainly do not need to be baited into an argument. You must keep your composure and treat this person with respect. You may share your displeasure in how you and your employees have been treated, but try something like this: “You know James, we’ve dealt with a great number of clients and projects over the years, and sometimes we run into situations that don’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I know you feel this project didn’t go as planned, but it is a shame that you feel we are entirely at fault.”

 

It is your right to continue and share with James that your employees have always given him 100% of their effort in the most professional manner even when he was venting or treating them with disrespect. He should know that his poor communication skills are both a reflection on him and his company. And finally, you must state for the record, that you have a responsibility to attract and retain clients that are healthy for your firm now and in the future. You are now questioning if a relationship with him and his company offer such a healthy opportunity.

 

The likelihood is that you will be treated with continued disrespect and that James will not be pleased with your “questioning of his behavior”. But it is your right and your duty to protect your most valuable asset, your employees. They need to know that you have their backs and you respect them even when the client does not. Your client may hang up on you, he may fire you right on the spot, or he may simply have something sarcastic to say.

 

Remember this, you must remain professional, and be nice. You must take the high road. Yes you must let the client know what has transpired and that you simply may not be the right fit for him anymore. But you must always remain true to yourself and your employees. There are plenty of prospective clients out there that want to work with you and who will show you the respect you deserve. Don’t let this one poor client bring you down.

Volunteerism - January 31, 2015

Tonight I will be attending a surprise birthday party for a close friend. She is turning 40. When I woke up this morning I remembered the party my wife threw for me a few years back when I too turned 40. My thoughts wandered while waiting for my coffee to brew and I found myself staring out of the kitchen window. I was happy and grateful. Things have not always been easy in my career, especially as a sales person, but I was happy this morning. I couldn’t help but think about how I got to where I am and the many twists and turns along the way.

 

Then an email popped up on my phone and snapped me back to attention. It was a note regarding an upcoming meeting for an organization I support through volunteerism. I read the note, sipped on my coffee, and then went back to my day dreaming. Except, now I was thinking about the different organizations I’ve supported through volunteerism during the past twenty years of so of my career.

 

I was once asked if I felt guilty when earning business or connections through volunteer activities. Nope, not once. I believe it is through my career experiences that I’ve been able to volunteer. I have a certain skill set that I try to bring to the organizations I support. And, I’ve always believed that any business opportunities are a byproduct of good deeds.

 

Sales people come in all makes & models, so to speak, and in many cases have flexibility in their schedule to provide opportunities for volunteering. I’ve always encourage my sales team to seek out volunteer opportunities that they believe in and that are worthwhile. But, my one rule of thumb is this, never volunteer selfishly for business purposes only. Find the opportunities where you can make a difference or put your skills to good use. Business may come to you or it may not. If you enter the volunteer opportunity for the real reason of giving back to your community, well then you may just reap a reward or two yourself.

When A Loss Is Really A Win - Part 2 - January 24, 2015

Last week I shared the story of a prospect that chose another firm and that I defined this as a win. A friend, when hearing the story, asked if I would meet with his sales team. Well, after I said sure, he immediately asked me in for a dinner with his team. And here’s what happened.

 

In addition to my friend in the meeting we were accompanied by the CEO, the vice president of sales and his five outside sales managers. I shared my story in detail with them before dinner was served and when I explained how happy I was that the prospect went with someone else, first came the collective gasp, and then silence. I had a feeling this would happen, so I stood up from the table, walked across the room, and filled my glass from the makeshift bar that was in the corner. When I turned around all eyes were on me and so I hit them out of left field with a question, “so who has a similar story?”

 

Before anyone could answer the CEO immediately began to share his opinion. He could see where I was coming from, but still could not grasp my sincere enthusiasm for a lost deal. This was exactly what I was hoping for, an opportunity to further explain why a loss can be a win.

 

For the next thirty minutes I shared the stories and asked questions about just what a bad client ultimately costs a firm. Forget the fact that it could cost money because you are always working more hours trying to accommodate unrealistic expectations. It can cost you oh so much more – moral. Team members in my firm, and I suspect in this case too with my friends company, want to work on enjoyable projects with clients that show them respect. They want to feel appreciated, not just by their boss or their employer, but by those paying the bill. And what can hurt moral more than a new client that has no appreciation for your experience or expertise.

 

Dinner came and so we shifted topics to sports and the wonderful Cleveland weather. Afterward the vice president of sales asked the CEO if a tour of their facility was worthwhile for me. We began our walk. These gentlemen, the very ones that run this company, shared with me along the tour how well they take care of their employees. It’s not just about benefits like insurance, but the perks of having a place to relax while discussing tough sales calls. There was the bar area in the back of the building with a pool table and big screen television. It was an impressive corner of an otherwise typical office.

 

When we made our way back into the conference room, dinner was cleaned up, and then I was asked about my opinion on what they can do to make sure losses turn into wins. My answer, while rather simple, seemed enlightening to them. Treat every prospect as if they are the best opportunity you’ve ever faced; look at all of the positives in the pending relationship; and then realize you’re in dating mode. With every benefit of the doubt you give them, ask yourself if there are any reasons for you to run away. It really is that simple. Are they going to offer you a healthy relationship? No matter the product or service you offer them, your prospect will become your client, and you will have a new relationship. Is it a good one and do you want to be in it? Answer those questions and you’ll know if a loss will actually be a win.

When A Loss Is Really A Win - January 17, 2015

A few nights ago I was having a beer after work with a few friends and colleagues. I was in a relatively good mood and so someone asked why. I explained that a prospective client that I’d been dealing with for several months made a decision. They chose to hire another firm and not mine. I couldn’t have been happier with their decision.

 

I think my friend stopped breathing for a moment as he looked at me as if I had three heads. “Why in the world are you happy that they turned you down”, he asked. My response quite simply was because sometimes with a loss you actually come out with a win. Here’s what I shared with him.

 

This prospective client initially seemed perfect, maybe too perfect. They were an ideal size for my firm both in revenue and market share. They seemed open to new ideas, especially as we shared recent experiences and successes with other clients. The director of marketing had been there about three years and seemed to have a very good grasp on their needs and where they currently sit within their respective industry. Pleasantries were exchanged and plans for continuing conversations were laid.

 

Well, over the course of the next eight weeks we met her manager, the vice president of sales and marketing. He was not at all pleasant. He did not like the idea of “outsiders” coming in and “telling him what to do with his website and web marketing”, and he did not show very much respect for the woman that was his director of marketing. I was surprised that she actually sat through meetings and took his verbal abuse. Then came the director of information technology. He crawled right out of a time warp. It is as if 1996 to 2014 did not happen. His ideas were old and antiquated. He was gruff and somewhat abusive too. It’s not often I say this, but in terms of technology and business, he had no grasp on reality.

 

Yet, at every turn where I wanted to run the other way, the director of marketing kept asking me back and asking for my help. Now, knowing there were many red flags, I addressed my concerns with her and took these concerns into consideration when estimating the cost of their project. Ultimately, I priced my company right out of consideration. And, as expected, her vice president of marketing called me directly to voice his displeasure in my proposal and he was vulgar on the telephone. Two days later I received the email stating this prospective client went with a different service provider.

 

After I explained this situation to my friend, he bought me another beer, thanked me for sharing my story, and then asked if I would come in and meet with his team. He is rather high up in management within his organization, more from an operations standpoint than sales, but believes his company all too often enters bad relationships in spite of the warning signs.

 

As with any relationship, it may take a little time for someone to show their true colors. Sales relationships are no different. Be careful when the warning signs point to you running far away. Follow your gut feeling. When you lose a deal, be careful to chalk it up to a loss, because in reality it may be a great win.

Good People Are Hard To Find - January 10, 2015

The title of this post may sound familiar. It is a phrase that I’ve heard since I was a child. My father would use this when describing his company. School administrators would us this when describing the need for teachers. Coaches would say it when seeking players to fill certain positions. And here I am using it today.

 

I recently read an article regarding the loss of an employee. The gist of the article was to look at oneself, you the manager, and ask if you were the reason your employee resigned. Is it your management style, your company culture (or lack of), or promises for employee growth that just didn’t come true. I agreed with almost the entire article, well almost. I felt the article came up short in that not every employee leaves because of you or the company. And so, my post this week is to say goodbye to one of my own team members, and to provide a piece of advice to sales managers.

 

I’ve lost one of my own. Not just any sales rep either, but my Director of Sales. He was with me for over 3 years and I will be saying goodbye to him on Monday. What did I do or not do? Why has he decided to leave me? Could I have done a better job as a manager? Did I not offer him an opportunity to grow? As the article stated, I must look at myself and my company, and so I did. However, he’s chosen not to leave because of anything with me or the company, but rather to join his family’s business. In fact, when resigning, he asked if we’d take him back if the family business didn’t work out. And the immediate answer was “absolutely”.

 

Good people really are hard to come by and especially when it comes to ‘A’ level sales people. My team member was an ‘A’ level guy. So naturally, of course, I would welcome him back. But would you do the same?

 

Some might believe that hiring a sales person is easy. Aren’t sales people a dime a dozen? Nope. Not even close. Sure there are tons of people out there on LinkedIn claiming to be sales people, sales professionals, account executives, account managers, etc. But, are they ‘A’ level? That’s where the tough part of finding a good person comes in.

 

Sales people may, in fact, be a dime a dozen, but there are only about 1 ‘A’ level sales person in every 12. So, if you are seeking to hire and manage only ‘A’ level talent, what do you do? Seek out candidates that are gainfully and happily employed. Real ‘A’ level sales talent are not without a great job. Second, engage them in a conversation about their success, what’s kept them happily employed, and find out what it will take to cause them to think about a change. Then, have them visit you, meet your other ‘A’ level sales team members, and give them a glance into what it might be like if they were a part of your team. Role play with this person. Find out how they handle adversity in sales. Let them interview you as much as you are interviewing them.

 

Finding the right person, finding the good person, is not easy and it shouldn’t be. Take your time. And, when you do find them, make sure it is worthwhile for both you and them. Hold onto them for as long as you can and make sure they have a growth path. And, should they or someone else leave, ask what you may have done to be the cause and be prepared to change.

 

To my soon to be former Director of Sales: you’ve done a great job and you were a good person for our team. You will be missed but are welcome to come back. Good luck, grow in your new role, and stay an ‘A’ level sales person.

Good Morning 2015 - January 3, 2015

Here it is 6:05 AM on the first Saturday of the New Year and I’m sitting down to type my first post of 2015. I don’t know why I’m up this early on a Saturday morning. I’ve been up for close to an hour with my mind racing. Could it be the Christmas decorations that need to be boxed up today and put away for 11 months? No, that’s not it. I know, maybe it’s the idea my wife has about rearranging some of our rooms in the house? Nope, that’s not it either. Wait, I did want to watch a movie during the holidays that I haven’t gotten to yet, that’s why I am up early. Not it.

 

I finally got out of bed, was brushing my teeth, and then it hit me. It is in fact a New Year, but because I wrapped up 2014 with a lot of momentum at work, I am ready to get moving. And so, it was all of the above after all. I am ready to take on my wife’s to do list (with her help of course). I am going to squeeze in a movie on Netflix. I am about to start taking decorations down before anyone else wakes up. And, I have a small notebook by my side to jot down all of the ideas running at 100 miles per hour through my head. They are all work related ideas and the excitement of these ideas is why I woke up in the first place.

 

This happens to me from time-to-time throughout the year. Although I’ll be a little tired later tonight, and will probably need to crash earlier than normal for a Saturday night, I am perfectly fine with it. I am ready to take on the business world and I cannot wait until Monday.

 

As I’ve talked about over and over, there are different kinds of sales people out there, and in most cases they are ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’ level. I’ve found for a very long time that ‘A’ level sales people tend to be the idea generators for their companies. They are the lead producers and it is through their brainstorming that new initiatives move forward. I myself am going through this process now. I am in full brainstorming mode and it has my blood flowing. Maybe it is, in fact, the feeling that a New Year brings. It is a feeling of renewal. It is a feeling of excitement. And, sometimes, it is a feeling of starting over or starting fresh.

 

I mentioned the strong momentum I had heading through December into the holidays. It was a great feeling, I won’t lie. But, this fresh feeling, this feeling of renewal is what I am most excited about. I am taking notes like crazy.

 

Brainstorming and note taking in privacy at 6:00 AM-ish in my kitchen is fantastic. I encourage you to do the same. Take time, even if you need to get up a little earlier than usual on a Saturday morning. What new ideas do you have for your sales efforts starting on Monday? Do you have any new prospects? What extracurricular activities are you going to take on this month or this quarter to increase your network of contacts? What can you do in your organization to help someone else move forward and grow?

 

The solitude of my kitchen. 6:05 AM on a Saturday morning. A little notebook in my pocket as I take down Christmas decorations. It is time to get myself geared up for Monday, the official start of the business New Year. I am excited and ready. And, I will take my notes in on Monday morning, and I will share them with my team. These ideas won’t do any good unless they are expressed out loud. I will keep my momentum going and I will keep selling.

Happy New Year - December 27, 2014

For the past few weeks I’ve borrowed upon the themes of the season. Thanksgiving and Christmas are now in the past and the New Year is just but a few short days away. I’ve talked about being grateful, taking time to reflect on my sales and management responsibilities, and even how we can view our professional lives like a movie. And so, with my final post for the calendar year 2014, I would like to share one more thought. Prepare for 2015 as if it were not a new year but more of the start to a new week.

 

Yes, I understand the calendar changing is a significant milestone. And, I’m sure it has been rather quiet over the past two weeks or so. But, your valiant sales efforts in December do not disappear just because of the New Year. You must mentally prepare to keep your sales momentum going right into January 2nd.

 

My advice to you in these final days of 2014 is this…take inventory of your activity, plan to hit the ground running on Monday January 5th, and when you do, remember that it’s business as usual.

 

I wish you happiness, health and success is 2015.

Make Your Own Movie - December 20, 2014

Over the past few years, as I head into the holidays, my kids ask me to watch a few movies with them. It’s our time to just sit back, chill out on the couch, and spend a little time at home. As we were talking last night about what movies we wanted to watch, I started to think about my weekly blog, which then led me to think about all of the “business” movies I’ve seen. And then I busted out in laughter for which my kids thought I’d finally lost my mind.

 

I was running through scenes and quotes in my head from Wall Street, Glengarry Glen Ross, Tin Men, The Wolf of Wall Street and Boiler Room. Why was I thinking of these and why was I laughing so hard? These are the movies that over time have become hits because of the actors and story lines. But, in the world of business, and sales in particular, these movies have become almost cult-like. You must first realize that even when based upon some manner of truth, these movies are still fictionalized by Hollywood. Yes, they are fun to watch, but no they are not educational.

 

And so, as I sat and pondered on my weekly post, I am reminded that we should be managing our own sales careers as if we are making a movie. In fact, we are making our own movie, and it is called our career.

 

As other recent posts have captured, this is a time to reflect upon the past while planning for the future, and a time to evaluate our sales plans. In many ways, your journaling is like a script. You can look at where you’ve come from so far in your career, and then you can plan accordingly for how the plot should play out. If you take this approach, you can forecast what it may take or what may be needed to reach a certain milestone in your career. As your plot unfolds, or as you look further ahead (as in years down the road), you will begin to see more clearly what steps you will need to take in your ongoing career development to then reach the climax of your own movie.

 

Now for a bit of fun in this exercise. You must decide what type of movie you want to make about your career. It is certainly safe to say that we all wish to avoid the horror flick. I, for one, would like to void the drama. Rather, I would say I’m heading more in the direction of a romantic comedy with my career. I’ve had opportunities that I thought were “the ones for me” only to escape my grasp. Through a few funny changes or mishaps along the way, I’ve come out better than expected. I’ve now found the one and with a little careful planning every so often I’ll live happily ever after. That is I have found the organization best suited for me with a challenging role balanced with rewards.

 

During this holiday time I hope you’ll have a moment or two to think about your own movie. Go back in time mentally and watch the clips in your mind of where you’ve come from. Have you reached the climax of the plot yet? Where does the story go from here? How does this next year play into the overall theme? Most importantly, take note of what you need to do to move your story forward, and then act upon those tasks. Good luck and keep selling.