Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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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.

Why Do People Buy From YOU - November 14, 2015

Regardless of the company you work for or the products/services you sell, have you ever asked yourself why people buy from you? This is a question I often challenge my team members and sales clients with and the answers can be telling.

 

One of the more common answers I hear, which unfortunately comes from a very average sales person, is that the customer/client has no choice. They are an assigned rep and the customer/client needs their product/service. On the opposite end of the answer spectrum come responses from the ‘A’ level sales person – they buy because of me.

 

Over time sales people need to be reminded, or remind themselves, that they are the reason why their customers/clients buy. This is an empowering moment in ones sales career, when the light bulb goes off, and you realize you can control your level of success. That’s right, people buy because of YOU, which means YOU and YOU ALONE can guide your career path.

 

We are approaching the Thanksgiving holiday season and I often use this as a reflective period for myself. The end of the year will soon be here and I am examining how I’ve done in business. Have I achieved my goals? Have I been able to increase my compensation due to my direct sales performance? Am I prepared for the calendar to move one year ahead? Have I left any opportunities on the table, and if so, why? Have I been the best sales person I can be for my clients and my company? And, why did my clients ultimately buy from me this year?

 

This reflective period and these questions often shed light on who I am as a sales person, as well as who I am as an individual. Often I’ve referenced how the ‘A’ level sales person make sales a part of their life, not just their career choice, and so I believe the answers to these reflective questions define who I am not just how I sell.

 

As we move closer and closer toward the holidays and the end of the calendar year, I challenge you to ask yourselves these questions. Your goals should be simple: your customers/clients buy from YOU because of YOU. Once you achieve this level of success, you are well on your way to staying an ‘A’ level sales person for your career.

The Story of James & Melissa: Part 2 - November 7, 2015

Following up to last week’s post I am using a very real story to share my thoughts on life as a sales person. It is not a pleasant story, rather one that involves the divorce of a couple, based in part on two very different approaches to sales. This is the story of James & Melissa: Part 2.

 

Melissa has grown a truly successful career in sales. She is, by all accounts, an ‘A’ level sales person. She has made the necessary sacrifices to advance her career through continuing education and sales training. She’s willing to look in the mirror for ways to improve. When a deal does not go her way, she explores the reasons why, rather than making excuses. As she began to open up recently about her reasons for divorcing James, I learned more about his approach to sales (or lack thereof) and how this bled into their personal lives and marriage.

 

James never believed in educating himself on sales techniques. Instead, like with his work it seems, he thought he knew it all. He always has to be the smarted person in the room. When he was turned down for work, rather than understanding the reasons why, he simply shrugged it off and commented about the prospective client being too dumb to hire him. It seems that he’d get a taste of success from time-to-time and even a referral or two. He never took a deep-dive look into this small amount of success, but became arrogant with an expectation that success would always be available to him regardless of his approach to sales. Unfortunately, as it seems, the few successes over the past fifteen years have been overshadowed by the many losses.

 

As I’ve learned, James has taken the same approach to his personal life as he has with his career, and again must always be the smartest person in the room. Melissa shared that he would, at times, criticize her for the extra effort she was putting into her career. While she’s clearly been the consistent bread winner, there’s also been an increase in jealousy by James. Melissa is continuing to be rewarded with new business and James is struggling to make sales.

 

James’ lack of success, in my opinion, is directly due to his unwillingness to grasp what it takes to be a real ‘A’ level sales person. And because of this unwillingness, coupled with jealousy of his wife’s success and his arrogance, he is on the losing end of not just his career but now his marriage. Could this all have been avoided? Maybe.

 

Sales people, especially an ‘A’ level sales person, choose not just a career but a way of life. Sales people cannot be jealous of others success. Sales people cannot be arrogant. Sales people are certainly not the smartest people in the room. And, sales people cannot blame anyone else for a loss.

 

No one really knows for sure what goes on behind someone else’s closed doors. Relationships, especially marriages, are very private on so many levels. But, when you witness the self-destructive behavior of a subpar sales person, it is not surprising that personal relationships, like marriages, struggle too. Being an ‘A’ level sales person means you understand that there are up’s & down’s in any relationship, and it also means you have the patience and maturity to handle the up’s & down’s.

 

I feel bad for James and Melissa. No one wants to watch someone else suffer through a life altering event like a divorce. The only thing I can do is hope they both come out of this situation in okay shape. I’m sure once the sting of her marriage being over subsides, Melissa will be fine. She has the knowledge and confidence of success on her side. She is an ‘A’ level sales person and she will use her experiences to continue her career and personal growth. I hope James too walks away okay from this change in his life. He must admit his mistakes, he must change his approach to dealing with people, and he must be willing to accept that he’s not the smartest person in the room. If he can do this, he can turn his business around, and he can then get his personal life back on track.

 

Being close to this situation has reminded me of what I have and what it has taken to achieve my own level of success. It has been a reminder that I must be careful in my relationships and how I approach sales. I’m reminded that putting a client’s needs before my own will pay dividends. And, most importantly, I’m reminded that I’ve chosen a career in sales which is a part of my life. My career has an impact on my wife, children, family and friends, and I cannot take anything for granted.

The Story of James & Melissa: Part 1 - October 31, 2015

For this week’s post and next I am taking a bit of a departure from my normal approach to writing and instead going to use a very real story. It is not a pleasant story, rather one that involves the divorce of a couple, based in part on two very different approaches to sales. This is the story of James & Melissa: Part 1.

 

James and Melissa were married fifteen years ago. James, at the time, was launching his own business as a general contractor. He’d been relatively successful in his family’s construction business in a variety of roles from laborer to project manager. But, James was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and decided to branch out on his own.

 

Melissa, having already tasted a bit of success in her own residential real estate sales career, decided to continue her studies and expand her real estate license to include commercial. While James was starting his business she was very supportive, especially from a financial standpoint, so he could fill the roles of business owner, sales, and project manager.

 

Over the years Melissa went from tasting a bit of success to becoming incredibly well known, well liked, and respected as an expert in her market. She’s become a real force in the world of real estate sales. Much of her success hinges on her professionalism and relationship building skills. She is a true ‘A’ level sales person. I admire her for her accomplishments and her sales style. She puts her client’s needs before her own. And, I believe she’s been successful because she will never cut a corner in her sales process.

 

On the other hand, James has not been as successful as he once hoped, and this is based largely upon his sales techniques, which ultimately have led to the demise of his marriage. That’s right, his skills (or lack thereof) in sales have had a direct impact on his personal relationship with his wife and many others.

 

You see no matter where James is or the context of a conversation, he has to always be right. Many a joke has been made about someone being the smartest person in the room, well James is that person. He cannot be wrong, ever. And, unfortunately in business, this has led to poor working relationships with his clients, client disappointment on the outcomes of projects, and even being fired by client’s mid-project. Instead of listening and learning from each client experience, James must be right and the client must be wrong.

 

As I’ve written about for a long time, sales is a life choice, especially for an ‘A’ level sales person. And, more importantly, as a business owner you need to become an ‘A’ level sales person. This has not been the case for James. I believe that deep down he’s not a bad guy. He has his moments of likability. He and Melissa have two kids, a nice home, and good friends and family. But, there have always been the whispers behind their backs about his attitude, which on both a personal and professional level go straight to how he treats people. One moment of likability cannot outweigh the ten instances of being a jerk.

 

For a while Melissa was very hush-hush about her desire to divorce James. As the saying goes, “you never really know what goes on behind closed doors”.  Once Melissa began to open up with others about her reasons for leaving her marriage, to me something stood out, and that was the direct correlation of James’ personal life and his career as a sales person.

 

Next week I will expand upon this story and share my belief on why James and Melissa are divorcing. It is my hope that through Part 2 of this story that you, as a career ‘A’ level sales person, will learn from someone else’s life altering mistakes so that your own career will continue in the right direction. Remember this – sales is a life choice inasmuch as it is a career choice – and your sales career will impact many others besides yourself. Until next week…

40ish Business Days Left In The Year - October 24, 2015

A topic that I have covered on several occasions before seems to have come up once again. Recently I was asked, both by my own internal sales team, as well as my personal clients, to share ideas regarding the “end of year push”. As I write my post on a bit of a dreary October morning, I find a bright spot thinking about the fun ahead in my own end of year push.

 

As I’ve stated time and time again, if you are hanging your success hat on the next few weeks, it may simply be too late for you. An end of year push should never be a make-it or break-it timeframe, but rather a bonus period for a well-planned and overall successful year.

 

I was asked just yesterday by one of my newer team members, “if you’ve had a very solid year so far, then what is your push for the final 40ish days of the year?”

There are two holidays coming up, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a few busy weeks between now and then. I find this time of year to be one where I can reflect with my clients, and time when we can talk through the past projects and plan for the New Year and new projects. More and more I tend to have clients that run budgets on the calendar year with a use it or lose it policy, and so I “push” for an evaluative meeting to discuss budgets.

 

For many years I’ve taken an approach against using this time of year to entertain clients, such as holiday lunches, or by giving gifts. I continue to standby this idea simply because a good sales person, an ‘A’ level sales person, should treat the client throughout the year with gratitude, not during the time of year when “everyone else is buying lunch”.

 

My most successful fourth quarters, best end of year pushes, are when I treat the client as if it were any other time of the year, but paying respect to their budget process (as mentioned above), as well as with a “plan ahead” approach. Meetings will, without a doubt, include a holiday well wish, a bit of personal holiday themed conversation, and with all hopes have a happy tone.

 

The “plan ahead” approach though has separated me from others for a long time and my clients have been appreciative. During these remaining 40ish days of the year, I will meet with my clients with a calendar in hand, and discuss their overall plans month-by-month and/or quarter-by-quarter. I will identify opportunities where my firm may be in a position to help or provide services. We will put future meetings (or calls) on the schedule. And, we will outline goals & objectives.

 

Don’t do what everyone else is doing this time of year. Be different. Be an ‘A’ level sales person and help your clients prepare for the year to come. They don’t need another holiday lunch or coffee mug. They will truly appreciate your professional guidance so much more than a gift.

Not Everyone Is Created Equal - October 17, 2015

In my post from last week I indicated that not all sales people are created equal and more importantly they should not be. So then why do so many sales managers try to hire based on a “model”?

 

There are many Fortune 500 organizations throughout the world who hire the same type of person over and over again. They believe they have a formula for their own success, and in some cases, maybe they do. However, many of these same organizations have a rather high turnover rate once a sales person reaches the 5 year mark. Employee retention is less of a concern within these companies and I believe it is because they hire the same (type of) person again and again.

 

For smaller companies taking the same approach could spell disaster. Not everyone is created equal and in the world of sales I sure hope they are not. I have found over the years that the best sales teams are comprised of a group of individuals, each with differing backgrounds, different likes and dislikes, different political or religious interests, different sexual orientations, differences from one person to the next, all blended together to create a team.

 

During a recent gathering of ‘A’ level sales managers I introduced this topic to gauge reactions and I was very pleasantly surprised. In a group of ten, only one person disagreed with the opinion I shared in the previous paragraph. The other nine were excited to hear one another were in agreement. What transpired, however, surprised me yet was refreshing. Rather than a simple nodding of the head in mutual agreement and moving on, the conversation consumed the evening.

 

My message again this week is for the sales or sales hiring managers out there: go for diversity, do not hire clones of you or each other, and celebrate the variety that makes up your sales team. Encourage each sales person to use their uniqueness to advance the company sales efforts, and most importantly, teach your sales team how to flip leads to each other based on their individual talents. Again, an increase in revenue and ROI is sure to come.

No Perks For Jerks - October 10, 2015

There is a growing trend in human resource management pertaining to benefits provided to employees. While many of the concepts are not new, when combined on a per-employee or per-department basis, they are taking on new meaning. And, there are surprising reactions taking place, especially in the sales arena. Although not necessarily politically correct, the use of the phrase “no perks for jerks” is being whispered by many.

 

For years employers have offered a variety of scheduling options to employees, such as work-from-home, flex schedules, shared work schedules, etc. Additionally, there are company cars or mileage reimbursement programs. You may have options for gym memberships or other wellness programs. And, of course, medical (and related) insurance products are becoming more and more customized.

 

So you may be wondering why I’m on this topic? Well, more than ever, these various benefits are being used by sales managers (or sales intensive organizations) to motivate and reward their top sales folks, the ‘A’ level sales people on their teams. I am being asked on a fairly regular basis to counsel my personal clients on ways they can begin to implement new plans for their sales teams. While each must be customized to meet the individual working environment or culture, I want to share with sales managers a few ideas.

 

First and foremost, the most successful of sales teams are fully aware that sales people are not created equal. And, good sales managers should not attempt to manage each team member equally, but rather as the individual they are, and for the individual talents they possess. But, keeping a level of competitiveness in place also helps maintain the spirit a success-driven organization, a top performer only model, and weeds out the weaker sales people.

 

Initially, all sales people should be reminded that any and all benefits provided by the company are a privilege and not a right or guarantee. A culture of general appreciation for what is made available is a key factor in future modification to the benefits or incentive plan. Once the culture of appreciation is in place, a sales manager can then begin to make changes. Changes should be offered and made available to each and every sales team member, but only based upon performance.

 

For example, offering a shortened work week by allowing a rep to have Friday’s off during the summer, may be a great incentive, but should only be available to the rep(s) that hit(s) a quota of some sort. Or, once a rep has been with the company for a certain period of time, and if this rep has exceeded the goals set forth, the sales manager via the company may want to provide a different level of insurance or premium discounts.

 

The whisper of “no perks for jerks” should be kept in mind at all times. As a sales manager, when sales reps begin to fall behind or lack the necessary achievements for such benefits or rewards, their true personalities have a tendency to show. If and when the rep begins to act like a jerk because someone else is being granted one of these perks and they are not, this becomes an indication that they are not an ‘A’ level sales person and it may be time to go.

 

Use what is available in your benefit offerings to help advance the ‘A’ sales people and the results will be increased revenue and ROI.

Going Back To The Well - October 3, 2015

I was shocked recently, when meeting with a prospective client, on how little repeat business they receive. In fact, I really could not understand why until I met with their sales leadership, and then it became disturbingly clear. They are not teaching (or managing) how to go back to the well.

The prospective client has been in business for 8 years and revenue has grown between 18% to 22% year-over-year. The organization is structured with 3 sales managers each having 4 outside sales reps and 2 inside sales reps reporting. The foundation of sales for the company has always been to cold call from an inside sales team, send the outside rep to a face-to-face meeting, take the order, fulfill the order, and assume the customers will call in for repeat orders. This approach worked for a while, but something recently has happened to cause the owner to question this approach.

You see, my prospective client has 2 new competitors that entered the market over the past 18 months, and these new competitors are very aggressive with their inbound marketing techniques. Beyond having very solid websites, they are blogging constantly, and driving traffic to their websites via paid advertising, such as Google AdWords. But, what has become more of an awakening moment for my prospective client, is knowing that their own customers are being sold by these competitors on a repeat basis.

The competition has, for lack of a better term, found the weak spot in my prospective client’s armor. They have done very little reselling to their customers. In other words, they have not gone back to the well. They’ve spent time initially selling the customer and then the sales team loses touch. Whereas, these new competitors, are constantly going back to the customers to ensure they are happy with the products and services being offered, to inquire about upcoming programs or projects where they may be able to help, and to generally get “face time” to show the customer they care about the relationship.

The key to the competitors penetrating the market is their focus on the relationship. Going back to the well is just that – going back to your customer for whom you have a relationship. Of course, the customer knows you are trying to sell more, that is common sense. But, what my prospective client has been missing is the fact that their customers want to buy more, they also want to know they are appreciated.

Go back to the well and go back often is a theme I’ve embraced my entire career. While your customer or client may not buy every time, as long as they feel as though you care and respect the relationship, you are more likely to keep them as a customer or client, and going back to the well will reap rewards more times than you may imagine.