Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

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.

Change Is Inevitable - December 13, 2014

After college I spent several years working in the sales and marketing departments for DeWalt Power Tools. This was twenty years ago and DeWalt at that time was still considered a young up and comer in the world of handheld power tools. The company began its dominance in certain market segments and was adding new product lines every few months. It was during this period of my career that I realized change is inevitable.

 

It can be tough to greet change with a smile. Planning for change can be difficult because of the unknowns associated with it. However, accepting change is inevitable is the first step in making sure you can manage change when it does occur. And so, as my sales team and I are preparing our final drafts of our own 2015 sales plans, I am reminded to greet change with a smile because it is inevitable.

 

I’ve been in my role long enough now to be able to spot change on the horizon. And, while you may not be able to fully prepare for change, there are certain tactics or approaches I’ve taken over the years to account for when change does take place. Here are a few examples:

 

·         Client Losses and Gains > We all want to sell more in the coming year than we did in the previous. This is what drives an ‘A’ level sales person. Compensation is increased when sales increase. Naturally, this would drive a sales person to focus on the gains for the coming year, as in who will become new clients, what services will I sell, what will the revenue increases look like. But, there is always the possibility of losing a client or two, or not gaining the new client that has been hot in the pipeline. Advice given to me a long time ago that I’ve used every year since is this – plan your year as if you were to lose your number one client. What does the year then look like? What will it take to replace this client and still gain? Why might your number one client leave you? Although this is not a pleasant thought, the exercise in and of itself opens the door to greater possibilities on how you can plan, scale and manage your growth plan for the New Year. And, just think, if you keep your number one client and apply your plan as if you were to lose them by some chance, you will end up exceeding your goals.

 

·         Personal (not professional) Goals > I do not consider myself a materialistic person. I don’t follow the latest clothing trends day in and day out. I don’t drive a flashy car. I am more comfortable coming to the office in jeans than I am a suit. I consider myself pretty down to earth. However, I do have personal goals that I set for myself. And yes, some may seem a little bit materialistic. Take for example my love for Florida. I can do without the traffic, but I absolutely enjoy spending time on the Gulf Coast beaches with my wife and children. One of my personal goals each year is to spend at least one week in Florida doing nothing but soaking up the sun and splashing in the water with the kids. You may ask why I mention this in my personal goals and what this has to do with my sales plan for the coming year? I plan my trips a full year in advance. If I am not hitting my sales numbers, if my team is underperforming, then the likelihood of me taking such a trip is reduced. I have drawn a direct correlation between my vacation and my business success. How could I even think of leaving town for a week or ten days if I am under-performing? This approach, tying my personal goals to my professional goals, allows me to always (as in 24/7/365) keep myself in check. I encourage my sales team to do the same. It is a simple exercise – make a short list of things you’d like to purchase or places you’d like to visit and then set a professional goal next to each. Obtaining the personal goal is reward for achieving the professional. Before you know it you’ll be setting higher and higher goals for yourself on a personal level which will directly impact your sales performance in a very positive manner.

 

·         Reflection > Sometimes this can be the hardest part of my sales planning process to talk about. It is personal. I am not an overly religious person, but I do have what I call a set of faith-based standards that I try to adhere to in living my life. I love my wife and children very much and would do anything to make and keep them happy and healthy. Reflection, at least to me, is an opportunity to think about all of the positive and negative “things” that have happened to me over the past year. Did I lose the weight that I’ve been trying to lose? Did I speak kindly to those that may be going through a harder time than me? Did I offer my help to someone in need, whether I knew them or not? Did I handle my sales calls in absolutely the most professional manner? Was I the person that I wanted to be? Of course, I’m only human, and so I know the real answers are not always what I want them to be. Through this reflective time, through a review of my daily and weekly journaling, I give thanks for what I have and where I’ve come from, and I layout my plans for how I can do a better job in the coming year. This is the one that may sound a little sappy, but I truly believe that my business success, especially in sales, only comes from my drive to be good in my personal life. I believe my reflection time is the most valuable of my annual sales planning and allows me clarity to layout my strategic plan for hitting my personal and professional goals.

 

Change is inevitable. Embrace the idea of change. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but knowing something may come to you unexpectedly, not planned for, or changed from the original idea, and being willing to embrace whatever hand is dealt to you, will allow you to shine in the face of change. Success in sales comes to those who can handle change and the unexpected. Stay focused and keep selling.

The Weakest Link - December 6, 2014

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I was first introduced to this phrase as a young boy playing lacrosse in Maryland. I was a goalie and struggling with my emotions after a tough loss. The coach shared this phrase with the entire team because, well, we simply didn’t play as a team. That was the first but certainly not the last time I’d hear this phrase.

 

So often sales people are either placed on a pedestal or are held entirely accountable for their company wins and losses. And, I’ve found over the years, that ‘A’ level sales people are accepting of this role…the leadership role. But, let’s be fair, company wins and losses in many cases go beyond the sales person. It is the team that collectively wins or loses. And, when there is a loss, often times it is due to the weakest link.

 

I was recently reminded of this as I was participating in a performance evaluation of a team member (non-sales) in my organization. Concerns were coming up from others about his attitude, or more specifically his lack of positive attitude, toward being a part of a team and not a lone ranger. It came to my attention that he had been lacking in the ability to self-direct and “grab the bull by the horns”. Although fairly new to the organization he supposedly came with experience and was to be considered a senior level team member. Unfortunately, those supposed attributes were not shining through, and in fact were now in question.

 

It was commentary shared with me by the sales team that really struck a chord. They lacked the confidence in this individual should he end up working on one of their clients projects. They felt this person was the weakest link in our organization. Although initially hesitant to share their concerns, they did so, and it was for the best.

 

And with that let me take this opportunity to share my advice to the sales people so you too can help your organizations continue to grow. Weak links only hurt an organization. They place undue stress on the team members around them, especially those that must rely on them for quality and timely work. Weak links dampen the energy an organization strives to have on a consistent basis. Most importantly weak links can damage your reputation because it may be construed as a reflection on how you surround yourself with your team members.

 

As a sales person you have the right to bring weak links to your management team’s attention. Choose your words very carefully, but don’t be hesitant. Remember, you are the face of your company, and your clients have certain expectations. They buy from you because of your quality and your word. Weak links will not help you achieve your personal or company objectives.

Manage Your Emotions - November 29, 2014

On two separate occasions over the past two weeks I have received calls on my recent posts. The calls came from two sales reps that I have counseled over the past few years. They read my posts and shared concerns about how they will handle the upcoming few weeks heading into the New Year. They were not in disagreement with any of the information, but rather they became emotional. They are a bit frustrated with their recent sales and are a little worried about the New Year beginning.

 

Both of these individuals are seasoned professionals, yet it did not come as a surprise to me that they called. It doesn’t matter whether you are a 20 year sales veteran or in your second year of your career. Sales is an emotional profession to begin with, but adding the holidays and end-of-year push on top, and you may well have a recipe for being down in the dumps.

 

I remember a point in my own career, when I was starting my family and juggling the new company, when the holidays and end-of-year timeframe became very hard for me to handle. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I desperately wanted to spend time with my family, do a bit of travelling to see relatives and friends, and to enjoy Christmas with my young children. But, how could I? I had sales figures to focus on. I needed to close one more deal, just one more. I needed to make sure billing was done a certain way for specific clients. I needed to prove myself to my team that I could handle everything, even if that meant working nights and weekends leading right up to Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. I was getting about 4 hours of sleep each night and burning the candle at both ends. And why? Because I did not plan accordingly and I let emotion take control.

 

I promised myself after that holiday and end-of-year push never to put myself through it again. And I promised myself that I would lead others by example. We all have personal lives and with our personal lives comes personal emotion. The holiday times may be hard on some due to a loss of a family member. Others may be distanced by miles and alone. It is important that we each recognize why the holidays may become somewhat emotional for ourselves. Then, we must plan ahead beginning in October or November on how we will manage our sales responsibilities. You cannot wait until December 15th to realize where your individual sales performance stands. You should take inventory each and every month of the year and plan for your own individual push toward the end. January 1st is right around corner and you should be more in cruise control than constantly shifting gears. That, unfortunately, is not always the case.

 

Careful planning of your personal life balanced with a carefully laid out strategy for sales in the fourth quarter pushing toward the end-of-year will certainly be a big help. Take time each day to check yourself on attitude and sales progress. Manage your calendar and try to make time for yourself, a little self-awareness reflection time. And don’t overreact.

 

If you feel the stresses of the holidays, the push toward the end-of-year, and generally the emotion that can come during this time of year, seek someone out to talk. Find the ‘A’ level sales person that has been there before and ask for their advice. Trust me, they will recognize what you are going through, and they will help.

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.