Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

The Telephone: It Does Not Have Teeth, It Will Not Bite - July 26, 2014

Back in the mid-to-late 1980’s, when I was in high school, cell phones did not exist as they do today. When I wanted to make plans with friends or ask a girl out on a date I picked up my home telephone and called them on their home telephone. If they were available we would talk; two people conversing using the English language discussing plans for tomorrow night or what was happening over the weekend. If they were not there I would leave a message with their parents or on their answering machine. No matter what the outcome of the initial call, in the end I had a live telephone conversation with another human being.

 

Fast forward to today. On a personal level conversations are now taps on a small screen in the form of texts. The human interaction has been reduced greatly. However, this is not the case in business, and that will not change. Live one-on-one interaction is and will always be a necessity. And no, email is not a replacement either.

 

Business relationships begin with “hello”. Your tone of voice and what you say following up to “hello” can either lead to more conversation or it is DOA. That is up to you. However, many sales reps don’t get the chance to have the conversation. They are fearful of the telephone and so more calls are DOA. Why is this happening?

 

In the example above, people have become accustomed to using their cell phones and email for conversation, beginning with personal and leading into business. But when you are attempting to contact someone for the first time, remember, they do not know you. DELETE!!!

 

It is more important today, than ever before, to practice the art of live communication. One way to overcome the fear of the telephone is to attend a networking event. That’s right, a networking event, not a phone-a-thon. Go someplace where you must engage other human beings in conversation. Leave your cell phone in your pocket, or even better, in your car. Walk up to a perfect stranger and say “hello”. Is this uncomfortable? Maybe. Does this get easier? Absolutely. And, before you know it, a couple of hours have passed by and you’ve had live conversations with former strangers.

 

Now get on the telephone. In much the same way as the approach with the networking event, you must have a good demeaner. You need to have a positive tone. Put a smile on your face. Sure, they can’t see you, but the smile will be seen through your tone. The most critical time in a telephone call is the first few seconds. You must capture that person’s attention. You must put them at ease. You must intrigue them to want to continue talking with you. And, you must do all of this in seconds.

 

Cold calling, warm calling, whateveryoucallit calling – not every call is going to be perfect. No matter how long you’ve been in sales or how great on the telephone you are, not every call will be perfect. The call may not be, but you can be. If you strive to be your best, to make every call perfect, than when one does not go well you are prepared to say “oh well” and move on to the next one.

 

Successful use of the telephone boils down to one attribute and it is found in every ‘A’ level sales person: ATTITUDE. If you look upon your telephone as a useful tool, and not an obstacle or some scary device, you will have a positive attitude toward making calls. When you embrace the live conversation as your primary means of communication you will have a positive attitude toward making calls. And, when you realize that your sales process (and the quality of your leads) increases dramatically because of your positive attitude then you will be witness to your own unbelievable improvement in your calls and the use of your telephone.

 

Stop Texting. Stop Emailing. Pick Up The Phone And Call Someone.

No Is Not A Bad Word - July 19, 2014

I was never really a fan of the word no. Like you, I always equated the word with negativity, such as no you cannot have ice cream; no I don’t want to go on a date with you; or, no you are not a fit for the job. It took some time as I matured in my career to come to terms with the word no and then it hit me – no can be a good word. No can be a very positive word. It just all depends on the context.

 

Sales people, I believe, struggle more with the word no than those in other professions. Inherently, as a career sales person, you only want to hear the word yes. Yes, you got the job. Yes, I will buy from you. Yes, the contract is signed. But sometimes, in certain cases, the word no has the best outcome. Let me explain.

 

I have yet to meet a sales person in my career that has a 100% perfect client rate. Meaning not every client creates a healthy working relationship. There are times when you, not the client, need to embrace the word no, as in “no we should not renew our contract; you would be better served with another firm”. There are times when sales people are so far into the sales process that pulling the plug on the deal seems impossible. And then, out of nowhere, the prospect says “no we’ve chosen someone else”. In either case these are blessings in disguise.

 

Long-term health and prosperity for your sales career depends on you accepting that the word no can be a good thing. So, how can you embrace no? Understanding that not every deal is healthy is the first step. Second, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. Saying no with sincerity is the only way to go. And finally, looking past the initial no, and fully understanding the positives or opportunities that lie ahead.

Entitlement Part 2 - July 12, 2014

Last night I spent some time having a beer with a good friend and we started talking shop. We both had similar experiences over the past week. We each parted ways with an employee. We were discussing our similar situations when he mentioned that he read my blog every week. And so the conversation turned to a post from two weeks ago about Entitlement. He agreed with my commentary and so the conversation continued. He went on to explain that in hindsight he continued to give his support to his sales rep even when the young man was struggling and beginning to show signs that he would not make it much longer. The following is a letter we penned together to shed light on a trend with younger sales people carrying with them a sense of entitlement.

 

Dear former sales rep,

 

For many months you were a pleasure to employ. Your sense of humor was contagious and your enthusiasm for your new career was refreshing to a bunch of old guys. You really seemed to care about learning and developing. So what happened?

 

The team around you always painted a very realistic picture, that sales was not always easy, and that cold calling can be tough at times. We shared our own very real stories of success and loss. Did you not believe us? Did you think it would be a slam dunk with every dial of the telephone? Why did your attitude change and become so negative?

 

As time passed you became more and more frustrated and it seemed like every piece of advice we offered was met with disbelief and opposition. Statistically your performance was slipping with each passing day. You went from showing promise to being at the bottom of the performance list in the company of your peers. Weeks would go by without you getting a prospective meeting much less a closed piece of business. You ended up working on a probationary basis. Nothing improved.

 

Eventually the day came when you needed to part ways with the company. It was hopeless. You did not want to listen. You became defensive. You were lying to yourself about performance all the while struggling to even smile in the office. Instead of agreeing and accepting the outcome of the situation, it was your next actions that took us all by surprise.

 

You became belligerent. You demanded a form of severance even though you were being terminated for poor performance. You fabricated claims that your employment agreement and HR policies clearly outlined. You went from being the likable kid to being a jerk. And, what makes it worse, you did this to the people that supported you for over a year. You displayed that sense of entitlement that creates such disdain in the sales industry between the elder ‘A’ level sales people and the young up & comers.

 

We do not wish you ill will, but rather, we wish you good luck in your next position. You are a bright young man with promise. Please learn from this life lesson and you will come out ahead. If you disagree and continue with negative commentary and a sense of entitlement, this situation will ultimately repeat itself and you will again be on the losing end.

 

Good luck,

Your Sales Manager

Don't Lie To Yourself - July 5, 2014

So, after my small rant last week, I wanted to get back to some basics. I found myself giving a parental speech to my seven year old this week about telling lies and that there is no difference between a “little white lie” and a bold faced fabricated story. A lie is a lie. She was upset with one of her friends that told her something untrue and did not understand why. I feel like I helped her understand, but it also made me think about my daily routine in sales.

 

I don’t believe I’ve ever met a career, ‘A’ level sales person who has not been accused of telling a lie at some point in their respective position. It goes without fail that simply because their role is sales, they must lie at some point. I, myself, have been accused of fabricating a story to close a deal. Shame on them…I proved my story to be true. But, the accusation that I told a lie really stung, and it stuck with me throughout the entire business relationship. Changing another person’s opinion of sales is a challenge we will always face. So be it. There is one challenge though that we must face head on immediately.

Too many sales people get caught up in telling themselves, not a prospect or client, lies. Why does this happen? Are you trying to convince yourself a situation is not what it seems to be? Are you covering your tracks for a lack of performance?

 

Here are a few lies I’ve heard sales people admit they tell themselves:

  • ·         I’m so busy right now I don’t know if I can take on anymore meetings this week
  • ·         I have enough prospects that I don’t need to cold call this week
  • ·         I’m going to skip the networking event tomorrow night, I have enough business right now
  • ·         I am making the right calls to the right prospects, the market is just slow currently
  • ·         It’s not me, I’m fine, the prospects just aren’t buying right now

 

And here are the actual circumstances when confronted and finally honest with themselves:

  • ·         I thought I was busier but once a few appointments were cancelled I didn’t have any backups
  • ·         I lost a few prospects and had to start cold calling over again
  • ·         I wanted to go out with my boyfriend so I skipped the networking event…turns out my colleague came away with a few great prospects
  • ·         (after management suggested calling a different group of prospects) Looks like my list was not as a good as I thought but things turned around when I began prospecting to a different group
  • ·         It’s as important in how you say it as what you say…I guess my attitude has been impacting my tone and it was me not the prospects

 

Sometimes, and I would wager more than just sometimes, sales is hard because we make it hard on ourselves. Telling yourself a lie to make your role sound better, to make you feel better about your day, is like the “little white lie”. It is still a lie. Once you start telling yourself lies, it will become a vicious cycle. Don’t start. Own up to a shortcoming or two. Keep your focus and remember to work both hard and smart. You will be better off for it.

Entitlement - June 28, 2014

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines entitlement as: the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).

 

It is generally my goal to offer this blog post as a means of offering a piece of advice or a little guidance from having worked in my sales career for many years. However, this will be a bit of a rant due to a recent bout of frustration. I hope through a small amount of venting a lesson will still be learned. 


I find the idea of entitlement, based on the definition above, a disgusting word, attitude, thought process, ideology and theme. Often when someone crosses my path with a sense of entitlement I can either ignore them or move quickly past them. But, when the person is planted firmly in my daily routine, then I grow to hold a very negative view of the individual. And so it goes with a recent sales relationship.

 

Sales people must always remember that actions speak louder than words. Working hard and working smart go hand-in-hand. There are more senior sales people that have gone before them, paid their dues, and can only now showcase themselves as ‘A’ level sales people through their wisdom. Why then do some young up and comers walk around as if the world owes them something? What dues have they paid? What wisdom do they possess that can offer any real value to their own organization or their client? In most cases the answer is…none.

 

So this week’s short post goes out to the young lady who recently crossed my path. I believe you have a lot to offer your organization. You seem very bright. But you have a poor attitude about your chosen career path. Your employer does not owe you anything. You owe the company your effort and service. You should seek and adhere to the advice of your seniors. They have the experience to guide you through both ups and downs as a career sales person. You have opportunities in front of you that many other chosen professions do not offer, but unless you accept that you are a junior in your profession, you will be passed by and I will choose another person in your organization to serve as my primary point of contact.

 

As an aside to the senior level group out there, I am not suggesting you treat your junior team with contempt or disrespect. Teach and guide always. The juniors, like we once were, have potential. Recognize when a junior level sales person has a sense of entitlement and work to break them of these very bad traits. If you cannot, well then, you should cut them loose. Nothing can hurt moral in your sales organization more than a sense of entitlement.

 

Enough of my venting. Until next week, keep on selling. Thank you.

Thank You: Two Simple Words - June 21, 2014

When the server at the breakfast diner topped off your coffee this morning you said Thank You. When the sales clerk helped you match a tie with your new suit you said Thank You. When the teenager next door offered to walk your dog you said Thank You. After the meeting you had the other day with a prospective client you said Thank You – OR DID YOU?

 

It bothers me to a certain extent that I am writing this blog. But, I was reminded once again this week that many in business today are lacking the basic manners that should be carried as a professional sales person. Yesterday I received a hand-written Thank You note from someone I met with earlier in the week. She wants to do business with my firm and I spent 40 minutes in an initial meeting. A first time meeting that was over in 40 minutes. She did not send a quick one sentence email saying “hey thanks”. She took a few moments to write a Thank You note and I will remember it.

 

And so you may be wondering why this feels like a big deal to me. Well, I participated in seven meetings last week where I was the person asked to meet. I received three Thank You notes. Of the other four meetings, two were interviews with prospective employees. If you think I’ll remember the hand-written note, well I’ll remember the lack of manners even more. But, before I made the final decision to jot down my thoughts here, I wanted to make sure I was walking the walk. I looked back over the past month and can confidently report that I said Thank You each and every time someone met with me face-to-face or by conference call.

 

It may seem trivial and you may say not me, but use this short post as a reminder to ask yourself this question – Am I saying Thank You every time? And if not, has it caused an issue with moving forward in business. Oh and you may wonder why I capitalized Thank You each time. Let those two simple words stand out, let them sink in, and make sure you not only use these two words in business every day, make sure you mean it.

I Went To A Concert - June 14, 2014

In the midst of an incredibly busy calendar I found time this past week to attend a concert with my wife and a few friends. It was a small venue show with a fairly well known group that plays music in what has become known as jam band style. The average age of the audience was early-to-mid forties and everyone seemed to soak in the sights as much as the sounds. And so you’re probably saying “so what – what does this have to do with sales?”

 

It was in this venue during a few hours respite from my otherwise hectic schedule that I was reminded of two lessons that every ‘A’ level sales person must remember.

 

Lesson 1: Never ever judge a book by its cover. Come on, you’ve heard that saying since you were a kid just like me, but yet again a clear reminder was presented to me on Tuesday evening. I would never have imagined that I would run into a client, much less three clients, at the concert. One in particular works in a very polished financial organization, the suit & tie shop, and so I was a bit surprised to see him. While many, including one of the men in his group, were wearing shorts and old Grateful Dead t-shirts, he was in khakis and a golf shirt. That was not too surprising. It was his friend, the one in the old t-shirt and cut off shorts, that was the surprise. After talking a bit I became aware that this gentleman is the chairman and CEO of a holding company with seven subsidiaries. He is the majority owner. And, collectively, those seven companies are worth in excess of $375 million. We had a pleasant conversation over a beer and he is interested in meeting with me in early-July to talk shop. That’s right, the guy in the Grateful Dead t-shirt and cutoff’s. So what’s the lesson again: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

 

Lesson 2: In a similar manner, you do not want others judging you. Another lesson I learned at a younger age, from my time growing up in Baltimore and now having lived in the Cleveland area for over eighteen years, these communities are small even though geographically large, you will run into someone you know anywhere, any time, and certainly when you least expect it. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, ‘A’ level sales people do not view sales as a job, but rather a career or lifestyle choice. While you should never judge a book by its cover, you should always consider there are eyes on you. Be yourself, be friendly, be in control. Have fun, but remember that your actions may speak louder than words, and you may be judged by your own cover.

A concert. A concert where I didn’t think I’d run into anyone. A concert where I simply wanted to relax for a few hours. A concert that I absolutely enjoyed and would go again (I hope to go again). A concert that on a personal level reminded me of two golden rules in sales as a career. Keep these in mind as you cut loose from time-to-time. I promise they will come in handy.  

Egotistical, Arrogant or Confident - June 7, 2014

I’ve always been fond of business leaders that exude confidence. There are many in the spotlight like Ralph Lauren, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet and others. There are also many I’ve had the pleasure to know personally with a little less limelight. But no matter what, the common thread between those I admire is their confidence.


I’ve also had the displeasure of dealing with others who’ve become successful but with terrible attitudes. Their egos are huge. They are arrogant and look down their noses at others around them. They are quick to judge and believe they are better than most. They are the center of their own universe.

 

All too often in business the lines between the confident and the egotistical get blurry. So, how do you spot the confident which is the person you want to do business with? A few tips I’ve learned over the years:

·         Don’t always listen to the tone of a person’s voice but read their body language too. Confident leaders may have a strong tone but open body language saying to others that they welcome them into the conversation.

·         Confident leaders rarely look at their watch, the clock on the wall or look past the person they are talking to. They make eye contact in a genuine manner.

·         Confident leaders do not rush to a point but also do not take long to make their point known. They choose their words carefully, cut to the chase, but are careful to make sure others around them can digest their message.

·         Individuals known more for their ego or are defined as arrogant rush to the point in a business conversation, do not allow others to participate, and expect their “audience” to follow along and immediately be in agreement.

·         Those carrying themselves with the arrogant slant tend to always want to be somewhere else. They are less engaged in dialogue and seem more interested in being somewhere else. They believe you should feel grateful for simply having their presence in the room. And they do not listen to you.

 

Success does not mean that you get a free pass to treat others with disrespect. As a sales professional be careful who You choose to do business with. The confident leaders that become clients will cause you to earn their respect, but once you do, they will become long-term clients. The opposite is true for those leaders in the market with egos the size of a tanker truck…they will push you aside quickly if you cannot give them what they want when they want it. Remember, it’s about them, not the business relationship. Confident leaders may be hard to read at times, but fairness is an attribute for which they live their lives.

Two Sides To Every Story - May 31, 2014

I remember sometime in grade school, after getting into a little trouble with a teacher, that I was sent to the principal’s office. Before I knew what punishment would be handed down to me and a classmate, the teacher who was victim to our childish prank was able to tell her side of the story. It was at that young moment that I first learned the lesson that there are always two sides to every story.

 

Entering my career it did not take long before I realized, especially as a junior level sales rep, that customers tend to hear what they want, and will use what they hear to their advantage, even if it is not entirely accurate. They have their side of the story and you have your side. So how do you get both sides to meet in the middle?

 

All too often in sales we focus on the task at hand: scheduling the appointment, writing the contract, going for the close. We often overlook the various touch points in between. The conversations over the telephone, the emails sent late in the evening, the voicemails following up on a discussion point.

 

I have found over the years that documentation with an action item is the key to keeping two sides closer aligned. A simple thank you email listing the conversation points with a question in the closing (the action item) offers you the control feature needed in sales. You will have the reply to hold on to should you need to remind your prospect or client of the details thus making their side of the story much more closely aligned to your side.

 

Remember, sales is about developing a relationship, and as in any relationship there are two parties involved. Keeping the two sides closer to being on the same page reduces stress on the relationship and makes for a much more agreeable future and success.

20 Years in the Making

In May of 1994 I began a career journey that has been challenging, risky and rewarding. I’ve held a variety of titles, but they’ve always meant one thing – sales. My best guess is that I’ve met with close to 2,000 different companies ranging in size from mom & pop – to – start-up – to Fortune 100. And, I’ve had the pleasure of calling many in each category clients. I’ve lived in Maryland, North Carolina and Florida before eventually landing in Cleveland, Ohio which is now home. More...