Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Don't Be Risk Adverse - July 25, 2015

Being a father and a youth sports coach I often watch over kids taking risks. They may seem small to me at the time, like my daughter going off the high dive at the pool for the first time. It could be asking a player to try a new position that he’s not entirely comfortable in. Or, it could be asking a child to trust you when you tell them no, because you know from experience what a certain outcome might be to their request.

 

In business, leaders are expected to take risks, and to be a good sales manager, you must not be risk adverse. You cannot afford to always play it safe. This may be taking a risk and promoting someone into a higher-level sales role, knowing they may not entirely be ready yet, but also having a sense that this person will rise to the challenge and succeed.

 

Risk in sales is an everyday occurrence. It may be cold calling the “whale prospect”, you know, the one that would put you and your company on a different level. If you don’t take the risk and call, you’ll never know if they might be interested. And, so it goes in business, risk must be accepted and embraced and managed very carefully.

 

What happens then when members of the management team do become risk adverse? What do you do, as a leader in your organization, when your peers begin to worry and ask more of the “what if we do X and it backfires” versus “what happens if we don’t do X”? In other words, what happens to your company when those entrusted with leadership positions no longer trust in you, your employees, or even themselves, to take a risk in order to grow the business.

 

Speaking specifically to the sales managers reading this post, you cannot afford to become risk adverse and be asked to still grow your company (market share, revenue, etc.). It is simply not possible to do the same old, same old and expect different or better results. Taking risks, even small risks, will help you and your sales team stay competitive and ultimately grow.

 

I am not suggesting that you blindly throw caution to the wind and take on so many risky propositions that you go backward. ‘A’ level sales managers and sales representatives must learn how to control their risk-reward balance. Maintaining balance between what is tried & true, knowing what will create an almost guaranteed sale, generating revenue with a solid profit margin, with taking a risk on the bigger client, the new market segment, or the new hire takes time and patience.

 

Do not be afraid to take risks. It is the risks in your life, personally and professionally, that more often pay the biggest dividends. 

Do not try this at home, we are trained professionals - July 18, 2015

Okay, the title might seem like a silly play on words, but I hope this message will be heard by the sales managers out there. I had dinner this past week with a personal client that I counsel on sales management topics. The CEO asked me to meet with her and her two sales managers. They recently, as of January, hired a few very junior-level sales reps, and these new team members have had a few recent struggles in the lead generation and prospecting area. I was asked to help understand the possibilities of why this was occurring and what could be done to change course.

 

As the conversation progressed, it did not take long for me to realize that the two sales managers have stopped managing the juniors, and have left them to “watch & learn” from the more senior folks. Instead of teaching and mentoring, they put the juniors in the position of shadowing, and told them to simply emulate what they see and hear from the senior sales reps.

 

And so, as I expected, the junior-level reps were watching people 10, 20 and 30 years their senior making cold calls, talking with long-time clients on the telephone, and engaging in sales meetings with relative ease. The problem is, these seniors have experience. They’ve been there and done that – long before these juniors were in school. They are the trained professionals, but no one told the juniors not to do this at home. In other words, the juniors were asked to emulate their seniors, but they themselves were not senior (ie experienced or trained).

 

We spent the remainder of our evening talking about the best way to right track the course they were currently on. And, it wasn’t that hard to do. The first part of the plan was to immediately pull the juniors back from shadowing. Put them in a classroom (conference room) and use this as an exploratory opportunity. Talk with the juniors about what they’ve seen, heard and learned. What are the positive elements? What are the negatives? What has worked for them and what has not?

 

The next step is to put in place a “back to basics” training plan. Teach from the ground up how to prospect and develop a qualified lead generation plan. Work through the telephone calling and emailing approach that is both personal and professional. Teach and make sure these young sales talents understand that they must not only act mature but truly be mature in order to match wits with the prospect.

 

The reality is this: you are not me and I am not you. We may learn from the same teacher, but our approaches to sales may be slightly different, and they should be. It is important that each person showcase their talent and personality in the sales process without losing focus on their company’s game plan and strategy. It is perfectly acceptable, and in fact expected, that young sales people shadow their seniors. But, in theirs and your best interest, don’t ever ask them to emulate someone else. We are trained professionals – do not try this at home.

A History Lesson - July 11, 2015

I awoke this morning in Gettysburg, PA. I’m here with my family for a lacrosse tournament that my son will be participating in and I can’t stop thinking about the historical ground for which we will walk. The tournament is taking place on the athletic fields of Gettysburg College which butt-up against the Gettysburg Battle Fields. In fact, the tour busses come within a few feet of the end lines of the lacrosse fields with monuments so close that the boys can read the inscriptions from the sidelines.

 

As we were arriving yesterday afternoon, driving right through the center of town, my children were bombarding my wife and I with questions. We very quickly needed to get our history caps back on and remember all that we learned in high school and college. It’s been a long time since I last visited Gettysburg, but it didn’t take long for me to begin to remember its significance, the great loss of lives on the ground around me, and the sacrifices that were made many, many years ago.

 

I’ve been sitting in the hotel lobby quietly thinking of my topic for this post but my mind keeps wandering to the history around me. And it hit me…history. You see, all too often in my own blogging, as well as all of the writings in the market about sales, we focus on the here & now. We focus on what we need to do today, learn today, to prepare for tomorrow. Very rarely do we go back in time and think historically.

 

I am sitting in one of the most historic places in our country and it has me now thinking backward in time. What was it like during the Civil War? How far have we really come? And then my mind continues to move from one place in time in my own life to another. Quickly I became entranced by my own history, living in Maryland, North Carolina, Florida and eventually moving to Ohio. I began to think about how I’ve spent the past 20+ years and then I began to think about my career and how it has developed over time.

 

It didn’t take long for me to realize the history, my (your) own history, can help me (you) prepare a path for my (your) future. Examining the previous paths taken, decisions made, deals won or lost, will certainly be a benefit in planning for the future. Sometimes it’s good when history repeats itself. How did I win that client? Can I repeat the process? And, other times, it is best to let a past situation stay in the past…let it stay history.

 

The most important reminder, as I wrap this post up and get ready to head to the lacrosse fields is this, history is taught in grade school, high school, college and beyond for a reason. In order for an individual or a society to grow, one must first learn where they’ve come from. Your sales career should be no different. Learn from your past, plan for your future based on this historical knowledge, and grow.

Referrals: Better when unsolicited! - July 4, 2015

I have read my fair share of sales books over the years. I have attended countless numbers of seminars. I have been a part of several “more formal” sales classes. And, one consistent theme is the referral ask.

 

This can be a very tough topic for many sales reps and managers. It seems everyone has a different approach, but all based on the same trained theme, you must ask for referrals. Why is this? How did this approach of YOU asking for the referral become the norm? Is this ultimately the best way to obtain a referral lead?

 

About 16 or 17 years ago I was introduced to a new concept for referrals. Well, there really wasn’t anything new about it, except no one was really practicing this approach. It is so simple that everyone should be doing it, yet no one was (or still is) on a regular basis.

 

Here it is: Don’t ask for a referral…rather do your best work – make a client your biggest fan – and the referrals will come to you unsolicited!!!

 

Taking on this approach was not easy. I had to break myself of the habit of asking my clients and colleagues for people they know or “who may know who for an introduction”. It can be a little scary even, not asking for referrals and waiting & hoping you get them coming to you. But, with good work comes happy clients. With happy clients come referrals.

 

There is a small amount of training that comes into the mix with this approach. Mostly, it begins in the initial sales process, when you make mention that you do not ask for referrals, but rather you hope your work will speak volumes and you, Mr. or Ms. Client, will be so happy that you’ll share my information with your own clients and colleagues.

 

Staying in regular contact with your clients after the sale is complete is the next part in obtaining unsolicited referrals. Make sure you are not overbearing in your approach, but consistent enough that you will stay top of mind. Have a schedule of when and why you will contact your clients; and, mix it up with a combination of email, hand-written notes sent in the mail, telephone calls, and face-to-face conversations. Staying top of mind will increase the likelihood of your client mentioning you and your company in other business conversations.

 

Lastly, entertain your clients in small group engagements, and always offer for your client to bring a guest. It may be a round-table style educational luncheon covering a new industry topic. Or, instead of playing 18 holes of golf over the span of 6 hours and then hoping for conversations to take place over lunch, try playing indoor golf over the span of 3 hours where your entire group of attendees are together in the same room. This is a great way to spend intimate time with your clients and guests on a rainy or cold day. It’s something different, yet familiar enough that enjoyment will be had by all, and the conversations will lead to referral business.

 

Asking for a referral can be easy. Obtaining an unsolicited referral might be a little more difficult and take a slightly longer period of time. But, which one do you believe will net better results?

No Thank You Can Cost You - June 27, 2015

For the past several weeks I have been participating in the interview process for entry-level sales positions. The candidates being considered for the open positions are current / recent college graduates. The majority of the candidates have similar backgrounds, are graduating (or just did) from very prominent, local universities, and all have four year degrees with rather high grade point averages. Yet, only a select few are standing out.

 

The candidates, while all very similar, are showing me what they are made of not from their resumes, but rather their post-interview correspondence. Can you believe it, I’ve interviewed a few that never sent a thank you, but left voicemails wondering where the interview process stood? Seriously, not even a simple thank you email for the time spent talking with them.

 

No thank you can cost you a future interview, future follow-up sales meeting, and quite possibly a sale.

 

While this is a short post this week, the advice I am sharing should be taken to heart, say thank you. Whether you enjoyed the interview process or not, or whether you want to continue to interview with a particular company or not, saying thank you is not only courteous, it can be a real differentiator in the decision process.

 

And oh, by the way, if you didn’t send me even a simple note of thanks for the recent interview, don’t call and ask why you’ve not been invited back. This post is your answer.

Rebuilding A Burned Bridge - June 20, 2015

We’ve all heard the saying – don’t burn a bridge – but can a bridge be rebuilt?

 

An old college friend was going through a pretty tough time about three years ago. His wife asked him for a divorce shortly after he experienced a death in the family while at the same time his company was being acquired with his position in jeopardy. Needless to say, he wasn’t in the best of moods, and his temper got the best of him. When questioned by a member of the acquiring management team about his sales performance, Bill took the tone and type of questioning very personally, and he snapped back at this management team member. When further questioned by his own, longtime manager, he commented about his displeasure with the line of questioning and walked out of the meeting. His employment was immediately terminated.

 

Bill, believe it or not, while going through a series of personal issues was able to land another sales position within a few short weeks with another pharmaceutical company in Charlotte, NC. He agreed to the terms of divorce with his now-ex-wife in a rather amicable proceeding and he quietly began to rebuild his life.

 

Fast forward to now. Bill has an opportunity to interview with a new pharmaceutical company in Raleigh, NC. His only daughter moved there last year for school and this would be an opportunity not only to advance his career, but also to be closer to her. But, low and behold, he must interview with his former manager for the position. This is the person for whom he turned his back on, walked out of the meeting, and had not spoken to since then. Did I mention they had worked together for 10 years successfully?

 

Bill feels as though he not only burned this bridge but that he may not be able to mend the relationship. My advice to Bill was this…say you’re sorry. It’s that simple…apologize.

 

Bill has an opportunity to mend his former relationship, but he must first admit his faults, and he must apologize. He needs to bear his sole, so to speak, and he must explain what he was facing on a personal level. Then, he must show how he has overcome these past professional indiscretions, and he must showcase how he’s grown.

 

There is no guarantee that the bridge burned can be rebuilt. And this does not always occur. But, coming to grips with his own shortcomings and mistakes, admitting as much to his former manager, may be what is necessary to move forward. If you’ve ever burned a bridge and felt that you needed to rebuild it, consider the steps it will take to make amends.

Doing Business With Friends - June 13, 2015

If you’ve been in sales for even a little while, you’ve most likely run into the scenario or possibility of doing business with friends. As a sales person you may feel like it is your lucky break or a guaranteed close. But, more than any other type of sale, one with a friend can be the most dangerous.

 

I was in a meeting with a client recently, the VP of Sales, and she asked me for some personal advice. She had recently entered into a consulting engagement with a new client of her own, and one in which the president of the company was a personal friend of her husbands, and things weren’t going so well. She was running into a situation where this gentleman was calling upon her to bend her company rules, do more work without being billed, etc. She needed some guidance on how to best handle the conversation with the client and to set the record straight on what is to be deemed their personal relationship and their professional relationship.

 

Having run into this scenario myself not too long ago, I shared with her the approach I took, and she seemed rather appreciative.

 

Having too close of a relationship with a client can cause communication issues at any point in time, but it hits even harder when the client is a personal friend first and becomes a client second. The likelihood is that this person has heard you tell stories (possibly horror stories) about the office or clients. Without realizing it, they may try to change your approach to business because of something you shared with them in the past, in an effort to better suit their own needs.

 

Moreover, your friend may also take an entirely different tone with you because of your relationship, which may skirt the bounds of professionalism. And, what’s worse, they may want you to give them preferential treatment over other clients.

 

So how do you avoid these issues?

 

Well, this easiest answer would be to not do business with your friends. Of course, that may also be easier said than done. So, my recommendation is to have a very open and honest conversation about the rules of engagement. Set the record straight up front about how your company operates and works with clients. Make absolutely sure your friend is fully aware of these rules, and whatever you do, make sure you have a witness to this conversation both from your company and from your friends company.

 

And, to ensure that the business relationship is handled smoothly, and with minimal interference to your personal relationship, assign someone else as the point person in the business relationship. It may be a subordinate if you’re in management, or it may be your manager, or it may be a peer. You should find someone that can handle this scenario in a professional and confident manner and your friend must accept that you are making the introduction and then stepping aside.

 

You should never allow a friendship to be diminished due to a concern in business, and you certainly do not want your career to be jeopardized by a bad decision in sales. A true friend will not only agree, but will expect nothing less.

Don't Ignore Advice - June 6, 2015

No one is perfect, but we should strive for perfection. This statement has been uttered for years in many sales and management level meetings. I’ve seen this written in mission statements and on posters hanging in customer service departments. So, what does this have to do with this week’s post title – Don’t Ignore Advice?

 

Striving for perfection often times means we need to learn from our past, put together a strategic game plan for moving forward, and try not to make mistakes. When a member of the management team offers guidance and advice, especially based on historical events, it makes sense that you take the advice, don’t ignore it.

 

I’ve recently been working with a fellow management team member on a client matter. He has asked for my advice and guidance on several occasions as to how best to handle a client that no longer wants to use our services. I’ve spent a fair amount of time counseling this team member in an effort to outline a solid game plan on parting ways with the client in an amicable fashion. And yet, recent correspondence to the client went against all advice, and now we must change course.

 

The advice I provided was not based on assumptions, but rather based on experiences. I’ve been down a similar road a time or two, and so I outlined a game plan that would allow the client to depart, try a different service provider, but would eventually come back. Unfortunately, since the advice was not taken, we are now faced with a possible lingering relationship, and one that makes us look needy.

 

I am disappointed but must use this as a teaching / learning opportunity. As a management team, we must come together to understand how best to engage or disengage with a client, especially when the future of any relationship is at stake. Taking advice from someone who’s “been there done that” can make a big difference in any business relationship. Listen to your seniors carefully, heed their advice, and manage your client relationships carefully.

If You Don’t Want To Be Here – Please Just Leave - May 30, 2015

Last week my wife and I were at a dinner party hosted by friend who has spent the past twenty-one years in human resource management. We were having a drink before dinner, swapping work stories, and so I took the opportunity to pick his brain on a subject I am currently facing. I asked, “How would you handle a conversation with an employee that doesn’t seem to want to be with your team anymore?” His answer was a bit surprising, maybe because I was expecting it to be rather politically correct, or more sensitive in nature. So, here’s his answer, and this post goes out to all of the sales managers who face this same situation.

 

Sit the employee down for a five minute conversation over a cup of coffee, look them square in the eyes, and ask them, “Do you enjoy working here?” Then, stop talking, no matter what.

 

What transpires next will be the determining factor for the rest of the conversation. If the employee pauses, looks as though they are pondering their answer, and then begin to speak – whatever they say is not entirely true. The real answer, at least 9 times out of 10, will be blurted out unexpectedly. It is human nature when faced with such a blunt question that the employee doesn’t even realize they are answering so quickly and honestly. Yes, of course I like working here, why would you even ask that question? (or) Most of the time, but there have been some things bothering me lately. (or) No, actually I haven’t been happy in some time.

 

Whatever the answer is, if it comes instantly when asked, be prepared as the sales manager to then deal with the fall out. Keep in mind that if the employee really is happy, you many have now caused them to wonder why you asked. But, if the employee says most of the time or no, then you must be diligent in your response – well then why are you still here? Why don’t you leave?

 

It may sound harsh, not politically correct, or too quick to judgement, but it will flesh out exactly what is going on with the employee. When employees, especially sales people, are unhappy in general terms of their employment, they become unproductive, but also have a tendency to bring others down around them. A good sales manager will recognize this behavior quickly and will resolve to remove this person before too much damage can be done.

 

As the old saying goes (and I was reminded of during my conversation) – hire slow, fire fast. And, in some cases, help an employee recognize when it may be time for them to make a change and simply leave.

Are Networking Events Still Worth Attending? - May 23, 2015

Although the question seems rather simple, I find it can be difficult to answer at times. Are networking events still worth attending? I am asked this question time and time again. And, at least for the past few years, here is my answer…It Depends.

 

Generally speaking, I have always been a fan of the networking event, but with careful consideration of the event itself. You see, many believe that any event that drawls people together, especially at a bar or restaurant, is considered a networking event. You are networking to meet people, right? Well yes, at least in part. But, all too often, this is simply a way for a sales person to socially interact on their company’s dime. The sales person is tricking themselves into believing this is time well spent and that their agenda of meeting new people is being upheld.

Ok, so you’ve met new people. Who are they? What role in their organization do they hold? Are they a decision maker, or an influencer at the very least, that can open a door for you? Or, are they a peer? That’s right, are they another sales person, from another company, trying to do that same as you?

 

All too often networking events end up being peer events where everyone hangs out, shakes hands, grabs a beer, and swaps stories. There is no real networking involved and so when this occurs my answer becomes, very quickly, no these types networking events are no longer worth attending. Go grab a beer on your own dime with your friends. So, when are they worth attending?

 

Using the term networking is somewhat loose in my answer, but a good networking event is one in which you have specifically planned ahead and targeted because you know you will have less peer pressure and more opportunity to meet a decision maker. How do you scout out these events you may ask yourself? The answer is rather simple, stay out of your own industry, and attend the events that are designed around your target prospects industry. For example, if your end goal is to meet CFO’s, well then, go to accounting and finance oriented events, such as a CFO of the year award sponsored by your local business publications. Or, if you target CIO/CTO level decision makers, attend larger, nationally sponsored events that cater to this audience, such as one sponsored by Microsoft, Oracle or Cisco.

 

The goal of networking is simple: put yourself in a place where you are guaranteed to meet at least one decision maker. In doing so you can always ask yourself whether this event or that event increases the odds that you walk out with a “real introduction” and if you cannot answer with confidence that it is likely you will succeed then the networking event is not for you.