Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

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.

The Selling Season - November 1, 2014

Depending on where you live and work, the weather in your respective area may have an impact on sales. Coupled with the calendar and you may be entering your own selling season. This week’s blog post is a bit more personal, a perspective on my own sales career for at least the past 12 years. You see, living in Cleveland, Ohio I have found there are specific times during the calendar year where my sales are directly impacted by the month and the weather outside. Let me share…

 

In the Northeast Ohio region, along the shores of Lake Erie, the winter months tend to drag. January through March and sometimes into April can be brutal with heavy snow, frigid temps and long grey days. In this area we tend to feel stuck inside with little options for getting outside for fun with the exception of maybe a quick trip to Florida or Arizona.

 

However, once June hits, everyone wants to break free and run for the outdoors. It’s boating season, golf season, motorcycle season, anything outside season. And, I’ve witnessed firsthand for years that no one really wants to be beholden to their offices in June, July or August. Sales tend to slow down a bit. I’ve compared my own scenario with other sales people in different industries with like results.

 

So you may wonder why I’m commenting on this topic today, Saturday November 1st? Well, to me, this is the prime selling season. By mid-to-late October and into early-November many clients have wrapped up their budget planning sessions for the upcoming calendar year. And, many now realize they may have some budget remaining for this year that they can spend. This is a fantastic opportunity to call upon your existing clients (and new ones too) to have the discussion on what can be done to help them spend their budget. And, yes, this is a perfectly acceptable topic. If you don’t believe me, just ask one client, and you’ll see that they are very willing and open to talking with you.

 

Second, many clients and prospects are ready and willing to meet face-to-face, have budget conversations, and make sales happen before the Christmas holiday. Like you, your clients will want to achieve certain business goals before the end of the year, and before they take personal time during the holidays. They may not realize that buying from you is a goal (yet), but have the budget conversation, and they soon will.

 

It becomes a win-win situation for you and your client. You will help them spend their budget before they lose it when the calendar starts over on January 1st and they will help you increase your sales at the end of the year. Best part, this will set up your relationship for January, when you’ll have an opportunity to talk once again with your client about what’s next.

 

It is my selling season and it should be yours too. Good luck as you make the run toward the end of the year.

Patience Over Greed - October 25, 2014

I’ve often bee asked about the timing between sales, as in when is the best or appropriate time to reengage with a new client. My standard response is always “patience over greed”. In many cases I get a puzzled look and the “what do you mean”?

 

No matter what career path someone has chosen, we are all consumers. We have purchased a home or a car. We stand at the deli counter waiting our turn. We’ve made purchases at department stores and online for personal products or gifts. And, being on the consumer side, we sometimes must restrain ourselves and be patient not greedy. As the old saying goes, “patience is a virtue”, but what does that mean for a sales person?

 

When talking with sales people about “patience over greed” I often start the explanation by asking about personal experiences where they are the consumer. How does it feel when either they or the sales person get aggressive in the process or you feel as though you or the sales person are being greedy? Is it a pleasant experience? Does it make you want to continue to work with this particular sales person or the company they represent? How does this feeling change when you and the sales person show restraint in the sales process and show patience? Are you more at ease? Does it help guide the sales process and provide you the information to make a more informed decision?

 

Once we’ve evaluated the answers to these questions, we then move on to the calendar, and we evaluate a schedule. That’s right a schedule to manage when you will contact your new client. This is about not coming across greedy and showing patience. But, you cannot be too patient, or the new client may find someone else to manage their needs. Timing is everything.

 

In past blogs I’ve talked about keeping a journal. A journal is a great tool for reviewing when you’ve had a truly wonderful sales experience with a client. You should keep notes on when you reach out, how often, and why. These notes become your frequency pattern and provide you a road map for future successful sales relationships. Every industry is different and so your touchpoints (as I call them) may be different than my own. However, there is always a frequency pattern to successful sales.

 

Journal and manage your frequency patter. This will lead to a greater understanding of the touchpoints you’ll need and when with your new clients. And, ultimately, these plans will lead to more sales from your existing clients.

Paint A Picture - October 18, 2014

Have you ever watched a movie where the scene flashes forward and shows what life around you would be like if you did not exist or were not present? The director is painting a picture for the character and for you. These tend to be used as “ah ha moments”, ones that drive home the point of the plot. When selling, you too can use this approach, to drive home the point of the plot.

 

Mr. Prospect, let me paint a picture for you, of what it will look like to work with my firm. Mrs. Client, let me paint a picture for you, of what it will look like if we stopped working together and you chose another firm to partner with. In either case, you can be an artist, and you can use the painting of a picture to close the deal.

 

There are several tactics that must be applied at the same time for this approach to closing to work. First and foremost, you must be sincere. Sincerity when describing the future relationship, both with ups and downs, is the key to having the prospect or client believe in you. Two things were also just said that are important to point out. You must describe what it is like, in reality, to work with your firm. Of course, there will be many highs or ups. There may also be lows or downs. Being believable is being honest. Most sales people only want to paint the picture filled with beautiful colors. A true artist must sometimes show the dark side. Describe what happens when something does not go just right. Outline how you handle resolutions when a change in the relationship occurs. Explain how you will get past a possible disagreement. And the other point is they must believe you. You represent your company and therefore you must be believable because you will be held accountable not your company.

 

Other factors in painting the picture for working together is through story telling. It is okay to have a small tangent in your closing process to tell a real story that your prospect or client will relate to. And, if you can then provide a reference to validate the story, the picture you are painting becomes even more prevalent to the close.

 

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, ‘A’ level sales people understand how to build relationships, and recognize the building process may take time. Like an artist, the outcome of the final product is unknown in the beginning, but takes shape throughout the process. And, so does selling. Unfortunately, there are too many ‘B’ and ‘C’ level sales people that want to rush through the process. I call them “paint by numbers sales people”. They think they are using their best skills, but they are simply trying to speed through by copying another’s work.

 

Be yourself, be honest, be realistic and paint a picture for what is to come. You will qualify your prospect or client. You will make them desire to work with you. And, you will be able to refer back to the sales process and the picture you’ve painted if ever you need to review your relationship with them. Until next time, keep selling.

Breaking back into jail -- October 11, 2014

Here we go again, the second week in a row, where I’m using a bit of a cheesy phrase. Don’t break back into jail – it is a phrase typically heard when a recently divorced person begins to date too seriously too quickly. Or, at times, when two exes get back together. It is not the nicest comment and it is not intended to be.

 

And so the story goes in sales, where a relationship ends, and then somewhere down the road someone wants to do business together again. Do you not remember why you broke up in the first place? Chasing revenue, to a certain extent, is a sales person’s priority. But, there is a difference in chasing revenue, and ultimately chasing quality relationships that drive revenue. When you break up with a client, you may not want to break back into jail.

 

Even in a global economy the market you sell in tends to be small and so you will inevitably cross paths with a former client. Depending on the reasons why the relationship ended may determine how you treat each other when your paths do cross for a second or third time. Break up’s happen. It is a fact of life when dealing with relationships of all sorts, both personal and professional, when you’re younger or older. I have found, especially in business, to keep meticulous notes about the relationships I have with clients including each individual I encounter.

 

Note taking must always be an important part of a sales person’s role. And, at no other time do your notes come in handy as when a past relationship is called into question. My notes tend to follow a pretty standard pattern. Here is a breakdown of what I track: who are the primary contacts and what are their specific responsibilities; how do I get along with each person; are there any common (non-work related) activities or hobbies; have we dined together; how do we get along on a personal level; have we disagreed and how have disagreements been managed; do compromises tend to be considered fair by both sides; what happens when we do not see eye-to-eye; is the client level headed; and, how do we manage next steps after a disagreement.

 

It may seem like profiling and it is. Trust me, your clients have a profile on you too. The key is making sure you give the business relationship every possible opportunity to succeed. It is only when the relationship must come to an end when these profile notes come in handy. And, more specifically, when there is a possibility of doing business together again. Be careful what you wish for – you may just get it – and end up back in jail.