Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

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.

Lessons Learned From Coaching Kids - May 16, 2015

It was late to bed last night and up early this morning. I’m doing a little work from my hotel room in Columbus, Ohio where later today I’ll be coaching my son and his teammates in the Ohio Middle School Lacrosse State Tournament. I’m excited for the boys to participate. They have worked hard since late February preparing for this weekend. It’s not to say they’ve taken the rest of the season lightly, and there are still a few weeks to go, but this weekend eyes from around Ohio will be on them. And, to a certain extent, on me too. My mind started to wander back to work, my sales team, and on to lessons I’ve learned over the years. You see, much can be taken from coaching experiences, as a youth sports coach, and as a sales manager.

 

Like sales, you plan ahead and work closely with each individual and the team as a whole, in an effort to be the most prepared in the marketplace. You study your competition, learn the in’s & outs of your own company and services (or products), and you practice. You practice your pitch; you practice what to say when overcoming objections; and, you practice how to best interact with your prospect to “get the job done” – closing the deal.

 

When coaching youth sports, much like sales, you work hard to prepare your team for the playing field. You study the competition and how your team will match up. You plan ahead by working with individuals and groups to make sure they understand how to face challenge. And, you guide by experience. Regardless of the age, patience is a virtue in youth coaching, just the same as it is a virtue in sales management.

 

Of course, not everyone may feel you are doing a good job, both in management and coaching. On a personal level I’ve been coaching lacrosse for a number of years. There has never been a season where a parent or player has not complained. They don’t like the amount of playing time their son is receiving. They feel their son should be on the A team and not the B team. Their son is a superstar now and will certainly play NCAA Division I…of course he’s only in 7th grade currently. Forget that fact that there are 42 other boys in the program. Forget the fact that planning for the season started 5 months before the first practice. Forget the fact that I am a volunteer and trying very hard to accommodate everyone. The reality is, it is impossible to make everyone happy all of the time, and the same is true in sales management.

 

No matter what the size of your sales team, whether you have 2 or 22 sales reps, you will not make everyone happy all of the time. You must remain true to the team and plan not to play favorites but work hard to treat everyone equally. You must accept that, like youth sports, you will have some sales people that are A players and some sales people that are B players, but that is life. Giving each sales person or player an equal opportunity to succeed is all that you can do and all that should be expected of you.

 

Sales management, like coaching, can be emotional. You want the best for your team, for all team members, and to avoid disappointment. Working toward this goal is a step in the right direction as you become a leader in your organization. But, accepting too the reality that not everyone will be happy all of the time, is also part of being a leader. Be open and available to your team at all times. Do not shut them out. Treat the team member in a mature manner and listen to their concerns. Keep in mind that they may still be a B player, you can help them be successful still, and avoid disappointment down the road.

 

There are many similarities to being a coach and a sales manager. The best advice I can offer you is this…try to always be supportive, try to ignore the negative commentary, and work hard to stay true to your principals. Give everyone an equal opportunity for success.

The Owner Finally Showed Up - May 9, 2015

Last week I was talking, over dinner, with a few friends. We are all in sales within the service / project industry, and while slightly different offerings, we tend to have similar tales to tell about client experiences. It must have been a full moon or something because we all had a recent similar story to share.

It is not uncommon for us to call upon companies that are small-to-midsized where the owner of the company is the president or CEO. And, as such, we are often engaged with this person during the initial sales process. You go through the routine of presenting your company, learning about their company, engaging in various conversations to see if the relationship would be a good fit, and then off & running we go. However, all too often, this is the last time we see or talk to the owner until the project is coming to or just came to a close. He or she put “their people” in charge. The director of marketing or information technology becomes the project lead with the supposed authority to make decision on behalf of their company. They become the voice of their company, including the owner, and so the projects continue. And, although everything appears to have gone smoothly, here it comes…the owner shows back up.

“This isn’t what I wanted!” “I expected this or that.” “Why did you choose to go in that direction, didn’t you understand I wanted to go in a different direction?”

Well, where were you? You gave your team members the authority to drive the project on your behalf. So, why are you now questioning or complaining? As a sales person, we are now on a slippery slope. We can become agitated and defensive. We can throw the clients team under the bus. We can throw our own company under the bus. Or, and here’s my approach, we can address the matter one-on-one with the owner in a professional but blunt way.

Mr. or Ms. Owner, please understand it has always been our goal to make your wishes a reality with the service or project we’ve provided. That is why we spent so much time working with your team to check and double-check along the way. Naturally, we expected your team to keep you in the loop, especially since you told us they were the people you wanted us to work with. I understand you may not feel as though you had much input after the initial sales process, but let’s also be frank, we did specifically as the contract had stated. And, you should be patient and allow your team the opportunity to share with you the project’s success.

Your firm needs to be compensated for the work it did. The owner’s team should be held accountable for their decisions. And, in the end, you may need to suggest that you work directly with the owner going forward. Whatever the outcome, if the owner finally shows up at the end and doesn’t like something, well then he or she needs to accept that it was their responsibility to be more active during the engagement, and they need to respect everyone else’s role.

Opinion: NDA's Should Seldom Be Signed - May 2, 2015

The NDA. The Non-Disclosure Agreement. A legal agreement that seems to be at its height of popularity. What does this have to do with sales you may be wondering? Everything. And, here is my opinion.

To put a few things about me into perspective so you’ll understand where my opinion comes from, let me first start by pointing out that my father was a corporate attorney specializing in contracts, and my roommate from college is managing partner of a very successful law firm. While I am not an attorney, I have a pretty good grasp on contract law. And, now that I’ve been in my own career for over twenty years, I can’t help but think “wow, when did sales become so enamored with legaleeze?”

Contracts are a way of life in business, especially in sales. A purchase order is a contract. There are service level agreements (SLA’s) which are contracts. There are employee contracts and non-competition agreements. Ok, Ok there are contracts. But, I’ve never seen anything quite so obnoxious as the constant use these days of the NDA. Certainly, they have their place too in business, but everyone seems to be carrying one with them everywhere they go, and no one wants to even have a general conversation without a signature. And, what make matters worse, they are blanket NDA’s with nothing specific being covered. In other words, they basically cover everything that “might” be said rather that what “will specifically” be said in a conversation.

Think about it for a moment. If, as a sales person, you are bound by a NDA for every (or even every other) conversation you might have with a prospective customer, then you will run out of topics to discuss rather quickly. In my opinion the NDA should not be a tool utilized for an initial conversation. So, how do you deal with the request (demand)?

First of all, you need to understand your own company policy with regards to the NDA. Does your legal counsel have a certain position the company takes on whether a NDA will or will not be executed. Second, you should have a standard response for the customer or prospect when asked. And, third and finally, do not waiver and sign one and not another. Your policies should be across the board.

The NDA has its place, but get through the initial conversation, and make sure you and your customer or prospect are interested in furthering the relationship. Have your attorney draft the NDA, not the customer or prospect, and make sure there is a place to be very, very specific on what is to be covered by the NDA. And, it must be limited in timeframe, none of this lifetime stuff, or even 2 years. The NDA should survive one year at most.

Hopefully you’ll not need to deal with the NDA, but if you do, I hope my opinion sheds a little light on this popular contract.

Post-Sales Remorse - April 25, 2015

The term “post-sales remorse” is nothing new to me. I have read this term in many a sales training book, motivational presentation hand-out, and have heard it preached by a variety of sales trainers. In almost all cases it relates to or is defined as the timeframe when a client, just immediately after the signature to begin a project or release of a PO for a product purchase, begins to question their decision. They are wondering if they made the right choice in a new vendor or partner. They continue, even though they’ve now made a purchase, to look at the options in the market. They are second guessing themselves.

Any ‘A’ level sales person knows the signs & symptoms, and more specifically, knows how to head them off before they become a real concern. We all experience “post-sales remorse” at some time in our lives. Think about these questions that I’m sure you’ve asked yourself: does this shirt I just bought really look good on me? Should I have upgraded the options on my new car? Did I really need to spend the extra money on the hotel room for vacation? These are personal scenarios, but similar questions creep in during buying decisions in our professional lives as well. And again, as the sales person, you should be aware that this is a rather common occurrence and you should be prepared to deal with it.

A few steps I take when dealing with clients in “post-sales remorse” stage are simple. I remind them of the reasons why they chose me and/or my firm in the first place. I also remind them of our excitement to have them as a new client. And, I restate all of the plans for their project (or if you are in product sales – what expectations they should have for quality and on-time delivery, etc.). You must put their mind at ease. A signature or PO is not the close. It is knowing your new client is engaged and feels assured that they made the right decision.

Every company has a different process and every sales person has a different style. To prepare for the “post-sales remorse” stage, simply keep a list of the common concerns your clients address with you immediately following the signature or release of the PO. Trust me, they’re there. Put this list in your journal or someplace handy that you can view in quick reference. Second, next to each concern, write your response or description of heading off the concern. These will become second nature and eventually you will no longer need to look back into your journal each time, but more as a reminder from time-to-time.

Where do you see yourself in... - April 18, 2015

Here we are in almost mid-2015 and yet there are still HR folks, department heads and sales managers asking a very old-school question when interviewing: Where do you see yourself in 2 years, 3 years or 5 years from now? I’ve been in my career for over 20 years now and someone even asked me the same question recently. My reply was “hell I don’t even know where I’ll be a week from now”. I call it the beauty of being in sales.

 

I am by no means trying to be sarcastic. In fact, at one time, I would often ask the question to candidates as well as myself. “Kev, where are you gonna be in a couple of years?” It was, at least at the time, my way of taking inventory of my life, or so I thought. And then, one day, I came to the realization that today was nowhere near like yesterday, and this week has thrown many more challenges my way than last week. I was not in a typical 9am-5pm job. I chose sales as my career because I wanted to experience unknowns from day-to-day. More than anything else, I never wanted to be bored, or have the feeling that I never knew when or how to climb the corporate ranks; I wanted to trek through a constantly changing professional landscape. And so it goes with choosing sales as my career.

 

It was the last time I asked myself or anyone else where they wanted to be in any specific period of time. Instead, I began to ask myself and others, what their dreams were. Is there a place you’d like to travel to? Do you want to do something special with someone special? Do you have an interest in learning a new sport or how to play a musical instrument? How can you have a positive influence on someone else?

 

In other words, I wanted to set my sights on goals that made me a better person, and I would ask the same of others. I have a firm belief, as you may have noticed through previous posts, that sales is not for the faint of heart, but a chosen career for someone that wants to make an impact for a company and for themselves. And so, I write this week to the children of a few friends who will be graduating from college in a matter of weeks, and for the ones that have an interest in a sales career.

 

Sales is neither easy nor overwhelmingly difficult, it simply requires more discipline than any course you’ve studied for or sport you’ve played. There are great rewards, especially financial, but can be a financially rough journey along the way too. Most importantly, a career in sales may allow you to become a person of influence, and in a manner that you and others can be proud of. You can become a mentor, a volunteer, and a leader, as long as you stay true to the values you set for yourself and to the values set for you by your employer. Remember, when you meet and/or exceed expectations you and your manager have set, the flexibility of your chosen career kicks in and then you can give back. It is then that you will have become an ‘A’ level sales person.

Vacation Is Over - Get Back To Work - April 11, 2015

Vacation was a success! You’ve spent time with your family and friends. You went to a special resort. You played a round or two of golf. You hit the slopes for a little spring skiing. Or, you had a quiet staycation, and got caught up on some chores around the house. No matter how or where you spent time away from the office, it is now time to get back to work. Your team had your back and everything was covered, so now what?

 

Planning to leave for vacation, ensuring that you had a back-up plan and person in place, is a major part for a sales person being able to leave the office and enjoy some needed time off. However, there are a few additional steps that need to take place, both before you leave and immediately upon your return.

 

First, let’s review the pre-vacation planning process. As mentioned in last week’s post, you let your clients and prospects know in advance that you’d be gone, and you had someone from your team covering for you. That is great. And, if all went as planned, most issues have been dealt with and resolved before you even returned. So what do you need to plan for upon your return?

 

In advance of leaving the office for vacation, you should have your entire first week back in the office planned and scheduled, including client and internal meetings. Being efficient with time management before you leave will mean you can avoid a scattershot approach to time management upon your return. Planning ahead with your clients and prospects shows them you are interested, consider business with them to be of the upmost importance, and it’s always good to lock in commitments from them ahead of time. Planning your internal meeting time too allows you to show your team and/or managers that you want to hit the ground running immediately upon your return.

 

On the first day back, I’ve always sent an email to the clients and prospects I notified prior to leaving, and I let them know I am back and available. I want to confirm all of my meetings. It is good to get in early and review, mostly before others arrive, so you are prepared to get right back into the thick of it.

 

As a note of caution, I have watched sales people over the years skip the pre-vacation planning steps, and they become quickly overwhelmed upon their return. I’ve never witnessed anyone skip the pre-vacation planning steps and have an easy time getting back to work. Inevitably these sales folks feel overwhelmed. You’ll hear them say, “If I knew I’d have to deal with all of this, I wouldn’t have even bothered going on vacation”. I say, “You have no one to blame but yourself”.

 

A little planning and preparation goes a long way, especially when it comes time to be away from the office. Don’t fool yourself into believing everything will be OK, instead convince yourself everything will be OK because you planned accordingly, and ahead of time.

Vacation Back-up Plan - April 4, 2015

It is April 4th and I am on vacation with my family for Easter Break. I woke up this morning before everyone else, sat by the water, and began to check on a few emails and clean up my inbox. Today is actually my third day on vacation, and while I’ve been keeping an eye on email, I wanted to double check to make sure nothing slipped past me. This may sound funny, but a great feeling came over me as I checked on things from the office, while on vacation. You see, my back-ups at the office, well they have everything under control.

 

It really is a great feeling to be able to enjoy some time away from work, with the family, knowing that your fellow team members at the office have your back. But, here is the point to this week’s post – it doesn’t just happen – you have to have a plan in place before you leave.

 

As a sales person, you know you are not in a traditional 9-5 job, and your clients and prospects know this too. Before you leave for vacation you should take the following actions and then you will have peace of mind.

 

First of all, for a period of about 2 weeks ahead of your vacation you should make sure you reference your time away from the office to your clients and prospects every chance you get. You will not sound like a broken record, but rather, sincere that you care that your clients know your whereabouts. Second, make your clients and prospects are aware of the person they can contact while you are gone, and begin to Cc this person on your email correspondence. Then, with a few days remaining before your departure from the office, send emails to your clients and prospects reminding them of your time away, ask if they have any immediate needs for you, and again Cc your back-up. Lastly, make sure your Out of Office message and your voicemail message are detailed and very clear on who to contact in your absence and when you will return.

 

All of this may seem obvious, but in my experience, sales people always miss a step or two in this process, and then have to handle situations while on vacation. You deserve a break and can enjoy yourself even more knowing your team has your back. Plan carefully and everything will be fine in your absence.