Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Spring Is In The Air - March 28, 2015

It’s an old saying, “Spring is in the air”, and after a very cold winter I could not be happier. Warmer days are ahead. Blue skies and green grass. Baseball season is beginning and the golf courses will soon be open for business. You may be wondering what this has to do with sales. It is actually a very simple concept – customers are also excited that it is spring time and they are in a good mood. They are ready to buy.

 

For many years I have been a believer in seasonal selling behavior and have shared my experiences with other sales managers and sales trainers that agree. This is the best time of the year to sell your products or services to your clients or customers. Here’s why…

 

There is always the rush to the end of the calendar year, to spend what budget was left over, and to begin the New Year with renewed interest and spirit for your specific responsibilities. But, so often this feeling of renewal fades quickly because of the weather outside, or the realization that you have a long year ahead. However, in my experience, the best sense of renewal comes in late-March and carries into June. It is spring and the calendar tells us it is time for growth. And, generally speaking, people’s moods are much better. Pause for a moment and think about your own personal experiences. Aren’t you feeling more optimistic about your schedule right now?

 

Decision makers are human beings and they too are beginning to feel alive again after the long, cold winter. They have a sense of renewal and growth. They are excited to get outside and enjoy warmer days. And this feeling carries over into their professional roles and responsibilities. As a sales person you need to capitalize on this opportunity.

 

Do not be overbearing and constantly hound your clients, customers or prospects. Realize though that when you do make contact, if you are feeling alive and excited, they will too. This is a time for sharing your excitement about spring and also the opportunities you have available with your products and services. That feeling of excitement is contagious and will work to help you gain the interest of your target. Be excited, feel renewed, and sell.

Train Your Client - March 21, 2015

Recently I have spent time with my posts sharing stories of dismay with client relationships. My goal is certainly not to be a downer or focus only on the negative side of things, but rather to share real life stories in hopes that you can either avoid them yourselves or at least see the warning signs. I fielded the same question from a few followers and so I will take this opportunity to answer their question, but then we’ll move on to brighter topics.

 

Q: Sometimes it seems like we are the cause of our own client relationship problems. How can we do a better job and avoid these situations?

 

Well, in my opinion, the short answer is that we train our clients in a way that causes us grief down the road. That’s right, we train our clients to be a problem.

 

We all want our clients to like us, befriend us, order from us, enjoy our company when we schedule meetings or take them to lunch. Why wouldn’t we? These are the people that ultimately keep us employed and can make us look good in the eyes of our own employer. But, to what extent might we go to make our clients happy?

 

All too often we fall into the trap of putting our clients first, which in most cases is not a bad thing, but can be if putting them first makes them a priority over another client or an internal team member. For years and years there was a mantra in sales and customer service…the customer is always right. But there is an inherent flaw in this philosophy…if the customer is always right than you and your team are always wrong. There can be no in between.

 

When we drop everything for a new client, when we answer their calls at night and on weekends, when we reply to their email within seconds of receiving it, we are training our clients that we will always respond in such order. Immediately…without hesitation. There are many behaviors, similar to this, that we “allow” our clients to exhibit when we deal with them, without any pushback, and then ultimately we regret down the road.

 

Training the client is not a new concept. We can train our clients to have great relationships. We can set expectations that work for the client and for your company, on mutual terms, and on a basis that provides a pleasant experience for both. But, the cautionary tale is, take it slow and easy. Don’t set unrealistic expectations. And, the best way to do this with a new client, pretend for a moment they have been your client for years. How do interact with them? How do you communicate with them? What is your standard turnaround time with them? Keep in mind, they are a client still, so finish by asking yourself, why has the client kept you around?

 

Many of the firsthand examples I can think of begin with how I set expectations with my clients or how I trained them to work with me. You can do the same. Always be open to friendly, good, and timely communication with your clients. But be careful not to over-commit and you will be on the right path to training your client for success.

Divorcing A Client - March 14, 2015

First and foremost, before I get too far into my post for this week, please know that I do not take the topic of divorce lightly; not at all. But, like in a personal relationship, there are times when a client relationship ends in divorce. And so, speaking from firsthand experience, let me use my post this week to explain when a sales person (and their company) must divorce a client.

 

Abusive relationships come in all shapes and sizes, and certainly not just in our personal lives. In business too there are abusive relationships. At times we do not see it as clearly as others may, and when we do, something must be done to put a stop to it.

 

For four years my firm had what I would call a so-so relationship with a client (Joe). Joe could be difficult to understand at times. He played favorites amongst my team members, sometimes praising one person, while refusing to acknowledge another. He would make decisions and then a few weeks later would question why we took a certain approach with his project. He did not remember he made the decision. But, there were also times when we could do no wrong. On occasion he would shout from the mountain tops that we did a great job and he even referred business to us.

 

As we moved through our third year of business together and into our fourth year, his demeaner changed more dramatically, and the praise one day and criticism the next became routine. We sat in a meeting a few months ago and Joe loved everything we had done. Two weeks later he hired a third-party agency and everything changed. He no longer loved what we had produced, but now was questioning everything about the project. Then things really took a turn for the worst.

 

Joe started to play games. As one of his primary contacts he would call me, explain how he trusts me (and my firm), referring to me as his trusted advisor, and that we were to answer only to him. Three days later he called again, except we no longer answered to him, but now we answered to the third-party agency. Just like that, overnight it seemed, we were no longer his trusted advisors. We now answered to another group who did not have the history or experience to handle the workload. But, nonetheless, this was Joe’s wish.

 

When I voiced a “concern” about recommendations this agency made, I was now viewed as causing trouble and “complaining”.  Wow, I went from being a trusted advisor one week to nothing more than “whining” the next. Except, no matter what changes were taking place, we still were taking the high road and keeping an eye out for our clients best interests. He didn’t see it that way, and therefore damage to the relationship was escalating.

 

Since we were to now answer to a third-party agency, we did as we were told, because we needed to see the project through to completion. The agency was calling the shots so much so that we could not even have an audience with our own client. And so, we did as they asked, and the project ultimately came to a conclusion. Now Joe feels we have let him down. He is unhappy with the project process. He feels as though the relationship has changed and it is entirely our fault. He refuses to allow us to explain our belief on why things took a turn. And, he refuses to acknowledge that he had any hand in the relationship going south.

 

Joe was abusive. He constantly played games. It was his way or no way when it came to the relationship. Were we a little blind to this behavior? Maybe we weren’t, as in my firm and team members, but I was. I made a mistake by not bringing concerns to his attention sooner. I believed the quality of the project would offset his behavior. But, in the end, it did not.  And so comes the divorce.

 

My firm and my team members are not to blame. I take the blame. I turned a blind eye to Joe’s poor attitude and behavior. He was abusive. He played games. At times I witnessed it and at times I ignored it. I failed to be an ‘A’ level sales person in this instance. And for this I have apologized to my firm and my team members. However, I will not apologize to Joe. As in any abusive relationship, and subsequent break-up or divorce, I will no longer be the victim. Joe may never come to realize or admit his faults or role in the dissipation of our relationship. But, my twenty-plus years of experience tells me that we are just one in a long line of firms that he’ll chew through.

Confidentiality & Non-Compete's Part 2 - March 7, 2015

As a follow-up to the advice I shared with a friend from last week, he took the high road and explained his confidentiality agreement concerns to the interviewing company, and here’s what happened.

 

Jim started the interview off by immediately explaining to the HR manager that he had a binding non-disclosure agreement with his current company, and more specifically, he was uncomfortable proceeding in any conversation if they were going to challenge him on disclosing certain aspects of his current role. Well, they not only were okay with the position he was taking, they felt his honesty and trustworthiness were to be commended. Then, before he knew it, they were joined by the VP of Sales and the CEO. The HR manager quickly explained the scenario and that is when reality set in.

 

The first question the CEO asked of Jim was how the current owner of the company he is with was doing. While they are not close friends, they have been members of the same country club for years, and see each other socially at least once per month. The VP of Sales went on to ask about other people in the company. And then, out of nowhere, the VP of Sales disclosed that he recently moved to a new home, next door to one of Jim’s best friends. All Jim could think of was Wow!

 

These gentlemen could have exposed Jim to others that he knows personally and professionally. He took the high road and they could do nothing but show their respect. They even went on to tell their own story. You see, they too ask their employees to sign a confidentiality agreement, and someone who was recently let go has been violating that trust. A former employee thought he could get away with discussing client engagements, being detailed in his resume, and even bending the truth to make himself sound stronger and more engaged than he actually was.

 

But here is the worst part, the former employee thought he could move under the radar, which obviously was not the case. Little did he know, or believe, just how well connected the CEO and the VP of Sales were in the marketplace. They know so many people in a variety of roles from corporate recruiters to freelance recruiters to business owners. They did not go seeking out their former employee, but rather people began to ask questions. Calls and texts began to happen about “who knows this guy” and “is he who he says he is”. All the while, he was violating the confidentiality agreement he signed, and he had no idea he was about to cause himself a great hardship.

 

The former employee became cocky and his arrogance got the best of him. He continued to push his resume into the market and it eventually found its way online on a random job board. The problem was that this job board was a public forum and his former employer accessed it. They made a copy and forwarded to their attorney. The former employee is now in legal proceedings because of his violation.

 

These are everyday occurrences. Stories like this one have sadly become the rule and not the exception. My friend Jim took the high road and it paid off. But, all too often, former employees simply laugh at the formality of their previous agreements, and they take the low road. These are people that cannot be trusted. They do not deserve to be interviewed much less hired. And so I ask all ‘A’ level sales people to remember these stories to avoid becoming one themselves. Take the high road folks, it always pays off in the long run.

Confidentiality & Non-Compete Agreements - Be Very Careful Of Your Actions

I was planning on a different topic this week, but I received a telephone call yesterday afternoon from an old colleague, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. He was presented with a new opportunity. He is being recruited and is an attractive candidate. But, he is faced with a tough situation. The potential new employer wants to talk in very, very specific detail about some of his recent experiences. In order to best answer the questions, he may violate his current employment agreement.

 

You see, he’s a top-notch sales professional, well respected in his industry, and his industry is small. While this new opportunity is slightly different, and wouldn’t necessarily be in direct competition, his current employer may feel differently. Further, as I just mentioned, he is being asked to share specific examples of his selling cycle, process and problems that he has directly solved for his clients. He called for my advice; he wants to get my take on how I would handle it. So here’s what I told him.

 

Watch your back my friend, because you never know who knows who, and you certainly don’t know what conversations may take place without your knowledge. The geographic market you are in is a tightknit business community and you cannot risk divulging information that may come back to bite you. It is best to be upfront with this prospective employer and ask them to put you into scenario-based interviews or role play. But, cut them off before they can continue to ask, and let them know you are bound by a confidentiality agreement, as well as a non-compete, and make sure they want to continue. If they do, they will understand, and they will put assurances in place that you will not be violating your existing agreement.

 

Pretty straight forward stuff, huh. So, why then can I not stop thinking about this situation? Well, because although it seems so obvious to take the ethical high road, such proper behavior seems to elude so many faced with this same situation. Therefore, here are a few cautionary points to consider if you are ever faced with the same concerns.

 

First of all, did you sign any type of binding agreement with your current or past employer? Does is restrict what you can or cannot say? Do you have a copy of the agreement? Are you aware of the ramifications of violating any portion of the agreement? These are question you should ask each and every time you are faced with a possible opportunity to change employers. Most companies will rely on you, the prospective employee, to disclose such information. If you do not, you may be fully responsible for your actions, and if you violate an agreement you may well find yourself in court and without a job.

 

Second, why would you take such a risk? Ethical behavior is in question here. If you do not take the high road and disclose your agreements to a prospective employer, they may wonder if you are hiding something or if you can be trusted. Be upfront with them and you’ll have a high percentage chance they’ll understand. You will gain their respect and they will find an alternative method for interviewing you.

 

Third, do not volunteer any information that may come close to the line or cross the line, it simply is not worth the risk. Again, your current employer trusts you, and the prospective employer needs to gain trust in you. You must avoid sharing details of a recent sale, a successful project, or any details of your customers.

 

Finally, have copies of your agreements handy. Make sure you can share the information in the agreements, but assuming you can, leave a copy with the prospective employer. Let them know you want to interview, that you are serious, and providing such access to your binding agreements will say this to them. 

Good Cop Bad Cop - February 21, 2015

C’mon you’ve seen this on the crime drama, in the movies, or even between lawyers in contract negotiations. It’s called the Good Cop Bad Cop scenario. One person (the good cop) is friendly, pleasant and befriends the subject while the other person (the bad cop) plays hardball, makes threats, tries to intimidate, all in an effort to win something (a result, a verdict, and admission). And then there are times where one person has to play both roles. So, you may be wondering what this has to do with sales.

 

In many transactions the sales representative is the good cop working with the client to achieve a specific outcome. The sales manager tends to be the bad cop and must stand firm with payment terms, contract restrictions, availability of product quantity, or deadline for service delivery. These are roles played over and over every day of the week in sales. There are two scenarios I’d like to share in this week’s post.

 

The first is the sales person as the good cop and the sales manager as the bad cop. For those that are the sales person – remember a few rules of engaging in this approach with a client. You must first earn their trust. You must have a commitment from them that they want to do business with you. They are ready to buy. They have the pen in hand and are ready to sign the contract. It is only when this is the state of the sales process that you are ready to put your arm around their shoulder and let them know that there is one final part of the sales process. Enter the sales manager. As a sales manager – you cannot be a jerk. You can’t come into the meeting with a raised voice or bad attitude. You can be friendly but firm. Your goal is to have the prospective client accept a term or element to the business dealing that they may not want. Here is an example: your standard payment terms are Net21 and the client wants Net60. You don’t need to throw them out of the office if they cannot agree with Net21. However, you can negotiate and compromise on Net30 or Net45. But, you must be firm that these terms, once agreed upon, must be adhered to and the client must make payment without delay.

 

Now as for the second scenario – here’s one for when the sales person has to play both good cop and bad cop. Take the above payment term example. Your sales manager came in and finalized Net30. Your company has been working on an eight month engagement and you’re into month four. So far the client has been delinquent on the past three invoices. The project manager has finally put the project on hold. While still maintaining the friendliness of the good cop, you must now take on the role of the bad cop, and you must explain to your client that there is an issue. Be firm. Be professional. But, don’t be a pushover. Try this – Mr. Client, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your project has been suspended. The past three invoices have been delinquent and the most recent is now outstanding. You know you’ve got me in a tight spot over here. My sales manager went against company policy and extended terms to you beyond our norm, and now he has egg on his face. I’m in the hot seat and you need to help me correct this situation.

 

Clients want to do business with sales people that have a backbone. Be professionally courteous, but make sure you hold your ground too. You can be the good cop, but to be an effective sales person, to be the ‘A’ level sales person, you must also be comfortable being the bad cop.

A Piece Of Rope - February 14, 2015

When I began my career after college graduation, I knew that my world of learning was not over, and here I am twenty-plus years later and I’m still learning. I am also now teaching. I find myself every day sharing advice and guidance on sales tactics and sales management that I’ve learned over years of trial & error, and from those that have gone before me.

 

I was recently leading a group discussion with a few relatively new employees and I used the story of A Piece Of Rope that I was taught in the first few weeks of my career. So, this week I thought I would share it, because it has as much meaning today as it did in 1994.

 

I’ve written and ranted about that nasty word entitlement in previous blog postings. As a business owner, as an executive, as a sales manager – I do not owe an employee anything. I’ve provided a welcoming place to come to work. I offer excellent benefits. I provide a career path for each person to grow and expand their own goals and plans. This is not something I owe the employee, but rather how I run a business. Entitlement, nasty nasty entitlement, comes when the employees feel that benefits are a right not a privilege. Entitlement is when the employee feels they absolutely must have the latest and greatest laptop because it will make them a better sales person. Entitlement too is when an employee believes they are more valuable to your company than they actually are and that we, the employer, should kiss the ground they walk upon. Well, that’s just not how the real world works.

 

And so A Piece Of Rope. A good employer, and speaking directly to the area of sales and sales management, should provide the necessary tools for an employee to be successful. A safe and welcoming place to work. Up-to-date training on sales techniques, on the company’s products or services, and on the competition provides an edge. Fair compensation – you know – an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. In other words, you have provided each person with a piece of rope.

 

The successful sales person, the A level sales person, does not see this piece of rope as anything but a means to make a ladder and climb. The rope is all of the elements or tools provided by you, the employer or the sales manager, to make this individual person successful. They listen and apply the lessons from training in the real world. They recognize that when successful, their employee review or evaluation will reflect their success, and their compensation plan will reflect the success too. That when all of the tools provided to them are used to their fullest potential, the sales person (or any employee) climbs that ladder of success.

 

And so A Piece Of Rope can also kill a person’s career. Those same tools, lessons, benefits, etc. when ignored, looked down upon, or criticized, can become a noose for which the career is hung out. All too often, especially in the area of sales, individuals with a sense of entitlement overlook all of the positives available to them; they overlook the opportunity to make a ladder and climb toward great success. Rather, they complain that the training is not enough, or this company or that company offer a greater incentive to sell, and they thumb their nose at their own employer. They, without sometimes realizing it, hang their careers.

 

A Piece Of Rope – make a ladder and watch your career climb; or, make a noose and hang your career. The tools are all out in front of you, but you must make the ultimate choice.

When is it time to stop being nice? - February 7, 2015

This week I am taking a step away from my normal routine to answer a question from a colleague:

 

Dear Kevin,

 

Thank you for letting me pick your brain on the phone the other day. I appreciate the advice you shared about a contract I’m trying to negotiate. But now I’ve got an entirely different question that I’m hoping you can help me with. You see, I have a client that my firm’s been working with for about 4 years now, and he has progressively gotten worse to deal with. He feels he’s the center of the universe and treats me and my employees like nothing more than his servants. We recently completed a fairly large project for him and not once has he said thank you. The project experienced a few delays, all of which were on him, and he never acknowledged his hand in the delays. He is not enjoyable to work with and my employees feel his disrespect is cause for us to part ways. I’ve tried to maintain my composure but even I have lost my faith that this will be a salvageable relationship. When is it time to stop being nice and just tell him like it is? That he’s rude, disrespectful, ungrateful, and we don’t want to work with him anymore. Your thoughts and ideas would be appreciated.

 

Thanks,

Ken

 

Well Ken, the short answer is it is never okay to stop being nice, but there may come a time when you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your client. I am not a fan of email or text messaging when confronted with these situations for two reasons. One, such correspondence does not allow for true feelings to be heard, and the recipient of the note may not grasp the seriousness of how you feel the situation is at the moment. And two, it is the cowards way out, which I know you are not a coward Ken.

 

I myself have heard people say “that’s just how I am” or “that’s just me” when confronted with poor manners or poor business behavior. That is simply who they choose to be. And so, if they choose to be a rude and disrespectful individual, then you need to consciously choose to tell them they are being rude and disrespectful, and you need to carefully explain why you’re sharing this information with them. My guess is that human nature will kick in and they will not be happy at all. So, here is my advice and answer to your question, but please make sure you give this a lot of consideration before you act upon it.

 

You do not need to lower yourself to their way of behaving and you certainly do not need to be baited into an argument. You must keep your composure and treat this person with respect. You may share your displeasure in how you and your employees have been treated, but try something like this: “You know James, we’ve dealt with a great number of clients and projects over the years, and sometimes we run into situations that don’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I know you feel this project didn’t go as planned, but it is a shame that you feel we are entirely at fault.”

 

It is your right to continue and share with James that your employees have always given him 100% of their effort in the most professional manner even when he was venting or treating them with disrespect. He should know that his poor communication skills are both a reflection on him and his company. And finally, you must state for the record, that you have a responsibility to attract and retain clients that are healthy for your firm now and in the future. You are now questioning if a relationship with him and his company offer such a healthy opportunity.

 

The likelihood is that you will be treated with continued disrespect and that James will not be pleased with your “questioning of his behavior”. But it is your right and your duty to protect your most valuable asset, your employees. They need to know that you have their backs and you respect them even when the client does not. Your client may hang up on you, he may fire you right on the spot, or he may simply have something sarcastic to say.

 

Remember this, you must remain professional, and be nice. You must take the high road. Yes you must let the client know what has transpired and that you simply may not be the right fit for him anymore. But you must always remain true to yourself and your employees. There are plenty of prospective clients out there that want to work with you and who will show you the respect you deserve. Don’t let this one poor client bring you down.

Volunteerism - January 31, 2015

Tonight I will be attending a surprise birthday party for a close friend. She is turning 40. When I woke up this morning I remembered the party my wife threw for me a few years back when I too turned 40. My thoughts wandered while waiting for my coffee to brew and I found myself staring out of the kitchen window. I was happy and grateful. Things have not always been easy in my career, especially as a sales person, but I was happy this morning. I couldn’t help but think about how I got to where I am and the many twists and turns along the way.

 

Then an email popped up on my phone and snapped me back to attention. It was a note regarding an upcoming meeting for an organization I support through volunteerism. I read the note, sipped on my coffee, and then went back to my day dreaming. Except, now I was thinking about the different organizations I’ve supported through volunteerism during the past twenty years of so of my career.

 

I was once asked if I felt guilty when earning business or connections through volunteer activities. Nope, not once. I believe it is through my career experiences that I’ve been able to volunteer. I have a certain skill set that I try to bring to the organizations I support. And, I’ve always believed that any business opportunities are a byproduct of good deeds.

 

Sales people come in all makes & models, so to speak, and in many cases have flexibility in their schedule to provide opportunities for volunteering. I’ve always encourage my sales team to seek out volunteer opportunities that they believe in and that are worthwhile. But, my one rule of thumb is this, never volunteer selfishly for business purposes only. Find the opportunities where you can make a difference or put your skills to good use. Business may come to you or it may not. If you enter the volunteer opportunity for the real reason of giving back to your community, well then you may just reap a reward or two yourself.

When A Loss Is Really A Win - Part 2 - January 24, 2015

Last week I shared the story of a prospect that chose another firm and that I defined this as a win. A friend, when hearing the story, asked if I would meet with his sales team. Well, after I said sure, he immediately asked me in for a dinner with his team. And here’s what happened.

 

In addition to my friend in the meeting we were accompanied by the CEO, the vice president of sales and his five outside sales managers. I shared my story in detail with them before dinner was served and when I explained how happy I was that the prospect went with someone else, first came the collective gasp, and then silence. I had a feeling this would happen, so I stood up from the table, walked across the room, and filled my glass from the makeshift bar that was in the corner. When I turned around all eyes were on me and so I hit them out of left field with a question, “so who has a similar story?”

 

Before anyone could answer the CEO immediately began to share his opinion. He could see where I was coming from, but still could not grasp my sincere enthusiasm for a lost deal. This was exactly what I was hoping for, an opportunity to further explain why a loss can be a win.

 

For the next thirty minutes I shared the stories and asked questions about just what a bad client ultimately costs a firm. Forget the fact that it could cost money because you are always working more hours trying to accommodate unrealistic expectations. It can cost you oh so much more – moral. Team members in my firm, and I suspect in this case too with my friends company, want to work on enjoyable projects with clients that show them respect. They want to feel appreciated, not just by their boss or their employer, but by those paying the bill. And what can hurt moral more than a new client that has no appreciation for your experience or expertise.

 

Dinner came and so we shifted topics to sports and the wonderful Cleveland weather. Afterward the vice president of sales asked the CEO if a tour of their facility was worthwhile for me. We began our walk. These gentlemen, the very ones that run this company, shared with me along the tour how well they take care of their employees. It’s not just about benefits like insurance, but the perks of having a place to relax while discussing tough sales calls. There was the bar area in the back of the building with a pool table and big screen television. It was an impressive corner of an otherwise typical office.

 

When we made our way back into the conference room, dinner was cleaned up, and then I was asked about my opinion on what they can do to make sure losses turn into wins. My answer, while rather simple, seemed enlightening to them. Treat every prospect as if they are the best opportunity you’ve ever faced; look at all of the positives in the pending relationship; and then realize you’re in dating mode. With every benefit of the doubt you give them, ask yourself if there are any reasons for you to run away. It really is that simple. Are they going to offer you a healthy relationship? No matter the product or service you offer them, your prospect will become your client, and you will have a new relationship. Is it a good one and do you want to be in it? Answer those questions and you’ll know if a loss will actually be a win.