Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Sales Is Not One Sided - August 23, 2014

I was recently faced with two similar scenarios. The first was with a prospect that I had been meeting with for a few weeks. After each meeting I would evaluate the discussion, review potential red flags in moving forward, outline reasons to continue or not continue the discussions, and then plan accordingly. The second was a sales opportunity with an existing client. We have been discussing, in both face-to-face meetings and conference calls, how to expand and enhance their marketing presence. I followed a similar path as with the prospect and outlined the ups and downs for the potential project and what steps, if any, need to take place to move forward.

 

In both cases, with the prospect and the existing client, I chose to walk away from the opportunities. Yep, that’s right, I walked away. And in both cases the person I had been dealing with accused me of being a poor sales person. They felt I was not looking out for “THEIR” interests. They wanted me to do what they wanted because I was a “vendor”. Well guess what folks, sales is not one sided.

 

By now there have been enough articles written about the “customer is NOT always right”. This is true, but how you handle each of these cases can either be a benefit or a detriment to your company and your sales performance. First and foremost, if the customer is always right, then you and your company are always wrong. Second, being treated as a “vendor” often times means that you are bidding on a piece of business based on nothing at all but price. Forget your knowledge and experience. Forget that you want to put the client’s interests first. If you are not ready to always say yes, do as they ask, and for a certain price, then you will be replaced.

 

I believe in both scenarios referenced above, I would lose the respect of my colleagues, and I would lose a bit of self-respect too, if I continued with the sales calls. In both cases there was enough reason to know that we were not a good fit. In both cases the prospect and the client may not get our very best work because they were not going to allow our team to flex their creative and technological muscles. In both cases the attitudes of the prospect and client were that they knew more than my team and we were just going to be hired hands to do as we’re told.

 

Simply put, we were going to be hired into an unhealthy business relationship, and that does not work for us. So, I did my job, and I excused myself and my firm from consideration. I can handle their criticism of my sales approach, no problem. I wouldn’t be able to handle the disappointment of my team afterward. Sales is not one sided. Remember, you have your company’s and your own interests to keep in mind too when selling. When the prospect’s or client’s needs, approach and beliefs match yours, you have found a good sale. 

A Trusted Advisor - August 16, 2014

Earlier this week I was fortunate to have lunch with my Director of Sales and someone he considers his “trusted advisor”.  It was a bit of a spot check for my guy to make sure he was keeping his confidence in a time where sales were getting a bit tough. The conversation over lunch was fantastic and everyone agreed that a little pep talk can go a long way.

 

I’ve been thinking about this meeting all week. Even this morning, an unseasonably cool August Saturday morning when I should be thinking about my plans for the day, I find myself thinking about this meeting again. Although brief in the grand scheme of a week of productivity, it reignited many feelings I hold personally about “trusted advisors”, and so I wanted to share a few with you.

 

I find the term, in and of itself, to be unique. We are all advised from time-to-time. We had academic advisors in college. We have financial planning advisors helping us save for our children’s college education. We have spiritual advisors. We have health & wellness advisors. But what is it about adding the word “trusted” in front of advisor. To me it is someone that encapsulates all of the above and so much more.

 

I’ve had several “trusted advisors” in my life. For example, as I moved through high school, then into college, and beyond throughout my career, I’ve defined my father as a “trusted advisor”. He has a legal background, was a coach, has served on many a board, has donated his time-talent-treasures many times over, has been married for 45 years, and continues to this day to be a phone call away to hear me out, discuss an issue, and give the issue thoughtful and careful consideration before ultimately offering his advice. He is a “trusted advisor” because “he’s been there and done that”.

 

There are a few others in my life that I hold in similar regard. A good friend that I can turn to when I am struggling with a decision at home. A colleague that balances my sales knowledge with his technical knowledge. So, who do you have?

 

If you’ve read some of my previous posts you’ll know I refer to ‘A’ level sales people quite often. Here is another example where I cannot think of any ‘A’ level sales person that does not have a “trusted advisor”. You should too. Finding someone to call your “trusted advisor” does not need to be a difficult process. It may be someone that you interact with daily. It may be a parent or an uncle. It may be a former teacher or coach. No matter what, here are a few things to consider when seeking out such a person: they should have an understanding of your career goals and mission; they should have a similar background in business (or other like career); their personal lives should also be similar; and, they should be a bit older (and hopefully wiser) than you.

 

It is a combination of these traits that will provide you with a person that can give you the best advice because they understand you and the situation you face. They’ve most likely been there before. And most importantly, their success is a path you can see yourself on. 

Handshake or Contract: Why You Need Both - August 9, 2014

I only do business on a handshake. Get the upfront contract, you know, the verbal commitment. Put the agreement together and send it over. I’ll give you the okay in an email; that should suffice.

 

Over the past 20+ years of sales and management I’ve heard it all. The deal. The agreement. The contract. And, sales reps always ask me, what is the best way to proceed toward a close? Is a handshake enough of a commitment? Do we need a written contract? Which is better? And, my answer has never changed – You Need Both. That’s right, you want to do business with someone because you’ve developed a relationship, sealed with a handshake. But, you must also protect your interests and your new clients.

 

Sales can be a tedious and emotional process. In fact, it should be, emotional that is. Sales can take time and when it does it tends to build a bond between the sales representative and the prospective client. The relationship becomes emotional and when emotion is in play things can be said that may sway the deal either in your favor or the prospective clients. Emotion can be a great selling attribute. You want to develop trust and respect. You want to engage on the services now or sell your product now, but you also want to have a long-term relationship so you can sell more down the road.

 

When it comes time to close the deal, by now your inclination is to shake hands, maybe break bread, and exchange the pleasantries that go along with the newly formed relationship. So what exactly was promised along the way? What are the specifics of the project, the service or the product sold? What payment terms were agreed upon? What guarantees or warranties are in place?

 

A contract is a business tool and should be used as such. Just as though every ‘A’ level sales person knows that budget must be discussed very early on in a sales call, so must the topic of a contract or written agreement. It must be made clear to your prospective client that the contract is a tool that you’ll use to keep his and your best interests and intentions clear. Your relationship is valuable and you wouldn’t want anything misinterpreted.

 

You should be prepared to share your contract language early in the process. If the prospective client has a contract they’d prefer to use, request a copy, and make sure you can live with the terms or negotiate. The worst feeling for a sales person, and the prospective client, is to watch a deal fall apart because the contract process was not managed up front. Trust me, I’ve seen this happen many times, when the contract is managed early on in the sales call the handshake will still be there and the relationship will be stronger. 

Ask For Help - Really It's OK - August 2, 2014

As a parent I am often approached by my children and their friends with a request for help. It can be something rather simple like raising the seat on a bike. Or, it may be more complex, like an interview by my son’s classmate for a school project. No matter what the request, large or small, I appreciate the fact they even ask.

 

I also pride myself on asking for help. I don’t know everything (although my wife may disagree with my statement). I seek advice on a daily basis whether it be sales, financial, a DIY fixer-upper around the house, etc. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I learned a long time ago that it’s easier to ask for help or advice than to go it alone. There are others that have gone before me that have the experience to help guide me.

 

So, why then do sales people always try to go it alone? I believe that the same trait driving sales people for success also drives them to strive for success on their own. I’ve seen this so many times in ‘B’ and ‘C’ level sales people, but not in ‘A’ level. Why?

 

An ‘A’ level sales person has reached this desired level of success by admitting that they cannot go it alone. They know when and where and how to ask for help. They are not ashamed but rather humble to be asking for someone else to help or provide advice. They learn from these experiences which ultimately make them a stronger sales person.

 

Remember: not knowing something is not a sign of weakness. Not knowing how to handle the situation or find the answer is weakness. Ask for help. Approach your seniors. Talk among your peers. Join a network of other like-minded professionals. Track the ‘A’ level sales people you know. And always seek to learn when you ask for help.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

No Is Not A Bad Word - July 19, 2014

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Entitlement Part 2 - July 12, 2014

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

 

Dear former sales rep,

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Good luck,

Your Sales Manager

Don't Lie To Yourself - July 5, 2014

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Entitlement - June 28, 2014

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thank You: Two Simple Words - June 21, 2014

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

 

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

 

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

 

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