Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

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.

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.