Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Breaking back into jail -- October 11, 2014

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


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


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


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


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

You had me at goodbye - October 4, 2014

I know the title of this week’s blog is a bit cheesy, sorry about that. I’m sure you’ve heard the play on this title from a famous sports agent movie, but not too sure you’ve heard goodbye. Long before the movie was even released this is a phrase I’ve come to love in the sales world, “you had me at goodbye”. So, now you’re probably asking, “what in the world is he talking about?”


Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret that I’ve been using in sales for over 20 years. No matter how good or bad you feel a meeting has been going, the tell-tale sign is the goodbye. I’ve sat through decent meetings that I thought went well until the goodbye. That’s when the decision maker hurried me out the door because of another meeting and barely uttered goodbye. That particular deal never happened. And, in an opposite manner, I very recently had a meeting that I thought was just oaky, but the decision maker provided me with parting words that made it all the worthwhile. Not only did she say goodbye, she referenced several talking points from the meeting, expressed her gratitude for me driving to her office, asked if she could visit my office for the next meeting to meet the team, and wished me well as I walked out of the door. We are now very close to signing the contract.


Keep in mind, especially in a first meeting, that saying hello can be awkward. There is sometimes a moment of silence, or the need to break the ice, and then get down to the business of the meeting. Meetings, depending on the topic and attendees, can be quick and easy or long and drawn out. It is your goal as the sales person to remain in control of the meeting, keeping the agenda moving forward, and hoping you’ve kept their attention to move forward toward a signed contract at some point.


I have found that when it comes time for goodbye, this is the moment of truth that will set the stage for whether your potential new relationship has legs to stand on. If it appears genuine you’ve done your job. If it appears rehearsed or rushed, keep your fingers crossed.

The Sales Manager from Hell - September 27, 2014

Not every sales manager should be the sales manager. We’ve all experienced the sales manager from hell at least once in our careers, whether as a rep or as a buyer. So what defines a sales manager from hell and why should you run away from them?


Over the past several months I’ve been counseling a sales representative that was a one-time owner in his company. He and his partner sold their business a little over one year ago and as part of the transaction they were to remain onboard for a period of eighteen months. My client Dan has always been the top producing sales person in the company, and now even in a larger organization, he remains at the top. However, he is no longer the head of sales, but rather reports to the Vice President of the company. Enter the sales manager from hell.


Susan does not trust her employees. She requires employees to be in the office way to much when they should be visiting clients. She requires pre-approval for every expense, even when buying your client a cup of coffee, otherwise she refuses reimbursement. She threatens to put tracking on the sales reps cell phones so that she knows where they are at all times. She admits to reading the reps emails. And she contacts clients to check up on her reps. Trust in her team is a foreign concept to her.


Dan has been completely frustrated. The company he loved so much is now in the hands, at least partially, of a woman that has no idea how to sell, manage accounts, build relationships with clients, and trust in her reps to continue growth. Dan is beside himself and is visibly frustrated. As he comes close to the end of the eighteen month required stay period, it is clear that he is going to immediately leave. With Dan’s 20+ year career experience as an ‘A’ level sales person, you may be wondering why he’s asked me for help.


Dan’s frustration being under the thumb of the sales manager from hell is completely new to him. We’ve been working on how to handle the current situation so that he can exit amicably. But, Dan is concerned about what comes next. He has a non-competition agreement, so he’ll be seeking a new opportunity in a new industry. He’s concerned about entering another organization and being managed by another Susan. It’s been my job to assure him that the Susan’s of the sales world are the minority.


 Sales managers from hell can be toxic to both an organization and the sales reps within. Most ‘A’ level sales people know how to avoid these managers or work around them. They know what to look out for and are careful to manage themselves rather than letting the sales manager from hell take control. So, I’ve been helping Dan identify the characteristics to avoid: (1) keep an eye out for the overly personal questions, maybe skirting the HR boundaries just enough, from the person you will be reporting to; (2) be upfront about your own working style, schedule, time management, etc. and watch carefully the visible reactions from the sales manager (read their body language for agreement or discomfort); (3) ask as many or more questions of the sales manager as they are asking of you (an interview with a new company or for a promotion in your own company is a two way conversation); and, (4) whenever possible, place the sales manager into hypothetical scenarios, and have them explain their management style.


This is an approach recommended for any interview process, but it is very important to use the scenarios as the key to make sure your methodology for selling is a match for the person you’ll be reporting to. And as for Dan, he’s going to come out on top, while Susan’s very bad flaws will eventually be her demise. Sales managers from hell always lose in the end.

What's In It For Me? - September 20, 2014

As a career sales person I’ve had the opportunity to attend many events as a means of client entertainment. Many years ago I was at the inaugural NASCAR race at Homestead (Florida). I’ve been to other NASCAR races, a variety of major league sporting events. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to wonderful cities and dine in some of the best restaurants. And, most importantly, I’ve always, always, always been grateful. Sometimes I believe these fortunate opportunities were mine because of my role in sales. Other times I just feel downright lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Either way, I’ve also made sure to make the most out of each opportunity presented to me.


Not that long ago I was reminded that there is another side to client entertainment: “what’s in it for me?” I was shopping in Costco when I ran into an old client contact Joe. Joe left the client’s organization about 2 years ago to move onward and upward as he put it back then. While he was the director of marketing, he also worked in a sales capacity, and whenever the contract was up for renewal he would ask me for tickets to a Cleveland Brown’s game. That’s right, he came out and asked me, and made sure I knew something had to be in it for him directly.


As we continued to talk he explained that he just started another new position with another new company. He claimed he “didn’t get any good perks you know, tickets and stuff”, from the previous position. I couldn’t believe he was saying these things, but sure enough, there just wasn’t anything in it for him. Well, nothing other than his salary, commission, bonus, benefits and fantastic vacation package. So, he moved onto a new gig in hopes that he’ll get more perks from others wanting to do business with him.


This is a horrible position to take and one that sales people should be very careful of when dealing with a “what’s in it for me?” type of person. Sales people, even the best ‘A’ level talent, want to please a new or existing client. Whether it’s a nice thank you lunch at the hottest steakhouse in town or a couple of tickets to a game, saying thanks with a small token of appreciation is not a bad thing. Most clients are very receptive and do not take advantage. But some do.


Here are a few tips to help you avoid the “what’s in it for me?” group: after a nice lunch the prospect or client suggests another lunch at the same or equally higher end restaurant for the next meeting instead of at the office; when he asks if you can score him an extra ticket or two to the game; when she invites others to the dinner meeting that you’re paying for without telling you or even asking you; when instead of saying thanks for taking them to an event they say that it was good and look forward to the next event (on your dime).


I’m certainly not suggesting that you cease client entertainment. I’ve closed or celebrated some of my largest sales in such a manner. But, I do caution you to watch out for these “what’s in it for me?” characters. They can become a real drain on your time and resources and can keep you from being productive.

The Second Chance - September 13, 2014

Don’t burn a bridge. It is both a business and life lesson that I’ve worked hard to apply daily. Many years ago, shortly after I entered my career, a mentor once shared with me that his largest and most profitable client had, at one time, told him no. In fact, the client did not like the sales approach, the service or the company for whom my mentor was employed. After a two year stint my mentor moved on to another firm, reached out to the client, and began to win him over. But, once again he was told no. This time the client stated that he was just not quite ready to hire my mentor for his services. And so, instead of ending the relationship, my mentor politely and professionally stayed in contact. Not in an overbearing way, but a telephone call here and there. Well, about seven months had passed, and then the words he had been waiting for were mentioned…it’s time we do business together. When my mentor shared that story with me, he was celebrating fifteen years of business with his client.


This lesson sticks with me to this day as if I just heard the story for the first time. He could have been upset and not stayed in contact. He could have told the client to pound salt. He did neither of those things. Instead, he kept his composure, wished the client well, and stayed in contact. That was it, nothing more. The client viewed this as a sign of true professionalism. He was a gentleman, not a “sales shlup”.


As I said before I have maintained this approach myself since I heard the story. And, let me tell you, it absolutely works. Sure, I’ve lost a deal here and there, but I’ve also won many on the second go around. Prospects and clients are human. When treated with respect, they respond with respect. Maybe it was not the best time for them to buy your product or service. Staying in contact after being told no says to the prospect or client that you still care. And ultimately people buy from sales reps that care.


The second chance takes time. Some second chances may take months or years. But every single ‘A’ level sales person I know applies this principal: don’t be a jerk when you’re told no; be gracious for the opportunity presented; ask to stay in contact; don’t be overbearing; and, show them you still care no matter what decision they made. It will eventually win them over and you will win a grateful, long-term client.

Finish What You Start - September 6, 2014

There’s no doubt about it, we’re all busy. We live hectic lives between work and family. Digital devices keep us plugged in to every aspect of our own lives, our spouses, our children’s, our co-workers and so on. It is easy to forget something sometimes with so much going on. I get it. You get. Makes sense. So, what is Finish What You Start?


All too often sales people find excuses when something slips through the cracks: when you forget to send the thank you note after a meeting; the examples you were going to email took you an extra week because you forgot; or, you gave up calling the prospect after the fourth voicemail. Whatever the reason, there should be no excuses, and certainly no exceptions. You must finish what you start.


Time management can be one of a sales person’s greatest attributes or hindrances. It has been my belief for a very long time that if you work on the philosophy of finish what you start then you are a step closer to producing results. Let me explain.


As I mentioned above, we all live busy lives, and can feel overwhelmed at times. That is okay. It is how you manage your schedule, personally and professionally, that leads to results. If you manage yourself to not put something off until tomorrow, you will get more done today. I know, I know this makes sense, but it is easier said than done. Time management requires daily evaluations of how you are spending your time, what tasks are being accomplished, and making sure you check off everything on your daily to-do list before your head hits the pillow.


Clients and prospects very rarely look at the time of when an email was sent. It is most important that the email be in their inbox before they arrive to the office tomorrow morning. So work on it after the kids go to bed. When you commit to sending examples to the prospect, take your laptop into the kitchen at the office, and work through lunch.


Sales is not, nor has it ever been, a 9-5 job. Sales is a career and a lifestyle choice. You do not need to be beholden to your position 24-7, but if you apply good time management principals daily, you will finish what you’ve started, and you will sell more. If you want to chat about my approach to time management, give me a call or send me an email.

A Sense Of Urgency - August 30, 2014

Do not put off until tomorrow what should be done today. You’ve done your homework and have made a decision, so sign now and close the deal. Be aggressive and not so passive. Have a sense of urgency in what you do.


A sense of urgency does not mean you need to fast-track your sales process, nor does it mean you should take short cuts in an attempt to close a deal sooner. A sense of urgency is about tone, attitude, demeaner, and ultimately being professionally aggressive in chasing after your goals. I’ve been reminded of this quite a few times recently. There have been scenarios in my organization, as well as with a few sales people I counsel on the side, and so I’ve been giving this topic a lot of thought.


To a certain extent you can blame the weather. It is late-August in Northeast Ohio. After a cooler and wetter summer than most would have wanted, we seem to finally be getting the warm, dry days we’ve been craving. Of course, that means no one really wants to be in the office. The kids only have a few days left of summer vacation. Lake Erie is becoming ideal for boating. Pools will be closing right after Labor Day. And again, no one really wants to be in the office. So, maybe this nice weather is wearing on sales people’s sense of urgency. Fine, I see where you’re coming from, but you need to get past it.


A sense of urgency should not be something you turn on and off like a light switch. A sense of urgency should be as much about who you are as what you do. And, if you are in sales, and more importantly striving to become or maintain ‘A’ level sales status, than get that sense of urgency going and keep it going. So what I am talking about?


A sense of urgency is as much in how you carry yourself as it is about the words you choose. I am in a service industry and so I will leverage my experience as an example. When I find a prospective client that seems like a great fit, I want this prospect to know how I feel. Therefore, I will explain why I want to do business with them from the very beginning. I will find opportunities to remind them just how and why I believe this is a great fit. I will ask often about their feelings. I will make every opportunity presented to me one to ask the client for their business. And, ultimately, above everything else, I want my sense of urgency to become contagious. I don’t just want but need the prospect to feel the same as I do about the pending relationship. I need them to feel that the opportunity is so important that we cannot delay. I need them to sign on the dotted line today not tomorrow.


This whole sense of urgency thing is not 100% full proof. It does not work perfectly in every sales scenario. But, an ‘A’ level sales person strives to have a sense of urgency 100% of the time. And, when they do, the right type of aggressive behavior shines through and the passive behavior goes away. When this happens you will see a dramatic increase in your close rate. You will also have a more energetic client base. 

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.