Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Q&A Week1 - June 30, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.


Q: You’ve often written about ‘A’ level sales people and compared and contrasted what makes them unique versus ‘B’ and ‘C’ level sales people. Do you believe a ‘B’ or ‘C’ can become an ‘A’? Why or why not?


A: The short answer is yes, I do believe a ‘B’ can become an ‘A’ and a ‘C’ can become a ‘B’. The longer answer is only rarely. You see, in order for someone to elevate their sales game, they must act like a top performing athlete or musician. The sales rep can never settle. ‘A’ level sales people are never satisfied with what they have in the moment, rather they are always striving to be better, to gain more accomplishments in their own careers, and in their own personal lives. Unfortunately, in my experiences over the past 20+ years, ‘B’ and especially ‘C’ level sales people tend to become complacent. They either lack the skill or the sheer will to strive to be better. In the rare occasion when I’ve personally witnessed someone elevate their sales game, like an athlete or musician, they read a lot, they study their own game and those of others, they practice and role play, and the document every step of their processes so they can always refer back to their own play book to learn. Only those sales reps with the want and deep down desire to be successful will ultimately display the necessary character to push themselves.

Referrals: Drop What You're Doing - June 23, 2018

A couple of weeks ago a referral came my way and it wasn’t exactly the right fit for my firm, but I dropped what I was doing and made the call anyway. I took time to talk with the referral about their concerns, issues and pain points. Yep, it wasn’t the best fit for my firm, but I took a fair amount of time to help guide them. And, when I wrapped up the call, I immediately sent a thank you email to the person who made the referral. One of my sales team members asked rather matter-of-factly: why did you drop what you were working on to waste your time?


Well my friends, that says a lot about my now former sales rep, because clearly he did not grasp this concept (along with others – ie former) which goes to the core of being an ‘A’ level sales person. Referrals, good and bad, should be worshiped. You should drop everything you are doing and at the very least make the call. Why take them so seriously?


Referrals, unsolicited referrals, say more about you and your company than any other piece of sales or marketing materials you may possess including testimonials or quotes on your website. The referral is the purest compliment anyone can pay you and it should be, as I said above, worshipped. It should be valued above all other leads you are working on at that moment. You have someone that is speaking on your behalf because they believe you can help them, help their friend or client, ultimately saying “I trust you enough to put you in the position of representing me the referrer”. When someone offers you a referral they are putting themselves out there as well. They are putting their own name and reputation on the line. That trust is the golden lead sales people seek to find every minute of every day. So why drop what you’re doing, couldn’t they wait a bit? Again, novice thinking.


Dropping what you are doing tells two stories. The first is to the person making the referral. It tells them that they are important to you. You are grateful for their trust. You take them seriously and appreciate what they are doing for you. The second story is for the person for whom you’ve been referred. It tells them you take their referral seriously. You respect the person making the referral enough to make them a priority. And, if you make them a priority it will translate into future trust and mutual respect with this new contact.


Referrals don’t always work out. Not every sales lead, regardless of how you obtain them, works out in the form of new business. But, let’s not be mistaken, referrals typically lean more towards a win than a loss. When others, clients or friends, make a referral they are testifying to you as a trusted advisor, a quality person, a caring sales representative who is not in it for a quick sale, rather you are in it to help turn whatever the issue may be into a successful outcome. 

The Doctor Will See You Now - June 16, 2018

There is a scene in Grown Ups 2 where Adam Sandler simply refuses to acknowledge his son has a broken leg. Even though the X-Ray clearly shows a break all the way through the bone, he doesn’t want to accept it and continues to ask the doctor if it’s a sprain or a slight fracture. The doctor, clearly getting frustrated, yells it is broken.


The scene is funny in some respects because we have all been there before, doctor my ankle hurts, that’s because its sprained. The sniffling is because of my allergies, no you have the full-blown flu. Wrap the cut in some paper towel, it will be fine, rather you need 4 stitches. We simply do not want to accept reality, especially when we are not feeling 100%.


‘B & C’ level sales people are the same. Regardless of how poorly they are peforming at times, they make excuses that it’s simply not that bad. Whereas, ‘A’ level sales people, those few folks that are more like finely tuned athletes, accept when something is not quite right and they do something about. Why is this and what makes the ‘A’ level sales people different?


Well, the doctor will see you now! In the example of the finely tuned athlete, acceptance when something is just not quite right is the first step toward correcting what is wrong. The athlete may need to see a doctor, a massage therapist, their trainer or a nutritionist. They know their bodies and they will seek answers to tough questions in order to “get better” and therefore improve. ‘A’ level sales people are the exact same, they will see the doctor when necessary. In fact, they want to see the doctor ASAP, so they can get to the bottom of what is wrong with them, correct the issue, and improve.


The doctor for the ‘A’ level sales person is a metaphor for anyone that the sales rep looks up to, respects, considers their mentor, or an advisor. More important to who the doctor is, it’s the fact that the sales rep doesn’t wait to be told to see the doctor, he or she voluntarily jumps at the opportunity to see the doctor. Unfortunately, the ‘B & C’ level sales folks out there never seem to grasp this concept.


I’ve long prided myself on being an ‘A’ level sales person. I have a group of individuals that I call mentors and advisors and at least once every week or so I reach out to them for advice, guidance, or a basic “checks & balances conversation”. In return I too often serve in the doctors role. Am I the best sales person out there? Not by a long shot, but I am better than many, if for no other reason than I’m not a Lone Ranger. I believe that my sales energy comes from my own successes, the successes of my team, and the guiding hand of my doctors. I’m also not an elite athlete, but I do check in often with my trainers and nutritionist, not just when I’m feeling a little off but to ensure I’m doing things right.


If you want to advance yourself, make the move from a ‘C’ to a ‘B’ or a ‘B’ to an ‘A’ level sales person, get yourself a doctor or two. Go see the doctor on a regular basis. Use the doctor’s guidance when something’s not quite right. And use the doctor’s guidance when you want to make sure things are continuing to go just right.

The Phone Is My Friend - June 9, 2018

The phone is my friend. The phone is my friend. The phone is my friend. Say it with me salespeople – the phone is my friend. I have encountered a sales person who believes that cold calling is dead. He doesn’t want to do it. Doesn’t believe it is a worthwhile use of his time. Feels email is a stronger method to obtaining new business leads. And, the most irritating part, he refuses to consider any other way of targeting new prospects.


I am here to tell him and tell you: you are dead wrong. The phone is my friend. The phone has been my friend for nearly 25 years in sales. The phone will continue to be my friend. You either don’t know how to use the phone (anymore) or you’re just plain scared. Either way, I will bet you $100 that I can land a prospect meeting faster than you, more qualified than your lead, and all by using the telephone while you peck away at email.


Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-email. In fact, I use email every single day from my laptop and my phone. Email is a terrific means of communication. But, email cannot convey the tone of my voice when I am being sincere in asking for a meeting. Email cannot immediately qualify or disqualify a lead based on the tone of the person on the other side. Email takes longer to use than a phone. Human beings, being human, want to feel important, and there is no better way than calling them on the telephone and greeting them as the most important person to you in that moment.


The sales person I referenced above simply doesn’t believe me. Of course, he also wouldn’t take my $100 bet, so what does that say. And, here’s the interesting part, I’ve not made a big deal about it openly, instead I’ve let my actions speak volumes. I’ve been making cold calls for the past month and have averaged 4-1 new meetings scheduled. Additionally, I’ve spent a fraction of the time making my calls versus his emailing approach. And, most importantly, my leads are more qualified.


Please, I beg of you, make the phone your friend. Do not be so foolish as to go down the path of my colleague and shrug at the idea of using the phone. Please do not make excuses that it doesn’t work. And, whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of believing email saves more time than using the phone. It doesn’t.


The phone is my friend…and my success proves it.

Misguided By Superiority - June 2, 2018

I am faced with a challenging client and a sales rep that simply doesn’t “get it”. This rep, in particular, has over twenty years of sales experience. Unfortunately, he has no grasp of the difference between being in account management versus new business development. And, to make matters worse, his superiority attitude has driven those around him away.


There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility is being superior to your former self.

Ernest Hemingway


Joseph can, at times, be a likable man. He has moments where his teammates find him funny and personable. However, those times are few and far between. Joseph more often has a chip on his shoulder. Whether it is his age or his supposed years of sales experience, no one in the organization can have a thoughtful conversation about sales without Joseph either becoming defensive, as if they are attacking him, or with his know-it-all-I’m-smarter-than-you attitude. His superiority complex is getting in the way of his success.


I’ve been tasked with the job of reasoning with Joseph and I feel as though I am failing. He has already become defensive at my even being brought in as a sales consultant by the owner of the company. He does not see what I am seeing; he’s refusing to look in the mirror. He is making a great deal of excuses as to why he is not selling or even gaining traction with prospects for that matter. He believes the world is against him, whether the market is not positioned to buy his services, the competition is more fairly suited, or his own organization is positioned wrong. Whatever his stated reasons, he walks around as if he’s king of the sales domain, and no one should question him.


In my own organization I have dealt with similar “Joseph’s”. They did not make it. I terminated them for poor performance. Of course, they were given multiple warnings, written improvement plans, and even video recorded meetings played back to show them exactly how bad their tones were. Yep, they were terminated, ran to unemployment, and blamed everyone around them for his poor predicament, not poor performance. They never looked in the mirror, as is the case with Joseph now, and they never came to the realization that today they will learn how to better themselves as a sales person from who they were yesterday.


While Hemingway was speaking more about humankind, I believe this statement could not ring more true than with a sales person. Sales people get beat up every day by the telephone and in meetings. Sales can be difficult when dealing with other human beings, personalities, attitudes. Learning from yesterday, not making the same mistakes twice, and becoming a better version of yourself is the only way to grow as a sales person. Realizing there are always better sales people than you is called humility. Being humble in the face of adversity and success alike will make you a better sales person. Dropping the superiority complex and attitude, being willing to take advice and guidance (even from a sales rep younger than you), and being understanding that winning comes and goes in waves will all make you a better, more successful sales person.

Master The Basics - May 26, 2018

I was recently having a discussion with a sales rep and he was sharing frustration that his firm switched CRM applications at the time he was hired. He went on to explain that there was not much previous data for which he could rely on to make cold calls. And then he shared with me that it was time consuming to build his own lead lists, do a little research on who the right person would be to call, and then make the calls. He was hoping I would be sympathetic.


Well, if you’ve read any of my posts before, I was far from sympathetic. I asked him one question: how long has he been in sales. His answer: 20 years. He then asked me: why? This is where my no sympathy approach kicked in. I simply shared that I thought it was a shame that with his years of experience he clearly never mastered the basics of sales.


You see there is no need for CRM applications, purchased lead lists, or anything else to be successful in sales. You need a telephone, names to call (which you can Google quite easily), and the sheer will power to want to be successful. Those are the basics. Let me break these down for you.


Long before the Internet and cell phone there were land line telephones. And as long as there have been telephones there have been people to call. Businesses once listed their numbers in the Yellowpages. And yes, the Internet and Google came along, but the basic concept of seeking a company name and contact person has not changed. If you can look someone up then you can make a call.


Now the company names are not that hard to find, but what about the actual correct contact person. Again, Google it. Many companies post their directories or key contacts on their websites. There are also third-party directories, financial reporting news, or other websites where key personnel are referenced. And, while we’re on the topic of the Internet, there’s this little website called LinkedIn. If you cannot find a contact person through LinkedIn, you may want to consider another career besides sales.


And finally, you need the will power to be successful, because sales is not easy nor is it for the faint of heart. When I meet people who rely on CRM applications, bought lists, inbound leads versus cold calling, account management versus new business development, then I’ve simply met someone that is seeking the easiest way to make a sale and someone that has no concept of the basics of selling. These sales reps will never be anything more the a ‘B-‘ level sales person.

The Bad Boss - May 19, 2018

The past few posts have been focused on the employee, the sales rep. Being in my position, as a sales manager and consultant, I often deal with the employees from a review, mentor, training perspective. However, there are also times when the sales manager is the issue, the bad boss.


Sales people come and go. That is the nature of the role and the game we play. How they come and go, however, can be a telling sign of the boss, the sales manager. In a smaller company the sales team members tend to be few. If you have turnover every 2, 3, or 4 years, and the reps perform at or above expectations, you likely have a very solid sales manager. It doesn’t mean a bad rep doesn’t slip through the cracks every now and then, but generally speaking you’re doing something right. If you go through sales reps every 6 months or 1 year, you may need to look at the sales manager.


There are a ton of great companies out there that treat employees beyond fair. They are enjoyable to work for and with great benefits. There are perks for the employee and their families. The company reputation is solid in the marketplace among customers and competitors. But, that bad boss, the underwhelming sales manager can make even the best company not feel so great for those sales reps.


It is important that sales managers be properly trained in managing people, not just great sales reps themselves. Sales managers need to lead by example with the ability to explain their process, not just show up with a closed deal and tell everyone how great they are. Sales managers need to be supportive while professional, friendly yet stern at times, and most importantly, sales managers need to make their reps feel like they are a part of the team. Sure, the reps have their part too as in hitting their numbers, but a good sales manager will make the rep feel appreciated. Don’t be a bad boss.

The Rep With A Short Fuse - May 12, 2018

Question from a reader: Kevin, I have a sales rep that has a short fuse. He doesn’t like it when I question him. He blames others around him for his shortcomings or oversights. And, now he’s blaming the management team because he lost a deal. This has been going on for about a month now and I’m concerned his short fuse is going to explode into a full-blown temper. Do you have any advice on what steps I should take? Thanks, Sharon


Sharon, thank you for sending me the note and question. Before I answer your question here is my disclaimer: I am a sales manager and not an HR manager or attorney. With that said, I will be happy to give you my opinion, but it’s just that, an opinion. I would certainly speak with an HR specialist or an employment attorney.


As I finish my disclaimer with speaking to an attorney you’re probably wondering why I’d take that step. We live and work in a very different society than it was even twenty or so years ago. Think road rage for a moment. It has gotten worse and worse over the years and has definitely spilled into the workplace. You need to protect yourself and your employees, both physically and from a business perspective.


Our employees are no different than us. We all have good days and bad days. The priest at my parish says, “you never know what someone else is going through”. People contend with illness, divorce, financial hardship, death, etc. on a daily basis. We often don’t think about what others are going through because we, ourselves, are dealing with our own issues. But, it definitely crosses a line when an employee’s short fuse becomes abusive.


I believe a conversation with your employee is needed. You also need to include your HR manager or specialist, your own manager, or another department head. You need support and you need to make sure your employee is getting support. This conversation does not need to be confrontational, rather you’re expressing your concerns. Are they okay? Is there something going on they want to share? Do they need help?


This conversation needs to happen and it needs to be documented. You want to make sure this employee does not feel threatened but that you are concerned and you want to help. Again, this is just my opinion, but I’d be willing to bet they open up and share what’s causing their distress. Although it may happen, I would be surprised if they became defensive or short tempered. They will likely realize the err of their ways and apologize. Offer to be there for them and help them if you can. If they show appreciation you are on the right track.


However, if they do not appreciate the offer of help, if they become defensive, short tempered, then you need to immediately end the meeting and plan a course of action, such as a formal employee intervention or even termination. Again, the work place can be an added stress for us all, especially when we’re dealing with a personal struggle, but how someone handles themselves is the difference between being professional and being fired. There is no place for having a short fuse or an anger issue with your fellow employees.

When HR and Sales Management Do Not See Eye to Eye - May 5, 2018

Hire Slow Fire Fast. This is an old HR phrase that I used in last week’s post. This message makes a lot of sense. The more time you take hiring someone the better the odds are that they will be a match for the role and your organization. But, even when you do hire slow, sometimes the employee isn’t a match and they need to leave.


When it comes to the sales rep who would know better than the sales manager when it’s time to let them go. It could be underperforming, misrepresenting the company, not being a cultural fit, or a combination of all of the above. You need to involve HR. You need to get your HR manager apprised of the situation and on your side to remove the bad rep. You want HR to have your back. What happens when you don’t necessarily see eye to eye on the firing process?


I’ve been faced with this challenge and it is not easy to deal with at times. I asked my HR manager, Tori, to chime in on this topic. What would stop her from having her managers back? I was surprised at how simple her answer was: paperwork. She will have her managers back all day long if there is a paperwork trail.


Sales managers and their reps have a relatively unique relationship. They tend to spend more time together than even members of the executive team. Whether they are doing ride along’s, in training sessions, having coffee, or simply reviewing a client account, the amount of time spent between manager and rep is significant. And, because of this, very often there are conversations being had where the manager is giving advice and guidance that should be documented and delivered to the rep (aka employee). This could not be truer than when criticism comes into play.


All too often the messages of criticism, the messages that need to be handled with an HR slant, they are done in less formal and more casual conversation settings. This is the paperwork Tori is referring to. It comes down to making sure the rep has a clear understanding of when the criticism being shared is to be taken on a much more serious level. This can be in the form of email or traditional documentation such as a performance improvement plan. Tori will have your back all day long when you can show how and when you shared your concerns and criticism in writing with your team members.


Employee reviews can be a big help in keeping your documentation in line. Sales reps can and should be a part of their review by asking them for their ideas and feedback. Documenting their own concerns and criticism. The sales manager can then provide thoughts, ideas, concerns and criticisms in writing, and then before you know it, you have an employee file. When the rep doesn’t work out, HR will have your back, and no matter how slow you hired you can then fire fast.

When Starting Over Is Not An Option - April 28, 2018

Today I’m going to pick up where I left off last week sharing my story of John. Throughout the past several weeks I have been working with a client in evaluating John. As I stated in my previous post, he seems to be listening, but not truly hearing what we are saying. He is not grasping the concept, especially for someone with over 15 years of experience, that sales is a numbers game. You’re either performing to a set standard or you are not.


Well, I thought I heard them all, but John threw me for a loop. He asked his manager and I if he could start over. That’s right, he wants to start his role over again, as if the past 6+ months never existed. Unfortunately, this may have sealed his fate. No, of course you cannot start over.


Please don’t get me wrong. This is not a matter of giving him a second chance. We’re not talking about changing careers and starting over. We are talking about the fact that John has been paid a base salary for over 6 months, along with benefits and vacation time, and he has not produced sales to even a base level. This has become more of a matter that John is not grasping the concept of new business development (vs account management) and he certainly is not an ‘A’ level sales person.


John cannot start over, at least not with my client. John needs to understand that the messages given to him by his sales manager have not changed. The goals that are set forth for his role are the same as when he interviewed. The need for activity in terms of calls made every day, meetings set every week, and ultimately closed deals are the same today as they were yesterday, last week, and last month. Nothing has changed. The fact is that John cannot do the job.


So, I’ve asked myself, “is there anything my client could have done differently?” The short answer is not hire John. But, somehow John did a very convincing job of selling himself during the interview process. The real answer is termination sooner. It is not a pleasant decision. Yet, in business, we sometimes need to make tough calls. There’s an old saying: Hire Slow Fire Fast. In John’s case, he should have been terminated months ago, and not have had this situation drag on. It is unfair for my client and it is unfair to John.


When starting over is not an option it is wise to guide the underperforming sales person out the door. You are not being cruel, rather you are doing them a favor. If this is not the role for them, you should help them see the light and leave on their own, or you may have to fire them. Again, this is not pleasant, but sometimes a fact of life. When the position is not for them, when starting over is definitely not an option, be kind but swift and left John go.