Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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Hire Sales People at the End of the Year - November 11, 2017

This may sound like a completely crazy idea, one that is sure to irk the HR department, but hire your next sales person before the end of the year. Not only am I suggesting you hire them before the "ball drops", but get them started. I’m sure you’re already rolling your eyes and thinking, “what is he talking about”. So allow me to explain this specific hiring concept.

 

First of all, this approach to hiring is specific to sales people only, as I’m not suggesting you do this with an engineer or accountant. You see, sales people are a bit of a different breed, and most sales people, especially ‘A’ level sales people, immerse themselves into their new environment day one. In fact, the learning begins before they even start their first day, but much of what makes a sales person make it or not in an organization, is how well they adapt to the company culture and can represent the organization in the marketplace. There may be no better opportunity than in November and December to get your new sales person fully immersed.

 

The end of the year can be a stressful time for many sales organizations and sales people. There’s the end of year push to hit sales figures, ship goods, wrap up services, and work with customers/clients for their new year budgets. A new sales person can learn by shadowing the top performers in their day-to-day routines when there tends to be more deadlines looming than at any other time during the business year.

 

Believing that one may have an understanding about the personality of their new sales organization will come easily, yet somewhat misleading, during a “normal” time of the year when the sales pace is “normal”. However, learning culture and personality is heightened when stress sets in, and for many organizations stress sets in with holidays and the end of year push. The hope, of course, is that each person and the collective whole of the sales team all rise to the occasion and put their professional best foot forward. What a truly great learning experience for the new person.

 

I just referenced the holidays. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, although rather cliché, sales people entertain, entertain, entertain. There is an abundance of customer/client luncheon’s, drop-in’s to deliver sweets, or holiday parties. For a new sales person, this is the opportunity of the year to immerse themselves into the organization, meet customers/clients, hear stories, and begin to develop their own “ways” to pitch the company. Instead of sending the new sales rep on a sales call here and there, whatever is available during other times of the year, November and December offer an increased likelihood that the new rep will get their fill of greetings & meetings.

 

Lastly, while this time of year is hectic, there is also a bit of down time that comes with it for the new person. The new sales rep is not going to be out and about in meetings of their own, most likely anyway, and so as they’re learning and immersing themselves into the new organization, this time of year allows the new sales rep to engage in abundant sales planning. They can use the downtime coming from the customer/client side of the sales process to ultimately prepare for the start of the new year, and the start of their own aggressive sales push.

 

Speaking from experience, hiring and starting sales people during the 4th quarter may be the best course of action, especially if you want the ‘A’ level sales person to have a full, productive year ahead.

...You're Welcome - November 4, 2017

The season of Thanksgiving will be soon upon us. Oftentimes in the past I’ve written about being thankful to those that have made my career successful. I’ve given personal thanks too, to those close to me for their support, especially my wife and children. However, I haven’t put my time into saying “you are welcome”.

 

Sales people, by the nature of the professional, are criticized more than almost any other chosen career. Consumers, clients, customers – whatever you want to call them – are critical of your every step in the sales process. In fact, many are skeptical of your intentions. Sometimes you act too quickly with an email reply. Or, you’ll get the “I didn’t hear from you immediately, so I thought you gave up”.

 

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how professional sales people try to act, there is always someone on the other side unhappy with the sales persons performance. Sales, however, is a two-way street. For sales people to be in business they must have consumers, clients or customers. There must be someone to sell to. And so, during this upcoming holiday season, the season of Thanksgiving, as consumers, clients and customers ourselves, let us not forget to say “you’re welcome”.

 

As a long-time, career sales person, I can speak with firsthand experience when I say that sales is often a thankless job. In fact, we (the sales people) are the ones always saying thank you, with few gestures of appreciation returned. Think about it for a moment, you are expected to act professional at all times, always showing your appreciation as the sales person, yet with no expectation of kind words being returned. It is your job after all.

 

So, this year I am vowing to take on the actions so often overlooked, and I am going to show my appreciation to those sales people I encounter daily. From store clerks to the kid at the car wash. I will say “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, and “happy Thanksgiving (fill in the holiday blank)”.

 

A kind gesture can go a long way. I believe in the golden rule to treat others as I want to be treated. As a sales person I know how far words can go and it is my goal to use my words to brighten someone’s day.

Be Humble - October 28, 2017

A good friend, someone I admire greatly and who also happens to be a priest, recently told me, “no amount of money or possessions will ever replace humility”. He said this in response to me sharing how I’ve been frustrated by the selfishness of some people around me in business over the past year or so. I was venting a bit when he reminded me that I should not change who I am rather stay the course. Continue to be humble, praise others for their hard work and efforts, and try not to allow frustration and jealousy to set in. I’ve been dwelling on his words, the words that have kept me awake for several nights over the past few weeks, and in context have come to realize that those I truly admire, in addition to this specific friend, are successful professionals who are educated, family-oriented, well liked, and above all humble.

 

Pondering his words brought to mind two real examples of people I know that are successful in their sales careers and yet worlds apart as human beings. The following are the profiles of these two individuals for you to ponder. Names changed to protect the guilty.

 

Susan is a 45 year old mother of two. She has been in sales for nearly 20 years. She has a bachelor’s degree and always attends continuing education programs when available. In her career she has always put her client’s need before her own, even if that meant passing on a deal here and there. She has had the opportunity to hire and mentor many younger sales people and is always quick with compliments. Her philosophy is to build up those around her, making the team stronger, instead of just herself or one other person. Susan not only gives of her time with her team members, peer mentoring so-to-speak, but never shy’s away from a volunteer opportunity at her children’s school. And, somehow, she also volunteers with several charities. Her husband, much like her, is full of compliments. He seems to always be amazed at her accomplishments with the ability to keep going.

 

Mary is also a 45 year old mother of two. Mary is divorced, but has shared parenting with her now ex-husband, so she can spend time working on her career. Mary has a MBA in addition to her bachelor’s degree. Her sales career, statistically, is overwhelmingly impressive. She far exceeds quota within her company and has been the top sales person the past four years in a row. Mary is a bit of a lone ranger when it comes to the sales team. She has always been very focused on the win. Closing a deal takes priority over everything else around her. Clearly this approach has worked given her stats. While Mary has been successful in closing deals, making presidents club year over year, she does not like to nor want to mentor her younger team members. In fact, internally within her own organization, she comes across cold and unapproachable. Success, being Mary’s priority, does not afford her much time to spend at the kids school or watching them in sports. Her mantra is: focus on the deal, always on the deal, it will lead to success and then I can afford to do anything else outside of work that I want.

 

Susan and Mary work for the same company, and in fact, for the same EVP of Sales. Two months ago the EVP of Sales was promoted to president of the company and it was time to name his successor. Mary, as confident as always in her career believe she was a sure thing, and had no problems sharing her confidence with others. Susan even believed Mary would be selected based on her performance and drive.

 

Susan is now the EVP of Sales. You see when it came right down to it, the executive team felt Susan had one major characteristic that Mary did not. Susan is humble. Her success shines, it always has, through those around her. She is a team player. She wants her team to be successful. She works to teach younger team members humility. She leads by example. And Mary? Well, she is selfish. She has always been selfish. Money, success and power can come and go. Being yourself, being who you are meant to be, and being humble, will carry you through the best of times and the worst of times. Oh yeah…and Mary quit…walked out…and still hasn’t found a new position. 

W's & L's / Win's & Learn's - October 21, 2017

I try not to jump on any bandwagons, but today I’m going to do so, on the topic of “there are no losses, only learning opportunities”. This seems to be a hot topic right now, as I’ve come across this theme with LinkedIn articles, blogs I follow, and multiple posts on Twitter. Maybe it’s the political climate we’re in or a business attitude shift left over from the last full moon. Whatever the reason it’s being talked about, it is a great topic for any sales leader to cover.

 

The idea of winning or learning has been drilled into me since I was a child. The theme was reinforced by the Xaverian Brothers who taught me in high school and on the athletic field. Then reinforced throughout my college days and right on into my career. It is simple to say, but sometimes not so simple to digest: you win some and you lose some – but you don’t really lose – you learn.

 

I’m not going to get all philosophical with this post, rather I am going dwell on one aspect, and that’s how to prepare for a learning opportunity (loss). No one wants to lose, especially in sales, because it means a loss of revenue and a loss of income (commission and/or bonus). I mean c’mon, no one wants to willingly walk away from earning money, right? Of course not. But, learning from the loss will ultimately guide you to many more wins over the course of your career. That is if you know how to learn from the lost opportunity.

 

As silly as this example may sound, it has stuck with me for a very long time. When I turned 16 years old and received my drivers license, like many teenagers, I thought I was all high & mighty. I was a sophomore in high school and was very interested in a young lady that was a senior. Oh boy did I like her. Well, not only did I have my eyes set on dating her, I thought she would absolutely say yes to me. My cousin, who was a few years older than me, pulled me aside before I asked her out and shared a concept with me that’s stuck all these years later. He said, “you know you’ve got some steep competition out there, so even if she turns you down, don’t despair, just learn from the experience and immediately ask someone else. Keep asking until someone says yes, then learn from the entire process, not just from the one yes or one no.” She said yes by the way.

 

His words, not just what he said but how he said it, ring true in my ears some 30 years later. Being told no is not the end of the world. Being able to analyze why someone may have chosen to say no to you will help guide you to a yes the next time. In sales, as in many life situations, being told no is part of the course you’re on at that moment in time. I’ve tried to always enter into a selling situation with eyes wide open. I try to consider being told yes and what the next steps might be in the closing process. But, I also consider what comes next if I’m told no.

 

Being prepared for a no can ease the pain of the actuality of that word. Then, if you are told no, take time to reason with yourself. Why were you told no? What did someone else do to get a yes? Can you change something in your sales process or pitch next time to increase the odds of being told yes? What can you do today to increase the likelihood of getting the yes nod tomorrow?

 

When it comes right down to it, many sales people measure themselves and others by wins and losses, but only a true ‘A’ level sales person will measure in the W’s & L’s that truly matter – win’s and learn’s.

To My Wife-Happy Anniversary - October 14, 2017

She knows I love her. I tell her often and try to show it even more often. I care deeply for my wife. She is the mother of my three great kids. She is my rock and my support at home. But, I’m not sure she knows just how much her support means to me during the work day.

 

As a career sales person I have had to make sacrifices along the way. I’ve missed a kids activity to attend an evening work function. I’ve brought work home from the office only to sit at the kitchen table after dinner trying to stay on top of email and contracts. I’ve handled conference calls from a hotel room during a family vacation. And all along my wife has been their supporting me, never criticizing my career choice.

 

We all know that sales is not easy. Having a network of support is an absolute must to becoming an ‘A’ level sales person. It can be a family member, friend, even co-worker, but must also be your spouse (or significant other). I was recently sharing the story of a sales person that worked for me who’s spouse was not at all supportive. It was a real shame because Brett had solid sales skills.

 

Brett spent about a year in a sales role under my management. He knew the business and he knew how to communicate. Brett did not lack capability, but he did lack personal support. Brett’s wife did not like his career choice of salesman. In fact, she never gave him a pat on the back or a “congrats” when he closed a deal. She was, however, very quick to criticize him openly for losing a deal. She had no problems questioning his abilities as a sales person. She told him, in no uncertain terms, that she felt he was not a good husband or father because he did not close every single deal he bid on. She never understood sales herself so she made him question his career.

 

My wife has been the opposite. She has been my biggest cheerleader and never a critic. She offers her ear when I need to vent. She leaves me alone when I need quiet time. She reminds me that I am a good father and husband. She supports me today, as she did yesterday and the day before that, and my choice of sales as a career.

 

Every sales person needs to have someone standing behind them. Thank you to my wife for 18 years of marriage, through good times and bad, ups and downs, and for always being my real support when others weren’t there.

Hire Fast / Fire Faster - October 7, 2017

My human resource friends have long used the phrase: hire slow, fire fast. In today’s business climate I tend to disagree with this approach. My post this week is based solely on opinion and personal experience.

 

When it comes to sales people, the real-deal ‘A’ level sales people, if I take my time and move slowly through the hiring process, I’m likely going to miss out on the best talent. Sales people, the ‘A’ level sales people, are always in demand. Most can call their shots, whether they are not actively seeking a new opportunity, or are hot on the job market, they are in demand. You know them when you meet them. They exude confidence and can back up the career story with proof. You want to hire them after the first interview. And, you know you’d much rather have them on your team than on the opposing team.

 

Hiring fast does not mean you’re jumping the gun. It doesn’t mean you “might be missing out” on someone else. It means you’re using your experience as a sales manager to make a judgement call about a candidate. You also do not need to short cut your interview process, but it does mean you may need to consolidate the calendar into a tighter window.

 

When you come across a candidate you feel strongly about, being expeditious in the interview process may also play favor in your hiring negotiations. Candidates don’t want to linger and wait. Even if they are safely employed elsewhere, your excitement about their candidacy may win them over, and they will want to reward you with a yes to your offer.

 

As such, being fast on the firing trigger must remain a key component to your management processes, as well. Nothing can hurt an organization more than allowing a poorly performing sales person stay too long. If their behavior becomes toxic, they must go. If you’ve tried to no avail to change their ways, they must go. Leaving someone in place too long can cause more damage because it tells others you are more willing to allow such behavior or poor performance rather than your willingness to address it for the betterment of all.

 

Hire fast and fire faster. In the end you will have the ‘A’ level team you’ve always wanted.

Stop Emailing - September 30, 2017

Okay, okay, you’ve heard it before…stop emailing. We live in a society where we are too quick to text someone versus calling them. I’ve been laughing at my son recently as an example. He met a new girl that he is very interested in. They’ve been communicating over social medial and texting a lot. But, finally, he had to call her. He even Facetime’s her. He’s found out what I’ve been preaching to him for some time, communication is much stronger when you actually talk to someone. You must hear their voice. You need to look someone in the eyes. Communication is better done live.

 

In business, as in our personal lives, there comes a time when email just won’t cut it. Too often people don’t proofread their emails before they hit send. Spellcheck is not entirely reliable. And so one’s message may not be entirely clear or convey the overarching meaning they want to deliver.

 

Believe it or not, while people are busy, they want to talk. They want to be heard. They want their message to come across clear without confusion. And, no amount of emailing can convey the same message as someone’s live voice. Stop emailing and pick up the telephone.

 

Long before email existed the telephone was a primary tool for a sales person. You could have a conversation, hear objections, answer questions, discuss concerns, and ultimately use your own voice to convince someone to buy. Email cannot replace your voice. Tonality and how you say something is as important as what you’re saying. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe email has its place, but so does the telephone.

 

Unfortunately, we also live in a society that has learned to hit delete very quickly. We get spam email. We get jokes from our neighbor. We get solicitations and newsletters. We hit delete, delete, delete. And, because of the nature of email today, we also have become conditioned to skim versus read. The true meaning of the message is not being digested as it should be. But, a telephone call can overcome these issues.

 

Try it before you dismiss it. Pick up the telephone today and call your clients. Talk to them. Ask them how they are doing both personally and professionally. Let them hear the sincerity in your voice. Make them believe in you and your company. Do what email cannot do…tell the story of why they should be doing business with you.

Repeating History: sometimes its a good thing - September 23, 2017

An old saying: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. History has a tendency to repeat itself and oftentimes this statement is associated with bad or poor performance. However, history can be repeated and can be a good thing.

 

Not that long ago I was told by a younger (in terms of career not necessarily age) sales manager that I was “old school” and that my way of selling should remain a part of the “history” of the company. He took a firm stance that his way, a more modern way, of selling was necessary for the growth of the company. History, as he firmly put it, should not repeat itself. And, as he was taking this position, my fellow executive management team members and I watched his performance slip along with his direct reports. It would seem that his firm stance about history not repeating itself was biting him square in the butt.

 

You see, I am not so foolish as to believe “my way” of selling is the “only way” of selling. I am open to change. I believe I’ve evolved and have grown in my own sales career quarter-by-quarter, year-over-year. But, at the same time, I am also not so foolish to ignore where my firm has come from, how we’ve grown as an organization. History, as I strongly believe, can and must repeat itself when and where it’s been most successful. In other words, I believe we can use our experiences from the past, from the times where we’ve achieved great levels of success, to make our selling decisions today. You should not abandon where you’ve come from, make dramatic changes to your selling approach, unless what you’ve been doing has not been working.

 

My now former sales manager has moved on. He believes that the grass will be greener on the other side (see last week’s post). He believes that he can move into a new organization and make changes for the sake of making changes and ignore where his new organization has come from. His naiveite is going to catch up to him and cost him another position if he continues to ignore history.

 

History tells stories. History, when analyzed carefully, can highlight the times where you were at your very best and at your worst. You can draw up a game plan based on this analysis. There is no reason to change simply for the sake of change. Instead you should use your history, or your company’s history, as a guideline for when and where to make the necessary changes. History does not have to repeat itself in negative terms. Embrace your history and allow it to repeat itself when success comes into play.

How's The Grass? part 2 of 2 - The Employee - September 16, 2017

As a follow-up to last weeks post about the client, this week I’m going to touch upon the employee who departs for greener pastures. But, first, a little personal story.

 

Close friends of the family moved their son from one school to another last year. He was entering seventh grade. They had no problems sharing their / his reasoning. He did not like his classmates at school one. He felt the teachers were against him at school one. He was having a hard time concentrating in class at school one. He had too many run-ins with teachers and the principal at school one for getting into scuffles with other kids or talking back to adults. Everyone around him at school one was to blame for every little problem he encountered. So, on to school two he went, and sure enough everything went off without a hitch in the beginning. He made a few new friends at school two that seemed a better fit. The principal and teachers were new and so he was not getting himself into trouble. His grades seemed to be better as well. And then the honeymoon period, so to speak, was over. He settled into school two and he began to get into a bit of trouble. It would seem the other kids were at fault for his talking back to teachers. The other kids were tempting him to start trouble on the playground. School two was harder than school one, so he said, which caused his grades to decline slightly. It was the other kid at school two that started the fight for which he received in-school suspension (the other kid did not). My, my, my, wasn’t the grass to be so much greener on the other side?

 

As it turns out, our friend’s son in this story was the issue all along, but because his older brother was a model student, his parents did not see that he was not bullied but rather the bully. Employees are like this boy at times. Everything goes well for a period of time, the honeymoon phase if you will, and then over time their performance slips. It is never their fault, rather everyone else’s around them. Instead of owning issues, they pass the buck. And so the story goes.

 

Being an employer can be great at times and very frustrating at other times. Employees are people too. They have relationships of their own and life “happenings” that impact them day-to-day. An employee is not a robot that is at your beckon call. However, with that said, the employee too has obligations to you as the employer. All too often, especially in sales, an employee leaves a company because they believe they are not being treated fairly, they are being undercompensated, or they are wooed away by another company with the promise of the grass being greener.

 

When an employee expresses displeasure or takes the ultimate step of resigning, conduct an exit interview, and blatantly ask why they feel the grass will be greener on the other side. It may shed some light on your own organization or it may shed some light on the thought process of the employee. The grass is certainly not always greener on the other side. Caution should arise when interviewing and managing employees, especially sales people, who use this phrase. It is typically a sign that they will jump for less-than-valid reasons and you’ll want to avoid these types of hires.

How's The Grass? part 1 of 2 - The Client - September 9, 2017

Nowadays, if you ask someone how the grass is, you may get an answer about the legalization of marijuana. But, for this post, let’s get back to the old saying that “the grass is not always greener on the other side”. I’ve experienced two scenarios recently that have provided me much food for thought in writing my blog. This week I am going to focus on the client that left because they believed the grass would be greener on the other side.

 

After a 9 year business relationship, as several previous posts have eluded to, I had a client leave me. There were several factors that weighed in their decision process, but admittedly, none more so than the addition of a new management team member. Regardless of our long-term relationship, she felt the need to come in and make her mark on the organization early on, and in doing so my firm was dismissed. Her approach was to make the owner and his right hand, those I had been working with weekly for years, question decisions I (and my firm) have made in our services to them. She had them, in very short timing, believing that it was time for a change and that said change should have been made a while ago, and that she had just the right firm to change over to.

 

Now, Cleveland being a small community, it didn’t take long for me to find out that she has several personal and extremely close relationships with management of this other firm. Pausing for a moment, let me point out that I am not at all bitter, rather I sincerely feel bad for my former client. They hired someone they believed would put their company’s interest before her own and in doing so sold them on the concept that the grass would be greener on the other side. Now, back to my story, she did not disclose to her new employer just how close she was to this other firm. Might this change have been in the works before she even got the job? Maybe.

 

The decision by my client was quick and abrupt. One day we were knee deep in work and the next we were dismissed. In fact, the owner didn’t even have the courtesy to call me and breakup, rather he sent me an email from the airport just prior to departing the country on business. It’s like breaking up with someone over text, kind of a chicken sh%t move. (Ok, maybe that was a little bitter.) Nevertheless, without much thought, my once active, long-term client was no longer my client.

 

It’s only been a few weeks since the change, but through the grapevine I am hearing that my client may be second-guessing their decision. Or, at the very least, wondering if they overreacted too quickly without much forethought. You see, as it turns out, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.

 

In the time since my client left, the new firm has shown their lack of technical capabilities, in that they’ve never had such a complex client before. They’ve never built nor managed an e-commerce platform that competes on an international stage. And, they are uncertain on how to best maintain the platform. Moving on, they are also making the same marketing related recommendations that we were making for the better part of one year, and showing the client no signs of any unique skill sets. So, why then did the client make such a change?

 

Relationships and human nature kicked in and emotion drove a decision that the client likely now regrets. Think of it in personal terms for a moment. We’ve all been in relationships with a significant other that for some reason did not work out. Whether it was days, weeks, months or years, we’ve had a regret or two, and wondered what if. Why did the relationship come to an end? Was it you? Was it me? Was it us together? And, was it abrupt without much thought only that the grass must be greener on the other side?

 

I’m not suggesting that this old saying is right or wrong in every situation. There are certainly times where a departure of the same old-same old is necessary and the grass truly is greener on the other side. As a career sales person, it is my job to be focused and see clearly the warning signs of when such a change may be coming. And, it is my job to counsel the client on how such a decision may impact the relationship going forward and their business.

 

Would I invite my client back? Maybe. But, the ground rules have changed, as they’ve shown their true colors. Only time will tell.