Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Hello, Hello, Is There Anybody In There? April 21, 2018

Last week I referenced that sales managers at times need to be stern. And, equally, I referenced that sales reps need not sugarcoat anything or try to smile through their struggles. I am working through a scenario currently with a client and his sales rep. I’m reminded of the Pink Floyd line: Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody in there? I am having conversations with the sales person about their training, how they are coming along since joining the organization, and John the rep just smiles and says everything’s been great. I’m wondering, hello, are you listening to us?


John is struggling in sales. He is not meeting any sort of quota for calls made, appointments set, proposals written, or closed business. He feels like everything is on track for him to be successful and he doesn’t need help. Mind you, John has over 15 years of sales experience and has been with my client’s organization for over 6 months, yet he has the performance of a kid right out of school. He’s smiling and saying everything’s great, and his performance numbers cannot get any worse.


Unfortunately, what we are learning through our reviews with John is that he seems to be listening to us talk, but he is not truly hearing what we are saying. He has the ability to regurgitate information, but doesn’t understand or grasp the meaning and concepts behind the words. John is a classic ‘C level’ sales person, whereas he can memorize a script, but cannot sell with substance. My client needs an ‘A level’ team member.


The evaluation and my conclusion for my client is to give John strict guidelines for which he must maintain. He is in sales and sales is a numbers game. He needs to improve his performance from top-to-bottom and there needs to be the most stringent of guidelines in place. If John cannot meet the goals set forth he should be let go. John is a nice guy, don’t get me wrong, I could see myself enjoying a beer with him. But, when it comes to sales, he is not cut out for the rigors of new business development, rather he would be better suited for account management. So, time will tell. Hopefully, if he’s in there somewhere, he’ll eventually nod when he hears our message, and realize he needs to perform or leave.


No matter what type of sales you’re in, sales is black & white, you are either performing or you’re not. It really is that simple.

A Little Hard On The Beaver - April 14, 2018

“Ward, I think you were a little hard on the Beaver.” June Cleaver was oftentimes saying this phrase in the television show Leave It To Beaver. And, this has been a quote used over and over again since those shows aired in the late-1950’s and early-1960’s. Unfortunately, many today don’t even know this show existed. Yet, the meaning behind the quote and the outcome of the show’s content is as relevant today as it was way back then.


As a sales manager it is my responsibility to be a mentor, to be a leader, to be a decision maker, but it is not my responsibility to be my sales reps best friend. This does not mean I am cold and callas, I am friendly with my team members, but sometimes I must also be stern. I must “be a little hard on the Beaver” in order to ensure we are all performing to our best abilities. Ward Cleaver was not intentionally trying to be a mean, cold spirited dad. Quite the opposite, he was trying to be a friend to his son while at times also reminding his son that he was still the father in the relationship. This is no different for sales managers.


You don’t have to treat people poorly, yell or bark orders at them, or make unrealistic demands. Time and again it has been proven that this approach to management does not work. However, you cannot always let the sales rep run without supervision or guidance. You must hold your sales rep accountable for his or her own actions, performance, and ultimately results. And yes, sometimes, this means you must be a bit stern in your tone, attitude and words than you normally might be.


Sales reps must also learn and understand who it is that they are working for and what triggers the sales manager to take such a stern position with them. Is it the way they are carrying themselves? Is it their sales performance or lack thereof? Is it their close rate? Is it something they are doing that does not jive with the company culture but something than can be changed nonetheless?


Sales reps are the other half of the marriage so to speak. The relationship between rep and manager is just like a personal relationship. There are times where everything seems like it couldn’t get any better and there are times where the boat is rocking just a little too much. As in a personal relationship, you should not sugarcoat the issue, rather one person should be stern with the other and lay the cards on the table. It is better to get the issue or issues out in the open, address them, deal with them, resolve them, and move on. Otherwise, as with some personal relationships, divorce may be inevitable.


A sales rep should not have thin skin and be too sensitive to the sales manager when that manager takes a stern tone. Instead, the sales rep should work to understand and communicate with the manager what is going on, what they are feeling, and they must be completely honest. Saying everything is fine & dandy when the results are poor just won’t cut it and the rep will likely be put on the hot seat or lose their job. Communication is the key to any successful relationship, even if it means being “a little hard on the Beaver”.

Social Media & The Salesperson - April 7, 2018

I was recently involved in a roundtable discussion with several hiring decision makers, sales managers, and human resource specialists. While there were differing opinions, as you’d might expect, when it came to interview and hiring practices, there was almost an unanimous position about the retention factors for sales people. And, at the top of the list, was the use of social media.


Obviously, in the digital era for which we live and work, social media is a factor that is here to stay. The use of social media to advance one’s business agenda can be a powerful tool. However, that same use of social media may also be a sales person’s demise. The line between the two could not be thinner.


Good, positive use of social media can and should include posts about successful stories involving your own company and those of your customers. Announcements about new products or services, posts about promotions, the use of images and video to support a comment, are all good ways in which social media can help a sales person move ahead of the pack and engage new levels of customers.


But, what happens when social media is overused or abused? What becomes of the sales person that takes social to a very personal, intimate level with customers? Where does the use of social media cross the line into becoming a problem? It can happen quickly and often without the sales person even realizing they’ve crossed that line.


I’ve seen firsthand how social media can be the root cause of a sales persons decline. The Tweets and re-Tweets about political, economic, or religious commentary to an audience comprised of both personal and professional contacts. Blending the personal Tweets into the fold with your professional Tweets. Friending your customers and prospects on Facebook where you are posting personal pictures of you and your significant other at a bar, on the beach, or attending an event. At first this doesn’t seem too harmless until your customer realizes you are “constantly on Facebook” and that you share way too much personal information. They want to have a professional relationship with you and don’t need to see you and your wife in swimsuits.


Then there is the overuse of social media while describing to your employer and customers that you are “so very busy” and “overwhelmed with work”. Let me get this straight, you can’t seem to stay on top of your customer meetings and responsibilities, yet you have the time to post on social media every 25 minutes? Something is just not right with that picture.


So, as I wrap up this morning’s post, let me just use this as an opportunity to share my advice. Keep personal social and professional social as separate as possible. If you must blend the audience, make sure you are always cognizant of your posts and the frequency. And, most importantly, be aware that people are always watching you. Social media has broken down many barriers that once allowed a person to remain private. What you share on social media removes your privacy and those words, pictures, actions, videos all may cost you business some day.

Modern Conveniences - March 31, 2018

It would seem as though my post from last week caused a bit of a stir among a few clients. Not necessarily in a bad way, but definitely opened the door for commentary. Many of my clients that reached out expressed their own frustrations with the younger generation of sales candidates, especially those that just don’t understand what sales is really about. Several clients asked me to elaborate on the topic as it pertains to “modern conveniences”.


You see sales, at the very core of the role, is about human relationships. It is about becoming a partner or trusted advisor to the customer. It is about being not only capable of having a conversation, but managing a mature conversation in sometimes very tough settings, such as at the negotiation table. It is in no way about modern conveniences. What do I mean by modern conveniences?


Modern conveniences are tools we use every day to do our jobs. It’s the Internet, Email, smart phones, Google, Skype, or any other technology aimed at empowering us with communication. The fact of the matter is most young sales candidates and sales professionals cannot make it in their role without these tools. These modern conveniences have become crutches for which the sales person relies too heavily upon. So, when the hard work of sales comes knocking, these individuals do not know how to handle the situation.


I’m sure you’ve heard the term “body language”. Nothing has changed in over a thousand years when it comes to reading someone’s body language. However, you cannot read the person through email or even over a telephone call. Only in a face-to-face meeting can this occur. Another old saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword” can be very true, so long as the person holding the pen has experience. And, where does experience come from? In the trenches. No one can win a debate without being trained in debate, having done their homework, and practicing.


Modern conveniences even extend to the ways in which young sales people are compensated. All too often companies will provide a comfortable base salary with a small commission and/or bonus structure for sales people. Where is the incentive to work hard? Give me someone that wants little-to-no base salary and a hefty commission plan. They want success and they are willing to work for it. Here is an example:


Joseph (Candidate #1): He is graduating with a four year degree in business administration and interviewing for an entry-level sales position. He has not participated in any internships although he does have a rather high grade point average. Joseph has a positive attitude and is fairly well spoked for a young man of 22 years old. During the interview process he was not afraid to jump right in and ask questions. He asked about the starting salary. Will he get a company car? How many weeks vacation will he receive during his first year? Does he get a laptop and company iPhone?


Kerry (Candidate #2): Kerry graduated from the same school in the same class as Joseph. She majored in business administration with a minor in marketing. She participated in three internships from her sophomore through senior years. She was polished and professional; kind yet with a sense of urgency. She too was anxious to ask questions. However, none asked had anything to do with compensation, perks or modern conveniences. Instead Kerry asked questions about expectations set for her. Who will train and mentor her? How will her successes and sometimes failures be measured?


Kerry became the candidate of choice. She understood the sacrifices that would need to be made in order to learn and advance her career. She accepted with appreciation for the compensation plan, tools, and training that would be provided. She even challenged herself during the final interview and offer process by talking about her first year plans and how to exceed the goals set for her.


Modern conveniences are great and can be used to advance ones agenda on a day-to-day basis. However, these tools are only as good as the person using them. Young sales candidates should be prepared to work hard without the tools until the foundational skill sets are in place. Once these skills are learned, then and only then will these modern conveniences be of help.

I’m In Sales, I’m An Account Manager – No, You’re Not In Sales - March 24, 2018

As springtime approaches resumes from soon-to-be college graduates start flowing in. I am receiving at least a dozen every week now seeking a variety of positions. Although I am not in hiring mode right now I do take time to read them. Unfortunately, they frustrate me for a variety of reasons.


One such frustration is the continued lack of understanding that an account management position, although a close relative to the sales position, is in fact not the same. To paraphrase an old saying, there is hunting and there is farming. Hunting is sales while farming is account management.


With account management comes a set of requirements that a sales role must also have, such as solid relationship building and management skills, good follow through, excellent communications skills, and a general likability. Sales, however, requires a much greater sense of urgency. Sales typically is a commission driven role that requires negotiation skills, a take no prisoner attitude while maintaining ones composure, and again a sense of urgency. Did I mention sales must have a sense of urgency.


I find today’s younger generation of professionals lacking in a sense of urgency. Many think they want to be in sales because it offers freedom and flexibility during the work week, an opportunity to entertain clients, and a high-level compensation package. Yet, when someone with experience explains the sacrifices it takes to be successful in sales, the long hours, dedication to the craft, not being handed accounts on a silver platter, well then they balk and look for the easy route, the account management position.


Last year I spoke to a group of graduating college seniors about life as a sales person. I engaged my audience in conversation rather than presenting to them. It struck me as odd that everyone believed sales, account management, and marketing are so intertwined that they did not know the difference. Moreover, most of these young ladies and gentlemen thought they had the skills already in place to be paid a high base salary, work no more than 40 hours per week, did not want to travel, expected company benefits (including a car or car allowance for sales roles), and the key phrase I noticed was “they expected it”.


Many companies have account management positions, and they can play a vital role in an organization, but account management and sales are certainly not one in the same. I believe we, those of us who’ve been in sales for most of our careers, owe it to this new, young, and up & coming generation to educate on the role sales plays and what it takes to be in sales. We need qualified sales people to grow and replace us at some point. It is our responsibility to guide them toward career choices and to help them understand the difference between account management and sales. It will benefit them greatly and it will benefit us as well.

March Madness: A Sales Lesson - March 17, 2018

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day and the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness), I am going to leave you with a short post this week. Two things come to mind this morning that I cannot help but directly relate to sales: luck and expect the unexpected.


As any ‘A’ level sales person will testify, no matter how educated you are in sales, your company, the client, or the competitive landscape, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of luck on your side too. I’ve been very blessed over the course of my nearly 25 year career so far in being in the right place at the right time. I call this luck. I also believe that I’ve paid my dues, have always taken the high road in sales, and have always put my client’s best interests before my own, so I’m also a believer that sometimes luck is on my side. This is also known as being optimistic. Optimism is a core characteristic of any ‘A’ level sales person. You cannot nor will you ever be an ‘A’ level sales person without optimism.


With regards to March Madness 2018 all you have to do is look at any sports or news website, newspaper, or blog over the past few days to understand that for the first year of many there is no clear frontrunner or favorite in the tournament this year. In fact, history was just made by UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) the 16 seed knocking off the 1 seed University of Virginia. One headline said it all: Expect The Unexpected. Well doesn’t that just about sum up anyone in sales.


If I had a dollar for every time this statement was made to me about sales or for when I’ve said it myself, I’d be retired by now living on yacht. Expect the unexpected is the most important statement anyone can say about a career in sales. You must be mentally strong and prepared for whatever comes your way. Just like the number 16 seed beat the number 1 seed, there are so many stories told about the “sure thing” sale fizzling out at the last moment only to be given to the competition.


My former CFO and I used to preach to all employees, not just sales people, that the deal isn’t done with the signature, it’s done when the money clears the bank. I’ve had signed agreements come my way only to be pulled off the table due to funding issues a week later. I’ve been given the verbal approval to never get the formal agreement signed. I’ve been told yes directly to my face to find out the next day the deal was inked with the competitor down the street. Expecting the unexpected is a sign of resilience.


Being resilient is another characteristic of an ‘A’ level sales person. Nothing is a sure thing and how you manage your emotions, being resilient, will pay dividends. Your prospects and clients will look at this resilience as a strength and they’ll want to do business with you more so because of it.



Reconnecting With Old Colleagues - March 10, 2018

I was wide awake early today. I am quite excited for today, the start of my son’s new lacrosse season, something I look forward to each year in late-February and early-March. Three scrimmages are a lot of playing time on a very cold day, but it will be fun. I’m also excited for this upcoming Tuesday. I’ve been invited to join old friends and business colleagues at a dinner event. It has been a while since I’ve spent time with these guys and I am looking forward to talking shop and hearing about their families.


As a sales person I often get buried in the here and now. I’m constantly working on a new deal with a new prospect. Rekindling the old flames (clients) in hopes of staying engaged with them. And, if it’s not for my own sales, I am working with my team overseeing their efforts. When you combine the working here and now with the family here and now, the constant list of kids’ activities, there doesn’t seem like much time to reconnect with old colleagues. So, I’ve been looking forward to Tuesday the closer the day comes.


Reconnecting with old colleagues can be good for you. In a similar way to catching up with an old friend you’ve not seen in a while, reconnecting with old friends on the business front can also be refreshing. At one time you may have had more in common, but it is also important to learn anew what these people are doing. You can become referral sources for one another. You can educate one another on industries outside of your daily scope. You can introduce one another to others in the group you’re with that may extend your own professional network. And, who knows, you may just very well land them as a new client.


I was lucky this go around by being invited to the upcoming dinner event. I immediately said yes. In part, I am intrigued by the guest speaker, and in part I want to break bread with my old friends. But, I also have to admit that I’ve been lacking in my own approach to staying connected or reconnecting with old colleagues. I’ve tried to take an approach that every six months or so I get former business colleagues together for an event, a lunch, or simply over coffee to, well, reconnect. And, as I admit to be a bit of a slacker in this area, I am excited at the idea of pushing myself back into this practice.

Public Forums Are Just That: Public - March 3, 2018

Let me start with my description of a public forum: for the purpose of this post I am referring to a public program such as a speech, awards ceremony, educational presentation, and the like. And, when I state public is just that – public, I am targeting my competition.


I’m not sure why some sales people, and other business colleagues for that matter, don’t like the idea of “checking out the competition”, but I find it to be extremely useful. I’ve long made it a practice to attend programs where my competition is presenting or being recognized. I do this for two reasons: (1) it provides insight into who they are, what they’re about, how they present themselves, and what level of knowledge they possess; and (2) they oftentimes entertain their clients at these events, so I can learn who they are doing business with and why.


When the various forums are open to the public, whether free admission or paid, I want to take advantage of the opportunity to educate myself on the marketplace. Many time’s I learn of new competitors through random chit chat. This is also an opportunity to take the temperature of the marketplace on a specific topic. For example, if the presentation is on a new trend in digital marketing, I can gauge the interest of the audience and plan my own firms’ strategy based on seeing and hearing feedback on the topic firsthand.


Some sales people have worried themselves about what to say or how to act if confronted by the competitor in these situations. My answer has always been to be complimentary and gracious. I can assure you that your competition will do the same and attend public forums where you are speaking or being recognized. It is a “business 101” tactic. I encourage you to become aware of these opportunities, attend, identify potential business or educational experiences from these forums, and use this newly acquired information to advance your own business and/or sales agenda.

The Anti-Role Model - February 24, 2018

Going all the way back to grade school we’ve been asked about our role models. We’ve written papers, given presentations in front of our classmates, and for some we’ve even sent thank you notes. Through college and into my career I have been asked to talk about my role models. They’ve included my father, coaches, and some I’ve been proud to call mentors. And, likewise, I have asked others about their role models. Who are they and why?


The term role model also has a tendency to get thrown around by famous actors and sports figures. Fans put their favorite basketball player on a pedestal and idolize the person as a role model. Why? Musicians make it big by winning a television singing competition and next thing you know high schoolers are calling that person their role model. Why? What makes these public figures role models?


When we evaluate our time as students, athletes, professionals, parents, etc. we are guided by the role model principle in that we should look up to these individuals as role models because we want to be like them, emulate their behavior, and hope for success (differing definitions of course) just like them.


Have you ever been asked about your anti-role model?


I have long believed, as a sales manager and mentor, that while discussing the positive attributes of one’s role model is worthwhile, uncovering the negative attributes of someone’s anti-role model can be even more beneficial. Who do you not want to be? Who do you not want to act like? Who’s behavior is questionable regardless of their level of success? What would make you want to run the other way if you saw the person walking toward you?


As a student, in sports, in your community, in your career, in your church, local politics, civic leaders, there are many that simply should not earn the respect they sometimes garnish. I oftentimes think of the professional athlete that is held up in the public eye as a great person but has a substance abuse problem, has been arrested for domestic violence, and has little regard for the fans that pay money to watch him or her play a game. Another comes to mind in a former coworker, a sales person, who would cut corners and lie to customers simply to get the sale. He never did any follow-up work after the purchase order was obtained. He burned bridge after bridge in an attempt to pad his pockets. There was no sense of loyalty and once all bridges were burned he would find another company to sell for and repeat the process. Outside of his professional environment he treated his personal relationships much the same, dating multiple women at the same time, and even two becoming pregnant by him at the same time. He abandoned them too and moved. He jumped for money, period.


In recognizing these people as anti-role models, we can build a list of characteristics that we want to avoid. A positive role model can help you define who you want to be while an anti-role model can also help you define who you want to be. Sometimes it can be helpful to remember the old saying: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Anti-role models are easy to spot. True role models tend to be humble which makes them role models.

Big Data / Small Sales Team - February 17, 2018

The term Big Data is being used on a frequent basis in business today ranging from marketing teams analyzing product penetration to sales teams comparing and contrasting customer buying habits. The misnomer is that big data is for big organizations. It is not. Regardless of your company size, and for this post the size of your sales team, analyzing “big data” can be for everyone.


From the sales managers seat I am a big fan of big data. To me big data is like a bedtime story. Sometimes there is a happy ending and sometimes I wake up in cold sweats in the middle of the night. No matter what the information (story) is, you can use it to your advantage.


First let’s talk about gathering big data. We all have prospect lists, client lists, order histories, meeting histories, etc. This information is likely stored in our CRM, Outlook, ERP or some other internal system at the office. And, the beauty of this information, it can be exported for reporting purposes. Determine what you are seeking, such as buying cycles, or types of clients that have purchased product x, and then pull your reports.


Then begin the bedtime story. A happy bedtime story is one that showcases your successes in the form of positive trends. You can identify certain buying attributes of your prospects and clients. You can look at calendar or seasonal trends. You can determine that certain types of clients are better suited for certain types of sales people. Whatever the data tells you, you can positively manage your sales processes and teams based on it.


We also have the bedtime story that can be nightmarish. The data points downward. The data tells you that you’re losing market share. The data tells you that you’ve been managing the wrong way or that you have the wrong people selling for you. You wake up in cold sweats wondering if the data is wrong. But, what if the data is correct. What do you do?


Data, hard cold factual data, does not lie. The metrics in front of you are not trying to trick you. Numbers are numbers and facts are facts. You should learn to accept big data as a compass helping you point your way toward success. Report often. Analyze often. Use the information that is at your disposal. Don’t dismiss big data as something out of your reach, rather grab a hold of the information, digest it, and use it to your advantage.