Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


In Sales There 's No Such Thing As Secret Sauce - March 11, 2017

One small indulgence I give myself is watching the food shows. Some of my favorites travel from city to city and state to state visiting diners and little holes-in-wall. I’ve always preferred a local greasy spoon to a high-end steak joint. So naturally I gravitate to these shows. Every so often I get drawn in to the explanation by the chef as they describe the recipe and how to’s in putting a dish together. I’m never afraid to try something in the kitchen, and by watching these shows, I will give these new dishes a shot.


Every so often though, just when I’m getting excited about a new food item, the chef blurts out – it’s a secret sauce (or secret ingredient), and my frustration kicks in. How dare you get my taste buds so excited and then shut me down. Then I laugh and move on to something else on my honey-do list.


I thought about these food shows the other day when being solicited by a “sales coach” who wanted to pitch me on using his services. He wants me to hire him to bring a “secret sauce recipe” to my sales team. Once again I laughed and moved on to something else on my (business) honey-do list.


When it comes to sales, there is no secret sauce, and you will be hard pressed to prove otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there is a time and place to seek sales training, but even with the biggest sales training programs out there, think Sandler Sales Institute as an example, the training is based around management of real world processes in business. Sandler doesn’t necessarily have a secret sauce, instead they have a teaching style, and those who learn from Sandler learn methods that can be applied in a variety of sales settings.


Although I am Sandler trained, I’m not a spokesman, rather an observer of the sales world around me. Over the course of my 23 year career I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of third-party training programs and I’ve also taught many on my own.


Selling, at its core, is about building a relationship with someone. Nothing more, nothing less. Is there a secret sauce to dating? Is there a secret sauce to starting a new school? Is there a secret sauce to interviewing for a new job? Some may say yes, but I say no. Implying that you need a secret sauce to be successful in relationships, at least to me, is a sad testament to our culture. Instead, I would prefer to guide sales people toward training that is grounded in openness.


A short post this week, but one I felt the need to write. Not only have I been contacted lately by the snake oil salesman pitching his secret sauce to sales training success, many of my colleagues have as well. Successful sales people can be trained. Successful sales people can learn new techniques. But, truly successful sales people, the ‘A’ level sales people, know there is no secret sauce. Their success comes from building relationships with their prospects and clients, managing those relationships with care, and sticking to traditional fundamentals of selling. Remember the old saying, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Don't Touch A Hot Stove - March 4, 2017

How many times have you either been told this statement directly, overheard the statement being made, or even made the statement yourself: “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”? And, how many times have you, or someone else, touched the hot stove? After the ouch factor, you then look at the person that warned you with a stare of wonderment, in a “why didn’t you warn me” manner, only to get the “I TOLD YOU SO”.


It’s happened to all of us at some point in our lives. This type of scenario even happened to me recently. I was traveling with my family and my kids told me the pool water was cold, but I jumped in any way, and it was freezing. My reaction, of course, was to ask, “why didn’t you tell me it was this cold?” My kids just rolled their eyes, laughed at me, and walked away.


These little “I told you so” moments happen in sales too. Rather than “I told you so”, I have always tried to make these learning moments, both as the student and the teacher. As my career has evolved over the years, I do find myself serving more and more as the teacher, and yet I still learn from these moments through my students eyes.


First of all, no one ever wants to hear “I told you so”, but mature, level-headed sales people will recognize and understand that constructive criticism can go a long way in building one’s sales career, because these teaching-learning moments almost always are based upon experience. It doesn’t take a master’s degree in education to be the teacher in these scenarios, rather it takes a story teller’s approach.


Sales people, so I’ve come to learn over 20+ years, tend to be more receptive when being told a story versus being given a directive. When a young sales person comes to you for advice, or you are placed in a situation where you may be tempted to offer advice (as in be careful the stove is hot), sales people have an increased likelihood of listening to you (avoiding the stove) if the advice is told in story format (such as: let me tell you, that happened to me once, and here’s how it turned in my favor). Giving a directive, the “do this” and “don’t do that” approach generally doesn’t come with any “why reasoning”, and instead comes off just as it sounds “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”.


Think of the parent-child relationship for a moment. It’s happened since the dawn of the hot stove. Parent says to child, “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot”, child proceeds to touch stove, and child then gets a burn on his or her hand. Instead, the scenario could have played out like this: parent says to child, “don’t touch the stove, it’s hot, and trust me it will burn you. In fact kid, I did not listen when I was warned once, and boy oh boy did that burn hurt. It doesn’t look hot, but it left my skin so severely burned that it took two months to recover. I just wouldn’t want to see you go through what I went through.”


In sales we could take the directive approach: sales person tells sales manager they are being met with resistance to their closing approach on a sizable deal. Sales manager says, “go tell them XYZ and come back with a PO”. Unfortunately, that is a directive, whereas the sales manager may have taken this approach: “here’s how I would handle their objection, but realize it is all in your delivery, so you may want to try this tone of voice, use these words, and give them a few examples such as these, and also be prepared for a follow-up objection, which I’ve encountered too and here’s how I dealt with it…”. Do you see the difference?


Most sales people have an ego and asking for advice and guidance is not always their first choice. More times than not the sales manager or other seniors in the company tend to overhear the sales person talking and they chime in. They mean no harm, they simply want to be helpful. When you’re in the advice offering seat, be mindful of your message delivery, offer advice and guidance, and wish them well. If they ignore you, call you old school, and end up losing the deal, well then you can say, “I told you so”.

Blending Tactics - February 25, 2017

I sound like a broken record at times. I continue to preach about sales tactics from my point of view, which in most cases, is based upon a successful track record. Recently though, I’ve been accused of being “old school” when describing what works and what doesn’t work, because I don’t often cover topics related to social media, texting, etc. Being told that “that’s your opinion” or “your point of view on sales is outdated” generally doesn’t sit well with me. One person even went so far as to say I was “out of touch with the reality of today’s digital marketplace”. Of course, this same person has less than 20% of the sales opportunities I currently have with clients and prospective clients. And, it has now become a bit of a hot topic in my office.


There is no right or wrong way to deal with sales communication. Sales, however, cannot be built upon a single approach to communication, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any ‘A’ level sales person that says so. It requires a blending of tactics. In the recent conversation’s I’ve been a part of, I have been accused of being singularly focused on the cold call, in that I believe it is the only way to open doors. This could not be further from the truth. But, the lessons learned by a sales person in the cold calling process are invaluable and will last them their entire career. Yet, so many younger or newer sales people roll their eyes at the idea of cold calling, and then try to circumvent this tactic and find short cuts.


I consider myself the king of the phrase “touch points” in my office. Touch points with target clients requires more than just picking up the telephone. It requires email, traditional letters, telephone calls, face-to-face meetings, and yes even a text message here and there. I’ve even used Facetime and Skype over the years to blend digital communication with face-to-face meetings.


I’m not an old curmudgeon that believes we need to go back to door-to-door sales or faxing order sheets to customers. I’ve been there, done that, but do believe again there are lessons learned that make me an ‘A’ level sales person today. From my so called “days of old” I learned patience. Quick sales lead to quick losses. I have watched many a sales person become victim to this scenario more times than I would like. Yet, some continue to seek the quick hit answers to what may be a longer sales process.


As I ponder over this post, some frustration overcomes me. I am reminded of an uncle I was quite fond of growing up. Rick was a very smart guy. He was the guy that would be reading two, three, sometimes four books at a time, ranging from philosophy to crime drama to business how to’s. He could rebuild an engine on a ’69 Mustang as easily as he could whip up a five-course gourmet dinner. He was a great guy too. Fun to be around would be putting the description mildly. He was the ultimate sales guy.


Unfortunately, Rick was always looking for an easy sale or a quick buck. Throughout my childhood and into my early career, Rick started and closed eleven different businesses. Nothing had staying power because Rick never followed traditional sales tactics. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand traditional selling, rather he knew the tactics quite well, instead he chose to skip this step or that step. He refused to make cold calls and deemed them too much of a time investment. It would take too long to fill his pipeline. He constantly tried different approaches to gaining clients, but ultimately failed in his efforts. Rick is retired now and doing okay. He lives a modest life in Baltimore near family and friends. On the surface, he seems content. Under the surface, he has regrets. I know because he’s told me. He wishes he would have been much more patient, stayed the course, learned from those that had successfully gone before him, and “desperately wishes he would not have cut corners or tried to always find short cuts to success”. He never learned and mastered the basic tactics of selling which never led to the blending of tactics to increase his overall sales.


In the world of sales, regardless of what product or service you are selling, there’s really no such thing as old school versus new school. There are basic principles of sales, proper pathways to success, blending of all tactics throughout the sales process, and patience. The greatest of all sales tactics is patience.

Revisiting The Elevator Pitch - February 18, 2017

Every company has one, but not every employee of the company knows it, but the sales person better…the elevator pitch. Ah, yes, the token statement of “who we are, what we do, why/how we do it, and who we do it for” in sixty seconds or less. The elevator pitch has been around for fifty plus years and is as important today as it was back then. Unfortunately, many companies no longer have and utilize an elevator pitch, and it is obvious.


The purpose of the elevator pitch is simple: imagine you are in the elevator with a C-level executive and you have about a minute until the doors pop open. He/She asks the simplest of questions, “so, what do you do?” And here lies the need for the elevator pitch. You can impress this executive and possibly open them up for a longer (or follow-up) conversation if, and only if, you can explain yourself before the elevator door opens and they walk off.


I heard a colleague recently say that the elevator pitch has changed, it needs to be shorter, you no longer have sixty seconds. Well, that is not entirely true. Yes, it is a fact that people’s attention span is shorter these days, especially when holding their smart-phone in hand. However, a good sales person can shorten or lengthen the elevator pitch with ease, once they have a firm sixty second grasp on it. You see, if someone takes the time to ask you what you do, then they will take the sixty seconds to hear you out. The key to those all-important sixty seconds is so very simple yet difficult too. You need to know exactly who you are (employer), what you do, why and how you do it, and who you do it for, and you need to perfect this statement. And, there lies the biggest problem, perfecting the statement.


No two sales people, or company employees, are alike and they should not sound like each other. They will come across robotic. However, the elevator pitch is about talking points. It is about making sure everyone in the organization has the same general understanding of who we are, what we do, how & why we do it, and who we do it for, which culminates in why the company remains in business, and then they can stylize the elevator pitch to make it their own.


Does your company have an elevator pitch? Do you know it? Can you present it in sixty seconds or less? Can you answer follow-up questions if asked? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, fantastic and congrats, but if not give me a call. I would be happy to guide you toward the next chapter of success in your sales career.

Stay The Course - February 11, 2017

Over the past few weeks I have shard my thoughts on communication. After completing these posts it dawned on me that much of what I write about is behavior. In other words, since sales is all about human relationships, one’s behavior can influence the success rate in sales, but more importantly the success of the overall relationship.


Oftentimes sales people get a bad rap for what many define as deceptive sales tactics. There’s bait & switch, the “used car salesman approach”, or simply being dishonest. However, these are very few and far between. Regardless of the poor behavior displayed by the few, run with the many, and stay the course. You’re probably now saying, “what the heck is he talking about?”


Being a career sales person, I too have been insulted by a prospect or client who believed I was “up to no good” in my sales approach. I’ve even been accused of a bait & switch only to be vindicated by the client’s own employees. Honestly, and I don’t regularly use terms like this in my blog, but it really sucks. There is no worse feeling than being falsely accused simply by being a sales person. Being lumped together with the misbehaving sales people is simply not fair, but unfortunately is a part of the sales game. And so, based on advice given to me by my mentors many years ago, I work to stay the course.


There is nothing profound about this approach. Staying the course is simple, in fact so simple that many try to read into it, but finally come to realize how basic this ideal is in selling. Be honest with your client (prospective client), be honest with your employer, and be honest with yourself. There’s no need to scream this from the mountain tops: I AM AN HONEST SALES PERSON. Nope, you just need to live these words. And, when you are honest with your client, your employer, and yourself, you are in essence staying the course. You cannot become distracted in the sales process and the client cannot make false accusations (although they may try). Because, even when they do, your track record of honesty, combined with your excellent communication skills (including documentation) will shine through.


As children we’re all taught that honesty is the best policy. Sometimes, and really not too often, being honest will lead to tougher conversations. Your client may not want to hear the truth about their situation or current products (etc), but sugarcoating the situation or not being honest will steer them in the wrong direction and you have gone off course. It is better to be upfront and honest, to stay on course, so that there will not be false pretenses as to why the client is buying or why you are selling.


My last note is this…staying the course may cost you a deal or two over the course of your career, but trust me, it was meant to be. It is better for your client, your employer, and yourself to lose a deal based on honest selling tactics, then to win a deal on falsehoods. Those always come back to bite you in the butt.

Communication (Wrap-up): Be Kind - February 4, 2017

Over the past few weeks I’ve touched upon a few ways in which to deal with communication. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about communication between vendor and customer, husband and wife, or father and son (etc. etc.). Communication ultimately is about human relationships. Some of us are good at managing relationships, some are okay, and some people just struggle because they have flaws in their personality. As I wrap up my posts pertaining to communication I am reminded of advice from my father. Two simple words: Be Kind.


My father is an accomplished attorney and lobbyist. He has been involved in a series of mergers and acquisitions over his 45+ year career. He is an excellent negotiator. And with all of these attributes, his best advice for communicating with others, “kill ‘em with kindness”.


We can call it human nature or something similar, but when dealing with human relationships and communication, no one is perfect. That is just a fact. We all can be short tempered or lose our cool every once in a while, just ask anyone that has been married for more than a week. However, if you manage your career (or life) with these instances being the exception versus the rule, and you simply remind yourself to communicate with kindness, well then you are less likely to end up on the losing end.


I’ve shared my ideas about communication in documenting all of your notes and conversations. When delivering the information back to a client, do so in a sincere manner, that you’re just wanting to make sure everyone is on the same page, and not with an attitude that you are forcibly reminding them of what they are or are not buying from you. When you deal with an abusive client, by email or telephone, do not stoop so low as to attempt to match them with insults. There is no place for disparaging remarks in an honest and open relationship. Sure, there are times for constructive criticism, but not for criticism alone. Bite your tongue and be kind in your tone. Maybe the other person is just having a really bad day or received bad news about a loved one. Give them the benefit of the doubt and hope they’ll understand by you Not losing your cool that maybe, just maybe, they were out of line. And, when push really does come to shove, and the other person in the relationship has no sense of reason, your kindness will shine through in the form of professionalism. Again, no need to lower your standards.


Not to bring religion into a post, but I am reminded of the “Golden Rule” – treat others as you wish to be treated. If you want to be treated with respect than you need to treat that person with respect. If you wish to be treated with kindness than you need to be kind. And, when the other person doesn’t necessary abide by these lifelong rules, you will come out ahead, simply by being a better communicator and a better person.

Communication: Just The Basic Facts - January 28, 2017

Throughout my career, and actually well before, I’ve relied on the communication tactic known as Just The Basic Facts. No, I’m not referring to a Pink Floyd lyric, rather the approach one must use when dealing with communication confrontation. Stick to the facts and the truth will set you free (or something like that).


While my recent posts have been dealing with communication, I have been using a very recent and relevant example to emphasize certain points. It is an unfortunate recent and relevant example. A client who has no patience, does not understand how to manage her emotions, does not think, speak or write rationally, and who does not rely on any facts whatsoever.


As you may recall, I have taken extreme abuse from this client, something more than I’ve ever experienced in my 20+ year career. False accusations have been guiding her rants due to her lack of knowledge, her lack of understanding why she hired us in the first place, and her poor business acumen. It really is a shame because her former employee, the assigned project manager, was a true delight to work with and she was very knowledgeable.


Regardless of the ways in which I and my firm have been treated, I must remain steadfast in my communications, since she still is considered a client at this time. Sure, I could raise my voice, or I could throw vulgarity her way in an email. What would that get me? Nothing. Instead, I’ve maintained my composure (see last week’s post), and I have buried her in facts. Facts cannot be disputed. The facts are documented in a legal and binding agreement for which she signed. The facts of what was and was not included in her specific project were witnessed and documented by others in her own organization as well as my own. Facts are facts whether she likes it or not. And, because we deal in just the basic facts, she can only use her foul mouth to attempt to sway us into believing she is right about any of our business dealings. Again, I say, what a shame.


Sales is a fantastic profession and one I am proud to be a part of. Like any chosen profession though, there are up’s and down’s. I’ve tried to mitigate the down’s. Occasionally, there may be a dispute between a company and customer, between a boss and an employee, between two employees, between parent and child, or between spouses. Getting angry and venting may occur, even in the best of situations, but when you manage emotion, keep your composure, and work on just the basic facts, both parties will come to an amicable understanding. When the one side doesn’t want to work with facts or simply does not believe in facts, well then they unfortunately lose.

Communication: Maintaining Composure - January 21, 2017

Sales, regardless of product, service or industry, is about human relationships. And, we all know human relationships can be complicated, just ask any married couple. There are times when relationships are pure bliss (aka the honeymoon phase). Then there are times where the relationship feels strained, that no one is listening or willing to talk, just scream and yell. Naturally in a professional environment you’d think no one would stoop so low as to scream and yell, but human emotions can take control of the most level headed individuals at times.


I promise, the timing of the example for this post is purely circumstantial, it really is. I’ve been planning this post for a few weeks as I’ve been attempting to answer questions and concerns from private clients and colleagues, but this very real example just happened yesterday. And, I have a feeling this may become an example for upcoming posts as well.


When I look back on last week’s post about record keeping and sharing, and then I dwell on a telephone call with a client yesterday, I am baffled by how ridiculous some so called professionals act. I’ve been thinking to myself, if they act like this toward me, just imagine how they treat friends, family or employees. It seems my client, after terminating her employee who was a project manager, now has no recollection of why she hired my firm. To make matters worse, even though I documented the sales process in terms of notes, summaries, and a detailed proposal, she is now claiming that we are not delivering what she wanted to buy. Unfortunately, I cannot turn back the clocks and ask her to be more active in conversations, instead of relying on her very talented and knowledgeable project manager.


On a review call yesterday, she screamed and yelled. She called me names. She called my company names. She called my employees names. She acted out as if throwing a temper tantrum. She screamed and yelled for nearly 25 minutes before allowing me to utter any sentences. I must say, with over 20+ years in my career, this takes the number one spot on my list of Did That Really Happen In Business list.


Now, for those of you that know me, you’d probably think I gave it right back to her. I tend to stand my ground with my held high, but I am also rather blunt. When push comes to shove, I will push back. I believe it to be an appropriate position when being confronted with falsehoods, lies and accusations. But, in reality, these are words. Words may sting a bit, but will only hurt if they are true. If they are not true, well then they are just words.


Maintaining one’s composure is the right thing to do, not just in this scenario, but always. You can and should push back when pushed, but with composure. Keep your head on straight. Don’t lose your cool. Do not lower yourself to meet the behavior for which you are being treated. And, no matter what, do not scream and yell back. Keep your composure.


I simply asked my very angry and unreasonable client why she was yelling at me. I wanted to know if she recalled the details of multiple conversations throughout the sales process. I very calmly asked if she had been involved in meetings since signing the contract. I gently pushed through a series of questions if she remembered assigning her own employee as project manager and instructed us to work directly with this person. It is a real shame that some people cannot separate emotion from business. It is my hope, always my hope, that when these types of situations occur (even if only once in 20 or so years) that people will breath deep, calm down, reflect on the sales process and what they were purchasing, and then be open to conversation and collaboration versus, as in human relationships, divorce.

Communication: Keeping & Sharing Conversation Records - January 14, 2017

Note: Over the next few weeks my posts will cover various topics around communication. I have been asked by a few personal clients and colleagues to answer their questions or comment on their concerns. So, here we go:


By now you’ve certainly read about having solid communication skills whether you’re a seasoned sales vet or a newly minted college grad. But, being able to verbalize clearly or give an A+ presentation to a huge audience is not all that is needed in the area of communication with a client or prospective client.


There’s one issue that tends to creep into the sales process more than you can imagine: the client (or prospective client) hears only what they want to hear and not entirely what you’re saying. Sometimes you’ll have a client (or prospective client) that will be open to you gently correcting their “misunderstanding” and then there will be times when you are the devil, as in how dare you tell me I’m wrong. This is where keeping and sharing records with your client (or prospective client) pays off.


I’ve taken some sense of pride over the years in both my ability to be an effective communicator and I believe this has to do with how I obsess on keeping written communications with clients as much as verbal. For all the times that I, and many other sales managers-coaches-trainers, have said that a sales rep cannot rely solely on email, that one must be able to communicate face-to-face and over the telephone, there is still always a place for email (or print). Typically, this tends to come into play when you want to ensure your notes are on track with the client (or prospective client). It can be something as simple as a note with a few bullet points asking, “are my notes from today’s meeting accurate, just want to make sure”. Or, it could be something slightly more formal as in a summary sheet typed, printed and delivered (email or face-to-face), highlighting the previous conversations so as to again ensure accuracy before committing to a formal proposal or contact.


Now, I must admit that this tactic is not full-proof. There have been times when I’ve gone above and beyond the norm to provide summaries in email or hard printed and the client still comes back months later to dispute a detail in the “wait I thought I was getting X but you sold me Y”. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I’m still a believer that sharing your notes, dropping a few emails back, or even the printed documentation is a great way to cover your butt…you are also covering the clients (or prospective clients) butt too. Keeping records and sharing records keeps you and the client on track, on the same page, and ultimately helps ensure the project, service, or product is what you said it would be.

Treat The Janitor The Same As The CEO - January 7, 2017

There are a lot of sayings, new and old, along the lines of treating the janitor the same as you’d treat the CEO. For example, do unto others as you’d have them do unto you; or never judge a book by its cover. While nothing here is overly profound, and you’ve likely heard them a thousand times, they tend to ring truer than ever as we enter 2017, especially for sales people.


We’ve become a rather relaxed society in terms of business etiquette and business attire. More and more we find companies moving to a casual dress code, and with this dress code, there also tends to be a more casual atmosphere in the office. Many companies today have gone to a condensed work week, employee-favored work from home policies, and in some cases unlimited time off. Obviously with these types of environments and policies in place, employers have increased trust in their employees. One must be trusted to get their work done, otherwise they may not last too long.


There are two sides to my post this week. The first is how you should treat others in this type of environment while the second is how you need to act if you too wish to be treated like the CEO.


As we enter 2017 and the relaxed business climate seems to becoming more frequent, this does not in any way, shape or form mean you can be relaxed when calling on a prospect or client. Regardless of “their” environment there is still an expectation of professionalism for “you” when calling on them. Being casual can mean a lot of different things to different people. You don’t necessarily need to be in a suit & tie when calling on a company that allows shorts & flip-flops in the office. But, a sense of professionalism should withstand the casualness in front of you, so I would recommend khaki’s and a golf shirt, as an example.


When you engage others in conversation or when you are approached at a networking event, you should be mindful that you never know who this person is or what position they hold. Moreover, it is a basic approach to human decency that you should respect others, but selfishly you should also be mindful in a casual society that the woman in the t-shirt and yoga pants meeting you for coffee may be the chief marketing officer that you’ve been trying to get in front of for 6 months.


Being mindful of these old sayings kept me on my toes recently. During the Christmas holidays I met with a few friends for lunch. Joining us was a “friend of a friend” and so I thought nothing of him joining the group. We were all calling it a half-day in our respective organizations so we could have a beer or two. Knowing we’d all be coming from work, it didn’t surprise me when some were in suits and others were business casual. However, the friend of a friend was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and a baseball cap. He looked as though he just rolled out of bed and rushed to meet us. Turns out he was taking the day off and doing a little shopping. Oh yeah, he’s the CFO for a global Fortune 100 company. The moral of this little story: don’t judge a book by its cover.


And then there are those out there who don’t want to be judged either by the appearance. It may be they can be casual or required to dress up. They may be younger by age in an older working environment. My advice to you, those that fall into this group, is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. Be patient and relax. Do not try to force yourself into a work related social setting just to be included, instead be patient and wait to be invited. Most importantly be yourself. Do not put on an act and attempt to be something you are not simply to gain popularity, respect or to garner another’s attention. If you are a janitor and wish to be treated as an equal to the CEO, be a decent human being, and always treat everyone you encounter as if they were the CEO.