Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Context - September 2, 2017

We live in a rather political climate where oftentimes we hear people say, “you took my comments out of context”. Sales people have long been accused of taking clients comments out of context, or vice versa, the sales person says their comments were taken out of context. Why does this seem to happen frequently and how can it be avoided?

 

Sales meetings with clients can sometimes be tricky. Each side has an agenda and sometimes will share just enough to make their points. Sometimes too much information is shared. In either case, making sure both sides have a mutual understanding of what is expected as the outcome from the sales process is key, and it may require extra effort beyond a conversation.

 

In past posts I have shared ideas on documentation, especially in the form of email follow-up’s, which more times than not works to solidify an understanding. Summarizing the conversation, expectations, next steps, deliverables, etc. all can be covered in an email. It is imperative that a sales person make this a requirement in their daily sales process.

 

I was recently asked by a few newer sales people what to do when this approach may not be enough. There are times when the conversations with a client are on the extreme side when it comes to details, especially when you are selling an intangible service, and not a manufactured product. A comment can quickly be taken out of context which may result in misquoting the project/service or worse a loss of revenue.

 

In such cases where conversations can be lengthy, very detailed, and require multiple steps to layout the “game plan”, take others on the sales call with you, and also ask the client to bring others into the conversations. Note taking is valuable throughout this process, summarizing the notes afterward an absolute must, and open communication with the client a necessity. When you have multiple people involved from both sides of the table, summarizing eliminates the possibility of taking something out of context. You enable many, instead of one, an opportunity for review, Q&A, and feedback prior to the engagement.

 

Remember, asking others for help in the sales process should not be viewed as a waste of their time, rather a time savings for when the engagement begins post sale.

Collaborative Selling - August 26, 2017

There are a variety of ways to sell a product or service and you’ve probably been taught more than one. For nearly twenty years I have been focused on relationship selling and consultative selling. A few years ago I found that blending the two and engaging the client more than not in the sales process leads to a different approach with higher levels of success: collaborative selling.

 

Collaborative selling is quite similar to relationship and consultative selling. The idea that the sales person converses with and doesn’t necessarily talk to the prospect reigns supreme in all of the approaches. When using relationship selling techniques, the core concept is to give the prospect a personal feeling for what it will be like to do business together. When using consultative selling, you are building a trusted relationship while serving as an expert advisor because in the instances you do know more than the prospect. Collaborative selling takes the key components of both approaches and brings the prospective client into the mix of the selling process. That’s right – they are helping you sell themselves.

 

Especially in professional services, and in most cases, the prospective client does know more about their own company, its history, and their clientele than you do. While they may need your help to overcome a problem or to expand their business, you need them too to help navigate through the knowledge they and others in the organization possess. So, if you need them to be a part of the engagement, why not have them be a part of the sales process.

 

My personal success with this approach is based upon the idea that I want long-term relationships with my clients. I don’t want one project or engagement, rather I want a client that will retain my firm for years of services. Knowing this is my primary goal brings me closer to the client throughout the sales process. I talk with them and not to them. I ask more and more questions. I ask for their help. I want them to share their knowledge and experiences. And, along the way, I will chime in with my expertise to say back, “I am listening and I can help”.

 

Collaborative selling takes a little longer and requires a little more patience than other approaches. You are not just building a relationship to close the deal, you are developing the foundation of a relationship that must work together for a longer period of time, a trusted relationship, that will achieve results. You are showing the prospect that you are their consultant with experience while at the same time letting them know they too are a valuable part of the engagement, and success is only achieved collaboratively.

 

And, finally, the prospective client should have a hand in outlining the proposal. Notice I did not say write the proposal, rather outline the proposal. In most cases of collaborative selling I will work through a series of summaries with the prospect in advance of the formal proposal, including pricing, so they have a say in the direction of the initial engagement, the timeframes, and ultimately what they can and/or are comfortable spending. Keeping in mind the goal is to work with the client long-term, I am generally more open to working with the client on their initial budget, knowing that I will retain them for a longer billing period of time.

Job Shadow - August 19, 2017

I participated in my first job shadow when I was in eighth grade. For a class assignment, I shadowed my father, a corporate attorney, for two days. My assignment was to observe and document what his day consisted of, such as meetings, luncheons, etc., and not so much any specific context of a particular meeting. I shadowed others in high school and college, both for class assignments, and for personal experience. And, now that I’m twenty-five years plus in my career, I’ve been shadowed a few times too.

 

Job shadowing can be fun for both the student and the employee. You get to show off a little bit, sharing stories, and in many ways trying to convince someone that your chosen profession is something they should consider for themselves. There is also another form of job shadowing, one that can take place between two employees, that can be enlightening and quite valuable to organizational performance.

 

Take the queue from the traditional job shadow, a sales person can and should spend a day or two shadowing their sales manager, but also the president of the company. When a sales person has an opportunity to watch and learn what takes place within their own organization, beyond their smaller perspective or daily grind, it enlightens them as to why their own role and decision making is so important. Sales people, by the nature of their chosen career path, enjoy the engagement of others. Conversation is a key to a sales person’s skill set. What better way to learn more about their own company and potential career advancement opportunities than to shadow those ahead of them. Conversing with these leaders while watching intently on what they do every day to drive company success can be more enlightening, and ultimately helpful, to a sales person than any other form of training.

 

Another approach to the job shadow is to do so during an interview process. How often do you bring in prospective sales candidates for a half or full day and allow them to shadow you? Not only will the candidate get firsthand experience on a “day in the life of”, you too will get firsthand experience of the candidate. You’ll have an opportunity to witness how this person interacts with others in the organization for whom they will be required to work with should you hire them. You can gauge their level of interest in what you do and how you do it based upon the type and volume of questions they ask. You’ll also glean some insight into their personality, more so than in an interview, especially since you will be spending so much time with them going forward. Will they be a cultural fit for the organization?

 

Consider the reasons you’ve either participated in or hosted a job shadow in the past. Now, consider what value this approach will have for your business today, and for your business in the future.

Recharge Your Sales: Work Remote For One Week - August 12, 2017

No matter how long you’ve been in sales, every so often you need to recharge your sales approach, otherwise burnout may set in. I’ve long been a believer that everyone should take time off, go on a vacation or stay-cation, and simply unplug to recharge their personal batteries. Sales people oftentimes get the bad rap for having flexible schedules, client entertainment, etc. The truth is though, sales people rarely ever turn off. Heck, I once sat on a beach in Florida, struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me over some frozen drinks, and a month later signed a contract for my firm to provide marketing services to his company.

 

Sales people, like anyone else in the company, do not have an endless supply of vacation days. Between driving all over the place to meet with clients, juggle personal schedules with networking events, and oh yeah, making dozens of phone calls every day, a sales person’s business life can become hectic. Taking a break without actually taking a break may be just what is needed for a quick battery recharge.

 

Every so often I will plan an entire week of work from home. When planning ahead I make sure my wife and children have their regularly scheduled routines in place so that any time spent in the house is for me and the dog. My kitchen table becomes my office. Calls to the office forward to my cell. I schedule one or two client meetings, maybe a client breakfast or lunch, but otherwise leave the calendar somewhat open. And for what?

 

I’ve found the alone time, except for the dog, therapeutic. I am more relaxed and when I am more relaxed I tend to feel less stress and tension. I plan ahead for the next few months and documents my plans. I read, write, rewrite, and send hundreds of emails in one week that I’ve been trying to do for over a month or two. I make more phone calls in two days than I can typically make from the office in one week. Unless I am seeing a client, I wear shorts and t-shirt, I take time to go for a walk with the dog, I go out of my way to make myself an awesome (healthy) lunch, and I set time aside to reflect on the past few months and what is ahead.

 

What I don’t do is take this time for granted. I do not waste this time. I do not watch television or surf the internet. I take business as serious as if I were in the office, but I do it from my kitchen table. I still go to bed and wake up at the same times. But, I am not worried about traffic. I recharge while getting work done.

 

This approach to managing myself and my sales teams requires trust. I must trust that work will get done. I must trust the person is mature enough to handle this autonomy. I must trust that when the person returns to the office that we move forward without having skipped a beat. 

When It's Time To Stop Sugar Coating - August 5, 2017

An organization that I am quite familiar and fond of, and one I counsel on various sales, sales management, and marketing related topics, lost a management team member a few months ago. Neil had been with the organization for over five years in various roles and in management of the sales team for the past year. He left to pursue a new opportunity out of state.

 

When Neil announced his departure, many were surprised. He was well liked and viewed as an up and coming leader of the organization. He had ideas for growth. He was a regular participant in company meetings and team building activities. He represented the company at many events in the marketplace and still found time to join coworkers for happy hour. On the surface Neil was the ideal employee, team member, manager and friend.

 

Unfortunately, there was a bit of a dark side to Neil too, but not what you might be expecting. Don’t jump to any conclusions here, he was not committing a crime, or leading a double life. Neil was in way over his head in business and clearly jumped ship before anyone found out. He was lying to himself, to his sales team, and to his clients.

 

The company must share a small amount of blame too for this situation as they promoted Neil to a sales management role before he was truly ready. Neil had tasted success but was not “worldly” in a business sense. He was still young, he had not worked for another company in the past, and so he could not relate to past experiences to help guide his own direction. Instead, Neil relied on books that he would read, or speakers he’d go and listen to, all cheering on his short-lived accomplishments, and ultimately building a false sense of knowledge.

 

Neil made poor hiring decisions masked in excitement. Haley was a nice young lady with a good education. Neil sold her a bill of goods on her new role with the company, a role she was not entirely qualified for, and more importantly a role she ultimately did not want to be in. Neil portrayed himself to be a “coaching style leader” yet he was not leading by example. We’ve come to find out that he was more talk than action and lacked a lead by example approach. And, the icing on the cake, Neil began to lie to his clients, making promises that were not based in reality. Some had to do with the timing or pricing of delivery, others based around success of service that had yet to be provided. All the while, the company was kept in the dark, until after Neil left and the stories began to unfold.

 

Most human beings want to see the good in others. Humanity is based, in most cases, upon the ideology that while there are bad people in the world, most are good. Neil was not a bad guy, he just made bad decisions, and he did so because he lacked experience and lacked the character it would take to own up to such a lack of knowledge. The management team sugar coated these issues for the immediate few months following Neil’s departure. They did not want to paint him in bad light and they also did not want to look like sore losers since he left.

 

There came a time where too many issues arose, promises made to clients and fellow employees, were just not right, and the team needed to be told just who Neil was. The ownership of the company needed to stop sugar coating Neil’s history and behavior and deliver the message clear and concise. I helped them craft the statement. Here it is:

 

Neil was a young man who joined our organize about five years ago. Neil reached success within a relatively short period of time for which he was rewarded. His rewards came in the form of a promotion to sales manager. Neil was liked by us, by you and by our clients. Unfortunately, our mistake as the ownership, was to promote Neil too soon. Neil’s mistake was he got in way over his head, kept a smile on his face, and spiraled downward. Neil made several poor decisions, most of which we can put behind us, but some we cannot. The most serious mistakes were the lies he told to our clients to close deals. We, the owners, are meeting with our clients now to make amends. However, in doing so, we have taken on full responsibility of Neil’s actions, as he was acting on our behalf. That means he was acting on your behalf too. Our intent is not to tarnish Neil’s name, rather we must set the record straight. Neil was a good sales person at one point in time, but not a good sales manager. We, the owners, apologize to each of you for allowing Neil to continue down a path of representing all of us. Our vow to you is to learn from this mistake and to work to avoid any similar issues in the future.

 

Stop sugar coating it and deal with your team straight. They are adults and deserve to know when those they work with are excelling and when sometimes they are being mistreated (and don’t even know it). The lessons learned from Neil will stay with my client for a long time. Neil’s demise doesn’t make him a bad guy. He is immature in the ways in which business is conducted. Hopefully Neil will learn his own lesson, not sugar coat things, and speak up when he needs help.

Hunt vs Farm - July 29, 2017

In the world of sales, the phrase hunting versus farming is certainly not new, but has been lost on the current younger generation of up and coming sales people. I’ve met dozens of younger sales people recently and almost none could explain the phrase hunt versus farm. Making matters worse, while they were familiar with terms (or titles) like account executive, account manager or business development professional, none liked the idea of being referred to as a sales person.

 

A simple explanation of the phrase is this: a sales hunter seeks out a new business relationship that do not currently exist (prospects), nurtures and develops the relationship (sells), and then manages the ongoing relationship (account management) all while repeating the process with new prey (prospects); while farming on the other hand is based around the concept that crops are already planted (a book of business already exists) and you must nurture the existing relationship (account manage) while not having any pressure of ongoing sales or new business development.

 

Organizations who employee more farmers and less hunters are causing issues in the market on two levels. One, they are not challenging young sales people to grow books of business, rather relying on the older or more experienced members of the team to bring in new deals. And two, they are leaving the general marketplace without qualified sales people, thus a lack of knowledge and experience exists where people become afraid of what real sales and real business development is all about.

 

I’ve had to get past my own frustration that many simply have never heard of the phrase hunter versus farmer. However, once I explain the difference between the two I ask one question, are you a hunter or a farmer (or who do you want to be)? If the answer is farmer, the conversation ends immediately, and the opportunity to discuss our open sales positions comes quickly to an end.

 

There is no denying that our society has changed and opinions and views on sales people or a sales career has changed as well. There are still a few out there that want to make an above average annual income and believe sales is a career choice that will help them. However, all too often companies hold back these talented individuals because their opinion too has changed, and they have become more and more accepting of farmers. Where have all of the hunters gone? Where are the “never take no as an answer sales people”?

 

Sales is not a dirty word and has provided many a professional a wonderful career. Hunters can change the course of their company’s growth. Hunters can call their own shots, make their own schedules, and have much more control over their own career destiny. Like hunting animals for food, one must be successful, or they do not eat. Sales hunters must be successful or they do not close business, bring in new revenue, and earn commission. In other words, they must hunt, be a successful hunter, or they do not eat.

 

As a longtime sales manager, I want to be surrounded by hunters, for the more success we hunters achieve, the more we will eat. Are you a hunter or a farmer? Are you an aggressive sales person hellbent on success? I am seeking a real sales hunter to join my team. Contact me if this post resonates with you.

For A Reason - July 22, 2017

Maybe it’s the Catholic school upbringing or just my grandmother’s words spoken to me as a child, but I’ve long put faith in the term “things happen for a reason”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe each person has a large part in defining who they are and where they are going. But, I also believe that in business, as in our personal lives, we have individuals come and go for a reason. Sometimes the reasons are known in the moment while other times the reasons come at a later date.

 

Over the past few weeks I have been a firsthand witness to changes that I can only define as “for a reason”. To begin with, in my day-to-day business, I am dealing with the loss of a longtime teammate. He was my right hand for nearly five years. But, for personal reasons, he has chosen to move from the United States back to be with family in his home country. I will greatly miss Ned. He was an excellent salesman. He was a confidant. He was someone I genuinely enjoyed spending many hours a day with. He was an all around good guy.

 

I am forced now to look not to the past and good times we had, but to the present and future for my firm, and I must seek a new teammate. I cannot replace Ned, but I must replace the position. I believe this change is happening for a reason. For Ned it is an opportunity as a young professional to explore opportunities to build upon his career that are truly global, and for me and my firm, this is an opportunity to bring someone into the organization with fresh perspective. We will bring someone with sales experience, management experience, and full of hope and ideas for growth. I can say things happen for a reason and in this case we will use this as an opportunity to begin a new chapter of business expansion.

 

On the personal side I am faced with the loss of a neighbor. He has announced that he will be moving his family from across the street to a new home several miles away. Now, you may say so what, what’s the big deal. It is not as much of an impact on me as it is on my youngest daughter. Her best friend is moving. Her confidant. The person she spends hours per day with. Her “other sister”.  For young children this type of announcement is tough to swallow. But, again, things happen for a reason. As my daughter gets older and is becoming more mature, this will be an opportunity for her to expand her network of friends, move beyond the comfort zone, and to explore her boundaries. She is not losing a friend, as I’ve told her, she is gaining new opportunities and challenges.

 

Although these are simple examples of change, in both examples I watched others around me react with concern, get upset, and wonder “what now?” In life we will all be faced with challenges, with change, and it is how we choose to accept these challenges and change that will not only define who we are, but show others who we are.

 

Living my life with the belief that things happen for a reason has not always been easy. It is not easy to accept the sudden and tragic loss of a four year old boy. What reason is there for such a thing. Cancer diagnosis is again no laughing matter and something that one will ask themselves “why them” or “why me”. Looking beyond the immediate situation, but to the what comes next has helped me learn that life is short, change is inevitable, and things really do happen for a reason. You may be smacked square in the face with the reason or you may need time to seek the reason out. But, no matter what, things happen for a reason.

Sales Crossfit - July 15, 2017

Do you work out? Do you go to the gym? Hopefully the answer is yes, because as a sales person, staying healthy physically and mentally helps with the endurance you need in the game of sales.

 

Crossfit is no longer a craze, rather a mainstay approach to exercise. Crossfit combines a little bit of this with a little bit of that in a one hour routine. Think about it this way, in one hour you’ll do some running and probably other cardio exercises, mix in a lot of stretching, and then top it all off with weight training. Crossfit works the entire body and mind. And, no two days (classes) are alike.

 

Sales can sometimes become stagnant. A sales person’s routine can become repetitive. If you make the same amount of cold calls every day, at the same time of the day, and say the same pitch on every call, you can burn out. It’s like eating the same lunch at the same time at your desk every day of the week, it gets hard to be excited. So, what can a sales person do to breathe life into their routine – take a crossfit approach.

 

I’ve been using this approach for my entire career and I’ve taught this approach to countless numbers of sales people. It never dawned on me to relate it to crossfit until I started doing crossfit myself. Now I can call it something…sales crossfit.

 

My concept for sales crossfit is simple. Routine is important. Without developing and sticking with a routine, schedules may become very unbalanced, and you begin to scramble to find time to get something done. Much like going to the gym, if you don’t stick with a routine or schedule, it is easy to say “I’ll go tomorrow”. In sales terms “I’ll get to it tomorrow”. Routine is not a dirty word in sales or in your career so long as it is used in proper context.

 

A sales person should have a routine that calls for internal team meetings, client meetings, client entertainment, cold calling / prospecting, networking, etc. on a regularly scheduled basis. For example, Steve has a great routine, he makes calls Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, Thursday afternoon, and Friday morning. He has this time set every day or every week in his schedule. Some days it is a one hour slot and others a two. Steve’s goal is to make a certain amount of qualified calls, but more importantly, to hold a certain amount of qualified conversations. Where crossfitting his sales comes into play is who he’s calling, why he’s calling and his pitch. Steve mixes it up to avoid becoming stagnant.

 

Some organizations require sales people to meet their clients on location while others want the client to come to them. Crossfit this sales approach and do both. Mix it up and get the client out of their comfort zone from time-to-time. Same goes for networking opportunities. Break from the same industry related events and look to others than may spark your curiosity even if not directly in line with your targets.

 

I’ve long believed that the path to success in sales is to always be in sales mode. Staying sharp and always being in sales mode requires a sales person to stay focused and excited. In an effort to keep the excitement alive, try different approaches to your sales tactics, mix it up a bit, try taking a sales crossfit approach.

Top Down Change - July 8, 2017

Top down change is by no means a new concept in business. At its very basic premise top down change simply means that a decision is being made from the top, embraced by top management, and shall be implemented throughout the company beginning with management all the way down the line. Pretty straight forward, huh?

 

There is another version of top down change that is oftentimes not discussed in day-to-day business operations and certainly not the most pleasant of concepts. This version of top down change is removing and/or replacing your human equity all together, thus forcing change that may scare an organization to its core. However, if managed correctly, the outcome can be hugely successful.

 

I recently consulted with a client where such a change was the last resort. A shakeup to the organization so-to-speak. Jim, the ceo of a midsize manufacturing company, has seen little in the area of sales and revenue growth for well over one year. The sales team has been walking around with their heads held high, a bit of a chip on their shoulders, as if everything is fine. Revenue is flat and even on a year-to-date basis, yet the company goal is to grow nearly 25% over last year. Jim began to look at himself as to the cause for being flat. Was he not leading the company the right way? Was he not participating enough with the sales team? Was he not providing the proper leadership to his sales manager, Neal?

 

Jim worked with his other management team members and his outside advisors constantly trying to determine the “why’s” of what was happening from a sales standpoint. More and more the answers were coming back that Neal, although a good sales person and seemingly good guy, was not a good sales manager. And, his poor leadership qualities, and the lack of mentoring he was providing his team was the root cause for the lack of sales. He led his sales people to believe they were doing fine. He managed by numbers with no emotion. Neal would often say “keep making your calls, make your numbers, and everything will happen in time”. However, he did not teach (or coach) his sales team to push down on the gas pedal, or to change up their individual styles when making calls. Neal may have been a good sales person, but not a good leader, and he allowed his sales team to become complacent. And, the sales people didn’t seem to care.

 

Jim gave Neal and the sales team several months of his own coaching starting with team huddles every two weeks, moving to every week, and then twice per week. He shared stories from customers, stories from other departments from within the company, all based around the need to enhance overall sales performance. Days and weeks went by all the while Jim growing more and more frustrated. The sales team was not responsive to what was becoming clear: sales were now declining.

 

The day finally came in early-May when Jim, his fellow executive team (not including Neal) and his advisors realized they needed to make a change. This would not be a pleasant change in the beginning, but if executed properly, a change that would turn the company back toward positive sales and an increase in revenue. A top down change was needed.

 

Jim engaged a professional recruiting agency with experience in his industry. He utilized this firm to select a new sales manager and two new sales team members. He then made the top down change a reality. In keeping with his planned two-a-week meetings with Neal and the sales team, Jim walked into the conference room right on schedule like many meetings prior, with one exception. His executive team was with him.

 

In a swift and deliberate move Jim announced that Neal and his sales team were all done as of that moment. They were fired. Jim explained that meeting after meeting with the sales team had been documented. Performance charts were being tracked. Communication with clients was being had by the executives and the clients were ready to buy but were not being contacted by the sales rep. Each sales person, including Neal, had failed not only the company, but themselves. It had been obvious for a long time that they were the wrong team for this company. A top down change was needed and a top down change was happening.

 

This approach to top down change can be and is dramatic. It is a last resort toward making needed improvements. Now, nearly sixty days later, Jim could not be more pleased with the new sales team. In his words “they get it”. Client communication is improving, the new sales team members are excited about their roles and the prospects ahead, and revenue has already begun to increase.

Great Salesman-Poor Sales Manager - July 1, 2017

In a follow-up to last week’s post, I was “called out” by a colleague suggesting I was speaking to him through my writing. Well, not exactly, but there were several correlations that could not be ignored. However, what my colleague missed in the post but something we discussed at length over the past few days is this, there can be great sales people that are not cut out to be a coach.

 

Going back to my analogy of professional sports, many coaches played the game, but not all. And, given the vast number of athletes playing in the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, et al, few ever go on to be a coach at any level. In sales, as I’ve stated in past posts, not everyone is cut out to become a sales manager.

 

Managing sales people requires a variety of characteristics ranging from empathy (because you’ve been there done that) to support to disciplined reinforcement. A successful sales manager does not manage from a spreadsheet alone, as in stats and numbers only, but with emotion. Keep in mind that sales is emotional and almost all sales require skill in working with human relationships.

 

I’ve been in sales for a long time and have interacted with many a great salesman, but also many a poor sales manager. I sometimes wondered why such a charismatic, successful sales person could turn out to be such a lousy sales manager? The answer was not that far from the question. It didn’t take long to determine why.

 

Sales is a big game hunt. You prepare, you stalk, you hunt, you kill, you take your trophy. The excited feeling of accomplishment is an euphoric high that quickly moves on and then the sales person plans for the next hunt in order to repeat the success and the feeling. Sales management on the other hand oftentimes does not come with the same sense of accomplishment simply because you are attempting to be the hunting guide and not the hunter.

 

A hunting guide chooses to be so because they know how to hunt and how to accomplish their goals. They’ve done it enough that they want others to gain the same level (or close to) of their success. The sales manager needs to change their own demeaner when dealing with sales people in that they want the sales people to taste success, learn how to be successful, and to make success a routine. They must be a guide, a coach, and not every great sales person ultimately wants to take on the added responsibilities.

 

While some sales managers say yes to the sales management role, they do it with a smile on their face, but reluctance just the same. They know how to sell. They are excellent at the big game hunt. But, they fall short when it comes to being the guide or the coach. When you ask or are asked to consider sales management, make sure you understand what is at stake for you and the team, what implications come along with becoming the coach, what expectations your team will have of you, and finally if you feel you can be equally successful as the coach as you were the player.