Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

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.

Coach Don't Manage - June 24, 2017

Some of the best coaches are the ones we had when we were kids. Just think about how many professional athletes give praise to their youth sports coaches. Since his entry into the NBA, LeBron James has and continues to praise his high school coach, because he was the most influential in LeBron’s career. Think about this a bit more, LeBron has played for two NBA teams with multiple management executives, and a number of other head coaches (who in professional sports are more managers than coaches).

 

A coach, a truly impactful coach, is more than the title given to him or her. A coach is a manager, a mentor, and tour guide through portions of your life. As a manager, a coach sets the course toward goal achievement, much of which is by some level of directive. As a mentor (think big brother or big sister), a coach leads by example and teaches from a “been there done that” standpoint. And, as a tour guide, a coach has the ability to provide insight into ones future, regardless of short-term or long-term.

 

Sales managers, the best I’ve ever come across, are more like coaches than executive leaders. Don’t get me wrong, every organization must possess strong executive leadership, but a sales manager needs to be more. A sales manager must be a coach in order to get the very best from their team members, the sales reps. In most cases, sports are coached by someone that has played the sport, and most likely with an above average level of proficiency. It is not an easy task to coach an eighth grade girls volleyball team if you’ve never even played organized volleyball. Positioning and the rules are not easy to ascertain without having been there done that. In sales, many sales managers fail because they either don’t have a deep or broad enough sales background, or in some cases they did not come from sales at all.

 

In taking a coach’s position as a sales manager, doing so should feel natural to both you, the sales manager, as well as the team members, the sales reps. I’ve come across many sales managers who have described their roles as nothing short of uncomfortable in the sense that they feel like “task managers”. They have mediocre report with their team members and tend to train and manage from a spreadsheet versus from the history book. They cannot tell relative stories from the been there done that standpoint and therefore these sales managers fall short in exploiting the best from each sales rep.

 

Coaches on the other hand know how to manage people from a talent and emotional perspective. They know what makes their team members work harder than others. They know what drives or motivates them. They know how to not only ask, but expect, each sales person’s very best each and every time they are in the game (of sales).

 

Ask yourself this question: Am I a coach or a manager? Who do I want to be? And, how can I become the winningest sales coach in the game?

Be Careful Not To Overpromise - June 17, 2017

An old saying “under promise and over deliver” has a tendency to fall short with sales people. In an effort to win over a prospect or client, sales people oftentimes embellish when giving their pitch. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is, yet sales people still take this approach.

 

I pride myself on being mindful and very careful that my words are simply a representation of my company. Whatever I promise in a meeting oftentimes must be delivered by my team. Therefore, I tend to be much more cautious when describing my firm, our services, and what the client should expect in the end.

 

I’ve fielded a few phone calls recently by clients that were overpromised by either a sales rep and even in one case by our sales manager. It wasn’t a stretch of the imagination so much as it was how much emphasis was placed on delivery of service. Timeframes were tight and budgets even tighter, and in both cases, my sales people gave the clients the old “no problem we’ve got it”. Unfortunately, that was a theme they chose to lead with in the sales process, and no matter how much complexity crept into the project, “no problem we’ve got it”.

 

Our internal team was none-to-pleased to find out that unrealistic deadlines were being imposed by their own sales people. And, the fact that the client would have accepted an additional amount of time from the beginning, this put a burden on our resources which simply did not have to happen.

 

Being enthusiastic in a sales role is a requirement for success. But, being enthusiastic doesn’t mean giving in to any sort of unrealistic requests or demands from a client, so be on your toes. Practice how best to pitch realistic pricing, deadlines for delivery, and rebuttals to concerns raised. Speaking from experience a client is much more appreciative when given realistic information rather than being overpromised. 

Competition From Within - June 10, 2017

Most sales people are trained to “know the competition” to some degree. You may be well versed in their products or services, have a grasp on their pricing matrix, or even know people within their organization. Knowing the competition helps a sales person prepare to put their best foot forward in hopes they outshine when the decision making process takes place.

 

But, what happens when the competition is from within the prospective client’s own company? There are several scenarios that may cause a company to go out to bid, such as lack of internal capacity or time, limited resources with the necessary experience, or a desire to learn from others. And, sometimes leadership may simply want to challenge their own internal resources by bringing in the “outsiders”.

 

Regardless of the reason why the project or service is being outsourced, a sales person is generally at a disadvantage when they do not know the competition, especially when the competition is from within. There are two ways to level the playing field. First, asking the right questions, and second, researching the internal team members (ie competition).

 

When asking questions, a good sales person needs to be fluid as with all questioning of a prospect, but also a bit more invasive while being calculated. Naturally questions arise around the why’s and when’s as well as the budget and decision making process, but questions also need to be asked about “how come you’re not doing this yourself?” A series of open-ended questions, where you get the prospect talking, needs to be a part of this sales process so you can best gain perspective on why they feel it is better to bring you in.

 

Th next step is understanding who the team members are within the prospective company that would likely take the project on. This may sound daunting, but with LinkedIn, it becomes easier. Imagine for a moment that these individuals were another agency that you were bidding against. Learn who they are, what skill sets they have, what their qualifications or lack thereof they possess, and then plan to present why you are a better choice as if they were an agency and not full-time employees.

 

In presenting your proposal, the final step, the key approach is not to state reasons why you are a better fit than the competition, as would normally be the case, rather state all of the facts as to why your firm will be a great compliment to their organization. Paying compliments to their current capabilities will play favor with them while also showcasing how you can jointly take on the project. You don’t want to make them feel inferior or give them a sense that is what you’re trying to do, instead showing how your two groups can collaborate will likely increase the odds of you winning the business.

Do You Really Want To Be Here - June 3, 2017

 

Relationships are hard. Relationships require two people to learn to communicate effectively. Honesty is required in any relationship. Disagreements happen, but must be managed with respect. And, whether the relationship is personal such as a marriage, or the relationship is business such as a sales rep to sales manager, your dialogue needs to be open and in a willingness to open up to one another. This can be the toughest part of a relationship.

 

Let me focus on a personal situation first. It’s said there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Divorce rates hover in the 50% range. Marriage counselors can be found with the click of a mouse. Relationship blogs are everywhere. Advice abounds on how to effectively communicate with your spouse on topics ranging from kids to finances to intimacy. No matter the topic or the source of information, you will almost always find one common theme, open communication. In many of these examples, asking your spouse tough questions is tough enough, but being able to maturely handle their answer can be even tougher. Imagine asking your significant other if they really want to remain in the relationship. Can you handle them being honest if the answer is anything but a resounding and firm “yes, of course I do”? What happens if they say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or a flat-out “no”? How do you move forward from this answer?

 

Now, shift over to the business relationship between a sales manager and the sales rep. There is a relationship in place. Sales managers need to place trust in the reps. Reps need to be honest with their managers when they are not feeling things are going 100% in the right direction. A sales manager and a sales rep need to have an open dialogue about what’s working, what’s not working, and what can be done to make the situation and their relationship better. Oftentimes the sales manager is the embodiment of the entire company for whom the sales rep has the most intimate relationship. Intimacy in this case is not the same as a spousal relationship, but is important nonetheless. A sales rep must open up to the sales manager, exposing their weaknesses, so the sales manager can help develop their skills, making them stronger sales reps, thus creating a stronger relationship. What happens when communication breaks down or wasn’t that great to begin with? What happens when a sales manager begins to lose faith in their rep? What becomes of the relationship between the sales manager, the sales rep, and the company when the time ultimately comes to ask the question – do you really want to be here?

 

I’ve had to ask that question a time or two in my career. I’ve not only asked that question of employees from a management perspective, but I’ve had to ask myself that questions as I looked in the mirror. I’ve asked that question in personal relationships throughout my adult life. And, I’ve asked that question looking directly into the eyes of the best sales rep I’ve ever had in my employ. It seems like such an easy question to ask, yet it may be the hardest one.

 

Over the past few weeks I’ve been counseling a sales manager who has been struggling with her relationships with two sales reps. Susan is a solid sales manager. She’s been through her share of ups and downs in sales for many years now, so it did take me a bit by surprise when she asked me for help. Her struggles are in managing her own emotions because she takes her relationships very seriously with her team members. She has mounting evidence, if you will, that Jonathan is just not performing as well as he should after being with the company for 18 months, yet she “likes the young man”, and wants to be supportive. She knows Grace (the newest sales person) is watching Jonathan struggle and must wonder if his struggles are acceptable.

 

Susan needs to come to grips with her responsibilities in both her relationship with Jonathan and with Grace. With Jonathan she needs to take a little more tough-love approach. He needs to be made aware that he’s become a bit complacent (see last week’s post), he needs to increase his overall sales performance, he needs to open up to her more, and he needs to be accountable for his communication in their relationship. Grace needs to be shown, by Susan’s actions, that Jonathan is struggling but cannot take advantage of his relationship with Susan.

 

Ultimately, Jonathan needs to be asked one poignant questions, “do you want to be here?” Susan has a relationship with Jonathan as a sales manager to sales rep. She needs to be as open and honest with him as to with herself. The relationship between them, between Jonathan and the company may simply need to end, and that is tough. He may not like the question and she may not like the answer, but the question must be asked. And, Jonathan needs to ask himself the question. Should he move on, for his and the company’s best interest, and seek a professional divorce?

 

It is a hard question to ask yourself or someone else, personally or professionally, but it needs to be done. Handled carefully and the question can save a relationship.

Hand Grenade Complacency - May 27, 2017

Close your eyes for a moment and visualize, if you will, a scene from a movie or television show: a hand grenade is thrown into a group and the reaction is to scramble and get the hell out of the way. Everyone in the scene knows it will explode. They don’t want to be in the way, so they get a burst of energy and move, no matter how exhausted they might be.

 

It is the latter part of the description that you should hang on to for this post. I’m not insinuating that you, as a sales manager, should blow up your team. Instead, metaphorically speaking, you may need to give them a jolt from time-to-time. I’ve been there before, it’s not always pleasant, but it does work. Here’s what I mean.

 

Complacency in sales is terrible and can be detrimental to your entire company if not addressed swiftly. Sometimes complacency sets in when the sales team feels like everything is going just fine. Complacency can also set in with one person and become contagious whereas the other sales team members begin to make excuses based on the actions of one person. Complacency tends to never come into play with ‘A’ level sales people, but then again it is rare to find an entire sales team made up of 100% ‘A’ level sales folks. So, what is a sales manager to do when complacency creeps into his or her team? Throw a hand grenade into their circle.

 

They need to be jolted alive. They need a wakeup call. They need to realize they are being complacent and that complacency is not normal in sales. And, to give them this awareness or awakening, they need a shock to the system. I reached out to a few friends in sales management for ideas on how they throw hand grenades at complacency.

 

Jim has been in enterprise-level software sales for 27 years. He’s been in sales management for the past 10 while also being the lead sales person (individually) each year. He noticed, not too long ago, that 8 of his 12 sales reps appeared to be going through the motions. Sales were neither slower than normal or better than normal, but their activity was decreasing. Meetings were not being scheduled with prospective clients or existing clients. Client entertainment was minimal. When he asked his reps how things were going the standard answer was status quo. Yet, he and the other 4 reps were increasing sales. They were getting prospective and existing clients to meet where discussions on upgrades were taking place. Jim became very tired very quickly of the obvious complacency with the rest of his team, so he threw a hand grenade into their daily routine. Jim contacted the top client for each of the 8 complacent reps and scheduled 8 face-to-face meetings. He was able to do this all in one day. When scheduling the meetings he also made sure his reps would be available to attend. The next morning was their mid-week sales meeting. Jim announced to his team the meetings that were scheduled with their clients, he set an agenda for each meeting, and he explained that these meetings were not difficult to schedule. In fact, the clients were anxious. He then sent the entire sales team home for the day with one question to ponder: “if you want to be in sales, if you want to return tomorrow and keep this job, come back in the morning prepared to discuss the ways in which we’ll never be complacent again”.

 

Maria manages a small sales team of 3 people for her family owned manufacturing company. Although the organization may seem small, the components they make are used in high definition radiology scanners. Her team had a tremendous year in 2016 adding several new clients and increasing sales from existing clients. However, the first quarter of 2017 did not keep pace. In her words, “my reps were still hungover from the success of 2016”. But, she wasn’t. She knew there were more opportunities with prospects and existing clients. And, of the 3 sales people, one really didn’t seem too concerned about slowing down. Complacency was okay by him because he was basking in the success from months ago. His commissions were still rolling in and he felt he could turn on his sales jets whenever he wanted. So, as both the sales manager and an owner in the business, Maria threw a grenade at the sales team. Becoming frustrated with the lackadaisical attitude of the one complacent sales rep more than the others, she went on her own mission to meet with and sell to his top three prospects. Without announcing her plans, she spent one week traveling to Indiana and Michigan, met with all three prospects, secured sales (PO’s) from all three, and quietly traveled back to her home office in Columbus, Ohio. The grenade was thrown the following Monday morning when she announced to the sales team her success from the week before. The complacent sales rep was visibly upset by what he called “back door tactics”. He felt she stole these prospects from him. He called her a lousy sales manager and demanded to meet with her brother, the president of the company, unaware that he was on the conference phone the entire time. Maria simply asked one question…”why did I close these deals and you didn’t?” He couldn’t answer the question and was subsequently terminated for lack of performance. He went from being the star of the show in 2016 to being a lazy bum in 2017. He didn’t feel motivated to continue his successes. He let complacency take over. And, with one week of visits, Maria showed her organization and the remaining 2 sales people that complacency has no place in a growth oriented company.

 

Maria’s case may be a drastic example. However, it happens every day in sales. Good sales managers, like ‘A’ level sales people, can recognize when someone (or a team) is becoming complacent. Stop it before it sets in otherwise you’ll need to throw a grenade at them.

Cold Calling Is Not Dead - May 20, 2017

If you know me or have read previous posts prepare yourself because I’m about to “beat a dead horse”. This past Tuesday I was provided an opportunity to not only attend a client sponsored conference, I was also asked to be a speaker. Various topics were shared throughout the program, but they all led back to one key component for all growth minded organizations, ‘A’ level sales people/teams. In the span of about four hours we covered the importance of hiring and retaining ‘A’ level sales people, sales processes that support the ‘A’ level person or team, and what separates the ‘A’s’ from ‘B’s’ and ‘C’s’. By the time the third speaker was wrapping up, I almost burst out laughing.

 

Cold calling was an attribute that was mentioned in all three of the presentations before I stepped up to the microphone. And, when the audience was polled by show of hands how many valued cold calling from their sales teams, the result was almost unanimous. What’s even more reassuring to a senior sales guy like me, the audience represented about two dozen different industries. There was manufacturing and software development, logistics and advertising, financial services and construction.

 

In some respects we could have renamed the conference “cold calling is not dead”. Now, don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a teaching program on how to cold call. No one was comparing numbers or statistics. It just came down to the fact that each and every attendee acknowledged that cold calling was as important today as its ever been in their business development efforts.

 

I’ve preached about cold calling throughout my entire career. Some sales people are better than others. Maybe I’d go so far as to say there is a little art form to cold calling. But, to hear younger sales people or those not classified as ‘A’ level sales people tell me cold calling doesn’t work in a digital age, my response is: bullshit.

 

The single-most important factor with cold calling is patience. And, what do you think one of the top attributes is in an ‘A’ level sales person? Patience. Cold calling is not dead, far from it. Sales people need to embrace the cold call. Even the best inbound marketing programs, those that drive tons of leads to your company, can be supplemented by cold calling. What’s more, as a sales person myself, there are companies out there that I’d really like to meet with, but I don’t necessarily have a warm lead in. So, I cold call them.

 

Cold calling is not dead, oh no, it’s alive and well. If you don’t accept this as fact, don’t embrace cold calling as a part of your sales process, then be careful, because your competition mostly like is.

Closing With A No - May 13, 2017

As a sales person there is nothing I find more frustrating than waiting on an answer from a prospective client. Think about it this way, you’ve put in your time throughout the sales process, meetings have gone well, the prospective client has asked for a proposal, and then nothing. Silence. No return calls. No replies to your emails. They’ve gone dormant.

 

These things happen. You don’t want them to happen, but they do. And, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in sales or how great your closing rate is, the dormant prospect scenario still happens. So, what do you do about it?

 

Although we all want the prospective client to say yes, to sign the agreement, to become an active client, a no is still a close. So, make a no answer your goal. Chase the client down and ask them to say no. At this point you are probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind. Sometimes I wonder that myself, but more when it comes to being a father of teenagers, and not from a sales management perspective. Indulge me for a moment and you’ll soon see where I’m coming from.

 

Whether you use a CRM system to track your prospect activity, a simple spreadsheet, or even a notebook, you have a list of prospective clients holding proposals. If you’re like me, you want to move through your list in a fair amount of time, opening new opportunities and closing those you’ve been working on for some time. This is where a close becomes a close regardless of yes or no.


Time is valuable. Time is money. Time is precious and should not be wasted. Time, time, time. Every attempt to reach a prospective client in hopes they will respond with a yes, only to receive nothing in return, is a waste of your time. This is time you could be using to contact other prospects, writing other proposals, or entertaining existing clients in an effort to drive more business.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that as a sales person, we must sometimes play the chase game to nail down the prospective client. And, sometimes they genuinely feel terrible for not responding sooner, but regardless, you still need to efficiently manage your time, your organizations expectations, and the client communication process. When you get to the point of feeling frustrated and you’ve given the closing attempts due process, give this approach a try. I call it “No Close 3 In 1”.

 

This is a simple concept that only requires you, as the sales person, the willingness to walk away from the sale. My goal is to obtain a no answer from the prospective client in 3 scheduled communication attempts in 1 week. After the third attempt, I mark the proposal closed, schedule 1 follow-up note for 1 month out, and then close the account altogether.

 

The first attempt is a voicemail along the lines of “Ms. Smith I’ve been trying to reach you for days/weeks now to finalize our agreement and have not heard back from you. Please call me as soon as possible even if your decision is a no, thank you”. A few days later follow up with an email similar to – Dear Ms. Smith: I’m dropping you a brief note to follow up on my voicemail from a few days ago. I’ve been trying to reach you, but have been unsuccessful. It seems like everything was going well in an effort for us to work together, but now it seems I may be wrong. Although I’ll be disappointed if your answer is no, at least I will then know to move along and stop bothering you. Please get back to me at your earliest convenience. Thank you, Kevin. And, if these two attempts fail, then go to the US Mail approach, and send a formal letter. Rather than write this out in its entirety, here’s a synopsis: thank you for your time recently; it seems we’re not a fit as we initially thought; I am going to close this opportunity for now but could always re-open in the future if you’d like; please don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything; pleasant closing and another thank you; mail it.

 

Move on sales person, move on. You need to put some closure to this opportunity, shift your time and attention to your other sales responsibilities, and don’t look back. Well, one time look back, and then close it for good. The one time you should look back is about a month or so after you mailed the final letter. Give the contact a call. By conversation or voicemail just ask how things are going, if they ever made a decision with another firm, and remind them that you’re there if they need you. Be pleasant, say thanks again, and move on.

 

Remember, a no answer to a proposal is still a close. It may not be the close you want, but a close is a close, and you can shift your time toward getting the type of close you really want – a yes close.

The Loss of a Mentor - May 6, 2017

It’s been two years since Bill (aka BG) passed away unexpectedly. BG was an older fraternity brother who lived near campus. He became more of a big brother than a fraternity brother. He was a longtime friend. He was one of the key influencers in my decision to choose sales as a career. And, he was one of my original mentors. My relationship with BG began 26 years ago, and although there were times that physical distance caused a distance in our relationship, he was never forgotten.

 

I had an admiration for BG from the moment I met him. While he graduated a few years ahead of me, his chosen path in sales allowed him to live nearby campus, and so I was able to see and talk with him often. BG was a realist. He lived in the moment. He never painted a false picture of his sales career. Sure, he definitely spoke fondly of the pros of sales, such as flexible schedules, travel, client entertainment, and of course compensation. But, he also was not afraid to share his frustrations as well. Long weeks of driving through multiple states. “Shitty food”. Constantly being told no. And, of course compensation.

 

As my years progressed as a “still undergrad” and my relationship with BG grew, his career blossomed. I watched this man go from a struggling salesman to a sales manager to a vp of sales in a short period of time. And, for some reason, BG kept me in the loop as if he knew I was watching closely as I was trying to determine my own course post-college. Many of our fraternity brothers and friends weren’t aware of this, but BG kept a journal. It wasn’t a diary, rather it was what he referred to as a “business-life lesson notebook”. He kept it close to his vest, in that I never held onto it for long, but he would let me read some of his notes about wins and losses, cold calling successes and failures, and even a few short blurbs about what hotels to stay in and restaurants to eat and entertain.

 

With only a few weeks remaining before graduation I was faced with the ultimate decision. It boiled down to law school or a sales position. BG could see that I was struggling with this decision. I didn’t want to let anyone down by my decision, yet it was ultimately MY decision. BG showed up on my doorstep on a Sunday afternoon and demanded I join him at a local bar for a beer. We hadn’t even been served yet when he slammed his hand down on the bar, looked me square in the eye, and said we weren’t leaving until I made a choice. We spent nearly three hours talking and making lists. And, in the end, I chose sales.

 

The choice was not because I wanted to be like Bill. Rather, it was because Bill brought something out in me that many others could not. He had the ability to make me face my fears of post-college. His support was not that of a family member or an employer. He had nothing to lose or gain, quite frankly, so he played devil’s advocate. He pushed me to answer really tough questions about who I was then and who I wanted to be. How I wanted to spend my early post-graduate days. And, what did I want out of life, at least for the foreseeable future (way back then).

 

I share this post to those that are graduating from college soon and seeking direction in life. I share this post with those that may be considering a career change. And, I share this post with my fraternity brothers who knew BG. Everyone needs a mentor. If you have one may he or she be as valuable to you as BG was to me. If you don’t – use this post to help you identify someone in your life that can match the qualities of BG – for this is the type of person that will have a lasting impact on you.