Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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.