Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Probationary Periods For New Sales Reps - June 11, 2016

There are companies that have sales cycles that are done in days or weeks and there are sales cycles that last months. I am often confronted by sales managers concerned about how best to hire new sales reps on a probationary basis when the sales cycles are more complex and take longer. It almost always comes back that these managers are worried that by the time a rep closes a deal or not it is far into their employment and then it becomes difficult to measure success (or possible future success) or terminate based on lack of success.


A true probationary period does not necessarily need to be about a “close win” or “close loss” scenario. In fact, I have met many a sales rep that is ultimately not a good fit for a company in the long run, but had relatively okay “close win” success. So, how then does a probationary period come into play? I always fall back on day-to-day performance.


Day-to-day performance is based upon a grading scale of knowledge and understanding. Before a sales rep can be successful in the “close win” column, they must first become fully immersed in the company culture, understand the way in which the company sells, have a solid grasp on what is and is not a good customer, and has a full understanding of the company’s products and/or services.


The evaluation process and grading scale should be determined before the interview process, explained in great detail to the candidate, and should be documented for the new sales rep to acknowledge by signature. This is not an extreme measure in the hiring process, but rather a safety net for both you and the new sales rep. All expectations are out in the open and thus there will be no room for interpretation.


Criteria falling within the evaluation process certainly will differ from company to company, however there should be a few factors that everyone should consider. First and foremost, within 90 days, a new sales rep should show all positive signs of “fitting in” with the company culture. If they do not, this would be grounds for immediate dismissal. Someone that cannot work within the environment will have difficulty learning. Second, there must be a proven commitment to self-education with regards to company policies, procedures, and products and/or services. If the new hire is not learning, does not seem to be a self-starter, or is not showing initiative in wanting to fully immerse themselves into a learning process, well then they won’t make it and should leave now. And finally, the sales rep must have a 100% perfectly firm grasp on what makes a good customer for the new company. If they struggle in this area at all, regardless of the other characteristics that may make them a good candidate, this may be the most detrimental of issues with long-term negative effects on your business. Cut them loose.


Please keep one final thought in mind, while this may seem like an uncomfortable topic, nothing can be worse that the faces of your company not being the right faces for your company. It is much better to show your new sales rep the door than to have a client or prospective client show you to the door.

Q&A 4 of 4 - June 4, 2016

Q: Hey Kevin, how do you know when it is time to move from sales into sales management? I am considering the promotion of an employee and I’m curious to see if my criteria for promotion matches your ideas.


A: I have long been a believer that there is no magic formula for promoting anyone from a day-to-day sales position into a management role. I believe every scenario is as different as the people involved and no two people alike.


Certainly there are large corporations that have rigid organizational structures that promote based on statistics. For example, I have several friends that are in pharmaceutical sales, and some are sales reps while others are in management. Almost all that are in management are in those positions because they’ve been with their company for x period of time, have managed x dollars of market value and/or have successfully marketed x number of different products. There’s nothing wrong with this approach because the majority of pharmaceutical companies have thousands of feet on the street. But, this approach to promoting into sales management oftentimes is the exception and not the rule.


Sales managers are a slightly different breed than the everyday, feet on the street sales rep. Sales managers need to be jugglers. You can teach a young child to juggle three tennis balls. It takes expertise to juggle three chainsaws and two flaming torches at the same time. It is this juggling expertise that is the first identifier I use for promoting into sales management.


Unlike other types of managers within a business, a truly successful sales manager must first know how to sell, be a top producer in sales, and must have an understanding (and I mean full and firm understanding) of how & why they’ve become successful. In many cases it is due to their ability, their expert ability, to juggle. Success in sales comes when you can manage multiple accounts, entertain clients while balancing your kids sports calendars. You must be able to enjoy a quiet dinner with your spouse while not being interrupted with business calls, and yet you must have your business calls under control. While many day-to-day sales reps can handle this type of juggling, it can be nerve racking, and only a select group of sales reps can take these juggling challenges head on.


The second criteria I evaluate is the “team player” aspect of the sales rep. Can the rep not only manage their own sales responsibilities, but do they also lend a hand of guidance to those around them? Are they a team player? Are they willing to spend their personal time, knowing they’re juggling many responsibilities, to help a fellow sales rep? If the answers are yes across the board, then sales management is within sight.


The final criteria - how well will the individual fit in culturally with others already in management roles? I do not want clones. I can’t afford a bunch of “yes” managers. I want individuals with individual strengths and attributes. A cultural fit to me is someone that brings something new to the management team while at the same time fitting in perfectly like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.


Not everyone is meant to be in management or is cut out for the rigors of managing others. It does take a unique combination of personality, patience, willingness to learn, existing successes, and a passion for being a career sales person. Sales managers should be able to not just “talk the talk” but “walk the talk”. Effective sales managers lead by example. Lastly, this is not so much criteria I seek in promoting, but a requirement of being a sales manager: YOU MUST CONTINUE TO SELL! 

Q&A 3 of 4 - May 28, 2016

Q: Mr. Latchford, what is your opinion of professional sales courses, such as Sandler Sale Institute or Dale Carnegie? Are these worthwhile or more brainwashing programs? What value could they provide me (I’ve been in sales for 5 years)?


A: The short answer is yes, programs such as these are worthwhile, and you will find value in attending. But, while yes is the short answer, there is more to going forward into any sales training curriculum.


Let me first share my own experiences and then I will provide you with my professional opinion on moving forward. I have been in sales or sales management related positions for over 22 years. I’ve attended, through previous employers, a variety of classroom based sales training programs. Some were taught at corporate headquarters by MBA professors in marketing and finance. I’ve been a part of Dale Carnegie sales classes taught at company conventions. I’ve been provided classroom and “ride along” training by corporate run sales training departments. And, I eventually took it upon myself to complete the Sandler Sales Institute program and became Presidents Club. I’ve read well over 150 business (sales, marketing, management and finance) books as a means of continuing education. And, I read news blogs, watch videos and listen to a variety of “talks” on an almost daily routine basis.


In my professional opinion, a classroom program such as Sander or Dale is valuable, but in the same sense as any educational program – you only get out what you put in. You must be open minded and aware that not all sales training is created equal. And, most importantly, these programs are designed to teach sales to a variety of industries and individual personality types. You cannot become a robot and attempt to do as the teachers do. You must learn the tactics and techniques that are proven and then apply them to your selling style and respective industry & market.


Having both an open mind and willingness to learn is the key to success. I often rely on said tactics and techniques garnered during my time in Sander. I attend refresher programs every few months. But, I am wise and know that I must take the information and ideas shared, and make them my own.


Over the course of my career I’ve met many a sales person who felt classroom programs were a waste. They tried to emulate the teacher in every facet of what was being taught from body language to tone of voice. They deemed the programs a failure. If you want to take one of these programs you must be willing to know how to adapt the learning to your environment. You must take the knowledge being passed along to you and make it work for you. I found it helpful to take 10-15 minutes after each class to make notes on how I could apply what I learned that day to my own career. In the evenings I would re-read what coursework along with my notes and place each lesson into a real life scenario I was facing at that time. These steps helped me move from a classroom student to a situational student.


Are they worthwhile, absolutely and I would encourage you to proceed, but make it your own experience. 

Q&A 2 of 4 - May 21, 2016

Q: Hello Kevin, I’ve had a pretty successful sales career in the professional services market for almost 10 years. I married 2 years ago and just became a father. While I used to feel like I had a grasp on my schedule, even when busy, now I feel as if I’m always running out of time. I’m worried something will get missed or slip through the cracks. How do you manage your busy schedule and what tips can you offer for juggling a lot of “to do” tasks?


A: First of all, congratulations on married life and parenthood. Those are two of the best things I have going for me and I wish you the very best too. And, if you think life is hectic now, just wait until you have two, three or more kids in the mix.


As a business leader, sales manager, husband, father of three, volunteer to many activities, and someone that enjoys staying active, my schedule can be overwhelming to say the least. Over the years, as I have added more and more responsibilities to the day, week, month, I’ve needed to monitor myself so I do not become so consumed with these responsibilities that something winds up being overlooked. No matter how busy you are, you don’t want something to slip through the cracks, because you may not be able to get that “thing” back. So what have I done and do now? I use my calendar like an ultimate lifeline.


I’ve found there is no real secret sauce to managing my time except keeping track of it. I’ve had coworkers comment in the past that my life is an open book in Outlook. They can see everything I have going on and sometimes have asked me why I include personal items in my work calendar. I do not believe in managing multiple calendars. I want to know, through one spot, exactly what I have to do today and tomorrow and next week. And so, my answer this week is fairly short, sweet and to the point…become an open book with your schedule.


With Outlook you can mark items as private and only you will see the details. But, no matter what, put every single activity in your calendar, and monitor these activities closely. Here’s what I do: I block time for all work meetings both internal and external. When meetings are external during the business day, I add drive time to and from so no one else can book a meeting in that time slot. I block calendar time for my daily “to do” items, such as invoicing, conference calls with my attorney, etc. I put in my doctor and dentist appointments with drive time to and from. I put in my volunteer meetings with drive time to and from. I add my kids school schedules, practice schedules, game schedules, recitals, band concerts, and pretty much everything they have going on.


One major additional step that I do, which I don’t think everyone remembers, and that is to match my calendar to my wife’s calendar. I need to be on the same page every day with her. She needs to know when I can or cannot pick up one of the kids due to a work commitment. I need to know when she has an appointment and needs me to be home for a delivery. We both need to know that our children and other personal “to do’s” are covered.


Once you make your life an open book and have all of your activities, meetings, tasks, etc. all in one place for others to see, you will then be able to hold yourself accountable for your time, and others will be in a better position to help you manage your time too.

Q&A 1 of 4 - May 14, 2016

Over the next few weeks I am dedicating my posts to Q&A. Each week will be my answer to a popular question I am asked frequently. I hope this information will help you sell or manage sales. Thank you for following SaturdayMorningSales.


Q: Kevin, I’ve often heard sales professionals in Northeast Ohio (as well as other parts of Ohio and the US market) talk about seasonal selling. Specifically, these sales professionals discuss concerns and workaround planning for the summer months. Do you believe seasonal selling is a real thing? How do you handle this time of the year?


A: Thank you Michael S. from Elyria, Ohio for submitting one of the most frequently asked questions I get year-over-year. I absolutely believe seasonal selling exists and have experienced this issue directly for many years. Not only does it exist in Northeast Ohio, but it also exists in many other parts of the country where there is a dramatic change in weather. And, to be specific, I am not talking about a seasonal product, but rather trends in buying & selling behavior.


Using Cleveland as the basis for my answer, we must first talk about Cleveland weather. Here we are, Saturday morning May 14, 2016, and I am waking to 37 degree temps. It is cold and damp and it’s May. Not only is it cold and damp, but the forecast is calling for snow flurries and snow showers tonight and into tomorrow morning. This is the perfect starting point to my answer. While most of the country is enjoying springtime weather, we are experiencing borderline misery.


Business people in the decision making seat feel exactly as we do when wanting to go outside and enjoy spring. There is a slight feeling of depression in the air. All we want is to escape the cold, the gray skies and the snow. We want green grass, warm air, and a chance to enjoy the outdoors for a little while. And so the seasonal selling season is soon upon us. Once those temps warm, people flee their offices for time off, and getting those decision makers to talk or meet becomes a real challenge.


June through August poses a variety of challenges for sales professionals. When you throw in graduations, kids moving to and from college, as well as family vacations, getting a decision maker to commit time creates challenges with their calendars. Beautiful days are numbered in Cleveland, as an example, and so the decision makers want to take advantage of the time they have and work remote, take half-days, entertain their own clientele and employees, and they don’t want to be bothered with, well, making decisions.


Planning ahead and working on scheduling activities for June through August, beginning in April and early-May, can be the most critical step to minimize downturns due to seasonal selling. Finding opportunities to meet with the decision makers in unique locations where great weather can be enjoyed by both of you will help up your chances of getting and keeping the appointment.


Having an agenda that proves worth and value to the decision maker is the next step. You cannot expect this person to meet you for lunch at a waterside restaurant on sunny Friday afternoon if you have nothing important to bring to the table. You must be diligent with your strategy of “delivery news of importance”. It may be a new service you are immediately offering and you want them to be the first to know. Keep in mind, you’re asking this person to possibly sacrifice time on their own, so make it count.


Lastly, do not become discouraged if things slow down, because they will. Use your time wisely when someone cancels or does not want to meet until September. Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. Typically, the Tuesday after Labor Day is when the seasonal selling season ends and sales life, as we know it, gets back to normal. I have always found the slowdown a time to reflect on my year up to this point and what I need to do to accomplish my annual goals. I build lists. I research new prospects. I plan for networking events in the coming months. I will look outward all the way to December and lay down the roadmap to successful sales. And, I too will enjoy the outdoors, because when the winter months come and my calendar is full, I’ll be able to look back on time well spent with family and friends. Enjoy it while you have it…the weather that is.

Teach An Old Dog New Tricks - May 7, 2016

There’s an old saying: You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks. I’ve never believed that to be true and as an old dog I am continuing to learn new tricks.


I am very fortunate. During the day I work for a firm that specializes in website design, development and marketing. I am surrounded by many talented people that are younger than me. I always say, “I learn something new every day”. And I do. But, in my role as a leader of the organization, much of what I learn from the younger team members does not necessarily get applied. I am not a designer or programmer. So, how do I learn new tricks? I read, watch and listen.


Reading, as I’ve been preaching lately to my children, is an absolute must in life. In order to stay on top of my industry and my role, I must make time to read. From a sales leader’s standpoint, I find it necessary to know what my competition and clients are doing in the market. And, every so often I come across a solid leadership, management, finance or marketing book that provides enlightening approaches to dealing with many of the rigors I face.


Watching comes into play on a daily basis. With the ease and speed of uploading video to YouTube, I can source information in quick, digestible chunks. I try to watch 3-5 video segments per business week regarding my industry or similar industries. I rely on my coworkers and colleagues to share ideas on trends or people they value. I find this to be a great way to learn at least one new idea (or trick) to apply that week or the following. My goal is to at least “try” it and sometimes these new ideas (tricks) work out and I keep them in my routine.


And finally, I listen, and I mean listen intently. I have a driving routine every morning when I head into the office. I listen to the same talk show on the radio for news and interviews. It is my starting point for the day of learning something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love music, and do need some downtime when driving. But, I find my daily journey of learning new tricks really begins with being prepared for the day ahead, and what better way than a routine of news.


Can an old dog learn new tricks? Absolutely, I am proof, but you must be willing to learn. Accept that learning is a part of your day, week and month. Do not be hardheaded, but rather open minded. You too will learn new tricks, and when you do, you’ll become a better sales person and sales leader.

Chart A New Course - April 30, 2016

When is it time to throw in the towel? What are the indicators that should make you leave your current company or sales position? When is it time to chart a new course? These are questions I’ve been asked recently by individuals seeking change and by sales managers trying to guide their employees.


Oftentimes we want to believe that we, as career-oriented sales professionals, have a firm grasp on our capabilities. In most cases we do (or we should). But, sometimes circumstances are outside of our control, and our careers are just not going in the direction we want. It may be due to the direction the company is headed by design or by chance. It may be that the style in which the new sales manager manages is not in line with your own approach. The company may have been acquired and you are jockeying to keep your position. Or, it may have something to do with your personal life, such as a health issue or family-related matter. Whatever the reason that your sales career is not going as planned, it is not too late to chart a new course.


Whether it’s happening to you or you are attempting to guide someone down a new path, it is important to keep a few tactical points in mind. First and foremost, be careful what you wish for, because the grass is not always greener on the other side. In other words, make sure your reasons for considering a change are valid, make complete sense, and are not going to be a detriment to your (financial) well-being. Second, if you have others relying on you such as a spouse and/or children, be sure to have a roadmap in place to minimize any burden they may feel. Charting a new course with your sales career can be exciting and rewarding, but with any rewards, you must also accept risk. And finally, seek the counsel of others who’ve gone before you, whether from your current employer or those that have made similar changes.


Change can be scary and change can be a breath of fresh air. Making sure that you are changing for positive reasons, a step in an advanced direction, and changing in order to put all of your talents to work will ultimately drive the rewards you are seeking.

Too Many Coaches and Not Enough Players: Part 2 of 2 - April 23, 2016

When Joe, the CEO, called and asked me to meet with him, his call provided me an opportunity to also apologize. I was not intentionally trying to hang any of his people out to dry. He appreciated by verbal gesture, but assured me that I witnessed a serious concern he and a few other C-level executives have had for some time. They are “top heavy”. I obliged his request to meet one-on-one and we had breakfast early yesterday morning.


While it is unclear today whether we will do business together, the odds are in my favor. My laughter in his parking lot was that final moment when Joe realized “enough is enough”. Early in our breakfast conversation he even eluded to the famous Teldar Paper remarks by one Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street. Gekko was lamenting on the state of corporate America where there are 200 VP’s in a company. What do these people do? More importantly, what value do they bring to the table?


Joe and his executive team have been concerned for some time, but must also take much of the blame. You see, they used the title of VP as a means of promoting a sales person, loosely based on accomplishments. The problem that went along with the title promotions – these sales reps became less involved in selling – and more involved in managing their positions. They became coaches or assistant coaches and were no longer players. That is about to change.


The company is going to embark on a new journey, one in which each person associated with sales will be an active participant in selling. They will have quotas and books of business. Each person will be held accountable directly by the CEO. And, in six months, a new organizational chart will be announced. There will be two heads of sales and all others will be reassigned as outside sales reps. They will no longer be VP’s pushing paper and ideas, but sales executives on a mission to sell, sell, sell.


Joe was appreciative that I would come back for a follow-up meeting and we are going to continue to talk through how my firm may be of marketing assistance. With more feet on the street, we may be able to bring value to this client. I feel better knowing the organization is taking steps to “right their ship” which should enable them to implement stronger growth plans. Too many coaches and not enough players will not provide a sustainable plan. Ask yourself…does your team have enough players?

Too Many Coaches and Not Enough Players: Part 1 of 2 - April 16, 2016

I’ve used my own personal stories of coaching sports in sales training for years. I am fortunate to be able to coach lacrosse, a sport I played in school, and one that my children enjoy. Coaching offers me an opportunity to teach, encourage, and build what may become a foundation for someone to grow upon. The game of lacrosse, like many sports, is based on a team concept, that one person cannot win a game and one person cannot lose a game. What does this remind you of? To me, I draw a direct analogy to sales, from the team play to the coaching.


As with any team sport, you cannot have more coaches than players, otherwise you become top heavy and do not have the stamina players to make it all the way through the game. What do I mean by this statement? If you have too many sales managers, all wanting to be decision makers and drivers of ideas, and not enough sales reps on the street closing deals, you will quickly end up being top heavy. You’ll be full of great idea people and no one implementing the ideas.


On a recent sales call of my own I came across a company that had 9 VP’s of sales and 4 outside sales reps. The VP’s still went out and sold, but much less so than the outside reps. When I asked about the role(s) of the VP, I clearly touched a nerve. A few became defensive. They (tried to) explained what their role was and what they did every day. They had this idea and that idea. They managed this concept or that concept. They talked about this stat or that stat. And, when they were all done with their explanations and sitting proudly with their chests pumped out, that’s when I hit everyone in the room right between the eyes. I asked one simple follow-up question: So, who here is revenue king? Who in the room is responsible, on a day-to-day basis, for ensuring the company is producing revenue? The room fell silent.


You would have thought I’d just ask them for their blood type. Better yet, you would have thought I just asked them to strip naked, run out into the middle of Main Street, and to start doing jumping jacks. The utter shock that I would ask such a questions caused an immediate disruption in the meeting. I was asked to leave the room for a moment, and when I returned, I was informed that my firm (moreover me) was not going to be a fit for them to do business. I thanked them in a very professional manner and walked out.


I didn’t even make it to my car before I cracked up laughing. I was laughing by myself so hard that I caught the attention of a gentleman 100 yards away. Maybe he could not tell I was laughing and thought I was injured or something, but he approached. As he drew closer I realized it was the CEO of the company I had just met with and he too knew who I was. He wondered by I was laughing so hard and remembering the honesty rule (Out of the mouths of babes!) I shared the story of the meeting that just abruptly ended. He apologized, wished me a good day, and told me he would call me. I dismissed his final remark as being polite.


Four hours later the CEO called me, again apologized, and asked me to return at my first possible schedule opening. He wants to meet with me one-on-one and promised he was leaving all of his “coaches” in the locker room. Stay tuned…

Never Do Business With A Handshake Alone - April 9, 2016

Here we go again, contract time. It never ceases to amaze me, how we live in such a litigious society, and yet people expect to still do business with a handshake. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of doing business with a handshake, the old "a man’s word is his bond" saying, but the realist in me says “no way”. We all need to cover our butts. And, there is nothing wrong with a written contract.


My post, although brief this week, is a reminder to posts past. There are three generations of sales people out in the business world right now: an older group who fondly remember the days where the handshake was the guarantee; my group where the handshake sealed the deal in addition to the signature on the dotted line; and, a younger sales force that know nothing but legalese because that is how they were taught to close a deal.


I’d like to believe that my group, the middle of the pack I just referenced, have the best closing approach to sales. You’ve read my posts about relationship this and relationship that, I’ve built my career on relationships, so the handshake is the kiss that makes the marriage official. But, don’t forget you still need a marriage license (i.e. the contract).


Make sure you are aware of why the contract is necessary. In other words, don’t get bogged down in sections describing force majeure or arbitration, but really understand why you need a contract. What are you protecting and what protections are you offering your client in writing. Know these protections inside and out and be able to clearly explain these to your client.


When you finally present the written contract to your new client, having been informed in advance that a written contract is in fact a requirement, the handshake will still close the deal.