Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Like Boating On Lake Erie - August 13, 2016

I am both a boater and a career sales person living in Northeast Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. What, you must be wondering, does one thing have to do with the other? The weather conditions, at times, are not in my favor for boating or sales. Allow me to explain.


There’s one thing a boater on Lake Erie knows and that is she can change her temperament without notice. One moment you’re enjoying a nice, flat lake and the next there are four foot swells and 20 knot winds out of the northwest. Or, oftentimes, I’ll look out of my office window at a beautiful lake calling my name, but come Saturday morning when I want to take my family for a ride, the lake is choppy.


Sales can be like boating on Lake Erie. Of course, there are plenty of times when the weather (or customer relationship) is just fine. But, there are also the times when things aren’t going so smoothly. Rough waters if you will. It seems we can predict our sales forecast about as well as the weather forecast. Boating is about the relationship between the boater, the vessel and Mother Nature. Sales is about the sales person, the service or product and the client.


When it comes to sales we all have the best of intentions, like wanting the weather to be perfect on Saturday for family time. We can plan ahead, looking forward to a great day, go get the boat cleaned-prepped-fueled up on Friday evening, just to be faced with terrible conditions and an immediate change of course come Saturday morning. It’s disappointing but unavoidable. It is the reality of being a boater.


Sales is no different. Relationships with our client’s experience ups and downs, but how YOU react to a change in weather, so to speak, can chart a new course or sink your ship. Client relationships are not perfect. We should always strive for perfection, but the reality is that there’s no such thing as perfect. A perfect day on the water is conceptually one that is enjoyable with good weather. Conceptually we want relationships with clients that are smooth sailing with little to no disruptions. Unfortunately, again, this is not reality.


Handling client relationships is about being prepared. An ‘A’ level sales person is prepared to “live in the moment” or “chart a new course” just as a boater must do when faced with severe weather changes. Clients can have a bad day and simply want to vent about your customer service. They may be unhappy with the quality of a product or service. There may have been a billing mistake and they caught it on the wrong day. You, as the sales person, must be able to react.


Planning ahead is not easy, rather it requires a sense of confidence that when you chart a new course, or change plans with how you’re managing the client relationship, you ultimately want an outcome that is enjoyable. Remember, you are a sales person at the core, so you will need to sell your ideas and plans to the client to return them to a place of appreciation.

Fire The Client For Their Own Well Being - August 6, 2016

This may sound like a similar topic for which I’ve written about before, but this time I’m taking a slightly different point of view. In prior posts, as well as with my consulting work, I often discuss the selfish reasons for firing a client. Some reasons include: they are not the right fit for You any longer; they can no longer afford You; or You have grown larger and they are simply too small. But, there are times where firing the client is best for them.


On two occasions this week I’ve had to send break up letters to long-time clients. One has been my client for nearly ten years and the other for seven. Such decisions never come lightly, and I struggled with putting thoughts into carefully crafted words, but in the end it was the right thing to do.


Years ago we seemed to be a match for one another. Both the client and my firm were growing. We provided our expertise and the client was attentive and appreciative. However, over the years, we were forced to make dramatic changes, and we grew larger in capability. Our industry changes on what seems to be an every six to eight month schedule. Not every client needs to keep up with the frequency of changes like we do, but stagnation should also not set in. Unfortunately, while my clients have grown, growth has been slower, and so their willingness to adapt to change has also been slow.


I can always make good cases for keeping up with technology, marketing trends, and changing to enhance the business position. There are also times when the clients slow pace of growth prohibits making changes or even keeping up. In my recent two cases this week, these are not bad clients, just clients that cannot (or are not willing) to change and grow. They are not staying current and so keeping their well being in mind, I have terminated our relationships.


At first the clients were upset. How dare we fire them. Who do we think we are? Like I said before, these are not easy decisions, and the messages are not easy to craft. With careful wording though I was able to explain my reasons why I was ending the relationship and I also provided guidance on selecting a new service provider.


When you plan to break up with a client you should plan carefully. Remember: you never know what the future holds and you certainly don’t want to burn a bridge. Putting the correct message in front of the client is the first key step. Second, make recommendations on how or who they can replace you with, and make sure you are comfortable with these recommendations. Lastly, always remember that you can either look like a “great person” or a “total jerk”. Be calm, be patient, and most importantly, be sincere.

Mentor a Future Sales Person - July 30, 2016

College interns are great. They are aggressive in their learning, they want to please a potential future employer, and they generally bring a sense of enthusiasm into the workplace. The downside, however, is that they’re already headed in a specific career direction. How can we influence a future generation of sales people?


Being in a position to mentor young adults does not have to start with college interns. Oftentimes high school students are assigned class projects to “job shadow” and these opportunities can be a launch pad for some to explore careers in sales. These bright students are seeking opportunities to learn about a company, a career path, or a certain industry. They are open minded and want to learn. They want to be challenged. They want their preconceived ideas about sales to be flipped upside down. They just don’t know it yet.


I recently hosted a young lady, a soon-to-be high school senior, at my office for two days. Her parents are friends, mom being a doctor and dad an attorney. Her parents have instilled in her their own desire for learning. She is smart and personable. But, she has already stated that she does not have an interest in following her parents career choices. So, what about sales?


When Ann Marie first talked with me she had a notion that professional sales was more like retail or automotive. She lacked the understanding that sales took place in a variety of verticals from pharmaceutical to finance to technology. When I received a thank you note, she highlighted a few points that she learned: sales requires constant continuing education; sales requires professional character and a positive demeanor; sales is not easy.


Having an opportunity to be influential on a young adult while guiding them toward a career in sales is rewarding. I had a few individuals do this for me, keeping me from law school many years ago, and I am extremely grateful to this day. When asked to be a mentor or to have someone shadow you, say yes.

Treat Your Sales Career Like Golf - July 23, 2016

There’s no ‘I’ in team. Sales has to be a team sport. Don’t forget your supporting cast. These are phrases I’ve used often and do believe in. But, from time-to-time, treat your sales career like a round of golf. Golf is never a competition against the other members of your foursome. Rather, golf is a competition against yourself. Some days everything goes in your favor. The course conditions are great. The weather is perfect. And, you seem to be playing above your norm. Other days are just bad. It starts to rain. You can’t hit a straight tee shot. You three putt every hole. You want to put the clubs back in the car and call it a day, but you don’t, you fight through until you wrap up eighteen.


Your sales career is not all that different. You have good days and bad days. You have beautiful sun-filled blue sky days and dark dreary days. Like golf you will have your ups and downs. How you finish out eighteen is a testament to your character. When you give up or throw in the towel, you show weakness. But, stand strong with your head held high, and you will come out a winner (regardless of the score).


Don’t get me wrong, sales is now and always has been a team sport, and sometimes so is golf. I know a few guys that are single digit handicap golfers and not one would say they’ve done it on their own. They have coaches. They have pro’s that offer mental stability. They have shops with professional club fitters. They have fitness or yoga instructors. They take the game very seriously and know the support team behind them is necessary to excel. They plan for greatness and then act upon their plan.


Sales people should do the very same thing: plan for greatness and act upon the plan. While many times it comes down to you, the individual sales person with a strong character to close the deal, being prepared means making sure you have the right team helping you prepare. You may be by yourself in front of the prospect asking for the signature, just as you’re by yourself holding the putter aiming for birdie, but you must realize you are not alone. You have others cheering for you.


In golf and sales, as with other sports, musical instruments, public speaking, etc., practice makes perfect. Treating your sales career like golf is just that, making sure you practice, and then proceed onto the course. Knowledge in sales is like muscle memory in golf. It does not come with one visit to the driving range. Practice in sales can sound mundane, but it is not. Only the best sales people rise to greatness. Greatness comes through relentless practice. Just like golf.

Employee Becomes The Boss - July 16, 2016

Ted has been employed by a technology consulting firm of going on 10 years. By title he has been the Director of Sales and overall has had a successful career. He joined the company after spending his previous 8 years with a similar firm, so he came with experience. He has opened many doors, closed some of the larger accounts, and has been a mentor to several younger sales reps.


About 2 years ago Andrew joined the firm. He had been working for 2 years prior with a smaller consultancy while going to school at night for his MBA. He joined this firm upon completion of his advanced degree ready for a bigger challenge. Ted, being the Director of Sales, was his mentor and immediate supervisor. Andrew was a quick study and within a few months was out in the marketplace on his own, gaining traction, and began to close new deals. In fact, Andrew closed the largest deal in the company’s history on the day of his 6 month anniversary with the firm.


Andrew does not sit still well. In fact, he never sits still. While he does have a rather solid work-life balance, he is taking his career very seriously. He has never been one to shy away from taking on more in an effort to help the company and to personally grow. It came as no surprise that Andrew befriended the CEO on a project and stood out as a future star. So, it also should not have come as a surprise when Andrew was promoted, although it did to Ted, and now Ted works for Andrew.


This is a story that’s been played out in companies for years. The young up & comer becomes the boss. While it is not new, it was to Ted, and it became hard for him to digest. I’ve known Ted and the CEO for several years. I’ve done business with their firm and also have gotten to know them personally. When Ted began to struggle with the change, I was asked to intervene.


Ted’s biggest issue was not that he had a new boss or that the boss was younger. The big issue for Ted is that he felt blindsided. He was having trouble grasping what he did wrong, why Andrew overshadowed him, and did Andrew intentionally go around Ted to the CEO in a spiteful manner. Of course, Andrew didn’t do anything spiteful, simply Ted himself ignored opportunities to grow.


It took a few meetings over a couple of months, but Ted finally awoke to the fact that he missed the signs for growth opportunity that were right in front of him. While he enjoyed sales and being a sales manager, oftentimes he did not stay late, take on the extra projects, or work to build tighter relationships with his superiors. In essence, he is doing today what he did 10 years ago, nothing less and nothing more.


It was a hard pill for Ted to swallow, but as I shared my opinion on this scenario, he seemed to realize two things: (1) He was happy being a sales manager. He enjoyed the “more set schedule” and less stress of executive leadership. He still loves the thrill of sales, but has come to realize he is not interested in taking on more responsibility; and, (2) Andrew is perfectly suited to be the VP of Sales and Marketing. Andrew holds Ted in high regard and is appreciative for what Ted’s taught him. He is excited for his new role, but also wants to make sure Ted stays on board and stays involved as the Director of Sales. He values Ted’s experience in the trenches.


This could have gone horribly wrong. Ted could have thrown in the towel, quit, and moved on to a new company. But, it didn’t go wrong. He gave it time to sink in. He came to the realization that Andrew was the right person for the job. Be careful in your sales career not to overreact. Be patient when change comes your way…it may be a benefit to your sales career.

Mid-Year Health Review - July 9, 2016

If you go back over time with my posts you’ll find several regarding the health report card, state of sales, or related topics. I am a firm believer that conducing routine checkups on my sales career is as important as going to the dentist every 6 months. It is important to the health of my career now and in the future.


Yesterday I had a few hours of quiet time while traveling with my son to a lacrosse tournament. He put on his headphones, as did everyone else in the car, and listened to his own tunes. This was an ideal time for my mind to wander a bit. I thought about how quickly the first half of the year has gone by and what successes I’ve accomplished. I’ve also had a miss or two and those also came to mind. I gave consideration to the how’s and why’s I did not win the business. And, I thought about where I am today and where I’m going this coming week, next month, and for the remainder of the year.


These are times of reflection (as I very frequently refer to in my posts). It is important to take inventory of what is going well, what may not be going so well, and more importantly what needs to happen between now and the end-of-year for hitting goals previously set. I also take this time to set one new goal.


Goal setting is critical to any business and especially for any ‘A’ level sales person. As time goes by changes occur. Changes can sometimes be in or out of your control, but I do accept that change is inevitable. And, because I accept change, I like to add a new goal or two to my second half of the year.


A mentor who helped guide me in the early days of my career once told me to balance business with personal goals. For every one business (or sales) goal I should have one personal goal. This is a form of insurance. If I meet my business goals, then I should meet my personal goals.


Use this date on the calendar, the month of July, and reflect on how your year is going so far. Make the necessary adjustments to target, meet and hopefully exceed your goals, and share with others how you are doing. This mid-year health review will keep you on track.

Your Supporting Cast - July 2, 2016

Happy 4th of July - a short post this week.

At some point over the years I am sure you’ve watched an awards show. Whether the award goes to a best actress or to a singer, it is rare that an acceptance speech comes without acknowledgement of their supporting cast. You’ll hear: “I’d like to thank my wife”, “I could not have done this without a great director”, “This wouldn’t have been possible without a great band backing me up every night on stage”. I honestly cannot recall a time where the supporting cast didn’t get a shout-out. And deservedly so.


I believe this same situation occurs in sales. A sales person is only as good as their supporting cast. That supporting cast may be an assistant, manager, customer service rep, accounting department team member, or the CEO. Regardless of the market you serve, the products you represent, or the services you sell, you are not alone.


I admire ‘A’ level sales people for the fact that they know they are not alone and they routinely acknowledge their supporting cast. It has always been my mission to give credit where credit is due. I’ve been very fortunate to have great supporting casts for years. Giving them props also does not mean you have to buy them lavish gifts all of the time. Sometimes it’s a simple thank you.


Whenever I interview a new sales candidate for my firm or work providing counseling to a sales person, sales manager or business owner, I will make it part of the Q&A to gain perspective on how they acknowledge the contributions made by their supporting cast. It goes without fail that those that provide a little token from time-to-time blended with fairly regular praise tend to be much more successful sales people. Those that do not, well they almost always get ranked as a ‘B’ or ‘C’ level sales person.


Keep your supporting cast in mind next time you win a deal. Give them a nod for their efforts. And then watch as your relationship with them and your client grows. 

Outsourcing Candidate Interviews - June 25, 2016

Over the past few years I have taken notice of a trend in outsourcing the interview process for senior level executives and sales reps. This is not the same as utilizing a recruiting agency (headhunter) to seek candidates for an open position. This is about utilizing sales experts, psychologists, and professional sales trainers for the purpose of “assisting” you during your interview process for a new hire.


I’ve had opportunities to work with several organizations over the past few months that have adopted this approach. Although a brief post this week, here is my summary on such hiring practices.


The most important lesson I’ve learned is probably the most valuable of them all: you will gain an independent, unbiased opinion from an expert in hiring. They are not a recruiter, so they have no commission to earn. In most cases you are paying a per interview fee for a serious critique of the candidate. They do not know the candidate and they have nothing to lose or gain in them being hired by your company. They are an expert in their respective field and so they are using their own experiences to truly judge the qualifications of the individual. You really can’t ask for anything better.


The second lesson learned is what I’ve come to call the double team approach. The most successful uses of the outsourced candidate interview is when it is a combination of a psychologist interview (get in their head and see what makes them tick) and the sales executive or sales trainer. Each may evaluate a candidate on similar criteria but through different lenses.  Getting two opinions and then blending them with your own interview process will net much greater results in narrowing down the selection.


Obviously your primary goal when interviewing candidates is to make the best, most qualified decision for your company, with the expectation that the new sales rep will be the right person for the job. It is often difficult to find an unbiased, expert opinion internally because your team has preconceived ideas on what makes a candidate the right candidate. Utilizing an outsourced interviewer will bring clarity to your process.


If you’ve gone down this path, either as an employer or candidate, I would be happy to hear your opinion on the process and the outcome. Please drop me a line.

Am I Boring You? - June 18, 2016

Nothing grinds on my nerves more than when a sales person yawns or ignores me when I am speaking. Whether this is a direct report in my firm or an employee of a consulting client, I am in a position of authority, and more importantly experience. Maybe you’ve heard something I am saying before. Maybe you know something I don’t know. But either way maybe you should show me the respect I’ve earned and pay attention.


I am venting a bit because I have faced this scenario a few times recently. I am asked to give my opinion or advice and yet I am ignored or the sales person has simply glossed over my words. And, what makes matters worse, I have been giving advice on sales issues the sales person is facing and my advice has been ignored to their detriment. Yep, in two similar cases, one sales person lost a very large deal with a new, prospective client, and the other lost a long-term client.


Not to come across egotistical or boastful, but I have been around the block a time or two. Absolutely there are many sales managers and consultants with more experience than me. And yes, I will admit, I have made the wrong call here and there. However, I have an above average success rate for well over 20 years. I’ve been faced with many sales challenges and difficult closing scenarios. Listing to me as a senior in sales may not always work, but ignoring me is not going to help you (the sales person) either.


The “I” in this story is not just about me, but rather the “I” is a sales manager, a senior sales executive, a business owner, a sales trainer, sales consultant, etc. This week’s post is a message to you, Mr. or Ms. Sales Person, to please listen intently to those that have gone before you. Seek advice and guidance to become a better sales person. Learn from others successes and mistakes. Participate in a conversation with your seniors and don’t just assume they are blowing smoke at you. Be willing to try their advice because it may well just work in your favor. 

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.