Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Social Media & The Salesperson - April 7, 2018

I was recently involved in a roundtable discussion with several hiring decision makers, sales managers, and human resource specialists. While there were differing opinions, as you’d might expect, when it came to interview and hiring practices, there was almost an unanimous position about the retention factors for sales people. And, at the top of the list, was the use of social media.

 

Obviously, in the digital era for which we live and work, social media is a factor that is here to stay. The use of social media to advance one’s business agenda can be a powerful tool. However, that same use of social media may also be a sales person’s demise. The line between the two could not be thinner.

 

Good, positive use of social media can and should include posts about successful stories involving your own company and those of your customers. Announcements about new products or services, posts about promotions, the use of images and video to support a comment, are all good ways in which social media can help a sales person move ahead of the pack and engage new levels of customers.

 

But, what happens when social media is overused or abused? What becomes of the sales person that takes social to a very personal, intimate level with customers? Where does the use of social media cross the line into becoming a problem? It can happen quickly and often without the sales person even realizing they’ve crossed that line.

 

I’ve seen firsthand how social media can be the root cause of a sales persons decline. The Tweets and re-Tweets about political, economic, or religious commentary to an audience comprised of both personal and professional contacts. Blending the personal Tweets into the fold with your professional Tweets. Friending your customers and prospects on Facebook where you are posting personal pictures of you and your significant other at a bar, on the beach, or attending an event. At first this doesn’t seem too harmless until your customer realizes you are “constantly on Facebook” and that you share way too much personal information. They want to have a professional relationship with you and don’t need to see you and your wife in swimsuits.

 

Then there is the overuse of social media while describing to your employer and customers that you are “so very busy” and “overwhelmed with work”. Let me get this straight, you can’t seem to stay on top of your customer meetings and responsibilities, yet you have the time to post on social media every 25 minutes? Something is just not right with that picture.

 

So, as I wrap up this morning’s post, let me just use this as an opportunity to share my advice. Keep personal social and professional social as separate as possible. If you must blend the audience, make sure you are always cognizant of your posts and the frequency. And, most importantly, be aware that people are always watching you. Social media has broken down many barriers that once allowed a person to remain private. What you share on social media removes your privacy and those words, pictures, actions, videos all may cost you business some day.

Modern Conveniences - March 31, 2018

It would seem as though my post from last week caused a bit of a stir among a few clients. Not necessarily in a bad way, but definitely opened the door for commentary. Many of my clients that reached out expressed their own frustrations with the younger generation of sales candidates, especially those that just don’t understand what sales is really about. Several clients asked me to elaborate on the topic as it pertains to “modern conveniences”.

 

You see sales, at the very core of the role, is about human relationships. It is about becoming a partner or trusted advisor to the customer. It is about being not only capable of having a conversation, but managing a mature conversation in sometimes very tough settings, such as at the negotiation table. It is in no way about modern conveniences. What do I mean by modern conveniences?

 

Modern conveniences are tools we use every day to do our jobs. It’s the Internet, Email, smart phones, Google, Skype, or any other technology aimed at empowering us with communication. The fact of the matter is most young sales candidates and sales professionals cannot make it in their role without these tools. These modern conveniences have become crutches for which the sales person relies too heavily upon. So, when the hard work of sales comes knocking, these individuals do not know how to handle the situation.

 

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “body language”. Nothing has changed in over a thousand years when it comes to reading someone’s body language. However, you cannot read the person through email or even over a telephone call. Only in a face-to-face meeting can this occur. Another old saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword” can be very true, so long as the person holding the pen has experience. And, where does experience come from? In the trenches. No one can win a debate without being trained in debate, having done their homework, and practicing.

 

Modern conveniences even extend to the ways in which young sales people are compensated. All too often companies will provide a comfortable base salary with a small commission and/or bonus structure for sales people. Where is the incentive to work hard? Give me someone that wants little-to-no base salary and a hefty commission plan. They want success and they are willing to work for it. Here is an example:

 

Joseph (Candidate #1): He is graduating with a four year degree in business administration and interviewing for an entry-level sales position. He has not participated in any internships although he does have a rather high grade point average. Joseph has a positive attitude and is fairly well spoked for a young man of 22 years old. During the interview process he was not afraid to jump right in and ask questions. He asked about the starting salary. Will he get a company car? How many weeks vacation will he receive during his first year? Does he get a laptop and company iPhone?

 

Kerry (Candidate #2): Kerry graduated from the same school in the same class as Joseph. She majored in business administration with a minor in marketing. She participated in three internships from her sophomore through senior years. She was polished and professional; kind yet with a sense of urgency. She too was anxious to ask questions. However, none asked had anything to do with compensation, perks or modern conveniences. Instead Kerry asked questions about expectations set for her. Who will train and mentor her? How will her successes and sometimes failures be measured?

 

Kerry became the candidate of choice. She understood the sacrifices that would need to be made in order to learn and advance her career. She accepted with appreciation for the compensation plan, tools, and training that would be provided. She even challenged herself during the final interview and offer process by talking about her first year plans and how to exceed the goals set for her.

 

Modern conveniences are great and can be used to advance ones agenda on a day-to-day basis. However, these tools are only as good as the person using them. Young sales candidates should be prepared to work hard without the tools until the foundational skill sets are in place. Once these skills are learned, then and only then will these modern conveniences be of help.

I’m In Sales, I’m An Account Manager – No, You’re Not In Sales - March 24, 2018

As springtime approaches resumes from soon-to-be college graduates start flowing in. I am receiving at least a dozen every week now seeking a variety of positions. Although I am not in hiring mode right now I do take time to read them. Unfortunately, they frustrate me for a variety of reasons.

 

One such frustration is the continued lack of understanding that an account management position, although a close relative to the sales position, is in fact not the same. To paraphrase an old saying, there is hunting and there is farming. Hunting is sales while farming is account management.

 

With account management comes a set of requirements that a sales role must also have, such as solid relationship building and management skills, good follow through, excellent communications skills, and a general likability. Sales, however, requires a much greater sense of urgency. Sales typically is a commission driven role that requires negotiation skills, a take no prisoner attitude while maintaining ones composure, and again a sense of urgency. Did I mention sales must have a sense of urgency.

 

I find today’s younger generation of professionals lacking in a sense of urgency. Many think they want to be in sales because it offers freedom and flexibility during the work week, an opportunity to entertain clients, and a high-level compensation package. Yet, when someone with experience explains the sacrifices it takes to be successful in sales, the long hours, dedication to the craft, not being handed accounts on a silver platter, well then they balk and look for the easy route, the account management position.

 

Last year I spoke to a group of graduating college seniors about life as a sales person. I engaged my audience in conversation rather than presenting to them. It struck me as odd that everyone believed sales, account management, and marketing are so intertwined that they did not know the difference. Moreover, most of these young ladies and gentlemen thought they had the skills already in place to be paid a high base salary, work no more than 40 hours per week, did not want to travel, expected company benefits (including a car or car allowance for sales roles), and the key phrase I noticed was “they expected it”.

 

Many companies have account management positions, and they can play a vital role in an organization, but account management and sales are certainly not one in the same. I believe we, those of us who’ve been in sales for most of our careers, owe it to this new, young, and up & coming generation to educate on the role sales plays and what it takes to be in sales. We need qualified sales people to grow and replace us at some point. It is our responsibility to guide them toward career choices and to help them understand the difference between account management and sales. It will benefit them greatly and it will benefit us as well.

March Madness: A Sales Lesson - March 17, 2018

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day and the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness), I am going to leave you with a short post this week. Two things come to mind this morning that I cannot help but directly relate to sales: luck and expect the unexpected.

 

As any ‘A’ level sales person will testify, no matter how educated you are in sales, your company, the client, or the competitive landscape, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of luck on your side too. I’ve been very blessed over the course of my nearly 25 year career so far in being in the right place at the right time. I call this luck. I also believe that I’ve paid my dues, have always taken the high road in sales, and have always put my client’s best interests before my own, so I’m also a believer that sometimes luck is on my side. This is also known as being optimistic. Optimism is a core characteristic of any ‘A’ level sales person. You cannot nor will you ever be an ‘A’ level sales person without optimism.

 

With regards to March Madness 2018 all you have to do is look at any sports or news website, newspaper, or blog over the past few days to understand that for the first year of many there is no clear frontrunner or favorite in the tournament this year. In fact, history was just made by UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) the 16 seed knocking off the 1 seed University of Virginia. One headline said it all: Expect The Unexpected. Well doesn’t that just about sum up anyone in sales.

 

If I had a dollar for every time this statement was made to me about sales or for when I’ve said it myself, I’d be retired by now living on yacht. Expect the unexpected is the most important statement anyone can say about a career in sales. You must be mentally strong and prepared for whatever comes your way. Just like the number 16 seed beat the number 1 seed, there are so many stories told about the “sure thing” sale fizzling out at the last moment only to be given to the competition.

 

My former CFO and I used to preach to all employees, not just sales people, that the deal isn’t done with the signature, it’s done when the money clears the bank. I’ve had signed agreements come my way only to be pulled off the table due to funding issues a week later. I’ve been given the verbal approval to never get the formal agreement signed. I’ve been told yes directly to my face to find out the next day the deal was inked with the competitor down the street. Expecting the unexpected is a sign of resilience.

 

Being resilient is another characteristic of an ‘A’ level sales person. Nothing is a sure thing and how you manage your emotions, being resilient, will pay dividends. Your prospects and clients will look at this resilience as a strength and they’ll want to do business with you more so because of it.

 

Cheers!

Reconnecting With Old Colleagues - March 10, 2018

I was wide awake early today. I am quite excited for today, the start of my son’s new lacrosse season, something I look forward to each year in late-February and early-March. Three scrimmages are a lot of playing time on a very cold day, but it will be fun. I’m also excited for this upcoming Tuesday. I’ve been invited to join old friends and business colleagues at a dinner event. It has been a while since I’ve spent time with these guys and I am looking forward to talking shop and hearing about their families.

 

As a sales person I often get buried in the here and now. I’m constantly working on a new deal with a new prospect. Rekindling the old flames (clients) in hopes of staying engaged with them. And, if it’s not for my own sales, I am working with my team overseeing their efforts. When you combine the working here and now with the family here and now, the constant list of kids’ activities, there doesn’t seem like much time to reconnect with old colleagues. So, I’ve been looking forward to Tuesday the closer the day comes.

 

Reconnecting with old colleagues can be good for you. In a similar way to catching up with an old friend you’ve not seen in a while, reconnecting with old friends on the business front can also be refreshing. At one time you may have had more in common, but it is also important to learn anew what these people are doing. You can become referral sources for one another. You can educate one another on industries outside of your daily scope. You can introduce one another to others in the group you’re with that may extend your own professional network. And, who knows, you may just very well land them as a new client.

 

I was lucky this go around by being invited to the upcoming dinner event. I immediately said yes. In part, I am intrigued by the guest speaker, and in part I want to break bread with my old friends. But, I also have to admit that I’ve been lacking in my own approach to staying connected or reconnecting with old colleagues. I’ve tried to take an approach that every six months or so I get former business colleagues together for an event, a lunch, or simply over coffee to, well, reconnect. And, as I admit to be a bit of a slacker in this area, I am excited at the idea of pushing myself back into this practice.

Public Forums Are Just That: Public - March 3, 2018

Let me start with my description of a public forum: for the purpose of this post I am referring to a public program such as a speech, awards ceremony, educational presentation, and the like. And, when I state public is just that – public, I am targeting my competition.

 

I’m not sure why some sales people, and other business colleagues for that matter, don’t like the idea of “checking out the competition”, but I find it to be extremely useful. I’ve long made it a practice to attend programs where my competition is presenting or being recognized. I do this for two reasons: (1) it provides insight into who they are, what they’re about, how they present themselves, and what level of knowledge they possess; and (2) they oftentimes entertain their clients at these events, so I can learn who they are doing business with and why.

 

When the various forums are open to the public, whether free admission or paid, I want to take advantage of the opportunity to educate myself on the marketplace. Many time’s I learn of new competitors through random chit chat. This is also an opportunity to take the temperature of the marketplace on a specific topic. For example, if the presentation is on a new trend in digital marketing, I can gauge the interest of the audience and plan my own firms’ strategy based on seeing and hearing feedback on the topic firsthand.

 

Some sales people have worried themselves about what to say or how to act if confronted by the competitor in these situations. My answer has always been to be complimentary and gracious. I can assure you that your competition will do the same and attend public forums where you are speaking or being recognized. It is a “business 101” tactic. I encourage you to become aware of these opportunities, attend, identify potential business or educational experiences from these forums, and use this newly acquired information to advance your own business and/or sales agenda.

The Anti-Role Model - February 24, 2018

Going all the way back to grade school we’ve been asked about our role models. We’ve written papers, given presentations in front of our classmates, and for some we’ve even sent thank you notes. Through college and into my career I have been asked to talk about my role models. They’ve included my father, coaches, and some I’ve been proud to call mentors. And, likewise, I have asked others about their role models. Who are they and why?

 

The term role model also has a tendency to get thrown around by famous actors and sports figures. Fans put their favorite basketball player on a pedestal and idolize the person as a role model. Why? Musicians make it big by winning a television singing competition and next thing you know high schoolers are calling that person their role model. Why? What makes these public figures role models?

 

When we evaluate our time as students, athletes, professionals, parents, etc. we are guided by the role model principle in that we should look up to these individuals as role models because we want to be like them, emulate their behavior, and hope for success (differing definitions of course) just like them.

 

Have you ever been asked about your anti-role model?

 

I have long believed, as a sales manager and mentor, that while discussing the positive attributes of one’s role model is worthwhile, uncovering the negative attributes of someone’s anti-role model can be even more beneficial. Who do you not want to be? Who do you not want to act like? Who’s behavior is questionable regardless of their level of success? What would make you want to run the other way if you saw the person walking toward you?

 

As a student, in sports, in your community, in your career, in your church, local politics, civic leaders, there are many that simply should not earn the respect they sometimes garnish. I oftentimes think of the professional athlete that is held up in the public eye as a great person but has a substance abuse problem, has been arrested for domestic violence, and has little regard for the fans that pay money to watch him or her play a game. Another comes to mind in a former coworker, a sales person, who would cut corners and lie to customers simply to get the sale. He never did any follow-up work after the purchase order was obtained. He burned bridge after bridge in an attempt to pad his pockets. There was no sense of loyalty and once all bridges were burned he would find another company to sell for and repeat the process. Outside of his professional environment he treated his personal relationships much the same, dating multiple women at the same time, and even two becoming pregnant by him at the same time. He abandoned them too and moved. He jumped for money, period.

 

In recognizing these people as anti-role models, we can build a list of characteristics that we want to avoid. A positive role model can help you define who you want to be while an anti-role model can also help you define who you want to be. Sometimes it can be helpful to remember the old saying: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Anti-role models are easy to spot. True role models tend to be humble which makes them role models.

Big Data / Small Sales Team - February 17, 2018

The term Big Data is being used on a frequent basis in business today ranging from marketing teams analyzing product penetration to sales teams comparing and contrasting customer buying habits. The misnomer is that big data is for big organizations. It is not. Regardless of your company size, and for this post the size of your sales team, analyzing “big data” can be for everyone.

 

From the sales managers seat I am a big fan of big data. To me big data is like a bedtime story. Sometimes there is a happy ending and sometimes I wake up in cold sweats in the middle of the night. No matter what the information (story) is, you can use it to your advantage.

 

First let’s talk about gathering big data. We all have prospect lists, client lists, order histories, meeting histories, etc. This information is likely stored in our CRM, Outlook, ERP or some other internal system at the office. And, the beauty of this information, it can be exported for reporting purposes. Determine what you are seeking, such as buying cycles, or types of clients that have purchased product x, and then pull your reports.

 

Then begin the bedtime story. A happy bedtime story is one that showcases your successes in the form of positive trends. You can identify certain buying attributes of your prospects and clients. You can look at calendar or seasonal trends. You can determine that certain types of clients are better suited for certain types of sales people. Whatever the data tells you, you can positively manage your sales processes and teams based on it.

 

We also have the bedtime story that can be nightmarish. The data points downward. The data tells you that you’re losing market share. The data tells you that you’ve been managing the wrong way or that you have the wrong people selling for you. You wake up in cold sweats wondering if the data is wrong. But, what if the data is correct. What do you do?

 

Data, hard cold factual data, does not lie. The metrics in front of you are not trying to trick you. Numbers are numbers and facts are facts. You should learn to accept big data as a compass helping you point your way toward success. Report often. Analyze often. Use the information that is at your disposal. Don’t dismiss big data as something out of your reach, rather grab a hold of the information, digest it, and use it to your advantage.

Feelings of Inadequacy - February 10, 2018

Throughout a sales person’s career there may come a time or two where they may feel inadequate. I don’t mean junior level or inferior to a more seasoned sales person. I am referring to the feeling as though they do not belong at the table, in the sales call, or even worthy of calling on such a prospect. It happens. It is the “second guessing” of one’s capabilities. And, typically, it happens without notice.

 

I am in no way, shape, or form going to make light of someone that may suffer from a panic or anxiety attack. However, being overwrought by a feeling of inadequacy during the sales process can bring the best sales person to their knees. Where does this come from and why does it happen? More importantly, how do you get past it?

 

While I am not a psychologist, having been faced with these feelings a time or two in my own career, I can attest to just what went wrong and how I corrected the situation. Also, I should point out, this is a topic I’ve been asked to address for some time, but one that can be very sensitive.

 

For me and for those sales people close to me that have shared their stories, the feeling of inadequacy tends to rear its ugly head when we are feeling exceptionally well and on top of our game. As if nothing can go wrong, deals are closing left and right, and then out of nowhere you have one in front of you that shuts you down. You get this sense that either you are not the best fit for the sales role, your company cannot deliver, the clients expectations are beyond your capability to deliver, or simply the client is too good for you. It tends to come out of nowhere and makes you question your entire sales skill set.

 

At least for me, as I look back on these situations, it was a grounding effect. My ego was likely getting in the way of being clear-headed. And, what I found to be the common link was that many of the closed deals leading up to this moment were simply “layups”. They were good deals, but they were easy. My sales process became a bit robotic. I didn’t necessarily need to bring my best to the table in terms of proposal writing or even prospect communication and yet I was closing, closing, closing. Well, then comes the deal that shook me to my core. The deal that would require me to put in a lot of early mornings and late evenings. The deal that needed much more attention to detail, time spent with the prospect, and my absolute best. It was the deal that both thrilled me and scared me.

 

I began to question my capabilities and if we were the right fit to win such an opportunity. I began to feel inadequate in the face of the competition and in front of the prospect. Things prior were coming way too easy and now I had to truly earn my sale. I needed to step up, rise to the occasion, and do what I was trained to do – close the damn deal.

 

It was not an easy situation to mentally process. It took its toll on me physically by losing sleep and skipping meals. It took its toll on me mentally because I was questioning who I was and what I was doing. But, in the end, I did rise to the occasion. I put my best out there and I closed the deal. I swallowed my fear in losing the deal and with it all the feelings of being inadequate. I made myself believe I was the right fit for the right prospect. I needed to look myself in the mirror and admit I took advantage of the low hanging fruit leading up to this deal, but regardless, I was worthy of sitting at the table.

Become a "Conversation Generalist" - February 3, 2018

We’ve all been there, trying to hold a conversation with a complete stranger, only to be pushed right out of our comfort zone. It can happen at a social event, a business meeting, or sitting in the stands at your kids basketball game. A conversation begins innocently enough, but either by your own accord or the other person, it gets pushed into a corner where you or the other person become lost and can no longer be a part of the discussion.

 

Here's a recent example I went through: I was at my daughter’s basketball game and sat down next to another dad from her team. He’s a very pleasant person and is a surgeon by trade. We had about 10 minutes before game time and we so we began to chat. The typical “nice day”, “girls have been looking good out there” kind of stuff. And then, without giving it much thought, I asked how work was going. Without skipping a beat Larry jumped right into telling me all about a recent procedure that was way above my head. Unfortunately, Larry did not pick up on my queue’s and kept going right up until tipoff.

 

Larry is a brilliant surgeon, but in social settings, he is a bit awkward when it comes to being able to hold a general conversation. And, because of this, he loses people like he did me. He is not what I call a conversation generalist.

 

Sales people must learn to become conversation generalists. It is not a difficult skill set to learn, but it does require commitment and time. You, the sales person, must be willing to read. And I mean read, read, read. Think about breaking the ice when you first enter a sales call. In almost all cases you exchange pleasantries with the other person by entering into a brief conversation. But, what do you talk about?

 

Keeping up on the headlines, especially locally, may be a start. Another way is to prep yourself with a little background on the person you’re meeting with and reading up on something that may be of personal interest. For example, if the person you’re meeting with is a youth sports coach, find something relatable that you can discuss.

 

Over the course of my nearly twenty-five year career I’ve watched many a sales person lose the deal before it even started because they could not break the ice and hold a general conversation with the person across from them. They were either stopped in their tracks with fear of what to say or they jumped immediately into their pitch. Nothing has changed. Sales people still need to master the art of the general conversation.