Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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Do Not Dial 911: It is not an emergency! - February 13, 2016

This week I am addressing this post first to the client and second to the sales person.

 

To the client: have you ever watched the cartoon or read the book about Chicken Little? What about the variations and stories of crying wolf? Come on, you know, the sky is falling! Everything is a disaster. Something is always wrong. Look a wolf – nah not really. These may be children’s fables, but in business, many of the morals are the same. You don’t have to constantly hit the panic button. Do not dial 911, it is not an emergency.

 

Regardless of what industry you are in, whether you are buying products or services, the reality is that perfection does not exist. When something does not happen 100% exactly as you see fit, the situation does not constitute an emergency. Sure, there are times when a product that you desperately need to keep a machine in your plant operational does not show up as scheduled. Maybe we’d call this a border line emergency, but more so an inconvenience. And yes, when you hire a certain type of firm to provide a specific service, you expect a deadline and/or budget to be met. Missing the deadline and/or budget may be unplanned, unexpected, or even costly, but it is far from an emergency.

 

Why then do you take a tone that everything happening is earth shattering? Oh my, what am I going to do since that part I need won’t be delivered until 4:00 PM today versus 11:00 AM when I was told? I am not downplaying your concerns, but your actions, or better yet reactions, say a lot about how your service (or product) provider will treat you.

 

When you deliver your message to your provider that everything is going wrong, everything is bad, nothing works, fault, fault, fault, fault, well then you are delivering a message in a way that says, “I am a jerk, I must always be right, I am the customer period, you must give-give-give into me”. And, the customer service or sales person you are dealing with will soon begin to hear blah, blah blah. And ultimately, when something serious does happen, because no one (or no business) is always 100% perfect, you will be treated just like the little boy that cried wolf.

 

To the sales person: please understand that my somewhat harsh criticism of the client written above does not give you Carte Blanche to treat your clients rudely or that you should consider all that call in with a concern to be overreacting. Quite the contrary. You should treat every one of your clients with the level of respect they deserve. Let me repeat that – treat the client with the level of respect they DESERVE. Nothing less and nothing more.

 

Venting frustration about a client behind closed doors happens daily in my life, whether I am venting, or simply the sounding board for one of my team members. It is done behind closed doors for a reason – it is generally out of frustration and can be dealt with professionally – once the rep cools down.

 

Client relationships are just that, human relationships. And, while no business works to perfection 100% of the time, you should at least try. It is understandable though, when clients constantly hit the panic button or want to dial 911 on the situation you are managing, to want to give them a piece of your mind. There are better ways to handle these situations.

 

First, you and your team must realize what sets this client off to begin with, by making a list of ongoing reactions. Analyze this list and determine if the client is a panic first type of client or if they have a legitimate concern. If they are a panic first type of client, add them to the list with an explanation on their behavior.

 

Second, build a trend list, which can be coded indicators on what sets this client off. Two things can come from this – (1) you will know how to be proactive to this client or (2) how and when to be reactive. These short lists will give you “fall back” reasons on why something is or is not happening as the client expected.

 

Third, you’ll now see your repeat offenders come to light, and from these repeat offenders you will have more ammunition to make business decisions on keeping the client, terminating the relationship with the client, setting new guidelines, changing pricing or payment terms, etc.

 

As sales people and sales managers, we are constantly evaluating statistics and analytics about our clients buying habits, decision making processes, order values, and so on. But, sometimes we fall short on realizing how “soft stats” as I call them, come into play when making relationship management decisions. Let me close my post this week with an example…

 

I have a long-term, repeat client for whom we completed and launched a project earlier this week. We spent close to a year working on this project, from outline to proposal to project execution to project completion & launch, which was intensive. Generally speaking the project was great. Everyone on both sides worked together, as a team, diligently to make sure the project was a success. And, with all things considered, this particular project was a huge success. But, if you were to ask one of the client decision makers, he would disagree. Even though his team, including the president of his company thought it went extremely well, he finds fault in the smallest of details simply because that is his style.

 

We should have expected this behavior, right? We did. Having tracked this clients behavior for almost 8 years, we knew he’d hit the panic button when no one else would. We knew that the smallest of a technical hiccup would create a dial 911 situation. And, having known this prior to calling this project complete, we prepared. We had “all hands on deck” ready to answer his call. Like I said before, nothing is 100% perfect, but all of the team members (his and ours) would rate the completion and launch at about a 98% success.

 

Knowing how to deal with this type of client will help you achieve greater success. Call it a crystal ball moment; having some insight into the client before he or she even hits send on the panic, 911 email.

Don't Be Expendable - February 6, 2016

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Expendable as easily replaced or meant to be used and thrown away. Based upon this definition, is your firm (business) expendable? Are you expendable?

 

As a career sales person, these are two questions that I consciously ask myself on an almost daily, if not weekly basis. The first covers my “go to market” message and how I represent my business. The second covers the internal value I hold within my own company. Here are a few thoughts on both...

 

Having now spent the majority of my career in a consultative selling environment, one in which the relationship between my firm and my client is paramount to any service or product, I am often concerned that we would be viewed as expendable. We spend a great deal of upfront sales time evaluating what would drive us to do business, not just today, but over the course of months and years. We must bring value to our clients. We must bring our knowledge and expertise to the table. We must put our client’s best interests in front of our own. In other words, we must position ourselves being expandable not expendable.

 

If we are viewed by our client’s as expandable, we become a partner, one that will grow over time as the client grows. Being expandable means we may make a mistake from time-to-time, but as in any personal relationship, we are quickly forgiven and provided an opportunity to continue to grow with the client. Expendable means one mistake and we are likely out. This is not healthy business or healthy revenue for your company. Think about the old adage in sales: is it easier to build upon an existing relationship or constantly work to build new relationships? Obviously it is easier to grow upon existing, healthy relationships.

 

Oftentimes a sales person, new or one that is trying to recapture their magic, tend to grab sales that are quick. We call these “low hanging fruit” sales. But, these also tend to be the expendable sales. If it is quick, well then the client may be quick to terminate, especially if they don’t value the relationship. Taking a little extra time in the upfront selling process will reduce the possibility of being expendable, especially if you take the “we’re not a yes firm” approach.

 

In much the same way that you want clients to view your firm as expandable and not expendable, so too must you position yourself internally within the company. Making sure you have the firms best interest in front of your own is the first and most important step. I would expect you are in sales because you want to make money. You sell, you earn commission, and your annual compensation will increase. That is why we hire ‘A’ level sales people. They have a drive to make money and be successful.

 

But, it is only through the desire to sell the relationship first, and the service or product second, that you truly look for the best opportunities for your company. You show your fellow team members that you care about them and their own success. You don’t want to bring in a new client that views your company as expendable and in the process you are also showing your company that you are not expendable.

 

At the end of each day and each week you should ask yourself, “did I make myself / my company expendable?” The goal is to answer no. And, in the rare case you answer yes, reevaluate the scenario and identify a way in which you can change course. Being viewed as expendable is never good, so check yourself regularly to make sure you’re avoiding any situations where this has occurred.

Email - January 30, 2016

Did I really send that Email to my new prospective client? Did I? Did I really send that generic, salesy, full-of-corporate-jargon Email? Please, oh no, please tell me I didn’t do it. Damn, I did. I really sent that full-of-crap, salesy, full-of-corporate-jargon Email. What was I thinking? What in the bloody hell was I thinking?

 

Clearly I wasn’t thinking. I lost my way momentarily. I was in a haze, a terrible corporate-salesy haze. I did something I’m not proud of – I sent an Email to a client that made me sound like “that guy”. You know the “guy” I’m talking about. The one that throws around lots of sales-speak trying to keep up with or impress the other “that guy” you met with. Wow, what was I thinking?

 

Now here’s the thing, and it’s rather funny, I got a very favorable reply leading me to believe I am going to be awarded a new contract. So, what is wrong with that? What could be so bad that I’m beating myself up about an Email? Simply put, it didn’t sound like me, doesn’t reflect my style of communication, and it made me sound like a pompous used car salesman trying to impress someone.

 

It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I catch myself and beat myself up about it. Being yourself, even in an Email, is important to remember when choosing sales as a career. ‘A’ level sales people are known for excellent communication, but the excellent communication is an extension of “who they are”. It is about their sales style and their personality.

 

Way back when, I had a college professor that taught professional writing for daily use in business. This was pre-Email, pre-Internet days. But, I’ll never forget her favorite saying, “write like you speak”. She wasn’t talking about contracts, proposals, or letters-of-intent, but rather letter writing on a more personal-professional manner. The introductory letter. The thank you letter. Nowadays the Email. “Write like you speak”.

 

I beat myself up pretty good about this recent brainfart of an Email. It wasn’t me. It didn’t sound like me. It was a momentary lapse of moderate (not even good) writing. I am a firm believer that my communication skills, your communications skills, are the keys to a sales person’s success. Don’t be “that guy”. Write it like you say it.

Dysfunctional Inside Sales - January 23, 2016

It isn’t very often that I cover the topic of inside sales. Although I am experienced in managing inside sales teams, I tend to get more questions about the outside sales process. But, I recently had an opportunity to meet with a company that is built around the inside sales team. Outside reps are simply in place as client relationship managers, whereas the inside sales team handle 80% of the quoting and order processing.

 

So, the question posed to me was, “what do you do when your inside sales team is so dysfunctional that we are losing at least 5 deals per month?”

 

My immediate reaction was to clean house and start fresh. Unfortunately, this was just a simple reaction, certainly not based in any reality. The reality of the situation is that the inside sales team simply has too much knowledge about their products and processes, and when I learned the whole story behind the dysfunction, my recommendations for improvement became much more clear.

 

Setting the stage, without a doubt, the inside sales team are the lifeblood of the business. It has been this way for over 25 years. Local management understands this situation, but the parent company (executives) either are not aware of the issues or they don’t care to understand what is going on. It wasn’t always dysfunctional, rather there were times when the company was the leader in their market. They could manage client expectations, turn quotes around same day/next day, and closed 70%plus of the deals quoted. Customer service, an extension of the inside sales process, was considered premier, they set the industry standard.

 

The company was acquired about 10 years ago. Technology was on the brink of changing how business was being done. The Internet was driving the quoting process. Email was overtaking the telephone. Geographic markets began to expand because of search engines. Outside sales reps found themselves traveling more and more. Request for quotes almost doubled in approximately 2 years. The world around this business was changing dramatically, at a running/sprinting pace, while this business was walking with concrete shoes.

 

Fast forward now 10 years. The internal IT systems have not changed. New systems have been attempted to be introduced, but without much user buy-in or success. Outside reps are in many ways disconnected from the internal corporate systems. Quoting is being done on one native system while orders are processed on an unconnected ERP system. Yep, duplicate manual data entry. And the parent company wants to know why they can’t keep up the pace of 10plus years ago. Try this one on for size: in a cost management approach, personal printers were removed from the desks of the inside sales team, and centralized in the department. Every quote and every order is “required” to be printed. This means each and every inside sales team member must leave their desk every 7 minutes to retrieve materials from the centralized printer. Dysfunctional from beginning to end.

 

As I reviewed the various components to this company’s sales process, it did not take long before I realized another glaring issue – the inside sales team have stay silent for the past 10 years. Not one person has stepped up and challenged any of the decisions. When I spoke with management, they too were as surprised as I was that no one would call attention to the problems.

 

It wasn’t long before I was able to convince management to meet with the inside and outside sales team for a real heart-to-heart conversation. Once everyone began to vent, so to speak, they also began to listen intently to one another. And, it wasn’t long before some, not all, of the issues began to have action plans put in place for improvements.

 

My message this week is simple: we all have our own individual responsibilities in the sales process. But, when we realize we are also all on the same team, and we open the lines of communication, we can improve the necessary processes to become more successful. Dysfunction in many instances is a result of poor communication. Yes, systems and processes play a role too, but starting with open and honest communication is the best way to start making changes. Change is not always fun. Change can be painful. Communication can help alleviate some of the pain and make change a bit easier to management. We’re all in this together…talk to each other openly. Embrace change and you’ll get rid of the dysfunction without having to replace people with knowledge.

Planning Client Entertainment - January, 16, 2016

It’s crazy, I spent several hours last night with my wife and a calendar, and we were putting plans in place that span the entire year. Isn’t it only the second week of the new year? Yep it sure is. So, this morning I spent time putting events into my Outlook Calendar so they’d sync with my phone. And, as I did this, it made me realize that I also have to add plans for some of my client entertainment throughout the year.

 

If it is not too early to begin planning ahead for my personal schedule, it is certainly not too early to plan ahead for client entertainment or engagements. Now, if you’ve read my posts before about entertaining clients, you’ll know I am very particular. I’m not a big fan of playing golf with a client because it simply takes too long. I also don’t believe in waiting until November or December to say thank you to a client by scheduling a bunch of lunches. Rather, I’m a big fan of combining education with entertainment, and so this is the planning I’m doing now.

 

During the year I like to find ways to bring clients together, in an offsite setting, to hear a presentation related to my industry which may have an impact on their business. Then, let’s hang out a bit together and enjoy each other’s company. But, I cannot wait until the month before, the week before or last minute, not if I want to have a real impact with my clients. Therefore, I plan now, lock in the dates on the calendar, and proceed with scheduling venues in advance.

 

In doing taking this approach I also plan ahead by setting goals for these events. For example, I may want to increase sales with a particular client or two, so I will plan to invite them based on a specific topic. Or, I may plan an event at a particular venue that will win favor with this client. Whatever the goals are, they need to be defined, and not delayed. You don’t want to fly by the seat of your pants and hope for a salable outcome from your entertainment.

 

Planning now, early in the new year, will also provide you the opportunity to schedule your daily and weekly routine around these events. You’ll know well in advance of when and where these entertainment opportunities will take place, and so you’ll also know how to use these when selling to prospective clients.

 

Planning for the larger, multi-client engagements should happen now, and then you will always be able to handle your individual breakfast, lunch and one-off visit type of meetings later.

New Year New You - January 9, 2016

Yes, I stole the title for this week’s post from a fitness center ad. Like clockwork, TV, radio, print ads, social media, etc. etc. have been inundating us with advertising about health this and that – fitness this and that – diet this and that – start the year off right. A new year can mean a new you. Blah Blah Blah.

 

Enough already. I understand it is trendy to think about weight loss and better health as the calendar ticks forward. I’m in my mid-40’s now and as far back as I can remember this has been a theme at the beginning of a new year. But, what about with your career? What about your sales position? Have you ever considered taking this approach when starting the new year off in your role versus with your exercise routine?

 

My kids are the ones that brought this to my attention. They were laughing at the volume of messages out there about health. And then it dawned on me, have I ever considered taking on this theme with my own career. The more I thought about it the more the answer was yes, I just didn’t make a big deal over it. Then I thought, why not?

 

Every year I conduct a personal retrospect between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I look at how my year went in direct sales, sales management, overall company performance, and if there was anything I could have changed to better perform. Between Christmas and New Year’s, like the same clockwork of fitness advertising, I evaluate what I plan to do in the coming year. What are my new goals and objectives? What can I do to be a better sales person or sales manager? What are my personal and family related goals for the new year? How will my work performance impact my personal plans? Once I have answers to these questions or plans laid out, I then take a step back, and appreciate what I can been afforded.

 

As I look back over the years of my career, especially the past 12 or so years, I have in fact taken a New Year New You approach. I kick off the new year more energized because I feel I have a clear understanding of my goals. Maybe not in reality, but optimistically I feel like I can leave some baggage behind, and move forward on a clean (or somewhat cleaner) slate. I’m not foolish to think that the tick of the calendar forward erases the past. I do however feel, much like the advertising of health this and that, that it is never too late to make changes, take on new challenges, and to work on better health. In this case it is my career health.

 

Don’t be afraid of self-evaluation. Plan for improvement. Challenge yourself. And believe that a new year can bring on a new you. Happy New Year and Happy Selling! 

The CYA Client - January 2, 2016

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my post from last week. I shared the issue of a client hiring you for your expertise, but then wanting things done their way. The issues I have been personally facing recently continue to bother me. Did I miss something in my sales process? Was the client always intending to have things done their way, regardless of hiring my firm under the premise of expertise? What could I have done differently?

 

It has been bothering me so much that I reached out to another client for a bit of advice. This gentleman knows my other client on a personal level, yet was willing to talk with me in confidence. And, his take on the situation was rather eye opening. He very matter-of-factly said, your client is in a state of “cover you a%^*!”” That’s right, he told me the client is fearful of change, because he is afraid that change may have a negative impact on his position and career.

 

Instead of accepting that change is inevitable and being more willing to lean on my firm’s expertise, this client retreated and reversed course. He no longer was willing to accept how his organization should handle certain usability standards in web and digital marketing, based on the calendar being 2015-2016, and went backward to 2005. He felt more in control then. He felt as though change was not as rapid and consistent 10 years ago. He felt he knew his business and his customers so much more than what analytics and best practices could tell him. Ultimately, he lost trust not only in my firm, but in many ways the realities of what changes are taking place around him.

 

Unfortunately, this client pushed and pushed his own agenda, ignoring our pleas to listen to our guidance. He believe we were using a ploy or sales tactic when we told him not to spend additional fees with us, that’s how adamant we’ve been that he is making a mistake. He made the demands and we have been forced to follow.

 

I have no doubt that he will terminate our relationship. His demands will not be successful and failure is an almost guarantee. He will continue to move in the opposite direction of the realities around him and he will ultimately pay the highest price. The project will, in fact, be deemed a failure. My firm will not be at fault. We did our very best to show him the facts and steer him in the right direction. He made the final call and he will get what he deserves. As I’ve said before, this is harsh commentary, but true commentary. I like this client. I wish him well. And, I sure hope he stops worrying about CYA and embraces the inevitable…change. He can then look toward more successful days ahead instead of living in the past…living in fear.

I appreciate your expert opinion but... - December 26, 2015

It has been an interesting few weeks with one particular client. And, as I write this post, I am sitting on an airplane waiting on a small mechanical issue to be corrected, and then off I go on vacation. What do the two have in common? Expertise.

 

You see, I am in no position to be of any assistance to the mechanics on the airplane, even though I’d love to share a thought or two. I would like to depart as close to on time as possible. Maybe I could give some advice to the pilots on how to make time up in the air. No, wait a minute, I didn’t go to flight school. Heck, I’ve never sat in a cockpit. Granted, I work in technology, so how hard could it be.

 

Instead, I’ll just chuckle to myself, and I’ll let the mechanics and the pilots do what they do best. Besides, I’m putting my trust in their expertise, I mean that is what I am paying for, right?

 

Back to my particular client. Why did you hire my firm? Do you not feel we have your best interests in the forefront of the project? You are making a sizable investment into the project, so why is that you selected us? Wasn’t it because you thought my team were experts and could deliver a superior outcome? So why then are you constantly dismissing our expert advice and opinions and making poor decisions?

 

In sales we work very hard to identify what might be considered red flags. I would never intentionally bring a client in for a project that would not use us for our best work. So, what should we do? Handling these situations takes patience and tact and ultimately a willingness to walk away.

 

Clients that hire you for your expertise but then want everything done their way get what they deserve. That may not seem professional, but what is the alternative? You should take into consideration the toll it may take on your team members if you force them to continue with this type of client. It diminishes their and your value. You and your team have been at this for a very long time, building your professional resumes in a particular field, and for what, to have a client tell you they know more than you.

 

This is harsh commentary, however very real on an everyday basis. These types of clients should be dealt with professionally and swiftly. End the engagement. Dissolve the relationship. Fire the client if need be. These are clients that will end up firing you down the road for a lack of results even though you told them otherwise. They are their own worst enemy and the results of “their project” should fall entirely on them.

 

Oh yeah, and as I post this week’s blog, I am now sitting in another airport having missed my connection. I’m a bit disappointed that I won’t get to my destination on time. But, I trusted in the mechanics and pilots to keep me safe, and they did their jobs. I can handle the slight delay. They are the experts, that’s why I hired them.

The "Know It All" - December 19, 2015

This touchy subject has come up again – how to deal with a “Know It All”. There are two sides to this subject in sales. First is the customer / prospective customer. Second is the sales person. Both can act like “know it all’s” and both can become detrimental to a successful relationship.

 

On many occasions I have shared my opinion of the word relationship. A sales relationship is often similar to a personal relationship. There’s the dating and courtship process which leads to the engagement and then many times the marriage. When dealing with a “know it all” one side of the relationship may become turned-off or uninterested.

 

In looking at the customer / prospective customer side of the relationship, when they constantly act as a “know it all”, these individuals tend to burn bridges, are not respectful of the sales process, or end up buying less than needed for their specific need. Many times it is because their attitude is less-than-desirable so the sales person does not want to put up with them. They are a turn-off and so the sales person may simply rush through their own process simply to be done with them.

 

Likewise, when the sales person is the “know it all”, the customer / prospective customer will become quickly frustrated. When this type of sales person is attempting to move through their process, they tend to listen less, and they wind up talking more. They believe their words are more important and they sell what they believe is necessary, not what the customer / prospective customer ultimately needs.

 

Use your own personal lives as examples. We all have friends or acquaintances that can come across as the “know it all”. How do you engage with this person? How do you feel after conversing with them? Do you go out of your way to talk with them? Do you want to spend long periods of time with them? Or, although they may have their moments of likability, do you want to avoid one-on-one conversations?

 

Translate this personal example into business. Ask yourself if you have any of these tendencies. Evaluate your most successful sales and determine what characteristics were in your favor from the relationship side. And then act accordingly. Don’t be a “know it all” and try to avoid those that act this way as customers.

Selling To A Committee - December 12, 2015

Selling to an individual can be stressful. Selling to a committee can be downright frustrating. One of my newer team members recently was in a sales process where the prospect had a committee of eleven individuals. I’ve sold to so many committees that it seems like second nature, but to him it was rather new. He was concerned about “being outnumbered” or how best to manage a crowd. It dawned on me that many sales reps may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable in this type of sale, so here is my advice.

 

Inevitably there will be an individual on the purchasing committee that simply does not like you. And, just the same, there will be someone that thinks the world of you. The rest will fall right in the middle. Identifying these individuals early in the process is key to the success of the remainder of the meeting.

 

When presenting, asking questions, or sharing examples, give equal attention to the one that seems to be the “lack of caring” as much so as to the individual that is fully engaged. Second, when calling out those in the room, you will never remember each person’s name, but attempt to call on at least two others, besides the two already referenced, by their first name. This shows the entire audience you are giving it your best.

 

Make sure to make eye contact with every single person when you are speaking. Don’t ignore anyone, especially the quietest person in the room, as they may be a key factor in the decision process. Every individual in the room, even the one that came in late, should receive your business card. Do not let anyone leave without having your card. And, encourage each and every person to contact you with any questions at any time.

 

Be prepared with your deliverable's. In other words, if you were told that ten people will be on the committee and in the meeting, take two or three extra copies of your presentation or proposal. It is much better to have extras than to not have enough.

 

Last, relax and be yourself. Selling to a committee can be intimidating. You are basically standing in front of a room full of strangers and hoping they will buy from you. Often I’ve even pointed this out, stating I’m here to sell you, but with a bit of humor. They too may be uncomfortable with the process, so putting them at ease will go a long way in winning them over.

 

You may not win over every single person in the room, but go for it. If you come up one or two people shy of a unanimous decision, the majority may suffice, and you will likely win the business.