Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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Holiday Termination Follow-Up - December 22, 2018

Two weeks ago I answered my final Q&A which dealt with the termination of a sales rep a few weeks before Christmas. I received several emails in response which varied from total agreement to being called callous for not being considerate of the holiday timeframe. I was challenged to consider the sales rep at Christmastime and asked why I wouldn’t consider waiting until January.

 

Let me pose this question in reply: Is January a better time to terminate a failing sales rep? What if I were to tell you that she had a January birthday and would also be celebrating her 5 year wedding anniversary? Should we then wait until February?

 

Simply put there is no good time to terminate any employee for any reason. Termination is termination. It is not fun, not easy, and emotional, even though it should not be. Termination is firing. Firing sucks whether you are the firing manager or the employee being fired. I am not callous nor do I lack emotion. In fact, I am empathetic to the young lady being terminated right before Christmas. Considering the worst of the situation, losing your job right before Christmas can be considered downright cold. It may cause the person being fired to have an absolutely miserable holiday season. They may have left the company crying uncontrollably. Or, maybe they have a sense of relief and will go through the holidays with a weight off of their shoulders.

 

In answering the question two weeks ago I did point out that we never know what someone else may be going through in their personal life. But, personal is personal and business is business. Regardless of what time of the year we’re in, business decisions must be made, and such decisions must be made with the best of intentions for the company. Keeping an underperforming sales rep around for another month or two simply delays the inevitable. It costs the company more money in terms of salary, benefits, and taxes. The relationship between the sales manager and the sales rep will continue to be strained putting stress on both people and possibly others within the sales organization. Needless to say, keeping the sales rep around does nothing for either the company or rep.

 

Because we don’t know what someone may be going through and time of the year should not be a factor, let’s take a different view for the sake of this light debate. The underperforming sales rep has been miserable for some time. She recognizes and acknowledges that she is underperforming, and while continuing to try to sell, she is not successful. Unfortunately, while she is not happy, she also has not found a new opportunity yet, but she has been interviewing. She’s not really been looking forward to Christmas because of the stress of work. Each and every day she wants to leave and is hoping a new opportunity comes through soon. Then she is terminated. With HR being involved she is provided a three-month severance package and is immediately shown the door. The weight of her poor sales performance has been immediately lifted. She has time to relax and refresh during the holidays which also gives her additional time to spend with family and friends. And, with the severance package in place, she can now concentrate on the interview process with other companies after the holidays are over. What if? I understand this is a hypothetical, but it may be the real case. Regardless of her story, I stick by my previous post and answer. The company must do what is best for the company, the sales manager, the rest of the sales team, and in the moment not based on the time of year or date on the calendar.

Q&A Thank You - December 15, 2018

Over the past several months I’ve used my blog posts to answer reader questions. I hope these posts have provided you with some insight into sales, sales management, competition, and other sales related topics. I have enjoyed all of the emails and found myself answering as many questions direct in reply as I did through these posts.

 

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions. I am always seeking topics to write about and would be happy to answer in the form of a post or a direct reply. Next week I will be getting back to regular posts based on requests and ideas you’ve shared. Stay tuned…and until then…Keep On Selling.

Q&A Week 24 - December 8, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.

 

Q: It has become crystal clear that I need to terminate a sales person before the end of the month. The mandate to terminate has come from my vp of sales and our vp of human resources. Christmas is only a few short weeks away, and while I am in full agreement that she must be let go, I feel terrible about the timing. She’s not a bad person, just not a good sales rep. She has been on two separate performance improvement plans this year with little-to-no progress made. My company does not want her to be on the sales team at the start of the new year. How would you handle this situation?

 

A: This is a tough one from a personal standpoint and very straight forward from the business side. Unfortunately, the business is the most important side to take with this person. While I am sympathetic to the timing, with Christmas in a couple of weeks, your sales rep has been clearly underperforming for way too long. I’m sure there are reasons she was not terminated sooner, which can be debated at another time, but nonetheless you are now faced with the termination conversation.

 

I would treat the conversation as if it were any other time of the year and try to ignore the fact that Christmas is days away. Facts are facts and the sales rep must go. HR should be involved in the conversation, making sure that any termination information is properly relayed, and the conversation should be handled no differently than if it were in September. She must be informed that her poor sales performance has resulted in her termination effective immediately (or whatever date HR has set). Explain the multiple second chances that were given but results were not achieved. End it there…period.

 

It would be my hope that she will accept her termination given the multiple warnings and second chances. But, remember that we never know what someone else is going through in their lives, especially during the holidays which can be more emotional for some. If emotion does creep into the conversation or if she brings up Christmas, New Year’s, or the holiday season in general, be careful not to be baited into showing sympathy which can result in other termination related issues. Simply remind her that regardless of the calendar, her performance (or lack of) is the issue and nothing else. Her position has ended and the calendar has nothing to do with it. Do not discuss the holidays or any other personal matter she may throw into the mix.

 

I do feel for your situation and I understand that my advice lacks all emotion. It must lack emotion from you, the sales manager, because this is a business issue and not personal. One final piece of advice from my own HR consultant. Under no circumstances do you contact this sales rep after the termination. Again, the holidays tend to be an emotional time for many, even for you firing someone right before Christmas. You must remain stoic and not emotional. The now former sales rep needs to grasp the concept that sales is based on performance and not emotion. 

Q&A Week 23 - December 1, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.

 

Q: I have a new sales manager. She was hired into the company about three months ago and I like her very much. She does not micromanage the sales team. Instead she manages more as a mentor and less as a bean counter. She’s great at giving guidance and advice based on her experience which is a lot better than our previous manager. Now, as the year is coming to a close, she wants us to write our own business plan for the upcoming sales year including goals and quotas. Our previous manager never had us work on a business plan. He always told us what our monthly, quarterly and annual sales quota would be without any input from us. I’m at a bit of a loss on where to begin or even how to put this plan together. Please help.

 

A: First of all, congratulations on getting a new sales manager, someone that seems to be a very welcome change. She sounds great and someone I could get along with easily. If she is a true mentor as you’ve described, I would immediately share your concerns with her. She will understand and welcome the opportunity to guide you through the planning process. She may want you to have certain ideas or goals in your plan. Ask her what she would like to see, what her expectations are, and even what format the plan should be in. Have a few ideas in mind as well when you approach her. You should know where you will likely finish the year based on the quotas that were already set for you. Will you increase sales in 2019? By how much? Will you add new accounts? How many? These are basic ideas to start your planning. Share this information with your new manager. Gauge her reaction on your current numbers and how you feel you can increase in the coming year. Also, how do you want to grow personally and professionally? Do you want to learn a new skill or become a sales manager in the future? Share this with her and ask for guidance on how you can incorporate your own goals into the business plan. Engaging your new sales manager now will help you deliver a plan that is more in line with what she wants and needs. Keep one thing in mind, your sales manager must also prepare and present a plan to her superiors, so working collaboratively with her on your own plan will help her with her plan. You may well win additional favor with her by taking these proactive steps.

Q&A Week 22 - November 24, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.

 

Q: We’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving and the holidays will soon be upon us. My sales team, although small, have accomplished more than I could imagine this year, and I’d like to treat them to a nice thank you gift. As a sales person and sales manager, do you have any suggestions? I cannot give everyone in the company a bonus this year, so I’m concerned about doling out money. The team already have flexible work schedules, so days off don’t seem practical as a gift. They each have relatively new iPhone’s, but their laptops are getting old. Would new laptops be good gifts?

 

A: My answer is entirely based on my personal opinion. A good friend, Brian, showed me his latest sales tool and I am very jealous. If I were one of your sales people, I’d be grateful to receive a new iPad Pro instead of a new laptop. Loaded with all of the necessary software, such as Word, Excel, etc. the iPad Pro with a fully functional keyboard is a fantastic replacement to a heavier laptop. With all of the same capabilities and the syncing function with the iPhone, the practicality of the iPad is a great way to thank your team while at the same time giving them a business tool that is easier to use. This is also a gift that is geared toward sales and not necessarily others within your organization. It can be considered a gift but also an upgrade to their existing laptops.

Q&A Week 21 - November 17, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.

 

Q: I am the owner of a small company with 35 employees. I have 3 sales reps that report directly to me. I’ve been working with my management team to put a growth plan in place and now it may be time to have a vice president of sales. I don’t believe any of the 3 people I currently have would be good in sales management, especially because I want someone to help us with our growth plan. At the same time I don’t want to push my sales reps out the door. How do I add a key management team member without losing my sales people?

 

A: Are you familiar with EOS, the Entrepreneurs Operating System, or the EOS-related book Traction? If not, please check it out, it may be a real game changer for you since you want to grow your company. Through EOS and as carefully outlined in Traction, you must be more focused and concerned about having the right leadership team in place, even if it means losing a team member or two. You’ve already admitted that none of your sales people are leadership material. That’s not to say they’re not valuable sales team members, but clearly you do not believe they can help you lead the company through an aggressive growth plan. This means you must hire from outside of the company. It is also a decision that you must own, as the owner of the company, and be supported by your other leadership team members. If they support you, and you are ready to own this decision, then proceed. I would not initially invite your existing sales people into the process. I would proceed with interviewing the right growth-oriented sales manager that you and your other leadership team members agree would be a good fit. This person must be a good fit for you not necessarily for your existing sales people. The sales manager must believe in your vision for growth and you must believe they can help you accomplish the growth you seek. You need to be transparent with the candidate in that they are being brought in to grow the company with or without the existing sales people. Therefore, the existing team is unaware of this interview process in that moment, but will be brought up to speed before the manager is asked to accept the offer. Once you’ve reached the offer stage, then you bring the sales people into the loop on this process, explaining carefully that they’ve done nothing wrong, but that you want to bring to them a new coach with new energy. You are bringing in a leader to help them not hinder their progress. Introduce the potential new sales manager to the team and allow them to interview each other. But, realize you and your leadership team are making this call, not the sales people. This is a courtesy provided both of them to see where each other is coming from. This will allow the new sales manager, should he or she accept the position, to have a full understanding of what they’re walking in to. And, if your existing sales people are not ready or want this change, the new sales manager will have time to plan accordingly for the addition of their own people. Growth is too important to let everyday sales people hold you back. You must have the right leadership in place to accomplish your goals. The right sales leader will ensure the right sales butts are in the right sales seats on your growth-oriented sales bus.

Q&A Week 20 - November 10, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.

 

Q: My company is considered more a specialist in our field while a few of our competitors offer similar services but also many others. While we’re more of a niche they are more of a one stop shop. Do you have any advice for our sales people when comparing and contrasting us to our competition?

 

A: I live this scenario every day, so I’m more than happy to share my opinion. Please keep in mind, this works for me and it may work for you, but I can’t guarantee it. I start my sales pitch off describing exactly what we are, what we are not, and what they can expect from my competition. I never talk about my competition by name or in much detail, rather I provide a general description of my competitors that seem to sell themselves as all things to all people. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes my competitors may actually be a better fit for the prospect versus my firm. In these cases, it’s not exactly that the competition is a better fit, instead the prospective client may be better suited for them than for me. Being more of a specialist or niche service provider, I look for certain types of clients that are a better fit for my firm, an organization that matches our belief system and processes. Generally speaking, when a prospect wants more services from a single provider, more “jacks of all trades”, then I know ahead of time what type of people I’d be dealing with and they are typically not a good fit for me. However, when a prospect speaks the same language in terms of specialty, experience, the need for niche, then we’re headed in the right direction. Heading this off from the very beginning gives you the upper hand because you set the stage and tone for the rest of the sales process. You will make your competition sell against your niche experience and you’ll put them in a position of playing keep up.

Q&A Week 19 - November 3, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.

 

Q: Many of our clients invite us to participate in their annual budgeting process which takes place throughout November. We do have a few clients that are not keen on our being involved. Is there a way to have them bring us to the table?

 

A: The only way to be invited to the table for budget discussions is to have a very compelling reason to be there. If you do not have a compelling reason then you don’t belong. Allow me to explain. If everything is going fine with your business relationship, in that you are continuing into the new year without pause in service or delivery, then you shouldn’t have any reason to worry. And, if nothing is changing, then don’t interfere with your client at this time. Now, if you have a compelling reason to meet, such as changes in services, introduction of new services that may have a direct impact on the client, or some other enhancement that you strongly believe the client needs to consider, then you need to share this information with them. It should be as simple as asking for a brief sales meeting to update them so they are aware ahead of time. Don’t make it about their current budget planning from the perspective that you want more money from them. Instead present your case that changes are coming in the future that may have a positive impact on them and that it may be something they’d want to consider down the road. If you can make a compelling case, you won’t need to ask for more budget, they will take it upon themselves to plan accordingly. Then, when the time is right, you can move into upsell mode and the budget will likely be in place.

Q&A Week 18 - October 27, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.

 

Q: When selling to an audience, is it rude to “dodge” certain attendees questions, especially from the lower level audience members?

 

A: Yes, it is rude, and no you should not “dodge” their questions. There are exceptions, but they are rare, and largely depend on the size of the audience. Let’s be realistic, you are probably not selling to a room of 30 people. Audiences will vary in size and those in attendance will have different level of organizational responsibility. However, if someone is in attendance during your sales pitch, they are most likely there for a reason, and their question may be more valid than the CEO’s.

 

Generally, when I am faced with either a larger audience or a time cap, I start the Q&A portion of the pitch off by saying that I will try my best to answer everyone’s questions during the meeting, but I also reserve time afterward to address some on a one-to-one basis. This gives you the momentary out to defer a question from the group time to a personal conversation. In fact, sometimes with lower level individuals, they may appreciate the one-to-one conversation, and you can win them over.

 

But, you want to make sure you do two things when the Q&A process takes place. One, you cannot ignore anyone regardless of their role. You must acknowledge the person and their question, even if by stating “great question and one that I will address right after we’re done with the group”. And, second, you must address that person and their question before you leave the building. I recently had this scenario play out and the person left the room at the end of the meeting and went back to their office. I politely asked the president of the company to show me to this individual so I could acknowledge them and address their question. I impressed both the president and this mid-level manager so much that I won the business and they both became fans of my firm and the project.

Q&A Week 17 - October 20, 2018

For the past few years, since I began using this weekly blog to share stories about sales and sales management, I have been receiving numerous questions from readers including my own clients. Over the next several months I am going to use my weekly ramblings to post one reader question with my answer. Please note – my answers are based on my personal and professional experiences and in no way reflect my company or specific clients.

 

Q: In need of a little help – I’m trying to explain to a few young sales interns that a career in sales is not a 9-5 job. What can a sales rep in a professional services organization expect?

 

A: Mary, you hit the nail on the head, sales is most certainly not a 9-5 job, especially in a professional services organization. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is a 100% job, meaning you are always in sales mode.

 

So many young sales people believe sales starts when they arrive to work and ends when the leave to go home for the day. If that belief sticks with them for too long, they will fall into the trap of being nothing more than a B- sales person. True A level sales people understand that you take work home with you in the form of reading, studying, researching, planning, reviewing, proposal prep and writing, etc. You simply cannot get everything done during any given work day and thus you must be willing to take work home to stay on top of your sales.

 

Additionally, there are networking events in the evening. Industry trade shows or conferences to attend out of town. Weekend sales team building programs. And, of course, even on your own personal time, you’ll most likely run into a prospective or existing client. You’ll need to always have your game face on and be willing to jump right into sales mode.