Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Age & Memory - October 22, 2016

Age and one’s memory are topics that can be funny and, at times, very difficult. For so long we as a society have pondered the relationship between getting older and becoming forgetful. And, in no way, shape or form am I attempting to make light of such a situation. I have watched individuals very close to me suffer from forgetfulness, so I am sensitive to the topic.


In business the age of a relationship between you and a client can also become a matter of forgetfulness. It seems the longer (age) we work with a client, there are times when we forget some of the details of our business. I’ve had a rather tough week in this regard, dealing with a longtime, valued client that has become forgetful of our business dealings.


My client is a bit upset because a project is taking longer than any of us had planned. The use of a third-party for a functional piece of work impeded our progress. In fact, my client selected the third-party, and the third-party has caused a three-month delay in the overall timeline of the project. While we worked diligently to keep our client apprised of the situation and the delays, what appeared to be understood was forgotten. And, so we face an upset client that wants to shift blame to my firm rather than accept any part of the responsibility.


What has frustrated me more so than this one matter is the forgetfulness of the end goals of the project. I feel as though the age of my business relationship has put in place “assumptions”, as in my client assumes we’ll do this or that, or they assume we understand what they intended beyond what their words stated. And, topping it all off, I have two executives representing the client side of the relationship that oftentimes are not on the same page, and are forgetful of independent conversations they’ve had with me or others in my company.


In much the same way as dealing with a loved one who may be experiencing memory issues, you have a responsibility to both your company and your client to gently remind them of conversations. I’ve been accused more than a time or two of being somewhat longwinded in my email correspondence. I'm maybe a bit over-the-top, so to speak, in details. However, when called upon for a gentle reminder, I tend to have something available in an email that helps shed light.


Clients, just like a friend or family member, don’t like being told they’re wrong or they forgot the details of a conversation. But, if and when handled properly, the gentle reminder goes a long way. Reminders don’t have to be a “I told you so” moment, instead they can be a “here is the recap email I sent you three months ago, take a look, and then let’s get back together so we’re on the same page”. I will say that over the many years of my career, this approach works more times than not, but never 100%.


Frustration sets in, as mine did this past week, when a client remains adamant that they are right, you are wrong, and there is no further discussion needed. When push comes to shove you may have no choice but to deliver the cold, hard facts. The fallout may not be pleasant, but the alternative is worse. You must always take a step in reminding your clients of forgotten details otherwise you will lose revenue, lose profit, lose employees, lose clients, or lose all of the above.

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.

Q&A 1 of 4 - May 14, 2016

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

3 Reasons You (not your company) Will Get Fired By A Client - April 2, 2016

I was recently asked by a friend to brainstorm with her sales team on the topic of “being fired”…as in being fired by a client. This is a company that has a rather solid reputation and is not accustomed to losing clients, yet in recent months two of the four outside sales reps have lost clients. They were fired. My friend became concerned as to the reasons why because the clients were not willing to talk about the relationship (or the decline in the relationship). I was brought in to help uncover what may have occurred.


During the first hour of our review we discussed a variety of possibilities centering on company performance, delivery times, quality of service, billings, etc. We looked at the possible elements that would point to the company itself. After a brief coffee break we then began to discuss the individuals involved in the sales process. And that’s when it happened. The lightbulbs began to go off and the sales reps quickly realized they were the reason the company was fired.


Now it’s not to say that a company won’t lose a client over poor quality, mediocre customer service, poor delivery times, or even price. These are all reasons you may lose a client. But, in my experience, You the sales rep, are more often the reason for being fired by a client. Why? Simple, you are the face of your company.


There tend to be 3 main reasons a client will fire You (not your company). Avoid these reasons and you will certainly increase client retention. Here they are:


1 – Poor Communication. Taking a relationship for granted tends to point toward poor communication and clients know this. When you only talk to, email, or visit with your clients when it’s order time, they will sense your lack of caring and become dismissive of your attempts. I’m not suggesting you text your client “sweet dreams” every night at 9:30 PM. But, staying in close contact with your clients shows you care about them and about your relationship with them. Communication doesn’t always need to be about an order, it could be about a piece of industry related information. Whatever the reason for making contact, keeping in touch pays dividends.


2 – Lacking Personalization. No two fingerprints are alike and as such no two clients are alike. Getting to know your client goes well beyond what they need to buy from you. Knowing who your client is will go a long way. Again, I’m not making any unusual suggestions, such as to become weekend beer drinking buddies with your client, but getting to know them on a semi-personal basis will carry weight. Think about this for a moment, if you are robotic in your sales approach, show no emotion (or caring), and treat every sale’s call as a manufactured process, then don’t be surprised when you get replaced by the rep down the street who goes out of her way to truly get to know “your” client.


3 – Not Believing You Have Competition. Sales people are easily tricked into believing they are good communicators and are personal with their clients. They do this to themselves. “They’ve been my client for several years now, look at their order history, of course I’m in tight with them.” Then, out of nowhere, you’re fired and replaced. You can’t understand why, well that is until you really dig in to reasons 1 & 2 above, and tie those to the realization that you DO have competition and they are better at 1 & 2 above than you’ve been. No matter how niche your products or services, there is always competition. Sales people who do not monitor competitors closely with an eye on their own client relationships may very well find themselves on the losing end.


If you set relationship goals every day and every week you will likely not fall into the trap of neglect. Managing a client relationship, much like a personal relationship, requires time, patience and practice. But, just like a personal relationship, they will grow and get better with time.

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes! - March 26, 2016

You’re probably wondering what in the world this title means this week: Out of the mouths of babes! This saying is older than me. This saying has been around a very, very long time. And yet, no matter how old, this saying has meaning in 2016 especially if you are a parent. Children are innocent creatures with no filters. They speak the truth no matter where they are or who is around. So, what does this saying have to do with sales?


For generations, maybe as long as the profession of sales has been in existence, a sales person has been given a bad rap for being untruthful, dishonest, or a “bender of facts”. It has become a stigma that many a sales person cannot lose. And, in many cases, it is a stigma earned.


I have worked with and counseled sales people for over twenty years and I can’t begin to tell you how many of these folks were taught, that’s right taught, how to bend truths to sell their product or service. Sales people have gone to training programs taught on the basis of how to only share the minimal amount of information to close a deal, nothing less and nothing more, and boy oh boy can that come back to bite them.


When I first began my sales career there was a gentleman I admired for his success. His success, and I mean BIG success, was based on one simple rule that he set for himself: Out of the mouths of babes! What, or more importantly why, did this saying become a business rule for my mentor? Because, as he put it, if you always tell the truth and provide more information than may be required, your customer can never come back and question your intentions for selling them a product or service. Ultimately you will win more than you will lose.


Prior to becoming a parent, I would have this saying trickle into my thoughts every so often, and now it seems to be ever present. The meaning behind it always stuck with me though. I’ve tried to make sure sales people I encounter, either by management or customer, always abide by this rule. You should ask yourself if you abide by this rule (or if your company does). Are you in a position to never have ethics questioned in a deal? Does your customer recognize you as an honest, stand-up sales person? Or, do they view you as the typical order taker, and only do business with you out of necessity?


Becoming a real success as a career sales person means that you must always be honest with yourself and with your customers. Are you?

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.

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.

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.