Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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Train Your Client - March 21, 2015

Recently I have spent time with my posts sharing stories of dismay with client relationships. My goal is certainly not to be a downer or focus only on the negative side of things, but rather to share real life stories in hopes that you can either avoid them yourselves or at least see the warning signs. I fielded the same question from a few followers and so I will take this opportunity to answer their question, but then we’ll move on to brighter topics.

 

Q: Sometimes it seems like we are the cause of our own client relationship problems. How can we do a better job and avoid these situations?

 

Well, in my opinion, the short answer is that we train our clients in a way that causes us grief down the road. That’s right, we train our clients to be a problem.

 

We all want our clients to like us, befriend us, order from us, enjoy our company when we schedule meetings or take them to lunch. Why wouldn’t we? These are the people that ultimately keep us employed and can make us look good in the eyes of our own employer. But, to what extent might we go to make our clients happy?

 

All too often we fall into the trap of putting our clients first, which in most cases is not a bad thing, but can be if putting them first makes them a priority over another client or an internal team member. For years and years there was a mantra in sales and customer service…the customer is always right. But there is an inherent flaw in this philosophy…if the customer is always right than you and your team are always wrong. There can be no in between.

 

When we drop everything for a new client, when we answer their calls at night and on weekends, when we reply to their email within seconds of receiving it, we are training our clients that we will always respond in such order. Immediately…without hesitation. There are many behaviors, similar to this, that we “allow” our clients to exhibit when we deal with them, without any pushback, and then ultimately we regret down the road.

 

Training the client is not a new concept. We can train our clients to have great relationships. We can set expectations that work for the client and for your company, on mutual terms, and on a basis that provides a pleasant experience for both. But, the cautionary tale is, take it slow and easy. Don’t set unrealistic expectations. And, the best way to do this with a new client, pretend for a moment they have been your client for years. How do interact with them? How do you communicate with them? What is your standard turnaround time with them? Keep in mind, they are a client still, so finish by asking yourself, why has the client kept you around?

 

Many of the firsthand examples I can think of begin with how I set expectations with my clients or how I trained them to work with me. You can do the same. Always be open to friendly, good, and timely communication with your clients. But be careful not to over-commit and you will be on the right path to training your client for success.

Divorcing A Client - March 14, 2015

First and foremost, before I get too far into my post for this week, please know that I do not take the topic of divorce lightly; not at all. But, like in a personal relationship, there are times when a client relationship ends in divorce. And so, speaking from firsthand experience, let me use my post this week to explain when a sales person (and their company) must divorce a client.

 

Abusive relationships come in all shapes and sizes, and certainly not just in our personal lives. In business too there are abusive relationships. At times we do not see it as clearly as others may, and when we do, something must be done to put a stop to it.

 

For four years my firm had what I would call a so-so relationship with a client (Joe). Joe could be difficult to understand at times. He played favorites amongst my team members, sometimes praising one person, while refusing to acknowledge another. He would make decisions and then a few weeks later would question why we took a certain approach with his project. He did not remember he made the decision. But, there were also times when we could do no wrong. On occasion he would shout from the mountain tops that we did a great job and he even referred business to us.

 

As we moved through our third year of business together and into our fourth year, his demeaner changed more dramatically, and the praise one day and criticism the next became routine. We sat in a meeting a few months ago and Joe loved everything we had done. Two weeks later he hired a third-party agency and everything changed. He no longer loved what we had produced, but now was questioning everything about the project. Then things really took a turn for the worst.

 

Joe started to play games. As one of his primary contacts he would call me, explain how he trusts me (and my firm), referring to me as his trusted advisor, and that we were to answer only to him. Three days later he called again, except we no longer answered to him, but now we answered to the third-party agency. Just like that, overnight it seemed, we were no longer his trusted advisors. We now answered to another group who did not have the history or experience to handle the workload. But, nonetheless, this was Joe’s wish.

 

When I voiced a “concern” about recommendations this agency made, I was now viewed as causing trouble and “complaining”.  Wow, I went from being a trusted advisor one week to nothing more than “whining” the next. Except, no matter what changes were taking place, we still were taking the high road and keeping an eye out for our clients best interests. He didn’t see it that way, and therefore damage to the relationship was escalating.

 

Since we were to now answer to a third-party agency, we did as we were told, because we needed to see the project through to completion. The agency was calling the shots so much so that we could not even have an audience with our own client. And so, we did as they asked, and the project ultimately came to a conclusion. Now Joe feels we have let him down. He is unhappy with the project process. He feels as though the relationship has changed and it is entirely our fault. He refuses to allow us to explain our belief on why things took a turn. And, he refuses to acknowledge that he had any hand in the relationship going south.

 

Joe was abusive. He constantly played games. It was his way or no way when it came to the relationship. Were we a little blind to this behavior? Maybe we weren’t, as in my firm and team members, but I was. I made a mistake by not bringing concerns to his attention sooner. I believed the quality of the project would offset his behavior. But, in the end, it did not.  And so comes the divorce.

 

My firm and my team members are not to blame. I take the blame. I turned a blind eye to Joe’s poor attitude and behavior. He was abusive. He played games. At times I witnessed it and at times I ignored it. I failed to be an ‘A’ level sales person in this instance. And for this I have apologized to my firm and my team members. However, I will not apologize to Joe. As in any abusive relationship, and subsequent break-up or divorce, I will no longer be the victim. Joe may never come to realize or admit his faults or role in the dissipation of our relationship. But, my twenty-plus years of experience tells me that we are just one in a long line of firms that he’ll chew through.

When is it time to stop being nice? - February 7, 2015

This week I am taking a step away from my normal routine to answer a question from a colleague:

 

Dear Kevin,

 

Thank you for letting me pick your brain on the phone the other day. I appreciate the advice you shared about a contract I’m trying to negotiate. But now I’ve got an entirely different question that I’m hoping you can help me with. You see, I have a client that my firm’s been working with for about 4 years now, and he has progressively gotten worse to deal with. He feels he’s the center of the universe and treats me and my employees like nothing more than his servants. We recently completed a fairly large project for him and not once has he said thank you. The project experienced a few delays, all of which were on him, and he never acknowledged his hand in the delays. He is not enjoyable to work with and my employees feel his disrespect is cause for us to part ways. I’ve tried to maintain my composure but even I have lost my faith that this will be a salvageable relationship. When is it time to stop being nice and just tell him like it is? That he’s rude, disrespectful, ungrateful, and we don’t want to work with him anymore. Your thoughts and ideas would be appreciated.

 

Thanks,

Ken

 

Well Ken, the short answer is it is never okay to stop being nice, but there may come a time when you need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with your client. I am not a fan of email or text messaging when confronted with these situations for two reasons. One, such correspondence does not allow for true feelings to be heard, and the recipient of the note may not grasp the seriousness of how you feel the situation is at the moment. And two, it is the cowards way out, which I know you are not a coward Ken.

 

I myself have heard people say “that’s just how I am” or “that’s just me” when confronted with poor manners or poor business behavior. That is simply who they choose to be. And so, if they choose to be a rude and disrespectful individual, then you need to consciously choose to tell them they are being rude and disrespectful, and you need to carefully explain why you’re sharing this information with them. My guess is that human nature will kick in and they will not be happy at all. So, here is my advice and answer to your question, but please make sure you give this a lot of consideration before you act upon it.

 

You do not need to lower yourself to their way of behaving and you certainly do not need to be baited into an argument. You must keep your composure and treat this person with respect. You may share your displeasure in how you and your employees have been treated, but try something like this: “You know James, we’ve dealt with a great number of clients and projects over the years, and sometimes we run into situations that don’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I know you feel this project didn’t go as planned, but it is a shame that you feel we are entirely at fault.”

 

It is your right to continue and share with James that your employees have always given him 100% of their effort in the most professional manner even when he was venting or treating them with disrespect. He should know that his poor communication skills are both a reflection on him and his company. And finally, you must state for the record, that you have a responsibility to attract and retain clients that are healthy for your firm now and in the future. You are now questioning if a relationship with him and his company offer such a healthy opportunity.

 

The likelihood is that you will be treated with continued disrespect and that James will not be pleased with your “questioning of his behavior”. But it is your right and your duty to protect your most valuable asset, your employees. They need to know that you have their backs and you respect them even when the client does not. Your client may hang up on you, he may fire you right on the spot, or he may simply have something sarcastic to say.

 

Remember this, you must remain professional, and be nice. You must take the high road. Yes you must let the client know what has transpired and that you simply may not be the right fit for him anymore. But you must always remain true to yourself and your employees. There are plenty of prospective clients out there that want to work with you and who will show you the respect you deserve. Don’t let this one poor client bring you down.

When A Loss Is Really A Win - January 17, 2015

A few nights ago I was having a beer after work with a few friends and colleagues. I was in a relatively good mood and so someone asked why. I explained that a prospective client that I’d been dealing with for several months made a decision. They chose to hire another firm and not mine. I couldn’t have been happier with their decision.

 

I think my friend stopped breathing for a moment as he looked at me as if I had three heads. “Why in the world are you happy that they turned you down”, he asked. My response quite simply was because sometimes with a loss you actually come out with a win. Here’s what I shared with him.

 

This prospective client initially seemed perfect, maybe too perfect. They were an ideal size for my firm both in revenue and market share. They seemed open to new ideas, especially as we shared recent experiences and successes with other clients. The director of marketing had been there about three years and seemed to have a very good grasp on their needs and where they currently sit within their respective industry. Pleasantries were exchanged and plans for continuing conversations were laid.

 

Well, over the course of the next eight weeks we met her manager, the vice president of sales and marketing. He was not at all pleasant. He did not like the idea of “outsiders” coming in and “telling him what to do with his website and web marketing”, and he did not show very much respect for the woman that was his director of marketing. I was surprised that she actually sat through meetings and took his verbal abuse. Then came the director of information technology. He crawled right out of a time warp. It is as if 1996 to 2014 did not happen. His ideas were old and antiquated. He was gruff and somewhat abusive too. It’s not often I say this, but in terms of technology and business, he had no grasp on reality.

 

Yet, at every turn where I wanted to run the other way, the director of marketing kept asking me back and asking for my help. Now, knowing there were many red flags, I addressed my concerns with her and took these concerns into consideration when estimating the cost of their project. Ultimately, I priced my company right out of consideration. And, as expected, her vice president of marketing called me directly to voice his displeasure in my proposal and he was vulgar on the telephone. Two days later I received the email stating this prospective client went with a different service provider.

 

After I explained this situation to my friend, he bought me another beer, thanked me for sharing my story, and then asked if I would come in and meet with his team. He is rather high up in management within his organization, more from an operations standpoint than sales, but believes his company all too often enters bad relationships in spite of the warning signs.

 

As with any relationship, it may take a little time for someone to show their true colors. Sales relationships are no different. Be careful when the warning signs point to you running far away. Follow your gut feeling. When you lose a deal, be careful to chalk it up to a loss, because in reality it may be a great win.

Breaking back into jail -- October 11, 2014

Here we go again, the second week in a row, where I’m using a bit of a cheesy phrase. Don’t break back into jail – it is a phrase typically heard when a recently divorced person begins to date too seriously too quickly. Or, at times, when two exes get back together. It is not the nicest comment and it is not intended to be.

 

And so the story goes in sales, where a relationship ends, and then somewhere down the road someone wants to do business together again. Do you not remember why you broke up in the first place? Chasing revenue, to a certain extent, is a sales person’s priority. But, there is a difference in chasing revenue, and ultimately chasing quality relationships that drive revenue. When you break up with a client, you may not want to break back into jail.

 

Even in a global economy the market you sell in tends to be small and so you will inevitably cross paths with a former client. Depending on the reasons why the relationship ended may determine how you treat each other when your paths do cross for a second or third time. Break up’s happen. It is a fact of life when dealing with relationships of all sorts, both personal and professional, when you’re younger or older. I have found, especially in business, to keep meticulous notes about the relationships I have with clients including each individual I encounter.

 

Note taking must always be an important part of a sales person’s role. And, at no other time do your notes come in handy as when a past relationship is called into question. My notes tend to follow a pretty standard pattern. Here is a breakdown of what I track: who are the primary contacts and what are their specific responsibilities; how do I get along with each person; are there any common (non-work related) activities or hobbies; have we dined together; how do we get along on a personal level; have we disagreed and how have disagreements been managed; do compromises tend to be considered fair by both sides; what happens when we do not see eye-to-eye; is the client level headed; and, how do we manage next steps after a disagreement.

 

It may seem like profiling and it is. Trust me, your clients have a profile on you too. The key is making sure you give the business relationship every possible opportunity to succeed. It is only when the relationship must come to an end when these profile notes come in handy. And, more specifically, when there is a possibility of doing business together again. Be careful what you wish for – you may just get it – and end up back in jail.

What's In It For Me? - September 20, 2014

As a career sales person I’ve had the opportunity to attend many events as a means of client entertainment. Many years ago I was at the inaugural NASCAR race at Homestead (Florida). I’ve been to other NASCAR races, a variety of major league sporting events. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to wonderful cities and dine in some of the best restaurants. And, most importantly, I’ve always, always, always been grateful. Sometimes I believe these fortunate opportunities were mine because of my role in sales. Other times I just feel downright lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Either way, I’ve also made sure to make the most out of each opportunity presented to me.

 

Not that long ago I was reminded that there is another side to client entertainment: “what’s in it for me?” I was shopping in Costco when I ran into an old client contact Joe. Joe left the client’s organization about 2 years ago to move onward and upward as he put it back then. While he was the director of marketing, he also worked in a sales capacity, and whenever the contract was up for renewal he would ask me for tickets to a Cleveland Brown’s game. That’s right, he came out and asked me, and made sure I knew something had to be in it for him directly.

 

As we continued to talk he explained that he just started another new position with another new company. He claimed he “didn’t get any good perks you know, tickets and stuff”, from the previous position. I couldn’t believe he was saying these things, but sure enough, there just wasn’t anything in it for him. Well, nothing other than his salary, commission, bonus, benefits and fantastic vacation package. So, he moved onto a new gig in hopes that he’ll get more perks from others wanting to do business with him.

 

This is a horrible position to take and one that sales people should be very careful of when dealing with a “what’s in it for me?” type of person. Sales people, even the best ‘A’ level talent, want to please a new or existing client. Whether it’s a nice thank you lunch at the hottest steakhouse in town or a couple of tickets to a game, saying thanks with a small token of appreciation is not a bad thing. Most clients are very receptive and do not take advantage. But some do.

 

Here are a few tips to help you avoid the “what’s in it for me?” group: after a nice lunch the prospect or client suggests another lunch at the same or equally higher end restaurant for the next meeting instead of at the office; when he asks if you can score him an extra ticket or two to the game; when she invites others to the dinner meeting that you’re paying for without telling you or even asking you; when instead of saying thanks for taking them to an event they say that it was good and look forward to the next event (on your dime).

 

I’m certainly not suggesting that you cease client entertainment. I’ve closed or celebrated some of my largest sales in such a manner. But, I do caution you to watch out for these “what’s in it for me?” characters. They can become a real drain on your time and resources and can keep you from being productive.

The Second Chance - September 13, 2014

Don’t burn a bridge. It is both a business and life lesson that I’ve worked hard to apply daily. Many years ago, shortly after I entered my career, a mentor once shared with me that his largest and most profitable client had, at one time, told him no. In fact, the client did not like the sales approach, the service or the company for whom my mentor was employed. After a two year stint my mentor moved on to another firm, reached out to the client, and began to win him over. But, once again he was told no. This time the client stated that he was just not quite ready to hire my mentor for his services. And so, instead of ending the relationship, my mentor politely and professionally stayed in contact. Not in an overbearing way, but a telephone call here and there. Well, about seven months had passed, and then the words he had been waiting for were mentioned…it’s time we do business together. When my mentor shared that story with me, he was celebrating fifteen years of business with his client.

 

This lesson sticks with me to this day as if I just heard the story for the first time. He could have been upset and not stayed in contact. He could have told the client to pound salt. He did neither of those things. Instead, he kept his composure, wished the client well, and stayed in contact. That was it, nothing more. The client viewed this as a sign of true professionalism. He was a gentleman, not a “sales shlup”.

 

As I said before I have maintained this approach myself since I heard the story. And, let me tell you, it absolutely works. Sure, I’ve lost a deal here and there, but I’ve also won many on the second go around. Prospects and clients are human. When treated with respect, they respond with respect. Maybe it was not the best time for them to buy your product or service. Staying in contact after being told no says to the prospect or client that you still care. And ultimately people buy from sales reps that care.

 

The second chance takes time. Some second chances may take months or years. But every single ‘A’ level sales person I know applies this principal: don’t be a jerk when you’re told no; be gracious for the opportunity presented; ask to stay in contact; don’t be overbearing; and, show them you still care no matter what decision they made. It will eventually win them over and you will win a grateful, long-term client.

Finish What You Start - September 6, 2014

There’s no doubt about it, we’re all busy. We live hectic lives between work and family. Digital devices keep us plugged in to every aspect of our own lives, our spouses, our children’s, our co-workers and so on. It is easy to forget something sometimes with so much going on. I get it. You get. Makes sense. So, what is Finish What You Start?

 

All too often sales people find excuses when something slips through the cracks: when you forget to send the thank you note after a meeting; the examples you were going to email took you an extra week because you forgot; or, you gave up calling the prospect after the fourth voicemail. Whatever the reason, there should be no excuses, and certainly no exceptions. You must finish what you start.

 

Time management can be one of a sales person’s greatest attributes or hindrances. It has been my belief for a very long time that if you work on the philosophy of finish what you start then you are a step closer to producing results. Let me explain.

 

As I mentioned above, we all live busy lives, and can feel overwhelmed at times. That is okay. It is how you manage your schedule, personally and professionally, that leads to results. If you manage yourself to not put something off until tomorrow, you will get more done today. I know, I know this makes sense, but it is easier said than done. Time management requires daily evaluations of how you are spending your time, what tasks are being accomplished, and making sure you check off everything on your daily to-do list before your head hits the pillow.

 

Clients and prospects very rarely look at the time of when an email was sent. It is most important that the email be in their inbox before they arrive to the office tomorrow morning. So work on it after the kids go to bed. When you commit to sending examples to the prospect, take your laptop into the kitchen at the office, and work through lunch.

 

Sales is not, nor has it ever been, a 9-5 job. Sales is a career and a lifestyle choice. You do not need to be beholden to your position 24-7, but if you apply good time management principals daily, you will finish what you’ve started, and you will sell more. If you want to chat about my approach to time management, give me a call or send me an email.

Sales Is Not One Sided - August 23, 2014

I was recently faced with two similar scenarios. The first was with a prospect that I had been meeting with for a few weeks. After each meeting I would evaluate the discussion, review potential red flags in moving forward, outline reasons to continue or not continue the discussions, and then plan accordingly. The second was a sales opportunity with an existing client. We have been discussing, in both face-to-face meetings and conference calls, how to expand and enhance their marketing presence. I followed a similar path as with the prospect and outlined the ups and downs for the potential project and what steps, if any, need to take place to move forward.

 

In both cases, with the prospect and the existing client, I chose to walk away from the opportunities. Yep, that’s right, I walked away. And in both cases the person I had been dealing with accused me of being a poor sales person. They felt I was not looking out for “THEIR” interests. They wanted me to do what they wanted because I was a “vendor”. Well guess what folks, sales is not one sided.

 

By now there have been enough articles written about the “customer is NOT always right”. This is true, but how you handle each of these cases can either be a benefit or a detriment to your company and your sales performance. First and foremost, if the customer is always right, then you and your company are always wrong. Second, being treated as a “vendor” often times means that you are bidding on a piece of business based on nothing at all but price. Forget your knowledge and experience. Forget that you want to put the client’s interests first. If you are not ready to always say yes, do as they ask, and for a certain price, then you will be replaced.

 

I believe in both scenarios referenced above, I would lose the respect of my colleagues, and I would lose a bit of self-respect too, if I continued with the sales calls. In both cases there was enough reason to know that we were not a good fit. In both cases the prospect and the client may not get our very best work because they were not going to allow our team to flex their creative and technological muscles. In both cases the attitudes of the prospect and client were that they knew more than my team and we were just going to be hired hands to do as we’re told.

 

Simply put, we were going to be hired into an unhealthy business relationship, and that does not work for us. So, I did my job, and I excused myself and my firm from consideration. I can handle their criticism of my sales approach, no problem. I wouldn’t be able to handle the disappointment of my team afterward. Sales is not one sided. Remember, you have your company’s and your own interests to keep in mind too when selling. When the prospect’s or client’s needs, approach and beliefs match yours, you have found a good sale. 

Handshake or Contract: Why You Need Both - August 9, 2014

I only do business on a handshake. Get the upfront contract, you know, the verbal commitment. Put the agreement together and send it over. I’ll give you the okay in an email; that should suffice.

 

Over the past 20+ years of sales and management I’ve heard it all. The deal. The agreement. The contract. And, sales reps always ask me, what is the best way to proceed toward a close? Is a handshake enough of a commitment? Do we need a written contract? Which is better? And, my answer has never changed – You Need Both. That’s right, you want to do business with someone because you’ve developed a relationship, sealed with a handshake. But, you must also protect your interests and your new clients.

 

Sales can be a tedious and emotional process. In fact, it should be, emotional that is. Sales can take time and when it does it tends to build a bond between the sales representative and the prospective client. The relationship becomes emotional and when emotion is in play things can be said that may sway the deal either in your favor or the prospective clients. Emotion can be a great selling attribute. You want to develop trust and respect. You want to engage on the services now or sell your product now, but you also want to have a long-term relationship so you can sell more down the road.

 

When it comes time to close the deal, by now your inclination is to shake hands, maybe break bread, and exchange the pleasantries that go along with the newly formed relationship. So what exactly was promised along the way? What are the specifics of the project, the service or the product sold? What payment terms were agreed upon? What guarantees or warranties are in place?

 

A contract is a business tool and should be used as such. Just as though every ‘A’ level sales person knows that budget must be discussed very early on in a sales call, so must the topic of a contract or written agreement. It must be made clear to your prospective client that the contract is a tool that you’ll use to keep his and your best interests and intentions clear. Your relationship is valuable and you wouldn’t want anything misinterpreted.

 

You should be prepared to share your contract language early in the process. If the prospective client has a contract they’d prefer to use, request a copy, and make sure you can live with the terms or negotiate. The worst feeling for a sales person, and the prospective client, is to watch a deal fall apart because the contract process was not managed up front. Trust me, I’ve seen this happen many times, when the contract is managed early on in the sales call the handshake will still be there and the relationship will be stronger.