Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Feelings of Inadequacy - February 10, 2018

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Become a "Conversation Generalist" - February 3, 2018

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A Time of Thanksgiving - November 18, 2017

A short post this week, but with a heartfelt message, thank you. I would like to take this opportunity, with Thanksgiving a few days away, to thank my colleagues. Being in a leadership position is not always as easy as one might think, especially connected to sales. 2017, for me, will end in a very different place than I had planned.

 

When this year began I was surrounded by a group of sales professionals that were on a path toward unmatched success. Collectively we had worked tirelessly on business planning, client reviews, contract revamps, etc. The end goal was to make 2017 the most successful we’ve had as a team. But, even the best laid plans can change, and so goes the course of our sales goals.

 

Midway through the year several of the key members of the sales team left the organization. The launchpad for this change was based on the sales team leader moving overseas for a new opportunity. Shortly after his announcement and departure, others felt they could not go it alone without his guidance, and thus we took a large step back as an organization.

 

My colleagues and partners rose to the occasion. Management team members that were not typically involved in sales began to write portions of proposals and go on sales meetings. Referrals were abundant from friends of mine and of the business for new sales people. Ultimately, we hired a new sales team lead and I am thankful for Joe.

 

As I reflect on this very crazy year, one full of unexpected change, I am thankful for those that were by my side day in and day out. For it is because of these team members that I did not have to “go it alone” and manage the entire change process. Because of them we will hit our slightly revised annual business goals. Because of them we are setting ourselves up for a tremendous 2018. And, because of them, I believe I am a stronger leader today than I was on January 1.

 

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

To My Wife-Happy Anniversary - October 14, 2017

She knows I love her. I tell her often and try to show it even more often. I care deeply for my wife. She is the mother of my three great kids. She is my rock and my support at home. But, I’m not sure she knows just how much her support means to me during the work day.

 

As a career sales person I have had to make sacrifices along the way. I’ve missed a kids activity to attend an evening work function. I’ve brought work home from the office only to sit at the kitchen table after dinner trying to stay on top of email and contracts. I’ve handled conference calls from a hotel room during a family vacation. And all along my wife has been their supporting me, never criticizing my career choice.

 

We all know that sales is not easy. Having a network of support is an absolute must to becoming an ‘A’ level sales person. It can be a family member, friend, even co-worker, but must also be your spouse (or significant other). I was recently sharing the story of a sales person that worked for me who’s spouse was not at all supportive. It was a real shame because Brett had solid sales skills.

 

Brett spent about a year in a sales role under my management. He knew the business and he knew how to communicate. Brett did not lack capability, but he did lack personal support. Brett’s wife did not like his career choice of salesman. In fact, she never gave him a pat on the back or a “congrats” when he closed a deal. She was, however, very quick to criticize him openly for losing a deal. She had no problems questioning his abilities as a sales person. She told him, in no uncertain terms, that she felt he was not a good husband or father because he did not close every single deal he bid on. She never understood sales herself so she made him question his career.

 

My wife has been the opposite. She has been my biggest cheerleader and never a critic. She offers her ear when I need to vent. She leaves me alone when I need quiet time. She reminds me that I am a good father and husband. She supports me today, as she did yesterday and the day before that, and my choice of sales as a career.

 

Every sales person needs to have someone standing behind them. Thank you to my wife for 18 years of marriage, through good times and bad, ups and downs, and for always being my real support when others weren’t there.

How's The Grass? part 1 of 2 - The Client - September 9, 2017

Nowadays, if you ask someone how the grass is, you may get an answer about the legalization of marijuana. But, for this post, let’s get back to the old saying that “the grass is not always greener on the other side”. I’ve experienced two scenarios recently that have provided me much food for thought in writing my blog. This week I am going to focus on the client that left because they believed the grass would be greener on the other side.

 

After a 9 year business relationship, as several previous posts have eluded to, I had a client leave me. There were several factors that weighed in their decision process, but admittedly, none more so than the addition of a new management team member. Regardless of our long-term relationship, she felt the need to come in and make her mark on the organization early on, and in doing so my firm was dismissed. Her approach was to make the owner and his right hand, those I had been working with weekly for years, question decisions I (and my firm) have made in our services to them. She had them, in very short timing, believing that it was time for a change and that said change should have been made a while ago, and that she had just the right firm to change over to.

 

Now, Cleveland being a small community, it didn’t take long for me to find out that she has several personal and extremely close relationships with management of this other firm. Pausing for a moment, let me point out that I am not at all bitter, rather I sincerely feel bad for my former client. They hired someone they believed would put their company’s interest before her own and in doing so sold them on the concept that the grass would be greener on the other side. Now, back to my story, she did not disclose to her new employer just how close she was to this other firm. Might this change have been in the works before she even got the job? Maybe.

 

The decision by my client was quick and abrupt. One day we were knee deep in work and the next we were dismissed. In fact, the owner didn’t even have the courtesy to call me and breakup, rather he sent me an email from the airport just prior to departing the country on business. It’s like breaking up with someone over text, kind of a chicken sh%t move. (Ok, maybe that was a little bitter.) Nevertheless, without much thought, my once active, long-term client was no longer my client.

 

It’s only been a few weeks since the change, but through the grapevine I am hearing that my client may be second-guessing their decision. Or, at the very least, wondering if they overreacted too quickly without much forethought. You see, as it turns out, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.

 

In the time since my client left, the new firm has shown their lack of technical capabilities, in that they’ve never had such a complex client before. They’ve never built nor managed an e-commerce platform that competes on an international stage. And, they are uncertain on how to best maintain the platform. Moving on, they are also making the same marketing related recommendations that we were making for the better part of one year, and showing the client no signs of any unique skill sets. So, why then did the client make such a change?

 

Relationships and human nature kicked in and emotion drove a decision that the client likely now regrets. Think of it in personal terms for a moment. We’ve all been in relationships with a significant other that for some reason did not work out. Whether it was days, weeks, months or years, we’ve had a regret or two, and wondered what if. Why did the relationship come to an end? Was it you? Was it me? Was it us together? And, was it abrupt without much thought only that the grass must be greener on the other side?

 

I’m not suggesting that this old saying is right or wrong in every situation. There are certainly times where a departure of the same old-same old is necessary and the grass truly is greener on the other side. As a career sales person, it is my job to be focused and see clearly the warning signs of when such a change may be coming. And, it is my job to counsel the client on how such a decision may impact the relationship going forward and their business.

 

Would I invite my client back? Maybe. But, the ground rules have changed, as they’ve shown their true colors. Only time will tell.

Collaborative Selling - August 26, 2017

There are a variety of ways to sell a product or service and you’ve probably been taught more than one. For nearly twenty years I have been focused on relationship selling and consultative selling. A few years ago I found that blending the two and engaging the client more than not in the sales process leads to a different approach with higher levels of success: collaborative selling.

 

Collaborative selling is quite similar to relationship and consultative selling. The idea that the sales person converses with and doesn’t necessarily talk to the prospect reigns supreme in all of the approaches. When using relationship selling techniques, the core concept is to give the prospect a personal feeling for what it will be like to do business together. When using consultative selling, you are building a trusted relationship while serving as an expert advisor because in the instances you do know more than the prospect. Collaborative selling takes the key components of both approaches and brings the prospective client into the mix of the selling process. That’s right – they are helping you sell themselves.

 

Especially in professional services, and in most cases, the prospective client does know more about their own company, its history, and their clientele than you do. While they may need your help to overcome a problem or to expand their business, you need them too to help navigate through the knowledge they and others in the organization possess. So, if you need them to be a part of the engagement, why not have them be a part of the sales process.

 

My personal success with this approach is based upon the idea that I want long-term relationships with my clients. I don’t want one project or engagement, rather I want a client that will retain my firm for years of services. Knowing this is my primary goal brings me closer to the client throughout the sales process. I talk with them and not to them. I ask more and more questions. I ask for their help. I want them to share their knowledge and experiences. And, along the way, I will chime in with my expertise to say back, “I am listening and I can help”.

 

Collaborative selling takes a little longer and requires a little more patience than other approaches. You are not just building a relationship to close the deal, you are developing the foundation of a relationship that must work together for a longer period of time, a trusted relationship, that will achieve results. You are showing the prospect that you are their consultant with experience while at the same time letting them know they too are a valuable part of the engagement, and success is only achieved collaboratively.

 

And, finally, the prospective client should have a hand in outlining the proposal. Notice I did not say write the proposal, rather outline the proposal. In most cases of collaborative selling I will work through a series of summaries with the prospect in advance of the formal proposal, including pricing, so they have a say in the direction of the initial engagement, the timeframes, and ultimately what they can and/or are comfortable spending. Keeping in mind the goal is to work with the client long-term, I am generally more open to working with the client on their initial budget, knowing that I will retain them for a longer billing period of time.

Job Shadow - August 19, 2017

I participated in my first job shadow when I was in eighth grade. For a class assignment, I shadowed my father, a corporate attorney, for two days. My assignment was to observe and document what his day consisted of, such as meetings, luncheons, etc., and not so much any specific context of a particular meeting. I shadowed others in high school and college, both for class assignments, and for personal experience. And, now that I’m twenty-five years plus in my career, I’ve been shadowed a few times too.

 

Job shadowing can be fun for both the student and the employee. You get to show off a little bit, sharing stories, and in many ways trying to convince someone that your chosen profession is something they should consider for themselves. There is also another form of job shadowing, one that can take place between two employees, that can be enlightening and quite valuable to organizational performance.

 

Take the queue from the traditional job shadow, a sales person can and should spend a day or two shadowing their sales manager, but also the president of the company. When a sales person has an opportunity to watch and learn what takes place within their own organization, beyond their smaller perspective or daily grind, it enlightens them as to why their own role and decision making is so important. Sales people, by the nature of their chosen career path, enjoy the engagement of others. Conversation is a key to a sales person’s skill set. What better way to learn more about their own company and potential career advancement opportunities than to shadow those ahead of them. Conversing with these leaders while watching intently on what they do every day to drive company success can be more enlightening, and ultimately helpful, to a sales person than any other form of training.

 

Another approach to the job shadow is to do so during an interview process. How often do you bring in prospective sales candidates for a half or full day and allow them to shadow you? Not only will the candidate get firsthand experience on a “day in the life of”, you too will get firsthand experience of the candidate. You’ll have an opportunity to witness how this person interacts with others in the organization for whom they will be required to work with should you hire them. You can gauge their level of interest in what you do and how you do it based upon the type and volume of questions they ask. You’ll also glean some insight into their personality, more so than in an interview, especially since you will be spending so much time with them going forward. Will they be a cultural fit for the organization?

 

Consider the reasons you’ve either participated in or hosted a job shadow in the past. Now, consider what value this approach will have for your business today, and for your business in the future.

Top Down Change - July 8, 2017

Top down change is by no means a new concept in business. At its very basic premise top down change simply means that a decision is being made from the top, embraced by top management, and shall be implemented throughout the company beginning with management all the way down the line. Pretty straight forward, huh?

 

There is another version of top down change that is oftentimes not discussed in day-to-day business operations and certainly not the most pleasant of concepts. This version of top down change is removing and/or replacing your human equity all together, thus forcing change that may scare an organization to its core. However, if managed correctly, the outcome can be hugely successful.

 

I recently consulted with a client where such a change was the last resort. A shakeup to the organization so-to-speak. Jim, the ceo of a midsize manufacturing company, has seen little in the area of sales and revenue growth for well over one year. The sales team has been walking around with their heads held high, a bit of a chip on their shoulders, as if everything is fine. Revenue is flat and even on a year-to-date basis, yet the company goal is to grow nearly 25% over last year. Jim began to look at himself as to the cause for being flat. Was he not leading the company the right way? Was he not participating enough with the sales team? Was he not providing the proper leadership to his sales manager, Neal?

 

Jim worked with his other management team members and his outside advisors constantly trying to determine the “why’s” of what was happening from a sales standpoint. More and more the answers were coming back that Neal, although a good sales person and seemingly good guy, was not a good sales manager. And, his poor leadership qualities, and the lack of mentoring he was providing his team was the root cause for the lack of sales. He led his sales people to believe they were doing fine. He managed by numbers with no emotion. Neal would often say “keep making your calls, make your numbers, and everything will happen in time”. However, he did not teach (or coach) his sales team to push down on the gas pedal, or to change up their individual styles when making calls. Neal may have been a good sales person, but not a good leader, and he allowed his sales team to become complacent. And, the sales people didn’t seem to care.

 

Jim gave Neal and the sales team several months of his own coaching starting with team huddles every two weeks, moving to every week, and then twice per week. He shared stories from customers, stories from other departments from within the company, all based around the need to enhance overall sales performance. Days and weeks went by all the while Jim growing more and more frustrated. The sales team was not responsive to what was becoming clear: sales were now declining.

 

The day finally came in early-May when Jim, his fellow executive team (not including Neal) and his advisors realized they needed to make a change. This would not be a pleasant change in the beginning, but if executed properly, a change that would turn the company back toward positive sales and an increase in revenue. A top down change was needed.

 

Jim engaged a professional recruiting agency with experience in his industry. He utilized this firm to select a new sales manager and two new sales team members. He then made the top down change a reality. In keeping with his planned two-a-week meetings with Neal and the sales team, Jim walked into the conference room right on schedule like many meetings prior, with one exception. His executive team was with him.

 

In a swift and deliberate move Jim announced that Neal and his sales team were all done as of that moment. They were fired. Jim explained that meeting after meeting with the sales team had been documented. Performance charts were being tracked. Communication with clients was being had by the executives and the clients were ready to buy but were not being contacted by the sales rep. Each sales person, including Neal, had failed not only the company, but themselves. It had been obvious for a long time that they were the wrong team for this company. A top down change was needed and a top down change was happening.

 

This approach to top down change can be and is dramatic. It is a last resort toward making needed improvements. Now, nearly sixty days later, Jim could not be more pleased with the new sales team. In his words “they get it”. Client communication is improving, the new sales team members are excited about their roles and the prospects ahead, and revenue has already begun to increase.

Hand Grenade Complacency - May 27, 2017

Close your eyes for a moment and visualize, if you will, a scene from a movie or television show: a hand grenade is thrown into a group and the reaction is to scramble and get the hell out of the way. Everyone in the scene knows it will explode. They don’t want to be in the way, so they get a burst of energy and move, no matter how exhausted they might be.

 

It is the latter part of the description that you should hang on to for this post. I’m not insinuating that you, as a sales manager, should blow up your team. Instead, metaphorically speaking, you may need to give them a jolt from time-to-time. I’ve been there before, it’s not always pleasant, but it does work. Here’s what I mean.

 

Complacency in sales is terrible and can be detrimental to your entire company if not addressed swiftly. Sometimes complacency sets in when the sales team feels like everything is going just fine. Complacency can also set in with one person and become contagious whereas the other sales team members begin to make excuses based on the actions of one person. Complacency tends to never come into play with ‘A’ level sales people, but then again it is rare to find an entire sales team made up of 100% ‘A’ level sales folks. So, what is a sales manager to do when complacency creeps into his or her team? Throw a hand grenade into their circle.

 

They need to be jolted alive. They need a wakeup call. They need to realize they are being complacent and that complacency is not normal in sales. And, to give them this awareness or awakening, they need a shock to the system. I reached out to a few friends in sales management for ideas on how they throw hand grenades at complacency.

 

Jim has been in enterprise-level software sales for 27 years. He’s been in sales management for the past 10 while also being the lead sales person (individually) each year. He noticed, not too long ago, that 8 of his 12 sales reps appeared to be going through the motions. Sales were neither slower than normal or better than normal, but their activity was decreasing. Meetings were not being scheduled with prospective clients or existing clients. Client entertainment was minimal. When he asked his reps how things were going the standard answer was status quo. Yet, he and the other 4 reps were increasing sales. They were getting prospective and existing clients to meet where discussions on upgrades were taking place. Jim became very tired very quickly of the obvious complacency with the rest of his team, so he threw a hand grenade into their daily routine. Jim contacted the top client for each of the 8 complacent reps and scheduled 8 face-to-face meetings. He was able to do this all in one day. When scheduling the meetings he also made sure his reps would be available to attend. The next morning was their mid-week sales meeting. Jim announced to his team the meetings that were scheduled with their clients, he set an agenda for each meeting, and he explained that these meetings were not difficult to schedule. In fact, the clients were anxious. He then sent the entire sales team home for the day with one question to ponder: “if you want to be in sales, if you want to return tomorrow and keep this job, come back in the morning prepared to discuss the ways in which we’ll never be complacent again”.

 

Maria manages a small sales team of 3 people for her family owned manufacturing company. Although the organization may seem small, the components they make are used in high definition radiology scanners. Her team had a tremendous year in 2016 adding several new clients and increasing sales from existing clients. However, the first quarter of 2017 did not keep pace. In her words, “my reps were still hungover from the success of 2016”. But, she wasn’t. She knew there were more opportunities with prospects and existing clients. And, of the 3 sales people, one really didn’t seem too concerned about slowing down. Complacency was okay by him because he was basking in the success from months ago. His commissions were still rolling in and he felt he could turn on his sales jets whenever he wanted. So, as both the sales manager and an owner in the business, Maria threw a grenade at the sales team. Becoming frustrated with the lackadaisical attitude of the one complacent sales rep more than the others, she went on her own mission to meet with and sell to his top three prospects. Without announcing her plans, she spent one week traveling to Indiana and Michigan, met with all three prospects, secured sales (PO’s) from all three, and quietly traveled back to her home office in Columbus, Ohio. The grenade was thrown the following Monday morning when she announced to the sales team her success from the week before. The complacent sales rep was visibly upset by what he called “back door tactics”. He felt she stole these prospects from him. He called her a lousy sales manager and demanded to meet with her brother, the president of the company, unaware that he was on the conference phone the entire time. Maria simply asked one question…”why did I close these deals and you didn’t?” He couldn’t answer the question and was subsequently terminated for lack of performance. He went from being the star of the show in 2016 to being a lazy bum in 2017. He didn’t feel motivated to continue his successes. He let complacency take over. And, with one week of visits, Maria showed her organization and the remaining 2 sales people that complacency has no place in a growth oriented company.

 

Maria’s case may be a drastic example. However, it happens every day in sales. Good sales managers, like ‘A’ level sales people, can recognize when someone (or a team) is becoming complacent. Stop it before it sets in otherwise you’ll need to throw a grenade at them.