Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Too Many Coaches and Not Enough Players: Part 1 of 2 - April 16, 2016

I’ve used my own personal stories of coaching sports in sales training for years. I am fortunate to be able to coach lacrosse, a sport I played in school, and one that my children enjoy. Coaching offers me an opportunity to teach, encourage, and build what may become a foundation for someone to grow upon. The game of lacrosse, like many sports, is based on a team concept, that one person cannot win a game and one person cannot lose a game. What does this remind you of? To me, I draw a direct analogy to sales, from the team play to the coaching.

 

As with any team sport, you cannot have more coaches than players, otherwise you become top heavy and do not have the stamina players to make it all the way through the game. What do I mean by this statement? If you have too many sales managers, all wanting to be decision makers and drivers of ideas, and not enough sales reps on the street closing deals, you will quickly end up being top heavy. You’ll be full of great idea people and no one implementing the ideas.

 

On a recent sales call of my own I came across a company that had 9 VP’s of sales and 4 outside sales reps. The VP’s still went out and sold, but much less so than the outside reps. When I asked about the role(s) of the VP, I clearly touched a nerve. A few became defensive. They (tried to) explained what their role was and what they did every day. They had this idea and that idea. They managed this concept or that concept. They talked about this stat or that stat. And, when they were all done with their explanations and sitting proudly with their chests pumped out, that’s when I hit everyone in the room right between the eyes. I asked one simple follow-up question: So, who here is revenue king? Who in the room is responsible, on a day-to-day basis, for ensuring the company is producing revenue? The room fell silent.

 

You would have thought I’d just ask them for their blood type. Better yet, you would have thought I just asked them to strip naked, run out into the middle of Main Street, and to start doing jumping jacks. The utter shock that I would ask such a questions caused an immediate disruption in the meeting. I was asked to leave the room for a moment, and when I returned, I was informed that my firm (moreover me) was not going to be a fit for them to do business. I thanked them in a very professional manner and walked out.

 

I didn’t even make it to my car before I cracked up laughing. I was laughing by myself so hard that I caught the attention of a gentleman 100 yards away. Maybe he could not tell I was laughing and thought I was injured or something, but he approached. As he drew closer I realized it was the CEO of the company I had just met with and he too knew who I was. He wondered by I was laughing so hard and remembering the honesty rule (Out of the mouths of babes!) I shared the story of the meeting that just abruptly ended. He apologized, wished me a good day, and told me he would call me. I dismissed his final remark as being polite.

 

Four hours later the CEO called me, again apologized, and asked me to return at my first possible schedule opening. He wants to meet with me one-on-one and promised he was leaving all of his “coaches” in the locker room. Stay tuned…

Sales Stand-Up - March 12, 2016

What is a stand-up? What specifically is a sales stand-up? Should I employ a sales stand-up with my team?

 

In the world of software development (and similar types of industries) there is a process/belief/methodology known as Agile. Very similar to other concepts in management, like Lean, the premise of Agile is transparency in all steps of your business. This includes sales. My company employs Agile at the core of everything we do, and have for a few years now, which includes how I manage the sales team. The practice of Agile includes a brief daily meeting known as a “stand-up” and I have begun to teach this technique in my own freelance work.

 

So, let’s begin with the most important element to a sales stand-up, and that is transparency. The concept of transparency, at least on the surface, is rather straight forward. Each sales person is an open book on every single aspect of activity and performance. That is to say, each and every sales person must know exactly where every opportunity, prospect, proposal, PO, email, etc. is in the sales process for each and every client and prospect. Now, here is the tough part, the sales person must be 100% open and honest about these aspects of their sales, meaning they must not sugarcoat the chances of closing the business. And, all of this information is presented daily in front of the entire sales team and management team.

 

Being transparent seems easy and it is once you become accustomed to being an open book. Think about this for a moment: if you forget to make a phone call to a prospect, you answer for it openly to your team, by admitting you “forgot”. If you are being blown off by a prospect, you acknowledge this openly to your team. If you were told to pound salt and never call the prospect again, you acknowledge this openly to your team. Then and only then are you going to become truly transparent.

 

So, back to the original questions, what is a stand-up or sales stand-up? A stand-up by basic definition is a meeting. A quick meeting where everyone “stands up” in a circle, hence the name, and randomly gets 2 minutes to talk. The sales stand-up is done daily, first thing in the morning, and should allow each sales person an opportunity (again in 2 minutes or less) to share with the team (1) what they accomplished yesterday, (2) what is on the schedule for today, and (3) what they need help/support on from other team members or management.

 

Naturally trying to get a sales person to talk for less than 2 minutes can be a challenge. We’re sales people, we love to talk. But, this is not time for idle chit chat. In my office we pass a football from one team member to another. As soon as the sales person catches the ball the clock starts. A typical sales stand-up includes 7-8 people and we are done on average in 13 minutes. Most important thing – these meetings are driving success.

 

Going back to transparency, the fact that we move quickly through our sales “happenings” in a brief amount of time every single day, there has been a reduction in short notice “hey can you help me” meetings. Planning for all team members, especially management, has improved. Including non-sales folks when need be has also improved, because the others within the organization have advanced notice when they may be needed.

 

I’ll wrap up with this final note and that is team bonding. All too often sales people go, go, go and find they only communicate with their fellow team members in a weekly sales meeting or sometimes only monthly. Taking a few minutes every morning, even though the sales person is speaking briefly, builds comradery among the team members. Each person will come to realize they are not alone in the trenches. Give the daily sales stand-up a try. If you need more advice or guidance getting started, shoot me a note.

Dysfunctional Inside Sales - January 23, 2016

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Selling To A Committee - December 12, 2015

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thank You - November 21, 2015

I am thankful. I woke up a little earlier than normal this morning to join my son in activities that are one of the bonds of our relationship. Last week I wrote of a reflective period during this time of the year. As I sit outdoors this morning watching the sun rise with my first born, I can say nothing more than thank you.

 

Being thankful is being appreciative for what you have. As a career sales person I am thankful for all of my clients. I am grateful for you placing your trust in me to guide you toward success. I am thankful to my parents for their wisdom that have helped me continue to grow, even as an adult.

 

Thanks too goes to the team around me that support my business goals every day. Through the achievement of our business goals I can meet my personal goals. Together we are on a mission and together through supporting one another we will achieve our goals.

 

And, of course, thanks goes to my wife and children. Without your support and understanding I would not be in this position. I awake every morning and take on the challenges of my career specifically for you.

 

Thank you.

40ish Business Days Left In The Year - October 24, 2015

A topic that I have covered on several occasions before seems to have come up once again. Recently I was asked, both by my own internal sales team, as well as my personal clients, to share ideas regarding the “end of year push”. As I write my post on a bit of a dreary October morning, I find a bright spot thinking about the fun ahead in my own end of year push.

 

As I’ve stated time and time again, if you are hanging your success hat on the next few weeks, it may simply be too late for you. An end of year push should never be a make-it or break-it timeframe, but rather a bonus period for a well-planned and overall successful year.

 

I was asked just yesterday by one of my newer team members, “if you’ve had a very solid year so far, then what is your push for the final 40ish days of the year?”

There are two holidays coming up, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a few busy weeks between now and then. I find this time of year to be one where I can reflect with my clients, and time when we can talk through the past projects and plan for the New Year and new projects. More and more I tend to have clients that run budgets on the calendar year with a use it or lose it policy, and so I “push” for an evaluative meeting to discuss budgets.

 

For many years I’ve taken an approach against using this time of year to entertain clients, such as holiday lunches, or by giving gifts. I continue to standby this idea simply because a good sales person, an ‘A’ level sales person, should treat the client throughout the year with gratitude, not during the time of year when “everyone else is buying lunch”.

 

My most successful fourth quarters, best end of year pushes, are when I treat the client as if it were any other time of the year, but paying respect to their budget process (as mentioned above), as well as with a “plan ahead” approach. Meetings will, without a doubt, include a holiday well wish, a bit of personal holiday themed conversation, and with all hopes have a happy tone.

 

The “plan ahead” approach though has separated me from others for a long time and my clients have been appreciative. During these remaining 40ish days of the year, I will meet with my clients with a calendar in hand, and discuss their overall plans month-by-month and/or quarter-by-quarter. I will identify opportunities where my firm may be in a position to help or provide services. We will put future meetings (or calls) on the schedule. And, we will outline goals & objectives.

 

Don’t do what everyone else is doing this time of year. Be different. Be an ‘A’ level sales person and help your clients prepare for the year to come. They don’t need another holiday lunch or coffee mug. They will truly appreciate your professional guidance so much more than a gift.

The Height of the Summer Slowdown - August 15, 2015

I have written several times before about summer slowdown, a lull in sales during the summer months, seasonal selling even in professional services, and ideas on how to avoid these scenarios. While this doesn’t occur to some sales organizations in different parts of the country, here in Northeast Ohio it has become routine. But, it doesn’t have to be so.

 

I’m not going to rehash past posts, rather I’ve been asked for a few reminders, as it seems we are now in the height of the summer slowdown. It is mid-August and as I look at my own personal schedule, I’m working closely with my wife as we plan the final couple of weeks before the kids go back to school. We are trying to cram one more weekend away, enjoy one more cookout, squeeze in the back-to-school shopping, all while still trying to balance work, sales and client relations.

 

Recognizing this hectic, end of summer coming soon scenario, can open your eyes to what your own clients and prospective clients are going through. So, you recognize it, but what can you do about it and keep a consistent selling schedule?

 

First thing to keep in mind is that the client or prospective client is most likely going through the same thing as you. With that said, and knowing how tough schedules are at this time of the year, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a meeting. The client/prospect still has a job to do and can commiserate with you about scheduling difficulties. This is where being creative with the calendar will come in handy.

 

If you are like me, and your kids want to do everything under the sun before going back to school, then your creative scheduling will accommodate everyone. So, here are a few reminder tips on getting through this period, and I know they’ve worked well for me. First off, plan your personal activities and make sure you outline carefully where and when you need to be some place. Second, once you have your personal schedule in place, put the “housekeeping” work items onto the calendar. Try to have your work day end at 4:00 PM. Now, comes the fun part, reach out to each and every client and prospect you want to meet with, and work to fill in the gaps.

 

This may be easier said than done though due to this time of year, so begin each call with something along the lines of “if your schedule is like mine, a meeting may be quite tough to get on the calendar, but we still have to get some work done”. Generally I’ve found that clients and prospects respond well to this opening, and then your own creativity will continue, by scheduling early morning meetings. Clients and prospects will want to end their days a little early too, in an effort to satisfy work and personal needs, so target the 7:00 AM breakfast meeting (or coffee). You will be surprised at how responsive the client/prospect will be.

 

It all comes down to creative scheduling. You can lean on many excuses because of the time of year, but a true ‘A’ level sales person will fight through, not make excuses, and will continue to outsell their peers.

Referrals: Better when unsolicited! - July 4, 2015

I have read my fair share of sales books over the years. I have attended countless numbers of seminars. I have been a part of several “more formal” sales classes. And, one consistent theme is the referral ask.

 

This can be a very tough topic for many sales reps and managers. It seems everyone has a different approach, but all based on the same trained theme, you must ask for referrals. Why is this? How did this approach of YOU asking for the referral become the norm? Is this ultimately the best way to obtain a referral lead?

 

About 16 or 17 years ago I was introduced to a new concept for referrals. Well, there really wasn’t anything new about it, except no one was really practicing this approach. It is so simple that everyone should be doing it, yet no one was (or still is) on a regular basis.

 

Here it is: Don’t ask for a referral…rather do your best work – make a client your biggest fan – and the referrals will come to you unsolicited!!!

 

Taking on this approach was not easy. I had to break myself of the habit of asking my clients and colleagues for people they know or “who may know who for an introduction”. It can be a little scary even, not asking for referrals and waiting & hoping you get them coming to you. But, with good work comes happy clients. With happy clients come referrals.

 

There is a small amount of training that comes into the mix with this approach. Mostly, it begins in the initial sales process, when you make mention that you do not ask for referrals, but rather you hope your work will speak volumes and you, Mr. or Ms. Client, will be so happy that you’ll share my information with your own clients and colleagues.

 

Staying in regular contact with your clients after the sale is complete is the next part in obtaining unsolicited referrals. Make sure you are not overbearing in your approach, but consistent enough that you will stay top of mind. Have a schedule of when and why you will contact your clients; and, mix it up with a combination of email, hand-written notes sent in the mail, telephone calls, and face-to-face conversations. Staying top of mind will increase the likelihood of your client mentioning you and your company in other business conversations.

 

Lastly, entertain your clients in small group engagements, and always offer for your client to bring a guest. It may be a round-table style educational luncheon covering a new industry topic. Or, instead of playing 18 holes of golf over the span of 6 hours and then hoping for conversations to take place over lunch, try playing indoor golf over the span of 3 hours where your entire group of attendees are together in the same room. This is a great way to spend intimate time with your clients and guests on a rainy or cold day. It’s something different, yet familiar enough that enjoyment will be had by all, and the conversations will lead to referral business.

 

Asking for a referral can be easy. Obtaining an unsolicited referral might be a little more difficult and take a slightly longer period of time. But, which one do you believe will net better results?

Rebuilding A Burned Bridge - June 20, 2015

We’ve all heard the saying – don’t burn a bridge – but can a bridge be rebuilt?

 

An old college friend was going through a pretty tough time about three years ago. His wife asked him for a divorce shortly after he experienced a death in the family while at the same time his company was being acquired with his position in jeopardy. Needless to say, he wasn’t in the best of moods, and his temper got the best of him. When questioned by a member of the acquiring management team about his sales performance, Bill took the tone and type of questioning very personally, and he snapped back at this management team member. When further questioned by his own, longtime manager, he commented about his displeasure with the line of questioning and walked out of the meeting. His employment was immediately terminated.

 

Bill, believe it or not, while going through a series of personal issues was able to land another sales position within a few short weeks with another pharmaceutical company in Charlotte, NC. He agreed to the terms of divorce with his now-ex-wife in a rather amicable proceeding and he quietly began to rebuild his life.

 

Fast forward to now. Bill has an opportunity to interview with a new pharmaceutical company in Raleigh, NC. His only daughter moved there last year for school and this would be an opportunity not only to advance his career, but also to be closer to her. But, low and behold, he must interview with his former manager for the position. This is the person for whom he turned his back on, walked out of the meeting, and had not spoken to since then. Did I mention they had worked together for 10 years successfully?

 

Bill feels as though he not only burned this bridge but that he may not be able to mend the relationship. My advice to Bill was this…say you’re sorry. It’s that simple…apologize.

 

Bill has an opportunity to mend his former relationship, but he must first admit his faults, and he must apologize. He needs to bear his sole, so to speak, and he must explain what he was facing on a personal level. Then, he must show how he has overcome these past professional indiscretions, and he must showcase how he’s grown.

 

There is no guarantee that the bridge burned can be rebuilt. And this does not always occur. But, coming to grips with his own shortcomings and mistakes, admitting as much to his former manager, may be what is necessary to move forward. If you’ve ever burned a bridge and felt that you needed to rebuild it, consider the steps it will take to make amends.

If You Don’t Want To Be Here – Please Just Leave - May 30, 2015

Last week my wife and I were at a dinner party hosted by friend who has spent the past twenty-one years in human resource management. We were having a drink before dinner, swapping work stories, and so I took the opportunity to pick his brain on a subject I am currently facing. I asked, “How would you handle a conversation with an employee that doesn’t seem to want to be with your team anymore?” His answer was a bit surprising, maybe because I was expecting it to be rather politically correct, or more sensitive in nature. So, here’s his answer, and this post goes out to all of the sales managers who face this same situation.

 

Sit the employee down for a five minute conversation over a cup of coffee, look them square in the eyes, and ask them, “Do you enjoy working here?” Then, stop talking, no matter what.

 

What transpires next will be the determining factor for the rest of the conversation. If the employee pauses, looks as though they are pondering their answer, and then begin to speak – whatever they say is not entirely true. The real answer, at least 9 times out of 10, will be blurted out unexpectedly. It is human nature when faced with such a blunt question that the employee doesn’t even realize they are answering so quickly and honestly. Yes, of course I like working here, why would you even ask that question? (or) Most of the time, but there have been some things bothering me lately. (or) No, actually I haven’t been happy in some time.

 

Whatever the answer is, if it comes instantly when asked, be prepared as the sales manager to then deal with the fall out. Keep in mind that if the employee really is happy, you many have now caused them to wonder why you asked. But, if the employee says most of the time or no, then you must be diligent in your response – well then why are you still here? Why don’t you leave?

 

It may sound harsh, not politically correct, or too quick to judgement, but it will flesh out exactly what is going on with the employee. When employees, especially sales people, are unhappy in general terms of their employment, they become unproductive, but also have a tendency to bring others down around them. A good sales manager will recognize this behavior quickly and will resolve to remove this person before too much damage can be done.

 

As the old saying goes (and I was reminded of during my conversation) – hire slow, fire fast. And, in some cases, help an employee recognize when it may be time for them to make a change and simply leave.