Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


The Owner Finally Showed Up - May 9, 2015

Last week I was talking, over dinner, with a few friends. We are all in sales within the service / project industry, and while slightly different offerings, we tend to have similar tales to tell about client experiences. It must have been a full moon or something because we all had a recent similar story to share.

It is not uncommon for us to call upon companies that are small-to-midsized where the owner of the company is the president or CEO. And, as such, we are often engaged with this person during the initial sales process. You go through the routine of presenting your company, learning about their company, engaging in various conversations to see if the relationship would be a good fit, and then off & running we go. However, all too often, this is the last time we see or talk to the owner until the project is coming to or just came to a close. He or she put “their people” in charge. The director of marketing or information technology becomes the project lead with the supposed authority to make decision on behalf of their company. They become the voice of their company, including the owner, and so the projects continue. And, although everything appears to have gone smoothly, here it comes…the owner shows back up.

“This isn’t what I wanted!” “I expected this or that.” “Why did you choose to go in that direction, didn’t you understand I wanted to go in a different direction?”

Well, where were you? You gave your team members the authority to drive the project on your behalf. So, why are you now questioning or complaining? As a sales person, we are now on a slippery slope. We can become agitated and defensive. We can throw the clients team under the bus. We can throw our own company under the bus. Or, and here’s my approach, we can address the matter one-on-one with the owner in a professional but blunt way.

Mr. or Ms. Owner, please understand it has always been our goal to make your wishes a reality with the service or project we’ve provided. That is why we spent so much time working with your team to check and double-check along the way. Naturally, we expected your team to keep you in the loop, especially since you told us they were the people you wanted us to work with. I understand you may not feel as though you had much input after the initial sales process, but let’s also be frank, we did specifically as the contract had stated. And, you should be patient and allow your team the opportunity to share with you the project’s success.

Your firm needs to be compensated for the work it did. The owner’s team should be held accountable for their decisions. And, in the end, you may need to suggest that you work directly with the owner going forward. Whatever the outcome, if the owner finally shows up at the end and doesn’t like something, well then he or she needs to accept that it was their responsibility to be more active during the engagement, and they need to respect everyone else’s role.

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.

Confidentiality & Non-Compete's Part 2 - March 7, 2015

As a follow-up to the advice I shared with a friend from last week, he took the high road and explained his confidentiality agreement concerns to the interviewing company, and here’s what happened.


Jim started the interview off by immediately explaining to the HR manager that he had a binding non-disclosure agreement with his current company, and more specifically, he was uncomfortable proceeding in any conversation if they were going to challenge him on disclosing certain aspects of his current role. Well, they not only were okay with the position he was taking, they felt his honesty and trustworthiness were to be commended. Then, before he knew it, they were joined by the VP of Sales and the CEO. The HR manager quickly explained the scenario and that is when reality set in.


The first question the CEO asked of Jim was how the current owner of the company he is with was doing. While they are not close friends, they have been members of the same country club for years, and see each other socially at least once per month. The VP of Sales went on to ask about other people in the company. And then, out of nowhere, the VP of Sales disclosed that he recently moved to a new home, next door to one of Jim’s best friends. All Jim could think of was Wow!


These gentlemen could have exposed Jim to others that he knows personally and professionally. He took the high road and they could do nothing but show their respect. They even went on to tell their own story. You see, they too ask their employees to sign a confidentiality agreement, and someone who was recently let go has been violating that trust. A former employee thought he could get away with discussing client engagements, being detailed in his resume, and even bending the truth to make himself sound stronger and more engaged than he actually was.


But here is the worst part, the former employee thought he could move under the radar, which obviously was not the case. Little did he know, or believe, just how well connected the CEO and the VP of Sales were in the marketplace. They know so many people in a variety of roles from corporate recruiters to freelance recruiters to business owners. They did not go seeking out their former employee, but rather people began to ask questions. Calls and texts began to happen about “who knows this guy” and “is he who he says he is”. All the while, he was violating the confidentiality agreement he signed, and he had no idea he was about to cause himself a great hardship.


The former employee became cocky and his arrogance got the best of him. He continued to push his resume into the market and it eventually found its way online on a random job board. The problem was that this job board was a public forum and his former employer accessed it. They made a copy and forwarded to their attorney. The former employee is now in legal proceedings because of his violation.


These are everyday occurrences. Stories like this one have sadly become the rule and not the exception. My friend Jim took the high road and it paid off. But, all too often, former employees simply laugh at the formality of their previous agreements, and they take the low road. These are people that cannot be trusted. They do not deserve to be interviewed much less hired. And so I ask all ‘A’ level sales people to remember these stories to avoid becoming one themselves. Take the high road folks, it always pays off in the long run.

Confidentiality & Non-Compete Agreements - Be Very Careful Of Your Actions

I was planning on a different topic this week, but I received a telephone call yesterday afternoon from an old colleague, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. He was presented with a new opportunity. He is being recruited and is an attractive candidate. But, he is faced with a tough situation. The potential new employer wants to talk in very, very specific detail about some of his recent experiences. In order to best answer the questions, he may violate his current employment agreement.


You see, he’s a top-notch sales professional, well respected in his industry, and his industry is small. While this new opportunity is slightly different, and wouldn’t necessarily be in direct competition, his current employer may feel differently. Further, as I just mentioned, he is being asked to share specific examples of his selling cycle, process and problems that he has directly solved for his clients. He called for my advice; he wants to get my take on how I would handle it. So here’s what I told him.


Watch your back my friend, because you never know who knows who, and you certainly don’t know what conversations may take place without your knowledge. The geographic market you are in is a tightknit business community and you cannot risk divulging information that may come back to bite you. It is best to be upfront with this prospective employer and ask them to put you into scenario-based interviews or role play. But, cut them off before they can continue to ask, and let them know you are bound by a confidentiality agreement, as well as a non-compete, and make sure they want to continue. If they do, they will understand, and they will put assurances in place that you will not be violating your existing agreement.


Pretty straight forward stuff, huh. So, why then can I not stop thinking about this situation? Well, because although it seems so obvious to take the ethical high road, such proper behavior seems to elude so many faced with this same situation. Therefore, here are a few cautionary points to consider if you are ever faced with the same concerns.


First of all, did you sign any type of binding agreement with your current or past employer? Does is restrict what you can or cannot say? Do you have a copy of the agreement? Are you aware of the ramifications of violating any portion of the agreement? These are question you should ask each and every time you are faced with a possible opportunity to change employers. Most companies will rely on you, the prospective employee, to disclose such information. If you do not, you may be fully responsible for your actions, and if you violate an agreement you may well find yourself in court and without a job.


Second, why would you take such a risk? Ethical behavior is in question here. If you do not take the high road and disclose your agreements to a prospective employer, they may wonder if you are hiding something or if you can be trusted. Be upfront with them and you’ll have a high percentage chance they’ll understand. You will gain their respect and they will find an alternative method for interviewing you.


Third, do not volunteer any information that may come close to the line or cross the line, it simply is not worth the risk. Again, your current employer trusts you, and the prospective employer needs to gain trust in you. You must avoid sharing details of a recent sale, a successful project, or any details of your customers.


Finally, have copies of your agreements handy. Make sure you can share the information in the agreements, but assuming you can, leave a copy with the prospective employer. Let them know you want to interview, that you are serious, and providing such access to your binding agreements will say this to them. 

Good Cop Bad Cop - February 21, 2015

C’mon you’ve seen this on the crime drama, in the movies, or even between lawyers in contract negotiations. It’s called the Good Cop Bad Cop scenario. One person (the good cop) is friendly, pleasant and befriends the subject while the other person (the bad cop) plays hardball, makes threats, tries to intimidate, all in an effort to win something (a result, a verdict, and admission). And then there are times where one person has to play both roles. So, you may be wondering what this has to do with sales.


In many transactions the sales representative is the good cop working with the client to achieve a specific outcome. The sales manager tends to be the bad cop and must stand firm with payment terms, contract restrictions, availability of product quantity, or deadline for service delivery. These are roles played over and over every day of the week in sales. There are two scenarios I’d like to share in this week’s post.


The first is the sales person as the good cop and the sales manager as the bad cop. For those that are the sales person – remember a few rules of engaging in this approach with a client. You must first earn their trust. You must have a commitment from them that they want to do business with you. They are ready to buy. They have the pen in hand and are ready to sign the contract. It is only when this is the state of the sales process that you are ready to put your arm around their shoulder and let them know that there is one final part of the sales process. Enter the sales manager. As a sales manager – you cannot be a jerk. You can’t come into the meeting with a raised voice or bad attitude. You can be friendly but firm. Your goal is to have the prospective client accept a term or element to the business dealing that they may not want. Here is an example: your standard payment terms are Net21 and the client wants Net60. You don’t need to throw them out of the office if they cannot agree with Net21. However, you can negotiate and compromise on Net30 or Net45. But, you must be firm that these terms, once agreed upon, must be adhered to and the client must make payment without delay.


Now as for the second scenario – here’s one for when the sales person has to play both good cop and bad cop. Take the above payment term example. Your sales manager came in and finalized Net30. Your company has been working on an eight month engagement and you’re into month four. So far the client has been delinquent on the past three invoices. The project manager has finally put the project on hold. While still maintaining the friendliness of the good cop, you must now take on the role of the bad cop, and you must explain to your client that there is an issue. Be firm. Be professional. But, don’t be a pushover. Try this – Mr. Client, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your project has been suspended. The past three invoices have been delinquent and the most recent is now outstanding. You know you’ve got me in a tight spot over here. My sales manager went against company policy and extended terms to you beyond our norm, and now he has egg on his face. I’m in the hot seat and you need to help me correct this situation.


Clients want to do business with sales people that have a backbone. Be professionally courteous, but make sure you hold your ground too. You can be the good cop, but to be an effective sales person, to be the ‘A’ level sales person, you must also be comfortable being the bad cop.

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.





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.

Manage Your Emotions - November 29, 2014

On two separate occasions over the past two weeks I have received calls on my recent posts. The calls came from two sales reps that I have counseled over the past few years. They read my posts and shared concerns about how they will handle the upcoming few weeks heading into the New Year. They were not in disagreement with any of the information, but rather they became emotional. They are a bit frustrated with their recent sales and are a little worried about the New Year beginning.


Both of these individuals are seasoned professionals, yet it did not come as a surprise to me that they called. It doesn’t matter whether you are a 20 year sales veteran or in your second year of your career. Sales is an emotional profession to begin with, but adding the holidays and end-of-year push on top, and you may well have a recipe for being down in the dumps.


I remember a point in my own career, when I was starting my family and juggling the new company, when the holidays and end-of-year timeframe became very hard for me to handle. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I desperately wanted to spend time with my family, do a bit of travelling to see relatives and friends, and to enjoy Christmas with my young children. But, how could I? I had sales figures to focus on. I needed to close one more deal, just one more. I needed to make sure billing was done a certain way for specific clients. I needed to prove myself to my team that I could handle everything, even if that meant working nights and weekends leading right up to Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. I was getting about 4 hours of sleep each night and burning the candle at both ends. And why? Because I did not plan accordingly and I let emotion take control.


I promised myself after that holiday and end-of-year push never to put myself through it again. And I promised myself that I would lead others by example. We all have personal lives and with our personal lives comes personal emotion. The holiday times may be hard on some due to a loss of a family member. Others may be distanced by miles and alone. It is important that we each recognize why the holidays may become somewhat emotional for ourselves. Then, we must plan ahead beginning in October or November on how we will manage our sales responsibilities. You cannot wait until December 15th to realize where your individual sales performance stands. You should take inventory each and every month of the year and plan for your own individual push toward the end. January 1st is right around corner and you should be more in cruise control than constantly shifting gears. That, unfortunately, is not always the case.


Careful planning of your personal life balanced with a carefully laid out strategy for sales in the fourth quarter pushing toward the end-of-year will certainly be a big help. Take time each day to check yourself on attitude and sales progress. Manage your calendar and try to make time for yourself, a little self-awareness reflection time. And don’t overreact.


If you feel the stresses of the holidays, the push toward the end-of-year, and generally the emotion that can come during this time of year, seek someone out to talk. Find the ‘A’ level sales person that has been there before and ask for their advice. Trust me, they will recognize what you are going through, and they will help.

Lunch-Dinner-Party - November 15, 2014

Here we are in mid-November and heading into the end of year festivities. Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away and the Christmas and New Year holidays are right around the corner. In so many professions this is the time of year when celebrations occur. Whether the office party, a get together with your client over lunch, or a team dinner, it is a time to be extra careful as a sales person.


Several factors come to mind as a sales person. Prospects and clients love to be entertained. And during this festive season, many have built up expectations that they will be taken to lunch, dinner or a sporting event. Many have come to expect a small token (a gift) of your appreciation. And many simply don’t know any better because they’ve been trained to act this way by all of the sales reps that have gone before you.


Sales people do not have an open ended bank account or credit card. ‘A’ level sales people know this and know how to manage their expenses, but more importantly, they know how to manage their client’s expectations during this time of year.


I have never been a fan of using the last 6 weeks or so of the calendar year to show my appreciation toward my clients. I believe this should be done all year long. I also try to spend a little more time in September, October, January and February with my clients, so I can avoid the mad rush to lunch during the holidays.


Sales people also have a tendency to be viewed as the party goers or the drinkers in the crowd. It is a stereotype that has been around as long as the sales-client relationship. But, this is the time of year to be extra aware of this stereotype, and to break the trend. Entertaining clients should not be limited to just the holidays and should not be an expectation by the client. This is a good opportunity to send a hand written letter of thanks in place of the beer after work. Save that for another time.


Leading by example goes beyond the manager-rep relationship and can stem into the rep-client relationship. Show your appreciation for your clients in your words and let the actions follow by being on time for meetings and delivering on your promises. Remember, clients have their own personal lives and company commitments too. A good sales person does not wait to show appreciation until the last 6 weeks of the year but makes their appreciation known all the time.

Paint A Picture - October 18, 2014

Have you ever watched a movie where the scene flashes forward and shows what life around you would be like if you did not exist or were not present? The director is painting a picture for the character and for you. These tend to be used as “ah ha moments”, ones that drive home the point of the plot. When selling, you too can use this approach, to drive home the point of the plot.


Mr. Prospect, let me paint a picture for you, of what it will look like to work with my firm. Mrs. Client, let me paint a picture for you, of what it will look like if we stopped working together and you chose another firm to partner with. In either case, you can be an artist, and you can use the painting of a picture to close the deal.


There are several tactics that must be applied at the same time for this approach to closing to work. First and foremost, you must be sincere. Sincerity when describing the future relationship, both with ups and downs, is the key to having the prospect or client believe in you. Two things were also just said that are important to point out. You must describe what it is like, in reality, to work with your firm. Of course, there will be many highs or ups. There may also be lows or downs. Being believable is being honest. Most sales people only want to paint the picture filled with beautiful colors. A true artist must sometimes show the dark side. Describe what happens when something does not go just right. Outline how you handle resolutions when a change in the relationship occurs. Explain how you will get past a possible disagreement. And the other point is they must believe you. You represent your company and therefore you must be believable because you will be held accountable not your company.


Other factors in painting the picture for working together is through story telling. It is okay to have a small tangent in your closing process to tell a real story that your prospect or client will relate to. And, if you can then provide a reference to validate the story, the picture you are painting becomes even more prevalent to the close.


As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, ‘A’ level sales people understand how to build relationships, and recognize the building process may take time. Like an artist, the outcome of the final product is unknown in the beginning, but takes shape throughout the process. And, so does selling. Unfortunately, there are too many ‘B’ and ‘C’ level sales people that want to rush through the process. I call them “paint by numbers sales people”. They think they are using their best skills, but they are simply trying to speed through by copying another’s work.


Be yourself, be honest, be realistic and paint a picture for what is to come. You will qualify your prospect or client. You will make them desire to work with you. And, you will be able to refer back to the sales process and the picture you’ve painted if ever you need to review your relationship with them. Until next time, keep selling.