Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Time To Leave The Nest - December 17, 2016

Okay, I must admit, the title for this week’s post is a little odd for a sales related blog. But, I’ve been reading several pieces recently about kids preparing for college. While I still have a couple of years before my oldest takes off, I have friends whose kids should be receiving their college acceptance letters soon. And, a few of the pieces I’ve read recently talk about the old idea of leaving the nest. You’ve done your best as a parent, provided guidance, and now it is time for your children to prepare to be on their own.


In much the same way there comes a time when the torch of sales management needs to be passed along. It should go without saying that you don’t promote someone into a management role and abandon them, but like the parent, you should guide to the point where they can leave the safety of the nest and be on their own.


I’ve been quite fortunate over the course of my career to mentor younger sales people toward success. Whether in a big brotherly way or as a manager, I’ve always tried to instill certain values in my sales people, so they too can appreciate being career minded sales professionals. Every so often I’ve had the opportunity to mentor and guide others into management roles. Some of these individuals have gone on to greater success than my own while a few weren’t necessarily cut out for being in a management role overseeing others. How do you know when the time is right to encourage the new sales manager to leave the nest?


I have been working closely with a freelance client over the past month while at the same time facing this situation directly. I’ve been able to use my own, direct experiences to help guide my client. It is almost one year since I promoted a senior level sales person to the role of VP of Sales. Similar to my client, I was much more day-to-day hands-on, and recently have backed off. In essence, I went from being turned to almost every day of the week for guidance, to now being utilized for 30 minutes once per week for a simple review session. The time has come that he leaves the nest.


I’m certainly not implying that he is or should leave the organization. Quite the opposite in fact. My VP of Sales, like the sales manager at my client, has achieved a level of success that confirms we made the right promotion decisions. However, what I am inferring is my VP of Sales no longer needs me to be his day-to-day (or even once per week) supervisor, but instead he can now stand on his own, make his own executive level decisions, and grow into a mature (seasoned) sales manager.


The signs have been there for some time. I could see his maturity growing for months as each sales opportunity was getting bigger and more complex. The key to where we are now is the ability to manage his own sales while mentoring others. It is a balancing act to say the least. A truly competent and successful sales manager is someone that can juggle their own calendar while assisting others in their sales efforts. It does not come easy and requires a lot of patience. But, once this milestone is reached and maintained for a few months, then and only then are you ready to leave the nest. Sales management skills are in place and it is time to increase responsibilities. 

More From The Old Movie Post - December 10, 2016

Last week I ended my post with a question: how do you guide a millennial sales person toward success? I expected a few answers, but I was overwhelmed with responses. It took only a day or two to receive emails, voicemails, and a few conversations by phone, but many evenings compiling the feedback. Here’s what I’ve got in summary format.


First and foremost, having heard from a few millennials on this topic, they don’t want to be lumped in under one umbrella. The term millennial has been getting a bad rap a bit these days. Those that reached out to me, by age fall into this category, but they are far too eager and aggressive for success to be lumped in with the rest. They, like others I’ve talked to, prefer to be referred to as younger sales people.


Second, what seems top-of-the-list for both the younger sales people and those above them in management is the expectation of instant success (aka a sense of entitlement). It seems many of the comments I received were concerned about not necessarily “paying dues” or “coming up the ranks”, rather the younger sales people with a sense of entitlement wanted success, but expected it to come much easier. They, in essence, were open and willing to cutting corners in sales processes in order to get the customer to say yes.


In the digital era we’re in, with marketing via electronic media at your fingertips, it would seem many younger sales people believe it should be easy to obtain a lead, a prospect, and ultimately a client. I, myself, have been in an engaged review of inbound versus outbound marketing. Many younger sales people believe inbound marketing is the answer to becoming a wildly successful sales rep, but they forget that regardless of whether the lead comes to you or you to the lead, you must understand how to correctly and professionally communicate, foster a relationship, and meet (many times face-to-face) with the prospect in order to gain the needed trust for the prospect to buy.


I referenced having done reading and research on millennial employees. In almost all cases there is a sense that millennials want success, are willing to work hard/smart, and at the same time want a work-life balance. The downside is again, the expectation or sense of entitlement that is displayed behavior, and sales managers are becoming frustrated. In sales, in particular, there can be an extensive amount of training required to fully understand a service or product. Each company has “their way” of selling and going to market. Younger sales people must understand and grasp the concept that sales is not a 9:00 to 5:00 position. I recently witnessed a fairly successful, younger sales person state he's yet to work more than a 40 hour work week. It is typically 40 (or less). Yet, this person is seeking guidance on how to tackle additional responsibilities, and grow their book of business. Younger sales people must realize that nights and weekends can become opportunistic times for reading, researching and planning.


And finally, even when incredibly well educated and bright, many younger sales people lack respect for those that have gone before them. Sales today is not much different than sales 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Human interaction and relationships can be complicated no matter what product or service you sell. Understanding how to engage in conversations, read body language, gain perspective into what may drive the buying decision, etc. all comes with age (ie experience). All too often the complaint with younger sales people is their lack of willingness to learn from superiors.


Success can come easily at times, quickly at times, and when one least’s expects it. Quick hits can be a nice, albeit, little boost to your confidence and revenue goals. Sustainable growth, which leads to a sustainable sales career, comes through patience in process, a genuine willingness to learn, an understanding that you may not be the smartest person in the room, and a desire to want the long-term, sustainable sales career, not just a quick buck.


Young sales people are the future of the profession. For the few out there willing to take the cautious yet necessary steps, methodically one-by-one, the sustainable and successful career is yours for the taking. For that younger sales person seeking the shortcut, with the sense of entitlement, do us all a favor now and find a different career path.

Lessons From Old Movies - December 3, 2016

It’s funny that the topic of a few old movies came up this week, because this is the time of year where I thoroughly enjoy watching old movies. Once a year I sit, typically by myself (my wife & kids don’t enjoy these movies), and watch White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, Wall Street, Glengarry Glen Ross, and several others. I know what you’re thinking, “a bizarre mix of movies, huh”. Well, these are a bizarre mix. You see, some of these are old favorites with White Christmas probably being my most liked, but the others are just movies I feel the need to watch once a year. My wife even went to far as to call me an “old soul”.


I feel a bit of nostalgia when I watch these movies. Even though I work in the digital arena most days, there’s something about these older movies, especially those from the 1940’s and 1950’s, that allow my imagination to run wild a bit. I can almost imagine being in my career during this time. There are several reasons for why, so I speculate, but the personal interaction element is the single-most.


For the past few weeks I have done a fair amount of reading and have participated in several presentations about working with millennials. Generally speaking, these topics have been around employing millennials, what they want from an employment perspective, etc. However, none focused much on the expectations an employer should have from hiring/employing a millennial, and none especially touched upon those entering the field of sales. So, I went out in search of information on my own, scouring the Internet. I read a blog article here and there, but none really pointed me in any direction with guidance for the sales manager.


What I did find was a bit disheartening. The young generation of sales people seem less concerned about meeting with prospects and clients face-to-face, rather expect the sales process to be easy, quick, and financially beneficial. There is a lack (or perceived lack) of interest in a young sales person wanting to develop a personal relationship with the client.


I guess the reason I like older movies, those that pre-date the cell phone, really comes down to this: if you wanted to engage in a conversation with someone, you had to do it face-to-face. There was no hiding. And, when I think of my own sales career, I truly believe I’ve been successful because I have always relied on my ability to communicate one-on-one, face-to-face where building a relationship with a person was step one to the remainder of the sales process.


I’m keeping this post brief this week, in essence ending here with a question, and hoping you’ll participate by answering. My post next week will be the follow-up. How do you guide a millennial sales person toward success?

Thankful: Actions Speak Louder Than Words - November 26, 2016

Here we are once again, Thanksgiving time, and as in all of my years past I am taking time to reflect on what gifts have come into my life. Of course I am thankful for my wife and children, my parents love and support, my co-workers, clients and friends. I am thankful for the lifestyle I have and for the enjoyment I can take in hobbies and my children's activities. And, I would expect you feel the same.


However, in the business of sales, being thankful needs to be much more than words, gratitude must be shown in actions. Now, I’m not talking about running out of the office and taking a client to lunch. Such activities, the client entertainment during this time of year, are so overdone. I’ve written several posts about this topic in the past. What I mean by actions speaking louder than words is simple: show your client how grateful you are for their business.


Here is a personal example: I have a clothing manufacturer as a client that primarily serves the outdoor worker and outdoor enthusiast community. I’m confident this client knows how grateful I am for their business. I say it often face-to-face and in notes (written and Email). I also purchase an item of clothing from them every time I visit and I proudly wear their clothing whenever meeting with their team. In an effort to show my true gratitude, beyond what should be considered the norm, I made a monetary donation to an environmental organization for which my client supports, and I did so in their name.


On another occasion, with a not-for-profit client serving underprivileged children, I enlisted the help of my own kids. We worked with friends and neighbors to collect toys, games, video consoles, clothing, etc. and donated these items to this organization to show our support. I am not only grateful for their business, but grateful such a place exists in Cleveland in support of children that do not have what other children have in terms of these day-to-day items.


Giving to charity or one’s community is certainly a personal choice. In reflecting upon all I have in my life, and realizing my career in sales is a large reason I am where I am today, I cannot ever sit back and think I did it all on my own. Without my clients trusting in me and my company, I would not be where I am. Saying thank you goes a long way. Showing gratitude in my actions will last long after my words fade.

Co-Selling Works - November 19, 2016

There is an old quote from Abraham Lincoln that I often translate to sales, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”. In other words, in legal practice, you can’t always go it alone. You may need assistance or guidance from time-to-time, especially if your own “life” depends on it. And so goes the same in sales. I translate the Lincoln quote at times to mean “He who tries to close the deal by himself has no one to blame if he loses the deal by himself”.


The world is full of lawyers, some good, some average, and some just plain bad. The world is also full of sales people, some good (the ‘A’ level sales person), some average, and some just plain bad. What makes a lawyer good or a sales person ‘A’ level? It is a simple answer to write down, but not necessarily simple to act upon: the willingness to ask for help.


This is often a hard lesson in one’s career to learn, yet those of us who’ve been at the sales game for a while, have learned the lesson the hard way. We’ve all been there. We’ve all tried to be the cowboy who rides in on his white steed and saves the day by closing the deal all by ourselves. It is an awesome feeling when it happens. But, what a terrible sense of failure when it doesn’t. And, to make matters worse, many of those times when it doesn’t come your way, there may have been an alternative by asking for help.


I was asked recently by a friend to speak with his now adult daughter. She has been out of college for about a year and a half, in a sales role, and is struggling internally with how to approach management. She is fearful that she will be turned away or that by asking for guidance or help would be a sign of weakness in the eyes of her superiors.


Taking a small step back in the story, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that Colleen has been rather successful in her short time as a sales person. She has learned quickly how to cold call, write proposals, and is embracing consultative selling more and more each week that goes by. She has had a small taste of success, but now has had her first real taste of failure. Colleen lost a fairly large deal she believed was well within her grasp. And, she is struggling with the reason why.


Colleen, for all intent and purpose, did everything right. She counseled the client off and on through the pre-sales and sales process. She brought in experts for review calls with her prospect. She went so far as to tell me, “Mr. Latchford, I dotted every ‘I’ and crossed every ‘T’, I just don’t know why they didn’t go with me”. I pushed her a bit in reviewing the steps and then it dawned on me. She didn’t ask anyone in her organization for help, as in anyone from her management team.


It was obvious from the beginning of the sales process that Colleen, although accomplished already, was young in her career. I’m not talking about her age, but rather her experience in her role. She did almost everything right, but she never asked anyone from the management team to be involved in her sales process, not even from an introduction standpoint. In her mind, she should have been able to close the deal on her own, and was fearful that her VP of Sales or the President of the company would find it disappointing that she’d need their help, or that she couldn’t handle it on her own. She couldn’t have been more wrong – and it cost her the deal. The prospect wrote a pleasant thank you, but explained the competitor made it a point to introduce senior leadership as a part of the sales process.


Asking for help is NEVER a sign of weakness. Rather, asking for help is a sign of maturity. Your senior leadership team does not need to be inundated with mundane requests for help ten times per day, but will never say no when it really counts. Colleen learned a hard lesson by not asking for help, but I'll bet she doesn't let that happen again. Don’t be afraid to approach your superiors, that’s what they’re there for.

Post Election: Block Out The Noise - November 12, 2016

I must say that I’ve never witnessed behavior in a business setting like I’ve seen over the past few days. It doesn’t matter the volume level, I call it all noise. From quiet whispering to outright screaming matches and everything in between, there has been quite a bit of hostility in people’s tone of voices.


The presidential election has brought out the best in some people and the worst in others. Voting in general is a privilege and it should not matter who one votes for as their candidate of choice. It is a personal choice. But, as much as it is a personal choice, taking a stance publicly and vocally can impact your position with your management team, in a negotiation with a client, or in the eyes of your co-workers. Being a part of the noise may not serve the purpose you may ultimately want.


Please don’t get me wrong, free speech is a wonderful thing, something we should all celebrate and champion. However, in the career of sales, one that likely pays your bills, keeping your opinions to yourself may be the better option over contributing to the noise. I’m sure by now you’ve hear the term “sales chameleon”. The sales professional needs to blend in with his or her surroundings in order to win the deal or win the day. So often sales people agree with this approach, pride themselves are being “good chameleon’s” and yet at times do not know when to bite their tongue.


Over the years in my career I have witnessed individuals commit professional suicide over their opinions and remarks. I’ve written many posts about sales being a game and how to play the game of sales. Blocking out the noise is a part of being an ‘A’ level sales person. And, it doesn’t have to be a presidential election, it can be commenting on your favorite NFL team when standing in front of a diehard fan from the opposition. I’ve been in meetings in Pittsburgh when the topic of Browns vs Steelers comes up. Instead of running my mouth, I’ve poked fun at the rivalry or simply let comments pass. Why stir the pot if it just needs to simmer.


So, this week I’m keeping the post rather simple, and just offering a little piece of advice based on the past few days of observations. Here you go: Sales is a game and ‘A’ level sales people know it is a game. You must recognize that even though you may have a strong opinion about a political, religious, sports, or business topic, it is sometimes best to stay quiet. There is no need to contribute to the noise. And, if you are wise and can block out the noise, others like your management team, co-workers, clients and prospective clients will take notice, and you will be regarded as a steadfast sales person. Keep business business and personal personal. There’s always a time and place to voice your opinion and the workplace isn’t always the best place.

Managing Emotions - November 5, 2016

While there are a variety of career options where emotions come into play, there are none more so than in sales. You’ve heard the term emotional rollercoaster, well that is a phrase that perfectly describes the life and times of a career salesperson. Managing emotions can be difficult, but when done so, can separate the ‘A’ level salesperson from the rest of the pack.


No one is bulletproof when it comes to managing their emotions. Emotion in one’s personal life, like their career, can be a heavy weight to bear, and sometimes creeps in and ends up on display. It may be the death of a family member or the birth of a child. It could be watching your hometown team make it to Game 7 of the World Series or it could be the 9th defeat in a row for your beloved NFL team. It also could be the loss of a client or the win of a new deal. Regardless of the event or activity, sometimes emotions build up, and you simply let those emotions show.


I awoke rather early this morning, feeling overwhelmed about my life this past week, having ridden a rollercoaster of emotion from last Saturday through last night. I attended a funeral for an old friend who was just 46 years old when he passed away a few days ago. I received news that another friend and former colleague celebrated the birth of her son. I worked closely with a long-time client that was more than a bit upset with my firm over what amounted to be miscommunication. I identified a great, new business opportunity through a partnership program. I received news that a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer. And, I attended parent-teacher conferences for all three of my kids, all with very positive feedback and remarks on their progress year-to-date. It was one hell of an emotional rollercoaster this past week.


My wife also woke up a little early today. Like me it was a long week with emotions all over the board. However, she did not have the client high’s & low’s to deal with, nor the amount of activity on her calendar as I did. She commented about how well I’ve handled these up’s & down’s this week, speaking directly about being on an “emotional rollercoaster”. She asked how I was holding up and if I felt exhausted. I had a simply reply: “I haven’t stopped to really dwell upon one thing or another, I’m just taking everything in stride”.


Throughout my career in sales I have been faced with a number of challenges. Managing a hectic calendar, juggling personal matters with networking events in the evenings, and growing my individual sales funnel all have prepared me for the unexpected. I’ve learned over the years to put each and every life instance into perspective. There are few things in life that I have complete control over. I cannot manage traffic on the highway, and so from time-to-time I may be late for a meeting. I’m not a doctor and therefore cannot help a friend or family member that has fallen ill. And, just the same, I can try my best to remain healthy, but I also cannot hide from the common cold. There are so many scenarios that play out in my daily life that I simply cannot control or even foresee, but I’ve come to accept anyway.


Recognizing that unexpected things happen in life is step one in managing emotion. Second, putting each unexpected item into perspective, that is ranking each on a level of importance, helps me prioritize my daily schedule. Third, I make sure that my family comes first, company second, and everything else after. And, lastly, if I feel emotion taking over, I try to walk away for even just a few minutes.


Managing emotions will help you get ahead in both your professional and personal life. Sometimes you just need to accept that emotion is human and showing emotion happens. 

Time To Move On - October 29, 2016

Here I go again, writing about the significance of understanding that sales is about relationships, and the reality of relationships is that at times you have to let go and move on. I’ve watched colleagues for years work on their sales skills by reading a book, watching a video, or attending a seminar. These are some very bright, well educated individuals. However, they take the text book definitions and attempt to apply lessons learned without understanding some of the key principals – relationships are learned through experience.


Think about this for a moment, you don’t learn how to date someone, propose marriage, and walk down the aisle through a lesson in a “How To” book. You date someone, then you date someone else, you make mistakes, you learn from your mistakes, and then you apply the lessons you’ve learned through these experiences. That, my friend, is relationship management.


What some of my colleagues lack at times is the perspective I have from being a parent. Having children ranging in age from grade school to high school, I’ve become a believer in “little kids little problems, big kids big problems”. And, through my parenting experiences, I feel as though I am yet again learning life lessons that I can apply in business and in sales. Sometimes simply being an observer of my children offers me reminders of lessons learned through experiences in relationship management.


Over the past week or so I’ve been witness to two scenarios with my children that remind me of a golden sales lesson – you have to learn when it’s time to move on. In the first scenario my youngest daughter found herself in a rather uncomfortable situation. One of her close, longtime friends was not being kind to someone else over text and social media. My daughter tried to explain to her friend that she was being mean. Unfortunately, her efforts were futile and while she should have walked away she did not. She was punished by my wife and me, and now she realizes that it is better to walk away, move on, and possibly even change the dynamics of her friendship, in order to do what is right.


Another example is based around a young man that attended grade school with my son. This young man has moved on to high school and is beginning to make new friends and build upon his new high school life. However, in doing so, like many others moving on in life, his own mom does not believe he’s having a good experience. In fact, she believes his older, grade school friends are turning their backs on him and leaving him out. She has turned to making false accusations toward other young men and other families. She believes her son is being excluded intentionally and refuses to acknowledge that these boys are growing up and moving on with their lives. She refuses to move on and in her refusal she’s not accepting that her son needs to also move on.


In our careers, in sales, just as with personal relationships with our friends, significant others, and our children, lessons must be learned with experiences applied. In other words, my reflection this morning while having coffee reminds me that my children must learn life-lessons even when they’re difficult lessons, and then apply these experiences in the future. Sometimes it is best to move on. In sales one must always realize that lessons are learned more on the street than in the classroom. Sure, foundational ideas can come from a book, but nothing can replace the experience of learning hands-on. Lessons will be found in wins and losses. You’ll earn new client relationships and lose some. And, some must be lost, must move on, in order to grow.


My daughter, as well as the young man now in high school, must move on. They must seek new relationships in order for themselves to grow. Sales people need to grow, add new client relationships, and yes, sometimes this means moving on or allowing others to move.

Accepting Rejection - October 15, 2016

I can’t believe they said No!


You’ve got to be kidding me, he got promoted and I didn’t?


They chose another (company/product/service) and not mine, it’s their loss.


Being told no, being rejected, can garner a reaction that sometimes is telling about how you handle not just other difficult lessons in life, but success as well. Rejection is inevitable. There is no perfect, 100% close rate in sales, just as though no professional quarterback can go an entire career without throwing an interception.


Understanding and accepting rejection is not a comfortable topic, but I’ve been in my career long enough to know that there are also more up’s than down’s, if you know how to accept rejection and move on. There are many who’ve chosen sales as their profession, but who have poor attitudes when it comes to loss. Some become angry while others blame the customer or client. Some gloss over a loss or rejection and never take any time to consider reasons why they were not chosen. And yet others hold onto the loss for far too long, constantly reminding themselves they lost a deal, and dwelling on possible shortcomings in their own process. All self-destructive attributes that in no way lean in the direction of success.


One of the first steps any sales person should take in building a successful sales career is accepting that rejection does happen. It may be something you did in the sales process. It may be a price-sensitive issue. It may be the client simply never wanted to choose you in the first place, but was required to get a competitive bid. Regardless of the reasons, being rejected is a fact of the sales life. Accept it and move on.


That is the key – accept it and move on. However, there is an “in between” stage between accepting it and moving on. This is the reasoning stage, as in there was a reason, and you need to uncover what the reason is or was. The process of uncovering the reason you were rejected may take a little extra doing, it may require you to call the customer and ask, but it is a necessity. Through rejection or loss there are lessons to be learned. And, through these lessons, wins or gained business will come.


I am not suggesting that rejection is easy, something you should be comfortable with or take as a norm, rather be willing to accept that it is a part of one’s sales life. Accept that you are being presented an opportunity to learn, so that win’s become even more valuable in the future. 

The Cost Of Being In Sales - October 8, 2016

I’ve had the pleasure recently of mentoring several college seniors readying themselves for graduation and their entry into the world of sales. It excites me to see their level of enthusiasm and their passion for wanting to start their careers. All bright minded individuals, they also each have unique backgrounds. Some have parents that have built their own careers in business while others have families that work in construction or industry.


During our round-table discussions and one-on-one sessions, I would often steer the conversation around topics of preparedness, being mentally tough for sales, interviewing techniques, cold calling skills, etc. etc. Through them all there was one topic that raised the most eyebrows and created the most interactive level of conversation: the cost of being in sales.


One young lady shared a story she read in a business magazine which described how a sales person, a true expert in sales, can name their price. She took that to mean that in sales, with some experience and a relative amount of success, you can get a high paying job easily. When I introduced the idea that there is a cost to being in sales, this poor young lady almost hyperventilated.


What is the cost of being in sales? The answer is a simple, single word – sacrifice – but the concept of sacrifice is very difficult for many to understand. And, more importantly, is the cause for many a sales person to change professions.


I began the exercise by having each person in my group define sacrifice as it pertains to being in a sales career. The majority spoke about salary, as in entry-level terms for compensation. One described a recent interview where he was informed there would be no vacation during the first year of employment. Another chimed in about the pathway to an outside sales role, ultimately where she wanted to be, having to go through an inside sales training program. She dreads the idea of cold calling for 8 hours per day 5 days per week. She looked at that as sacrifice.


Each of these young, soon-to-be professionals had a general idea about sacrifice for their new career, but each barely scratched the surface. I then shared my definition of sacrifice. I did this by describing not only my own experiences but those of many an ‘A’ level sales person I’ve come to know.


Sacrifice, the cost of being in sales, is about long days and long nights. Constant learning: reading, watching, listening, attending, with no graduation date in sight. Learning is a lifelong endeavor that must be a part of the sales person’s daily program. Sacrifice is about traveling, sometimes for days on end, living out of a suitcase and not seeing your spouse or children. It is about missing your mom’s birthday dinner because you could not miss a conference on the other coast. Sacrifice is about relocating, sometimes frequently, because your employer wants to promote you. Sometime relocation's are to places you never considered moving to. Sacrifice is about putting 20,000 miles per year on your car (or more) for the sake of making meetings face-to-face rather than over the phone or over the Web.


There is a cost to being in sales, but such a cost (the sacrifices) can be viewed as an expense or as an investment. For those that view the cost as an investment, the return on investment can be enormous. The sacrifices made today can afford you luxuries later. Skipping happy hour with your buddies next Thursday may allow you the ability to skip work on Thursday five years from now so you can attend your daughters first piano recital.


Sacrifice is about paying your dues today to reap rewards tomorrow. Are you willing to pay the cost of being in sales?