Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Better Friends After The Breakup - October 1, 2016

Throughout the past few years I’ve written a variety of posts pertaining to hiring & firing of both sales people and clients. Yes, it is a touchy subject, and yes it oftentimes does not end pleasantly. But, every so often, as in personal relationships, two people or two companies can end up being better off once the breakup takes place. In fact, the breakup may strengthen the relationship.

 

I was reminded of this recently when I was asked to assist with the parting of ways between a sales professional and his employer. Gabe, the sales professional, is a truly personable individual. The “really good guy” in the group. He is pleasant and easy to talk to. He tries hard to make people comfortable in the business setting and on the telephone. Unfortunately, sometimes one just has a black cloud over their head for a while. Sales became more and more of an obstacle course. As one obstacle would be pushed aside by a closed deal, it then seemed as though ten more obstacles appeared.

 

For Gabe’s employer, patience in sales performance became an obstacle for them too. I counseled the company for some time on how to work on change plans and growth plans from the sales team side of the business. Unfortunately, the topic of Gabe began to dominate planning meetings. It was never an exciting topic because he was hitting home runs, rather it was a disappointing topic due to poor sales performance. All the while everyone complimented his personality and desire to remain steadfast in selling for the company.

 

Eventually a decision had to be made, one that meant Gabe needed to leave the company, and he could do so of his own choice or be terminated. Not surprisingly, because Gabe was not bread with a sense of entitlement, he chose to resign. He recognized the struggles he’d had for many months, and although not one to quit, Gabe also was a realist. He knew that by staying it was nothing more than a matter of time before he would be terminated. He had missed quota too many months to make up ground.

 

Gabe took the high road. He was overwhelmingly complimentary of the company. Without hesitation he contacted his clients and prospective clients. Without going into detail he shared with them that he was parting ways, but that the decision was more than amicable, and one that would allow him to pursue new opportunities. He made introductions to other team members, and he then followed up on his own time, to make sure these clients and prospective clients were being taken care of.

 

There are many who would part ways with their employer and never speak again. Instead, Gabe has stayed in contact. He has made an introduction to a new prospective client and he’s referred a sales candidate to the company. If he has hard feelings, you’d never know. Not everyone is cut from the same cloth as Gabe. My hope behind this week’s post is simple, learn from Gabe on how to be humble, you may find that you’ll be better friends after the breakup. And, you never know when your paths may cross again.

Referrals Without Directly Asking - September 24, 2016

I have been a believer of referral business since I began my career. Nothing is more gratifying that having a current or previous client provide you with a referral. It is a true testament as to their happiness with the service or product you are providing them. And, referral business is so important, there are books and training programs surrounding this very topic.

 

Successful sales people in pretty much every industry will tell you that referral business is a must. It is THE key to becoming successful. Yet, many will not share how they obtain referrals. There is a real knack for obtaining quality referrals. Many in the sales training industry teach various methods on how to ask for the referral or how to build a “referral program” which is aimed at compensating for an obtained referral. But, I believe there is a way to obtain a referral that doesn’t cost you anything and you don’t have to blatantly ask for it.

 

Obtaining a referral without directly asking is the same as navigating the sales waters to go from a cold lead to a warm introduction. The goal, of course, is to gain an in with a prospect by having someone introduce you. Think about personal introductions: Jane, I’d like to introduce you to Keith. Keith is an old friend. The statement that Keith is an “old friend” is the testament. What Jane hears is that you value your friendship with Keith enough to not only make an introduction, you are stating that he is an old friend, which places emphasis on your personal feelings for Keith. You just made a referral. You’ve said to Jane that it would be worth her while to meet Keith (for whatever reason).

 

Obtaining a referral in business is similar. When you identify a prospect that you feel is worthwhile and worthy of your time spent trying to sell, you need to expedite the introduction process. Here are the steps to gain the referral without directly asking for it:

  • ·         Identify a mutual acquaintance, friend, colleague or client
  • ·         Send this person a note by email or even text asking not “if they know Joe” but “how they know Joe” – this accomplishes two tasks – first you will confirm their knowledge of the person you wish to meet and second how they know them
  • ·         The next step is the most critical. You need to phrase your follow-up question so naturally that your client (or whoever fits this spot) doesn’t even think twice. Question: Craig, sounds like you’ve had a great business relationship with Joe for a while. His name has popped up on my radar more than once. In fact, I’ve tried to get in touch with him a few times to talk shop. I believe he’d be a good fit for my company, maybe not as good you (insert laugh), but a good fit. What do you think?
  • ·         Although I’ve had conversations basically end here, more times than not my client (or whoever fits this spot) immediately offers to make the introduction. I thank them and even encourage ways on which to make the introduction.

 

Referral business can be a difference maker in moving from a ‘B’ level sales person to an ‘A’ level sales person. Being tactful, and sometime stealth in your approach, will ultimately drive your referral business higher and higher. Don’t sit back and wait for referrals to come your way…drive them directly.

Careful With Criticism - September 17, 2016

Just because you place the word “constructive” in front of criticism, it’s still criticism. Since well before I began my career, maybe even back in my high school days, I learned that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. This is so true, especially when providing feedback to a salesperson.

 

I was having lunch with a client recently. In attendance was the owner, the vp of sales, and two of their sales team members. The conversation went along quite well until we were done eating. That is when I inquired as to how the sales folks were doing. Before they could answer, the vp of sales chimed in, and in a rather unflattering way began to critique her sales team member’s performance. She did not come across professional, polite, or even anything close to it. Instead, her so called constructive criticism was just criticism.

 

Demeaning a team member serves no purpose. Criticism may be earned, and when handled correctly, can serve a valuable opportunity for the person to learn from others more experienced. But, true constructive criticism should never be considered a loss, rather an opportunity to learn.

 

The woman I sat across from at lunch went on and on about how her team screwed up, missed big opportunities with new customers, and berated those team members for not learning from her teachings. Quite frankly she was rude and ignorant. I was utterly shocked that she was spewing her thoughts so candidly in front of the company owner – her boss.

 

The owner asked me if I had or could offer any insight. Seeing as though I was in good with the owner, and really did not need to win over the vp of sales, I offered by own constructive criticism. I did so only after I asked questions about each sales situation with follow-up questions on the how’s and why’s of each individual sale. I gave some feedback, but in my tone was empathy for the sales person, and through the conversation I was able to showcase possible reasons for losing those deals. I continued, even when giving my own thoughts on the sales processes gone wrong, to ask poignant questions for each person. All the while, I could see the vp of sales growing angry in my apparent intrusion into her world.

 

At one point, near the end of the lunch meeting, she demanded I mind my own business. My client, the owner of the company, very politely asked her to apologize to me and move on. Later that evening I received a call from my client’s phone number. To my surprise, it was not the owner, but the vp of sales. She called to apologize and not because she was told to do so. She came to realize that she was not being a good manager. She was struggling to communicate effectively with her own team members. She blamed some of her own losses in sales for skewing her judgment and she asked for help.

 

We’ll see how this plays out as I begin to counsel her. One thing to take away though, your sales team needs your help. They need to feel appreciated, even when they lose a deal. What you say and how you say it can make your sales person a better sales person…and you a better manager.

Wellness For The Sales Person - September 10, 2016

It doesn’t matter if you are in inside or outside sales, the overall stress of being in sales can take a toll on your health. Over the past decade the topic of wellness has become mainstream in business. The concept was originally introduced to very large companies in an effort to manage rising healthcare costs. Once only available if you had hundreds or thousands of employees, wellness programs can now be found in almost any company of any size. And, with wellness programs comes, well, wellness.

 

I oftentimes think about the comments my wife and kids have made when I’ve come home stressed out over losing a deal. Or, then the opposite occurs and I have success, and they can very easily see the excitement. These ups & downs, highs & lows can leave me worn out. There have been plenty of sleepless nights over the years. Days where I barely ate breakfast, skipped lunch, and continued working well into the night all in an attempt to close a deal.

 

Several years back I had a slight health scare, a 1:00 AM ambulance ride to the ER, only to find out what I should have already known – I was out of shape, eating poorly, overweight, and carrying way too much stress. Sure I had hobbies and I enjoyed getting outside, but nothing regimented, more of the every so often type of activities. In talking with my doctor, a nutritionist, and then a trainer, I was able to put an exercise routine together along with changes in my daily routine (such as dieting), that all paid off.

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no poster boy for perfect health, not by a long shot. But, I am in better overall shape than I’ve been in years. Taking the concept of wellness seriously, working to manage and reduce the stresses I face in business and as a parent, and making sure I balance my work and personal time has helped me in more ways that I could have imagined.

 

Sales is my career. It is more than a chosen profession, rather it is a lifestyle. I’ve come to realize that my own wellness has made me a better salesperson. I have more energy which leads to confidence. I’ve learned new ways to manage a busy life in and out of the office. I can get more done with less effort by balancing wellness and time management. And, I believe I carry myself differently than other sales people who do not consider wellness an important part in their own lives.

 

I encourage you to evaluate how you handle stress. Keep an eye on your overall health as you get older. And, make wellness a part of your daily life. You will see the results in yourself and in your sales.

Your Personal Opinion and Declining Sales - September 3, 2016

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a very brief, yet hot topic post about politics, social media and sales. I did not expect any phone calls or emails, but boy oh boy did I get them. It seems my post opened the door, so to speak, for a variety of questions ranging from generic about social media being personal to “how dare my customers hold my political view against me”. So, I’m going to use this week’s post to expand a bit on my commentary, and hopefully this post will answer many of the questions I received.

 

To sum up personal viewpoints and opinions with regards to sales, whether you like it or not, people will do business with you if they hold you in high regard. Unfortunately, while this is not always fair, it is reality. To illustrate please allow me to provide you with this example.

 

Robert is a former colleague. We worked together many years ago, and while I’ve not seen him in some time, we stayed in touch by email every now and then. Over the past ten years Robert married, became a father, and moved into a new home in a new neighborhood. All seems pretty normal. Except, Robert and his wife began to change, and this too is normal. They became more successful in their careers and became parents. Like many, their own personal outlooks on life changed, and so the story goes. However, both Robert and his wife went from being somewhat conservative to a bit more liberal in their political views. Both educated in Catholic grade schools and high schools, they have shunned Catholic schools, and are very outspoken about the public education system. They are vocal on big box stores being evil empires, this environmental group is superior to that environmental group, etc. etc. Again, no big deal, right?

 

Well, both Robert and his wife take to social media like moth’s to flames. They seem to take great enjoyment in writing about their opinions and viewpoints. And, while many do similarly, they do not shield themselves behind privacy or security settings. Rather, they are very public, so much so that local newspapers have quoted from their musings. Obviously, when being so vocal, and publicly vocal, you will open yourself up to opposing viewpoints and criticism.

 

It appears that more than a few of Robert’s clients are not on the same page as he is with some of his opinions. In fact, over the past fifteen months Robert has experienced a 21% decline in sales in what was once considered a protected sales territory. And, not too long ago, human resources had a sit down with him to discuss the policies on use of social media. Robert read my post and called me angrily about it. He does not agree that personal opinions and viewpoints should play a role in one’s career, especially in sales.

 

To summarize and wrap up this post, here’s my response to Robert: “Old friend you have got to snap out of it. People want to do business with people they like and are oftentimes like them. You may not agree that sales should be personal, but it is. You have no one to blame but yourself and your wife. You’ve chosen to be outspoken in a public manner and your clients don’t like it or in some cases agree. As much as its your right to your opinion, they too have the right to disagree, especially when your opinion goes directly against their business. Robert, you recently wrote an op-ed on that big box store that just opened down the street from you home, blasting their business practices, hiring policies, etc. Yet, your number one customer sells products to this company. Of course they aren’t happy about your opinion.”

 

So many things came to mind…think before you speak (or write)…it’s not just what you say but how you say it…and remember you chose sales as a career, accept the up’s & down’s that go along with it.

Learn More From Defeat Than Victory - August 27, 2016

Google the phrase: “Learning more from defeat than from victory” and you’ll find thousands of relevant links. Most point to a variety of stories from which this phrase has been used, from heads-of-state to military leaders to coaches. Each and every story is different yet shares the commonality that through defeat or loss is a lesson learned that should offer guidance on how to succeed or be victorious.

 

My son recently began his high school journey. He is being welcomed positively with open arms, positive encouragement, all while being grounded in the messages being shared. Again, the theme of learning from defeat is a story shared. I’ve read and reread the message that was shared with him and his new classmates. The story is new but the theme is old. Reading it I was reminded of my own failures or defeats, yet here I am still standing, stronger and wiser than ever before.

 

Being a career sales person can be tough on the sole and spirit. As I’ve often stated, there is no such thing as perfection, only the attempt to be perfect. Along the way there will be will be awesome deals won, providing an exceptional feeling of pride, while delivering large commission or bonus payments. But, along the way, there will also be losses, the deals you wanted or expected that simply did not come to fruition.

 

The difference between an ‘A’ level sales person and a ‘B’ or ‘C’ level sales person is the power to learn from loss or “defeat”. It is easy to tell and re-tell the stories of success or “victory”. It is humbling to be able to stand tall and tell and re-tell the story of loss. But, when you accept that loss is a part of the sales career journey, you’ll soon realize the lessons learned will ultimately provide a pathway to success.

 

Over my years in business, as a sales manager, trainer or consultant, I’ve come to meet and study a variety of sales people. Some have been successful beyond imagination while others have been as middle-of-the-road as they come. I use my journal to make and keep observations handy on what drives success. Those with a higher successful closing percentage tend to be those that learned from their mistakes, lost deals or bumbled sales calls. Like me, these individuals paid attention to what transpired during those sales losses or defeats. Like an athlete following a loss, they study their game films, look for mistakes or miscues during the sales process, and plan accordingly for the next sales meeting.

 

Successful sales people do not point blame toward others or situations that may have been influencing the sales process. Blame is for the weak and truly becomes nothing more than a series of excuses and lies to oneself. Accepting defeat is a necessary step toward becoming victorious. A win, a closed deal, the signature on the contract, the victory will lead to another and another. Through defeat lessons on how to become victorious are learned.

Politics, Social Media & Sales - August 20, 2016

I am going to make this week’s post very brief. I’ve been asked several times recently for my opinion on how personal views and personal posts on social media platforms may impact a sales person’s career.

 

First of all, c’mon really, it’s 2016 already. Do I need to remind you that even when your best of intentions to use social media securely is in place, your very presence in social media opens you up to public criticism. All it takes is a “share” or “like” on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn and your post has the potential of being seen by a whole lot more people than just your “friends”.

 

Sales people are vulnerable by trade. Sales people are the face of their company. And so, when a sales person shares a tidbit of information from a personal perspective, it may open them up to opposing viewpoints which becomes a reflection on the company.

 

I cannot remember any political climate as heated as the current presidential election. Opposing views are being shared millions upon millions of times each and every day. Some people are using social media to spew hatred while others simply want to open up a reasonable debate. Regardless of your feelings or the urge to respond, keep politics out of your posts in social media, or you may see a negative reaction in your sales career.

 

My message is simple: always be careful what you post and be mindful that viewpoints differ. You never know who may come across your writing and may take your opinion or stance on a topic in a negative manner.

Mentor a Future Sales Person - July 30, 2016

College interns are great. They are aggressive in their learning, they want to please a potential future employer, and they generally bring a sense of enthusiasm into the workplace. The downside, however, is that they’re already headed in a specific career direction. How can we influence a future generation of sales people?

 

Being in a position to mentor young adults does not have to start with college interns. Oftentimes high school students are assigned class projects to “job shadow” and these opportunities can be a launch pad for some to explore careers in sales. These bright students are seeking opportunities to learn about a company, a career path, or a certain industry. They are open minded and want to learn. They want to be challenged. They want their preconceived ideas about sales to be flipped upside down. They just don’t know it yet.

 

I recently hosted a young lady, a soon-to-be high school senior, at my office for two days. Her parents are friends, mom being a doctor and dad an attorney. Her parents have instilled in her their own desire for learning. She is smart and personable. But, she has already stated that she does not have an interest in following her parents career choices. So, what about sales?

 

When Ann Marie first talked with me she had a notion that professional sales was more like retail or automotive. She lacked the understanding that sales took place in a variety of verticals from pharmaceutical to finance to technology. When I received a thank you note, she highlighted a few points that she learned: sales requires constant continuing education; sales requires professional character and a positive demeanor; sales is not easy.

 

Having an opportunity to be influential on a young adult while guiding them toward a career in sales is rewarding. I had a few individuals do this for me, keeping me from law school many years ago, and I am extremely grateful to this day. When asked to be a mentor or to have someone shadow you, say yes.

Treat Your Sales Career Like Golf - July 23, 2016

There’s no ‘I’ in team. Sales has to be a team sport. Don’t forget your supporting cast. These are phrases I’ve used often and do believe in. But, from time-to-time, treat your sales career like a round of golf. Golf is never a competition against the other members of your foursome. Rather, golf is a competition against yourself. Some days everything goes in your favor. The course conditions are great. The weather is perfect. And, you seem to be playing above your norm. Other days are just bad. It starts to rain. You can’t hit a straight tee shot. You three putt every hole. You want to put the clubs back in the car and call it a day, but you don’t, you fight through until you wrap up eighteen.

 

Your sales career is not all that different. You have good days and bad days. You have beautiful sun-filled blue sky days and dark dreary days. Like golf you will have your ups and downs. How you finish out eighteen is a testament to your character. When you give up or throw in the towel, you show weakness. But, stand strong with your head held high, and you will come out a winner (regardless of the score).

 

Don’t get me wrong, sales is now and always has been a team sport, and sometimes so is golf. I know a few guys that are single digit handicap golfers and not one would say they’ve done it on their own. They have coaches. They have pro’s that offer mental stability. They have shops with professional club fitters. They have fitness or yoga instructors. They take the game very seriously and know the support team behind them is necessary to excel. They plan for greatness and then act upon their plan.

 

Sales people should do the very same thing: plan for greatness and act upon the plan. While many times it comes down to you, the individual sales person with a strong character to close the deal, being prepared means making sure you have the right team helping you prepare. You may be by yourself in front of the prospect asking for the signature, just as you’re by yourself holding the putter aiming for birdie, but you must realize you are not alone. You have others cheering for you.

 

In golf and sales, as with other sports, musical instruments, public speaking, etc., practice makes perfect. Treating your sales career like golf is just that, making sure you practice, and then proceed onto the course. Knowledge in sales is like muscle memory in golf. It does not come with one visit to the driving range. Practice in sales can sound mundane, but it is not. Only the best sales people rise to greatness. Greatness comes through relentless practice. Just like golf.

Employee Becomes The Boss - July 16, 2016

Ted has been employed by a technology consulting firm of going on 10 years. By title he has been the Director of Sales and overall has had a successful career. He joined the company after spending his previous 8 years with a similar firm, so he came with experience. He has opened many doors, closed some of the larger accounts, and has been a mentor to several younger sales reps.

 

About 2 years ago Andrew joined the firm. He had been working for 2 years prior with a smaller consultancy while going to school at night for his MBA. He joined this firm upon completion of his advanced degree ready for a bigger challenge. Ted, being the Director of Sales, was his mentor and immediate supervisor. Andrew was a quick study and within a few months was out in the marketplace on his own, gaining traction, and began to close new deals. In fact, Andrew closed the largest deal in the company’s history on the day of his 6 month anniversary with the firm.

 

Andrew does not sit still well. In fact, he never sits still. While he does have a rather solid work-life balance, he is taking his career very seriously. He has never been one to shy away from taking on more in an effort to help the company and to personally grow. It came as no surprise that Andrew befriended the CEO on a project and stood out as a future star. So, it also should not have come as a surprise when Andrew was promoted, although it did to Ted, and now Ted works for Andrew.

 

This is a story that’s been played out in companies for years. The young up & comer becomes the boss. While it is not new, it was to Ted, and it became hard for him to digest. I’ve known Ted and the CEO for several years. I’ve done business with their firm and also have gotten to know them personally. When Ted began to struggle with the change, I was asked to intervene.

 

Ted’s biggest issue was not that he had a new boss or that the boss was younger. The big issue for Ted is that he felt blindsided. He was having trouble grasping what he did wrong, why Andrew overshadowed him, and did Andrew intentionally go around Ted to the CEO in a spiteful manner. Of course, Andrew didn’t do anything spiteful, simply Ted himself ignored opportunities to grow.

 

It took a few meetings over a couple of months, but Ted finally awoke to the fact that he missed the signs for growth opportunity that were right in front of him. While he enjoyed sales and being a sales manager, oftentimes he did not stay late, take on the extra projects, or work to build tighter relationships with his superiors. In essence, he is doing today what he did 10 years ago, nothing less and nothing more.

 

It was a hard pill for Ted to swallow, but as I shared my opinion on this scenario, he seemed to realize two things: (1) He was happy being a sales manager. He enjoyed the “more set schedule” and less stress of executive leadership. He still loves the thrill of sales, but has come to realize he is not interested in taking on more responsibility; and, (2) Andrew is perfectly suited to be the VP of Sales and Marketing. Andrew holds Ted in high regard and is appreciative for what Ted’s taught him. He is excited for his new role, but also wants to make sure Ted stays on board and stays involved as the Director of Sales. He values Ted’s experience in the trenches.

 

This could have gone horribly wrong. Ted could have thrown in the towel, quit, and moved on to a new company. But, it didn’t go wrong. He gave it time to sink in. He came to the realization that Andrew was the right person for the job. Be careful in your sales career not to overreact. Be patient when change comes your way…it may be a benefit to your sales career.