Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Mid-Year Health Review - July 9, 2016

If you go back over time with my posts you’ll find several regarding the health report card, state of sales, or related topics. I am a firm believer that conducing routine checkups on my sales career is as important as going to the dentist every 6 months. It is important to the health of my career now and in the future.


Yesterday I had a few hours of quiet time while traveling with my son to a lacrosse tournament. He put on his headphones, as did everyone else in the car, and listened to his own tunes. This was an ideal time for my mind to wander a bit. I thought about how quickly the first half of the year has gone by and what successes I’ve accomplished. I’ve also had a miss or two and those also came to mind. I gave consideration to the how’s and why’s I did not win the business. And, I thought about where I am today and where I’m going this coming week, next month, and for the remainder of the year.


These are times of reflection (as I very frequently refer to in my posts). It is important to take inventory of what is going well, what may not be going so well, and more importantly what needs to happen between now and the end-of-year for hitting goals previously set. I also take this time to set one new goal.


Goal setting is critical to any business and especially for any ‘A’ level sales person. As time goes by changes occur. Changes can sometimes be in or out of your control, but I do accept that change is inevitable. And, because I accept change, I like to add a new goal or two to my second half of the year.


A mentor who helped guide me in the early days of my career once told me to balance business with personal goals. For every one business (or sales) goal I should have one personal goal. This is a form of insurance. If I meet my business goals, then I should meet my personal goals.


Use this date on the calendar, the month of July, and reflect on how your year is going so far. Make the necessary adjustments to target, meet and hopefully exceed your goals, and share with others how you are doing. This mid-year health review will keep you on track.

Your Supporting Cast - July 2, 2016

Happy 4th of July - a short post this week.

At some point over the years I am sure you’ve watched an awards show. Whether the award goes to a best actress or to a singer, it is rare that an acceptance speech comes without acknowledgement of their supporting cast. You’ll hear: “I’d like to thank my wife”, “I could not have done this without a great director”, “This wouldn’t have been possible without a great band backing me up every night on stage”. I honestly cannot recall a time where the supporting cast didn’t get a shout-out. And deservedly so.


I believe this same situation occurs in sales. A sales person is only as good as their supporting cast. That supporting cast may be an assistant, manager, customer service rep, accounting department team member, or the CEO. Regardless of the market you serve, the products you represent, or the services you sell, you are not alone.


I admire ‘A’ level sales people for the fact that they know they are not alone and they routinely acknowledge their supporting cast. It has always been my mission to give credit where credit is due. I’ve been very fortunate to have great supporting casts for years. Giving them props also does not mean you have to buy them lavish gifts all of the time. Sometimes it’s a simple thank you.


Whenever I interview a new sales candidate for my firm or work providing counseling to a sales person, sales manager or business owner, I will make it part of the Q&A to gain perspective on how they acknowledge the contributions made by their supporting cast. It goes without fail that those that provide a little token from time-to-time blended with fairly regular praise tend to be much more successful sales people. Those that do not, well they almost always get ranked as a ‘B’ or ‘C’ level sales person.


Keep your supporting cast in mind next time you win a deal. Give them a nod for their efforts. And then watch as your relationship with them and your client grows. 

Outsourcing Candidate Interviews - June 25, 2016

Over the past few years I have taken notice of a trend in outsourcing the interview process for senior level executives and sales reps. This is not the same as utilizing a recruiting agency (headhunter) to seek candidates for an open position. This is about utilizing sales experts, psychologists, and professional sales trainers for the purpose of “assisting” you during your interview process for a new hire.


I’ve had opportunities to work with several organizations over the past few months that have adopted this approach. Although a brief post this week, here is my summary on such hiring practices.


The most important lesson I’ve learned is probably the most valuable of them all: you will gain an independent, unbiased opinion from an expert in hiring. They are not a recruiter, so they have no commission to earn. In most cases you are paying a per interview fee for a serious critique of the candidate. They do not know the candidate and they have nothing to lose or gain in them being hired by your company. They are an expert in their respective field and so they are using their own experiences to truly judge the qualifications of the individual. You really can’t ask for anything better.


The second lesson learned is what I’ve come to call the double team approach. The most successful uses of the outsourced candidate interview is when it is a combination of a psychologist interview (get in their head and see what makes them tick) and the sales executive or sales trainer. Each may evaluate a candidate on similar criteria but through different lenses.  Getting two opinions and then blending them with your own interview process will net much greater results in narrowing down the selection.


Obviously your primary goal when interviewing candidates is to make the best, most qualified decision for your company, with the expectation that the new sales rep will be the right person for the job. It is often difficult to find an unbiased, expert opinion internally because your team has preconceived ideas on what makes a candidate the right candidate. Utilizing an outsourced interviewer will bring clarity to your process.


If you’ve gone down this path, either as an employer or candidate, I would be happy to hear your opinion on the process and the outcome. Please drop me a line.

Am I Boring You? - June 18, 2016

Nothing grinds on my nerves more than when a sales person yawns or ignores me when I am speaking. Whether this is a direct report in my firm or an employee of a consulting client, I am in a position of authority, and more importantly experience. Maybe you’ve heard something I am saying before. Maybe you know something I don’t know. But either way maybe you should show me the respect I’ve earned and pay attention.


I am venting a bit because I have faced this scenario a few times recently. I am asked to give my opinion or advice and yet I am ignored or the sales person has simply glossed over my words. And, what makes matters worse, I have been giving advice on sales issues the sales person is facing and my advice has been ignored to their detriment. Yep, in two similar cases, one sales person lost a very large deal with a new, prospective client, and the other lost a long-term client.


Not to come across egotistical or boastful, but I have been around the block a time or two. Absolutely there are many sales managers and consultants with more experience than me. And yes, I will admit, I have made the wrong call here and there. However, I have an above average success rate for well over 20 years. I’ve been faced with many sales challenges and difficult closing scenarios. Listing to me as a senior in sales may not always work, but ignoring me is not going to help you (the sales person) either.


The “I” in this story is not just about me, but rather the “I” is a sales manager, a senior sales executive, a business owner, a sales trainer, sales consultant, etc. This week’s post is a message to you, Mr. or Ms. Sales Person, to please listen intently to those that have gone before you. Seek advice and guidance to become a better sales person. Learn from others successes and mistakes. Participate in a conversation with your seniors and don’t just assume they are blowing smoke at you. Be willing to try their advice because it may well just work in your favor. 

Probationary Periods For New Sales Reps - June 11, 2016

There are companies that have sales cycles that are done in days or weeks and there are sales cycles that last months. I am often confronted by sales managers concerned about how best to hire new sales reps on a probationary basis when the sales cycles are more complex and take longer. It almost always comes back that these managers are worried that by the time a rep closes a deal or not it is far into their employment and then it becomes difficult to measure success (or possible future success) or terminate based on lack of success.


A true probationary period does not necessarily need to be about a “close win” or “close loss” scenario. In fact, I have met many a sales rep that is ultimately not a good fit for a company in the long run, but had relatively okay “close win” success. So, how then does a probationary period come into play? I always fall back on day-to-day performance.


Day-to-day performance is based upon a grading scale of knowledge and understanding. Before a sales rep can be successful in the “close win” column, they must first become fully immersed in the company culture, understand the way in which the company sells, have a solid grasp on what is and is not a good customer, and has a full understanding of the company’s products and/or services.


The evaluation process and grading scale should be determined before the interview process, explained in great detail to the candidate, and should be documented for the new sales rep to acknowledge by signature. This is not an extreme measure in the hiring process, but rather a safety net for both you and the new sales rep. All expectations are out in the open and thus there will be no room for interpretation.


Criteria falling within the evaluation process certainly will differ from company to company, however there should be a few factors that everyone should consider. First and foremost, within 90 days, a new sales rep should show all positive signs of “fitting in” with the company culture. If they do not, this would be grounds for immediate dismissal. Someone that cannot work within the environment will have difficulty learning. Second, there must be a proven commitment to self-education with regards to company policies, procedures, and products and/or services. If the new hire is not learning, does not seem to be a self-starter, or is not showing initiative in wanting to fully immerse themselves into a learning process, well then they won’t make it and should leave now. And finally, the sales rep must have a 100% perfectly firm grasp on what makes a good customer for the new company. If they struggle in this area at all, regardless of the other characteristics that may make them a good candidate, this may be the most detrimental of issues with long-term negative effects on your business. Cut them loose.


Please keep one final thought in mind, while this may seem like an uncomfortable topic, nothing can be worse that the faces of your company not being the right faces for your company. It is much better to show your new sales rep the door than to have a client or prospective client show you to the door.

Q&A 4 of 4 - June 4, 2016

Q: Hey Kevin, how do you know when it is time to move from sales into sales management? I am considering the promotion of an employee and I’m curious to see if my criteria for promotion matches your ideas.


A: I have long been a believer that there is no magic formula for promoting anyone from a day-to-day sales position into a management role. I believe every scenario is as different as the people involved and no two people alike.


Certainly there are large corporations that have rigid organizational structures that promote based on statistics. For example, I have several friends that are in pharmaceutical sales, and some are sales reps while others are in management. Almost all that are in management are in those positions because they’ve been with their company for x period of time, have managed x dollars of market value and/or have successfully marketed x number of different products. There’s nothing wrong with this approach because the majority of pharmaceutical companies have thousands of feet on the street. But, this approach to promoting into sales management oftentimes is the exception and not the rule.


Sales managers are a slightly different breed than the everyday, feet on the street sales rep. Sales managers need to be jugglers. You can teach a young child to juggle three tennis balls. It takes expertise to juggle three chainsaws and two flaming torches at the same time. It is this juggling expertise that is the first identifier I use for promoting into sales management.


Unlike other types of managers within a business, a truly successful sales manager must first know how to sell, be a top producer in sales, and must have an understanding (and I mean full and firm understanding) of how & why they’ve become successful. In many cases it is due to their ability, their expert ability, to juggle. Success in sales comes when you can manage multiple accounts, entertain clients while balancing your kids sports calendars. You must be able to enjoy a quiet dinner with your spouse while not being interrupted with business calls, and yet you must have your business calls under control. While many day-to-day sales reps can handle this type of juggling, it can be nerve racking, and only a select group of sales reps can take these juggling challenges head on.


The second criteria I evaluate is the “team player” aspect of the sales rep. Can the rep not only manage their own sales responsibilities, but do they also lend a hand of guidance to those around them? Are they a team player? Are they willing to spend their personal time, knowing they’re juggling many responsibilities, to help a fellow sales rep? If the answers are yes across the board, then sales management is within sight.


The final criteria - how well will the individual fit in culturally with others already in management roles? I do not want clones. I can’t afford a bunch of “yes” managers. I want individuals with individual strengths and attributes. A cultural fit to me is someone that brings something new to the management team while at the same time fitting in perfectly like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.


Not everyone is meant to be in management or is cut out for the rigors of managing others. It does take a unique combination of personality, patience, willingness to learn, existing successes, and a passion for being a career sales person. Sales managers should be able to not just “talk the talk” but “walk the talk”. Effective sales managers lead by example. Lastly, this is not so much criteria I seek in promoting, but a requirement of being a sales manager: YOU MUST CONTINUE TO SELL! 

Q&A 3 of 4 - May 28, 2016

Q: Mr. Latchford, what is your opinion of professional sales courses, such as Sandler Sale Institute or Dale Carnegie? Are these worthwhile or more brainwashing programs? What value could they provide me (I’ve been in sales for 5 years)?


A: The short answer is yes, programs such as these are worthwhile, and you will find value in attending. But, while yes is the short answer, there is more to going forward into any sales training curriculum.


Let me first share my own experiences and then I will provide you with my professional opinion on moving forward. I have been in sales or sales management related positions for over 22 years. I’ve attended, through previous employers, a variety of classroom based sales training programs. Some were taught at corporate headquarters by MBA professors in marketing and finance. I’ve been a part of Dale Carnegie sales classes taught at company conventions. I’ve been provided classroom and “ride along” training by corporate run sales training departments. And, I eventually took it upon myself to complete the Sandler Sales Institute program and became Presidents Club. I’ve read well over 150 business (sales, marketing, management and finance) books as a means of continuing education. And, I read news blogs, watch videos and listen to a variety of “talks” on an almost daily routine basis.


In my professional opinion, a classroom program such as Sander or Dale is valuable, but in the same sense as any educational program – you only get out what you put in. You must be open minded and aware that not all sales training is created equal. And, most importantly, these programs are designed to teach sales to a variety of industries and individual personality types. You cannot become a robot and attempt to do as the teachers do. You must learn the tactics and techniques that are proven and then apply them to your selling style and respective industry & market.


Having both an open mind and willingness to learn is the key to success. I often rely on said tactics and techniques garnered during my time in Sander. I attend refresher programs every few months. But, I am wise and know that I must take the information and ideas shared, and make them my own.


Over the course of my career I’ve met many a sales person who felt classroom programs were a waste. They tried to emulate the teacher in every facet of what was being taught from body language to tone of voice. They deemed the programs a failure. If you want to take one of these programs you must be willing to know how to adapt the learning to your environment. You must take the knowledge being passed along to you and make it work for you. I found it helpful to take 10-15 minutes after each class to make notes on how I could apply what I learned that day to my own career. In the evenings I would re-read what coursework along with my notes and place each lesson into a real life scenario I was facing at that time. These steps helped me move from a classroom student to a situational student.


Are they worthwhile, absolutely and I would encourage you to proceed, but make it your own experience. 

Q&A 2 of 4 - May 21, 2016

Q: Hello Kevin, I’ve had a pretty successful sales career in the professional services market for almost 10 years. I married 2 years ago and just became a father. While I used to feel like I had a grasp on my schedule, even when busy, now I feel as if I’m always running out of time. I’m worried something will get missed or slip through the cracks. How do you manage your busy schedule and what tips can you offer for juggling a lot of “to do” tasks?


A: First of all, congratulations on married life and parenthood. Those are two of the best things I have going for me and I wish you the very best too. And, if you think life is hectic now, just wait until you have two, three or more kids in the mix.


As a business leader, sales manager, husband, father of three, volunteer to many activities, and someone that enjoys staying active, my schedule can be overwhelming to say the least. Over the years, as I have added more and more responsibilities to the day, week, month, I’ve needed to monitor myself so I do not become so consumed with these responsibilities that something winds up being overlooked. No matter how busy you are, you don’t want something to slip through the cracks, because you may not be able to get that “thing” back. So what have I done and do now? I use my calendar like an ultimate lifeline.


I’ve found there is no real secret sauce to managing my time except keeping track of it. I’ve had coworkers comment in the past that my life is an open book in Outlook. They can see everything I have going on and sometimes have asked me why I include personal items in my work calendar. I do not believe in managing multiple calendars. I want to know, through one spot, exactly what I have to do today and tomorrow and next week. And so, my answer this week is fairly short, sweet and to the point…become an open book with your schedule.


With Outlook you can mark items as private and only you will see the details. But, no matter what, put every single activity in your calendar, and monitor these activities closely. Here’s what I do: I block time for all work meetings both internal and external. When meetings are external during the business day, I add drive time to and from so no one else can book a meeting in that time slot. I block calendar time for my daily “to do” items, such as invoicing, conference calls with my attorney, etc. I put in my doctor and dentist appointments with drive time to and from. I put in my volunteer meetings with drive time to and from. I add my kids school schedules, practice schedules, game schedules, recitals, band concerts, and pretty much everything they have going on.


One major additional step that I do, which I don’t think everyone remembers, and that is to match my calendar to my wife’s calendar. I need to be on the same page every day with her. She needs to know when I can or cannot pick up one of the kids due to a work commitment. I need to know when she has an appointment and needs me to be home for a delivery. We both need to know that our children and other personal “to do’s” are covered.


Once you make your life an open book and have all of your activities, meetings, tasks, etc. all in one place for others to see, you will then be able to hold yourself accountable for your time, and others will be in a better position to help you manage your time too.

Q&A 1 of 4 - May 14, 2016

Over the next few weeks I am dedicating my posts to Q&A. Each week will be my answer to a popular question I am asked frequently. I hope this information will help you sell or manage sales. Thank you for following SaturdayMorningSales.


Q: Kevin, I’ve often heard sales professionals in Northeast Ohio (as well as other parts of Ohio and the US market) talk about seasonal selling. Specifically, these sales professionals discuss concerns and workaround planning for the summer months. Do you believe seasonal selling is a real thing? How do you handle this time of the year?


A: Thank you Michael S. from Elyria, Ohio for submitting one of the most frequently asked questions I get year-over-year. I absolutely believe seasonal selling exists and have experienced this issue directly for many years. Not only does it exist in Northeast Ohio, but it also exists in many other parts of the country where there is a dramatic change in weather. And, to be specific, I am not talking about a seasonal product, but rather trends in buying & selling behavior.


Using Cleveland as the basis for my answer, we must first talk about Cleveland weather. Here we are, Saturday morning May 14, 2016, and I am waking to 37 degree temps. It is cold and damp and it’s May. Not only is it cold and damp, but the forecast is calling for snow flurries and snow showers tonight and into tomorrow morning. This is the perfect starting point to my answer. While most of the country is enjoying springtime weather, we are experiencing borderline misery.


Business people in the decision making seat feel exactly as we do when wanting to go outside and enjoy spring. There is a slight feeling of depression in the air. All we want is to escape the cold, the gray skies and the snow. We want green grass, warm air, and a chance to enjoy the outdoors for a little while. And so the seasonal selling season is soon upon us. Once those temps warm, people flee their offices for time off, and getting those decision makers to talk or meet becomes a real challenge.


June through August poses a variety of challenges for sales professionals. When you throw in graduations, kids moving to and from college, as well as family vacations, getting a decision maker to commit time creates challenges with their calendars. Beautiful days are numbered in Cleveland, as an example, and so the decision makers want to take advantage of the time they have and work remote, take half-days, entertain their own clientele and employees, and they don’t want to be bothered with, well, making decisions.


Planning ahead and working on scheduling activities for June through August, beginning in April and early-May, can be the most critical step to minimize downturns due to seasonal selling. Finding opportunities to meet with the decision makers in unique locations where great weather can be enjoyed by both of you will help up your chances of getting and keeping the appointment.


Having an agenda that proves worth and value to the decision maker is the next step. You cannot expect this person to meet you for lunch at a waterside restaurant on sunny Friday afternoon if you have nothing important to bring to the table. You must be diligent with your strategy of “delivery news of importance”. It may be a new service you are immediately offering and you want them to be the first to know. Keep in mind, you’re asking this person to possibly sacrifice time on their own, so make it count.


Lastly, do not become discouraged if things slow down, because they will. Use your time wisely when someone cancels or does not want to meet until September. Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. Typically, the Tuesday after Labor Day is when the seasonal selling season ends and sales life, as we know it, gets back to normal. I have always found the slowdown a time to reflect on my year up to this point and what I need to do to accomplish my annual goals. I build lists. I research new prospects. I plan for networking events in the coming months. I will look outward all the way to December and lay down the roadmap to successful sales. And, I too will enjoy the outdoors, because when the winter months come and my calendar is full, I’ll be able to look back on time well spent with family and friends. Enjoy it while you have it…the weather that is.

Teach An Old Dog New Tricks - May 7, 2016

There’s an old saying: You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks. I’ve never believed that to be true and as an old dog I am continuing to learn new tricks.


I am very fortunate. During the day I work for a firm that specializes in website design, development and marketing. I am surrounded by many talented people that are younger than me. I always say, “I learn something new every day”. And I do. But, in my role as a leader of the organization, much of what I learn from the younger team members does not necessarily get applied. I am not a designer or programmer. So, how do I learn new tricks? I read, watch and listen.


Reading, as I’ve been preaching lately to my children, is an absolute must in life. In order to stay on top of my industry and my role, I must make time to read. From a sales leader’s standpoint, I find it necessary to know what my competition and clients are doing in the market. And, every so often I come across a solid leadership, management, finance or marketing book that provides enlightening approaches to dealing with many of the rigors I face.


Watching comes into play on a daily basis. With the ease and speed of uploading video to YouTube, I can source information in quick, digestible chunks. I try to watch 3-5 video segments per business week regarding my industry or similar industries. I rely on my coworkers and colleagues to share ideas on trends or people they value. I find this to be a great way to learn at least one new idea (or trick) to apply that week or the following. My goal is to at least “try” it and sometimes these new ideas (tricks) work out and I keep them in my routine.


And finally, I listen, and I mean listen intently. I have a driving routine every morning when I head into the office. I listen to the same talk show on the radio for news and interviews. It is my starting point for the day of learning something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love music, and do need some downtime when driving. But, I find my daily journey of learning new tricks really begins with being prepared for the day ahead, and what better way than a routine of news.


Can an old dog learn new tricks? Absolutely, I am proof, but you must be willing to learn. Accept that learning is a part of your day, week and month. Do not be hardheaded, but rather open minded. You too will learn new tricks, and when you do, you’ll become a better sales person and sales leader.