Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


Chart A New Course - April 30, 2016

When is it time to throw in the towel? What are the indicators that should make you leave your current company or sales position? When is it time to chart a new course? These are questions I’ve been asked recently by individuals seeking change and by sales managers trying to guide their employees.


Oftentimes we want to believe that we, as career-oriented sales professionals, have a firm grasp on our capabilities. In most cases we do (or we should). But, sometimes circumstances are outside of our control, and our careers are just not going in the direction we want. It may be due to the direction the company is headed by design or by chance. It may be that the style in which the new sales manager manages is not in line with your own approach. The company may have been acquired and you are jockeying to keep your position. Or, it may have something to do with your personal life, such as a health issue or family-related matter. Whatever the reason that your sales career is not going as planned, it is not too late to chart a new course.


Whether it’s happening to you or you are attempting to guide someone down a new path, it is important to keep a few tactical points in mind. First and foremost, be careful what you wish for, because the grass is not always greener on the other side. In other words, make sure your reasons for considering a change are valid, make complete sense, and are not going to be a detriment to your (financial) well-being. Second, if you have others relying on you such as a spouse and/or children, be sure to have a roadmap in place to minimize any burden they may feel. Charting a new course with your sales career can be exciting and rewarding, but with any rewards, you must also accept risk. And finally, seek the counsel of others who’ve gone before you, whether from your current employer or those that have made similar changes.


Change can be scary and change can be a breath of fresh air. Making sure that you are changing for positive reasons, a step in an advanced direction, and changing in order to put all of your talents to work will ultimately drive the rewards you are seeking.

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Never Do Business With A Handshake Alone - April 9, 2016

Here we go again, contract time. It never ceases to amaze me, how we live in such a litigious society, and yet people expect to still do business with a handshake. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of doing business with a handshake, the old "a man’s word is his bond" saying, but the realist in me says “no way”. We all need to cover our butts. And, there is nothing wrong with a written contract.


My post, although brief this week, is a reminder to posts past. There are three generations of sales people out in the business world right now: an older group who fondly remember the days where the handshake was the guarantee; my group where the handshake sealed the deal in addition to the signature on the dotted line; and, a younger sales force that know nothing but legalese because that is how they were taught to close a deal.


I’d like to believe that my group, the middle of the pack I just referenced, have the best closing approach to sales. You’ve read my posts about relationship this and relationship that, I’ve built my career on relationships, so the handshake is the kiss that makes the marriage official. But, don’t forget you still need a marriage license (i.e. the contract).


Make sure you are aware of why the contract is necessary. In other words, don’t get bogged down in sections describing force majeure or arbitration, but really understand why you need a contract. What are you protecting and what protections are you offering your client in writing. Know these protections inside and out and be able to clearly explain these to your client.


When you finally present the written contract to your new client, having been informed in advance that a written contract is in fact a requirement, the handshake will still close the deal.

3 Reasons You (not your company) Will Get Fired By A Client - April 2, 2016

I was recently asked by a friend to brainstorm with her sales team on the topic of “being fired”…as in being fired by a client. This is a company that has a rather solid reputation and is not accustomed to losing clients, yet in recent months two of the four outside sales reps have lost clients. They were fired. My friend became concerned as to the reasons why because the clients were not willing to talk about the relationship (or the decline in the relationship). I was brought in to help uncover what may have occurred.


During the first hour of our review we discussed a variety of possibilities centering on company performance, delivery times, quality of service, billings, etc. We looked at the possible elements that would point to the company itself. After a brief coffee break we then began to discuss the individuals involved in the sales process. And that’s when it happened. The lightbulbs began to go off and the sales reps quickly realized they were the reason the company was fired.


Now it’s not to say that a company won’t lose a client over poor quality, mediocre customer service, poor delivery times, or even price. These are all reasons you may lose a client. But, in my experience, You the sales rep, are more often the reason for being fired by a client. Why? Simple, you are the face of your company.


There tend to be 3 main reasons a client will fire You (not your company). Avoid these reasons and you will certainly increase client retention. Here they are:


1 – Poor Communication. Taking a relationship for granted tends to point toward poor communication and clients know this. When you only talk to, email, or visit with your clients when it’s order time, they will sense your lack of caring and become dismissive of your attempts. I’m not suggesting you text your client “sweet dreams” every night at 9:30 PM. But, staying in close contact with your clients shows you care about them and about your relationship with them. Communication doesn’t always need to be about an order, it could be about a piece of industry related information. Whatever the reason for making contact, keeping in touch pays dividends.


2 – Lacking Personalization. No two fingerprints are alike and as such no two clients are alike. Getting to know your client goes well beyond what they need to buy from you. Knowing who your client is will go a long way. Again, I’m not making any unusual suggestions, such as to become weekend beer drinking buddies with your client, but getting to know them on a semi-personal basis will carry weight. Think about this for a moment, if you are robotic in your sales approach, show no emotion (or caring), and treat every sale’s call as a manufactured process, then don’t be surprised when you get replaced by the rep down the street who goes out of her way to truly get to know “your” client.


3 – Not Believing You Have Competition. Sales people are easily tricked into believing they are good communicators and are personal with their clients. They do this to themselves. “They’ve been my client for several years now, look at their order history, of course I’m in tight with them.” Then, out of nowhere, you’re fired and replaced. You can’t understand why, well that is until you really dig in to reasons 1 & 2 above, and tie those to the realization that you DO have competition and they are better at 1 & 2 above than you’ve been. No matter how niche your products or services, there is always competition. Sales people who do not monitor competitors closely with an eye on their own client relationships may very well find themselves on the losing end.


If you set relationship goals every day and every week you will likely not fall into the trap of neglect. Managing a client relationship, much like a personal relationship, requires time, patience and practice. But, just like a personal relationship, they will grow and get better with time.

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes! - March 26, 2016

You’re probably wondering what in the world this title means this week: Out of the mouths of babes! This saying is older than me. This saying has been around a very, very long time. And yet, no matter how old, this saying has meaning in 2016 especially if you are a parent. Children are innocent creatures with no filters. They speak the truth no matter where they are or who is around. So, what does this saying have to do with sales?


For generations, maybe as long as the profession of sales has been in existence, a sales person has been given a bad rap for being untruthful, dishonest, or a “bender of facts”. It has become a stigma that many a sales person cannot lose. And, in many cases, it is a stigma earned.


I have worked with and counseled sales people for over twenty years and I can’t begin to tell you how many of these folks were taught, that’s right taught, how to bend truths to sell their product or service. Sales people have gone to training programs taught on the basis of how to only share the minimal amount of information to close a deal, nothing less and nothing more, and boy oh boy can that come back to bite them.


When I first began my sales career there was a gentleman I admired for his success. His success, and I mean BIG success, was based on one simple rule that he set for himself: Out of the mouths of babes! What, or more importantly why, did this saying become a business rule for my mentor? Because, as he put it, if you always tell the truth and provide more information than may be required, your customer can never come back and question your intentions for selling them a product or service. Ultimately you will win more than you will lose.


Prior to becoming a parent, I would have this saying trickle into my thoughts every so often, and now it seems to be ever present. The meaning behind it always stuck with me though. I’ve tried to make sure sales people I encounter, either by management or customer, always abide by this rule. You should ask yourself if you abide by this rule (or if your company does). Are you in a position to never have ethics questioned in a deal? Does your customer recognize you as an honest, stand-up sales person? Or, do they view you as the typical order taker, and only do business with you out of necessity?


Becoming a real success as a career sales person means that you must always be honest with yourself and with your customers. Are you?

Recharge Your Battery - March 19, 2016

I was having lunch with a few colleagues the other day in the office. Someone asked if I was looking forward to my upcoming vacation, and before I had a chance to answer, another person commented, “it must be nice to go on vacation again, weren’t you just skiing?” Unfortunately, I was not having the best of days, and I let my agitation with this person get the best of me. I blurted out, without thinking, “if you put in even half of the time and effort I have since January 1st you too would want to go on vacation”. I quickly walked away and later apologized to everyone that was in the kitchen at the time of my outburst.


Stress! I have been under a tremendous amount of stress lately. I tried to watch some March Madness games last night at my neighbors and could not focus on the game. I found myself walking home and going to be at 10:00 PM. I was tired. I got a decent enough night’s sleep last night and felt good coaching lacrosse practice this morning. I guess I just needed the rest.


You see, I made a few adjustments in my role internally at my company as well as with my freelance schedule, and as the old saying goes – I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. As a career sales person I have never been a nine-to-fiver. And this couldn’t be more true of the past 80 days. I’ve always explained to sales people, you can work 30 hours per week or 65 hours per week, the key is making sure you are always exceeding expectations (your own and those of your boss). Being my own boss, I have much higher expectations for myself than I do of my team, and my goal has been to exceed.


And so this has been my mission. I consciously chose to set extremely high goals for myself for the first quarter. Knowing that I had a spring break vacation planned at the end of the quarter meant that I needed to exceed my goals by mid-March and I accomplished my goals. I sit here today feeling good that I exceeded my sales goal while maintaining a full schedule of other responsibilities. But, I still feel a little upset that I was short tempered with my coworker earlier in the week. I blame it on stress.


Sales people tend to be viewed as happy-go-lucky. “Hey man, how’s it going” – “great, couldn’t be better”. Sales people never own up to being stressed out or having a down month or quarter. Happy-go-lucky always. We are sales people, so we are good at covering our real feelings. And so it has gone for me, everything has been great, and for the most part is has. I mean really, while I’ve been stretching myself thin, I have also exceeded goals. But, in reality, I do need a break and so it is time to recharge my own battery.


A sales person should monitor their behavior on a daily basis. When feeling stressed out at work or at home it is time to take a break. A break may be as simple as taking a walk around the block at lunchtime. Or, if you’ve really been going hard at a relative non-stop pace, you may need to disappear and head to the beach for a few days. Whatever works for you, hiking-camping-skiing-shopping-a walking tour of Boston, do something non-work related and relax (or try your best to relax).


There are too many people in the business world that do not fully understand or grasp the concept of being a career sales person. They don’t understand the sacrifices made every day, every week and every month that we take on ourselves to ensure our company is generating revenue. They are unaware of the nights spent at networking events or traveling to visit out-of-town clients, time spent away from our families. And, to a certain extent, they don’t care. We chose this profession. With that in mind, avoid burnout, and take break. Recharge Your Battery!

Sales Stand-Up - March 12, 2016

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Diet & Exercise - March 5, 2016

It’s not what you may be expecting from this week’s title. I am not here to give you tips on how to lose weight, gain muscle or expand your workout routine. Not at all. This week I am sharing my theme of diet & exercise as it pertains to managing my existing client list.


I have been with my firm for going on 14 years and in that time I’ve worked with hundreds of clients. Going into 2016 I counted 115 active clients that I remain assigned to as the primary contact. Now, realistically, there is no way I can meet with and manage 115 clients. Not a chance. But, I also don’t want to walk away from these clients either. Instead, it is during this time of year, mostly the 1st quarter of the year, where I put myself through a diet & exercise routine with my client list.


Setting the stage you should think about what most health experts define as diet. Of course, there may be foods you should cut, such a tons of candy or ice cream, but moderation is more beneficial than anything when dieting. And, combined with a healthy moderation of foods, you need to exercise, as in working muscles you don’t often do, or trying a new routine.


Diet & exercise in your sales is very similar and I go through this approach every year. First, are there any clients that I should simply cut out, because they are known to be unhealthy? Second, which clients need to be “pulled back some” as in contacted in moderation. It is OK to have a beer every now and then, not a 12 pack at one time. Thus, it is OK to meet with a certain client once in a while, but there is no need to meet once per week. And, what client relationships need to be exercised? Once you’ve determined the diet side, that is moderation with some clients, the fun really kicks in when exercising.


Exercising a client relationship means you are building strength. There are a variety of analogies that you can fit into your own individual client relationship, like shedding fat first and then building muscle, but it means the same in the end. Once you put your client relationship into exercise mode, opportunities to continue with this client tend to abound. You’re building strength between you and them. You are building trust that you can handle their needs. It is no longer painful to deal with any topic with the client because you know the results will come from the time you put into it.


Put together your own diet & exercise plan and watch the results. But, be warned, just as with your health, you must maintain momentum and not fall backward into bad habits. Put down the chocolate, say no to another beer, shed the bad clients, strengthen your relationships with your good clients, and watch your sales career prosper.

Hire Slow ~ Fire Fast - February 20, 2016

Sales people are a “dime a dozen”, so the story goes. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this saying over the course of my career. At minimum I bet it has been at least 5,000 times. Why?


From business managers to owners to customers, there is a belief that anyone can sell. While we, the sales managers of the world know this couldn’t be farther from the truth, it is a common theme. The other day I was working with an independent client where I’ve been brought in to consult on their hiring practices within the sales department. It took me less than one hour of meeting time with the sales managers and human resource manager to determine the problem. They had things in reverse order; they were hiring fast and firing slow.


The hiring practices around positions involving sales can be fairly cut & dry. There are the boiler plate questions and the personality tests. You can evaluate a candidate on their technical or product knowledge. And, you can interview them 2, 3 or 4 times in the office. You may even do a team interview and gather everyone’s opinions while making your hiring decision. All of this can be done in 1 or 2 days. That is too quick.


Hiring a sales person should be as methodical as hiring a top-level, C-suite executive. This person is going to become the face of your organization. They will be in constant communication with your customers. They will be responsible for making you money or costing you money. So, why the heck are you rapidly moving through the interview process? And, why then when they are failing as a sales person, do you take so long to fire them?


These are common questions that every organization and sales manager faces. It only comes from the try & fail approach that a hiring manager learns firsthand how to deal with these scenarios. Here are a few guidelines to help you hire slow and fire fast.


Hiring a sales person too quickly is like asking someone to marry you after the first date. You get what you get. In my experience you should put a sales candidate through the ringer. That is, a minimum of 4-5 face-to-face interviews over the course of several weeks. Interviews should be conversations internally within your environment. Take the candidate to dinner and watch how they interact with the wait staff. Have the candidate spend a day with your top sales person on customer calls. Require top brass to be involved in the interview and even attempt to intimidate the candidate a bit. You must see how the person handles themselves in all situations. Then and only then does their technical knowledge, education, etc. come into play.


When a sales person is on the decline there are typical warning signs. You should always reach out to the sales person early and often to help guide, attempt to correct certain behaviors, and to offer personal assistance. You, the manager, will know all too well when it is hopeless. By this point you should have already documented the sales persons performance and should include HR. Do not delay. Fire this individual before they contaminate the sales team and culture, because waiting only hurts others.


All too often a sales manager allows personal feelings and emotions to play into clear thinking and decision making. The best managers I’ve ever come to know keep business business and personal personal. Hire Slow ~ Fire Fast.

Do Not Dial 911: It is not an emergency! - February 13, 2016

This week I am addressing this post first to the client and second to the sales person.


To the client: have you ever watched the cartoon or read the book about Chicken Little? What about the variations and stories of crying wolf? Come on, you know, the sky is falling! Everything is a disaster. Something is always wrong. Look a wolf – nah not really. These may be children’s fables, but in business, many of the morals are the same. You don’t have to constantly hit the panic button. Do not dial 911, it is not an emergency.


Regardless of what industry you are in, whether you are buying products or services, the reality is that perfection does not exist. When something does not happen 100% exactly as you see fit, the situation does not constitute an emergency. Sure, there are times when a product that you desperately need to keep a machine in your plant operational does not show up as scheduled. Maybe we’d call this a border line emergency, but more so an inconvenience. And yes, when you hire a certain type of firm to provide a specific service, you expect a deadline and/or budget to be met. Missing the deadline and/or budget may be unplanned, unexpected, or even costly, but it is far from an emergency.


Why then do you take a tone that everything happening is earth shattering? Oh my, what am I going to do since that part I need won’t be delivered until 4:00 PM today versus 11:00 AM when I was told? I am not downplaying your concerns, but your actions, or better yet reactions, say a lot about how your service (or product) provider will treat you.


When you deliver your message to your provider that everything is going wrong, everything is bad, nothing works, fault, fault, fault, fault, well then you are delivering a message in a way that says, “I am a jerk, I must always be right, I am the customer period, you must give-give-give into me”. And, the customer service or sales person you are dealing with will soon begin to hear blah, blah blah. And ultimately, when something serious does happen, because no one (or no business) is always 100% perfect, you will be treated just like the little boy that cried wolf.


To the sales person: please understand that my somewhat harsh criticism of the client written above does not give you Carte Blanche to treat your clients rudely or that you should consider all that call in with a concern to be overreacting. Quite the contrary. You should treat every one of your clients with the level of respect they deserve. Let me repeat that – treat the client with the level of respect they DESERVE. Nothing less and nothing more.


Venting frustration about a client behind closed doors happens daily in my life, whether I am venting, or simply the sounding board for one of my team members. It is done behind closed doors for a reason – it is generally out of frustration and can be dealt with professionally – once the rep cools down.


Client relationships are just that, human relationships. And, while no business works to perfection 100% of the time, you should at least try. It is understandable though, when clients constantly hit the panic button or want to dial 911 on the situation you are managing, to want to give them a piece of your mind. There are better ways to handle these situations.


First, you and your team must realize what sets this client off to begin with, by making a list of ongoing reactions. Analyze this list and determine if the client is a panic first type of client or if they have a legitimate concern. If they are a panic first type of client, add them to the list with an explanation on their behavior.


Second, build a trend list, which can be coded indicators on what sets this client off. Two things can come from this – (1) you will know how to be proactive to this client or (2) how and when to be reactive. These short lists will give you “fall back” reasons on why something is or is not happening as the client expected.


Third, you’ll now see your repeat offenders come to light, and from these repeat offenders you will have more ammunition to make business decisions on keeping the client, terminating the relationship with the client, setting new guidelines, changing pricing or payment terms, etc.


As sales people and sales managers, we are constantly evaluating statistics and analytics about our clients buying habits, decision making processes, order values, and so on. But, sometimes we fall short on realizing how “soft stats” as I call them, come into play when making relationship management decisions. Let me close my post this week with an example…


I have a long-term, repeat client for whom we completed and launched a project earlier this week. We spent close to a year working on this project, from outline to proposal to project execution to project completion & launch, which was intensive. Generally speaking the project was great. Everyone on both sides worked together, as a team, diligently to make sure the project was a success. And, with all things considered, this particular project was a huge success. But, if you were to ask one of the client decision makers, he would disagree. Even though his team, including the president of his company thought it went extremely well, he finds fault in the smallest of details simply because that is his style.


We should have expected this behavior, right? We did. Having tracked this clients behavior for almost 8 years, we knew he’d hit the panic button when no one else would. We knew that the smallest of a technical hiccup would create a dial 911 situation. And, having known this prior to calling this project complete, we prepared. We had “all hands on deck” ready to answer his call. Like I said before, nothing is 100% perfect, but all of the team members (his and ours) would rate the completion and launch at about a 98% success.


Knowing how to deal with this type of client will help you achieve greater success. Call it a crystal ball moment; having some insight into the client before he or she even hits send on the panic, 911 email.