Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

NAVIGATION - SEARCH

Don't Be Expendable - February 6, 2016

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Expendable as easily replaced or meant to be used and thrown away. Based upon this definition, is your firm (business) expendable? Are you expendable?

 

As a career sales person, these are two questions that I consciously ask myself on an almost daily, if not weekly basis. The first covers my “go to market” message and how I represent my business. The second covers the internal value I hold within my own company. Here are a few thoughts on both...

 

Having now spent the majority of my career in a consultative selling environment, one in which the relationship between my firm and my client is paramount to any service or product, I am often concerned that we would be viewed as expendable. We spend a great deal of upfront sales time evaluating what would drive us to do business, not just today, but over the course of months and years. We must bring value to our clients. We must bring our knowledge and expertise to the table. We must put our client’s best interests in front of our own. In other words, we must position ourselves being expandable not expendable.

 

If we are viewed by our client’s as expandable, we become a partner, one that will grow over time as the client grows. Being expandable means we may make a mistake from time-to-time, but as in any personal relationship, we are quickly forgiven and provided an opportunity to continue to grow with the client. Expendable means one mistake and we are likely out. This is not healthy business or healthy revenue for your company. Think about the old adage in sales: is it easier to build upon an existing relationship or constantly work to build new relationships? Obviously it is easier to grow upon existing, healthy relationships.

 

Oftentimes a sales person, new or one that is trying to recapture their magic, tend to grab sales that are quick. We call these “low hanging fruit” sales. But, these also tend to be the expendable sales. If it is quick, well then the client may be quick to terminate, especially if they don’t value the relationship. Taking a little extra time in the upfront selling process will reduce the possibility of being expendable, especially if you take the “we’re not a yes firm” approach.

 

In much the same way that you want clients to view your firm as expandable and not expendable, so too must you position yourself internally within the company. Making sure you have the firms best interest in front of your own is the first and most important step. I would expect you are in sales because you want to make money. You sell, you earn commission, and your annual compensation will increase. That is why we hire ‘A’ level sales people. They have a drive to make money and be successful.

 

But, it is only through the desire to sell the relationship first, and the service or product second, that you truly look for the best opportunities for your company. You show your fellow team members that you care about them and their own success. You don’t want to bring in a new client that views your company as expendable and in the process you are also showing your company that you are not expendable.

 

At the end of each day and each week you should ask yourself, “did I make myself / my company expendable?” The goal is to answer no. And, in the rare case you answer yes, reevaluate the scenario and identify a way in which you can change course. Being viewed as expendable is never good, so check yourself regularly to make sure you’re avoiding any situations where this has occurred.

Email - January 30, 2016

Did I really send that Email to my new prospective client? Did I? Did I really send that generic, salesy, full-of-corporate-jargon Email? Please, oh no, please tell me I didn’t do it. Damn, I did. I really sent that full-of-crap, salesy, full-of-corporate-jargon Email. What was I thinking? What in the bloody hell was I thinking?

 

Clearly I wasn’t thinking. I lost my way momentarily. I was in a haze, a terrible corporate-salesy haze. I did something I’m not proud of – I sent an Email to a client that made me sound like “that guy”. You know the “guy” I’m talking about. The one that throws around lots of sales-speak trying to keep up with or impress the other “that guy” you met with. Wow, what was I thinking?

 

Now here’s the thing, and it’s rather funny, I got a very favorable reply leading me to believe I am going to be awarded a new contract. So, what is wrong with that? What could be so bad that I’m beating myself up about an Email? Simply put, it didn’t sound like me, doesn’t reflect my style of communication, and it made me sound like a pompous used car salesman trying to impress someone.

 

It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I catch myself and beat myself up about it. Being yourself, even in an Email, is important to remember when choosing sales as a career. ‘A’ level sales people are known for excellent communication, but the excellent communication is an extension of “who they are”. It is about their sales style and their personality.

 

Way back when, I had a college professor that taught professional writing for daily use in business. This was pre-Email, pre-Internet days. But, I’ll never forget her favorite saying, “write like you speak”. She wasn’t talking about contracts, proposals, or letters-of-intent, but rather letter writing on a more personal-professional manner. The introductory letter. The thank you letter. Nowadays the Email. “Write like you speak”.

 

I beat myself up pretty good about this recent brainfart of an Email. It wasn’t me. It didn’t sound like me. It was a momentary lapse of moderate (not even good) writing. I am a firm believer that my communication skills, your communications skills, are the keys to a sales person’s success. Don’t be “that guy”. Write it like you say it.

New Year New You - January 9, 2016

Yes, I stole the title for this week’s post from a fitness center ad. Like clockwork, TV, radio, print ads, social media, etc. etc. have been inundating us with advertising about health this and that – fitness this and that – diet this and that – start the year off right. A new year can mean a new you. Blah Blah Blah.

 

Enough already. I understand it is trendy to think about weight loss and better health as the calendar ticks forward. I’m in my mid-40’s now and as far back as I can remember this has been a theme at the beginning of a new year. But, what about with your career? What about your sales position? Have you ever considered taking this approach when starting the new year off in your role versus with your exercise routine?

 

My kids are the ones that brought this to my attention. They were laughing at the volume of messages out there about health. And then it dawned on me, have I ever considered taking on this theme with my own career. The more I thought about it the more the answer was yes, I just didn’t make a big deal over it. Then I thought, why not?

 

Every year I conduct a personal retrospect between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I look at how my year went in direct sales, sales management, overall company performance, and if there was anything I could have changed to better perform. Between Christmas and New Year’s, like the same clockwork of fitness advertising, I evaluate what I plan to do in the coming year. What are my new goals and objectives? What can I do to be a better sales person or sales manager? What are my personal and family related goals for the new year? How will my work performance impact my personal plans? Once I have answers to these questions or plans laid out, I then take a step back, and appreciate what I can been afforded.

 

As I look back over the years of my career, especially the past 12 or so years, I have in fact taken a New Year New You approach. I kick off the new year more energized because I feel I have a clear understanding of my goals. Maybe not in reality, but optimistically I feel like I can leave some baggage behind, and move forward on a clean (or somewhat cleaner) slate. I’m not foolish to think that the tick of the calendar forward erases the past. I do however feel, much like the advertising of health this and that, that it is never too late to make changes, take on new challenges, and to work on better health. In this case it is my career health.

 

Don’t be afraid of self-evaluation. Plan for improvement. Challenge yourself. And believe that a new year can bring on a new you. Happy New Year and Happy Selling! 

The "Know It All" - December 19, 2015

This touchy subject has come up again – how to deal with a “Know It All”. There are two sides to this subject in sales. First is the customer / prospective customer. Second is the sales person. Both can act like “know it all’s” and both can become detrimental to a successful relationship.

 

On many occasions I have shared my opinion of the word relationship. A sales relationship is often similar to a personal relationship. There’s the dating and courtship process which leads to the engagement and then many times the marriage. When dealing with a “know it all” one side of the relationship may become turned-off or uninterested.

 

In looking at the customer / prospective customer side of the relationship, when they constantly act as a “know it all”, these individuals tend to burn bridges, are not respectful of the sales process, or end up buying less than needed for their specific need. Many times it is because their attitude is less-than-desirable so the sales person does not want to put up with them. They are a turn-off and so the sales person may simply rush through their own process simply to be done with them.

 

Likewise, when the sales person is the “know it all”, the customer / prospective customer will become quickly frustrated. When this type of sales person is attempting to move through their process, they tend to listen less, and they wind up talking more. They believe their words are more important and they sell what they believe is necessary, not what the customer / prospective customer ultimately needs.

 

Use your own personal lives as examples. We all have friends or acquaintances that can come across as the “know it all”. How do you engage with this person? How do you feel after conversing with them? Do you go out of your way to talk with them? Do you want to spend long periods of time with them? Or, although they may have their moments of likability, do you want to avoid one-on-one conversations?

 

Translate this personal example into business. Ask yourself if you have any of these tendencies. Evaluate your most successful sales and determine what characteristics were in your favor from the relationship side. And then act accordingly. Don’t be a “know it all” and try to avoid those that act this way as customers.

Selling To A Committee - December 12, 2015

Selling to an individual can be stressful. Selling to a committee can be downright frustrating. One of my newer team members recently was in a sales process where the prospect had a committee of eleven individuals. I’ve sold to so many committees that it seems like second nature, but to him it was rather new. He was concerned about “being outnumbered” or how best to manage a crowd. It dawned on me that many sales reps may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable in this type of sale, so here is my advice.

 

Inevitably there will be an individual on the purchasing committee that simply does not like you. And, just the same, there will be someone that thinks the world of you. The rest will fall right in the middle. Identifying these individuals early in the process is key to the success of the remainder of the meeting.

 

When presenting, asking questions, or sharing examples, give equal attention to the one that seems to be the “lack of caring” as much so as to the individual that is fully engaged. Second, when calling out those in the room, you will never remember each person’s name, but attempt to call on at least two others, besides the two already referenced, by their first name. This shows the entire audience you are giving it your best.

 

Make sure to make eye contact with every single person when you are speaking. Don’t ignore anyone, especially the quietest person in the room, as they may be a key factor in the decision process. Every individual in the room, even the one that came in late, should receive your business card. Do not let anyone leave without having your card. And, encourage each and every person to contact you with any questions at any time.

 

Be prepared with your deliverable's. In other words, if you were told that ten people will be on the committee and in the meeting, take two or three extra copies of your presentation or proposal. It is much better to have extras than to not have enough.

 

Last, relax and be yourself. Selling to a committee can be intimidating. You are basically standing in front of a room full of strangers and hoping they will buy from you. Often I’ve even pointed this out, stating I’m here to sell you, but with a bit of humor. They too may be uncomfortable with the process, so putting them at ease will go a long way in winning them over.

 

You may not win over every single person in the room, but go for it. If you come up one or two people shy of a unanimous decision, the majority may suffice, and you will likely win the business.

EOY Planning - December 5, 2015

Wow, this year has sure gone by quick. Those words have been flying around my office all week. And they are true, this year really has gone by quickly. Either that or I’m just getting old…probably both.

 

Every year since I began my career I enter the month of December with the idea that I will plan ahead for the start of a new calendar year. In the early years I’d procrastinate and then pay the price. I eventually learned my lesson and took the planning process seriously and have continued to this day.

 

I am often asked, however, if it’s really a big deal to plan for nothing more than a calendar change. What is really the difference in moving into the new month of January versus moving into the new month of September? Isn’t it just a date? And, if it’s just a date, why so much worry around planning?

 

The short answer is yes, it is just a date, but for many it is a fresh start. It is a fresh start to their annual budget, the money the customer/client can spend with you, or a fresh start to your customers/clients own list of projects. Since an overwhelming amount of companies now work on a calendar-fiscal year, January 1st is both a real start to the fiscal spending season for you, but also gives many the sense of renewal they need to forge ahead with their own business plans.

 

On a personal level, think of all of the New Year’s resolutions people make, and more importantly why they make them. With doing the research I am not going to pretend I know when this tradition came from. What I do know and what we as a society have been shown & told, is that the New Year is a time of personal renewal, a time to start things over again. And, this has also trickled into our business lives.

 

Our own company’s set annual sales goals based upon revenue and gross profit. They set goals on adding or releasing to the market new services or products. Goals by the company are then broken down by department, and for the sales teams and sales reps, these become our own goals for which performance will be measured.

 

And so, for the sales reps out there, don’t hesitate. Begin today, if you haven’t already, in preparing your EOY plans. Set your goals for the New Year. Work closely with your management on what is expected, and then prepare your own plan on hitting those expectations. And, finally, be proactive. Don’t wait for your manager to set your goal, rather set your own goals. 

Finding Time When Your Calendar Is Full - November 28, 2015

If you’ve ever heard the saying, “the clock is your enemy”, well then you probably played sports at some time. However, have you ever heard the saying, “the calendar is your best friend”? If so, you must be a sales person. I not only love the saying, but I wholeheartedly believe in this saying. So, what do you do then when you feel as though the calendar is full?

 

I have yet to meet a sales person that hasn’t struggled, even a little bit, with time management at some point in their career. And, the most common thought, the calendar is full so how can I squeeze anything else in there? This week’s post, although brief, is for my own team members as you enter the final month of the calendar year. Yes, it will be very busy, but you can always fit in one more call or one more email.

 

I remember the early days of my career, the pre-Internet / pre-cell phone / pre-smart device / pre-mobile existence days, when accessing work information required you be in the office (regardless of whether the office was in or out of the home). Today, however, work is at your fingertips. And, because you can access your office anywhere at any time, there seems to be an expectation that you can and should do more. To a certain extent this is true, but a sales manager must also manage with an expectation that his or her sales team also have personal lives.

 

Assuming for a moment you have a great sales manager, one that encourages you to spend quality time with family and friends, then how can you squeeze in one more call or one more email? Planning!

 

Having your calendar on your computer and smart device can be the best tool in your sales arsenal, as long as you use it to its full extent. Here’s how…

 

Put every single personal and professional appointment in the calendar. I mean every single one. If you don’t want someone in the office to know about your unusual rash and subsequent doctor appointment, mark it private. If you don’t care that your coworkers know that your daughter has a piano recital tonight, then don’t mark it private. The point is…every time you need to be someplace, put it in your calendar.

 

Second, evaluate your week, and then put “blocks” in your calendar. A block is a period of time that you cannot be bothered for a meeting. You have work to be done and you will get that work done in those blocks. Blocks should also include the personal time with family and friends.

 

Finally, when you feel as though something cannot be added to your calendar, look for the time in between your appointments and blocks. Before you know it, you’re squeezing in one more call from a parking lot prior to a meeting. You will find the 5 minutes needed to send an email while waiting to pick your son up from football practice. You’ll come to realize that you wake up at 7:00 AM on Saturdays and can spend 20 minutes reading that industry article you didn’t get to on Wednesday.

 

My point is this, please consider the small windows, the 5-15 minute windows here and there in your calendar, because these are valuable to making sure a little more can get done. Most importantly, these steps in time management will help you reach your weekly goals without intruding upon your own personal time.

Why Do People Buy From YOU - November 14, 2015

Regardless of the company you work for or the products/services you sell, have you ever asked yourself why people buy from you? This is a question I often challenge my team members and sales clients with and the answers can be telling.

 

One of the more common answers I hear, which unfortunately comes from a very average sales person, is that the customer/client has no choice. They are an assigned rep and the customer/client needs their product/service. On the opposite end of the answer spectrum come responses from the ‘A’ level sales person – they buy because of me.

 

Over time sales people need to be reminded, or remind themselves, that they are the reason why their customers/clients buy. This is an empowering moment in ones sales career, when the light bulb goes off, and you realize you can control your level of success. That’s right, people buy because of YOU, which means YOU and YOU ALONE can guide your career path.

 

We are approaching the Thanksgiving holiday season and I often use this as a reflective period for myself. The end of the year will soon be here and I am examining how I’ve done in business. Have I achieved my goals? Have I been able to increase my compensation due to my direct sales performance? Am I prepared for the calendar to move one year ahead? Have I left any opportunities on the table, and if so, why? Have I been the best sales person I can be for my clients and my company? And, why did my clients ultimately buy from me this year?

 

This reflective period and these questions often shed light on who I am as a sales person, as well as who I am as an individual. Often I’ve referenced how the ‘A’ level sales person make sales a part of their life, not just their career choice, and so I believe the answers to these reflective questions define who I am not just how I sell.

 

As we move closer and closer toward the holidays and the end of the calendar year, I challenge you to ask yourselves these questions. Your goals should be simple: your customers/clients buy from YOU because of YOU. Once you achieve this level of success, you are well on your way to staying an ‘A’ level sales person for your career.

The Story of James & Melissa: Part 2 - November 7, 2015

Following up to last week’s post I am using a very real story to share my thoughts on life as a sales person. It is not a pleasant story, rather one that involves the divorce of a couple, based in part on two very different approaches to sales. This is the story of James & Melissa: Part 2.

 

Melissa has grown a truly successful career in sales. She is, by all accounts, an ‘A’ level sales person. She has made the necessary sacrifices to advance her career through continuing education and sales training. She’s willing to look in the mirror for ways to improve. When a deal does not go her way, she explores the reasons why, rather than making excuses. As she began to open up recently about her reasons for divorcing James, I learned more about his approach to sales (or lack thereof) and how this bled into their personal lives and marriage.

 

James never believed in educating himself on sales techniques. Instead, like with his work it seems, he thought he knew it all. He always has to be the smarted person in the room. When he was turned down for work, rather than understanding the reasons why, he simply shrugged it off and commented about the prospective client being too dumb to hire him. It seems that he’d get a taste of success from time-to-time and even a referral or two. He never took a deep-dive look into this small amount of success, but became arrogant with an expectation that success would always be available to him regardless of his approach to sales. Unfortunately, as it seems, the few successes over the past fifteen years have been overshadowed by the many losses.

 

As I’ve learned, James has taken the same approach to his personal life as he has with his career, and again must always be the smartest person in the room. Melissa shared that he would, at times, criticize her for the extra effort she was putting into her career. While she’s clearly been the consistent bread winner, there’s also been an increase in jealousy by James. Melissa is continuing to be rewarded with new business and James is struggling to make sales.

 

James’ lack of success, in my opinion, is directly due to his unwillingness to grasp what it takes to be a real ‘A’ level sales person. And because of this unwillingness, coupled with jealousy of his wife’s success and his arrogance, he is on the losing end of not just his career but now his marriage. Could this all have been avoided? Maybe.

 

Sales people, especially an ‘A’ level sales person, choose not just a career but a way of life. Sales people cannot be jealous of others success. Sales people cannot be arrogant. Sales people are certainly not the smartest people in the room. And, sales people cannot blame anyone else for a loss.

 

No one really knows for sure what goes on behind someone else’s closed doors. Relationships, especially marriages, are very private on so many levels. But, when you witness the self-destructive behavior of a subpar sales person, it is not surprising that personal relationships, like marriages, struggle too. Being an ‘A’ level sales person means you understand that there are up’s & down’s in any relationship, and it also means you have the patience and maturity to handle the up’s & down’s.

 

I feel bad for James and Melissa. No one wants to watch someone else suffer through a life altering event like a divorce. The only thing I can do is hope they both come out of this situation in okay shape. I’m sure once the sting of her marriage being over subsides, Melissa will be fine. She has the knowledge and confidence of success on her side. She is an ‘A’ level sales person and she will use her experiences to continue her career and personal growth. I hope James too walks away okay from this change in his life. He must admit his mistakes, he must change his approach to dealing with people, and he must be willing to accept that he’s not the smartest person in the room. If he can do this, he can turn his business around, and he can then get his personal life back on track.

 

Being close to this situation has reminded me of what I have and what it has taken to achieve my own level of success. It has been a reminder that I must be careful in my relationships and how I approach sales. I’m reminded that putting a client’s needs before my own will pay dividends. And, most importantly, I’m reminded that I’ve chosen a career in sales which is a part of my life. My career has an impact on my wife, children, family and friends, and I cannot take anything for granted.

The Story of James & Melissa: Part 1 - October 31, 2015

For this week’s post and next I am taking a bit of a departure from my normal approach to writing and instead going to use a very real story. It is not a pleasant story, rather one that involves the divorce of a couple, based in part on two very different approaches to sales. This is the story of James & Melissa: Part 1.

 

James and Melissa were married fifteen years ago. James, at the time, was launching his own business as a general contractor. He’d been relatively successful in his family’s construction business in a variety of roles from laborer to project manager. But, James was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and decided to branch out on his own.

 

Melissa, having already tasted a bit of success in her own residential real estate sales career, decided to continue her studies and expand her real estate license to include commercial. While James was starting his business she was very supportive, especially from a financial standpoint, so he could fill the roles of business owner, sales, and project manager.

 

Over the years Melissa went from tasting a bit of success to becoming incredibly well known, well liked, and respected as an expert in her market. She’s become a real force in the world of real estate sales. Much of her success hinges on her professionalism and relationship building skills. She is a true ‘A’ level sales person. I admire her for her accomplishments and her sales style. She puts her client’s needs before her own. And, I believe she’s been successful because she will never cut a corner in her sales process.

 

On the other hand, James has not been as successful as he once hoped, and this is based largely upon his sales techniques, which ultimately have led to the demise of his marriage. That’s right, his skills (or lack thereof) in sales have had a direct impact on his personal relationship with his wife and many others.

 

You see no matter where James is or the context of a conversation, he has to always be right. Many a joke has been made about someone being the smartest person in the room, well James is that person. He cannot be wrong, ever. And, unfortunately in business, this has led to poor working relationships with his clients, client disappointment on the outcomes of projects, and even being fired by client’s mid-project. Instead of listening and learning from each client experience, James must be right and the client must be wrong.

 

As I’ve written about for a long time, sales is a life choice, especially for an ‘A’ level sales person. And, more importantly, as a business owner you need to become an ‘A’ level sales person. This has not been the case for James. I believe that deep down he’s not a bad guy. He has his moments of likability. He and Melissa have two kids, a nice home, and good friends and family. But, there have always been the whispers behind their backs about his attitude, which on both a personal and professional level go straight to how he treats people. One moment of likability cannot outweigh the ten instances of being a jerk.

 

For a while Melissa was very hush-hush about her desire to divorce James. As the saying goes, “you never really know what goes on behind closed doors”.  Once Melissa began to open up with others about her reasons for leaving her marriage, to me something stood out, and that was the direct correlation of James’ personal life and his career as a sales person.

 

Next week I will expand upon this story and share my belief on why James and Melissa are divorcing. It is my hope that through Part 2 of this story that you, as a career ‘A’ level sales person, will learn from someone else’s life altering mistakes so that your own career will continue in the right direction. Remember this – sales is a life choice inasmuch as it is a career choice – and your sales career will impact many others besides yourself. Until next week…