Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


40ish Business Days Left In The Year - October 24, 2015

A topic that I have covered on several occasions before seems to have come up once again. Recently I was asked, both by my own internal sales team, as well as my personal clients, to share ideas regarding the “end of year push”. As I write my post on a bit of a dreary October morning, I find a bright spot thinking about the fun ahead in my own end of year push.


As I’ve stated time and time again, if you are hanging your success hat on the next few weeks, it may simply be too late for you. An end of year push should never be a make-it or break-it timeframe, but rather a bonus period for a well-planned and overall successful year.


I was asked just yesterday by one of my newer team members, “if you’ve had a very solid year so far, then what is your push for the final 40ish days of the year?”

There are two holidays coming up, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a few busy weeks between now and then. I find this time of year to be one where I can reflect with my clients, and time when we can talk through the past projects and plan for the New Year and new projects. More and more I tend to have clients that run budgets on the calendar year with a use it or lose it policy, and so I “push” for an evaluative meeting to discuss budgets.


For many years I’ve taken an approach against using this time of year to entertain clients, such as holiday lunches, or by giving gifts. I continue to standby this idea simply because a good sales person, an ‘A’ level sales person, should treat the client throughout the year with gratitude, not during the time of year when “everyone else is buying lunch”.


My most successful fourth quarters, best end of year pushes, are when I treat the client as if it were any other time of the year, but paying respect to their budget process (as mentioned above), as well as with a “plan ahead” approach. Meetings will, without a doubt, include a holiday well wish, a bit of personal holiday themed conversation, and with all hopes have a happy tone.


The “plan ahead” approach though has separated me from others for a long time and my clients have been appreciative. During these remaining 40ish days of the year, I will meet with my clients with a calendar in hand, and discuss their overall plans month-by-month and/or quarter-by-quarter. I will identify opportunities where my firm may be in a position to help or provide services. We will put future meetings (or calls) on the schedule. And, we will outline goals & objectives.


Don’t do what everyone else is doing this time of year. Be different. Be an ‘A’ level sales person and help your clients prepare for the year to come. They don’t need another holiday lunch or coffee mug. They will truly appreciate your professional guidance so much more than a gift.

Not Everyone Is Created Equal - October 17, 2015

In my post from last week I indicated that not all sales people are created equal and more importantly they should not be. So then why do so many sales managers try to hire based on a “model”?


There are many Fortune 500 organizations throughout the world who hire the same type of person over and over again. They believe they have a formula for their own success, and in some cases, maybe they do. However, many of these same organizations have a rather high turnover rate once a sales person reaches the 5 year mark. Employee retention is less of a concern within these companies and I believe it is because they hire the same (type of) person again and again.


For smaller companies taking the same approach could spell disaster. Not everyone is created equal and in the world of sales I sure hope they are not. I have found over the years that the best sales teams are comprised of a group of individuals, each with differing backgrounds, different likes and dislikes, different political or religious interests, different sexual orientations, differences from one person to the next, all blended together to create a team.


During a recent gathering of ‘A’ level sales managers I introduced this topic to gauge reactions and I was very pleasantly surprised. In a group of ten, only one person disagreed with the opinion I shared in the previous paragraph. The other nine were excited to hear one another were in agreement. What transpired, however, surprised me yet was refreshing. Rather than a simple nodding of the head in mutual agreement and moving on, the conversation consumed the evening.


My message again this week is for the sales or sales hiring managers out there: go for diversity, do not hire clones of you or each other, and celebrate the variety that makes up your sales team. Encourage each sales person to use their uniqueness to advance the company sales efforts, and most importantly, teach your sales team how to flip leads to each other based on their individual talents. Again, an increase in revenue and ROI is sure to come.

No Perks For Jerks - October 10, 2015

There is a growing trend in human resource management pertaining to benefits provided to employees. While many of the concepts are not new, when combined on a per-employee or per-department basis, they are taking on new meaning. And, there are surprising reactions taking place, especially in the sales arena. Although not necessarily politically correct, the use of the phrase “no perks for jerks” is being whispered by many.


For years employers have offered a variety of scheduling options to employees, such as work-from-home, flex schedules, shared work schedules, etc. Additionally, there are company cars or mileage reimbursement programs. You may have options for gym memberships or other wellness programs. And, of course, medical (and related) insurance products are becoming more and more customized.


So you may be wondering why I’m on this topic? Well, more than ever, these various benefits are being used by sales managers (or sales intensive organizations) to motivate and reward their top sales folks, the ‘A’ level sales people on their teams. I am being asked on a fairly regular basis to counsel my personal clients on ways they can begin to implement new plans for their sales teams. While each must be customized to meet the individual working environment or culture, I want to share with sales managers a few ideas.


First and foremost, the most successful of sales teams are fully aware that sales people are not created equal. And, good sales managers should not attempt to manage each team member equally, but rather as the individual they are, and for the individual talents they possess. But, keeping a level of competitiveness in place also helps maintain the spirit a success-driven organization, a top performer only model, and weeds out the weaker sales people.


Initially, all sales people should be reminded that any and all benefits provided by the company are a privilege and not a right or guarantee. A culture of general appreciation for what is made available is a key factor in future modification to the benefits or incentive plan. Once the culture of appreciation is in place, a sales manager can then begin to make changes. Changes should be offered and made available to each and every sales team member, but only based upon performance.


For example, offering a shortened work week by allowing a rep to have Friday’s off during the summer, may be a great incentive, but should only be available to the rep(s) that hit(s) a quota of some sort. Or, once a rep has been with the company for a certain period of time, and if this rep has exceeded the goals set forth, the sales manager via the company may want to provide a different level of insurance or premium discounts.


The whisper of “no perks for jerks” should be kept in mind at all times. As a sales manager, when sales reps begin to fall behind or lack the necessary achievements for such benefits or rewards, their true personalities have a tendency to show. If and when the rep begins to act like a jerk because someone else is being granted one of these perks and they are not, this becomes an indication that they are not an ‘A’ level sales person and it may be time to go.


Use what is available in your benefit offerings to help advance the ‘A’ sales people and the results will be increased revenue and ROI.

Busy Time On The Horizon - August 29, 2015

With Labor Day just a little over one week away, it is now time to prepare for the busy season. As I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, but also in many other posts, I live in an area where June, July and August tend to be a bit slower for sales. However, like clockwork, the flood gates will open on the Tuesday after Labor Day.


So, with the busy time on the horizon, let me share my tactical approach to managing this time period. Typically this busy season will last until the first or second week in December, before things slow down for the holidays. So, being prepared for what is to come, will certainly help keep the calendar manageable.


First, I outline the clients that use an annual budget to manage their technology or marketing expenditures. These tend to be the clients that have “use it or lose it” policies with their respective companies. These clients will begin their own budget processing and planning during September and October. Identifying these clients and getting on the schedules for review and project or service discussion is a priority. Trust me, these clients will absolutely say yes to a meeting, because they too want to be careful in their planning.


Next are prospective clients that have been considering my company. These are the prospects that are considered hot but have been waiting until this time frame to move conversations forward. Their summer has come to an end and it is now time to get fully back into the swing of things. I knew who these prospective clients were due to my conversations and touchpoints over the past few months. It is now time to talk with them about getting their project or services outlined so we can move forward before the end of the year.


Last will be my “all other” client category. These are existing clients that have proven to be good and fair. They appreciate the work we provide for them, although they don’t often have deadlines of their own, and so conversations tend to be proactive versus reactive. I fill in all calendar gaps with these types of meetings to keep my existing client base apprised of the “what’s new and what they should be thinking about” in our respective service market. Inevitably, these conversations due turn into opportunities, and when balanced with the other varying types of meetings occurring during this push toward the 4th quarter, the calendar becomes full and full of opportunity.


If your business and the clients you serve are similar to mine, now is the time to plan accordingly and carefully, as such planning can be a great asset to you closing business of the next few months.

Working Remote: A few pointers on being productive - August 22, 2015

Being provided an opportunity to work remote by your employer is truly a privilege and should never be viewed as a right or requirement. You’re lucky, your boss believes in your work ethic, and has the trust in you to do the job at hand regardless of your location. But, working remote can be difficult, especially if this is a new opportunity for you. So, how can you be the most productive when working remote?


First of all, selecting the right location or environment is key, and this is probably the most important. Working from home can be good, but working from home will most likely also contain the most distractions. Kids, dog, spouse, phone, delivery, or the convenience of snacks. All of these distractions may seem small, but added up they become a huge time suck. If you are going to choose home for the location, you need to pretend as though you’re going to the office. Keep your regular wake-up / shower routine in place. Find a spot in your home to call the office and establish this space as your only work location within the four walls. Don’t walk around with your laptop and plop down on the couch. If you can, avoid home altogether, and find a slower paced coffee shop or a “quiet room” at the library. There are distractions even at your office, but finding ways to minimize is the first major step.


Next, plan your day no differently than if you were in your office, such as listing out your to-do’s, planning for the phone calls of the day, and having the set of “must complete items” before calling it a day. Being organized when working remote is even more of a requirement than if you were in the office. Again, you’ll experience a few more distractions, so make sure you plan ahead for the time it will take to fulfill your obligations for the day.

This is not social hour. You are on the clock and so you must avoid the social temptations that come along with working remote. Grabbing coffee or lunch with a friend is great, but unless you would do this activity when working from the office, leave it alone. Avoid the temptation to be social with your personal contacts simply because of the convenience factor. Again, work must come first.


Lastly, check in with the office on a regular basis. Make sure you are getting messages from voicemail, be readily available when called upon by a coworker, and touch base with your boss just for the sake of touching base. This shows you are taking this opportunity seriously and not taking advantage of their trust. Many ‘A’ level sales people are much more productive when working remote. It is a sense of freedom that allows these individuals to take on the tasks of the day without hesitation. But, success can be diminished if you take the opportunity for granted, and don’t get the same amount of work done as you would if you were in the office (or more!).

The Height of the Summer Slowdown - August 15, 2015

I have written several times before about summer slowdown, a lull in sales during the summer months, seasonal selling even in professional services, and ideas on how to avoid these scenarios. While this doesn’t occur to some sales organizations in different parts of the country, here in Northeast Ohio it has become routine. But, it doesn’t have to be so.


I’m not going to rehash past posts, rather I’ve been asked for a few reminders, as it seems we are now in the height of the summer slowdown. It is mid-August and as I look at my own personal schedule, I’m working closely with my wife as we plan the final couple of weeks before the kids go back to school. We are trying to cram one more weekend away, enjoy one more cookout, squeeze in the back-to-school shopping, all while still trying to balance work, sales and client relations.


Recognizing this hectic, end of summer coming soon scenario, can open your eyes to what your own clients and prospective clients are going through. So, you recognize it, but what can you do about it and keep a consistent selling schedule?


First thing to keep in mind is that the client or prospective client is most likely going through the same thing as you. With that said, and knowing how tough schedules are at this time of the year, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a meeting. The client/prospect still has a job to do and can commiserate with you about scheduling difficulties. This is where being creative with the calendar will come in handy.


If you are like me, and your kids want to do everything under the sun before going back to school, then your creative scheduling will accommodate everyone. So, here are a few reminder tips on getting through this period, and I know they’ve worked well for me. First off, plan your personal activities and make sure you outline carefully where and when you need to be some place. Second, once you have your personal schedule in place, put the “housekeeping” work items onto the calendar. Try to have your work day end at 4:00 PM. Now, comes the fun part, reach out to each and every client and prospect you want to meet with, and work to fill in the gaps.


This may be easier said than done though due to this time of year, so begin each call with something along the lines of “if your schedule is like mine, a meeting may be quite tough to get on the calendar, but we still have to get some work done”. Generally I’ve found that clients and prospects respond well to this opening, and then your own creativity will continue, by scheduling early morning meetings. Clients and prospects will want to end their days a little early too, in an effort to satisfy work and personal needs, so target the 7:00 AM breakfast meeting (or coffee). You will be surprised at how responsive the client/prospect will be.


It all comes down to creative scheduling. You can lean on many excuses because of the time of year, but a true ‘A’ level sales person will fight through, not make excuses, and will continue to outsell their peers.

Social Media & Sales - August 8, 2015

‘A’ level sales people have always had a knack for being social, but now more than ever, they must be engaged in social media. Once thought to be passing fads, social media tools are so very important on an everyday basis. LinkedIn, for example, allows you to recruit new employees or make introductions to prospective clients. Facebook will give you some insight into an individual’s personality. Looking at who someone follows on Twitter will provide you some perspective on this persons views on business, politics, etc. which may assist in determining a cultural fit within your team.


Social media has many upsides, as mentioned above, but one of the most important to me is the ability to take a potential cold lead and warm it up. I’m sure you’ve heard of six degrees of separation. This old phrase can be generally cut in half when dealing with social media. It is now much easier to find a common connection to someone, you just need to work the system.


LinkedIn is an essential tool for any ‘A’ level sales person. You can research companies, find the decision maker, identify who this person is and how you may be connected to them through another person, and then reach out to your mutual contact to ask for an introduction. It is very simple, it just takes time.


In addition to being able to research companies and contacts, LinkedIn also affords the hiring manager the ability to search for candidates on their own without much assistance from human resources or a recruiter. A candidate’s bio is available for your review, and again, you can identify a common connection for warm introduction purposes.


There can be a negative side to social media as well. I caution people constantly on being extremely careful. Like you, others are watching what you too are doing on social media, what views you may express, and who you are connected to. This can be the reverse course when you are trying to sell, in that the prospective client is reviewing your bio and qualifications. Or, it may also be the prospective new employee scouting out what it might be like to work with of for you, in an attempt to gauge how they would interact with you on a daily basis.


We have many different resources at our disposal to learn the tricks of the trade when it comes to social media. I am not putting this post together to pretend to be an expert. However, recently I have come across several sales folks that simply do not believe in social media and the power it has in the sales process, or they only use selective pieces & parts without realizing the full power it has over their sales process.


Take time yourself to review, learn, explore, and experiment with social media, and I truly believe you will find new ways to increase your productivity. 

Hurry Up and Wait Syndrome - August 1, 2015

Client: Kevin, we need to meet with you as soon as possible, it is very important that we get started on our new engagement.


Me: OK, I can be there on Thursday (today is Monday) at 1:30.


Client: That doesn’t work for us, how about in 2 ½ weeks, that might be better.


Client: Thank you for your proposal, this looks just like what we need, and your estimate is right on budget.


Me: Sounds great, when would you like to get started on your project?


Client: Let me read over the proposal one more time and you’ll have the signed contract by the end of the week.


Me at the end of the week: Sir, please send me the signed contract, and I will schedule your project to begin.


Client three weeks later: Sorry, we have not made a decision yet.

Here are two examples of the famously known Hurry Up and Wait Syndrome. You know, the situations that present themselves as great opportunities, only to be stalled out by the client’s indecisiveness.  What can you do to avoid these scenarios? Is it your fault this happens? How can you move the client along in conversation toward a final decision?


In the first example, the stall by the client to meet is certainly not your fault, or in your control, but by a lack of understanding by the client on what is and is not considered urgent. When a client states that they need to meet immediately, that something is urgent, you should qualify by pushing the date slightly out. Give the client an option for meeting later in the week or the following week. Their reply will indicate how serious they are and just how urgent the need might really be.


In the second example, this falls more on the upfront selling process with the client, which you control, versus the client being entirely at fault for stalling. When you are in the sales process, you should explain how you are going to work with them all the way to the contract stage, and upfront gain a commitment on their actions. Try stating: “Mr. Smith, if we get to the point of reviewing a written contract together, and the contract meets or exceeds all of your requirements, and it is within the budget scope, will we have a deal? Will you be in a position to sign the contract at that time? What, if anything, will you need further in order to finalize the agreement, sign it, and move forward?” Such an upfront sales process will give you the leverage needed or the upfront commitment by the client to fall back on and remind them of their own process. Such an approach will increase the likelihood of closing the deal without facing the Hurry Up and Wait Syndrome.

Don't Be Risk Adverse - July 25, 2015

Being a father and a youth sports coach I often watch over kids taking risks. They may seem small to me at the time, like my daughter going off the high dive at the pool for the first time. It could be asking a player to try a new position that he’s not entirely comfortable in. Or, it could be asking a child to trust you when you tell them no, because you know from experience what a certain outcome might be to their request.


In business, leaders are expected to take risks, and to be a good sales manager, you must not be risk adverse. You cannot afford to always play it safe. This may be taking a risk and promoting someone into a higher-level sales role, knowing they may not entirely be ready yet, but also having a sense that this person will rise to the challenge and succeed.


Risk in sales is an everyday occurrence. It may be cold calling the “whale prospect”, you know, the one that would put you and your company on a different level. If you don’t take the risk and call, you’ll never know if they might be interested. And, so it goes in business, risk must be accepted and embraced and managed very carefully.


What happens then when members of the management team do become risk adverse? What do you do, as a leader in your organization, when your peers begin to worry and ask more of the “what if we do X and it backfires” versus “what happens if we don’t do X”? In other words, what happens to your company when those entrusted with leadership positions no longer trust in you, your employees, or even themselves, to take a risk in order to grow the business.


Speaking specifically to the sales managers reading this post, you cannot afford to become risk adverse and be asked to still grow your company (market share, revenue, etc.). It is simply not possible to do the same old, same old and expect different or better results. Taking risks, even small risks, will help you and your sales team stay competitive and ultimately grow.


I am not suggesting that you blindly throw caution to the wind and take on so many risky propositions that you go backward. ‘A’ level sales managers and sales representatives must learn how to control their risk-reward balance. Maintaining balance between what is tried & true, knowing what will create an almost guaranteed sale, generating revenue with a solid profit margin, with taking a risk on the bigger client, the new market segment, or the new hire takes time and patience.


Do not be afraid to take risks. It is the risks in your life, personally and professionally, that more often pay the biggest dividends. 

Do not try this at home, we are trained professionals - July 18, 2015

Okay, the title might seem like a silly play on words, but I hope this message will be heard by the sales managers out there. I had dinner this past week with a personal client that I counsel on sales management topics. The CEO asked me to meet with her and her two sales managers. They recently, as of January, hired a few very junior-level sales reps, and these new team members have had a few recent struggles in the lead generation and prospecting area. I was asked to help understand the possibilities of why this was occurring and what could be done to change course.


As the conversation progressed, it did not take long for me to realize that the two sales managers have stopped managing the juniors, and have left them to “watch & learn” from the more senior folks. Instead of teaching and mentoring, they put the juniors in the position of shadowing, and told them to simply emulate what they see and hear from the senior sales reps.


And so, as I expected, the junior-level reps were watching people 10, 20 and 30 years their senior making cold calls, talking with long-time clients on the telephone, and engaging in sales meetings with relative ease. The problem is, these seniors have experience. They’ve been there and done that – long before these juniors were in school. They are the trained professionals, but no one told the juniors not to do this at home. In other words, the juniors were asked to emulate their seniors, but they themselves were not senior (ie experienced or trained).


We spent the remainder of our evening talking about the best way to right track the course they were currently on. And, it wasn’t that hard to do. The first part of the plan was to immediately pull the juniors back from shadowing. Put them in a classroom (conference room) and use this as an exploratory opportunity. Talk with the juniors about what they’ve seen, heard and learned. What are the positive elements? What are the negatives? What has worked for them and what has not?


The next step is to put in place a “back to basics” training plan. Teach from the ground up how to prospect and develop a qualified lead generation plan. Work through the telephone calling and emailing approach that is both personal and professional. Teach and make sure these young sales talents understand that they must not only act mature but truly be mature in order to match wits with the prospect.


The reality is this: you are not me and I am not you. We may learn from the same teacher, but our approaches to sales may be slightly different, and they should be. It is important that each person showcase their talent and personality in the sales process without losing focus on their company’s game plan and strategy. It is perfectly acceptable, and in fact expected, that young sales people shadow their seniors. But, in theirs and your best interest, don’t ever ask them to emulate someone else. We are trained professionals – do not try this at home.