Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


A History Lesson - July 11, 2015

I awoke this morning in Gettysburg, PA. I’m here with my family for a lacrosse tournament that my son will be participating in and I can’t stop thinking about the historical ground for which we will walk. The tournament is taking place on the athletic fields of Gettysburg College which butt-up against the Gettysburg Battle Fields. In fact, the tour busses come within a few feet of the end lines of the lacrosse fields with monuments so close that the boys can read the inscriptions from the sidelines.


As we were arriving yesterday afternoon, driving right through the center of town, my children were bombarding my wife and I with questions. We very quickly needed to get our history caps back on and remember all that we learned in high school and college. It’s been a long time since I last visited Gettysburg, but it didn’t take long for me to begin to remember its significance, the great loss of lives on the ground around me, and the sacrifices that were made many, many years ago.


I’ve been sitting in the hotel lobby quietly thinking of my topic for this post but my mind keeps wandering to the history around me. And it hit me…history. You see, all too often in my own blogging, as well as all of the writings in the market about sales, we focus on the here & now. We focus on what we need to do today, learn today, to prepare for tomorrow. Very rarely do we go back in time and think historically.


I am sitting in one of the most historic places in our country and it has me now thinking backward in time. What was it like during the Civil War? How far have we really come? And then my mind continues to move from one place in time in my own life to another. Quickly I became entranced by my own history, living in Maryland, North Carolina, Florida and eventually moving to Ohio. I began to think about how I’ve spent the past 20+ years and then I began to think about my career and how it has developed over time.


It didn’t take long for me to realize the history, my (your) own history, can help me (you) prepare a path for my (your) future. Examining the previous paths taken, decisions made, deals won or lost, will certainly be a benefit in planning for the future. Sometimes it’s good when history repeats itself. How did I win that client? Can I repeat the process? And, other times, it is best to let a past situation stay in the past…let it stay history.


The most important reminder, as I wrap this post up and get ready to head to the lacrosse fields is this, history is taught in grade school, high school, college and beyond for a reason. In order for an individual or a society to grow, one must first learn where they’ve come from. Your sales career should be no different. Learn from your past, plan for your future based on this historical knowledge, and grow.

Referrals: Better when unsolicited! - July 4, 2015

I have read my fair share of sales books over the years. I have attended countless numbers of seminars. I have been a part of several “more formal” sales classes. And, one consistent theme is the referral ask.


This can be a very tough topic for many sales reps and managers. It seems everyone has a different approach, but all based on the same trained theme, you must ask for referrals. Why is this? How did this approach of YOU asking for the referral become the norm? Is this ultimately the best way to obtain a referral lead?


About 16 or 17 years ago I was introduced to a new concept for referrals. Well, there really wasn’t anything new about it, except no one was really practicing this approach. It is so simple that everyone should be doing it, yet no one was (or still is) on a regular basis.


Here it is: Don’t ask for a referral…rather do your best work – make a client your biggest fan – and the referrals will come to you unsolicited!!!


Taking on this approach was not easy. I had to break myself of the habit of asking my clients and colleagues for people they know or “who may know who for an introduction”. It can be a little scary even, not asking for referrals and waiting & hoping you get them coming to you. But, with good work comes happy clients. With happy clients come referrals.


There is a small amount of training that comes into the mix with this approach. Mostly, it begins in the initial sales process, when you make mention that you do not ask for referrals, but rather you hope your work will speak volumes and you, Mr. or Ms. Client, will be so happy that you’ll share my information with your own clients and colleagues.


Staying in regular contact with your clients after the sale is complete is the next part in obtaining unsolicited referrals. Make sure you are not overbearing in your approach, but consistent enough that you will stay top of mind. Have a schedule of when and why you will contact your clients; and, mix it up with a combination of email, hand-written notes sent in the mail, telephone calls, and face-to-face conversations. Staying top of mind will increase the likelihood of your client mentioning you and your company in other business conversations.


Lastly, entertain your clients in small group engagements, and always offer for your client to bring a guest. It may be a round-table style educational luncheon covering a new industry topic. Or, instead of playing 18 holes of golf over the span of 6 hours and then hoping for conversations to take place over lunch, try playing indoor golf over the span of 3 hours where your entire group of attendees are together in the same room. This is a great way to spend intimate time with your clients and guests on a rainy or cold day. It’s something different, yet familiar enough that enjoyment will be had by all, and the conversations will lead to referral business.


Asking for a referral can be easy. Obtaining an unsolicited referral might be a little more difficult and take a slightly longer period of time. But, which one do you believe will net better results?

No Thank You Can Cost You - June 27, 2015

For the past several weeks I have been participating in the interview process for entry-level sales positions. The candidates being considered for the open positions are current / recent college graduates. The majority of the candidates have similar backgrounds, are graduating (or just did) from very prominent, local universities, and all have four year degrees with rather high grade point averages. Yet, only a select few are standing out.


The candidates, while all very similar, are showing me what they are made of not from their resumes, but rather their post-interview correspondence. Can you believe it, I’ve interviewed a few that never sent a thank you, but left voicemails wondering where the interview process stood? Seriously, not even a simple thank you email for the time spent talking with them.


No thank you can cost you a future interview, future follow-up sales meeting, and quite possibly a sale.


While this is a short post this week, the advice I am sharing should be taken to heart, say thank you. Whether you enjoyed the interview process or not, or whether you want to continue to interview with a particular company or not, saying thank you is not only courteous, it can be a real differentiator in the decision process.


And oh, by the way, if you didn’t send me even a simple note of thanks for the recent interview, don’t call and ask why you’ve not been invited back. This post is your answer.

Rebuilding A Burned Bridge - June 20, 2015

We’ve all heard the saying – don’t burn a bridge – but can a bridge be rebuilt?


An old college friend was going through a pretty tough time about three years ago. His wife asked him for a divorce shortly after he experienced a death in the family while at the same time his company was being acquired with his position in jeopardy. Needless to say, he wasn’t in the best of moods, and his temper got the best of him. When questioned by a member of the acquiring management team about his sales performance, Bill took the tone and type of questioning very personally, and he snapped back at this management team member. When further questioned by his own, longtime manager, he commented about his displeasure with the line of questioning and walked out of the meeting. His employment was immediately terminated.


Bill, believe it or not, while going through a series of personal issues was able to land another sales position within a few short weeks with another pharmaceutical company in Charlotte, NC. He agreed to the terms of divorce with his now-ex-wife in a rather amicable proceeding and he quietly began to rebuild his life.


Fast forward to now. Bill has an opportunity to interview with a new pharmaceutical company in Raleigh, NC. His only daughter moved there last year for school and this would be an opportunity not only to advance his career, but also to be closer to her. But, low and behold, he must interview with his former manager for the position. This is the person for whom he turned his back on, walked out of the meeting, and had not spoken to since then. Did I mention they had worked together for 10 years successfully?


Bill feels as though he not only burned this bridge but that he may not be able to mend the relationship. My advice to Bill was this…say you’re sorry. It’s that simple…apologize.


Bill has an opportunity to mend his former relationship, but he must first admit his faults, and he must apologize. He needs to bear his sole, so to speak, and he must explain what he was facing on a personal level. Then, he must show how he has overcome these past professional indiscretions, and he must showcase how he’s grown.


There is no guarantee that the bridge burned can be rebuilt. And this does not always occur. But, coming to grips with his own shortcomings and mistakes, admitting as much to his former manager, may be what is necessary to move forward. If you’ve ever burned a bridge and felt that you needed to rebuild it, consider the steps it will take to make amends.

Doing Business With Friends - June 13, 2015

If you’ve been in sales for even a little while, you’ve most likely run into the scenario or possibility of doing business with friends. As a sales person you may feel like it is your lucky break or a guaranteed close. But, more than any other type of sale, one with a friend can be the most dangerous.


I was in a meeting with a client recently, the VP of Sales, and she asked me for some personal advice. She had recently entered into a consulting engagement with a new client of her own, and one in which the president of the company was a personal friend of her husbands, and things weren’t going so well. She was running into a situation where this gentleman was calling upon her to bend her company rules, do more work without being billed, etc. She needed some guidance on how to best handle the conversation with the client and to set the record straight on what is to be deemed their personal relationship and their professional relationship.


Having run into this scenario myself not too long ago, I shared with her the approach I took, and she seemed rather appreciative.


Having too close of a relationship with a client can cause communication issues at any point in time, but it hits even harder when the client is a personal friend first and becomes a client second. The likelihood is that this person has heard you tell stories (possibly horror stories) about the office or clients. Without realizing it, they may try to change your approach to business because of something you shared with them in the past, in an effort to better suit their own needs.


Moreover, your friend may also take an entirely different tone with you because of your relationship, which may skirt the bounds of professionalism. And, what’s worse, they may want you to give them preferential treatment over other clients.


So how do you avoid these issues?


Well, this easiest answer would be to not do business with your friends. Of course, that may also be easier said than done. So, my recommendation is to have a very open and honest conversation about the rules of engagement. Set the record straight up front about how your company operates and works with clients. Make absolutely sure your friend is fully aware of these rules, and whatever you do, make sure you have a witness to this conversation both from your company and from your friends company.


And, to ensure that the business relationship is handled smoothly, and with minimal interference to your personal relationship, assign someone else as the point person in the business relationship. It may be a subordinate if you’re in management, or it may be your manager, or it may be a peer. You should find someone that can handle this scenario in a professional and confident manner and your friend must accept that you are making the introduction and then stepping aside.


You should never allow a friendship to be diminished due to a concern in business, and you certainly do not want your career to be jeopardized by a bad decision in sales. A true friend will not only agree, but will expect nothing less.

Don't Ignore Advice - June 6, 2015

No one is perfect, but we should strive for perfection. This statement has been uttered for years in many sales and management level meetings. I’ve seen this written in mission statements and on posters hanging in customer service departments. So, what does this have to do with this week’s post title – Don’t Ignore Advice?


Striving for perfection often times means we need to learn from our past, put together a strategic game plan for moving forward, and try not to make mistakes. When a member of the management team offers guidance and advice, especially based on historical events, it makes sense that you take the advice, don’t ignore it.


I’ve recently been working with a fellow management team member on a client matter. He has asked for my advice and guidance on several occasions as to how best to handle a client that no longer wants to use our services. I’ve spent a fair amount of time counseling this team member in an effort to outline a solid game plan on parting ways with the client in an amicable fashion. And yet, recent correspondence to the client went against all advice, and now we must change course.


The advice I provided was not based on assumptions, but rather based on experiences. I’ve been down a similar road a time or two, and so I outlined a game plan that would allow the client to depart, try a different service provider, but would eventually come back. Unfortunately, since the advice was not taken, we are now faced with a possible lingering relationship, and one that makes us look needy.


I am disappointed but must use this as a teaching / learning opportunity. As a management team, we must come together to understand how best to engage or disengage with a client, especially when the future of any relationship is at stake. Taking advice from someone who’s “been there done that” can make a big difference in any business relationship. Listen to your seniors carefully, heed their advice, and manage your client relationships carefully.

If You Don’t Want To Be Here – Please Just Leave - May 30, 2015

Last week my wife and I were at a dinner party hosted by friend who has spent the past twenty-one years in human resource management. We were having a drink before dinner, swapping work stories, and so I took the opportunity to pick his brain on a subject I am currently facing. I asked, “How would you handle a conversation with an employee that doesn’t seem to want to be with your team anymore?” His answer was a bit surprising, maybe because I was expecting it to be rather politically correct, or more sensitive in nature. So, here’s his answer, and this post goes out to all of the sales managers who face this same situation.


Sit the employee down for a five minute conversation over a cup of coffee, look them square in the eyes, and ask them, “Do you enjoy working here?” Then, stop talking, no matter what.


What transpires next will be the determining factor for the rest of the conversation. If the employee pauses, looks as though they are pondering their answer, and then begin to speak – whatever they say is not entirely true. The real answer, at least 9 times out of 10, will be blurted out unexpectedly. It is human nature when faced with such a blunt question that the employee doesn’t even realize they are answering so quickly and honestly. Yes, of course I like working here, why would you even ask that question? (or) Most of the time, but there have been some things bothering me lately. (or) No, actually I haven’t been happy in some time.


Whatever the answer is, if it comes instantly when asked, be prepared as the sales manager to then deal with the fall out. Keep in mind that if the employee really is happy, you many have now caused them to wonder why you asked. But, if the employee says most of the time or no, then you must be diligent in your response – well then why are you still here? Why don’t you leave?


It may sound harsh, not politically correct, or too quick to judgement, but it will flesh out exactly what is going on with the employee. When employees, especially sales people, are unhappy in general terms of their employment, they become unproductive, but also have a tendency to bring others down around them. A good sales manager will recognize this behavior quickly and will resolve to remove this person before too much damage can be done.


As the old saying goes (and I was reminded of during my conversation) – hire slow, fire fast. And, in some cases, help an employee recognize when it may be time for them to make a change and simply leave.

Are Networking Events Still Worth Attending? - May 23, 2015

Although the question seems rather simple, I find it can be difficult to answer at times. Are networking events still worth attending? I am asked this question time and time again. And, at least for the past few years, here is my answer…It Depends.


Generally speaking, I have always been a fan of the networking event, but with careful consideration of the event itself. You see, many believe that any event that drawls people together, especially at a bar or restaurant, is considered a networking event. You are networking to meet people, right? Well yes, at least in part. But, all too often, this is simply a way for a sales person to socially interact on their company’s dime. The sales person is tricking themselves into believing this is time well spent and that their agenda of meeting new people is being upheld.

Ok, so you’ve met new people. Who are they? What role in their organization do they hold? Are they a decision maker, or an influencer at the very least, that can open a door for you? Or, are they a peer? That’s right, are they another sales person, from another company, trying to do that same as you?


All too often networking events end up being peer events where everyone hangs out, shakes hands, grabs a beer, and swaps stories. There is no real networking involved and so when this occurs my answer becomes, very quickly, no these types networking events are no longer worth attending. Go grab a beer on your own dime with your friends. So, when are they worth attending?


Using the term networking is somewhat loose in my answer, but a good networking event is one in which you have specifically planned ahead and targeted because you know you will have less peer pressure and more opportunity to meet a decision maker. How do you scout out these events you may ask yourself? The answer is rather simple, stay out of your own industry, and attend the events that are designed around your target prospects industry. For example, if your end goal is to meet CFO’s, well then, go to accounting and finance oriented events, such as a CFO of the year award sponsored by your local business publications. Or, if you target CIO/CTO level decision makers, attend larger, nationally sponsored events that cater to this audience, such as one sponsored by Microsoft, Oracle or Cisco.


The goal of networking is simple: put yourself in a place where you are guaranteed to meet at least one decision maker. In doing so you can always ask yourself whether this event or that event increases the odds that you walk out with a “real introduction” and if you cannot answer with confidence that it is likely you will succeed then the networking event is not for you.

Lessons Learned From Coaching Kids - May 16, 2015

It was late to bed last night and up early this morning. I’m doing a little work from my hotel room in Columbus, Ohio where later today I’ll be coaching my son and his teammates in the Ohio Middle School Lacrosse State Tournament. I’m excited for the boys to participate. They have worked hard since late February preparing for this weekend. It’s not to say they’ve taken the rest of the season lightly, and there are still a few weeks to go, but this weekend eyes from around Ohio will be on them. And, to a certain extent, on me too. My mind started to wander back to work, my sales team, and on to lessons I’ve learned over the years. You see, much can be taken from coaching experiences, as a youth sports coach, and as a sales manager.


Like sales, you plan ahead and work closely with each individual and the team as a whole, in an effort to be the most prepared in the marketplace. You study your competition, learn the in’s & outs of your own company and services (or products), and you practice. You practice your pitch; you practice what to say when overcoming objections; and, you practice how to best interact with your prospect to “get the job done” – closing the deal.


When coaching youth sports, much like sales, you work hard to prepare your team for the playing field. You study the competition and how your team will match up. You plan ahead by working with individuals and groups to make sure they understand how to face challenge. And, you guide by experience. Regardless of the age, patience is a virtue in youth coaching, just the same as it is a virtue in sales management.


Of course, not everyone may feel you are doing a good job, both in management and coaching. On a personal level I’ve been coaching lacrosse for a number of years. There has never been a season where a parent or player has not complained. They don’t like the amount of playing time their son is receiving. They feel their son should be on the A team and not the B team. Their son is a superstar now and will certainly play NCAA Division I…of course he’s only in 7th grade currently. Forget that fact that there are 42 other boys in the program. Forget the fact that planning for the season started 5 months before the first practice. Forget the fact that I am a volunteer and trying very hard to accommodate everyone. The reality is, it is impossible to make everyone happy all of the time, and the same is true in sales management.


No matter what the size of your sales team, whether you have 2 or 22 sales reps, you will not make everyone happy all of the time. You must remain true to the team and plan not to play favorites but work hard to treat everyone equally. You must accept that, like youth sports, you will have some sales people that are A players and some sales people that are B players, but that is life. Giving each sales person or player an equal opportunity to succeed is all that you can do and all that should be expected of you.


Sales management, like coaching, can be emotional. You want the best for your team, for all team members, and to avoid disappointment. Working toward this goal is a step in the right direction as you become a leader in your organization. But, accepting too the reality that not everyone will be happy all of the time, is also part of being a leader. Be open and available to your team at all times. Do not shut them out. Treat the team member in a mature manner and listen to their concerns. Keep in mind that they may still be a B player, you can help them be successful still, and avoid disappointment down the road.


There are many similarities to being a coach and a sales manager. The best advice I can offer you is this…try to always be supportive, try to ignore the negative commentary, and work hard to stay true to your principals. Give everyone an equal opportunity for success.

The Owner Finally Showed Up - May 9, 2015

Last week I was talking, over dinner, with a few friends. We are all in sales within the service / project industry, and while slightly different offerings, we tend to have similar tales to tell about client experiences. It must have been a full moon or something because we all had a recent similar story to share.

It is not uncommon for us to call upon companies that are small-to-midsized where the owner of the company is the president or CEO. And, as such, we are often engaged with this person during the initial sales process. You go through the routine of presenting your company, learning about their company, engaging in various conversations to see if the relationship would be a good fit, and then off & running we go. However, all too often, this is the last time we see or talk to the owner until the project is coming to or just came to a close. He or she put “their people” in charge. The director of marketing or information technology becomes the project lead with the supposed authority to make decision on behalf of their company. They become the voice of their company, including the owner, and so the projects continue. And, although everything appears to have gone smoothly, here it comes…the owner shows back up.

“This isn’t what I wanted!” “I expected this or that.” “Why did you choose to go in that direction, didn’t you understand I wanted to go in a different direction?”

Well, where were you? You gave your team members the authority to drive the project on your behalf. So, why are you now questioning or complaining? As a sales person, we are now on a slippery slope. We can become agitated and defensive. We can throw the clients team under the bus. We can throw our own company under the bus. Or, and here’s my approach, we can address the matter one-on-one with the owner in a professional but blunt way.

Mr. or Ms. Owner, please understand it has always been our goal to make your wishes a reality with the service or project we’ve provided. That is why we spent so much time working with your team to check and double-check along the way. Naturally, we expected your team to keep you in the loop, especially since you told us they were the people you wanted us to work with. I understand you may not feel as though you had much input after the initial sales process, but let’s also be frank, we did specifically as the contract had stated. And, you should be patient and allow your team the opportunity to share with you the project’s success.

Your firm needs to be compensated for the work it did. The owner’s team should be held accountable for their decisions. And, in the end, you may need to suggest that you work directly with the owner going forward. Whatever the outcome, if the owner finally shows up at the end and doesn’t like something, well then he or she needs to accept that it was their responsibility to be more active during the engagement, and they need to respect everyone else’s role.