Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford


The Bad Boss - May 19, 2018

The past few posts have been focused on the employee, the sales rep. Being in my position, as a sales manager and consultant, I often deal with the employees from a review, mentor, training perspective. However, there are also times when the sales manager is the issue, the bad boss.


Sales people come and go. That is the nature of the role and the game we play. How they come and go, however, can be a telling sign of the boss, the sales manager. In a smaller company the sales team members tend to be few. If you have turnover every 2, 3, or 4 years, and the reps perform at or above expectations, you likely have a very solid sales manager. It doesn’t mean a bad rep doesn’t slip through the cracks every now and then, but generally speaking you’re doing something right. If you go through sales reps every 6 months or 1 year, you may need to look at the sales manager.


There are a ton of great companies out there that treat employees beyond fair. They are enjoyable to work for and with great benefits. There are perks for the employee and their families. The company reputation is solid in the marketplace among customers and competitors. But, that bad boss, the underwhelming sales manager can make even the best company not feel so great for those sales reps.


It is important that sales managers be properly trained in managing people, not just great sales reps themselves. Sales managers need to lead by example with the ability to explain their process, not just show up with a closed deal and tell everyone how great they are. Sales managers need to be supportive while professional, friendly yet stern at times, and most importantly, sales managers need to make their reps feel like they are a part of the team. Sure, the reps have their part too as in hitting their numbers, but a good sales manager will make the rep feel appreciated. Don’t be a bad boss.

The Rep With A Short Fuse - May 12, 2018

Question from a reader: Kevin, I have a sales rep that has a short fuse. He doesn’t like it when I question him. He blames others around him for his shortcomings or oversights. And, now he’s blaming the management team because he lost a deal. This has been going on for about a month now and I’m concerned his short fuse is going to explode into a full-blown temper. Do you have any advice on what steps I should take? Thanks, Sharon


Sharon, thank you for sending me the note and question. Before I answer your question here is my disclaimer: I am a sales manager and not an HR manager or attorney. With that said, I will be happy to give you my opinion, but it’s just that, an opinion. I would certainly speak with an HR specialist or an employment attorney.


As I finish my disclaimer with speaking to an attorney you’re probably wondering why I’d take that step. We live and work in a very different society than it was even twenty or so years ago. Think road rage for a moment. It has gotten worse and worse over the years and has definitely spilled into the workplace. You need to protect yourself and your employees, both physically and from a business perspective.


Our employees are no different than us. We all have good days and bad days. The priest at my parish says, “you never know what someone else is going through”. People contend with illness, divorce, financial hardship, death, etc. on a daily basis. We often don’t think about what others are going through because we, ourselves, are dealing with our own issues. But, it definitely crosses a line when an employee’s short fuse becomes abusive.


I believe a conversation with your employee is needed. You also need to include your HR manager or specialist, your own manager, or another department head. You need support and you need to make sure your employee is getting support. This conversation does not need to be confrontational, rather you’re expressing your concerns. Are they okay? Is there something going on they want to share? Do they need help?


This conversation needs to happen and it needs to be documented. You want to make sure this employee does not feel threatened but that you are concerned and you want to help. Again, this is just my opinion, but I’d be willing to bet they open up and share what’s causing their distress. Although it may happen, I would be surprised if they became defensive or short tempered. They will likely realize the err of their ways and apologize. Offer to be there for them and help them if you can. If they show appreciation you are on the right track.


However, if they do not appreciate the offer of help, if they become defensive, short tempered, then you need to immediately end the meeting and plan a course of action, such as a formal employee intervention or even termination. Again, the work place can be an added stress for us all, especially when we’re dealing with a personal struggle, but how someone handles themselves is the difference between being professional and being fired. There is no place for having a short fuse or an anger issue with your fellow employees.

When HR and Sales Management Do Not See Eye to Eye - May 5, 2018

Hire Slow Fire Fast. This is an old HR phrase that I used in last week’s post. This message makes a lot of sense. The more time you take hiring someone the better the odds are that they will be a match for the role and your organization. But, even when you do hire slow, sometimes the employee isn’t a match and they need to leave.


When it comes to the sales rep who would know better than the sales manager when it’s time to let them go. It could be underperforming, misrepresenting the company, not being a cultural fit, or a combination of all of the above. You need to involve HR. You need to get your HR manager apprised of the situation and on your side to remove the bad rep. You want HR to have your back. What happens when you don’t necessarily see eye to eye on the firing process?


I’ve been faced with this challenge and it is not easy to deal with at times. I asked my HR manager, Tori, to chime in on this topic. What would stop her from having her managers back? I was surprised at how simple her answer was: paperwork. She will have her managers back all day long if there is a paperwork trail.


Sales managers and their reps have a relatively unique relationship. They tend to spend more time together than even members of the executive team. Whether they are doing ride along’s, in training sessions, having coffee, or simply reviewing a client account, the amount of time spent between manager and rep is significant. And, because of this, very often there are conversations being had where the manager is giving advice and guidance that should be documented and delivered to the rep (aka employee). This could not be truer than when criticism comes into play.


All too often the messages of criticism, the messages that need to be handled with an HR slant, they are done in less formal and more casual conversation settings. This is the paperwork Tori is referring to. It comes down to making sure the rep has a clear understanding of when the criticism being shared is to be taken on a much more serious level. This can be in the form of email or traditional documentation such as a performance improvement plan. Tori will have your back all day long when you can show how and when you shared your concerns and criticism in writing with your team members.


Employee reviews can be a big help in keeping your documentation in line. Sales reps can and should be a part of their review by asking them for their ideas and feedback. Documenting their own concerns and criticism. The sales manager can then provide thoughts, ideas, concerns and criticisms in writing, and then before you know it, you have an employee file. When the rep doesn’t work out, HR will have your back, and no matter how slow you hired you can then fire fast.

When Starting Over Is Not An Option - April 28, 2018

Today I’m going to pick up where I left off last week sharing my story of John. Throughout the past several weeks I have been working with a client in evaluating John. As I stated in my previous post, he seems to be listening, but not truly hearing what we are saying. He is not grasping the concept, especially for someone with over 15 years of experience, that sales is a numbers game. You’re either performing to a set standard or you are not.


Well, I thought I heard them all, but John threw me for a loop. He asked his manager and I if he could start over. That’s right, he wants to start his role over again, as if the past 6+ months never existed. Unfortunately, this may have sealed his fate. No, of course you cannot start over.


Please don’t get me wrong. This is not a matter of giving him a second chance. We’re not talking about changing careers and starting over. We are talking about the fact that John has been paid a base salary for over 6 months, along with benefits and vacation time, and he has not produced sales to even a base level. This has become more of a matter that John is not grasping the concept of new business development (vs account management) and he certainly is not an ‘A’ level sales person.


John cannot start over, at least not with my client. John needs to understand that the messages given to him by his sales manager have not changed. The goals that are set forth for his role are the same as when he interviewed. The need for activity in terms of calls made every day, meetings set every week, and ultimately closed deals are the same today as they were yesterday, last week, and last month. Nothing has changed. The fact is that John cannot do the job.


So, I’ve asked myself, “is there anything my client could have done differently?” The short answer is not hire John. But, somehow John did a very convincing job of selling himself during the interview process. The real answer is termination sooner. It is not a pleasant decision. Yet, in business, we sometimes need to make tough calls. There’s an old saying: Hire Slow Fire Fast. In John’s case, he should have been terminated months ago, and not have had this situation drag on. It is unfair for my client and it is unfair to John.


When starting over is not an option it is wise to guide the underperforming sales person out the door. You are not being cruel, rather you are doing them a favor. If this is not the role for them, you should help them see the light and leave on their own, or you may have to fire them. Again, this is not pleasant, but sometimes a fact of life. When the position is not for them, when starting over is definitely not an option, be kind but swift and left John go.

Hello, Hello, Is There Anybody In There? April 21, 2018

Last week I referenced that sales managers at times need to be stern. And, equally, I referenced that sales reps need not sugarcoat anything or try to smile through their struggles. I am working through a scenario currently with a client and his sales rep. I’m reminded of the Pink Floyd line: Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody in there? I am having conversations with the sales person about their training, how they are coming along since joining the organization, and John the rep just smiles and says everything’s been great. I’m wondering, hello, are you listening to us?


John is struggling in sales. He is not meeting any sort of quota for calls made, appointments set, proposals written, or closed business. He feels like everything is on track for him to be successful and he doesn’t need help. Mind you, John has over 15 years of sales experience and has been with my client’s organization for over 6 months, yet he has the performance of a kid right out of school. He’s smiling and saying everything’s great, and his performance numbers cannot get any worse.


Unfortunately, what we are learning through our reviews with John is that he seems to be listening to us talk, but he is not truly hearing what we are saying. He has the ability to regurgitate information, but doesn’t understand or grasp the meaning and concepts behind the words. John is a classic ‘C level’ sales person, whereas he can memorize a script, but cannot sell with substance. My client needs an ‘A level’ team member.


The evaluation and my conclusion for my client is to give John strict guidelines for which he must maintain. He is in sales and sales is a numbers game. He needs to improve his performance from top-to-bottom and there needs to be the most stringent of guidelines in place. If John cannot meet the goals set forth he should be let go. John is a nice guy, don’t get me wrong, I could see myself enjoying a beer with him. But, when it comes to sales, he is not cut out for the rigors of new business development, rather he would be better suited for account management. So, time will tell. Hopefully, if he’s in there somewhere, he’ll eventually nod when he hears our message, and realize he needs to perform or leave.


No matter what type of sales you’re in, sales is black & white, you are either performing or you’re not. It really is that simple.

A Little Hard On The Beaver - April 14, 2018

“Ward, I think you were a little hard on the Beaver.” June Cleaver was oftentimes saying this phrase in the television show Leave It To Beaver. And, this has been a quote used over and over again since those shows aired in the late-1950’s and early-1960’s. Unfortunately, many today don’t even know this show existed. Yet, the meaning behind the quote and the outcome of the show’s content is as relevant today as it was way back then.


As a sales manager it is my responsibility to be a mentor, to be a leader, to be a decision maker, but it is not my responsibility to be my sales reps best friend. This does not mean I am cold and callas, I am friendly with my team members, but sometimes I must also be stern. I must “be a little hard on the Beaver” in order to ensure we are all performing to our best abilities. Ward Cleaver was not intentionally trying to be a mean, cold spirited dad. Quite the opposite, he was trying to be a friend to his son while at times also reminding his son that he was still the father in the relationship. This is no different for sales managers.


You don’t have to treat people poorly, yell or bark orders at them, or make unrealistic demands. Time and again it has been proven that this approach to management does not work. However, you cannot always let the sales rep run without supervision or guidance. You must hold your sales rep accountable for his or her own actions, performance, and ultimately results. And yes, sometimes, this means you must be a bit stern in your tone, attitude and words than you normally might be.


Sales reps must also learn and understand who it is that they are working for and what triggers the sales manager to take such a stern position with them. Is it the way they are carrying themselves? Is it their sales performance or lack thereof? Is it their close rate? Is it something they are doing that does not jive with the company culture but something than can be changed nonetheless?


Sales reps are the other half of the marriage so to speak. The relationship between rep and manager is just like a personal relationship. There are times where everything seems like it couldn’t get any better and there are times where the boat is rocking just a little too much. As in a personal relationship, you should not sugarcoat the issue, rather one person should be stern with the other and lay the cards on the table. It is better to get the issue or issues out in the open, address them, deal with them, resolve them, and move on. Otherwise, as with some personal relationships, divorce may be inevitable.


A sales rep should not have thin skin and be too sensitive to the sales manager when that manager takes a stern tone. Instead, the sales rep should work to understand and communicate with the manager what is going on, what they are feeling, and they must be completely honest. Saying everything is fine & dandy when the results are poor just won’t cut it and the rep will likely be put on the hot seat or lose their job. Communication is the key to any successful relationship, even if it means being “a little hard on the Beaver”.

Social Media & The Salesperson - April 7, 2018

I was recently involved in a roundtable discussion with several hiring decision makers, sales managers, and human resource specialists. While there were differing opinions, as you’d might expect, when it came to interview and hiring practices, there was almost an unanimous position about the retention factors for sales people. And, at the top of the list, was the use of social media.


Obviously, in the digital era for which we live and work, social media is a factor that is here to stay. The use of social media to advance one’s business agenda can be a powerful tool. However, that same use of social media may also be a sales person’s demise. The line between the two could not be thinner.


Good, positive use of social media can and should include posts about successful stories involving your own company and those of your customers. Announcements about new products or services, posts about promotions, the use of images and video to support a comment, are all good ways in which social media can help a sales person move ahead of the pack and engage new levels of customers.


But, what happens when social media is overused or abused? What becomes of the sales person that takes social to a very personal, intimate level with customers? Where does the use of social media cross the line into becoming a problem? It can happen quickly and often without the sales person even realizing they’ve crossed that line.


I’ve seen firsthand how social media can be the root cause of a sales persons decline. The Tweets and re-Tweets about political, economic, or religious commentary to an audience comprised of both personal and professional contacts. Blending the personal Tweets into the fold with your professional Tweets. Friending your customers and prospects on Facebook where you are posting personal pictures of you and your significant other at a bar, on the beach, or attending an event. At first this doesn’t seem too harmless until your customer realizes you are “constantly on Facebook” and that you share way too much personal information. They want to have a professional relationship with you and don’t need to see you and your wife in swimsuits.


Then there is the overuse of social media while describing to your employer and customers that you are “so very busy” and “overwhelmed with work”. Let me get this straight, you can’t seem to stay on top of your customer meetings and responsibilities, yet you have the time to post on social media every 25 minutes? Something is just not right with that picture.


So, as I wrap up this morning’s post, let me just use this as an opportunity to share my advice. Keep personal social and professional social as separate as possible. If you must blend the audience, make sure you are always cognizant of your posts and the frequency. And, most importantly, be aware that people are always watching you. Social media has broken down many barriers that once allowed a person to remain private. What you share on social media removes your privacy and those words, pictures, actions, videos all may cost you business some day.

Modern Conveniences - March 31, 2018

It would seem as though my post from last week caused a bit of a stir among a few clients. Not necessarily in a bad way, but definitely opened the door for commentary. Many of my clients that reached out expressed their own frustrations with the younger generation of sales candidates, especially those that just don’t understand what sales is really about. Several clients asked me to elaborate on the topic as it pertains to “modern conveniences”.


You see sales, at the very core of the role, is about human relationships. It is about becoming a partner or trusted advisor to the customer. It is about being not only capable of having a conversation, but managing a mature conversation in sometimes very tough settings, such as at the negotiation table. It is in no way about modern conveniences. What do I mean by modern conveniences?


Modern conveniences are tools we use every day to do our jobs. It’s the Internet, Email, smart phones, Google, Skype, or any other technology aimed at empowering us with communication. The fact of the matter is most young sales candidates and sales professionals cannot make it in their role without these tools. These modern conveniences have become crutches for which the sales person relies too heavily upon. So, when the hard work of sales comes knocking, these individuals do not know how to handle the situation.


I’m sure you’ve heard the term “body language”. Nothing has changed in over a thousand years when it comes to reading someone’s body language. However, you cannot read the person through email or even over a telephone call. Only in a face-to-face meeting can this occur. Another old saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword” can be very true, so long as the person holding the pen has experience. And, where does experience come from? In the trenches. No one can win a debate without being trained in debate, having done their homework, and practicing.


Modern conveniences even extend to the ways in which young sales people are compensated. All too often companies will provide a comfortable base salary with a small commission and/or bonus structure for sales people. Where is the incentive to work hard? Give me someone that wants little-to-no base salary and a hefty commission plan. They want success and they are willing to work for it. Here is an example:


Joseph (Candidate #1): He is graduating with a four year degree in business administration and interviewing for an entry-level sales position. He has not participated in any internships although he does have a rather high grade point average. Joseph has a positive attitude and is fairly well spoked for a young man of 22 years old. During the interview process he was not afraid to jump right in and ask questions. He asked about the starting salary. Will he get a company car? How many weeks vacation will he receive during his first year? Does he get a laptop and company iPhone?


Kerry (Candidate #2): Kerry graduated from the same school in the same class as Joseph. She majored in business administration with a minor in marketing. She participated in three internships from her sophomore through senior years. She was polished and professional; kind yet with a sense of urgency. She too was anxious to ask questions. However, none asked had anything to do with compensation, perks or modern conveniences. Instead Kerry asked questions about expectations set for her. Who will train and mentor her? How will her successes and sometimes failures be measured?


Kerry became the candidate of choice. She understood the sacrifices that would need to be made in order to learn and advance her career. She accepted with appreciation for the compensation plan, tools, and training that would be provided. She even challenged herself during the final interview and offer process by talking about her first year plans and how to exceed the goals set for her.


Modern conveniences are great and can be used to advance ones agenda on a day-to-day basis. However, these tools are only as good as the person using them. Young sales candidates should be prepared to work hard without the tools until the foundational skill sets are in place. Once these skills are learned, then and only then will these modern conveniences be of help.

I’m In Sales, I’m An Account Manager – No, You’re Not In Sales - March 24, 2018

As springtime approaches resumes from soon-to-be college graduates start flowing in. I am receiving at least a dozen every week now seeking a variety of positions. Although I am not in hiring mode right now I do take time to read them. Unfortunately, they frustrate me for a variety of reasons.


One such frustration is the continued lack of understanding that an account management position, although a close relative to the sales position, is in fact not the same. To paraphrase an old saying, there is hunting and there is farming. Hunting is sales while farming is account management.


With account management comes a set of requirements that a sales role must also have, such as solid relationship building and management skills, good follow through, excellent communications skills, and a general likability. Sales, however, requires a much greater sense of urgency. Sales typically is a commission driven role that requires negotiation skills, a take no prisoner attitude while maintaining ones composure, and again a sense of urgency. Did I mention sales must have a sense of urgency.


I find today’s younger generation of professionals lacking in a sense of urgency. Many think they want to be in sales because it offers freedom and flexibility during the work week, an opportunity to entertain clients, and a high-level compensation package. Yet, when someone with experience explains the sacrifices it takes to be successful in sales, the long hours, dedication to the craft, not being handed accounts on a silver platter, well then they balk and look for the easy route, the account management position.


Last year I spoke to a group of graduating college seniors about life as a sales person. I engaged my audience in conversation rather than presenting to them. It struck me as odd that everyone believed sales, account management, and marketing are so intertwined that they did not know the difference. Moreover, most of these young ladies and gentlemen thought they had the skills already in place to be paid a high base salary, work no more than 40 hours per week, did not want to travel, expected company benefits (including a car or car allowance for sales roles), and the key phrase I noticed was “they expected it”.


Many companies have account management positions, and they can play a vital role in an organization, but account management and sales are certainly not one in the same. I believe we, those of us who’ve been in sales for most of our careers, owe it to this new, young, and up & coming generation to educate on the role sales plays and what it takes to be in sales. We need qualified sales people to grow and replace us at some point. It is our responsibility to guide them toward career choices and to help them understand the difference between account management and sales. It will benefit them greatly and it will benefit us as well.

March Madness: A Sales Lesson - March 17, 2018

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day and the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness), I am going to leave you with a short post this week. Two things come to mind this morning that I cannot help but directly relate to sales: luck and expect the unexpected.


As any ‘A’ level sales person will testify, no matter how educated you are in sales, your company, the client, or the competitive landscape, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of luck on your side too. I’ve been very blessed over the course of my nearly 25 year career so far in being in the right place at the right time. I call this luck. I also believe that I’ve paid my dues, have always taken the high road in sales, and have always put my client’s best interests before my own, so I’m also a believer that sometimes luck is on my side. This is also known as being optimistic. Optimism is a core characteristic of any ‘A’ level sales person. You cannot nor will you ever be an ‘A’ level sales person without optimism.


With regards to March Madness 2018 all you have to do is look at any sports or news website, newspaper, or blog over the past few days to understand that for the first year of many there is no clear frontrunner or favorite in the tournament this year. In fact, history was just made by UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) the 16 seed knocking off the 1 seed University of Virginia. One headline said it all: Expect The Unexpected. Well doesn’t that just about sum up anyone in sales.


If I had a dollar for every time this statement was made to me about sales or for when I’ve said it myself, I’d be retired by now living on yacht. Expect the unexpected is the most important statement anyone can say about a career in sales. You must be mentally strong and prepared for whatever comes your way. Just like the number 16 seed beat the number 1 seed, there are so many stories told about the “sure thing” sale fizzling out at the last moment only to be given to the competition.


My former CFO and I used to preach to all employees, not just sales people, that the deal isn’t done with the signature, it’s done when the money clears the bank. I’ve had signed agreements come my way only to be pulled off the table due to funding issues a week later. I’ve been given the verbal approval to never get the formal agreement signed. I’ve been told yes directly to my face to find out the next day the deal was inked with the competitor down the street. Expecting the unexpected is a sign of resilience.


Being resilient is another characteristic of an ‘A’ level sales person. Nothing is a sure thing and how you manage your emotions, being resilient, will pay dividends. Your prospects and clients will look at this resilience as a strength and they’ll want to do business with you more so because of it.