During a recent meeting with a new client's sales team, I discussed ideas to drive additional revenue. The meeting began with what products and services the client currently had to offer followed by a discussion on the concept of "cross-sell and up-sell."
Throughout my years as a sales leader and consultant, whenever potential sales looked weak, my first action would be to analyze all existing clients -- specifically, what products and services they currently use or have implemented. Next, I would determine what logical new or additional products and services I could offer them.
In my recent client meeting, we began to map out, by client, specific and tactical plans to contact certain clients, what messaging we could use and a justification for the natural progression into the new offering. We effectively created a "flight plan" or roadmap for each client that included potential business opportunities.
If you have not done this kind of project, the summer is a great time to work on this exercise. If business is slow, focus on your client base using the cross-sell/up-sell concept to help them achieve business objectives with new or updated offerings.
If you have multiple vendor product lines, it is critical you map out what logical cross-sells or up-sells are. I guarantee you will find many missed opportunities. I have found that in most organizations, salespeople simply don't see the connections or the applications within the client and therefore miss many sales opportunities. HINT: Use your technical teams to work with the sales teams in creating the flight plans.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 21, 2012 at 10:31 AM0 comments
In many of my writings and workshops, I have often spoken on the need for hiring creative salespeople and for sales management to offer creative solutions to problems. I believe creativity is critical to building a sales culture of high performance. The good news is "creativity" can be learned and enhanced in everyone.
I recently read a book titled Perfect Phrases for Creativity and Innovation by Karen Eriksen, published by McGraw Hill. I picked up the book because in my keynote program, "Gourmet Living," I normally mention adding creativity to your life to enhance both personal and professional success. Reading this book quickly added ideas and insights that can be easily implemented immediately. This is a sample of the first four chapters:
- Creativity Begins with Me
- Motivating Teams to Be Highly Creative
- A Structure for Creativity: Idea Management and Implementation
- Discovering the "Magic"
Each of these chapters (there are four more) provides concepts, phrases and tools to help the strategic sales leader improve their personal creativity, but the book also includes a process to coach individual performance. What I found extremely valuable was the chapter called "A Structure for Creativity" in which the author identifies 11 steps to lead a team through a creative problem-solving event. Eriksen breaks down the concepts into the detailed steps within each of the 11 categories. As a bonus she includes tools to assist both the leader as well as the participants in improving their ability to be creative. While all of these steps are somewhat fundamental, the added elements of stimulation for generating creative solutions are the meat within the book.
If you need to improve your own creativity quotient and increase your organizations ability to solve problems more creativity, read this book.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 16, 2012 at 12:32 PM0 comments
Most sales leaders have a lot of confidence, which is good -- but many don't have access to what many CEO have: insights and help from other CEOs. Worse, many organizations never gain real insights or help from their own customers.
What can you do to improve on these critical blind spots? Create a "Client Advisory Board" and a "Sales Management Advisory Board." These will help improve your business operations and provide a source of insight and accountability.
Client or Industry Advisory Board
Let's first explore a Client Advisory Board. This type of board consists of current customers that meet formally for a minimum of three times a year. We recommend that organizations select not just "pet" clients for this board but a cross-section of clients that will commit to a two-year term on the committee (initially, you will want to stagger terms).
The purpose of this group is to offer you insights into the needs of customers from their perspective. This includes evaluating your service, sales, operations and ideas on market trends. This is especially important for partners in vertical markets. Board members also can be used as sounding boards regarding new products or service offerings you may be considering.
Generally, we recommend five to seven clients on this board. The partner executive should prepare a formal agenda, run the meeting, coordinate the appropriate members of your organization to attend the session, and assign someone to take active meeting notes. It is important not to become defensive over issues that arise or comments that are made by the clients during the meetings. However, it must be clear to each person attending that the board meeting is not meant to be a negative complaining session, but rather one where all parties are sincerely working toward improving performance. If sessions drift toward complaints, the executive must take action to redirect the meeting.
From a sales perspective, the fact that you have a formal Client Advisory Board during the sales process can be an important sales asset. In smaller geographic areas or within a vertical market, prospects will know these individuals and will be impressed with your commitment to the customer experience.
As your board matures, you may allow them to elect officers, coordinate agendas and generally run the meeting. In several cases, this has led to client meeting days where all clients are invited to learn, share ideas and provide the partner organization an opportunity to show appreciation. (HINT: When this occurs, you'll know you have succeeded.) Invite your top prospects -- what a wonderful closing opportunity!
Sales Management Board of Advisors
Many CEOs attend monthly or quarterly meetings with their peers to discuss business challenges and gain insights from other business owners. At Acumen, we started a peer group concept for sales leaders. Until now, individuals with sales management responsibilities have not had the opportunity to share their plans, accomplishments and problems in a secure peer group.
Our premise is simple: This Web-based interactive group learning environment is designed for sales management professionals who wish to learn, cooperate and succeed by sharing their experiences.
Individuals with sales management responsibility face diverse challenges, like exceeding corporate revenue objectives, developing sales team capabilities, balancing client/company objectives, and more. In addition, sales management must focus on sales management systems, compensation planning, and so on. If you face these needs and responsibilities, it's time to invest in your success.
The Board of Advisors, offered by The Acumen Management Group Ltd. provides the opportunity. A select group of sales management professionals will experience what has only been available for CEOs or presidents -- an ongoing professional group that works together to help, encourage and challenge thinking. For more information on this service go here.
How Does the Sales Management Roundtable Work?
Our series of 10 monthly Web-based events enables a small group of sales management professionals to learn more about their careers, share challenges they face, and gain insights into how other individuals with similar responsibilities succeed, build their businesses and solve their problems. Each group is composed of 12 to 15 sales management professionals who meet for two hours once a month for 10 months (with a break in June and July). Each member has an opportunity to present his or her sales plans, business issues and challenges for group feedback.
Members learn from their peers' plans and assist them with their professional and personal growth. This group problem-sharing and problem-solving environment helps you translate their problems and solutions to your situation. E-mail me to register and make the commitment to grow professionally and personally.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 02, 2012 at 12:21 PM0 comments
April 1 is right around the corner and I want all of you reading to avoid being this year's fool.
Recently, during a consulting session with a client's president and sales manager, we discussed two points that I thought would be good items to bring up in this week's blog.
The first point, which is not an unusual one, was to ensure both the president and sales management were in agreement as to weekly priorities. Often, I find the sales manger focused on important activities during a their hectic weekly schedule -- putting out fires, solving administration issues, coaching/mentoring, recruiting...oh, and trying to ensure sales are being achieved. Meanwhile the president is frustrated that other key objectives are not being completed.
While time management is a major topic for sales leaders, what I almost always recommend is that on Friday afternoons, the president and sales manager meet to agree on the priorities for the coming week and to discuss the achievements/problems of the past week. This is what I call "managing your sales manager." The whitepaper "How to Manage Sales for Predictable Revenue," which you can download on my site, was created for this specific purpose. It defines the 40 top actions that sales managers must work on to achieve predictable revenues. By following this simple recommendation everyone is focused on the agreed-upon priorities.
The second point is about summer. I don't mean vacations -- I mean being forward-thinking. In my discussions this past week, it was obvious both the president and sales manager were thinking week-to-week. While that is important to attain revenue goals, it becomes a treadmill that brings exhaustion, both mental and physical. I recommended the following actions:
- Know what your revenue objectives are for the next five quarters and make sure you match your hiring plans to achieve the goals. Know when you need to hire salespeople in time to be trained to achieve your sales objectives.
- Prepare a planned organizational chart that extends over 18 months. This will help in No. 1, but also provide you an awareness of your resource needs.
- Create your sales dashboards for a weekly, monthly, quarterly and even year-to-date analysis. By doing this you will see a better trend analysis and you will be paying attention to both short- and longer-term results.
- Plan and define your sales training plans quarterly, with topics, dates/times and people responsible.
- What sales promotions, contests and sales games do you have planned for the second quarter, and even this summer, to maintain revenues and to create fun?
Advanced or forward-looking planning will greatly reduce the stress and improve the functionality of the sales manager. It will also reduce the natural stress that is created when managing a sales organization and working with the executive team within your company.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 29, 2012 at 3:26 PM0 comments
During the past few months, the stock market has taken off and the papers have started shouting about positive economic indicators: Rents are heading up, monthly job creation rates hit 200,000, et cetera. What is your perception? More importantly, what are you doing to lead and manage your organization and prepare for better times?
In today's economic times, the companies most likely to thrive are those that invest time in scrutinizing their strategic sales-management plans. They review everything from their forecasts to their pipelines, looking hard at important numbers such as cost of sales, percentage of market share, salesperson-effectiveness ratios and customer lifetime value.
When we see companies struggling, it's often because they lack such blueprints. Effective plans require combining an organization's goals and individual salespeople's business plans with a set of metrics designed to gauge everyone's progress in meeting those objectives.
Following are what we believe are the fundamental metrics that partners should include in "dashboards" for measuring their sales teams' effectiveness:
- Accuracy percentage for monthly forecast by salesperson
- Dollar value of pipeline by stage; number of opportunities by stage
- Dollar value of pipeline ratio to future monthly quotas
- Actual sales activity compared to a defined set of standards
- Average order value
- Win/loss rate percentages by salesperson
Beyond the Basics
As you continue developing your company's dashboard, you may wish to build in additional metrics such as the following:
- Value of net new account sales as percentage of total sales for month and year to date
- Existing account sales as percentage of total sales, month and year to date
- Rev salesperson profitability to sales volume
- Revenue per current customer per year as percentage of total sales
- Cost per lead by source
- Sales-cycle time from initial contact by salesperson to decision
- Number of days with sales outstanding, goal versus actual
- Blended billing consultant rate, goal versus actual
- Realization consultant rate, goal versus actual
- Utilization consultant rate, goal versus actual
- Consultant backlog days, goal versus actual
- Direct sales expense as a percentage of volume, margin and quota
Looking Ahead: Leading Indicators
In addition, smart sales leaders increasingly rely on what we call "leading indicators." These are activities or ratios that can predict revenues at least 60 days out. While simply looking at future pipeline values can provide a similar forecast, growth-focused partners may find these indicators useful as well.
In most cases, sales events occurring early in the sales cycle are most likely to lead to high-percentage sales opportunities. If these begin to fall, future pipelines and revenues will probably follow the same pattern. Potential leading indicators include the numbers of:
- New-prospect calls made per week
- Face-to-face sales calls made per week
- Subject-matter expert or presales tech-support calls made per week
- Discovery calls made per month
- Demonstrations and executive presentations made per month
We also recommend creating graphs comparing these numbers to dollars booked or margins generated, which can help salespeople see the relationship between indicators and results.
Finally, remember that the ultimate goal is improving your ratios and results each month and each quarter -- not simply tracking them. That's the real reason for developing a dashboard, and the real route to success.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 19, 2012 at 3:12 PM0 comments
First of all, the title of this blog is misleading. Second of all, even if it weren't, it wouldn't be a good thing.
No matter how big their sales organizations are, sales leaders who assume they are responsible for solving every problem generally fail to achieve the ultimate objective.
Generally, new sales managers want to make their sales teams feel they are delivering value and are determined to help salespeople on their various tasks, problems and complaints. These sales managers often attempt to become the main cog in their sales organizations. Nothing can be further from the primary goal.
First, sales managers must recognize that it is their job to make salespeople independent of them, not dependent on them. Whenever I find that the sales manager is the first and last person to leave the office, I sense an issue.
Second, when I review "to-do" lists for sales managers and find topics that don't belong there, I again suspect a problem with lack of salespeople dependence.
The ideal sales manager shows up on time, takes a nice lunch break and leaves before his or her sales team. How does this happen?
- As I've written before, focus on hiring only quality salespeople.
- Sales managers must recognize it is not their job to make quota every month -- it is the salespersons'. Once this is clearly understood, the next elements fall into place.
- Every six months, each salesperson must create a personalized business plan. This is more than a simple forecast, but a plan on how they will achieve their quota. In fact, I like to suggest they forecast three times their quota.
- The 90-day sales training plans are prepared each quarter, with dates, times and topics carefully designed. Salespeople or other individuals within the firm are assigned the responsibility for delivering the training. The sales manager only plans the training.
- Individual salesperson reviews are held once a month, formally each quarter.
- The Monday morning sales meetings follow the pre-planned agenda/format and are positive events.
- Sales contests are fun and are planned on a yearly basis.
- Individual salesperson coaching on sales skills occurs during regularly scheduled sales calls, not just whenever it happens.
- The sales manager has figured out the recipe for the business. They know what metrics to measure to comfortably predict revenue and each salesperson knows and measures these metrics themselves.
The main theme is: Be under control. There are systems in place, the salespeople know the plans, they are held accountable and fully understand that management is there to support them, not take care of them.
If you want a more complete list and to help you develop a prescriptive approach to sales management, go to our Web site and download a free whitepaper "The Job of Sales Management."
Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 12, 2012 at 3:29 PM0 comments
I was at a sales conference in Puerto Rico several years ago. While I was waiting for my return flight, I started to converse with another flier. He was British and just finishing his holiday. We discussed mutual occupations and experiences. When he learned that I had just addressed a sales conference, he asked about the topic and purpose of the event. After I explained, he said to me, "Take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime, during the lifetime of the opportunity!" I loved that comment and I have used quite often ever since.
As I approach another birthday, that quote is even more important to me. Each of us only has a certain of number of "opportunities of a lifetime" to experience. These opportunities can be professional as well as personal. The challenge I see is that too many individuals are simply moving through life rather than experiencing life. I am firmly convinced that learning to impact the lives of others through service, trying new things, being kind and simply having fun put more zest in your life and a bounce in your step.
Recently, a man named Jim whom I knew only slightly passed away; the comments everyone made about Jim were wonderful. One that I recall was that whenever Jim met someone, he always asked them, "Now tell me what you have been up to." What a nice way to express warmth.
In our sales management workshops we spend time coaching, mentoring and teaching communication skills. The one idea I like to stress to attendees or during a consulting relationship is when working with your sales team and a salesperson calls you or walks into your office, the first thing you should say is "How can I help you?" Make sure you express that warmth and demonstrate you care. It will go a long way toward building a trusting relationship and a motivated team.
Take advantage of the opportunity, I have a short video for you on this concept here.
Have a great March and finish the quarter strong!
Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 06, 2012 at 4:14 PM0 comments
While in the process of writing a magazine column on the future of sales and social media I interviewed three people and posed several questions in order to get their views. I thought for this week's blog I would also introduce you to my current thinking and I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts on the direction of sales and the use of social media.
In the traditional sense of a new product introduction, social media is moving through various stages. It is my opinion we have obviously crossed the chasm from Stage 1 into full-blown Stage 2 product acceptance and, in most cases, salespeople and sales leadership have accepted and become comfortable in using forms of social media for their personal lives as well as in a limited business environments.
It is also my belief that if you aren't actively using a variety of social media applications in your sales process/organization it is critical you begin to learn to use them and become comfortable with the current social media tools. Lauren Carlson describes the top five uses of social media in sales very clearly in her recent blog here.
Individuals use social media -- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, texting, et cetera -- for their personal use, and corporations use it in marketing and even building their internal social networks. The thinking is that current clients and prospects will begin to accept social media more easily in their sales relationships.
The question becomes, where do we go from here now that social media as we know it has been generally accepted by individuals and corporations? The answer is Stage 3.
Jay McBain, from Channel Eyes, a social media/network company focused on the IT channel, commented that based on his research on the topic, "social [media] would overtake Web sites as the No. 1 source of information and online engagement in 2012." Jay believes there will be a split -- a movement to enhance personal social media and the trend to create a "business social media" set of software solutions.
This is exactly what I believe to be the direction we will move. As CRM applications improve and as more cloud-based applications are developed, there will be a greater integration and utilization of business social media. Salespeople will uncover more prospects, prospects will accept this kind of communication and both parties will interact comfortably. As Peter Watts from Solutionize, a software business collaboration services company, predicts, so-called sales collaboration networks (SCN) will eventually be deployed. These are highly integrated applications that will easily allow the salesperson to offer the right solutions with an interactive approach, generating huge value to the buyer, rather than simply data sheets or a nice Web site.
Leadership must focus on this changing sales process. The business outcome must be beneficial to the buyer, seller and vendor. It is my belief that this more highly communicative process will make decision-making easier and faster by removing any heavy lifting. SCN will allow salespeople to reach more prospects and work at a pace commensurate with today's current demands and profit measures.
What changes do you believe will occur with more business social media solutions? The world continues to change -- are you? Is your sales process? Let know your thoughts below.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 27, 2012 at 4:27 PM0 comments
This week's blog is a review of a book titled Executive Toughness: The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance by Dr. Jason Selk and published by McGraw Hill.
When it comes to reading, I like to switch between business books focused on some aspect of my profession and then another book for personal enjoyment. Why did this book catch my eye? After writing four books myself, I found Executive Toughness to be a terrific read that can reveal to new managers or experienced business leaders something new to improve upon.
As each page flew by, I found myself underlining sentences, circling ideas and folding over pages as concepts and tools were introduced. Selk introduces each new idea with a story of a person that defines his message, nicely personalizing the concepts in ways the reader could relate to. And at the conclusion of each section, he included tools so the reader could begin to build their own personal "training" program. This allowed the reader not only to read and understand the topic, but to put the information into their personalized action plan!
(As an aside, Selk's conversations and stories with famed coach John Madden were terrific.)
The topics of the book that I particularly enjoyed were those on accountability (readers of this blog know my feelings on accountability, discipline and control), self-evaluation, improving execution and consistency (in my sales leadership workshops, I frequently state that execution is the key element in high-performance sales organizations), mental work (this section pays for the book!), and optimism.
And to make the book even better, the last 12 pages gives you a handbook to move forward with your personalized program.
Selk hits a key point: You must be personally in balance, know what you want and take action to achieve high performance. Buy the book, read it and take action -- you will be a better person because of it.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 14, 2012 at 11:44 AM0 comments
Hiring. It's the No. 1 job of sales management but it's also the most difficult.
If you hire effectively, the job of sales management becomes much easier. But if you hire the wrong salesperson, it may cost you four times what you ended up paying that person while they were on your team.
If you are serious about building a high-performance sales team I have something special for you; I will train you on the aspects of building a recruiting process that will improve your odds of only hiring the best salespeople -- not the best available. You can register for my webinar here. In this webinar, I will teach you how to remove emotion from the hiring process and improve your odds for hiring salespeople who will produce. You will learn:
- Five techniques to increase interviewing effectiveness.
- How to evaluate the traits of high-performers.
- How to create a sales recruiting scorecard that "takes the emotion" out of hiring decisions.
- How to use and create a sales case study specifically designed for your business.
- How to build an interviewing process to hire the best, not just the best available.
- How to separate the average from top performers.
This webinar, which takes place on Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. EST, is perfect for sales managers, executives, business owners, HR professionals and anyone who is involved in the sales hiring process.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 06, 2012 at 11:29 AM0 comments
After giving a keynote program called "Gourmet Living" recently, an attendee came up to me and discussed her challenges as a sales manager. The last three years have been tough and she was looking for new ideas for 2012 to excite her team and also to simply change up the routine.
Since my keynote program had been about creating a "menu for your life" and used many cooking metaphors, I started thinking about what her sales management recipe should be. If 2011 left a bad taste in your mouth, use the following ingredients to create a new recipe to make 2012 your best year ever.
Become a Detective
In sales management workshops, we always talk about "inspect what you expect." Once a week, review your sales team's CRM system to ensure they are using it properly and casually ask each team member about their certain activities within their key accounts. Once they know you are actually reviewing their accounts they will be more precise and begin to be more accurate. Next, make two extra sales calls per month with each sales rep. Confirm that hey can sell your firm and they are using the proper sales tools. These actions are not micro-management -- they are designed to provide you greater opportunities to coach and grow your team.
Recognize your sales team might be tired or somewhat challenged based upon the last three years of tight budgets and stress. Fire them up with new products or packaging/pricing, change the game with new times for sales and sales training meetings, or even rearrange the sales offices. Once a month, take your sales team on a field trip to visit a customer and let the customer "sell" your team on your products/services.
Find Creative Dust
Read a book on creativity and share it with your team. The truly great salespeople are the most creative and it is true that creativity can be learned. As a sales manager, creative sales strategies will push you over your quota. Get your entire team into a creativity fix.
Become an SOB (Student of Business)
Invest in sales management training, books and DVDs. Create your own network of other sales managers where you can discuss ideas, learn what is working for others and explore new sales management concepts. Push yourself to become a professional in 2012. Consider visiting other offices and view how their sales managers run their sales teams. At our Web site you will find free videos on "hiring and training salespeople" and other articles I have written on sales management. You might also go back and skim through the blog to look for other ideas.
While these are just a few ideas, I would enjoy reading your reactions or other recipes for success below. As a team of readers, let's build up a complete recipe for each as we work to make 2012 a feast we will always remember.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on January 24, 2012 at 11:29 AM0 comments
As a sales leadership consultant, I think this article by Lauren Carlson, "SFA 15 Years Later: Now Every Rep's Best Friend," hits on many valid points. The cloud and CRM usability are key elements in the acceptance of CRM, as is the price/cost issue, especially for the SMB market. The marketing campaign features are extremely important and the interface to accounting/ERP systems greatly improves the customer service aspect, as well as gives a more 360-degree view. They make CRM more than a salesperson's tool.
One other element that should be recognized is the "tech savvy" nature of reps today versus even 10 years ago. This has made CRM acceptance so much easier.
However, what is interesting is that forecasting accuracy is still a challenge for the reps/sales managers. Also, training and implementation of CRM is still greatly under-emphasized, and I find many organizations with salespeople using the same CRM system differently and not following a sales process properly. Third, this lack of discipline leads to inaccurate pipeline and activity reporting.
These few issues are the direct result of sales leadership and are training and management functions. The mistake I see in many CRM systems and vendors is that they focus on the salesperson, not on the needs of the sales manager or organization. Sales leadership requires a more forward-looking approach to build predictable revenue. With a greater proactive approach and sales management focus, the three topics I mentioned above would help the sales manager take greater charge of the CRM tool and it would be more of a useful tool for sales leadership.
Posted by Ken Thoreson on January 17, 2012 at 11:47 AM0 comments