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The 4 Types of Buyers

The concept of selling based on your buyer's personality style has been around for a while, but I'm often surprised at how many sales professionals aren't familiar with it. Knowing the four basic personality styles in the model can help you communicate and build a relationship with your prospects, increase your sales volume and improve your velocity.

1. The Director is to the point and focused on the job. Relationships are not important. When dealing with a director, emphasize short-term benefits and appeal to a need to gain advantage. Briefly cover main benefits and isolate dollar-related topics or verifiable benefits. Recognizing signs of impatience will help. In presentations use brief, bottom-line visuals, ask open-ended questions designed to make the prospect talk and allow the director to lead. To speed up closing, provide alternatives, handle objections by taking issue with the facts and not the person, and motivate a director to close by using objectives, results and a sense of urgency. Ask for the order -- be dramatic and brief, then be quiet.

2. A Persuader is outgoing, expressive and wants to be the center of attention. Approach a persuader informally -- go with a first name, listen for personal information and use it as you work to develop a relationship. Avoid formal visuals and PowerPoint -- use handouts with testimonial information that is woven into an unstructured and interesting discussion. Show personal respect by being open and honest, even about weaknesses of your solution. In closing, provide examples of solutions accepted by others the persuader respects. Offer incentives for a willingness to take a risk, avoid too many details, speak to the persuader's dreams and make the person a hero. Create a sense of urgency and help the persuader to buy, but don't make the close too obvious. Focus on next steps and use an assumptive close by providing ideas for implementing action.

3. Analytical personality types are the record keepers, but don't get them confused with only being the CFO or controller. Many executives can be analytical. During your sales process you will need to emphasize research. Know the client's situation thoroughly, state facts and prepare alternative choices. Your discussion must be detailed, logical and low key. Emphasize the tested, proven and well-documented aspects of your implementation process and probe for issues that might be barriers. With this group, your presentations should use visuals, charts and statistics that can be left behind for review. These individuals will be skeptical and especially wary of exaggerated claims. During your closing it's important that you be thorough. If you can't get a commitment, ask for specific next steps. Restate your summary and those newly provided next steps as a trial close before ending a meeting.

4. In working with Supporters it's important that you realize your role in their decision process. As a professional you will need to research a client's growth plans and show how your solution will benefit the client company. During your sales call, ask open-ended questions that reveal future and current plans, then relate how your solution benefits those plans. In conversation, allow some latitude to give the client opportunities to open up. During your presentation, think laterally and invite a supporter's comments on plans and wishes; use the supporter as a sounding board. Be careful not to push or crowd. You must build trust and convey respect by recognizing their achievement and intelligence. These people prefer cooperation and stability, not confrontation. During your closing, provide examples of others that have accepted the solution. Use a low-key, assumptive close to assist them with their goals. Avoid hard, "ask for order" selling and help them to make a positive decision. Selling trust and confidence is critical.

People are complicated. Everyone has a portion of each of the four personality structures, but people often have a dominant style and a secondary style. The more you know about them and the more you know about how to professionally work with your prospects, the more money you will make.

Take the time to improve your close ratios by remembering that selling is an "emotional art." Use all the available tools you can and pay attention to your prospects' personalities.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on November 17, 2014 at 3:37 PM0 comments

2015 Business Planning: 3 Tips To Improve the Process

Last week, I did a webcast for a vendor that was designed for its channel resellers. Its purpose was to discuss effective business planning and to review a specific process to ensure the vendor's plans -- and, more importantly, its execution in 2015 -- will be at higher levels.

The content of the webcast was based upon our ESTEEM Formula, a format we use to work our clients through a process to build their business plans. When people think about a business plan, we normally think of an Excel spreadsheet with estimated revenues and expenses. But we believe it needs to be more comprehensive, with specific departmental action plans. The program was an effort by the vendor to increase the professionalism and productivity of its partners. 

While I obviously can't share the entire 60-minute program here, I thought I might share a few elements.

First, take the business assessment evaluation from our Web site. It is a comprehensive tool designed to reflect your organization's maturity level. It will measure management, sales, HR, marketing and other components of your business. The assessment will grade each section and provide you with insights into what to potentially focus on in the new year.

Second, pass out the following questions to your management team. They have two weeks to complete them. At your management meeting, compare everyone's thoughts and discuss the findings. Then you can begin to develop your business plan.

  • What went well in the past year?
  • What did not go well?
  • What are the key drivers?
  • What are the key metrics?
  • What are the risks?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • What are some of the specific factors you will be facing in 2015?
  • What assumptions are you making about the market in 2015?
  • What assumptions did you make about your product offerings in 2014? Still true?
  • What assumptions did you make about your company capability in 2014? Still true?

Third, use a format that makes sense for your firm. This is Acumen's ESTEEM format:

  • Environment
  • Strategy
  • Tactical effect
  • Execution
  • Evaluation
  • Measurement

How ever you get ready for 2015, it's critical to establish a vision and strategic objectives, and then develop actionable/tactical programs that are designed to achieve the goals. Then, as these action plans are detailed, assign responsibility and hold people accountable! We use a tool call the Business Plan Roadmap that allows executives to follow each objective and the action tracts and timelines to ensure success. If you want a copy, please send me an e-mail at Ken@AcumenMgmt.com.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on November 10, 2014 at 3:25 PM0 comments

How To Score Your Interviews

In every book on sales management, especially those that are focused on recruiting and interviewing salespeople, there are always tools, sample questions, salesperson assessments and descriptions on various techniques used during the process. In my own book, Your Sales Management Guru's Guide to Recruiting High-Performance Sales Teams, I have included a variety of sample questions, interviewing ideas and even a three-week new hire on-boarding sample.

One of the most highly used tools to improve selection is the "candidate interview scorecard." How can you build one? Take action on the next two steps and you will improve the quality of your selection process dramatically.

Fundamentally, the two elements that I believe need to be absolutely part of the interview process are: 

1. A clear definition of what your ideal candidate looks like. Simply put, it is critical you define specifically a minimum of the five work experiences/areas of knowledge that you require, and the five psychological or emotional characteristics the job demands. Examples might include:

  • Has four years of sales experience in your industry.
  • Has worked a regional sales territory versus a local geographic one.
  • Has knowledge of a specific vertical market.
  • Has new territory development/hunter experience.
  • Can work independently (home office).
  • Competitive.
  • Creative.

Knowing these elements will help you write your advertisement, job descriptions, determine your interview process, evaluate and scan resumes and begin to narrow down your candidates. 

2. The next step is to take the emotion out of your hiring process. I mention this for a reason: It's critical. I often hear managers compare various candidates by saying, "I really liked this one. I feel good about her. He seems to be what we are looking for." These kinds of comments generally come from the gut and lead to poor selection.

We recommend creating a "candidate interview scorecard" to assist the interview team with accurately assessing each candidate. This tool is used during the interview and right after the interview is completed. The scorecard contains a list of 10 to 15 words from the list in No. 1, with each word listed and ranked on a scale of 1 to 5. During the interview, the scorecard is upside down and the interviewer simply takes any notes on that document. When the interview is complete, the scorecard is turned around and the candidate is immediately scored simply by selecting the number associated by each word.

All the candidates' scorecards are then shared with their individual rankings totaled. You will then easily see how each candidate was ranked by each interviewer and you can rank/stack each candidate. I like to recommend having at least three people on your interview team.

Take the time to define your "candidate interview scorecard" and dramatically improve your sales candidate selection. Many of my clients have taken this approach and implemented it in all employee selection processes. 

What other tools do you use to improve your interviewing and hiring process?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on November 03, 2014 at 1:37 PM0 comments

Conquering Sales Fears and the 'Wal-Mart Mentality'

While right now everyone else might be thinking of their Halloween costumes or what tricks or treats they may provide, as sales leaders we must consider the bigger picture. It is a scary world out there and many fears exist -- about the future of the business cycle, new taxes that will hit in 2015, consumers concerned about their livelihoods and the fears of your sales team as they face another challenging year. All of these fears impact your planning actions.

Emotion has always been a major element in the sales environment. Buyers today are more risk-averse, salespeople are more cautious and less self-confident and, worse than that, the relationships between buyers and sellers are caught up in "cost vs. value."

It is evident the Wal-Mart mentality has taken hold.

Wal-Mart for years has pressured vendors for the low-cost option. Just today, I listened to a prospective client describe how prospects are treating his sales teams and how his sales team dreads attempting to call on "net new" opportunities. "It's all about low-price vendor relationships versus how we like to work as a consultative partner with our clients," he stated.  

The good news is in the technology sector, two factors separate us from Wal-Mart mentality. In selling solutions, partners can sell productivity enhancements and business efficiency, as well as cost effectiveness. If you do it right, you can sell both at the same time! I challenge you to consider what other industries address these most important business challenges.

The question is, as an owner or sales leader, how are you lowering the fear in your sales teams and how are they approaching their prospects or clients to lower their fears?

At a recent conference I led three back-to-back breakout sessions. In reading the evaluations and in conversations afterward, I heard these fear-based questions: "What should I do...?" "What do you recommend...?" "How should I address...?"

What are your action steps to reduce fear and finish off 2014? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Create a sales theme. Most would consider this a weak action, but if you spend time creating a mantra or maxim that you believe in and focus your energies around reinforcing it with your sales team, the desired attitude will build. Displayed at the University of Tennessee, for example, are the seven maxims of former coach General Robert Neyland. His first is, "The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win." I have used "Be brilliant on the basics" or "We will dominate our market and take an assertive sales approach." Each of these is designed to build a certain sales mentality.

  2. Focus your sales team on selling to the business challenges of the non-IT decision makers. This requires sales training that includes adding roleplay in your sales meetings. The issues your team must understand are operational efficiency, cost containment, customer responsiveness, revenue growth and increased market share. What issues do the CEO, COO, CFO, VP of sales/marketing, VP of HR or VP of manufacturing care about? If you make the business case to the COO, they can find the money. Make your sales team more confident; give them the knowledge to hold their own in tough sales situations. Mental toughness is critical.

  3. Re-evaluate your marketing and messaging. To gain attention you need to be considered "edgy" and stand out in the market. The important element is to create multiple messaging that addresses the business challenges from No. 2 above. Campaigns should be focused to the specific job title you are attempting to address. Most partners use the same messaging to address all job titles or, worse, use a technology message expecting business decision makers to understand or translate the technology pitch into valid business benefits. Run your "Business Breakfasts" or "Executive Forums" campaigns aimed specifically to a job title with the appropriate message for that title. "Drive an increase in customer satisfaction and lower your costs" certainly would get the attention of the VP of marketing or COO.

Don't be scared; be aware. The important action is to take action. Sales leaders must recognize their environment and build a culture of success with an organized plan of attack.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 29, 2014 at 12:37 PM0 comments

Do You Know Your A-B-C Clients?

Depending on the client's situation, one of the top five actions we take is to perform an A-B-C analysis of their customer base. This exercise can be valuable for many reasons that impact sales, marketing and operations. 

If you are unfamiliar with this concept, essentially, the client generates a list of all of their customers showing total combined revenues and margin over a recent three- or five-year period. After this report is created, the next step is to perform a lifetime value analysis.

First, let's explore the A-B-C analysis. In looking at the report, you will generally see the following trend:

  • 15 percent of clients make up 65 percent of sales = A
  • 20 percent of clients make up 20 percent of sales = B
  • 65 percent of clients make up 15 percent of sales = C

Note: 35 percent of your clients make up 85 percent of your business.

Second, the percentages may not be precise, but what you are looking for is where to draw the lines where you can see a separation. Once you have these lines drawn, we recommend you schedule a meeting with  the sales team and management team to discuss what you have found. You want to analyze the various segments and look for common demographics of the As, Bs and Cs. Examples might be:

  • Total revenues
  • Number of employees
  • What vertical markets
  • Number of locations
  • Types of services/products they purchased

What you are specifically looking for are the common traits of the As and Bs. Then, those kinds of prospects with similar demographics become your only targets for marketing and for sales prospecting. If you purchase databases, those demographics become your criteria. In your CRM system, call frequency patterns are set to connect with all the As and Bs, six times a year. Your focus becomes capturing more As and Bs, not Cs.

The reason to focus on the As and Bs is that, for whatever reason, they are in need of your services, agree to your value proposition and most likely are your best clients.

Third, look at your C customers and perform a lifetime value calculation (this formula is actually good for all clients, but focus on the Cs first). This analysis is run for the past three or five years showing the total cost to acquire a client, cost to support the client over the three or five years, and the real profit generated by the client. In many cases, we have found that companies are over-supporting a large number of their customers and many C-based clients are also the slow-paying, unhappy customers that cause the most pain.

Take an analytical approach to understanding your customer base. It will drive better messaging, increase order rates and improve your profitability -- sounds like an excellent formula to get started on 2015!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 23, 2014 at 11:31 AM0 comments

Creating a Sales Compensation Plan

When it comes to how businesses pay their salespeople, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. That's especially true for many companies with diverse products and services that include a mix of products and services. Some pay commission based on sales, while others only pay on margin; still others blend both with incentives and special bonus plans.

No matter which approach you use, success depends on awareness. Your sales management team must understand your company's overall goals and structure compensation to align with them. In short, sales compensation should be not just a tactical focus for your organization, but a strategic one, as well.

Sizing It Up
Compensation plans shouldn't be developed in a vacuum. You and your sales leaders need a solid grasp of your overall industry and your organization's place in it. You'll need to factor in variables such as new product launches and major promotions, as well as consider your personnel structure.

You should also address these questions: Is your company a startup or an established business? What are sales goals? How long are your delivery cycles? What are your objectives to secure new clients, increase average order sizes and grow margins? Do you want to open a vertical market or new products? Each answer will help you design a compensation plan tailored to your company's specific needs.

Finally, take a hard look at your sales organization. For instance, do you need to attract new representatives to make C-level sales calls? Do you want to retain employees to build a long-term, client-based sales team, or is rapid turnover acceptable?

Understanding Cost of Sales
Of course, you can reduce selling costs and enhance profits by capping sales compensation, but in the long run you get what you pay for. If you hire good salespeople and compensate them poorly, expect high turnover, which comes with costs of its own. A sales plan that compensates strong performance will allow you to attract the best salespeople -- and retain them, as well.

Calculating the cost of sales (CoS) is an important part of planning a compensation package. For a quick CoS ratio, simply take an individual's salary plus commissions earned at 100 percent of quota and potential bonus opportunities, then divide by that person's revenues to obtain the percentage. A more sophisticated approach adds in marketing expenses, corporate overhead, direct expenses paid to the salesperson and expenses related to sales support costs.

Examining the Options
Compensation plans vary widely, but all should include "accelerators" -- that is, increased commission rates for employees who achieve target levels.

  • Profit-Based: Commission rates change as margin levels increase. These plans are generally based on invoice, product or monthly averages of margin generation.
  • Revenue/Quota: Compensation is based on sheer volume achieved over the previous sales period or on a percentage of a quota achievement.
  • Balanced: Compensation is based on margin, revenue and a third component, such as quota attainment.
  • Team: Bonuses go to all team members when quarter-to-date (QTD) sales goals are achieved.

There are many variations and we recommend multiple combinations based on the objectives of the organization.

Tailoring Tips
Here are a few final considerations to keep in mind as you customize your compensation plan:

  • In new organizations focused on expanding within existing markets, the compensation plan will differ dramatically from that of an established company in the same industry. A mature, market-dominant company that receives a large percentage of its revenues from a small, loyal customer base can offer lower commissions and, perhaps, lower overall salaries. But a newcomer to an existing market probably needs to offer higher compensation to attract top-performing salespeople who can build a strong customer base.

  • New organizations in new markets need compensation plans reflecting the volatile environment, usually with higher-than-average base pay.

  • Companies in transition or undergoing a turnaround typically experience a higher CoS ratio; they may be best served by flexible plans incorporating morale- and team-building components.

  • Organizations positioned for high growth should develop plans covering brief, six-month periods. This will let management test theories and change direction while allowing the sales team to adjust accordingly.

No question about it: Creating an effective sales compensation plan is hard work, but the effort typically pays off in both improved sales performance and achievement of your corporate goals.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 07, 2014 at 11:43 AM0 comments

Should Salespeople Prospect Anymore?

Last week, during a client's sales meeting, we got into a discussion regarding pipeline values. Needless to say, the number of prospects and dollar values were insufficient to achieve the overall corporate revenue objectives. Several of the salespeople blamed marketing for not generating enough quality leads (ever hear that before?)  and, as the discussion of "territory development" evolved, several of the salespeople said they simply didn't feel it was their responsibility to prospect because of the futility of cold calling/phone calling and event marketing. 

In many organizations, marketing is expected to develop leads via a well-messaged, nurturing campaign with a quality database with an objective to set up the salesperson with a highly qualified opportunity. In this format, there may be a series of marketing campaigns, telesales people and a well-designed CRM reporting system.

In other organizations, there is limited marketing of this nature, with an expectation that sales will build relationships that lead to additional business opportunities. The question is: As a sales manager, how should you structure your sales team's expectations around prospecting?

First, it depends. What is your sales process? Are you selling large accounts with a complex sales cycle or are you more transactional, with short sales cycles selling to small business? Are you territory-based or open territories? Your business type will alter what works.

Second, it is my belief that salespeople need to prospect continually. The real question is how. Below are a few ideas with brief descriptions (brief simply because of space; if you have questions on the specifics, just ask!).

  • Networking: Every salesperson should attend one event a month. This is not negotiable.

  • Circles of Influence: Develop a list of individuals who can influence your sales opportunities or who can refer business to you. Depending on your business, these could CPAs, commercial real estate brokers, contractors, architects, et cetera. Each of these individuals needs to be contacted at least once a quarter.

  • LinkedIn:  Read my blog on Acumen power networking or ask me for it at Ken@AcumenMgmt.com.

  • 20/20 Plan: Each salesperson sends two distinct direct mail pieces referring to your products/services to 20 suspects -- 20 pieces one week, 20 the next week. In the third week, the salesperson calls the 20 suspects. This process is repeated each week.

  • Thought Leadership Events: Schedule one breakfast event a month with a topic based on thought leadership marketing. This event is driven by marketing, but the salesperson is responsible for calling/inviting individuals to the meeting. This gives the salesperson a reason and message to communicate to their prospects/suspects.

  • Referral: The salesperson should ask their customers for referrals twice a year.

  • Bus-Ecosystem: Each salesperson should develop relationships with three to five other salespeople who sell non-competitive, but related products/services into common marketplace.

  • Who-You-Know List: Each salesperson should create a list of everyone they know -- friends, business associates, professionals. This is a good sales meeting idea to come up with "titles" of individuals your sales team might know. Then, make sure they know what you do and what problems you solve using a personal letter.

  • Review Calendars: A good thing to do this time of year is to review your calendars for the past 12 months. You might find someone you had forgotten to follow up on.

That's a good list to start with. What prospecting ideas are you using that are working? Care to share? Let's build up a comprehensive list so that everyone can finish the year strong and be positioned to make 2015 your best year ever.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 29, 2014 at 11:55 AM0 comments

Be a Top Performer...And Then Some

Whether it is a January kickoff event, a Monday morning sales meeting or a quarterly salesperson review session, sales managers must sell the need to plan for success.

Planning for success means you build a sales organization that is not opportunistic in account management, prospecting, et cetera, but focused on a methodology to ensure success. It also means that there is an expectation or attitude from management that is transmitted to the team that "we" will be successful, "we" are winners, "we" are better and "we" work together.

This is part of the emotional makeup that creates an atmosphere that separates the average-performing organizations from top-performing sales teams. In preparing to speak at a sales award banquet this week, I thought about what kind of message I wanted to leave with the audience, and I realized that this may be a common concept that all sales leaders must reinforce to their teams.

What do you need to create this environment? The answer is a sales management system that reinforces what you expect and a leadership and management style that is focused only on accepting high performance in all aspects of life. This means every salesperson must have:

  • a yearly salesperson business plan
  • Top 15 account plans (if appropriate)
  • a rolling 90-day sales training plan
  • formal monthly/quarterly salesperson reviews
  • sales contests that drive fun, recognition and teamwork
  • measurement systems that promote success and show effectiveness

Every salesperson wants to be successful, as does every sales manager. Everyone has good ideas, but execution becomes the key differentiator in success. You have to work on the methodology, but you also have to focus on the emotional aspects of success. The difference in success is three simple words -- "and then some." For example, the difference between average performers and top performers are:

  • Top performers do what is expected...and then some.
  • They meet their obligations fairly and squarely...and then some.
  • They are good friends, helpful neighbors...and then some.
  • They are thoughtful of others, considerate and kind...and then some.
  • They can be counted on in an emergency...and then some.

As you go about your week, make sure you do what is expected...and then some.

In my book, Leading High Performance Sales Teams, we discuss these ideas and others in greater detail; you can listen to a podcast of the book in our store. Listen to a new interview podcast on sales management here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 11, 2014 at 1:30 PM0 comments

What's Your Motivation?

A friend of mine recently asked me where I had been lately. When I mentioned that in July I had been in San Diego, Washington, D.C. and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and that I was leaving again this week for Las Vegas, he just shook his head and said, "I don't know now how you do it!"

I seem to have a lot to juggle, as do many people, but what keeps me on a fairly busy travel schedule is more than simply work -- it's a passion. It has been 16-and-a-half years since I started Acumen Management Group and the basis behind the company still drives me.

For the first time, I will share a portion of my business plan. It's only one section and my purpose is not to reveal what I believe in, but hopefully to give you an idea to either share your values with others or, more importantly (if you don't already have them), to develop them for your company and/or yourself. 

What Value We Bring
We work to leverage and add additional insight to our client base, allowing existing management and sales management programs to operate more productively. We may introduce new leadership and new programs to achieve the goals of the organization. Our experience, national exposure, existing programs and on-going relationships will accomplish more for our clients ensuring their success.


  • At every meeting our goal will be to build a better relationship.
  • All commitments will be documented and completed on time.
  • Client confidentiality will be maintained on all aspects.
  • Our client's time is money and will be valued accordingly.
  • We will at all times seek to add value-when this stops our work is finished.
  • We will seek to have fun and fulfillment in our role and company.

These concepts are important to me and provide me focus, purpose and describe my passion. Notice that there are both personal and professional aspects within these statements. I believe that is important for a successful leader.

Passion is a topic that drives life; without it, the day-to-day events become simply a passage.

I know a woman who is almost 80 years old but continues to hike in the Smoky Mountains and swims almost every day; her passion is fitness. On Friday, I saw a video on Facebook of a 95-year-old woman who actively dances and can still shovel snow. These women have found personal passion to keep life active. Personal passion aligned with professional passion is a critical factor for success.

I get a kick out of coaching individual people, giving them ideas and tools to make their companies more successful. The ability to impact an audience and light a spark that ignites change in individuals' lives continues to excite me -- it's a passion that allows me to put up with the stress of airline schedules and hotel nights. But it is also fun. I have said it many times: If you are not having fun, change your life. In my keynote I normally state, "You can't change the way you have lived your life, but you can change the way you live your life!"

What is your passion? What is driving your life? Have fun and enjoy your summer.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 28, 2014 at 3:10 PM0 comments

Creativity for Leaders

One of the traits that leaders must have or develop is a mind that is creative. In many of my keynote programs, I discuss creativity and the need to "break out and grow" as you build a "Gourmet Life."

The day-to-day pressures and various situations that you face are ever-changing and appear at a rapid pace. The ability to consider various options, offer unique perspectives or provide your team with fresh ideas is critical to your success. The great news is that you can develop your ability to be creative. 

One well-known method is leaving a specific problem alone for a time, rather than working on it immediately. It is sometimes best to let your mind relax and focus on something else and, like magic, a solution to the first problem may appear. This is why many ideas may come to you as you lay in bed or take a shower, or even simply during a walk. Creativity happens not with one brilliant flash, but in a chain reaction of many tiny sparks while executing an idea.

Jackson Pollock is known as a creative abstract artist. He would throw paint onto a canvas as if his designs were spontaneous inspirations. In fact, Pollock spent years learning to control his pours/splatters to achieve the effect he was looking for.

You can expand your ability to develop creativity by brainstorming with individuals outside of your normal environment. One example is J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who in the 1920s and '30s, battled around religious and literary ideas with the "Inklings," a group of unfashionable Christian professors from Oxford. Their creative stories were actually the result of discussions, debates and planning.

It's all about creating ideas, evaluating them and executing on them. Creative leverage attempts to combine left-brain and right-brain activities. What are the steps?

  1. Start from scratch. Don't let existing factors color your thinking.
  2. Make sure there is emotion. This helps stimulate the brain.
  3. Take risks. Challenge yourself to look at unique ideas that may stimulate other ideas.

In my keynote program, I share the 13 actions a person can take to enhance their creativity. If you need to expand your creativity, you can find books, workshops and coaches to build your power. As a salesperson, sales leader or manager, you can build a better life by adding some spark to your thinking power.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 07, 2014 at 3:28 PM0 comments

Slammed: The First-Time Sales Manager

In my eight years selling for two different companies, I experienced four or five sales managers. As you can imagine, they each had a different style, patience and skill level. I can remember that those first six months as a new sales manager were a challenge. I took over from two previous sales managers who were now reporting to me and three other salespeople, for a total of five on my team.

I had participated in various sales training programs and I had a few perceptions of what a sales manager should do, but obviously I was scrambling and, at the same time, trying to achieve sales objectives.

Luckily, I received some assistance. The president of the company I was working for in Minneapolis gave me advice and also sent me to Boston to spend two days with "Dave," whom my boss called "the best sales manager" in the United States. I spent time listening to Dave and understanding his approach and systems, and then flew back.

Afterward, as time went by, I made mistakes, learned lessons, faced tough circumstances from firing, recessions, leadership-vs.-management topics, and actually did some things correctly. Amazingly, seven years after meeting Dave, I ended up working for him as a VP of sales running a North American sales operation. The next eight years I spent working at the street and corporate level, fine-tuning sales leadership and management challenges. I have seen hundreds of entrepreneurs attempting to manage their sales teams, first-time sales managers thinking they knew the job, and organizations under-achieving their opportunities and missing their objectives.

So what can a first-time sales manager to do? I can only give a few tips in a blog, but over the next few weeks I will continue to provide more insights and tips. To be open, my new book is also about to be published on the topic. It's titled "Slammed!!! For the First Time Sales Manager." Readers of this blog will gain insights, ideas and tips from that book, all for free. The book will be an e-book found on my Web site at AcumenManagement.com and at SalesGravy.com.

There are four sections in the book and 57 chapters. Be prepared for a ton of content and ideas that have faced me over 20-plus years of sales leadership challenges. The four major sections are:

  • Personal Leadership and Growth Development
  • Executive Leadership and Strategy
  • Creating and Maintaining a High-Performance Culture
  • Sales Leadership: A Year-Round Job

The reason I have 57 chapters is the first issue facing new sales leaders is Time Management. New sales leaders are quickly faced with the needs of the sales/marketing function and with directing their teams. Next, they need to work with their fellow peers on the management team. The third element is the demands of senior management requiring information and accountability. Each chapter is designed to provide a quick insight into certain issues facing the first-time sales manager.

Some hints on time management:

  • Protect your time and your to-do list. Don't take every problem your sales team gives you and put it on your own to-do list. Listen to the issues, ask them for three ideas to resolve their issues, and then suggest to them the best activity that will resolve it. If your to-do list expands beyond your capability to even react, then your team will lose respect for you and stop accepting your coaching.

  • If you are meeting one-on-one on a regular basis, do so early or late in the day.

  • Start your sales meetings early in the morning -- that means 8:30 a.m. at the latest. (One-on-one meetings can start at 7:30 a.m.)

  • Make a certain number of sales calls with each team member every month. This will help you understand the salesperson's skill level more accurately.

  • Plan your sales training meetings for the entire quarter before the quarter begins. Train on sales skills, product/service knowledge and sales operations.

The first-time sales manager faces many day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter challenges. Our job is to help everyone become successful. Let me hear your thoughts on the lessons you have learned by commenting below.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 10, 2014 at 9:47 AM0 comments

Creating a Sense of Urgency at the End of June

How do you capture the attention of your sales team on a Monday-morning sales meeting? You need to plan the meeting effectively and make sure your opening has impact. Today, I announced: "There are only 10 days left in June!" I did this for several reasons:

  1. I wanted to wake up and shake up everyone's thinking at the outset of the meeting.
  2. It was important to create a sense of urgency in everyone.
  3. I created a theme for the month.

If you are a first-time sales manager or even an experienced one, having a Monday-morning sales call for any size team takes preparation. You cannot begin without thinking about the outcome and intent of the meeting. With my clients, we use a sales meeting agenda and stick with a standard format. This keeps everyone on task. Also, keeping everyone involved is important and getting to the point is critical.  

In today's meeting, we had 15 people with the vast majority on telephones. We covered a lot of topics in less than 40 minutes with good communication.

Creating a sense of urgency is critical. As a first-time sales manager, staying focused on achieving sales objectives is an important aspect of the job. Making sure your sales team is increasing their sales tempo is a must. I sometimes find salespeople making one appointment per week per prospect. If they are hot, see them twice a week!

Move the opportunity faster. If you are always waiting until the last week of the month or quarter to achieve your objectives, it will grind you down and your odds of success will decline. Keep an attitude of "What can I do today to move this sales opportunity forward?" as the mantra that each of your salespeople must feel and keep focused on. (Hint: Create that as a sign and hang it in your sales area.)

I have written often about creating a theme for the month or quarter. Themes can be fun or serious, but they always are focused on selling. Creating an atmosphere of performance takes leadership, attitude, fun and support. As a new sales manager, maintaining that balance is an important function of your job. In my new book, "SLAMMED!!! The Guru's Guide for the First Time Sales Manager" (out later this month), there are nine chapters on building a high-performance culture. 

What else can you do to increase the sense of urgency of your team? Let me know and I will post your comments. If you would like a copy of a Monday-morning sales meeting agenda template, send me an e-mail at Ken@AcumenMgmt.com.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 02, 2014 at 9:58 AM0 comments