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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


Life Enrichment: Giving Back

"Giving back" means how you help make the world a better place. People who use the mantra understand that doing what is expected -- and then some -- makes the difference in improving others' lives, as well as their own.

During the last few months, I have been writing about life enrichment, which is a descriptor for the general message of my keynote program, "Gourmet Living: Building a Menu for Your Life." This week, as I fly to San Diego, I'm reflecting on the "giving back" portion of life enrichment.

There were three reasons this topic stuck out. One, I am in the middle of cleansing an unused laptop and I will be shipping it to a person I have known for over 14 years. At 25, she is struggling, but has found a quality part-time job, begun to set goals, is raising a 5-year-old daughter alone and is building her life. Recently, I have helped her buy a car. Hopefully, she can use the laptop to improve her education and connect to the world.

Second, this past weekend, my wife and I opened out home to a local women's association that ran a "home tour," in which a multitude of people tour several homes in our community to raise money for a variety of local charities. We spent money to obviously make our home shine, but the local ladies' association will raise close to $10,000 on that event alone.

And third, during the last the last two weekends, I played (poorly) in two fund-raiser golf tournaments, with a third fund-raiser tournament scheduled next weekend. The first was for the arts, the second for the local volunteer fire department, and the one next weekend is for the golf course itself.

I am certainly not bragging or using this blog to promote what Ken Thoreson does. I have been blessed in many ways, but I feel it is important to help others in whatever way you can. In our community, people volunteer thousands of hours a year and in many small ways to improve the quality of life locally and nationally.

The outcome: As you improve the quality of others' lives, your life will become enriched and you will become a better person and more fulfilled.

My challenge this week is for you to ask yourself what you can do or are doing, even in a small way, to improve our world. Give back! Let me know your actions and recommendations in the comments below or in an e-mail.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 05, 2014 at 2:20 PM0 comments


Time for Summer Pipeline Building

This week, I had two conversations reminding clients to make sure that they are focused on building their summer pipeline. In one case, the client was excited about the event it just completed and the opportunities it found, but it had no events scheduled for May or June.

It is the job of sales leadership to have a 90-day-and-beyond vision into their company's pipeline and planning. Now is the time to make sure you are making extra efforts in your sales and marketing plans to increase your visibility.

What kinds of programs or activities are you launching in the next 60 to 90 days to make sure your summer is busy? Below is a list to help you think through your options. I would like our readers to add their thoughts and ideas, as well, in the comments section or in an e-mail. Let's all work together to ensure mutual success.

  1. Hunt your customer base. Hold customer-appreciation events and make sure your have a plan to contact each customer and offer additional products/services.

  2. Ask your vendors for ideas and find out what other organizations are doing to increase activity.

  3. Schedule events for regional access; if you cover a large area or even a single city, schedule morning events in two separate areas, one day apart. As an example, one might be on the north side of your city, the second in the south. As you prospect, make sure clients know of both events; that makes it easy for them to attend.

  4. Buy a new database and create a fun mailing. Use oversized postcards.

  5. Have each salesperson block a minimum of two hours a week to prospect fresh opportunities.

These are just a few to start the dialogue. The key is to make it happen now!

What are your ideas?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 29, 2014 at 2:28 PM0 comments


'Make It Happen Now' as a Sales Mantra

A sense of urgency and creating momentum are critical to the success of any sales organization. As a daily mantra for my clients' sales teams, I like to suggest "What can you do today to create an order?"

Many sales teams wait for situations to occur to eventually close an order. Great sales teams create situations that cause orders to occur. These situations may be chaotic or a well-planned series of events, others are developed with the skill of a brain surgeon during discovery, and others are just plain salesmanship.

A good friend of mine, Jeb Blount from Sales Gravy, likes to use these questions with his clients:

  • Are your prospects listening to you?
  • Do they trust you?
  • Do they like you?
  • Are you making them feel important?
  • What is the impact you will have on their business?

Making sales happen requires you can answer these questions correctly; these critical issues are missing in many sales management one-on-one sales opportunity discussions.

High-performance salespeople are creative and are constantly rethinking their sales strategies and competitive repositioning. Have you touched all the bases? Are you challenging the strategy of your thinking? Are you thinking about what else you can do to win this sales opportunity all the time? Who else can you talk with or bring into this opportunity?

Make it happen now, and you will celebrate all through the summer.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 21, 2014 at 1:00 PM0 comments


Creating a Culture of High Performance: 6 Pointers

For the past 10-plus years, I have focused on improving the performance of organizations, emphasizing their business strategy and sales leadership function. The end result is creating a culture of high performance throughout the organization.

In preparation for a keynote program, I tried to identify what high-performing organizations look like. One, their leadership team communicates openly. Two, they seem to have their personal and professional lives in balance. I have written often of my personal/professional pizza analogy, so I won't bother you with that, but if you have not taken my pizza test, send me a request.

Below, I have summarized the six characteristics of a high-performance culture (obviously, there are more details within each major category). Use it to evaluate your company, your department and your team, and determine what you need to work on to increase performance. You might use a 1-5 ranking (5 is high) and score each category, or even have your management team individually score each category and discuss it at your management team meeting.

  1. They are on a clear course (purpose, vision, mission, strategies, priorities with action plans).
  2. Their character defines qualities and values of the team (guided by clearly articulated behaviors).
  3. Their commitment is unwavering (people are committed to clear roles and responsibilities, and are aligned to the organization).
  4. There is collaboration throughout (teams openly support other teams).
  5. Change is accepted (the team quickly adapts to new environments).
  6. Coaching improves effectiveness (leaders are excellent performance coaches and role models).

How did you come out? How close to 30 did you get?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 18, 2014 at 1:26 PM0 comments


Your Second-Quarter Plan

It's the middle of March -- are you ready for the second quarter?

For many of my clients, we have each member of the sales team prepare a six-month business plan and a shorter quarterly action plan. As I was preparing a client audit today, I realized it was time for this client's sales team to evaluate their performance.

The six-month sales business plan is much more than a simple sales forecast. It's a tool designed to help the salesperson set goals and objectives in a variety of areas. The quarterly action plan is a more tactical plan to execute on key actions to achieve the goals from the business plan.

There are several aspects to this systematic approach to coaching a team:

  • First, the team must prepare and believe in the plan/document they are using. This normally does not always happen until the first formal review period when they see results (or lack of results) versus their plan.
  • Second, the sales manager must have a monthly discussion with each salesperson about their actual performance versus the plan.
  • Third, the plan must include the necessary actions to improve overall performance.
  • Fourth, the two plans must be designed to work together and not conflict.

In building either plan, consider these key elements:

  • What training and development programs are important to reinforce?
  • What prospecting and activity goals are important to manage?
  • What revenue/margin goals need a focus?
  • What account or territory-intelligence and relationship-building is important?

What are you using to build a more systematic approach to hitting your objectives? What did I miss?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 10, 2014 at 1:19 PM0 comments


Onboarding Salespeople

This is a hectic period. Next week, I am offsite all week for a 2014 client strategy and planning meeting. This week, I am assisting another client with onboarding two salespeople that are remote from the main business office. Everything needs to be lined up and organized for a successful experience.

The onboarding step is normally a very weak link with many organizations, but it is a critical success factor, as well. I wanted to share my thoughts with our community. 

For our clients we build an onboarding process into two steps:

Step 1
Depending upon the client's maturity, size and complexity of offering, we will create a three- to five-week onboarding plan that is extremely detailed. Each week lists a variety of learning experiences and validation points to ensure knowledge has been exchanged and understood. 

The first week's goal is "Learn Company Purpose, Message, Materials and Services." This includes a check list and over two pages of training actions. Each week has homework assigned.

The second week's goal is "Learn To Sell Company Offerings." The first week is about the importance of learning. The second week is about learning to sell.  The new salesperson will hear others sell and watch videos. They also begin trying to sell me on their knowledge of the company and offerings. 

The third week's goal is "Getting Out of the Nest." Before they start actively selling, the salesperson must sell the president, the CFO or others in the company using the corporate PowerPoint presentation or other sales tools. Hint: Generally, we never pass anyone the first time they attempt this exercise.

Each week has a series of events designed to build upon the previous week's learning experience. Each box must be dated/signed. As a sales manager, "Inspect what you expect" is never more important.

Step 2
We recommend you build a closely monitored tracking plan along with a carefully thought-through plan of action to get the salesperson engaged with the proper activity immediately. This plan maybe designed for 30 to 60 days. I like to recommend a clear set of goals defined for the first 90 days; these may include pipeline values, face-to-face meetings, presentations, et cetera. Make the goals reachable, but monitor each salesperson's plan and actions to exceed them.

Pay attention to the details, and so will your sales team.

Questions? Just ask. You can always check out our Online Sales Management Tool Kit for other tools to improve the performance of your sales team, as well as our On Boarding Template.

P.S.: If you are beginning your business-planning process, your management team might like to take our free Business Assessment located on our Web site.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 22, 2013 at 2:48 PM0 comments


Quick Ideas To Hit Fourth-Quarter Goals

Let's make this interactive -- I will start the list, and then it is your job to add to it. Let's all work together to increase each other's success during the last few months of 2013.

These ideas can be designed for sales leaders or individual sales performers: 

  1. Make a visual list of the largest sales opportunities on a whiteboard and strategize on the best tactics to close each one. A few large wins go a long way toward exceeding your goals.

  2. Schedule twice-a-week formal sales strategy discussions. If you have a larger team, assign salespeople into teams of two or three to increase strategy options. Increase your tempo.

  3. Use a formal check list on all qualifier questions you use to ensure there are no surprises. If you want my "Magic List" of questions, send me an e-mail at Ken@AcumenMgmt.com.

  4. Hold a sales training session on negotiating in October!

  5. Increase your relationship contacts. Make sure your executives are involved in a prospect meeting, lunch, breakfast or phone call with your prospects' executives.

  6. Use your customer base for site visits and referrals, or even arrange a conference call with your prospects.

  7. Rehearse key presentations. Just last evening at 8 p.m., I was assisting a client with a PowerPoint program for today's key demonstration meeting. Make sure the message is correct and your team is ready.

  8. Anticipate your competition and think through how you will set them up and move forward.

  9. Execute brilliantly. This is a theme I have used often, but it works. Make sure your sales team has thought through the sales cycle on each opportunity, each day. Get your team to think two moves in advance -- just like chess. Create a poster that says "What can I do to get an order today?" to keep the focus.

  10. Don't forget to prospect market because Jan. 1, 2014 will come up quickly.

OK, my list is done. What are your ideas to help everyone win?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 01, 2013 at 10:27 AM0 comments


Getting Ready for Q1 2014: 10 Steps to Preparedness

"Ken, are you crazy? I have not even finished the fourth quarter yet!"

As budget planning begins and business strategies begin to be set, it is your responsibility to be ready for 2014. What do you need to have on your to-do list for the next 60 days? I have listed the top 10 -- e-mail or comment below to let me know what I have missed or what is on your own list. 

  1. What are your revenue objectives for each quarter in 2014?

  2. Review your existing teams carefully -- analyze each person's strengths and weaknesses. Rank them on the following criteria on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 meaning great). Are they good enough to stay on your team for 2014?
    • Sales skills
    • Product/industry knowledge
    • Operational knowledge
    • Sales planning

  3. How many new people do you need to recruit? When do you need them fully ready and trained? Hint: Hire them now.

  4. Review your marketing/sales operational teams. Do they really understand your market, your customers and the benefits you bring to them? What do you need to do to improve their business knowledge?

  5. Is your compensation plan effective? Did it achieve the results you wanted? Have your business objectives changed? If they have, your 2014 compensation plans may need to be altered. (Take our sales compensation assessment on our Web site.)

  6. Re-assess your CRM/sales metric dashboards for the entire year. What trends can you find or what activities need to be enhanced? Hold an individual salesperson review meeting to assess performance.

  7. What will be your "theme" for 2014? Define the top three objectives that you need to focus on during the first and second quarters?

  8. Schedule a "personal self-assessment" meeting, either with your manager or your peer team, or even perform a confidential 360-degree analysis by using your sales team to comment on what you are doing well and what needs to be improved.

  9. What new elements within your sales training plans for 2014 do you need to plan for? Outside training? A book club? More role playing? What do you need to do to improve the professionalism of your team?

  10. When is your 2014 Sales Kick-Off Meeting? Where will it be held? What will you announce and how will you energize your team with vision, fun and direction? 

Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 23, 2013 at 3:20 PM0 comments


A Tactical Sales 20/20 Marketing Plan: Build Your Q4 Pipeline

This marketing plan incorporates messaging from your vendors with marketing materials, e-mail campaigns, telephone scripts and partner involvement. Action steps include:

1) Refine their prospect database to reflect the A-B-C "ideal client profile" concept.

2) Download and review the direct mail letter/e-mail tools provided by your vendors and create two pieces for two campaigns that will be used; these can be personalized with your logo.

3)  Create multiple batches of 20 prospects by salesperson, divided into groups of A, B, C, D, etc.

4)  Execute on the following tactical plan:

  • Week One: Each salesperson sends an e-mail/letter to one to 20 different prospects in Group A.

  • Week Two: Each salesperson sends an e-mail/letter to to the same 20 Group A prospects. Each salesperson also sends an e-mail/letter to another set of 20 prospects in Group B.

  • Week Three: Each salesperson begins to call Group A and set appointments or invite them to an Executive Forum run by the partner. Each salesperson again sends e-mails/letters to to the 20 prospects in Group B. And each salesperson sends an e-mail/letter to 20 prospects in a new group -- Group C.

  • Week Four: Each salesperson begins to call all on-contact members of Group A. Each salesperson begins to call all prospects in Group B. Each salesperson sends e-mails/letters to the prospects in Group C.

This program continues in this manner. As the activity level and pipeline grow, the only change in this marketing and activity plan will be the number of e-mails or letters sent per week; it could drop to 10.

I recommend that an on-going "Executive Forum" or workshop event is scheduled for the same time/same day each month. The purpose of the event is to provide a "call to action" and provide a reason for the telephone call follow-up.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM0 comments


Building a Culture of High Performance: Sales Games

At this time of the year, sales management must look at pipeline levels and goals for the fourth quarter and determine if there is the necessary level of activity to ensure targets will be exceeded.

Organizations certainly need to focus on the short-term, 30-day sales cycle and the end of the year. But they also need to have a longer-term perspective. As an executive, you must also focus on creating an atmosphere of fun, high performance and teamwork.

In this blog, I wanted to share a few ideas from my books on sales management: Leading High-Performance Sales Teams and Creating Sales Compensation Plans for High Performance. In both books, I share ideas for sales contests/games, as well as how to properly roll them out and manage them. In many cases I have seen great sales-contest ideas poorly executed. It is critical you think through what your objectives are and what you want the results to be, and then clearly write down the objectives, rules and incentives.

The first rule is to remember that cash is not what you want to use during sales games -- that is what your commission plan is designed to achieve. The second rule is that creating fun in your sales culture is the main outcome. Sure, you may wish to add "net new clients" or sell certain products/services and increase sales, but it is sales leadership's objective to make the sales contest a fun experience. If it isn't fun, it isn't selling.

You might enjoy this video on "Building a High-Performance Culture."

Different types of contests will help you achieve different goals. Some contests should be held annually to address sales objectives, company business strategies and potential seasonal fluctuations. Others can be scheduled as needed to help launch new products or services, promote new releases or upgrades or tie into your customers' larger campaigns. Still others can consist of short-term incentive games designed to motivate sales personnel to accomplish specific objectives by a specific deadline.

A Contest Sampler
Following are a few typical goals, along with ideas for contests that may help achieve them:

  • Increasing sales volume. Consider adding a cash bounty for each additional new seat, new customer or revenue sold beyond a certain target value. Set a quarter-to-date objective above your sales goal; that way, everyone on the team can win.

  • Improving customer service. Periodically survey your entire customer base. If satisfaction reaches a certain goal -- for instance, when 95 percent of your clients say they're "highly satisfied" -- and if your company is profitable, everyone gets a cash bonus. Keep a visible scorecard of your goals and results so that everyone maintains a constant awareness of your objectives.

  • Acquiring new clients. To boost the number of new clients you add each quarter, consider creating a "bounty bonus" plan. For example, salespeople could earn a bounty bonus -- either in cash or in points that can be redeemed for rewards -- for each new client or each competitive replacement of a specific vendor's customer. In addition, you could offer bounty bonuses for salespeople who exceed their quarterly or annual quotas for new accounts or net new revenues. You might even create and post "Most Wanted" posters with the bounties prominently displayed to help keep salespeople focused on contest objectives.

  • Overcoming seasonal slumps. If your sales typically slow down over the summer, try launching a prospecting activity contest in March, April and May. For instance, award sales team members points for each new face-to-face call or sales demonstrations that they make during those months, with accumulated points eventually eligible for prizes. Such an effort can go a long way toward increasing the number of opportunities in the pipeline from June through August.

Competition Considerations
Following are some issues to consider and questions to answer as you plan sales contests:

  • Determine what you want the contest to accomplish.
  • Set the ground rules. Are all sales executives on an equal basis for the contest?  Be sure to put the rules in writing, making provisions for those and other situations that could arise.
  • Make the contest length the same as the sales cycle.
  • Set specific goals that can be measured weekly or monthly.
  • Incorporate an exciting theme.
  • Consider making rewards gifts, rather than cash.
  • Boost team members' motivation by getting their families involved.
  • Never run contests to the last day of the month or sales period.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 19, 2013 at 11:02 AM0 comments