Ready to Bounce Out of Tough Times?

It takes leadership and vision.

Building your business requires both leadership and management and the first step in that journey is understanding the difference between the two. Leadership is the ability to make things happen by encouraging and channeling others' contributions, addressing important issues and acting as a catalyst for change and continuous improvement. Management is the skill of attaining predefined objectives with others' cooperation and effort.

The best partner companies, like other successful organizations, are led by individuals who have clear vision -- and the ability to establish specific objectives for working toward their organizational goals. Executives at partner companies that have leveled off, stalled or are struggling to break even may lack both vision and objectives.

An executive vision should address the following questions:

  • What does your organization look like now? What will it look like in three years in terms of revenues, number of employees and specialty areas?
  • How do you define success? What will the company's net worth be in three years? What are its profit goals?
  • How do you want to be known by your clients, your competitors, the business community -- and by your vendors?
  • What's your ultimate goal? Do you have an exit strategy that calls for acquiring other companies or being acquired yourself? Or do you want to build a long-term corporate organization?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 15, 2009 at 2:30 PM0 comments


Summer Sales Management

Summertime,
And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high...

It's early June, so I thought it would be good to help sales managers with some additional insights as we head to summer time, when sales can be a challenge. I recently posted a question in a forum on LinkedIn at Top Sales Experts International: What are the top three challenges that sales management faces? While time management was extremely popular as a response, responder Craig Klein came up with a real good answer:

"I'd have to say that #1 is motivation. Maintaining a positive attitude is crucial to selling effectively in any economy. Having a glass half-full approach during tough times can be magnetic to customers who are facing bad news all around them."

I would add to Craig's comment that sales management must work to maintain sales team motivation as well. Schedule fun events, tagged to customer onsite visitations. During every interaction, successful sales leaders must focus on being positive.

Here are two others that he offered up:

#2: Managing revenue expectations. If you're chasing quotas that were set last summer, you're probably having a very tough year. Sales management needs to be able to set executive expectations based on the real world today and then align sales expectations accordingly.

Right on again, we have been creating more dashboards/scorecards for sales/marketing organizations than ever before. We like to use: 1) salesperson forecast accuracy %, win/loss rate % by salesperson and pipeline to quota ratios. See my column, "How Do You Measure Sales Success?"

#3: Maintaining price. Competitors will be low balling, sales staff will want to "get aggressive" to meet their quota. Staying in value selling mode is going to be very difficult.

Craig stated it well -- your action plan for summer is actually to "tune-up" your sales training programs with increased levels of role play. This means increasing intensity during a seasonal time where "things" begin to slip.

In summary, reflect, evaluate and test new programs during the summer and make the process interesting for your sales team, for your prospects and yourself. One last comment: Focus on weekly results, not monthly results, and always probe your sales team on "when is the prospect leaving for their summer vacation?" Many quotas are missed as a result of not knowing that question. Check out my blog soon for a great value brought to you by Acumen and Top Sales Experts International, called Choices!

For more insights visit our Web site or send me an e-mail.

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations internationally. Ken also motivates organizations with enlightening keynotes.


 

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 02, 2009 at 11:59 AM1 comments


5 Ways to Take Command

It seems like every workshop, webinar or new book that deals with our challenging economic times, in my analysis the most critical element to understand in effective sales management is the term "leading." This past weekend was Memorial Day in the U.S. and a few of the TV channels played many of the famous war movies, celebrating our heroes and remembering those who served. I came away with one major theme: From generals to privates, in individual situations certain people stood up and assumed a leadership position, making the hard decisions, giving everyone a sense of direction and purpose.

In many business situations, we see executives and sales management/ leaders everywhere standing frozen or scared and not taking action to "direct the troops." While every sales leader should be scared or concerned, taking action is important. The fundamental rules for sales leadership in uncertain times are:

  1. Understand human motivation. Now, more than any other time, you must seek to know each person in your command and work to provide them with the proper motivation in order for them to perform at their maximum level. This is the essence of sales force management.
  2. Have a plan. With a plan or vision for action and clearly communicating it, people will follow you. This plan should include an 18-month plan with 90 days of actions focused on sales, marketing and office efficiencies. One of the five styles of sales leadership is a "selling style"; use this power wisely.
  3. Move closer to your clients and vendors. Schedule meetings with your "A" clients, make a plan to meet one a week! Schedule regular vendor reviews looking for new ideas and enhancing your relationship. Strategic sales management knows that customers and vendors always provide fresh ideas.
  4. Move closer to your employees. Depending upon the size of your firm, monthly company meetings are a must. Hold departmental roundtables or a Friday lunch -- do what it takes to listen to them and take the opportunity to share your plan.
  5. Improve, innovate, stabilize process. Now is a great time to focus on improving everything about your team, your sales process, and packaging -- seek to do things differently and change the game on your competition. The definition for sales leadership is acting as a "catalyst for change and continuous improvement."

People need to believe in you and your services/products; take advantage of this opportunity to be a leader.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 26, 2009 at 2:30 PM0 comments


Your Personal (Sales) Trainer

In challenging times we are finding sales people "qualifying" more gently, which is not a good thing. Here's what I mean: We are finding our clients with good levels of pipelines, but with weak prospects. We are finding that salespeople are busy in motion, but not in direction. That is, they are busying doing things that salespeople should be doing, but not with the right prospects. Bottom line: They're just happy being busy.

As strategic sales managers, our job is to make sure salespeople are working enough opportunities and to assist them in highly qualifying the right opportunities and providing coaching on the right strategies to win the business. Here's what you can do:

  1. Everyday you see or talk to members of your sales team, ask them what their number one priority is for the day and then ask them what their number two priority is. If they are not meeting a prospective client to move a sales forward or prospecting, it's time to straighten out their priorities.

  2. Spend extra time strategizing on every opportunity. And one way to focus that strategy is to read my sales management strategy planning guide from Acumen Management (send me an e-mail if you want one). My clients worldwide use this guide to analyze a sales opportunity -- what has been done, what can be done, what information we know, what information we don't know. It will help you increase your win/loss ratio.

Everyone must focus and execute at higher levels of intensity in tough times, keeping your team on their toes, with the proper mental attitude and with a focus on winning -- it's the job of a professional sales leader.

Free sales management videos and white papers here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 21, 2009 at 11:59 AM0 comments


Are You Asking the Right Questions?

With many of our clients, we are working with their sales teams on learning how and what business questions-focused questions to ask during a sales call. These strategic questions are designed to uncover existing and potential future business challenges; the questions also make the client think about how they run their business.

If the people you are speaking with can't answer your questions, then you are attempting to sell the wrong person. You must be speaking with BDMs today. We stress focusing on increasing business efficiency, cost reduction and optimizing selling opportunities -- what people are investing in today are mission-critical applications, so your teams should avoid "talking techie."

This level of professionalism demands role play and excellent pre-call planning. Learn to stand out in the marketplace by asking strategic, focus questions.

Send me an e-mail for our Pre-Call Planning tool that will increase the professionalism of your organization.

And don't forgot  the Free MSFT SharePoint Sales Clinic #4: Interactive, sales tips, partner interviews from MSFT and our Interactive Forum too! Register here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 20, 2009 at 11:59 AM0 comments


Gain the Competitive Edge

Last week I suggested a few ideas on sales management training. Now we need to provide a few quick ideas for salespeople -- that is, professional salespeople. The definition of a professional:

A professional has a commitment to a calling -- the education, training, and expertise that an amateur does not have. This commitment to become a true professional is a key to differentiating yourself in the marketplace.

In challenging times we find the sales difference or the spread expanding between average performers and high achievers. Why? True professionals always seek to increase their edge, improve how they sell and how they market. An IT salesperson told me about his commitment to professionalism. He makes a dozen face to face calls per week, spends one hour a day cold calling and a makes it a personal drive to sell more than last year, which was $4 million.

What is your commitment? Here are some ideas for things go do to gain that competitive edge in tough times:

  • Expand your network and marketing. Use LinkedIn to tap into technology groups in your area -- become a resource.
  • Read a new book on sales skills and discuss with your sales team.
  • Listen to motivational CDs during the day and keep your attitude strong.
  • Access Microsoft's sales resource site; to learn more, go here.
  • Register for MSFT BIZ Builder Sales Clinics and use the interactive forum to ask sales strategy questions.
  • Role play your phone voice mail.
  • Rehearse every sales call you make -- focus on being unique.

And finally, listen to my sales tips podcasts at www.msftiwbusinessbuilder.com.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 08, 2009 at 11:59 AM0 comments


Sales Management Training

I recently read an article about the enormous amount of money that is spent each year on sales skills training, yet the article discussed the shocking lack of success those costs have had when translated to performance. Normally we see a short-term boost of success and then a trend of sales falling back to past levels. In most cases, there is a 5-1/2 week half-life in sales skills training.

The salespeople begin to forget classroom training or find the techniques/concepts from the class are awkward, and they revert to using their old sales processes. The article went on to promote the need to make sure the sales manager is trained to reinforce the intended sales training. What I have found is, in most cases, these sales management courses are simply additional revenues by sales training firms to sell new training courses.

The key for real sales leadership training is to cause change, and change comes from understanding the concepts around sales leadership and management, building reinforcement or coaching skills in the field and teaching the sales leader how to effectively build and run internal sales training programs independent of outside sales training firms.

Besides sales training, sales management training courses requires: sales compensation, sales recruiting, management systems, leadership and marketing. Our free videos on Hiring Smart, Training Smart and Planning for Profit will begin your process. Find them at www.acumenmanagement.com.

I'm just leaving Atlanta, where I spoke at the Information Technology Alliance Spring Conference on sales force compensation... I'll see you at the next stop!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 29, 2009 at 11:59 AM0 comments


Sales Commissions and Sales Contests

I am speaking this week in Atlanta at a national conference on the topic of sales compensation during challenging times. One of my beliefs is compensation must be strategic and aligned with the goals of the corporation. If your objectives are changing or because of challenging times you are still using the same compensation plan from previous years, consider several ideas:

  1. Build in a team compensation model; where if the team exceeds a quarterly target, pay a bonus. The bonus is paid out based upon per/person contribution. This helps everyone work together to attain the 'company' number.
  2. Build a sales contest now to increase pipeline values and activity to ensure you have a summer full of sales opportunities. Run it for May/June with the rewards non-cash incentives. Send me an e-mail for a free idea.
  3. Create a year-long sales incentive contest based upon a quota for the salesperson to win. If they achieve 115 percent, then their spouse/friend can attend. (cruise/golf resort). All the winning salespeople would attend at the same time/location. Create a theme for the trip; this will give you a common message for the remainder of the year.
  4. Create a companywide contest linking teams of sales/admin/technical teams together to compete for most leads, most sales dollars, most net new accounts. Get your entire organization charged up.

Competition can be fun!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 21, 2009 at 11:59 AM1 comments


Making Your Numbers

It's the fourth quarter for some (Microsoft) and Q2 for most of us. Nonetheless, challenging times means fewer sales opportunities, thus demanding better sales strategy and more effective sales execution. Let's use this blog to focus on ideas, tips and tools that we can use to improve our won/lost ratios.

I will contribute a few thoughts, but I also would like to hear what you are doing to make your numbers.

Three quick thoughts:

First, I recommend that on most sales opportunities, you make sure the president or sales manager makes a face-to-face call early in the sales process, at step 2 or step 3. This will provide that person with an opportunity to 1) read the personality styles of the parties involved; 2) develop a relationship with the key players; and 3) provide better sales coaching/strategy as you work the sales opportunity.

The most important benefit is rather than "bringing them in at the end to close," at the end of the sales process the sales leader can comfortably engage in a meaningful sales conversation.

Second, if you are not using Microsoft Financing, investigate it and use it. When money is tight, Microsoft Financing has many ways to help you answer objections and make it easy to move forward. Bring it up early as a benefit and tell your prospect about the "month ending" program.

Third, if you haven't attended the free Microsoft Business Builder Sales Clinics, do so. Next event is April 27; they run every two weeks until the end of June. Follow us and ask questions on Twitter.com/MSFTBizBuilder and register here and use the special Sales/Marketing Forum for an interactive experience.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 14, 2009 at 11:59 AM0 comments


SharePoint, Office Clinic

Here's the info on that sales clinic that I'll be co-hosting. This is from Microsoft:

Based on the popular Information Worker Business Builder series for SharePoint, this is a sales and marketing focused clinic for partner executives and sales and marketing leaders. The clinic is designed to provide you with help and guidance in selling Microsoft Information Worker solutions. Co-hosted by industry thought leader Ken Thoreson of Acumen Management Group, the series will also provide you with usable guidance around marketing and selling to help you be at the top of your game. In this series, we will focus on some of the rich range of solutions you can provide your clients using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007.

The clinic runs every other week from mid-April through June to assist you in both your short-term sales and your longer-term growth strategy. With a panel discussion that includes Microsoft Marketing Managers and Acumen Management Group, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and interact directly with the Microsoft U.S. Information Worker team. Included as a part of this course is a Web forum for you to ask questions and get personalized help between the clinics.

Acumen Management Group has spoken at eight Worldwide Partner Conferences and hosted over thirty Microsoft Information Worker Business Builder workshops. Ken Thoreson is also a columnist for Redmond Channel Partner and consultant to many Microsoft partners.

You can follow me and Microsoft on Twitter at MSFTBizBuilder; to register for the clinic, click here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 07, 2009 at 11:59 AM0 comments


Making Your Numbers in Q2

After the success of the Microsoft's "Building Your Business in Challenging Times" road shows, I'm excited to announce that Acumen will be hosting a Microsoft-sponsored series of IW Business Building Sales Clinics. These webcasts will be held every two weeks and are tuned to increase sales. They will target executives, marketing and sales leaders and will be solution-based -- with live and interactive sessions. The content will be driven by the Microsoft Partner community, with Microsoft Teams with Partner interviews and Acumen insights. We will offer tips, ideas and provide answers to partner questions and discuss winning strategies. There will also be a BIZ Builder Forum for you to participate in, with Q&A capability.

The goal of the program is to help you drive business, learn more about Microsoft resources and increase your market share. Join me on Twitter (MSFTBizBuilder) for details, times and up-to-the-minute ideas (the first one starts April 13 at 9 a.m. PST; more details via Twitter and a link to come later).

I will certainly update you on this blog too! Check out my recent RCPmag.com column, "Sprint to the Finish!," for sales ideas or e-mail me.

Update: Information on the first clinic is now available here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 26, 2009 at 11:59 AM0 comments


High-Performance Sales Teams: Control

We have been discussing the three concepts that sales managers must focus on and the ingredients you need to have in your sales leadership pantry. This time, let's talk about control.

Many of you who have attended our workshops or listened to our keynotes or Web casts know that cooking is a hobby of mine. I own in excess of 150 cookbooks and at home I frequently experiment in developing new creations or adaptations to existing favorites -- I'm always looking to refine and improve each recipe. This experience reinforces my client recommendations that successful, high-performance sales leaders build a "prescriptive" approach to growing and managing their teams.

Much like a good recipe that details the specific measurements/ingredients required to create an entree, a sales leader must understand and develop the measurements required for building predicable revenue. These measurements, or "standards," become the basis to ensure your sales team achieves current and long-term success -- your recipe for success.

We recommend that sales and marketing organizations each set four to five key performance indicators. Once these standards are determined, each sales person must be measured against those standards. A professional sales leader knows that based upon the maturity, experience and knowledge, each salesperson could have a slightly different set of actual ingredients. Even so, the actual KPI categories will be the same for all.

By setting standards, measuring actual performance to them, you build a control process to ensure your recipe for success turns out right each and every month. Your job is then to refine your recipe.

Let me know if you want me to expand this subject and discuss the specific standards and KPIs partners are using to improve their teams.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 19, 2009 at 11:59 AM1 comments


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