Business and Sales Management: Planning for 2011

Budgeting and developing strategy for 2011 should be near the top of your "to-do" list. Time must be taken to actively work on forecasting, developing hiring plans for the year and making sure your marketing calendar is planned out at least through June of 2011. Right now I am working with several clients on their sales compensation plans for 2011.   Here are several ideas for our readers:

First: Use the three free assessments on our Web site: a) one is a sales management assessment; b) try the sales compensation assessment and c) the business management assessment will evaluate your entire organization, from marketing to HR to management systems. You can find them at They are located on the left side on the homepage.

Second: The questions I have listed below should be handed to members of your management team; each person should prepare their answers and then compare them with the rest of team at your next management meeting:

  • 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 2011?
  • What assumptions are you making about the market in 2011?
  • What assumptions did you make about your offerings in 2010? Still true?
  • What assumptions did you make about your company capability in 2010? Still true?
  • We use these questions and many more during our strategic planning sessions with clients to help everyone get on the same page and build a vision for the organization. If you are a Microsoft or Cisco Partner send me an e-mail and I will direct you to several web sites where we created business planning tools that partners use to enhance their business plans, marketing and sales strategies. [email protected]

    Guru Hint: Set a date, for example by Dec. 17, all budgets, compensation plans and marketing programs must be completed. This will keep everyone working towards the deadline.

    Acumen Management Group Ltd. "operationalizes" sales management systems and processes that pull revenue out of the doldrums into the fresh zone. During the past 12 years, our consulting, advisory, and platform services have illuminated, motivated, and rejuvenated the sales efforts for partners throughout North America. Move up and move ahead!

    Ken provides Keynotes, consulting services and products designed to improve business performance. [email protected]

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on November 03, 20100 comments

    Sales Leadership: The Importance of a 2011 Sales Kickoff Meeting

    Perhaps 2010 was a great year for your sales team or perhaps it was a struggle and a disappointment. In either case, starting to plan your 2011 sales kickoff event is an important action during November. Why?  There are many reasons to make sure this event is properly orchestrated:

    1. Keeping your team excited and motivated is essential. A new year means all your sales numbers go back to zero -- that can be emotionally draining for salespeople who for the past few years have struggled with challenging economic conditions.

    2. A new year means you can celebrate your success stories from the previous year. You MUST focus on building belief that your team has "moved" forward and make note of all successes-even the minor ones.

    3. You can announce your yearlong sales contest at your kickoff meeting. This needs planning and arrangement. The Guru is a big believer that every sales team should plan a trip or event for all quota achievers.

    4. Have fun. The event should include a speaker, music and an upbeat mood. The speaker could be a sales trainer or motivational program or even an existing customer how can provide a testimony of your great product/services. This will show your commitment towards investing in your team.

    5. Create a theme for the sales kickoff meeting and use the same theme for the entire year. This theme should be your motto and something you can build on during the year at all your sales meetings. You could tie the theme into your third sales contest. Let me know what you think are the best themes you have heard or used in your sales career.

    6. There may be a new sales compensation plan announced. If the changes are somewhat new or perhaps negative to the salespeople, you must plan the rollout carefully. Never announce the new compensation plan at the end of your sales kickoff meeting; you will want to roll out the plan halfway through the event.

    7. You might consider having members of the technical or sales support teams attend portions of or all of the meeting. It builds teamwork and they may also be part of your program.

    8. Arrange for the company president to speak and provide their vision for 2011 and commitment to the sales team.

    Whether it is a half-day event or a full day, a well planned, exciting sales kickoff event will go a long way towards "kick starting" your 2011.

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 26, 20100 comments

    Planning Your Sales Training

    In my soon to be published book on Sales Management, one topic I discuss in great detail is salesperson development and training. Besides recruiting effectively, training and development are the next most important aspects of the sales leader's job. While Acumen Management is not a sales training firm, we do focus on the facts that sales management MUST focus on sales training within their own firms.

    With our consulting clients we recommend that sales managers must plan their sales training meetings 90 day in advance. I am suggesting that sales meetings are not the same as sales training meetings. Prior to each quarter we suggest spending two hours to carefully review the needs of your team and develop a program to address each issue. During the planning meeting the strategic sales manager will define each date, time, assigned trainer and subject matter well in advance. This ensures that sales skills, product knowledge, company operations and industry information are thought through during each quarter. The expertise of your team is moved forward on each topic.

    I like to recommend that members of your sales team become the sales trainers. What I mean is the sales manager should not be the only sales trainer; assign specific people to train on the various topics that need training such as CRM applications, sales skills training (i.e. negotiations) and product/services information. The important aspect to remember is for the sales managers to "Inspect what you expect..." meaning prior to your salesperson's training event you must review their content and knowledge. With sales training plans built out 90 days in advance, (normally the same sales days/times each month) everyone knows well ahead of time the scheduled events and can block out those dates/times in their calendars.

    By planning your sales training in advance the strategic sales leader will be better organized in the developmental aspects of the salesperson's training and by assigning portions of the training to salespeople the sales manager can also gain insights as to who could be a future sales manager.

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 06, 20103 comments

    Sprint to the Finish -- It's that Time of the Year

    A shaky banking industry, roller-coaster days on Wall Street, budgets being cut, purchasing decisions being delayed.

    With that economic domino effect hitting us all as 2010 winds down, ending the year on a high note will be more challenging than ever. At Acumen, we've been offering the following advice to our clients and their sales teams:

    Keep it in perspective. Recognize that if you are in the information technology sector, it is the best place to be in tough economic times. You sell what's especially in demand right now: Solutions that can increase efficiency, cut costs and enhance customer relationships.

    • Stay optimistic. Remember that clients and prospects are seeking help and you're in a position to both reassure and assist them.
    • Work harder. (Sorry, but that's what's needed.) Try to stretch yourself both in terms of attracting new customers and better serving existing ones. Sell professionally; execute brilliantly.

    Meanwhile, the standard end-of-year scenario still applies. As always, this is when accelerated compensation programs kick in. More importantly, it's when many management bonus systems take effect, rewarding executives for driving certain levels of pretax income to the bottom line or attaining their revenue targets. And it's no wonder that, just like every year at this time, sales teams feel like they're in the last 100 yards of a big race.

    Following are five additional steps to help you stay out in front as you approach the 2010 finish line:

    1. Count the days. In the same way that consumers track holiday shopping days, know how long you've got left to sell this year. Doing the countdown adds urgency to the process for you and your prospects. (Hint: How can you use the remaining weekends to boost business?)

    2. Consider all your resources. Can you turn to colleagues to strategize about opportunities and develop winning tactics? How about doing site visits? Can an existing client or a vendor contact help create credibility with prospects?

    3. Plot-closing strategies. Think about why prospects need your solution and exactly how they'll benefit from implementing it, whether it's generating revenues, improving productivity or better serving customers. Then figure out a reason for them to act now. You may have a sense of urgency driven by end-of-year deadlines for quotas or bonuses, but you need to show prospects how moving forward at this point will benefit them.

    4. Make contact twice weekly. Never let a week slip by between meetings with prospects. If you see them on Tuesday, see them again on Thursday. Stop by at a convenient time -- but always have a valuable reason to visit, such as providing an implementation plan or a reference letter.

    5. Keep prospecting. Sales organizations often drain their pipelines by the end of December. January may be strong with leftover business, but February, March and April typically lag. It's important to ensure that marketing and prospecting levels remain constantly focused on future pipeline development. We recommend that you take your calendar and block out specific times for prospecting between now and year's end.

    One last tip for coping with today's economy: In the downturn following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I developed a short personal motto that successfully reinforced the need to keep moving forward. It was: "Take action. Stay positive." I suggest that you develop a similar slogan to help you navigate these difficult times. Having a strong foundation can make all the difference in how you end the year and position yourself for 2011.

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 27, 20100 comments

    On Schedule

    Whew, two weeks without writing my blog. What happened? I was on vacation.

    I won't bore you with my highlights or pictures; however you do know the Sales Management Guru will turn his vacation experience into a sales leadership analogy.

    My vacation started in Budapest and then moved on to (by boat) to Vienna, Melk, Passau and Nuremburg. We then traveled to Prague by bus. One of the interesting experiences was traveling through a series of 25 river locks that allowed the boat to move easily up and down the various levels of water on the Danube. I have used locks on the Mississippi river a number of times, and even in Tennessee we have river locks... So why was this so interesting?  The captain told us that they had to "book" lock times a year in advance!

    What did that mean? It meant that we had to leave each city at predefined time, travel at a presumed speed and reach each lock at the pre-determined date/time. What does that have to do with running a high performance sales organization?

    If you have heard me speak, you would know I normally build into the program  with these words: Discipline, control and accountability.  When we are consulting with organizations not performing up to expectations or working with sales teams struggling to succeed, we normally find sales management lacking in discipline. Examples are easy to find; sales meetings don't start on time, sales training meetings are skipped by salespeople because schedules were not published 90 days in advance or not properly planned, sales management is not meeting at set times with each salesperson for monthly, quarterly or semi-annual reviews or (worse) there is little or poor communications between the president of the organization and sales leadership because a formal monthly priority setting meeting was never scheduled.

    Several years ago I asked and was given the weekly schedule of a professional football team's game week. For each day of the week practice times were broken out into 12 and 15 minute segments, with specific training defined for special times, offense, defense, film, etc... both with classroom and field practice times set. Game day schedules included a full agenda of events including breakfast, religious meetings, team meetings, bus/transportation plans and post game reviews. You may have heard of Lombardi time -- if a player showed up on time, he was already 10 minutes late! Professional organizations are run in a planned approach, not by chance or an ad hoc action, but with precision. The boat captain achieved his goals with the cooperation of 150 passengers that "had to be on board" 30 minutes before departure or they were left behind.

    Make a commitment to make sure your sales organization is  well oiled and well organized  as you move into the fourth quarter and 2011. This will help to make you arrive on time and on schedule for your quota-busting sales celebration events.

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 20, 20100 comments

    When You Leave

    Sales leaders sometimes travel and sometimes they even take the time for a vacation! I can remember leading a sales management workshop 10 years ago when, at a break, it seemed almost everyone ran to a phone to check in and "put out fires." Two of attendees stayed behind and chatted casually about the class or other topics. It was a clear study of who were in control and, perhaps, who were not. The two sales managers must have known that even without them, their team and organization would continue to function.

    In today's world with text, e-mail and mobile phones, staying in touch is easy...sometimes too easy. There are a few rules in leading a high-performance sales team when out of the office:

    One: Make your team independent of you. Many first-time sales managers feel they must "serve" their team by solveing all their problems. While support is critical, absorbing their problems does not solve their problems -- it only adds to yours and limits your time to be effective on the strategic and key tactical actions you need to take to be successful. When a salesperson presents a problem to you, remember to say: "What are your three recommendations?" This will help them pre-think the issue before burdening you and, perhaps, solve the problem themselves.

    Two: Assign Responsibility. When you are going to be away for a period of time, assign one or several salespeople to various roles. Obviously, you may limit their responsibility, but allow someone to run the weekly meeting or lead a sales training program and, if you have new or younger salespeople on your team, make sure each has an assigned senior to provide mentoring. These small tasks allow you to test and train others for future sales management roles.

    Three: Turn off your phones. When you are at a conference, workshop or even taking a day off, enjoy the time to focus and clear the brain or, what I call, "get some fresh air." Sure, you can check your e-mail from time to time, but limit it to three times a day.

    If you are living in a crisis mode and need to be in constant contact with everyone, then you might like to take the sales management Audit Analysis on my Web site to find out what you need to focus on to improve your sales management systems.

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 31, 20100 comments

    The Mental Side of Sales and Leadership

    I once read a quote supposedly by Jack Nicklaus: "Golf is 80 percent above the shoulders." As a bogey golfer, I have come to totally appreciate that comment. I asked Jim West, our Director of Golf, what his recommendation would be for a book or video on the mental side of golf. He quickly suggested The Golfer's Mind, Play To Play Great, by Dr. Bob Rotella. I found it on Barnes & Noble and four days later it arrived.  On the plane to Seattle Sunday morning I read about 75 percent of the book. It's an easy read with "ah ha's" throughout the book, with great ideas, practical suggestions and stories of his pro clients, including quips about the battles they face and philosophies they use to maintain their mental focus for 72 holes.

    In reflecting on the Dr. Bob's recommendations, it is easy to translate the same thoughts to our world of sales and sales leadership. There are 29 short chapters in his book. The first chapter is:  "A Golfing Philosophy." What is your sales philosophy?  "If it isn't fun, it isn't selling" has been mine. The author describes the need to relax and enjoy the challenges golf brings, and the importance of controlling the mind at all times. In sales, we have peaks and valleys, successes and failures, as professionals. You must work to control your subconscious mind and not becoming distracted on the golf course or during a sales process.

    "Goals and Dreams" is another chapter. Dr. Bob breaks down the reality of goals vs. dreams -- they are actually different elements to success. In my keynote, I speak to the concept of dreams andgoals and the fact there are no unrealistic dreams -- only unrealistic timelines.  In sales, we must  first set our dreams and define specific tactical goals that will help us achieve those dreams. "Setting your Target" is another chapter in which he describes clearly focusing on where you want the ball to land -- finding a very specific detailed spot, a tree, a 3 foot spot of fairway, the back of the hole, etc. -- before you putt and then letting the  relaxed body execute. Having a specific planned objective for every sales call becomes critical, and relaxing to reduce tension allows the professional to achieve meaningful conversations.

    As professionals we must commit (another chapter) to excellence.  One important aspect is being mentally strong and prepared to win. What will you do this week to improve your professional success?  Buy the book for each person on you sales team? It will improve your golf game as well.

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 24, 20100 comments

    No Regrets, a Do-Over Recipe for Success

    This weekend I was working on my next book and the ending of my chapter described my keynote program: "No Regrets, a Do-over Recipe for Success." I thought I would share some ideas from the book with you as we move into the dog days of Summer.

    This is what a No Regrets, Do-over Recipe and Building a Personal recipe for success is all about: Abraham Lincoln made the comment, "It's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." It's important to be able to bring balance together, learn to use the ingredients you have and know what you want from life. Start with being a better person and try to make the world a better place.

    I like to suggest that it's all about three little words: and then some. These three little words are the secret to success. They're the difference between average people and extraordinary people in most organizations. Extraordinary people always do what is expected, and then some. They're thoughtful of others, they are considerate and kind and then some. They meet their obligations and responsibilities fairly and squarely and then some. They are good friends, helpful neighbors and then some. They can be counted on in an emergency, and then some. I'm thankful for people like this; they make the world more livable. Their spirit of service is summed up in these three words: and then some.

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 18, 20100 comments

    Making it to the Top

    "Making it to the Top," and other phases like it typically refer to exceeding your sales quota or becoming a top performer in your organization. Sales leaders have used these words to create sales contests, set goals and sales themes for the year and have I. Last Friday, I made it to the top!

    First, I will be honest, I took Friday off. At 7 a.m., 11 people drove about 90 minutes to Smoky Mountain National Park to begin a 5.5 mile hike up Mount LeConte to reach its pike at 6600 feet. Secondly, it was a hard and difficult hike. On a hot day, we crossed mountain streams, climbed over rocks, walked along four-foot-wide ledges holding onto to a wire cable for support, and for over 3.5 hours -- we made slow and a steady upward climb. All eleven of us made it to the top! After a lunch and some rest we then hiked down the same path 5.5 miles. After the eleven-mile hike, we wearily took off our boots, sipped our last water and slid into our cars for the ride home -- as a treat, we stopped for two big scoops of cold tasty ice cream.

    Yes the analogy is correct! In my keynote programs I describe "dream setting" and the need to have a vision for your life both personally and professionally. I had set my sights on climbing Mount LeConte four years ago -- there are no unrealistic goals, only unrealistic timeframes  -- and when I heard the hike was planned, I set aside that day. I made a commitment. I actually purchased two new hiking sticks -- I invested in myself. And I worked hard to make it up and down that mountain, success does not come easy, you have to earn it. Everyone on that hike kept each other's spirit strong as we all were tired. Persistence is an element of success. We worked together until everyone was safe and back to the parking lot with a sense of pride of accomplishment and then we treated ourselves for achieving the objective -- rewards bring a sense of pride.

    What are your goals for the rest of the year? Or next year? Successful sales leaders have their personal and professional goals in balance, and have a vision and defined goals for their lives.

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 06, 20100 comments

    It's Almost August: 5 Steps to Finishing Strong

    By now the summer is almost over and you need to be concerned about exceeding August's quotas, achieving September's goal and the fourth quarter sales numbers. What should you be thinking and doing? Here's a quick checklist:

    1. Ask each salesperson to identify if their top prospects/decision makers have vacations scheduled during the next 45 days and if they do, will they delay planned decision dates?

    2. Review your pipeline values by stage at 30, 60, 90 days to identify if you have enough opportunities for the future and if you can "move ahead" or accelerate their decision points. Do you need a few quick marketing lead generation programs?

    3. Carefully measure your leading indicators to see if your salespeople are taking the summer off. Leading indicators are sales actions that will lead to demonstrations and/or proposals.

    4. Do you have third- and fourth-quarter sales contests planned?  "Sprint to the Finish" could be a theme. The contest could be based upon year-end sales by person or a team plan:  The entire sales team wins by exceeding the sales budget for the fourth quarter.

    5. Schedule a company picnic lunch where the sales/marketing team cooks and serves the meal for everyone else in the company. This will build teamwork and shows appreciation for everyone that serves sales during the rest of the year.

    Why all this special attention?  It is not uncommon for people, in general, to slow down during July and August; family vacations, sports activities, weekend events -- all sorts of activities can begin to take away the focus that is necessary for high performance teams to excel. As a sales leader your focus and energy has to rise to another level to maintain the intensity that is necessary for success.

    What other ideas do you have to ensure your third and fourth quarters are successes?

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 26, 20100 comments

    Finding Opportunities

    Last week I spoke at Microsoft's World Wide Partner Conference. With 14,000 attendees, it was a terrific event. The amazing action to watch was the volume of conversations taking place -- not necessarily just on the Expo floor but EVERYWHERE!

    At this event Microsoft has created a software tool called "Connect" that allows anyone registered to search the registered list of attendees and arrange for a meeting in a predefined area for a 30 minute "speed date" or even to arrange a meeting at some other location. Plus, attendees had the opportunity to network at the evening receptions (several every evening), at breakfast, lunches and hallway accidental meetings.

    The noise and energy of people from all over the world discussing their business, asking questions and finding new opportunities were impressive. From my personal experience I had good accidental meetings with individuals from Russia, Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic and the U.S.  We discussed and shared business thoughts and laughs. In other unplanned and prescheduled meetings, I had the opportunity to discuss  Acumen's expertise, new business opportunities and was given the opportunity to enhance new relationships with other vendors. I know from past experience that conversations held an idea that information shared can lead to business opportunities for the near future.

    I also met individuals that may not lead directly to new business, but their new knowledge of Acumen's expertise and experience could lead to referrals or the uncovering new relationships. Some of these individuals I have known for years and some were first time contacts. These contacts were discovered in airports, hotels, walking down the street, hallways between meetings or while simply waiting in line for another prescheduled meeting.

    What does all of this mean to you?

    What are you doing each day, each week to find new opportunities, opening up new relationships or building up your network? When I started my business I set a goal of meeting two individuals a week simply to build up the awareness of my practice.

    As sales leaders. are you expecting networking activity in your monthly salesperson's business plans? Are you measuring or inspecting the types of networking they are participating in?

    What creative ideas are you using to find new opportunities?

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 19, 20100 comments

    Conventions and Personal Development

    I am leaving Sunday for Washington D.C. -- yes, in July! It is the Microsoft's World Wide Partner Conference; it is my ninth year speaking at the event. Click here for webcasts, Acumen's best practices and content on increase your profitability.

    During the day I will be listening to programs, attending breakout sessions and networking with my peers. At night I will be working on my client projects or attending networking events. Going to this event is always very interesting -- normally I am giving the keynote or leading a breakout session at vendors' or association's conference. At this conference I will be attending learning sessions as well.

    With WPC and other industry events going on this week it is important that even with the economic challenges that you may be experiencing and even if cash flow is critical, attending these kinds of events must be a considered a priority. Learning new things, picking up one or two new ideas and even re-energizing your own mind can help you lead your organization during tough times. You may even gain insights into new sources of revenue that will propel your organizations as the economy begins to recover. Invest in yourself are the key words.

    In one of my blogs I mentioned creating a Personal Development Plan for each of your team. As a sales leader you need to have your own too.  For Summertime reading ask me for Ken's recommended list of executive books for your library by sending me an e-mail at [email protected].

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 09, 20100 comments