10 Sales Kickoff Meeting Ideas for 2012

We're nearing that time when we need to start preparing 2012 budgets, new compensation plans and something most sales managers don't take enough time in developing: their 2012 sales kickoff meeting.  

Already, many larger organizations are booking their sales conferences for the first quarter. That's where they will invite their sales teams, vendors, resellers and partners to hear their plans to make 2012 the best year ever. Keynote speakers, breakout sessions, new marketing plans and product demonstrations will all be coordinated to boost enthusiasm and excitement in what the new year will bring. I know this because I am booked for five events already. 

However, just because larger organizations are planning their formal conferences, it doesn't mean as a sales leader you shouldn't be planning an event for your sales organization.

A yearly sales kickoff meeting can be organized as an off-site or overnight two-day program, or as a simple half-day event. You should schedule them no later than mid-February. However, the basics of any sales kickoff event should include the following planning ideas.

  1. Announce a theme for the new year. This should be a positive statement of your major objectives and something that can be reinforced throughout the year. "Be Brilliant on the Basics" or Nike's "Just Do It!" are two examples. Give your ideas for your sales theme for the year in the comments section below.

  2. Include time for sales training on sales skills. You might hand out a sales training book as a gift to each salesperson. This will be your first-quarter "must-read" book. You can use the book for extended sales training during your meetings. Also roll out your first quarter sales training plans.

  3. Announce a first-quarter sales contest.

  4. Announce a 2012 year-long sales contest, with a big prize for exceeding quota. Examples include a trip to a resort, a cruise or a trip to an island. Remember, these kinds of incentive programs are not expenses but paid out of incremental revenues/profits. The rollout should include written rules and pictures of the location. See my book Creating High Performance Sales Compensation Plans for ideas on sales contests.

  5. Describe and show your marketing plans for the first six months. This will show the salespeople how your organization is planning to support the sales team.

  6. Schedule the president of your company to give a short message on his/her philosophy on sales and the culture of your organization.

  7. You may or may not announce your new compensation plan at this event; it all depends upon the degree of change you are making. With minor changes, it's a great time, while major changes schedule a separate meeting. Hint: Do not roll out the new compensation plan as the last topic of the meeting. Schedule it early in the afternoon, if your event is a full-day meeting.

  8. Make sure you make the meeting fun!  As the sales leader, work on activities that create the right culture and teamwork. Create a game that everyone participates in during the event.

  9. Make sure each salesperson presents their business plans for the year. Based upon the number of salespeople this can be done by breakouts into regions, smaller groups or as a single group. These business plans include not only forecasts but personal commitments to activity levels and professional growth.

  10. Bring in an outside speaker. This could include a customer telling of their satisfaction with your firm, a sales trainer or a motivational message that propels your team to excellence.

This is your time to bring a coordinated program that sets the tone for the new year. Make sure you take the time to do it right. What additional ideas do you have? Share them below.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on November 14, 20111 comments

Don't Mourn the Salesperson Yet

I read a recent article in the Economist titled "The Art of Selling: The Death of the Salesman Has Been Greatly Exaggerated." Speaking as a salesperson for many years, a sales leader for 15 years and a sales management consultant for the past 14 years, this article went right to the point of what many of us write already know.

Quick example: Recently, I purchased an iPhone from AT&T. The AT&T retail facility had great service. They welcomed me to the store, shared friendly conversation, helped me save money on my existing account, and the salesperson even walked me to the door on each of my two visits. AT&T even responded to my e-mails. Overall, a well-organized retail customer approach.

Just yesterday, I walked into an AT&T store in NYC to purchase a carrying case for my new iPhone and received the same solid attitude and sales process -- complete with a walk to the door! This impression was of how a strong sales focus impacts a transaction.

Sales is built on trust and confidence. In some minor products, this can be accomplished by smart marketing. However, professional salespeople do drive emotions if properly hired, trained and managed, and they should be the profit center of any organization.

One point that the Economist article misses is why some companies have failed and why others have grown. Sales-focused organizations have penetrated their existing customer base at higher levels and added net new clients at higher rates through a well-crafted salesperson or sales process map. However, it is my belief that it is critical for organizations' sales leadership team to be focused on success -- by building a belief in their mission within the sales team, and by creating a sales training system that reinforces sales strategies, sales process and prospect buying emotions.

I have often written about the need for sales leadership to set the tone for the culture of the organization, as well as the level of expectation. Sales and sales management are the critical success factors to lead us out of the negative economic conditions that exist today. Bottom line: To make salespeople and their impact relevant, sales leadership must take a proactive approach -- not only with their organization's executives to drive the need for salespeople, but in the day-to-day management of their team's ability to execute.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on November 07, 20110 comments

Making Mondays Marvelous

In past blogs, I have written about eating pizza, "gourmet living" and many ideas that are designed to improve the operations, culture and productivity of your sales team, as well as the sales manager's. 

As I sat in the airport on a recent Monday morning on my way to New York City to speak at an event, it occurred to me that those first two or three hours on Monday are critical to setting the tone for the week. However, as a sales leader, you need to be prepared before that alarm goes off on Monday.

On Sunday afternoon, I printed my boarding passes. That evening I packed a bag, packed up my computer and business folders, and placed them in my car along with my overcoat. I also set aside my clothing for Monday and, after packing a few last items, I was on my way. A short 30-minute drive later, and I was easily in the airport and through screening. 

That organization kept my week from starting on a negative note. It made it easy for me to focus on the work for the week, and gave me time to prepare without being rushed. So the question is, are you and each of your salespeople prepared for the week?

A while ago, I wrote a blog titled "Sunday Night Sales Management." While I don't really suggest you call each of your salespeople every Sunday night as my first sales manager used to do (see blog for details), you can set the tone several other ways:

  • Start on Friday afternoon. Depending on the maturity level of your sales team, many organizations hold their Monday morning sales meetings on Friday afternoons. Everyone can discuss the past week and review their plans for the coming week. This will reinforce the need for activity and planning, and on Monday everyone is ready to go. You might take the time to simply review everyone's schedule for the coming week with a brief one-on-one also.

  • Start over the weekend. Take a few minutes to simply review each salesperson's planned activity and key prospect activity. By sending a few e-mails to each of your salespeople over the weekend, they will realize they will need to be prepared for Monday and the following week. Inspect what you expect!

  • Start on Monday morning. If you have a Monday morning sales meeting, be prepared. Have your information ready, make the meeting worthwhile and positive, and set the tone for your desired culture. Be organized. If you would like a copy of my "Sales Manager's Sales Meeting Agenda," contact me at [email protected].

The rest of the morning be active, upbeat and accessible; don't lock yourself up in other management meetings or be out of the office. Get everyone feeling revved up and help them find the rhythm.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 31, 20110 comments

Time To Ramp Up Your Recruiting

I have often stated that a sales manager should spend between 15 percent and 20 percent of their time recruiting and interviewing, but as you move through October into November, you'll need to increase your recruiting focus.

Around this time of the year, like it or not, every salesperson is assessing their current status, their organization, what they are selling and a pending new compensation plan in 2012.  By increasing your recruiting now, you will capture the attention of potential salespeople. And by adding them now or even at the first of the year, you will be in position to exceed your 2012 sales goals. What should you do?

  1. Place a display advertisement in the business section of your local paper -- not in the help-wanted section.

  2. Review your resume folder or competitive salesperson list. Check your won/lost reports and find out who the salespeople were that won orders during the past year. Call them.

  3. Contact your vendor account managers and let them know you are looking for additional salespeople. They may know quality salespeople to contact.

  4. Increase your networking activity. Attend a few extra events and let everyone know you are looking for quality salespeople.

  5. Make sure everyone in your company knows that you are recruiting. Set up a referral bonus plan.

Obviously, make sure you have a well-defined interviewing process to effectively select quality candidates. My book may be of value if you haven't been trained to hire salespeople. Recruiting High Performance Sales Teams includes additional recruiting ideas, interview questions, scorecards and a bonus section that describes a new salesperson on-boarding process.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 24, 20110 comments

Zen and Art of Golf

One of my more popular blogs last winter was "Zen and Art of Snow Shoveling" based on the famous book Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. After yesterday, I thought I might leverage that title one more time.

Yesterday was a lovely fall day in the Smoky Mountains. The sky was bright blue with no clouds, the leaves were changing into brilliant colors, the air was warm, and I had a 1 p.m. tee time. Unbeknownst to me, another couple had signed up to play with my wife and I. As a not-great golfer, I became concerned when I saw the other man, Ed, begin to boom his shots on the driving range. On the first hole I was still somewhat nervous, but made a double bogey on a long par 5. Moving to the second hole, I hit a great drive.

But it was the next thing that happened that made the afternoon a wonderful experience: Ed began to compliment everyone's shots and form as he continued to be a long and accurate ball stroker. My second shot hit the green -- the first time I had ever done that. On the third hole I began to get on a roll. By the end of the day, I had a few pars, a birdie, and scored my best round of the year. Even with losing five balls, I shot a 93! Now, while that might not be good for many readers, for me it was a positive experience. 

What does this have to do with sales leadership? From the first hole, which I didn't pick up until the second, Ed was setting the tone for the day -- compliments, some laughs but setting a standard on distance and accuracy. He would pick up broken tees, cleaning the tee box and fixing ball marks on every green. Pretty soon, all four of us were encouraging each other, managing the course and enjoying the experience. I found myself concentrating more clearly, working my shots better, and even when Ed gave me a tip, I appreciated his concern to make my game better

As a sales leader are you setting the standards of expectations? Doing the little things (like cleaning a tee box) to make sure your team is executing more professionally? Making sales calls with your team and providing strategy and sales tips to your team to make them better? It was the entire approach -- by everyone -- to the afternoon that made the difference. Is your team helping each other? Is everyone in the organization encouraging and pressing for excellence?

Have a great fall -- focus on the details, push your team for more, but set the tone with positive strokes and perhaps you will finish 2011 as your best year ever!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 17, 20110 comments

'Corporate Entrepreneurship': Good for Small and Large Businesses

My normal reading pattern normally is a "business book," then a "fun book," and then back to a "business book." This routine lets me read a diverse array of books, and keeps me current and thinking creatively. The latest business book I finished is titled Corporate Entrepreneurship: How To Create a Thriving Entrepreneurial Spirit Throughout Your Company. While the book is aimed at corporate America, it is also helpful for small businesses.

Over 20 years ago, I worked for a small business in Minneapolis. During that time I had an idea for a business that was related to, but not directly aligned with, the small business' main focus: selling software and computers to other small businesses. My idea was to create a software testing laboratory that would validate software prior to its release by the software developers. This would lower the number of bugs and improve profits.

Long story short, while that software testing business is no longer a part of the original small business, it has survived and prospered. And within that same original small business, a specialized software product was developed and a separate focus started that led to it becoming the No. 1 software product within its vertical market!

Many of the challenges I faced within the small business aligned with the issues authors Robert Hisrich and Claudine Kearney brought up, even as early as the preface. As a business and sales management consultant for the past 14 years, I have witnessed many organizations attempting to add new business opportunities within their current structure -- only to run into the same obstacles. This book would help any leader at any level of organization improve their ability to adapt and take advantage of potential new opportunities without disrupting their current business models.

I have also observed many organizations jumping into something new too quickly. The authors provide in the first chapter a process to help both the organization's leadership and the entrepreneur or adventurer to identify and evaluate the potential of the opportunity. This is well-written, with great tools, and excellent for any level of business. As in my personal experience, the owner of the business encouraged creativity; Chapter 2 identifies specifically leadership's role in "promoting, facilitating and supporting entrepreneurial activity."

One of the best chapters covered "The Internal Politics of Venturing." Let me say this again: This book is an excellent read for both small and large business leaders. In any organization, the political drama can drain business opportunities. The other chapters I found very interesting were on compensation within a corporate entrepreneurial environment and funding the venture.

I found the content straightforward, easy to read, with great examples from organizations like Apple. What I really came away with is an excellent read for any level of large corporate management that wants to create a challenging environment and needs to create a playbook for innovation -- this book will provide that. For small business owners this book will lay out a process to assist you in making better decisions, improve your new business ventures and create an atmosphere of success.

My favorite quote is "Take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime, during the lifetime of the opportunity." Corporate Entrepreneurship will help get you there!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 10, 20110 comments

Align Sales Compensation with Your Goals

This week's blog is an excerpt from my new book, "Creating High Performance Sales Compensation Plans."

When it comes to how businesses pay their salespeople, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. That's especially true for any company that is diverse. Each has its own business, margins and 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 start-up or an established business? Are your sales goals orders- or bookings-based? How long are your delivery cycles? What are your objectives: to secure new clients, increase average order size, reduce selling expenses? Do you want to open new vertical markets, focus on the profitable aspects of your business or increase certain activities, such as cold calling? Each answer will help them design a compensation plan tailored to your company's specific needs.

Finally, take a hard look at your sales organization. Take the time to set goals and analyze gaps. 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 because it provides new blood? Such considerations also play into compensation planning.

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. For example, if a salesperson earns $150,000 in total compensation and sells $1.5 million of products and services, his CoS is 10 percent. A more sophisticated approach adds in marketing expenses, corporate overhead, direct expenses paid to the salesperson and expenses related to sales support costs.

Once you have determined an acceptable CoS range, you can fine-tune the commission plan. If you sell Microsoft offerings, services and other more product-focused solutions, it's critical to find a blended CoS, which takes into consideration the margins of service and lower margins of product sales. That can allow you to achieve the desired CoS within your compensation framework.

Examining the Options
Compensation plans vary widely, but all should include "accelerators," that is, increased commission rates for employees who achieve target sales levels. Following are a few common examples of different plan structures:

  • 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.

Let's examine which types of plans work best in which scenarios. If your company has high revenue-growth objectives in a boom market with little competition, use a plan with aggressive accelerators. Another option involves offering higher base salaries and lower commissions. An advantage to this approach: You may not need reps with top-notch sales skills because, in this case, they're primarily order-takers.

The situation changes in a slower-growing market with many competitors. Here, you might adopt a "protect-and-grow" revenue objective to play defense against rivals, while using a margin-based plan to upgrade accounts. The idea is to gear compensation to account for growth while providing bonuses for new accounts.

If your company's goal is to grow revenue and focus on new account conversion programs, choose a plan focused on the percentage of sales growth quarter over quarter or annually over named accounts. Certainly, using a quota-based compensation plan can achieve this objective, too. This scenario requires strong sales compensation with quarterly bonus emphasis on revenue gains from new business.

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 03, 20110 comments

Sales Leadership as an Economic Stimulus

Most people fix their eyes on Washington, D.C. and Wall Street when they want to assess the health of the economy (or propose ways to fix it). But everyone who reads this blog knows that nothing happens unless a salesperson sells something.

I am firmly convinced that VPs of sales, sales directors and sales managers are the linchpins that drive growth in any organization. They set the direction and culture and create the intensity required for success. In the current economy, it is the sales team's responsibility to jumpstart their business. That will, in turn, impact other organizations and eventually the economy. 

This will be a massive effort, but we can start today! Here are a few ideas to start your own "sales leadership stimulus program":

  1. Make sure every salesperson has a 90-day business plan with activity goals, account strategies and revenue objectives. Vision and action must be in alignment.

  2. Schedule a sales skills training event at least every other week Assign members of your sales team to train each other.

  3. Develop a "cross-sell/up-sell" plan for each of your existing customers. Determine what products/solutions each client currently uses and what other products/solutions you can sell to them.

  4. Create a specific "current client contact campaign" using No. 3 above. Assign each salesperson x-number of clients to contact per week and track sales results for 90 days.

  5. Ask each of your vendors for funds or gifts to use in a companywide sales contest between now and the end of the year. (Read my book Creating High Performance Sales Compensation Plans for other ideas.)

  6. Implement scheduled "tele-sales blitz days" with your sales team. Schedule a minimum of two hours a week during which everyone brings up prospects for new business. Track daily results for appointments. Make this a fun time.

  7. Once a month, take your sales team to a satisfied client's office for a tour and demonstration of how they use your products/solutions. This will build belief in your company -- something that's required for salespeople to be mentality tough in these times.

  8. Develop a peer group of other sales leaders -- share your ideas and ask for advice.

  9. Build a fun team event wherein you roll out your goals and programs and express enthusiasm to execute your plans. You must always be the positive leader, with excitement, energy and focus. Your team must believe in your plans.

What are ideas that I forgot? Leave a comment below and let's keep the ideas flowing to help everyone succeed.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 20, 20110 comments

Plan, Plan, Plan (and Be Efficient)

As a former Eagle Scout, I can attest to usefulness of the motto, "Be prepared." Especially after last Sunday.

Sunday was Boom's Day, the largest fireworks display in the United States, which occurs each Labor Day weekend in Knoxville, Tenn. An estimated 400,000 people flock to the riverfront to watch the event -- boats on the river, people lined up on the docks and roads, and every home, parking lot and condo packed with friends and neighbors. It's 45 minutes of noise, color and lots of "Ooohs" and "Aaahs." And the potential of rain.

For the two weeks before Boom's Day, I asked everyone about the event -- where to park, when to arrive and so on. I double-checked my reservations for my dinner cruise and planned what to pack. The good news was, I found a parking spot in the first ramp I drove into. Arriving at 2:30 p.m. allowed my friends and I to casually walk through Market Square, stop for refreshments and sushi, and then walk the 10 blocks to the riverwalk and boat launch. When the rain came, we had hats, ponchos and umbrellas. At 9:30 p.m., when the show began, the rain stopped. On the walk back to the car, I took out my flashlight and the four of us made it home by 1 a.m. A great evening to remember.

What does this have to do with sales management? As a manager, you must be prepared at all times for almost any event. The best plan is to have a plan, and to consider what might go wrong or what could impact your ability to exceed your objectives. Below are a couple of items to consider when refining or forming a plan for your sales team:

Do you have a plan...

  • if you lose a salesperson
  • if your sales team needs training
  • to boost the sales culture of your team
  • to increase your networking/partnering function
  • that generates excitement for your products/services
  • to say "thank you" to your support team
  • that increases your level of professionalism/education
  • to create a sales contest that drives revenue
  • that adds net new customers to your base
  • that drives the necessary sales leads for each month
  • to say "thank you" to your existing customer base
  • to increase your public relations exposure within your community or market
  • that will increase/improve your vendor relations
  • to improve your CRM effectiveness
  • if your computer systems fail or are destroyed

That's enough for now, but if I missed anything, comment below. Let's build a complete list for the future.

Hint: This is a great idea for your next management meeting. Simply begin by asking each of the departmental managers about their problems or contingency issues that arise on a day-to-day basis or what might occur if a disaster of any kind happens. Then ask them for their plan.

Why is this critically important today? In any kind of business environment, the organization that operates the most efficiently generally outperforms their competition. In more challenging times, a focus on efficient effectiveness must become the mantra for the day.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 09, 20110 comments

Sprint to the Finish: Sales Tips for a Strong Close to 2011

A shaky banking industry. Roller-coaster days on Wall Street. Budgets being cut. Purchasing decisions being delayed. The economic domino effect is hitting all of us as 2011 begins to wind 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 the IT sector 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, too. 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 in front as you approach the 2011 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 Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I developed a short personal motto that reinforced the need to keep moving forward: "Take action. Stay positive." I suggest that you formulate 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 2012.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 31, 20110 comments

Down to the Wire: Sales Training and Education

As we move into the final months of the year, it's critical to ensure that your sales teams are professional and properly trained in order to meet -- and exceed -- your goals. With that in mind, here is an excerpt from a chapter in my latest book, Leading High-Performance Teams. The key takeaway, as I write in the book, is that "Developing well-coordinated training programs for new salespeople and existing salespeople alike can provide tremendous ROI." 

In working with clients, we at Acumen Management often find that sales-training programs suffer from problems such as inadequate new-employee orientation, sporadic and unfocused ongoing training  and nonexistent or ineffective role-playing scenarios. Many clients also lack any type of coaching or mentoring in the field, during or after routine sales calls.

The good news: Sales-training programs don't have to be sophisticated or expensive. To ensure success, you need only a few basic components: a comprehensive plan that spells out your training program's goals and components, a clear ongoing process and, above all, effective execution.

A Comprehensive Plan
Your plan should contain an outline for initial employee training on functional job requirements, company product and service offerings and corporate benefits, along with recurring plans for training existing employees.

Many organizations' training plans are missing one key factor: making sure that employee interest and motivation levels remain high. This process, which involves helping team members commit to the organization and align their personal and professional interests, is known as "re-recruiting."

The perfect opportunity to set a lasting tone is when new employees join your company. If you have customer letters of reference, have the newcomers read them. If you have awards, explain how you earned them. All new employees should have lunch or a meeting with the person at the highest level in their divisions; in smaller companies, that would be the president. Commitment, loyalty and the right attitude will begin to develop at these sessions. 

At Acumen, we believe in creating a detailed three-week new-hire training plan. Each week is broken down into specific training and knowledge-transfer components -- with homework! The plan must cover everything, including:

  • Legal documents
  • Marketing case studies
  • Using the phone, fax machine and customer relationship management (CRM) system
  • Presenting and selling your organization via its brochures and PowerPoint presentations
  • Scheduled lunch meetings with key executives

...and more, based on your organization's specific needs.

It's critical that you clearly define each element of your training program and that the people responsible for each area sign off as each new hire has successfully completed the training.

 A Clear Long-Term Process
To ensure success, your training plan should be designed so that you're continually updating your team's abilities. The plan should cover the following areas: sales skills, product and services knowledge, company operations, industry awareness and, if appropriate, understanding of key vertical markets. 

Plan and organize your sales meetings for the entire quarter. Develop a comprehensive plan for repeatedly touching on each of the elements listed above over the course of the quarter (although not necessarily addressing all of them at each event).

The plan should also include personalized six-month programs that allow salespeople to set their own goals. This process helps ensure that individual and corporate goals are fully aligned. One of my clients requires its salespeople to attain several certification levels each year. In one instance, the salesperson has 15 minutes to review a case study before walking into a room where an actor plays the role of the client. Three independent professionals evaluate the salesperson's performance, which may be videotaped for later review. The salesperson must receive a passing grade before moving on to the next level.

Effective Execution
To get your training program off the ground, first develop a written three-month sales training plan. Include a mandatory, predefined schedule; emphasize that employees must schedule their other meetings around it. Assign sales team members to present most training topics (if salespeople have to train others on a topic, you can be sure they'll know the material cold). Schedule sessions with outside trainers at least once per quarter. Establishing a short-term plan and agenda ensures that you address current issues while meeting the goals for providing ongoing training.

Bottom line: Employees are a critical asset. Most software systems have regular maintenance check-ups and support agreements to keep them at current levels. Your employees require at least as much attention. Keeping your employees' personal and professional objectives aligned with your corporate goals through training and re-recruiting will ultimately result in huge dividends. 

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 25, 20110 comments

Improving Your Win/Lose Sales Record

Last week, I spoke to a group of executives about improving their business planning process by increasing their consideration of strategic issues, market dynamics and resource/employee development.

One of the other elements in effective business planning is holding a formal quarterly review process where the management team evaluates the quality of business execution and operations, marketing and sales scorecards. During the session, I revealed a variety of metrics we use to assist our clients on improving their sales and profits. The first sales-related metric I recommend is the "won/lost ratio," or the number of proposals delivered versus the number of opportunities won. This is measured by your sales team and by individual salesperson.

The reason this ratio is important is it will tell sales leadership if your salesperson is qualifying properly, delivering enough proposals or has other sales-related issues. From this ratio you can also begin to build the balance of your pipeline metrics, working backward in your funnel. However, that is not our topic today.

What can improve your won/lost ratios? Better pre-call planning. Let me summarize a few questions the sales manager and salesperson can use to improve their preparation. (If you would like our Pre-Call Planning Sales Worksheet, which is part of our Online Sales Management Toolkit, simply send me an e-mail.)

Consider each of these issues as you plan your sales call:

  • What is he/she in charge of or expected to manage?
  • What does he/she want to achieve? How does she/he measure success? How are they evaluated?
  • What is considered a success on this proposal?
  • What external factors or industry trends might make it more difficult to reach their goals?
  • What likely strategies and initiatives are in place to help achieve their objectives?
  • What likely issues does the organization face that could prevent goal achievement?
  • Who are the peers (subordinates, superiors, outsiders with whom they frequently interact)? Who has formal power or informal power?
  • What's their status quo relevant to your product/service/solution? What would it take to overcome status quo?
  • What is the personality style of each of the individuals on the call?
  • How will I open the call? What is the objective of the call? How will I close the call?

While these are just a few of questions a professional must consider prior to any sales call, it is also important to recognize that sales conditions can change at any time and constant reviews of your sales strategies will sharpen your skills -- but, more importantly, increase your won/lost ratio. The bottom line: Increasing won/lost ratios means an increase in commissions. Need any more encouragement?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 08, 20110 comments