Taking Advantage of 'Do-Over' Opportunities

"Take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime, during the lifetime of the opportunity!" I use this phase in my keynote program on Gourmet Living; I have coined it as a "Thoreson Theorem."  In each of our lives we all have special times or events that open the door to unique opportunities. They maybe a business that's taking off and bringing great rewards, or it could be a special time to share with old friends or relatives. The key takeaway of the phase is to recognize the time factor and the act of "taking advantage."

Many times, I have noticed people not recognizing how little they have in their lives or failing to take action -- these people simply exist. While we can't live our lives over again, we do have the freedom to do over the way we live our lives. For instance, Domino's pizza recently faced quality-control issues and it is now "doing over" its recipes and services.

In Gourmet Living, I speak often about creating a Menu for Life, where each of us can choose a philosophy of how we want to live life and create a "mantra" or theme that will carry us on our day-to-day life experiences.  All of this becomes a "do-over recipe for personal and professional success."

Are you ready, excited and focused, or are you feeling the "blahs"? Last week, I was interviewed on the topic of sales fatigue for Top Sales World. In the interview, I said that something I've noticed over the last three and four months are sales leaders and salespeople feeling the grind of the past 18 to 24 months and feeling the pressure of exceeding sales quotas the next five months. If you or your sales team are simply showing up to work, you may need to consider doing over your personal and professional goals, setting a new theme for your sales team for the next five months, and simply increasing the motivational factor for your team.  Gain what I like to call "fresh air." Remember professionals will do what amateurs fail to do: the little extras that make the difference in their performance.

The two-and-a-half-minute YouTube video below discusses three words: "and then some." These three words are the difference between average performers and top performers.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 29, 20110 comments

Sales Training: The Lost Art of Discovery

As I finalize a program for a client of mine, I thought I might share some of my thoughts on sales training. While Acumen isn't a sales-training firm, as a sales leadership consulting firm, we get actively involved in designing course work and helping sales managers develop their sales training programs. Regular blog readers know we believe that sales managers should plan their sales-training programs on a quarterly basis, listing dates, times, topics and individuals responsible. Today, I wanted to share another important aspect in salesperson development.

The paragraph below is from this article by Dave Kurlan, a noted sales trainer, titled "Get Your Veteran Salespeople to Take Baby Steps." It highlights something I have noticed over the past 10 years: Salespeople have moved into a product-pushing rather than a relationship-building style. Why is that? Perhaps it's the e-mail technology we now have, our short attention spans, or simply the stagnant level of professionalism of our sales teams.

We expect newer salespeople to be sales challenged, that is, not very effective when it comes to listening and questioning. But the reality is that for at least 74% of the sales population, veteran salespeople aren't very effective at this either. Here are some of Objective Management Group's additional statistics from assessing more than 500,000 salespeople:

  • 58% talk too much
  • 58% don't ask enough questions
  • 84% present too early in the sales process
  • 85% offer quotes or proposals too early in the sales process
  • 86% take prospects at their word -- they trust enough to not ask a clarifying question

I like to recommend that you "video tape" your sales teams at least twice a year -- once to validate they can effectively sell your company in less than three minutes, and twice to record them as they perform a role play around discovery or asking questions. A salesperson's ability to ask key questions and then -- based on the prospect's answers -- probe deeper to fully understand the individual's needs and business challenges are the key to improving sales.

The questions I have for you today are:

  1. When was the last time you simply went on a sales call to observe a salesperson's skill level?
  2. How are you building the skill level of your team? (If you want a Salesperson Development Tool, send me an e-mail at [email protected].)
  3. Have you trained your salespeople to listen, ask business-focused questions and build relationships?

I would enjoy hearing from you on your reactions and thoughts on sales training. Leave a comment below.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 22, 20110 comments

Gourmet Living: Your Life's Pizza

Ah, summer. The Fourth of July came and went with parades, fireworks and many family and community get-togethers. 

On Saturday, we spent the evening on the dock, cooling off with frequent swims and feeling the light breeze off the lake. At about 6 p.m. I went up to the kitchen and took out my pizza stone and made a pizza (pepperoni, mushrooms, two kinds of cheeses, fresh basil and Italian seasoning). We finished it off as the sun was setting behind the hills of East Tennessee.

If you follow our blog or receive my monthly newsletter, you know I speak often about food -- finding your "menu for life," how your life is like a pizza, et cetera.  All of our lives are made up of various ingredients, much like my Saturday evening pizza, but our lives are also made up of various slices that (if balanced properly) enrich us both personally and professionally. These slices of life relate to relationships, friends and family, fitness, communication skills, time management and so on.

If you would like a copy of the "personal/professional pizza" to assess how you score in each slice of life, send me an e-mail at [email protected]. To hear an excerpt from my keynote where I describe how to find balance in your life and begin to create a "gourmet life," listen to this YouTube video. And as you look on YouTube, search for "Ken Thoreson." You will find 10 other short videos from my keynote program "Gourmet Living."

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 05, 20110 comments

Building Culture To Increase Profits

Did you know that when you lose a salesperson, it costs you four times what you paid that person during their employment? These costs include not only salary, but benefits, lost sales/profits, time of management support, training costs and, in many cases, lost market presence and bad company image with repeated new salespeople calling on the same accounts. (If you want the entire formula, send me an e-mail at [email protected] and I will send it to you)

A recent Wall Street Journal column showed a graph depicting the level of discontent among workers who are "seriously considering leaving their jobs." They surveyed 2,400 workers and compared a study from 2005 to 2010 showing the percentages of discontent.

Ages                2005                2010
25-34               25%                 40%
35-44               24%                 33%
45-54               20%                 28%

These numbers bring up two significant points. One, as the economy gets better and more jobs open up, plan and expect to lose people. Two, why should people be discontented?

As readers of this blog should know, my answer to the first is to build an ongoing sales recruiting program. The second issue is more challenging, but the answer is critical to sales leaders, creating a positive culture of high performance. In many of my keynote programs, I discuss the need for leaders to "align the soul of the individual with the goals of the organization." This means that the leader must know the individual goals of each person and then show that person they can achieve their personal and professional objectives by helping the organization achieve its goals. If the salesperson wishes to purchase a boat, show them how they can earn the extra commissions to pay for the boat. (Hint: Create a poster with a picture of that boat with a bar chart that reflects the sales goals required to hit the required cost of the boat.) If their goal is a college fund for their children, you should know that as well.

In addition to the personal skills required by sales leaders, you need to create the atmosphere where you reinforce belief in your organization. Focus on building success stories on where your product/service has greatly benefited your client base and share them at least quarterly.

Next, are you creating a fun atmosphere? An office where people enjoy each other, laugh, share ideas, talk about their lives and work together for the common good is essential. One idea I have recommended at this time of the year is to have your sales team and/or management team cook a picnic lunch for all your employees. Make it a once-a-month event during the summer -- it's a way to say "Thank you." Create a theme, allow the president or others to give a short talk about positive events within the company and then, at the end, rally everyone to "get back to work!"

Focus on building a culture where your salespeople are earning top commissions; expectations for high performance are set; discipline, accountability and control are in place; and a positive environment is a priority. Your turnover will drop and your profitability will soar.

If you have other ideas on building culture, please post them below and let's build a library of ideas.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 01, 20110 comments

Sales Leadership and Hot Dogs

First let me state this: I did not write this week's blog.

As sales leaders we have three things we must focus on: The role we play, the strategic side of our job, and the day-to-day tactics. The story below describes what the role of our jobs are -- that is, the culture and motivational aspects of sales leadership. I believe reading it will help every salesperson fight through the tough times and mental challenges we face every day.

Recently, a 22-year-old year man won the U.S. Open. A month ago, he went into the last day leading the Masters and lost. He fought through not only the physical side of his profession but also the mental side. I hope you enjoy "The Man Who Sold Hot Dogs."

There was a man who lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs. He was hard of hearing, so he had no radio. He had trouble with his eyes, so he read no newspapers. But he sold good hot dogs. He put up signs on the highway telling how good they were. He stood by the side of the road and cried, "Buy a hot dog, Mister."

People bought. He increased his meat and roll orders. He bought a bigger stove to take care of his trade. He finally got his son home from college to help him out. But then something happened. His son said: "Father, haven't you been listening to the radio? There's a big recession coming on. The Middle East situation is terrible. The domestic situation is worse."

That made his father think: "Well, my son's been to college, he reads the papers, and he listens to the radio, he ought to know."

So the father cut down on his meat and rolls orders, took down his advertising signs and no longer bothered to stand on the highway to sell his good hot dogs. Sales fell fast, almost overnight.

"You're right son," the father said to the boy. "We are certainly in the middle of a great recession. There just isn't any business."

Need we point out the moral? And by the way, this was received in 1974...before e-mail.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 27, 20110 comments

Guidelines for Effective Management Performance

As I was refilling my bookshelves, I found the following pointers in a book from Dale Carnegie & Associates (copyright 1967 and updated 1981). All the information is highly pertinent for today's biggest sales management challenges; my whitepaper "The Job of Sales Management" that is located on my Web site is somewhat similar but specific to the job functions of the sales manager. 

Successful managers, regardless of what type of organizations they're in, must understand and perform certain functions, concepts and principles to ensure continued success and effectiveness in dealing with their people. The list below reviews management's role in building a high-performance organization. At your next management meeting, I recommend sharing this with your entire management team and discussing how each person is working to accomplish the various suggestions below.

Managers must understand that:

  1. It is essential to influence others to cooperate toward achieving desired results. The manager has value only in relation to an organization and the people who comprise it.

  2. The manager's total personality, including his or her attitudes toward life and toward people, will determine success or failure as a manager.

  3. The blending of the organization's goals and the career goals of the individuals in the organization are of paramount importance. These goals are interrelated and must all grow and prosper in concert.

  4. A manager's most important responsibility is to develop people and help make them successful, since only successful people achieve important results.

Managers must do the following:

  1. Focus attention chiefly on results to be achieved rather than things to be done. Everything that is happening should lead to the desired results.

  2. Plan and organize effectively to achieve these desired results. Direct and coordinate the efforts of everybody concerned with these results to do their best to achieve them.

  3. See that major objectives are divided into "bite-sized" pieces and properly delegated to appropriate subordinates with time targets for achieving expected results and with established controls and designated accountability to prevent deviation from what is expected.

  4. Establish effective performance standards so all concerned people will be geared toward attaining profitable action and will know what is expected of them and how their performance will be measured.

  5. Build a "results-getting" attitude in the organization so people will develop self-reliance and achieve their goals with confidence.

  6. Motivate subordinates to peak achievement.

  7. Be creative and help others develop their creative potential.

  8. Delegate effectively and maintain proper control so that what is planned is achieved.

  9. Maintain coordination of the efforts of all personnel both within and outside your organization so the interaction of these people will be focused on desired results.

  10. Know and strive to reach your own and the organization's continuing purpose and build this into your job and the job of your subordinates.

  11. Exercise and display the kind of leadership that will cause people to rally around the plans and exercise teamwork to get things done.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 17, 20110 comments

Limited Resources = Limited Success

LAS VEGAS, NEV. -- I have spent the last three days and nights in Las Vegas on vacation prior to speaking at a conference later this week. During this time, I toured a few new hotels, saw a show, dined at great restaurants, viewed the Grand Canyon and visited Hoover Dam. If you haven't been here recently, it's a great spot to visit. However, two things hit me:

  1. The recession has really affected the area. It's No. 1 in foreclosures, with supposedly more to come; it has the highest unemployment rate in the nation; and some of the hotels and casinos are starting to close!

  2. Lake Mead, which was made by the creation of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, currently only has 47 percent of the required water supply; it is down 163 feet! Hoover Dam not only supplies water to large Southwest cities, including Phoenix and Los Angeles, it also supplies the electric power. As the water supply dwindles, so will the ability of this manmade wonder to generate water and power for the increasing needs of the population.

The lights of Las Vegas still are bright, yet they only receive 3 percent of their power from the dam (which is just 55 minutes from the strip) and 90 percent of its water supply. The water shows at the hotels are impressive, yet everyone knows they are in a 25-year drought.

Most of the locals understand their resources are becoming limited, yet they are expecting tomorrow to be a success. I am unsure if this could be the case unless they have new resources in place. As a sales leader, are your resources ready for tomorrow's success?

The biggest reason most sales leaders are fired is their inability to achieve sales quota. No surprise. However, based upon our 13 years of consulting on business and sales management issues, the more general reason sales leaders fail is because their resources are not well positioned for tomorrow's success.

What do I mean by this? Sales management must know their future quota objectives at least 18 months out. This will allow sales management to make sure they have the required number of salespeople to achieve that goal. For example, if you expect each salesperson to achieve $1 million of sales and you have a $10 million goal, the obvious answer is to have 10 salespeople. However, we all know that is unrealistic as not every salesperson in every organization will achieve their quota or -- because of their level of maturity and experience -- they will need to "ramp" to that level of production. You must also take into consideration that you will lose X percent of your sales team each year. So what is your hiring plan for 2012?

Second, the newly hired salesperson (resource) is not adequately prepared to contribute. We find this in almost every new client organization. The new hire on-boarding process is not well designed to quickly raise productivity and ensure the new resource can sell your organization's and products and services.

Next, we find that "rigors of cadence" are not part of the ongoing development of the sales team. What I mean by that is sales certification and training programs are not rigorous or demanding in performance. We like to see a testing process to validate each salesperson can represent your company on at least a yearly basis designed to improve everyone's professionalism. Also, we find there is not an ongoing cadence or sequence of training programs built on a regular basis. These programs should cover not only sales training and skill development, but also sales operations (CRM), industry knowledge, competitive awareness and product/service expertise. These should be planned 90 days in advance or each quarter. Do you have your summer training program prepared?

The other resource most overlooked is understanding the impact of the marketing funnel on the sales funnel. The question is: How many leads are required to enter the sales funnel each month from marketing and your sales team to ensure you, as the sales leader, always have an adequate level of sales opportunities to exceed your sales objectives? Only by measuring and knowing these numbers and the various ratios of opportunities as they move through the sales funnel will sales management be confident of resource allocation. If you would like a worksheet on this issue, send me an e-mail: [email protected]

These are just a few of the resources you as the sales leader must consider; review my past blogs to find topics on time management, sales meeting agendas, personal development and more. If you are interested in learning more on hiring and on-boarding salespeople, you might enjoy reading our new book Hiring High Performance Sales Teams. Summer is a great time to consider your resource development program; how will you personally improve your own resource?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 06, 20110 comments

Cleaning Out Your Bookshelves

On a recent Monday afternoon, I found out that the painters were coming on Wednesday. That meant I had to clean out my office, shuffle furniture around and make room for them to paint the walls.

One of the actions I took was unload three large oak bookcases, each with three to five shelves full of various business, sales and sales management books I have collected over 20-plus years, in addition to various three-ring binders from training programs I had attended or created for our workshops. Most were dusty.

However, the best part was discovering items I had forgotten I even had, or books I wanted to review again simply for the ideas I knew they would stimulate for my speaking programs or consulting work. It is good to clean your closets and bookshelves from time to time!

In my clients' offices, there always seems to be a bookshelf or two with a variety of book/binders that they have built up over time. It is a natural part of increasing your professional status. Hopefully, they were all read, not simply collected. But when was the last time you reviewed your library of business books or binders to discover gems of information that you could use?

Often, ideas or tools that you read three years ago that were not pertinent at the time can be leveraged today -- or, more importantly, tomorrow. As sales leaders, we must constantly seek new ways or ideas to stimulate our sales teams, increase our business acumen and increase our professionalism. You can find this in a constant supply of new books, but from time to time simply cleaning off your existing shelves may lead to a few gems as well.

One of my personal rules is to read a business book and then read a fun or enjoyable book. I rotate this principle throughout the year, even having three or four books going at the same time depending on my mood or time demands. I will admit that after writing four books these past 18 months my reading time has slowed down. However, I just finished Successful Selling by Matt Heinz -- off to find the next Brad Thor book!

If you would like my list of executive business books, send me an e-mail at [email protected].

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 03, 20110 comments

Benchmarking Your Business

During the past three weeks, I have visited three partner organizations, each of varying revenue, products/services offered and operational effectiveness. I also had a wonderful conversation with a fourth organization discussing new-hire on-boarding issues, profitability and lead management. All of these organizations had some challenges and various management frustrations in common.

One of the great opportunities I have had over the past 20-plus years is to work with, speak to and consult with hundreds of organizations. This has given me a great level of knowledge on which to base my consulting recommendations and to create the variety of tools that are used by thousands of individuals.

Because of my experience, one of the fundamental recommendations I make to clients and nonclients alike is to physically visit other organizations and view how other companies operate. This is called "benchmarking," which, as the dictionary definition states, is "a point of reference for a measurement."

There are many executive peer groups where individuals meet and discuss common business challenges and hold each other accountable. Some even compare financial metrics. In some peer group situations, business leaders are from the same industry and some groups are made up of general business leaders. All of these kinds of groups are excellent sources of information.

Our own Sales Management Board of Advisors program is similar. The boards are made up of individuals -- sales managers, sales directors and VPs of sales -- who are focused on sales management issues. While all of these groups share and learn information, the challenge that most of these groups cannot achieve is helping the participants truly understand how someone else's business operates.

I like to recommend that at least once a year, the management team from an organization visits another company and spends the day with that company's management team and operations staff. During the visit, you will actually see how other organizations physically manage their CRM systems, train salespeople, deliver their solutions and how their office is actually organized. You generally can't get this hands-on view simply from having executives speaking to each other at conferences or meeting in a group environment.

Obviously, you will see both the good and bad during these visits. This is the important aspect of the on-site benchmark meeting. The agenda and key topics to be covered must be carefully planned. These events should be coordinated with a group meeting at the beginning of the day, with one-on-one manger-shadowing during the day and a group wrapup session at the end of the day.

While the investment can be large, the payoff will be huge. In every session we have coordinated, both organizations have benefited from the experience. Openness and an attitude of sharing are critical.

Your challenge for the next five months: Find your "point of measurement" and dare to compare. It will make your business planning for 2012 a real experience.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 27, 20110 comments

Sales and Time Management: Tips for Meeting Your Q2 Goals

Generally, most sales teams have until the end of June to achieve their quarterly objectives. These objectives are measured as quota attainment, headcount, CRM utilization or even certain levels of training accomplishment. As sales leaders, your quota achievement could be based upon either "revenue or invoiced dollars" or "booked or sales dollars." If you are focused on achieving your quarterly objectives, time is running out.

If you are evaluated on a revenue/invoiced dollar value, then your sales orders must be in the system with enough time to ship your products and deliver your services. If you are evaluated upon booked orders, you have somewhat of an advantage. It's May 17 -- there are 32 business days left until June 30 (taking into account Memorial Day). Are you on target? How will you maximize your time and that of your sales team to ensure you exceed your second quarter objectives?

Here are a few ideas to help you jumpstart your focus:

  1. Increase the awareness of time with your sales team. Share this blog, and then make a PowerPoint slide for each salesperson that states: "What can I do TODAY to win a sale?"

  2. Set up a Friday afternoon sales meeting to recap the week and discuss plans for the next week. Rather than a Monday morning meeting, make sure everyone can recap their week and have a plan for the next week.

  3. Hold individual weekly meetings with each salesperson to strategize their opportunities. Hint: Have at least two salespeople in each meeting to increase the brain power.

  4. Get senior management or the president involved in more face-to-face sales meetings to help sell the company and get additional eyes/ears in the sales process.

  5. Create a list of the top 10 largest opportunities in the second quarter and post it in your office to keep everyone aware of their progress.

  6. Determine your "delta" or what additional dollars you have to sell between today and the end of June and divide that number by the remaining number of days left to show you the daily order rate required.

What additional ideas can you contribute? Please comment below -- let's build a list of ideas to help each other!

Of course, you can also assume your sales team will think about their objectives on Saturday and Sunday as well. That would give you an additional 12 days! Let me know if you want a copy of my Sunday Night Sales Management column at [email protected].

Guru hint: Don't forget that the summer months are just ahead and your pipeline must be full for July/August months. Your quota does not take a vacation!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 17, 20110 comments

Sales Leadership Thoughts: Why Winners Win

Last week, after I spoke at a conference, an attendee mentioned to me that she really enjoyed the topic, "Why Winners Win." It's also one of my favorite parts of the keynote, and the four points I make in it consolidate many of my own personal beliefs. I thought I would share them with you today.

Point 1: Winners create optimism. One reason is they dare to dream what others can't imagine. In the past, sociologists told us that you needed talent or hunger to succeed and win. In one study of highly talented individuals, researchers found that those who were successful had an additional ingredient: optimism. Not a simple happy-go-lucky feeling, but a real attitude that good things will happen. You can develop this attribute by focusing on the positives of life.

Point 2: Winners recognize fear as opportunity. Winners aren't immune to fear, but instead of letting fear stop them, the go with it. They treat fear as a signal and push through to experience new heights of living. Feel the fear -- but do it anyway!

Point 3: Winners build dreams. Winners can visualize. They create the image of their dream into reality. Our dreams shape us; we can't do what we can't imagine. People who get what they want often figure out what that is by letting their ambitions soar instead of censoring them before they emerge. Winners hang on to dreams. They are self-fulfilling prophecy; positive illusions promote productive work and a successful life.

Point 4: Winners reduce frustrations. Winners focus on what will go right, not what will go wrong. Losers see the sand traps around every green, but winners see only the greens -- go for the pin! Remember that past frustrations build anxiety. While we must recognize frustration, it is a healthy byproduct of working toward your goals. Frustrations are simply steps to achievement.

I hope these ideas will begin to make your week, month and year terrific. Remember to build a "gourmet life"! Put the right ingredients in place and your menu for life will guide you to success and happiness.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 13, 20110 comments

Sales and Sales Management Resources for Everyone

This week's blog is unique. First, I'm excited to announce that our blog was recently rated No. 19 out of the top 50 sales blogs in the United States. This list is a great resource any salesperson or sales manager -- check it out. Second, I want to make you aware of an exciting five-day event (May 9-13), the "2011 Sales and Marketing Success Conference."

As the most ambitious online event of its type ever staged, this conference will have 35 sessions about succeeding, winning and exceeding expectations, presented by some of the world's top sales experts.

Against a backdrop of several years of below-par performance -- 50 percent of salespeople missed quota last year, for example -- we want to stimulate growth, provide the motivation and advice that will help frontline sales professionals and their leaders, and kick-start a new beginning. We have come through the toughest financial crisis in history, and we believe it is now time to be positive and look forward.

I will be presenting on May 9, the first day of the conference at 2:15pm EST. My topic is "Gourmet Living: A Personal Recipe for Personal and Professional Success." Check out all the speakers and their topics and register today!

We plan to charge just a $5 registration fee per presentation, and we are limited to 1,000 guests per session, so places will be allocated on a "first come, first served" basis. This is also an opportunity for anyone operating in the sales space to make a meaningful contribution to the Japanese Disaster Fund (via the Red Cross). Can I count on your support? Together we can make a worthwhile contributio (we estimate that after administration charges levied by banks/PayPal, we will be able to contribute around 95 percent of all registration donations).

Here are the May 9 speakers, to whet your appetite:

  • Jill Konrath
  • Kelley Robertson
  • Kevin Eikenberry
  • Ken Thoreson
  • Koka Sexton
  • Colleen Francis
  • Mark Hunter

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 29, 20110 comments