Sales Leadership: Ready for July and August?

I may be already too late, but hopefully you aren't. I often say that it's the salesperson's responsibility -- not the sales managers -- to make quota. It is your responsibility to hire, train and put the salesperson in a position to win and exceed quota. Sales leadership means looking ahead 90 days or more to ensure you have the programs in place for success.

As we finish April, be conscious of pipeline values, business opportunities and activity levels to ensure you will exceed your July and August numbers. Summertime is what many sales leaders are always worried about, when salespeople and prospects take vacations, enjoy summer's more casual atmosphere (especially in the North), and pipelines, sales and sales activities dwindle. These months can impact your ability to exceed your quotas and revenues for those periods, as well as your September and October goals. What to do? Here are some ideas:

  1. Beef up your sales activity focus to ensure summer pipelines are "more than full."

  2. Plan sales contests for May and June that are based on volume and activity.

  3. Develop a July and August mentality and environment. I.e., say that you are not taking off those months and that you expect your salespeople to attain their quotas.

  4. Create a "Customer Appreciation" summer event and offer special packages or discounts during a three-week period.

  5. Develop a companywide summer contest that is focused on both current customer sales and new prospect leads. Hint: Let your sales team serve a picnic lunch to your support and administrative teams for a kickoff event.

What other ideas do you have? Leave a comment so everyone can benefit and we can all enjoy a restful Labor Day. I have my plans already in shape for that day -- do you?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 22, 20110 comments

How To Develop 'Gourmet Living'

After speaking at a recent sales conference -- my title was "Gourmet Living, Creating a Menu for Life" -- an attendee asked me a great question: "You spoke about creating a vision for your life and a passion for impacting the lives of others. I don't have a vision for what my life should be like. How do I develop one?"

While somewhat surprised, I realized that many people have led lives that were somewhat easy, with everything provided to them. Meanwhile, there are others who have lived in very difficult environments, with limited options and resources; many such people never consider that they could have a better future. While there are expectations for each situation, I've met individuals of many different ages and positions that have "stalled out" or peaked. They're simply living, but not living life!

In my keynote, I help participants create a "menu" for their life; I blend cooking metaphors and stories of personal experiences to challenge them to create a philosophy and purpose for their personal and professional lives. If you wish to do more with your life, here are five ideas to get you started:

  1. Like a Boy Scout that leaves the campsite in better shape than when he found it, make a commitment to leave earth a better place than when you arrived. No matter your age or situation, determine what you can do to make this a better world. This will make you feel better and proud.

  2. Create a list of both small and large dreams and then create a Dream Poster, with pictures of your dreams. This will keep your dreams active in your mind and direct your personal actions toward achieving them. The Dream Poster can include anything, from travel destinations to toys to even lifestyle changes.

  3. Create a list of what you physically must do to actually achieve No. 2. This step is where many individuals fail. Everyone wants to succeed, but few understand that there is price you pay for success.

  4. Associate with people that are succeeding. People say you should not compare yourself to others, but I think you should. Compare your common characteristics; compare what they are doing that you are not. Work to improve yourself by focusing on your strengths.

  5. If you have reached a plateau in your life, or are in a rut, or have lost your vision for your life, start over at No. 1.

While these five steps may seem simplistic, they will begin to create the excitement and passion that will propel you to the next level. If you want copy of our "menu for life," send me an e-mail at [email protected].

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 08, 20110 comments

NCAA-Style Sales Management: Developing a Winning Sales Strategy

Last week, it was all about golf and putting. Now, after indulging in some men's and women's NCAA games all weekend, it's about strategy.

In my view, there are several levels of strategy sales teams should consider. First, putting the right players on the floor to match up against the competition's players is key (and the reason my first book, Hiring High Performance Sales Teams, was written). Without talent, you have no chance of winning. Good basketball teams are deep with talent. They can go large, or they can go small and fast. They can focus on defense as well as offense.

Assessing and developing talent is what coaching is all about. As you watch the Final Four next week, evaluate your team and its ability to win. Are your players weak, or can your team push through the tough stretches and score? To this end, I believe recruiting is the most important job for sales management. Build a continuous hiring program to find top talent.

As for the second level of strategy, game-time execution must be brilliant! From a sales perspective, game-time is when your value proposition must sold, your prospect relationship developed and you must out-maneuver the competition. If the competition comes out with man-to-man or zone defense, can your salespeople adapt? If a full-court press stresses out your team, can they break it with quick passes and move down the court for an easy layup? Are your players trained to react well and not simply lose the sale or give up a turnover?

During this phase, sales managers must coach. This is when your experience and creativity must take over by providing advice, insights and, hopefully, the right tactics to assist your sales team. Acumen's four-page "Sales Strategy Guide" can help you with this; if you'd like a copy, send me an e-mail. We use it with our clients during their pipeline reviews and sales strategy meetings.

The third level of strategy is all about the last two minutes. In the sales process, this critical period could occur during the last week or two, when everything is on the line. The prospect could be confused, undecided or leaning toward your competition. What play would you call? Would you camp out at the prospect's office? Have your president call their president? Drop your price?

The best coaches in the NCAA would call a timeout to make sure the next two plays are drawn out, ensure everyone understands whom to foul, how many timeouts are still available, and who should take the last shot. Those situations are actually rehearsed during normal practice times; nothing is left for chance when the game is on the line. Do you have your sales training plans designed for a rolling 90 days with all aspects of sales strategies built in? The best sales managers do!

No sports analogies next week, I promise. But for now, remember: Teamwork, practice, selection and development will win the 2011 NCAA Final Four...and the sales race.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 01, 20110 comments

Sales Leadership: Are You Practicing Properly?

I happened to be in Florida recently, visiting relatives, playing golf and enjoying the weather. I played 36 holes over two days, my first real golf of the season; before I came down from Knoxville, I went to the driving range at home and hit two buckets of balls to attempt to regain some form of respectability. Prior to my first round, I hit another half-bucket of balls and a few casual strokes on the putting green, and boom -- off to the No. 1 tee box. Amazingly, my first drive was right down fairway, but as I worked through the 18 holes, I struggled with a few bogeys and a few double bogeys.

In your role as a sales manager, are you taking your personal and professional development as casually as a few practice swings on the driving range? Recently, in a six-week series of sales management training programs for a major client, I had several participants who didn't complete a variety of reading assignments because they were too busy "closing out the quarter." For some reason, they could not find two hours over six weeks to read 15 pages of content. 

Successful sales leaders would have. They would have committed to reading, attending workshops and attending vendor-sponsored workshops on sales management topics. If you consider yourself a professional, every week you would spend hours on the driving range enhancing your abilities with each club in your bag. You would practice hitting out of the sand and chipping off the green. 

What are you doing to increase your professional skill levels?  There are a variety of resources you can find to improve your sales management expertise. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Check out the LinkedIn groups on sales leadership.
  • Commit to reading two new books a year.
  • Visit at least two other sales organizations that are similar to yours and benchmark your organizations against theirs. 

In our new book Leading High Performance Sales Teams, I review a variety of ideas to enhance your sales team's abilities, improve your leadership style and increase the effectiveness of your management systems. On the Acumen Management Web site is a free sales management and sales compensation assessment where you can compare your existing programs, watch several free videos on hiring and training salespeople and read our whitepaper on the job of sales management.

What's your plan to make more pars versus bogeys? Let me know at [email protected]. I left at least six putts inches short -- I am off to the putting green!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 25, 20110 comments

The Difference Between Average and Top Performers

In preparing to speak at a sales award banquet this week, I was thinking about what kind of message I wanted to give the audience. Eventually, I arrived at a concept that all sales leaders must reinforce to their teams: Whether it's for a January kickoff event, a Monday morning sales meeting or a quarterly salesperson review session, sales managers must sell the need to plan for success.

Planning for success means building a sales organization that is not opportunistic in account management, prospecting, et cetera, but is focused on a methodology to ensure success. It also means that there is an expectation or attitude from management that is transmitted to the team that we will be successful, we are winners, we are better and we work together. This is part of what creates an atmosphere that separates the average-performing organizations from top-performing sales teams.

What do you need to create this environment? A sales management system that reinforces what you expect and a leadership and management style that is focused only on accepting high performance -- in all aspects of life. This means every salesperson must have:

  • a yearly salesperson business plan
  • a top 15 accounts plan, if appropriate
  • a rolling 90-day sales training plan
  • formal monthly/quarterly salesperson reviews
  • sales contests that drive fun, recognition and teamwork
  • measurement systems that promote success and show effectiveness

Every salesperson wants to be successful, as does every sales manager. Everyone has good ideas, but execution becomes the key differentiator in success. You have to work on the methodology, but you also have to focus on the emotional aspects of success. In summary, the difference in success is three simple words: "and then some." As in:

Top performers do what is expected...and then some. They meet their obligations fairly and squarely, and then some. They are good friends and helpful neighbors, and then some. They are thoughtful of others, they are considerate and kind...and then some. They can be counted on in an emergency, and then some.

As you go about your week, make sure you do what is expected...and then some.

In my new book, Leading High Performance Sales Teams, we discuss these ideas and others in greater detail. You can listen to a podcast on the books also in our store here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 07, 20110 comments

A Grand Week for Personal Leadership

Last week in my blog, I wrote about the importance for sales leaders to focus on building their sales teams' level of emotional commitment to and belief in their companies' products and services. On Tuesday, I spoke on the first day of a three-day national sales kickoff conference for a firm in Raleigh, NC. Even though I was leading off the afternoon with a keynote, I wanted to sit in on the first two hours in the morning to get a feel for the audience and theme of the event.

The first item on the agenda included a welcome by the VP of sales who created the perfect atmosphere by randomly asking 10 salespeople about their 2010 success stories. They had not been prompted. It was great to feel the mood in the room change from one of simply interest in the meeting to one of warmth, pride, teamwork and excitement about 2011!

In our sales management workshops, we speak about the need for sales leaders to create an annual "drive statement," which is a phrase that sets the tone or theme for the new year. This company's was "Soaring to New Heights." Doesn't that really make the point? This is a sales-driven organization that is adding salespeople, increasing sales, winning market share and is one that many competitive salespeople want to work for. It was a great experience for me to share my time and ideas on driving personal and professional success with this sales organization. The VP of sales for this firm possessed the personality aspects of a good leader and the professional requirements of a great team builder.

After that conference, I spent Friday through Sunday in Atlanta at the winter conference of the National Speakers Association (NSA). The NSA normally holds two events a year, and as a member I truly enjoy these conferences. The experience is also very strange; normally, I'm speaking at conferences or leading breakout sessions for my clients. But at this event, I was looking at schedules trying to determine what events I felt I needed to attend, taking notes, holding hallway and lunch networking events, and absorbing a ton of information. People like Brian Tracy attended along with so many other great people who were willing to share information to enhance the industry's level of professionalism. I attended a full-day session on thought leadership presented by Matt Church; he flew in from Australia to share his insights into the consulting, writing and professional-speaking businesses. Throughout the weekend, I met and listened to a variety of individuals with a vast array of experience and expertise, including Alan Weiss, Sam Horn and Mark Sanborn. Sitting at a table in the last morning, just two hours before the conference ended, I chatted with a woman who asked me a question about my business. I shared some information and she gave me a "breakthrough thought" for my keynote that was the highlight of my time at the conference, even thought I came away with two pages of to-do notes.

My point in mentioning this entire conference is to reinforce that you must always work to get better, read more and invest in yourself. You never know who will give you that gem of an idea that will help you win the next sale or even change your life.

Just a note: Our three new books on sales management and our Success Simplified book on my keynote are available on Acumen's Web site.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 22, 20110 comments

Building Belief: The Key Job of Sales Management

This week's blog is an excerpt from my latest book Your Sales Management Guru's Guide to: Leading High Performance Sales Teams.

Are your sales inconsistent?
Are you losing more opportunities than ever before? Does your sales team seem weak compared to those of your competitors?

Any number of reasons -- from rapid growth to hiring mistakes -- could be responsible for a "yes" answer to any of those questions. But in working with our clients, we often find that the underlying problem is actually an emotional one: lack of passion. Individual team members or the entire sales organizations (or both) simply don't have the combination of enthusiasm and belief that's essential for success.

Salespeople have to be emotionally invested in their work with a burning desire to achieve. They must also believe that the company they represent is the best and the solutions or services they sell are of the highest quality. That belief must be genuine. It's not just a marketing message, and it's not something that they can fake.

With all the new products many vendors have launched in recent months (and will continue to release this year), that type of authentic belief is more important than ever for partners. Most sales organizations don't do any belief-building activities, though. Or if they do, they only do so occasionally. Our experience shows that the most successful sales teams constantly undertake belief-building initiatives. Examples include:

People from different cultures and generations pass along stories about their ancestries, traditions and lore. Companies need to take a similar approach to capturing and preserving their histories. To do so, write down customer success stories when they occur. Put together detailed descriptions of your company's role in helping customers implement new technologies, launch or salvage important projects or earn recognition from Microsoft. Then share these stories at sales meetings and other employee events. You can also use the best stories to recruit top performers and help orient new employees.

Monthly Meetings:
When a company launches, its first employees typically feel that they share a mission. Everyone knows everything that's happening and what's needed to succeed. But when the staff grows beyond about 15 people, that sense of mission-along with clearly defined expectations and common beliefs-can be difficult to maintain.

We believe that monthly employee meetings are crucial for keeping everyone engaged and informed. (Larger organizations and those with remote offices may want to opt for quarterly day-long events instead.) Such gatherings give you a chance to remind your staff about your business philosophies, plans and expectations. You can also use them to recognize outstanding employees, perhaps honoring a Most Valuable Player chosen by the team at each session. Remember to make the meetings fun as well. Consider sponsoring games or offering door prizes. One company meeting I attended featured a surprise visit from an Elvis impersonator, who sang several songs.

Customer Visits:
Each quarter, have your entire sales team visit a customer company that's successfully implemented your solutions. Ask the customer's executives to describe the impact your company has had on their competitive position or to review the savings they've gained from your products and services. You might also invite customers to share their experiences at some of your monthly meetings.

Reference Letters:
Ask your best customers for testimonials. While such letters are, of course, highly useful as tools for future sales presentations, they're also valuable for building belief in-house. Frame the letters and display them in your lobby or sales presentation area. Have new employees read them as part of the orientation process.

In our business, it's all too easy to get bogged down with lost sales, missed project dates and other problems. Regularly reinforcing the positives goes a long way toward keeping everyone's belief and passion strong and moving in the right direction.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 08, 20110 comments

Vince Lombardi as a Sales Manager

One of tenets we teach in our sales management workshops is the importance to develop a personal philosophy of leadership. Having a personal philosophy helps you set a course for your personal life as well as your professional career.

For the past 13 years with Acumen, I have attempted to address the issues that separated the poor to average sales managers with those that lead their sales teams to greatness. In my workshops, my new books, other programs and in my columns I have always spoken about the need for Discipline, Accountability and Control. I have stressed the power of motivation and need to have vision, belief, to provide coaching and to demand and expect success.

Today, I will let Vince Lombardi tell you in his own words.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 07, 20110 comments

The Need for Creativity

This past week I had opportunity to work with a great client at a worldwide sales conference in Miami. During the two days, I spent several hours with the client's sales management team and four hours with the salespeople. They have a great sales culture and you could feel the attitude in the room.  In the post meeting evaluations several reactions to the programs came out:  1) The importance of understanding the various personality styles, 2) The need to be "greedy with your time/Time Management" and 3) the fact that an individual's creativity can be learned or enhanced.  Past blogs and our monthly newsletters have covered personality styles and time management so this week I thought I would address creativity.

There is no question about it, top performers are more creative that your average salespeople. They seem to come up with unique ideas to prospect, find ways to enhance client relationships and they close more effectively. Sales leadership requires creativity as well, sales managers that are exceeding sales quotas, hiring and developing their teams and building a sales culture require huge levels of a creativity quotient.

The good news? You can enhance your creativity by "working on it." In my Keynote, No Regret's, the Do Over Factor, I share three tenets for personal and professional success -- creativity is one of those three foundations.  I have listed nine actions you can work on to develop mind patterns that will enhance your creativity power:

  • Track your ideas:  keep a notebook and write down all your ideas-about anything. It is amazing what happens when you build an active list.
  • Inquiring minds want to know: be inquisitive, ask questions, increase your levels of interest.
  • Learn about different things: study a language, read a book, take a course, get active.
  • Avoid set patterns:  break your habits, floss your teeth differently, brush your teeth in different sequences, drive to work on a new route.
  • Be open: listen to others, try to accept new ideas.
  • Be patient in observations: take the time to watch a bird fly, look at the woods more closely,  look for new patterns, watch the river flow.
  • Engage in hobbies: your mind must disengage from normal business stress.
  • Improve sense of humor: learn to laugh, even at yourself.
  • Be a risk taker: try something different, the adrenalin will cause a positive impact on your brain.

I would like your comments and thoughts about how you enhance your creativity. What was the most creative sales tactic you have used? What were the results?

THANK YOU   to everyone that has already purchased our new book, we announced it last week; Your Sales Management Guru's Guide to: Hiring High Performance Sales Teams.


  • Learn about different things: study a language, read a book, take a course, get active.
  • Avoid set patterns:  break your habits, floss your teeth differently, brush your teeth in different sequences, drive to work on a new route.
  • Be open: listen to others, try to accept new ideas.
  • Be patient in observations: take the time to watch a bird fly, look at the woods more closely,  look for new patterns, watch the river flow.
  • Engage in hobbies: your mind must disengage from normal business stress.
  • Improve sense of humor: learn to laugh, even at yourself.
  • Be a risk taker: try something different, the adrenalin will cause a positive impact on your brain.
  • I would like your comments and thoughts about how you enhance your creativity. What was the most creative sales tactic you have used? What were the results?

    THANK YOU   to everyone that has already purchased our new book, we announced it last week; Your Sales Management Guru's Guide to: Hiring High Performance Sales Teams.


    Posted by Ken Thoreson on January 18, 20110 comments

    Sales Management: How Does March Look?

    In magazine columns and other blog postings I have written about being a proactive strategic sales manager rather than a reactive, fire-drill crazy, un-organized sales manager. As we close down 2010 and your thoughts about January are nestled in your head, its March that you should be considering.

    If you have already built your first quarter sales training programs, have your management systems in place to analyze pipeline values and your recruiting plans are activated then you have some of the systems in place. Just to check, you might like to take a few minutes and take the Sales Management Assessment on our website:

    One of the concepts that I truly believe in is developing "leading indicator" analysis. These statistics are activities that can assist you in either forecasting pipeline values or sales opportunities well in advance of the current month. This view is why you now should be considering March’s sales potential. If you have created these key indicators, you may have the time to adjust your forecasts or sales/marketing activities to counteract negative potentials or, more importantly, if they are showing all "green" light indications, you can focus on improving your operations and closing sales opportunities.

    I was reading the WSJ the other day and came across an article titled "New Ways to Read the Economy." It described how economists read leading indicators.  Here are just a just a few examples: 1) Broadway ticket sales=future tourist revenue, 2) diesel-fuel sales=industrial production, and 3) subway-passenger traffic near Union Station in San Francisco=sales tax revenue. These kinds of related activity that can predict future results are the kinds of analysis you must determine for your sales organization.

    Depending upon your sales/marketing environment you need to consider several pre-sales activities and measure them for a minimum of six months before considering them reliable.  These kinds of activities should be the same for each salesperson and your entire sales organization. What else? You need to know the length of your sales cycle and the correlations of activity to results.  In a typical B2B sales environment, consider 1) the number of monthly sales calls that require a pre-sale technical Engineer=future number of proposals/quotes, 2) the number of opportunities/pipeline values in Stage two as compared to Stage  seven (assuming seven is your final stage) or 3) the number of new prospect face-to-face sales calls/month.

    What kinds of leading indicator activities make sense for your firm? Leave a comment and let me know.

    As a strategic sales manager with a good perspective or view on managing what is  happening today and knowing its correlation to future  results or revenues you will not only produce greater results but you will sleep better too!

    Ken Thoreson, president of Acumen provides Keynotes, consulting services and products designed to improve business performance.         

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on December 21, 20100 comments

    Sales Leadership: Time Management Tips

    How to do a Successful To-Do List

    • Get in the habit of doing a To Do list every day
    • Be realistic and aware of your limitations
    • Don't over schedule events
    • Allow for time cushions
    • Review your list every morning
    • Ask yourself, "Why me?" Is there someone else that can do this?
    • Group related activities: Am I prepared to lead the event?

    How to Analyze Your To-Do List

    Necessity: Scrutinize each task to be sure it is necessary. All to often we hold items past their usefulness.

    Appropriateness: Who should perform the task, reassignment to work beneath your skill level helps you and the organization.

    Effectiveness: Once satisfied you are doing necessary, appropriate, and effective work, ask yourself, "Is there a better way?"

    Special Tips

    • Set life foals: Limit activities that contribute to those goals
    • Plan your day: One hour of planning saves you three
    • Use your prime energy time for priority tasks
    • Don't schedule a meeting without starting or ending times
    • Work expands to fill time -- Parkinson's Law
    • Skip useless meetings
    • Continually ask yourself, "What is the best use of my time?"
    • Know your hourly billing rate

    Be Greedy about your time.

    Calculate what your time is worth. If you waste time or are not being productive, this is what it could cost you. Guru Hint: This exercise is worth doing at your next sales meeting to impress your salespeople as to their need to be efficient and more productive.

    • (A)What is your Hourly Rate?
    • (B) How many Management or Sales Hours in year
      • Number of hours/week/month
      • Number months per year?(10.5 Months)
    • (C)Yearly Income Goal


    If you manage to save one hour every business day, you've created 245 new hours for yourself in one year. This is six 40 hour work weeks. How much more money can you make with six more weeks added to your year??

    One last Guru Hint: Set a "weekly goal" for completing a major project.

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

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on November 30, 20100 comments

    Sales Leadership: Your Menu for Personal and Professional Success

    Several of my recent blogs have begun to discuss the business and sales management aspects of being prepared for 2011. The blog this week discusses the need to also focus on your 2011 plan for your personal life

    During a recent keynote program I held with a group of individuals from an association I discussed the need to build both a successful personal and professional life to truly succeed. As some of you know, I enjoy cooking and collect cookbooks (over 150 in my library). During the session I discussed how pizza can be an analogy for life. Now everyone can relate to pizza, right? Thin or thick crust? Cheese or loaded with mushrooms, pepperoni, onions, sausage, etc.  I like to suggest that everyone's life, both personal and professional, is made up of multiple "slices" with many ingredients.

    Your personal life includes: family/friends, fitness/health, net worth, fun/recreation, physical/home environment, commitment to personal/spiritual growth, career and romance/significant other. Your professional life includes: fulfillment, productivity, teamwork, leadership, time management, commitment to personal/professional growth, focus/discipline and communication skills. I like to ask the audience to rate themselves on each slice on a scale of 1-7 (7 being high) to determine which areas are out of balance.
    Take this short self assessment and evaluate what slices are working for you and what you need to work on as you move into 2011. Send me an email if you want my keynote handout that we use during the program. [email protected] You might also like to review our blog from October 12, 2010 for more insights on creating a "No Regret's Life."

    I also covered the three components for creating a successful Menu of Life, which include:

    1. Understand the power of impact: To increase your personal/professional success, you must increase your impact on the lives of others. As a sales management consultant it occurred to me that sales managers not only impact the professional success of their individual salespeople and teams, they also must focus on the impacting their personal lives as well.

    2. Develop Creativity and Break-Out: The best sales managers are creative; in looking at how to strategize and win more opportunities, in creating a winning sales culture and in solving the day to day problems that arise in every organization. The good news? Creativity can be learned -- make it a goal to read a book on creativity or take a workshop.

    3. Be Real, Be Warm, Be More: As sales leaders or as individuals it's about caring, understanding, listening and assisting others in their life. Take time for conversation; build on the conversation to truly understand the person. In my keynotes I like to say,  "My goal is to enhance our mutual relationship, ensure our time together is profitable (not necessary in financial terms) and have fun!"

    As you work on your organizations business & sales plan for 2011, work on your personal life plan as well. If you would like us to speak at your sales kick off meetings or other groups-just let me know!

    Ken provides keynotes, consulting services and products designed to improve business performance.  Contact him by e-mail at  [email protected].  

    Posted by Ken Thoreson on November 16, 20100 comments