Climbing the Mount Everest of Sales

Climbing Mount Everest takes skills, planning, a strong team and luck. But it's how people work together that matters the most.

The same applies in business. While I was in Hong Kong leading a two-day sales leadership workshop, I picked up a Chinese newspaper where there was a lengthy article on this very topic in the business section. Immediately, I knew it would be a good topic for the blog.

The article discussed hiking deaths that have occurred and how several hiking organizations focus on climbing the mountain and their different planning styles. This included an IMAX film team as well as guided-climb teams. Each team had different objectives and styles but they had common goals. In summary, the article reviewed how any organization can use the same concepts these climbing teams used in leading successful organizations.

The author also included an assessment scorecard to measure your own organization's capabilities. The scorecard rates teams by four categories: goals, roles of each member, processes and interpersonal (GRPI). Organizations can score their team on a scale of 1 through 5 (where 5 is the best score) for each of the four categories. This GRPI model can improve team efficiency and effectiveness by enabling leaders to focus first on what is needed to strengthen the team, instead of rushing into a task (and possibly failing).

Next time you have a major objective, use this process and assessment scorecard to ensure success. You don't want to fall short of your summit! And if you want to learn more, check out the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, an adventure consultant.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 13, 20121 comments

The 3 Strategies of Top Reps and 'The End of Solution Sales'

Recently, I spoke at a major software vendor's partner and client conference. A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from one of the attendees suggesting I blog about an article published in the Harvard Business Review's July/August 2012 issue titled "The End of Solution Sales."

During a 16-hour flight to Hong Kong where I was going to lead a client's sales leadership workshop, I pulled out the article to read. At 35,000 feet, it woke me up.

As a salesperson and sales manager for many years I understand the concepts and logic behind a solution sale. This article makes one take a deep breath and a step back to reconsider how we as sales leaders not only address the market but also train our sales teams to become more professional. A changing market environment, more access to information and smarter buyers mean we must alter our sales approach. I can't summarize the entire article, but I want to address a few key points.

Essentially, solution sales is a sales methodology designed to increase the discovery aspect of selling wherein the salesperson seeks to understand the problems of the client and addresses those issues by recommending one of the salesperson's products/services to solve the prospect's pain.

The Harvard Business Review article's authors, Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon and Nicholas Toman, make the point -- by performing extensive research with many top performing salespeople -- that times have changed. Nowadays, prospects know their pain and have researched potential solutions. They are simply looking for a solution that is cost-effective, thus reducing the value of the salesperson and their potential commission.

Front the front page of the article: "The old playbook no longer works. Star salespeople now seek to upend the customer's current approach to doing business."

The authors make the point that is similar to any sales training program -- entering the account prior to the RFP and understanding the customer's issues early on is a good way to counteract the bidding process. Most account planning programs will cover this tactic. While this is an old idea, it sets the stage for the authors' three strategies for star performers.

First, look for the right prospect. Are they agile? Can the customer act quickly and decisively? Does the prospect have an emerging need or is the organization in a state of organizational flux?

After interviewing many top performers, the article's authors uncovered where the new "insight selling" professionals stand out: Rather than uncovering pain or answering an RFP, the "star reps" reframe the discussion and turn a customer with clearly defined requirements into one with emerging needs -- or reveal to the customer needs they didn't know they had. These ideas must be provocative in nature, challenging to the prospects and insightful.

The second strategy describes the seven profiles normally found in any account -- authors call "go-getters," "teachers," "skeptics," "guides," "friends," "climbers" and "blockers." While we have always been trained to find a "coach or advocate" the authors make the case that in today's selling environment, star performers seek only go-getters, teachers and skeptics. In effect, these become the "mobilizers" within an organization. Mobilizers are focused foremost on driving productivity change for their company. And that is what they want to talk about -- their company, not the salesperson's.

The third strategy is simply to assist the buyer in buying!  The salesperson must fully know the buying the cycle and not probe about "the steps to gain approval." Be an asset and provide valued insight to help your prospect cause change.

The article will give any salesperson -- and certainly sales managers -- things to consider in reinventing the sales process, sales training and sales strategy. The key is to review how your salespeople are selling today:  Can you change the game on your competition? Are you including new sales processes/tactics that can make your organization stand out during the sales cycle? Is your sales training program designed to enhance the professionalism of your team?

Have you read any other thought-provoking articles lately? Share them -- or other related sales leadership topics -- with all of the readers on this blog in the comments section below.

From somewhere between Knoxville and Hong Kong, have a great week and month.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 03, 20120 comments

Getting a Head Start on 2013

Yes, I am fully aware it is still 2012 and there are five months left in this year to exceed your quota (and hopefully, you are well-positioned to achieve your goals). But this week I want you to turn your thinking toward growing overall company revenues for next year and making sure you have the proper number of salespeople contributing on your sales team.

If you follow U.S. college football or basketball, you know there is constant recruitment news -- various camps, college campus visits, athlete commitments and coaches fanning" out across the country to recruit both next year's and the following year's athletes. After all, those with the best players seem to win championships.

Sales managers must also focus on the recruitment aspect of the job.

First, recognize that if you hire someone between now and the end of this year, they may contribute somewhat to your 2012 objectives, but if your new-hire-to-contribution/pipeline cycle is anywhere between three to five months, it won't be substantial. However, by adding new salespeople in the next 90 days, they will be ready to be contributors in 2013. 

Second, if you don't know next year's revenue objectives yet, begin thinking about it and discuss it with your management team. Many organizations are starting early-stage strategic planning right now. If you need assistance in creating a strategic plan, let me know.

Third, assess your current sales team. Do you have strong performers, legacy staff, potential players or deadwood? Categorize each existing salesperson into one of these four groups. It will help evaluate who stays, who goes and what you need from a talent perspective.

Fourth, create a chart that describes your top five work experiences that a high performer should have and the top five personal characteristics you want from members of your team. This becomes the key starting point. This will help you craft your advertisement but, more importantly, it will clarify in your mind exactly what you are looking for and help you evaluate resumes and candidates during the interview process.

Fifth, determine whether your current compensation is working to attract top talent. On, there is a free sales compensation assessment that will allow you to evaluate the effectiveness of your plan.

Sixth, as I have mentioned in previous blogs and in my book, Recruiting High Performance Sales Teams, make sure you define an interview process that tests, evaluates and challenges each candidate. I am currently working with a client to build a process to hire a sales manager; this interviewing process is complex and very important to get right. We are building in case studies, presentation evaluations as well as online assessment tools.

Last, and not necessary least, make sure your on-boarding process is designed to ensure the salesperson can effectively sell your company, and present your products, and fully understands the operations side of your business and sales organization.

That's a lot to do, but preparing now for next year will ensure you get a head start on 2013. With any luck, this time next year, you will be enjoying the summer!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 30, 20120 comments

WPC 2012 Session Recap

It's been a busy time. Last week, I flew into Toronto to speak at the week-long Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. During the week I participated in four programs that I'm going to recap for this blog. (If you want any follow-up details, simply send me an e-mail).

The first program, "50 Marketing Tips in 50 Minutes," was so successful, the meeting room was moved to accommodate the massive number of people who signed up for it -- over 450 people attended the session! Each of the six panelists spoke about:

  • the components of a marketing plan,
  • list-management strategy,
  • compelling content (how to write effectively),
  • partner marketing execution,
  • creating successful LinkedIn profiles, and
  • why sales and marketing "can't we all get along."

I presented that last topic and had some fun discussing how sales and marketing must work together, the importance of metrics to measure sales and marketing effectiveness, and how to perform a competitive analysis (if you would like a competitive analysis tool, send me an e-mail at [email protected]).

The next session was a panel discussion on solving partner marketing problems. We took questions from the audience and from people tuning in from LinkedIn and Twitter.

My last two sessions were "The Role of Sales Leadership in a Recovering Economy" and "Building a Culture of High Performance." They were jammed-packed, standing-room-only. In fact, many of the over 250 participants simply sat on the floor! 

In "The Role of Sales Leadership in a Recovering Economy" I discussed the need to "invest early" to ensure you are ahead of your competition; your manpower plans, sales compensation plans and sales leadership programs are defined; and sales management is focused on executing on all aspects of the organization. We provided attendees a salesperson development plan and a pre-call planning worksheet.

"Building a Culture of High Performance," which covered culture-building, was extremely well-received. I reviewed the six factors that high-performing organizations focus on, as well as how to "align the soul of the individual to the goals of the organization." One of the tools I offered is from my keynote program, "Gourmet Living: Finding a Recipe for Personal and Professional Success." The attendees received the "Personal and Professional Pizza Assessment" that allows a person to evaluate their balance in eight different categories. We have found that the most successful leaders are in balance both on a personal and professional level. Let me know if you would like that tool.

It was a great week from a business perspective and for the opportunity to spend time with friends from Toronto.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 17, 20120 comments

Make Monday-Morning Meetings Count

When we at Acumen undertake consulting engagements, we always sit in on clients' Monday-morning sales meetings.

That's because we know from experience that a weekly kick-off meeting is among the best ways to build a high-performance sales organization. A well-run Monday meeting puts everyone on the right track for the week ahead and helps the sales manager establish the discipline, control and accountability that every team needs.

Plan Ahead
Sales meetings may occur on the phone, if you have a remote sales team or in face-to-face sessions. But no matter what format they're in, these critical weekly meetings will be more successful if everyone involved knows what to expect.

First, all salespeople should be prepared to share their actions and results from the past week and their plans for the coming one, including what appointments they've made. Next, you should work from an agenda, using the same format every week. This step helps everyone know what's being covered and, of course, helps keep meetings on track and on time. Finally, meetings should begin no later than 8:30 a.m. and last no more than an hour.

A Seven-Section Schedule
Following is a standardized sales-meeting agenda, divided into seven main sections:

  • Section 1: Ask each salesperson to rate the previous week's performance on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being "great." This step increases accountability and gets everyone talking early in the meeting. Next, assign someone to take notes documenting any sales discussions and action items. Instruct your scribe to e-mail those notes to the whole team within 24 hours of the meeting. (Hint: As sales leader, you should review and approve the notes before they're circulated.)

  • Section 2: Move to the sales pipeline and forecast discussions. Engage salespeople in strategy discussions that focus on their individual monthly sales commitments and forecasts. In addition, ask them to recommend potential tactical sales actions that other salespeople might take. This portion of the agenda will probably take the most time, and it's important to keep everyone's attention during the sales-strategy discussion. (Hint: As you review each individual salesperson's forecast, ask other team members to share additional sales ideas. This will keep everyone engaged and encourage all members to help each other in selling.)

  • Section 3: Review your month-to-date and year-to-date goals against actual performance. Typically, these may be sales versus quotas; these numbers may reflect sales goals by product/services or goals by salesperson. In addition, the sales manager should review all scorecards or other metrics that you're tracking.

  • Section 4: Discuss all marketing events planned for the next 60 days. This step gives the whole team a heads-up about what's coming and an idea about what everyone needs to do to ensure event success. You marketing team should attend at least one sales meeting a month.

  • Section 5: Review all sales-training meetings and topics planned for the next 90 days. Summarize not just the dates and times, but what sales skills will be discussed and what product, industry and organizational knowledge will be covered. You may wish to have individual salespeople handle some aspects of training sessions.

  • Section 6: Consider this the catch-all part of the meeting. Summarize any administrative or technical issues, sales-contest information and other company topics that you may need to address.

  • Section 7: Close the meeting on an "up" note. You might ask each salesperson for one "PMT" -- a Positive Mental Thought that can be personal or professional in nature. This step builds camaraderie and sets the right tone for the coming week.

Building a high-performance sales team takes work, energy and organization. Starting the week with a high-quality sales meeting helps everyone begin the week focused, organized and ready to execute as effectively as possible.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 02, 20120 comments

Book Review: 'Rules of the Hunt' by Michael Dalton Johnson

Over the weekend, I picked up the book Rules of the Hunt: Real-World Advice for Entrepreneurial and Business Success by Michael Dalton Johnson, founder of It was a great weekend read -- from the book, you can tell Johnson has been there and done that! It is full of tips, reminders and real-world stories on the topics that every entrepreneur and small-business person either has faced or will face. In fact, I would label this a must-read for every manager in every small business.

The book's topics cover leadership, relationships, sales, marketing, technology, operations, foresight and survival. Within each category Johnson shares his philosophies and experiences that will help any businessperson move forward faster in their career development. Examples could fill this blog, but I found myself underlining section after section with gems.

One of the elements I seem to always stress with my clients is leadership. Johnson covers this section with great zest. His comments hit to the core of what I feel is important: "Communicating the team goal with passion is the key. I'm not talking about fiery speeches or contrived pep rallies. I'm talking about continually showing your passionate commitment to reaching the destination, not only with words, but with actions."

If you are looking for a good business book for the summer or to share with your management team, check out Rules of the Hunt.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 25, 20120 comments

Closing Summer Business

Summer can be a difficult time to lock down that extra business that ensues you exceed your monthly objectives; pipelines are thinner, vacations occur and even people are less focused.

Now in reality, working the sales process effectively, increasing the number of opportunities and creating creative sales strategies are the fundamentals for a successful summer. But just in case you need some help, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Learn to negotiate more effectively. If you believe you are going to have make some kind of offer, set the stage earlier in the sales process by either mentioning an "upcoming" promotion that may occur in July (for example) and then offer the promotion/incentive when appropriate.

  • If the prospective client is pushing for a special price, you should ask them that in return for a discount, the client allow you to use their office for an open house where you can showcase your products/services. If the prospect is ego-driven you might offer them an opportunity to become a member of you Client Advisory Council. This will appeal to their need to become involved. (If you want more information on creating a Client Advisory Council e-mail me for additional information.)

  • Try to use "stratified selling." I recommend this if your sale is complex or has multiple points of contact during the sales process. Stratified selling is simply creating a team sale that incorporates everyone from your support team to the president of your firm. Each person develops a relationship with their counterpart with the prospect during the sales process and at the end of the sales process everyone attends the final sales call. This will increase the power of pressure as well as reassure the prospect of your commitment.

  • Invite the prospect to your office. We have found that by giving prospects the opportunity to provide a tour of your office and meet your team, you will increase your odds of success.

  • Increase your sales strategy. Assign your sales team into groups where they meet at least once a week to compare notes and sales situations where they can brainstorm on potential sales tactics. As a sales manager you might also consider attending these sessions. If you would like a Pre-Sales Call Strategy Tool to help your sales team more effectively plan for each call, send me an e-mail at [email protected].

It is the beginning of summer -- make it one of your best! Let's work together to come up with more ideas to help everyone succeed! I look forward to your comments.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 19, 20120 comments

Tips for Attending an Industry Conference

Last week I was in Charlotte, N.C. Today I'm in Orlando, Fla., and tomorrow in Chicago. I have been speaking at a variety of industry trade shows delivering keynote programs, educational breakout sessions and general networking opportunities.

As I sit in the lobby of this very nice hotel, I can view 15 or so people watching a soccer game, a few others holding one-on-one meetings and other folks seemingly wandering the hallways or even walking outside by the pool. It's 1:45 p.m. There are education breakout sessions going on and the Exhibit Expo is open. Why are so many people wasting this opportunity? They have invested time and money to fly here and yet I see this at the 20 or so trade shows I attend each year.

There are plenty of reasons to believe that attending trade shows or association events is fun and exciting -- because it is! However, to maximize your investment and opportunities you need to work these events. Here are a few action items for you to do before, during and after any event.

  1. Identify and know your top four business challenges and use the time to look for answers -- in the breakout sessions, hallway conversations and at the bar.

  2. Plot your program strategy for your entire week, not on a day-to-day basis.

  3. Plan to attend only four breakout sessions a day to avoid burn out.

  4. Understand your transportation from the hotel to convention center. Use the shuttles between the convention center and hotels and pack your daily bags accordingly.

  5. At the end of each day do a daily recap of notes, thoughts and action lists.

  6. After the show, create a priority list of actions. Share it with your team and assign tasks and due dates. Manage it!

  7. Within two weeks, review all the breakout presentation PowerPoints that you missed and review all the breakout materials from the sessions that you attended. Many events post the PowerPoint presentations on a central site.

  8. Contact the presenters for additional information and visit their Web sites for other information that may be available.

Normally everyone does a Top 10 list. I got only to eight. What are your ideas to improve your time at these very important events? Let me know [email protected] or leave a comment below.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 11, 20120 comments

Planning for the Second Half of the Year

Last week, after meeting with a new client, I laid out a project plan to identify the various challenges we need to address to increase the performance of the entire company. One of the first items was the lack of accurate monthly forecasting by the sales team and the lack of accountability of the sales leadership team.

Since it is June and the company is on a calendar basis, we decided to begin to change the culture and improve performance by having each salesperson create a six-month personal business plan for themselves. However, instead of simply asking for a WAG forecast, I created a special format. Each salesperson has three weeks to fine-tune their personal business plan, gain their sales manager's approval and then be ready to present it at the second-half Sales Kickoff Meeting in July.

The plan should include both personal and professional components. This is the summary list of the various sections:

  1. Personal objectives for the period.
  2. Personal income goals.
  3. Training needs (sales, industry, product/service, operations).
  4. Forecast by various segments, depending upon your industry. Normally three times quota.
  5. Maximum revenue, most likely and minimum projected revenues.
  6. Activity goals by measured actions.
  7. Salesperson's networking strategy.
  8. Salesperson's marketing plans.
  9. Personal commitment statements to the success of the company, to the sales team and to themselves.

The results of this approach are amazing. The plans are a little rough the first time they are created, but after salespeople redo them in December (review their plan, their actual achievements and then present their new plan in front of the entire sales team or sometimes the management team), they become fully aware of their commitments and plans. This approach moves the sales team to a proactive approach versus a reactive approach. It shouldn't take the salesperson more than two hours to create their plan.

The real value of this program is when the sales manager then has a plan that the salesperson committed to and provides the basis for a monthly "review."

Let me know your thoughts on this concept -- do you use something else? Or do you want a sample salesperson personal business plan? Send me an e-mail or leave a comment below.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 04, 20120 comments

Increasing Wallet Share with Cross-Sell, Up-Sell Strategies

During a recent meeting with a new client's sales team, I discussed ideas to drive additional revenue. The meeting began with what products and services the client currently had to offer followed by a discussion on the concept of "cross-sell and up-sell."

Throughout my years as a sales leader and consultant, whenever potential sales looked weak, my first action would be to analyze all existing clients -- specifically, what products and services they currently use or have implemented. Next, I would determine what logical new or additional products and services I could offer them.

In my recent client meeting, we began to map out, by client, specific and tactical plans to contact certain clients, what messaging we could use and a justification for the natural progression into the new offering. We effectively created a "flight plan" or roadmap for each client that included potential business opportunities.

If you have not done this kind of project, the summer is a great time to work on this exercise. If business is slow, focus on your client base using the cross-sell/up-sell concept to help them achieve business objectives with new or updated offerings.

If you have multiple vendor product lines, it is critical you map out what logical cross-sells or up-sells are. I guarantee you will find many missed opportunities. I have found that in most organizations, salespeople simply don't see the connections or the applications within the client and therefore miss many sales opportunities. HINT: Use your technical teams to work with the sales teams in creating the flight plans.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 21, 20120 comments

Creativity Is Critical for Sales Leaders

In many of my writings and workshops, I have often spoken on the need for hiring creative salespeople and for sales management to offer creative solutions to problems. I believe creativity is critical to building a sales culture of high performance. The good news is "creativity" can be learned and enhanced in everyone.

I recently read a book titled Perfect Phrases for Creativity and Innovation by Karen Eriksen, published by McGraw Hill. I picked up the book because in my keynote program, "Gourmet Living," I normally mention adding creativity to your life to enhance both personal and professional success. Reading this book quickly added ideas and insights that can be easily implemented immediately. This is a sample of the first four chapters:

  • Creativity Begins with Me
  • Motivating Teams to Be Highly Creative
  • A Structure for Creativity: Idea Management and Implementation
  • Discovering the "Magic"

Each of these chapters (there are four more) provides concepts, phrases and tools to help the strategic sales leader improve their personal creativity, but the book also includes a process to coach individual performance. What I found extremely valuable was the chapter called "A Structure for Creativity" in which the author identifies 11 steps to lead a team through a creative problem-solving event. Eriksen breaks down the concepts into the detailed steps within each of the 11 categories. As a bonus she includes tools to assist both the leader as well as the participants in improving their ability to be creative. While all of these steps are somewhat fundamental, the added elements of stimulation for generating creative solutions are the meat within the book.

If you need to improve your own creativity quotient and increase your organizations ability to solve problems more creativity, read this book.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 16, 20120 comments

How To Gain Insight Like a CEO

Most sales leaders have a lot of confidence, which is good -- but many don't have access to what many CEO have: insights and help from other CEOs. Worse, many organizations never gain real insights or help from their own customers.

What can you do to improve on these critical blind spots? Create a "Client Advisory Board" and a "Sales Management Advisory Board." These will help improve your business operations and provide a source of insight and accountability.

Client or Industry Advisory Board
Let's first explore a Client Advisory Board. This type of board consists of current customers that meet formally for a minimum of three times a year. We recommend that organizations select not just "pet" clients for this board but a cross-section of clients that will commit to a two-year term on the committee (initially, you will want to stagger terms).

The purpose of this group is to offer you insights into the needs of customers from their perspective. This includes evaluating your service, sales, operations and ideas on market trends. This is especially important for partners in vertical markets. Board members also can be used as sounding boards regarding new products or service offerings you may be considering.

Generally, we recommend five to seven clients on this board. The partner executive should prepare a formal agenda, run the meeting, coordinate the appropriate members of your organization to attend the session, and assign someone to take active meeting notes. It is important not to become defensive over issues that arise or comments that are made by the clients during the meetings. However, it must be clear to each person attending that the board meeting is not meant to be a negative complaining session, but rather one where all parties are sincerely working toward improving performance. If sessions drift toward complaints, the executive must take action to redirect the meeting.

From a sales perspective, the fact that you have a formal Client Advisory Board during the sales process can be an important sales asset. In smaller geographic areas or within a vertical market, prospects will know these individuals and will be impressed with your commitment to the customer experience.

As your board matures, you may allow them to elect officers, coordinate agendas and generally run the meeting. In several cases, this has led to client meeting days where all clients are invited to learn, share ideas and provide the partner organization an opportunity to show appreciation. (HINT: When this occurs, you'll know you have succeeded.) Invite your top prospects -- what a wonderful closing opportunity!

Sales Management Board of Advisors
Many CEOs attend monthly or quarterly meetings with their peers to discuss business challenges and gain insights from other business owners. At Acumen, we started a peer group concept for sales leaders. Until now, individuals with sales management responsibilities have not had the opportunity to share their plans, accomplishments and problems in a secure peer group.

Our premise is simple: This Web-based interactive group learning environment is designed for sales management professionals who wish to learn, cooperate and succeed by sharing their experiences.

Individuals with sales management responsibility face diverse challenges, like exceeding corporate revenue objectives, developing sales team capabilities, balancing client/company objectives, and more. In addition, sales management must focus on sales management systems, compensation planning, and so on. If you face these needs and responsibilities, it's time to invest in your success.

The Board of Advisors, offered by The Acumen Management Group Ltd. provides the opportunity. A select group of sales management professionals will experience what has only been available for CEOs or presidents -- an ongoing professional group that works together to help, encourage and challenge thinking. For more information on this service go here

How Does the Sales Management Roundtable Work?
Our series of 10 monthly Web-based events enables a small group of sales management professionals to learn more about their careers, share challenges they face, and gain insights into how other individuals with similar responsibilities succeed, build their businesses and solve their problems. Each group is composed of 12 to 15 sales management professionals who meet for two hours once a month for 10 months (with a break in June and July). Each member has an opportunity to present his or her sales plans, business issues and challenges for group feedback.

Members learn from their peers' plans and assist them with their professional and personal growth. This group problem-sharing and problem-solving environment helps you translate their problems and solutions to your situation. E-mail me to register and make the commitment to grow professionally and personally.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 02, 20120 comments