Your Second-Quarter Plan

It's the middle of March -- are you ready for the second quarter?

For many of my clients, we have each member of the sales team prepare a six-month business plan and a shorter quarterly action plan. As I was preparing a client audit today, I realized it was time for this client's sales team to evaluate their performance.

The six-month sales business plan is much more than a simple sales forecast. It's a tool designed to help the salesperson set goals and objectives in a variety of areas. The quarterly action plan is a more tactical plan to execute on key actions to achieve the goals from the business plan.

There are several aspects to this systematic approach to coaching a team:

  • First, the team must prepare and believe in the plan/document they are using. This normally does not always happen until the first formal review period when they see results (or lack of results) versus their plan.
  • Second, the sales manager must have a monthly discussion with each salesperson about their actual performance versus the plan.
  • Third, the plan must include the necessary actions to improve overall performance.
  • Fourth, the two plans must be designed to work together and not conflict.

In building either plan, consider these key elements:

  • What training and development programs are important to reinforce?
  • What prospecting and activity goals are important to manage?
  • What revenue/margin goals need a focus?
  • What account or territory-intelligence and relationship-building is important?

What are you using to build a more systematic approach to hitting your objectives? What did I miss?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 10, 20140 comments

Onboarding Salespeople

This is a hectic period. Next week, I am offsite all week for a 2014 client strategy and planning meeting. This week, I am assisting another client with onboarding two salespeople that are remote from the main business office. Everything needs to be lined up and organized for a successful experience.

The onboarding step is normally a very weak link with many organizations, but it is a critical success factor, as well. I wanted to share my thoughts with our community. 

For our clients we build an onboarding process into two steps:

Step 1
Depending upon the client's maturity, size and complexity of offering, we will create a three- to five-week onboarding plan that is extremely detailed. Each week lists a variety of learning experiences and validation points to ensure knowledge has been exchanged and understood. 

The first week's goal is "Learn Company Purpose, Message, Materials and Services." This includes a check list and over two pages of training actions. Each week has homework assigned.

The second week's goal is "Learn To Sell Company Offerings." The first week is about the importance of learning. The second week is about learning to sell.  The new salesperson will hear others sell and watch videos. They also begin trying to sell me on their knowledge of the company and offerings. 

The third week's goal is "Getting Out of the Nest." Before they start actively selling, the salesperson must sell the president, the CFO or others in the company using the corporate PowerPoint presentation or other sales tools. Hint: Generally, we never pass anyone the first time they attempt this exercise.

Each week has a series of events designed to build upon the previous week's learning experience. Each box must be dated/signed. As a sales manager, "Inspect what you expect" is never more important.

Step 2
We recommend you build a closely monitored tracking plan along with a carefully thought-through plan of action to get the salesperson engaged with the proper activity immediately. This plan maybe designed for 30 to 60 days. I like to recommend a clear set of goals defined for the first 90 days; these may include pipeline values, face-to-face meetings, presentations, et cetera. Make the goals reachable, but monitor each salesperson's plan and actions to exceed them.

Pay attention to the details, and so will your sales team.

Questions? Just ask. You can always check out our Online Sales Management Tool Kit for other tools to improve the performance of your sales team, as well as our On Boarding Template.

P.S.: If you are beginning your business-planning process, your management team might like to take our free Business Assessment located on our Web site.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 22, 20130 comments

Quick Ideas To Hit Fourth-Quarter Goals

Let's make this interactive -- I will start the list, and then it is your job to add to it. Let's all work together to increase each other's success during the last few months of 2013.

These ideas can be designed for sales leaders or individual sales performers: 

  1. Make a visual list of the largest sales opportunities on a whiteboard and strategize on the best tactics to close each one. A few large wins go a long way toward exceeding your goals.

  2. Schedule twice-a-week formal sales strategy discussions. If you have a larger team, assign salespeople into teams of two or three to increase strategy options. Increase your tempo.

  3. Use a formal check list on all qualifier questions you use to ensure there are no surprises. If you want my "Magic List" of questions, send me an e-mail at [email protected].

  4. Hold a sales training session on negotiating in October!

  5. Increase your relationship contacts. Make sure your executives are involved in a prospect meeting, lunch, breakfast or phone call with your prospects' executives.

  6. Use your customer base for site visits and referrals, or even arrange a conference call with your prospects.

  7. Rehearse key presentations. Just last evening at 8 p.m., I was assisting a client with a PowerPoint program for today's key demonstration meeting. Make sure the message is correct and your team is ready.

  8. Anticipate your competition and think through how you will set them up and move forward.

  9. Execute brilliantly. This is a theme I have used often, but it works. Make sure your sales team has thought through the sales cycle on each opportunity, each day. Get your team to think two moves in advance -- just like chess. Create a poster that says "What can I do to get an order today?" to keep the focus.

  10. Don't forget to prospect market because Jan. 1, 2014 will come up quickly.

OK, my list is done. What are your ideas to help everyone win?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 01, 20130 comments

Getting Ready for Q1 2014: 10 Steps to Preparedness

"Ken, are you crazy? I have not even finished the fourth quarter yet!"

As budget planning begins and business strategies begin to be set, it is your responsibility to be ready for 2014. What do you need to have on your to-do list for the next 60 days? I have listed the top 10 -- e-mail or comment below to let me know what I have missed or what is on your own list. 

  1. What are your revenue objectives for each quarter in 2014?

  2. Review your existing teams carefully -- analyze each person's strengths and weaknesses. Rank them on the following criteria on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 meaning great). Are they good enough to stay on your team for 2014?
    • Sales skills
    • Product/industry knowledge
    • Operational knowledge
    • Sales planning

  3. How many new people do you need to recruit? When do you need them fully ready and trained? Hint: Hire them now.

  4. Review your marketing/sales operational teams. Do they really understand your market, your customers and the benefits you bring to them? What do you need to do to improve their business knowledge?

  5. Is your compensation plan effective? Did it achieve the results you wanted? Have your business objectives changed? If they have, your 2014 compensation plans may need to be altered. (Take our sales compensation assessment on our Web site.)

  6. Re-assess your CRM/sales metric dashboards for the entire year. What trends can you find or what activities need to be enhanced? Hold an individual salesperson review meeting to assess performance.

  7. What will be your "theme" for 2014? Define the top three objectives that you need to focus on during the first and second quarters?

  8. Schedule a "personal self-assessment" meeting, either with your manager or your peer team, or even perform a confidential 360-degree analysis by using your sales team to comment on what you are doing well and what needs to be improved.

  9. What new elements within your sales training plans for 2014 do you need to plan for? Outside training? A book club? More role playing? What do you need to do to improve the professionalism of your team?

  10. When is your 2014 Sales Kick-Off Meeting? Where will it be held? What will you announce and how will you energize your team with vision, fun and direction? 

Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 23, 20130 comments

A Tactical Sales 20/20 Marketing Plan: Build Your Q4 Pipeline

This marketing plan incorporates messaging from your vendors with marketing materials, e-mail campaigns, telephone scripts and partner involvement. Action steps include:

1) Refine their prospect database to reflect the A-B-C "ideal client profile" concept.

2) Download and review the direct mail letter/e-mail tools provided by your vendors and create two pieces for two campaigns that will be used; these can be personalized with your logo.

3)  Create multiple batches of 20 prospects by salesperson, divided into groups of A, B, C, D, etc.

4)  Execute on the following tactical plan:

  • Week One: Each salesperson sends an e-mail/letter to one to 20 different prospects in Group A.

  • Week Two: Each salesperson sends an e-mail/letter to to the same 20 Group A prospects. Each salesperson also sends an e-mail/letter to another set of 20 prospects in Group B.

  • Week Three: Each salesperson begins to call Group A and set appointments or invite them to an Executive Forum run by the partner. Each salesperson again sends e-mails/letters to to the 20 prospects in Group B. And each salesperson sends an e-mail/letter to 20 prospects in a new group -- Group C.

  • Week Four: Each salesperson begins to call all on-contact members of Group A. Each salesperson begins to call all prospects in Group B. Each salesperson sends e-mails/letters to the prospects in Group C.

This program continues in this manner. As the activity level and pipeline grow, the only change in this marketing and activity plan will be the number of e-mails or letters sent per week; it could drop to 10.

I recommend that an on-going "Executive Forum" or workshop event is scheduled for the same time/same day each month. The purpose of the event is to provide a "call to action" and provide a reason for the telephone call follow-up.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 28, 20130 comments

Building a Culture of High Performance: Sales Games

At this time of the year, sales management must look at pipeline levels and goals for the fourth quarter and determine if there is the necessary level of activity to ensure targets will be exceeded.

Organizations certainly need to focus on the short-term, 30-day sales cycle and the end of the year. But they also need to have a longer-term perspective. As an executive, you must also focus on creating an atmosphere of fun, high performance and teamwork.

In this blog, I wanted to share a few ideas from my books on sales management: Leading High-Performance Sales Teams and Creating Sales Compensation Plans for High Performance. In both books, I share ideas for sales contests/games, as well as how to properly roll them out and manage them. In many cases I have seen great sales-contest ideas poorly executed. It is critical you think through what your objectives are and what you want the results to be, and then clearly write down the objectives, rules and incentives.

The first rule is to remember that cash is not what you want to use during sales games -- that is what your commission plan is designed to achieve. The second rule is that creating fun in your sales culture is the main outcome. Sure, you may wish to add "net new clients" or sell certain products/services and increase sales, but it is sales leadership's objective to make the sales contest a fun experience. If it isn't fun, it isn't selling.

You might enjoy this video on "Building a High-Performance Culture."

Different types of contests will help you achieve different goals. Some contests should be held annually to address sales objectives, company business strategies and potential seasonal fluctuations. Others can be scheduled as needed to help launch new products or services, promote new releases or upgrades or tie into your customers' larger campaigns. Still others can consist of short-term incentive games designed to motivate sales personnel to accomplish specific objectives by a specific deadline.

A Contest Sampler
Following are a few typical goals, along with ideas for contests that may help achieve them:

  • Increasing sales volume. Consider adding a cash bounty for each additional new seat, new customer or revenue sold beyond a certain target value. Set a quarter-to-date objective above your sales goal; that way, everyone on the team can win.

  • Improving customer service. Periodically survey your entire customer base. If satisfaction reaches a certain goal -- for instance, when 95 percent of your clients say they're "highly satisfied" -- and if your company is profitable, everyone gets a cash bonus. Keep a visible scorecard of your goals and results so that everyone maintains a constant awareness of your objectives.

  • Acquiring new clients. To boost the number of new clients you add each quarter, consider creating a "bounty bonus" plan. For example, salespeople could earn a bounty bonus -- either in cash or in points that can be redeemed for rewards -- for each new client or each competitive replacement of a specific vendor's customer. In addition, you could offer bounty bonuses for salespeople who exceed their quarterly or annual quotas for new accounts or net new revenues. You might even create and post "Most Wanted" posters with the bounties prominently displayed to help keep salespeople focused on contest objectives.

  • Overcoming seasonal slumps. If your sales typically slow down over the summer, try launching a prospecting activity contest in March, April and May. For instance, award sales team members points for each new face-to-face call or sales demonstrations that they make during those months, with accumulated points eventually eligible for prizes. Such an effort can go a long way toward increasing the number of opportunities in the pipeline from June through August.

Competition Considerations
Following are some issues to consider and questions to answer as you plan sales contests:

  • Determine what you want the contest to accomplish.
  • Set the ground rules. Are all sales executives on an equal basis for the contest?  Be sure to put the rules in writing, making provisions for those and other situations that could arise.
  • Make the contest length the same as the sales cycle.
  • Set specific goals that can be measured weekly or monthly.
  • Incorporate an exciting theme.
  • Consider making rewards gifts, rather than cash.
  • Boost team members' motivation by getting their families involved.
  • Never run contests to the last day of the month or sales period.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 19, 20130 comments

Sales Leadership and Preparedness

I have always considered the Boy Scout motto of "Be prepared" in all aspects of my life.

It's a difficult time for many people in the South, which was recently hit with massive tornadoes and rain. During the storms, I was in Kansas working with a client, while my wife was at our home in Eastern Tennessee facing the storm alone. The good news for us was we did not suffer any real damage. During many phone calls between my wife and I, we discussed the situation and developed action plans -- moving to our lower level and taking cell phones, batteries, radios, water and blankets. We also discussed the actions that had to be done outside the home during the short breaks between the four storms that hit us that evening. I was watching live radar and she was working the various issues -- positioning the generator if we lost power, cleaning the drains that kept being blocked with leaves, sticks and grass, and protecting portions of the house from rising water.

In the end, it all worked, thankfully.

Sales leaders face challenges every day, and being prepared as much as you can is critical success factor.

Organization skills are important aspect of being prepared. While many times salespeople are less organized than many other job roles, good sales management must be highly organized because of the random nature of events that can be disruptive on a daily basis. It is not unusual for sales leaders to walk into their offices on a daily basis and learn of: 1) a sales opportunity that might be lost, 2) an unscheduled meeting with the president, 3) a salesperson leaving the company, 4) a customer problem that needs to be addressed immediately, and a host of other issues.

So what can a sales manager do to help themselves? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Create a 90-day sales training plan, with dates, times, topics planned in advance.

  2. Use an effective "to-do" list to maintain priorities. HINT: I actually use a sheet of paper with my short-term/high-priority goals and longer-term goals visible. Then I draw a line down the middle of the paper and list them on either side.

  3. Focus on effective communication. Much time is lost on follow-ups if people are unclear as to your directions. Re-read your e-mails before sending, ask others to proof important documents to ensure they're clear, and at the end of a meeting, ask the other person for their understanding of the actions they are to take with deadlines.

  4. Always recruit! Every 60 days, place advertisements and interview constantly.

These are just a few tips for improving your preparedness. I always stress in my workshops and consulting that a proactive approach to sales management will always succeed over a reactive approach. What other ideas do you have?

Reminder: 2011 Sales and Marketing Success Conference
From May 9 to 13, the world's top sales experts will present a variety of programs designed to train and motivate your sales teams.

This conference, which represents the most ambitious online event of its type ever staged, will feature 35 sessions over five days. The sessions will be all about succeeding, winning and exceeding expectations.

But this is more than a sales conference. Just four weeks after the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and a tsunami that produced 46-foot waves, we learn that the death toll is likely to top 25.000. Recovery is going to take not years, but possibly decades and maybe even a generation, and cost at least $250 billion. This is 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 contribution.

Register for this event here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 01, 20130 comments

Investing in Yourself: Insights from the National Speakers Association Confab

I recently attended the annual National Speakers Association conference, an association meeting that I really work to attend. In my four years as a member, I have learned so much and have found everyone to be open and willing to discuss any aspect of improving your life, your business and your professional stage skills.

As someone who has presented often in many venues and formats, the experience was invaluable. I met people from all over the world who provided levels of expertise in many, many areas. Everyone was positive, energetic and helpful. 

I also had the opportunity to see some of the best people on the platform or "main stage" in front of 1,500 people. They held the audience with every word, provided humor at key points and controlled the attendees with their body language, voice and material. The breakout sessions provided detailed insights on what you need to do to be more professional and successful in your life and business.

But like every conference, sometimes the real learning takes place in the hallways or in casual conversations. At the spur of the moment, I got pulled into a MasterMind group of five people for 90 minutes, and I came away with a best idea from the entire conference. Another friend and I shared a meeting over lunch simply to discuss what the other other was doing and what was -- and was not -- working. On the way to the airport, I shared a cab with a guy who had been involved with the National Security Agency for 30 years and only consults with Fortune 500 CEOs; he gladly shared his thoughts, process and business model with me.

So, What Does This Have To Do with You?
What are your plans for the balance of the year to improve your professionalism? What commitments have you made moving forward? Are you involved in an outside group? Are you active in "reading" LinkedIn? What books have you picked up (and read)?

A quote I picked up: "People don't buy what you do -- they buy who you are." Are you better today than last quarter?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on July 31, 20130 comments

Inspire Sales Confidence

During my many years of sales management -- with the past 14 of being spent as a consultant to hundreds of firms -- the hardest element I see executives and sales managers struggle with is inspiring sales confidence.

What do I mean by this? Obviously, "A" players have the knowledge, ego and mental toughness to make sales happen. Unfortunately, most organizations never have enough of this kind of salespeople. Therefore, sales leadership must coach salespeople and build systems to assist "B" and "C" salespeople to achieve results.

But many times, this is not enough to elevate performance to the desired levels. Inspiring sales confidence is the extra piece that also needs to be worked on.

Sales confidence is that "inner voice" that tells a person that they are good, they are winners and they can succeed. This kind of confidence helps make a good first-call impression, and that leads to the prospect building the trust and confidence they must have in the salesperson to transact a business opportunity. It also gives the salesperson the swagger to think clearly, communicate precisely and close effectively.

In every conversation, sales management must learn to stoke the positives. Let the salesperson know you are counting on them to make it happen. And when they offer strategy recommendations during a sales opportunity, you must tell them that it was the right idea/tactic and that you appreciate their creativity, energy, persistence, et cetera. Building even the little reinforcements into your daily conversations and e-mail correspondence can go a long way toward working with your team on creating a culture of high performance.

During the next two months, focus on stoking the positives for each person on your team, and you will be amazed at the body language and attitude of each person on your team.

What are your tips on inspiring sales confidence?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 24, 20130 comments

Your July Sales Training Tip: YouTube

At this time of the year, I normally remind my clients that it's time to begin building their third-quarter sales training plans. 

Regular readers know that Acumen Sales Mangers plan their entire quarter sales training plans at the beginning of each quarter. Each sales meeting schedule is defined by date/time, topics and who is training on what topics. Topics should include sales skills, product and services knowledge, and competition and sales operations (CRM, contracts, etc.).

But what about July? With the Fourth of July and summertime upon us, here's a fun idea to launch your summer sales training plans:

  1. Set the date for your July sales training date.
  2. Assign each salesperson to review to find what they consider their best sales training video lesson. Simply have them go to YouTube and in the search bar enter "sales training."
  3. At your sales meeting, each salesperson introduces the YouTube video and discusses why they felt it was pertinent to your sales organization.
  4. Then watch the YouTube video as a team and discuss it.

It will be a fun meeting, but also each salespeople may end up watching four to six YouTube videos on sales training as they evaluate their recommendation. They will learn to use YouTube as a resource for ideas and as a sales resource.

Make July a jubilant month. Focus on sales-pipeline building, sales strategies on individual opportunities, and sales training.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 16, 20130 comments

Sales On-Boarding: New Hire Success or Failure

One of the most important  tools I have created is a three-week "New Salesperson On-Boarding Plan," which contains what I believe are the necessary skills and knowledge that any new salesperson needs prior to selling a product or services. 

The plan ensures they know how to use the telephone, CRM, contracts and marketing tools, as well as gives training so they can clearly sell your organization and understand your products and services. Each item must be signed off and dated by the appropriate person. It is one of the most popular tools in my Sales Management Tool Kit.

On Friday it failed.

Normally, each new hire must listen to the president sell the company, listen to other salespeople sell the company, make a few "ride-along" sales calls and practice selling the company to other salespeople before making a formal presentation to the president during the third week. This would be the graduation point -- if the presentation was done correctly. The salesperson usually does a fine job, but the president normally recommends doing it one more time, the following week.

This particular salesperson thought he could fluff his way through his training period. I have seen this often with experienced salespeople who believe their past work will carry them through the sales process. They begin to struggle because they cannot sell the company they work for or understand how the company's products and services can serve their prospects. The red flag popped up last week during the weekly review when we noticed that some of the "sign-off boxes" were open or uncompleted for that week.

This salesperson's appointment to sell the president went poorly. My client recorded the presentation so both the salesperson and others could listen to it. It was tough to listen to.

The lessons: 

  1. We failed to manage his training during Week One or Week Two.
  2. We may have mis-hired.
  3. He now knows my client is serious about professionalism.

He is on a very short leash this week but the learning curve of the client and the salesperson has improved. Now, both better understand that on-boarding is a critical success factor in building a high-performance sales team.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 03, 20130 comments

Book Review: The Renaissance Society

I had the opportunity to read Rolf Jensen and Mika Aaltonen's The Renaissance Society: How the Shift from Dream Society to the Age of Individual Control will Change the Way You Do Business during a long flight to the West Coast. I was expecting a futuristic perspective on how our society will evolve. But this book delivered much more.

The authors build their business case for predicting the future by reviewing the past and our existing economic conditions and comparing them to emerging markets. They do this convincingly, creating three clear, distinct and interconnected scenarios:

  1. The Renaissance Society: A new society renounces existing organizing principles and begins to reorganize itself from the bottom-up in daily practices and communities.
  2. The Green Society: A "must" scenario, as societies that destroy their environments destroy themselves.
  3. The Risk Society: Changes in technology will push our knowledge further, but we will take advantage of them for industrial use.

Throughout the book the authors look at the U.S. market and all of the western economies, and compare them to developing countries and Eastern markets. They also look at the trends that will drive change. Increasing wealth, GDP and the rise of the middle class in non-Western markets will cause major shifts. As the Western economies, mature they must -- and will -- re-invent themselves. This will drive the "happiness factor" that rising GDP brings, but with the wealth of the West a new focus on positive emotional well-being in increase.

The greatest three sentences in the book, especially for our sales/marketing readers is:

"My advice is to ask what kind of emotional appeal your product has. If the answer is none, you are in a commodity market; you are most likely engaged in fierce price competition. Add emotions, add a story, and make your product unique."

Chapter 7 is where the authors summarize their findings. Their conclusions are reasoned and concise. The World Bank estimates that by 2025, six emerging economies alone will account for half of the global economy. The East is catching up because economies are driven by dreams, not governments (a constant theme in the book). The East is now going through an extremely materialistic era, and the West is mature.

Anyone working in business and driving a global business must read and understand this chapter as they plot their long-term strategies. To those of us in today's business, the authors define the five changes for the West:

  1. Emotionalize: Companies must have values and employee's must connect to them.
  2. Personalize: Customers must be treated uniquely.
  3. Decentralize: All units should be smaller, more innovative.
  4. Innovate: Focus on being bold.
  5. Feminize: Food relations are seen as more important for results.

All good topics to review during your mid-year business assessment: Where are we heading? What is working? What hasn't worked? What needs to be changed? Reading this book has given me many new ideas to consider while working with my clients. Read it and see what it does for your organization.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 27, 20130 comments