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Did It Get Done?

That is a question most executives worry about and often have to ask their direct reports. This is especially true when thinking about sales management. In some situations, the president of the company may be responsible for managing the sales team or maybe they are attempting to manage a sales manager(s). In either case, attaining revenue objectives becomes a critical success factor -- to the point where it might be distracting from achieving other responsibilities of sales management.

However, the job of sales leadership demands more than revenue focus. In fact, in my training programs and client consulting engagements, I tell my clients that it is not sales management's job to achieve quota -- that is the salesperson's job! It is the job of sales leadership to hire, train and manage the team properly and position them for success. That is why "Did it get done?" becomes a critical question. Ensuring that the necessary basic foundations are being achieved becomes important.

If the issue of not "getting it done" seems to be occurring with a client, we implement the following process to train and keep everything in focus. On Friday afternoons, each field sales manager submits a weekly report and, at the end of the month, a simple standard form or checklist that was created to ensure that all the bases are touched. Here are a few examples from a typical checklist:

  • Attended on-site sales calls with reps to observe sales behaviors and to coach?
  • Listened to phone calls to observe sales behaviors and to coach?
  • Scheduled a well-planned weekly sales team meeting to discuss results, new plans and build excitement?
  • Reviewed new salesperson applications and executed interviewing plans?
  • Randomly inspected CRM updates by salespeople to ensure they are updating it correctly?
  • Scheduled monthly sales training meetings and topics that are planned with specific dates/times?
  • Scheduled monthly one on one meeting with each direct report?
  • Confirmed future marketing programs

The key element is not to make the checklist exhaustive but detailed enough that the fundamental aspects of the job are accomplished. I have seen many growing organizations begin to fail simply because the basics were being overlooked. Without a foundation, the system begins to fall apart.

Our clients have also taken this approach to each department within the organization. Building a prescriptive approach and holding direct reports accountable will almost always propel the organization to the next level.

What other items should be on your sales manager's monthly checklist? 

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 27, 2015 at 12:39 PM0 comments


Build Predictable Revenue

In recent years, organizations have gotten better at analyzing financial statements, refining manufacturing procedures, re-engineering business systems and improving marketing effectiveness. CEOs have strengthened their balance sheets with better asset management, reduced their inventory and cost levels with just-in-time methodologies, and increased direct mail and advertising effectiveness through thorough testing and reporting methods. But one area where additional improvements still can be made is the sales organization.

Smart companies are scrutinizing their strategic sales management plans, taking a closer look at everything from their pipelines to their forecasts. They are also taking a closer look at lifetime values, cost of sales, market share, sales processes and salesperson effectiveness. The reason is simple: All organizations, regardless of whether their sales are shrinking or growing, are under pressure to create a sales distribution organization that generates predictable, consistent, profitable results.

We believe most organizations can improve their profitability by increasing their discipline, accountability and control. Many times we hear, "Our company is too small to do these management systems that you show us, Ken." My answer is simple: "It's more critical to begin building management systems and tools when you are small because revenue and profitability are considered more critical in an organization. Start with a few simple tools and you will be amazed how you can leverage your time more effectively and begin to achieve revenue and profit growth in your firm."

Interestingly, I see many VAR organizations that are struggling. They often lack both a strategic and tactical sales plan. Before you get too deep into your 2016 strategic plan, ask yourself what kind of sales-management plan you have in place. Such a plan must include an amalgamation of the organization's goals, individual salespeople's desires and objectives, and a common set of measurement factors that ensures all parties are focused on the right activities for generating success.

Planning
The first step is to plan your revenue plan. This exercise will begin to build your framework for allocation of sales and marketing dollars, marketing plans and the beginnings to create a dashboard to track your effectiveness.

Focus on creating business plans for individual salespeople that define and bring together their goals with those of the corporation, and that coordinate activities with planned marketing programs. We recommend that in a salesperson's business plan you should make the salesperson define their weekly activity goals, setting sales goals that reflect their best, most likely and minimum revenue or profit expectation levels. In addition, we like to see them forecast by suspect/client by product or practice area three times their quota. Also, each salesperson should set their networking goals and their own marketing plans. Each plan should be created every six months.

If your sales team is focused on certain accounts, where you have defined five or 10 named accounts or you have certain accounts targeted for your firm to "open," then salesperson account plans should include a specific strategy for each named account and five tactical sales actions to move deeper into the account, sell additional products or services into the account, and increase the overall sales into that account. These account plans should be prepared every 90 days.

Sales-management planning systems dramatically refocus a sales manager to future business instead of past results. While most SFA/CRM or manual sales-management systems can enhance the effectiveness of a sales organization, they generally measure past activities and current sales funnel values. While this information is a must for all sales teams, the systems fall short by providing a rear-view mirror methodology to management.

A properly designed sales-management planning system changes all of that. With a sales-planning tool, a sales manager or executive can monitor expected performance; coach, mentor and provide a viewpoint of past performance; and measure results against the salesperson's desired objectives. In addition, such a tool helps a salesperson and sales manager, who are looking at planned activities far enough ahead, ensure that consistent activities are in place to build pipeline values that will provide enough prospect opportunity to exceed individual quotas or personal goals.   

I like to say that it is the salesperson's responsibility to achieve their monthly quota and management's responsibility to ensure the proper mix of marketing and sales activities are in place so that the 90-day pipeline is full enough to ensure quota can be made each and every month. This type of salesperson business plan can take the load off an executive and place it on the people accountable for sales.

Like any new organizational change, the rollout of such a system must be carefully planned and explained to all salespeople. Ideally, salespeople should attend a group meeting with all members of their team, along with key members of the management team, including a controller/CFO and any vice presidents of marketing and delivery. Last, it's wise for each salesperson to present a business plan and account plans to his/her peer group and management team.

We recommend that these meetings be serious events that incorporate some aspect of fun. The power of these personalized plans is actually realized when the plan is measured against actual performance. This is when salespeople get it. They recognize what it takes to achieve their personal and professional goals, and they see how creating better planning impacts performance.

Training and Development
The next step is create a sales training and development plan each quarter for you and your sales teams.

In our work with many partners, we find four essential elements failing.

  1. When new employee' are hired, there is a limited-at-best new-employee training program.
  2. Ongoing sales training programs are sporadic and not focused on the key elements required to compete.
  3. Ineffective or nonexistent roleplay scenarios are being run in sales meetings.
  4. Sales management is not coaching or mentoring in the field or during routine sales calls.

The result is uneven knowledge levels and a lack or discipline by sales management to reinforce MSS or other training programs.

It is critical that companies of all sizes focus on the need to train employees continuously. In most partner organizations, there has been a focus on ensuring that the "certification levels" of the technical team are current, yet little investment is made to "certify" sales teams. Training programs do not have to consist of an expensive, sophisticated program -- just keep it to the basics.

To ensure success, several basic components need to be in place:

  1. A plan that defines the goals and components of a training program
  2. A defined ongoing process
  3. Most importantly, proper execution 

The Plan
The plan should contain an outline for initial employee training on job functional requirements, company product/service offerings, benefits and recurring plans for training existing employees. One element that most organizations miss in their training plans is the belief aspect of employee training. While it's important to train on new skill development and product/service knowledge, maintaining an employee's interest and motivation levels is critical in today's competitive economy. This focus on developing an employee's mental commitment and aligning their personal motivational interests is called "re-recruiting." As new employees enter into your company, it is the perfect opportunity to set the tone. If you have letters of reference, they should read them. If you have awards, make sure they look at them and understand how you earned them. Next, make sure all new employees have a lunch or a meeting with the highest-level position in their division or in smaller organizations with the president. It is at these sessions that commitment, attitude and loyalty can begin to be developed.  

We believe in creating a detailed three-week new-hire training plan. The format is simple yet complete. Each week is broken down into specific training and knowledge-transfer components -- with homework! Everything must be covered: legal documents, marketing case studies, how to use the phone/fax/CRM, lunch meetings, as well as learning to sell/present your organization via the use of your company's  brochures/PPT. It is critical that each aspect of your new-hire training program is defined. As the salesperson completes each section, the person responsible for the area signs off that the new person has "passed".

The Process: It's Ongoing
The process again can be a simple program. In designing a training plan take into consideration the following elements:

  • Sales skills
  • Product/services knowledge
  • Company operations
  • Industry awareness
  • Vertical industry awareness (if appropriate)

We recommend that once a quarter you plan each sales meeting and sales training event. By preplanning in advance, you can incorporate each of the five items into a comprehensive plan.  In addition, each salesperson should have a six-month personal program that allows them to set their personal goals. This document begins the process of ensuring each person's goals are aligned with the overall corporate goal. Hint: Monthly company meetings or semi-annual employee gatherings should also be utilized to reinforce employee development. Rather than simply "getting together," use these sessions to bring in customers to tell of your success stories, speakers to work on team concepts or industry awareness programs.

Execution
How do you start? Develop the written three-month sales training plan. A predefined schedule will end individuals having conflicting appointments or not being prepared for the training. Assign salespeople for most of topical training, (this will ensure they know it if they have to train on it) and schedule outside resources at least once a quarter. The benefits of a short-term plan and agenda are that current issues can be addressed and continuous training and employee focus is a company goal.

Employees are a critical asset. Most software systems have regular maintenance check-ups and support agreements to keep them at current levels -- do the same with your employee assets. Keeping your employees' personal and professional objectives aligned with your corporate goals by training and re-recruiting will create huge dividends.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 13, 2015 at 12:06 PM0 comments


11 Actions Sales Management Must Take Now

Sound investment portfolio-management advice ranges from "hold firm with your existing stocks" to "take advantage of a great opportunity to buy at today's basement prices." Holding firm assumes that your existing portfolio contains quality securities, is properly diversified and has been managed with an appropriate, long-term perspective.

For our sales management world, let's make the same positive assumptions -- our sales team consists of quality people with good attitudes and successful track records, and has been properly managed. However, there's one big difference. Sales leaders must continually keep their sales teams focused on goals and activities that make their teams and companies successful. Therefore, their perspective must be short-term revenue generation.

Today's tenuous political and economic situation is very distracting and may be having a negative impact on your team's morale and drive.  Lousy economic headlines and layoffs may have left staff suffering from survivor's guilt, lamenting about the loss of comrades and security. 

Now is the time to rally your troops. The nation's leaders are encouraging spending and investing to boost our economy. This also is an opportunity to build a better sales team that will increase your market share as competitors lag.  The following tactical program features 11 key sales and marketing management actions that will help your sales management approach take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime during the lifetime of this opportunity:

1. Mobilize by Motivating
Keep your team focused on activity, and decrease distraction by tuning into the attitude and motivation of your sales team. Build belief in your company and boost your team's confidence in its products/services with visits to your satisfied customers, reference letters, or customer visits and presentations to your entire organization about their satisfaction. Make your sales meetings fun. Create sales contests/games that are focused on achieving activity levels that will increase your sales pipeline and sales opportunities. Find out what is important to your sales team, and create rewards that will reinforce these.

2. Review Your Product/Service Packaging and Pricing
This is a perfect time to review your existing profit margins and sales-cycle length by product line, and make short-term adjustments to determine the elasticity of your product that will increase revenues and margins. Create or amend the features or offerings in your various packages or even create new packaged offerings. Confuse your competition with new offerings and you may even find new added-value options that have been overlooked. Find ways to be different.

3. Analyze the Sales Team and Distribution Channels You Need
First, list the attributes necessary to maximize sales of your product, and then determine if this is best accomplished through a company sales organization or channels/partners or both. Second, create a customer focus group and ask them how to best serve them and what they are looking for in a relationship. What levels of support do they require? Third, make a decision on the five most essential attributes or profiles for your sales employees and channel partners.

Analyze your existing strategy and each channel partner as to how they match up to your profile. You may find new partners/alliances that will open up new accounts and even new markets. If your No. 1 choices for partners aren't interested, pursue No. 2 choices with the argument that you can help make them No. 1. You also may find it advantageous to discontinue some relationships.

Your channel partner strategy should complement the efforts of your team, not cannibalize them. Look to your partners' business model to determine how to capture "share of mind", and reward them for their achievements. Quantify the results of each partner, and keep senior channel management updated.

4. Muscle Up Your Sales Team
With so many very good salespeople available and looking for the right opportunity, it's the perfect time to increase your recruiting and potential hiring. It is far better to hire the best person for the job, and not the best available person. Create the ideal five attributes of successful salespeople and establish a "tight" interview process that ensures you increase the quality of your team. Spend 25 percent of your time interviewing.

5. Analyze and Strategize Each Sales Opportunity
If your industry is facing fewer opportunities and increased competition, each opportunity is even more precious. Schedule time with salespersons individually or in a team setting to think through each near-term sales opportunity. Provide your team with effective tools that analyze the status of each opportunity and develop the various tactics to increase your probabilities. Specifically:

  • Pinpoint and develop ways to counter objections.
  • Determine buyer decision criteria.
  • Establish client decision makers and influencers.
  • Initiate multi-level contact with multi-level influencers in the prospect's company.

6. Seek Supporters
Analyze the type of organizations or people that impact your client's decision process. These "influencers" may be consultants that work in the same market or leverage the same prospect base, accounting firms, bankers, industry analysts. Consider other sales organizations that would benefit directly or indirectly from the sale of your product or service. Develop a plan to establish who the decision makers at these organizations are. Enlist your sales and management teams in a campaign to present these influencers with advantages of your firm, and secure a commitment from them to work with you. This ongoing action can lead to the equivalent of a normal salesperson's quota value of sales!

7. Create New Leads with an Active Target Marketing Campaign
Create a smart, targeted campaign, not a blast or mass-appeal plan. First, establish profiles of current clients and determine the five reasons they use your products/service. Second, hit your market with a strong, clear message -- ROI and productivity gains -- through case studies in publications that your market reads and a customer reference list. Third, establish a plan of action for the next six months and make sure you have included a sales follow-up contact.

8. Review Your Current Compensation Plan
Clearly document your current plan and tabulate payments against results over time. Is the plan achieving your original goals? Is the plan reinforcing desired sales activity behavior? If not, develop a new plan and gain internal buy-in from your team. Focus on shorter-term goals, and implement a new plan with commitment to keep it in place for at least six months. Use the existing market opportunity to focus on short-term achievements.

9. Increase Investment in Training
In tighter times, your team must perform more effectively. Review your past efforts and take an inventory of training needs based on individual salesperson comparisons against your desired profile. Schedule ongoing training programs. Develop your own internal programs to ensure your salespeople fully understand and can sell your products/services and then arrange for commercial sales skill training programs. You will experience both short- and long-term benefits. Focus on increased levels of training for six months.

10. Contact Every Customer
This is a great time to establish a program to make contact with each existing client to fully understand their situations and use of your products/services, offer new packages and seek references for new potential clients. Make sure you are effectively using your CRM or SFA programs, and update your database with each customer contact. Verify that your sales team's recent contacts with every prospect and client are appropriate. Develop, execute and monitor a program of continuing contact with all targeted clients, prospects, influencers and partners. Review your progress each week/month at your sales meetings.

11. Build Better Planning into Your Sales Organization
Failure to plan is the No. 1 obstacle to revenue generation. First, define the specific steps of your sales process and ensure that each salesperson executes those steps effectively. Second, develop detailed six-month individual salesperson business plans. Third, create specific named account tactical sales plans for those key strategic accounts, and follow up on your salespersons' actual actions.

You'll find the word "execute" many times in this brief article, because action is critical. Successful sales managers plan, successfully focus and execute their programs. Take these 11 actions and you will enhance your sales team, increase revenues and build a focus in your organization when it is critically important -- now.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 06, 2015 at 3:14 PM0 comments


What Happened at the End of a Sales Workshop

There was an interesting outcome at the end of a two-day sales management training workshop last week.

We discussed the role of sales management and what strategies sales managers can take, and focused on the execution of sales management tactics. Ten people went through the program, all from one client but from five different offices. While it was personalized to their specific requirements, we did cover the following topics:

  • Building a high-performance sales culture
  • Recruiting and hiring sales teams
  • Leading and managing your sales team
    • Seven styles of leadership
    • Five styles of management
  • Building predictable revenue using management systems
    • How to run a sales meeting
    • Developing sales training meetings
    • Developing appropriate sales dashboards to analyze activity and pipeline levels
  • Coaching and building salesperson development plans

Most of the session was focused on creating standardized sales management systems between the five offices and getting by-in. But when I went around the table asking each participant what the most important thing they learned during both days was, everyone seemed to focus around the need for "creating a culture of belief." The interesting thing is that area or responsibility is often the most overlooked by sales leadership.

Sales teams run on emotion -- personal emotion powered by belief in themselves, the products/services they deliver (and their results for their clients), and the ability of the company to execute effectively. Therefore, successful sales management must build into their plan ideas and methods to reinforce and build belief.

I like to recommend a few ideas on building culture from my book on Leading High Performance Sales Teams.

  • Storytelling: 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 your vendors. 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 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.  Or try to record a testimonial using a quality camera and replay them at your company meetings and post on your Web site.

In our business, it's all too easy to get bogged down with lost sales, missed project dates, data reports 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 September 21, 2015 at 2:56 PM0 comments


One Action You Can Do To Exceed Your Quota

Exceeding quota is never easy. In fact, studies have shown that large percentages of salespeople never achieve 100 percent of their assigned quotas.

However, if you are in a position of sales leadership, what can you do to improve your odds of success?

Ideally, the first action is to read the last two weeks' blogs on hiring high-performance sales teams (Part 1 and Part 2). However, the reality is it's the third quarter -- you have to work with the team that's already in place and your sales goal has been set. 

What you can do is easy but, depending on the size of your sales team or location, may require some creativity or logistics: Instead of burying your sales pipeline in a CRM database, visually display the top 10 sales opportunities where they can be seen by yourself and or your team. This list normally is displayed in the sales manager's office and could be on a whiteboard or on a paper flip-chart.

What is the logic behind this recommendation?

  • Typically, winning a few of the larger opportunities each month/quarter almost always ensures sales budgets are exceeded.

  • Keeping the list visual puts them top-of-mind and allows for a constant review of strategies, tactics and updates.

  • The visual list allows for the entire management team to be aware of those key opportunities and increases the number of potential sales ideas and availability of resources that could be used in closing the sale.

  • The list can be used in sales meetings to brainstorm ideas and to teach the sales team the basics behind developing winning sales strategy ideas.

What do have to lose? Try this idea for the next 90 days and let me know your results. In the past 18 years of consulting with organizations, whenever this idea was executed, we always saw revenues jump!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 08, 2015 at 2:40 PM0 comments


Hiring High-Performance Sales Teams: Part 2

"If you can find good people, they can always change the product/service. Nearly every mistake I've made has been in picking the wrong people, not the wrong idea. Most entrepreneurs have no problem coming up with a good strategy, but they usually need all the help they can get in developing and implementing the tactics that will make them successful in the long run." --Arthur Rock, Harvard Business Review, 1987

Selecting sales personnel is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges of any organization. Failure to achieve revenue targets, manage customer relations and deliver service can be traced directly to hiring people unequipped to carry out their assigned roles. Recruiting is a commitment; it should consume about a fifth of the sales leader's time, and the process should be as well-organized as the company's sales methodology and forecasting systems.

The following is taken from our online video training program for sales managers.

Define the Ideal Profile
The key to building a winning sales organization is understanding whom you want to hire. Why? Because thorough development and analysis of the ideal sales representative profile heightens your chances of recruiting the right person. Here's how you start:

  • Make your own list of essential sales person characteristics. As the hiring manager, start by writing down your definition of a great sales representative.

  • Ask company leaders to make a list. Ask management and members of the sales team to identify desirable sales traits.

  • Test your top sales representatives. Ask your company's most successful sales representatives to complete a personality profile or psychological test administered by an outside party. Record the data and look for common denominators among your top sales people.

Reviewing the basic personality types often encountered in sales can provide additional insight into hiring effective sales representatives. "Hunter" (aggressive, accustomed to cold calling and inured to rejection) and "farmer" (stable, oriented to customer care) are common terms used to describe personalities in the sales world.

Understanding an applicant's most typical behavior style when interacting with others can reveal how that person solves problems and makes decisions. And you may learn how flexible the applicant is in dealing with contrasting personality styles. The types:

  • Dominant: A dominant individual loves a challenge, and is always ready to take on the competition. Dominant people are direct, positive and straightforward. They continually seek new horizons and like to make decisions quickly. Some consider dominants restless, because they become impatient and dissatisfied with the status quo. They are generally resourceful and adapt readily to new situations.

  • Cautious: Cautious people are basically humble, loyal and non-aggressive. They are usually conservative, slow to make decisions until they have absorbed all available information, and sticklers for detail. Cautious individuals want to be appreciated, and will go to extreme lengths to avoid stepping on someone's toes. They strive for a stable, ordered life and tend to be more task- than people-oriented.

  • Interactive: These individuals are outgoing, persuasive, gregarious and generally optimistic. Interested in people, they're poised in social situations; at an initial meeting they may greet you warmly by your first name, as if you've been friends for life. Interactives may act on emotional impulse, making decisions based on a cursory analysis because of their trust and willing acceptance of people.

  • Steady: Usually amiable, supportive and relaxed, steady individuals appear contented, even laid back. Patience and deliberateness are their defining characteristics. People high in steadiness strive to maintain the status quo and avoid rocking the boat. They value relationships that they have worked hard to establish, and operate well in a team environment.

Matching the salesperson's personality to the job -- or even to the type of client he or she sees -- makes sense. But remember that people often display characteristics of two or more personality profiles.

Measure the Profile
Once you've compiled all your information on the sales position and the applicant's desired personality profile, boil it all down to five or seven objective, measurable characteristics. Why so few? Because you need to focus on key responsibility areas that drive success. For example:

  • Hundred percent quota achievement in four out of five sales jobs, for a minimum of five years
  • Bright, articulate
  • Experience in opening new territories
  • Regional sales experience
  • Specific industry expertise

Create a measurement scale for each characteristic, like this:

  • Ineffective: -5 -4 -3 -2 -1
  • Effective: 1 2 3 4 5 

and use it to rate each candidate during the interview session.

Don't be fooled by the profile's simplicity, or the fact that it measures only five characteristics. This is the distillation of sound input from numerous sources, a benchmark based on the personalities and performance of your top sales representatives. Focusing your work in an easy-to-understand, simple format places the emphasis on implementation and results. It's important to make this profile document available to everyone involved in the interviewing process, including recruiting firms.

Critical Reminders
To derive the most benefit from your new recruiting tool, interview a minimum of three candidates for each position, and make sure that every interviewer in the process rates each candidate from -5 to +5. Continue to refine the profile by gathering input from both internal and external sources.

A highly motivated, successful sales organization is critical to generating revenue and margin growth year after year. For a company's sales leaders, searching for great sales people every day is a top priority and never-ending challenge. Studies show that successful sales managers spend 15 to 20 percent of their time on recruiting. Whether or not there's an opening in your sales ranks, take the time to meet new candidates or reacquaint yourself with candidates whom you have been courting. When you least expect it, your top candidate may become available.

Striving for Consistency
Now that you have a plan to fill the pipeline with quality candidates, the next step is to systemize the process for choosing and winning the right candidate time after time. Communicating an established process to all involved parties not only saves time, but sends a clear, unified message to candidates that this company has its act together, increasing their desire to join the sales team.

The following model has worked consistently in the past. Consider it as a foundation for your sales recruitment process.

  1. Identify and document each stage in the interview process, and who (at least three people) in your company will participate.

  2. Perform personality testing on your top sales reps. This provides a benchmark for evaluating candidates in one-on-one interviews.

  3. Distribute to all participants:

    • Outline of interview process
    • Ideal sales candidate profile
    • Interviewing scorecard
    • List of base questions to ask every candidate
    • The candidate's resume

It takes effort to build a recruiting process, and even more to ensure that everyone follows the plan. But the result -- the creation of a winning sales team -- is guaranteed to make life less stressful for any sales leader!

Check out our online video training program for sales managers here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on September 01, 2015 at 2:32 PM0 comments


Hiring High-Performance Sales Teams: Part 1

You've got sales quotas, plans and deadlines. You can't reach your sales goals without a complete staff, so when someone leaves, it's terribly tempting to hire the first person available to fill the job.

Yet, a helter-skelter, frantic approach leads to hiring the wrong person. That adds expense, disrupts your sales team and, potentially, creates a customer service disaster. As Harvey Mackay says, "The worst mistake a manager can make, especially a sales manager, is to make a bad hire. You can't build a business if you have a revolving door."

That's why I recommend that sales leaders spend 15 to 20 percent of their time in "recruiting mode." You must invest that necessary time and effort to increase the odds of hiring the best. Hiring top talent is the No. 1 challenge in the channel. (In my book Recruiting High Performance Sales Teams, I provide a New Salesperson On-Boarding Training Plan.)

As the sales leader, you are the key contact for candidates and have the greatest impact on whether they say "Yes!" to your offer. Here are a few tips to help increase your odds of selecting the right candidate for the job and building a winning sales team.

Prepare Ahead of Time 
Thorough preparation lets you:

  • Establish rapport with the candidate
  • Listen, instead of talk
  • Complete adequate interviews
  • Seek meaningful credibility rather than be moved by surface characteristics such as appearance
  • Make thoughtful decisions not based on personal preference or prejudice

Therefore, plan ahead. When scheduling, allow ample time to address your questions and those of the candidate. Determine when you are most alert and "on top of your game" and interview only during your best time of the day. Conduct interviews in an environment (on-site or off-site) where you are free from distractions. Turn off your cell phone.

Before the interview, decide on the five to seven most important characteristics that will make a person successful in the job. If you're lucky enough to have two great candidates available, use their "score" on these characteristics as a tie-breaker.

Plan to make the interview highly interactive so that you can truly gauge the candidates' competency and commitment in a short time. What kinds of problems and obstacles might an applicant experience in the job? Think of three or four scenarios for them to address. Challenge the candidates with pertinent, applicable questions and see how well they think on their feet -- just as they would in a sales situation.

Competency and Commitment 
When recruiting, focus your thinking on two concepts: competency (sales skills) and commitment (attitude and culture alignment). Remember that you need the right combination of skills and attitude for this person to be both productive and to assimilate into the company's chemistry and culture.

If the current opening is for a major executive sales position, the candidate must be a competent sales expert. For the entry-level sales representative, on the other hand, commitment and attitude become the most important ingredients. This facet is as important as the skill level. Having the "right fit" means skill and attitude.

Potential employees usually fall into one of four types. Understand these and you can more effectively choose the right person for the job and for your company.

  1. High competency, low commitment: This person has strong sales skills but needs an attitude adjustment. Ask yourself: Is it the person or the previous company that caused past concerns or problems? Will your culture provide a self-motivational environment for this candidate to succeed? Do you have the time and energy to help coach this candidate to success?

  2. Low competency, high commitment: This person needs sales training but has a great attitude, a great entry-level profile. You need to consider: Does your company offer education and training for entry level-sales representatives? Do you have the time or resources to train entry-level candidates? Is there a mentor program in place?

  3. Low competency, low commitment: End the interview and move on. It is one thing to need sales training. It is a no-win situation if the candidate also has a poor attitude.

  4. High competency, high commitment: Hire these people on the spot. Do everything in your power to create an environment where they can "hit a home run." They have the sales skills and attitude for success.

Critical Points To Remember
Here is how to be sure you hire the best and leave the rest:

  • Design a consistent, systematic interview process.
  • Define the ideal sales representative and write the job description.
  • Construct a list of base questions to ask of all candidates.
  • Communicate to all internal participants the job description, sales profile and your expectations.

A good recruiting program brings rewards beyond just a stellar array of candidates. Interviewing is a valuable way to gain intelligence about the marketplace. You can gather tips about unhappy accounts. You can learn about competitors' strategic changes as well as their weaknesses in customer support and product or service availability. Interviewees may even offer leads to sales people.

Hiring good salespeople is one of most important tasks a manager faces. Few decisions are more essential to the success of your company than who represents your products and services. The time and money required for an organized recruitment process pales in comparison to the payoff.

To view a free video on hiring the best go here.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 25, 2015 at 2:19 PM0 comments


Structure vs. Creativity and Flexibility

I recently wrote a post titled "The Need for Creativity" that covered why sales managers must develop their levels of creativity to solve the multitude of problems they face and the need to assist their salespeople in developing better sales strategies. In the blog, I also laid out the 10 actions one can take to improve their personal creativity. 

In other posts, I have also discussed the need for a variety of formal, structured systems that are reviewed and executed on a regular cadence -- e.g., account plans, training schedules and salesperson business planning.

The topic of "structure versus creativity/flexibility" hit me over the weekend. I am reading a terrific book called The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. It is about the first month of WWI, a topic I had no real interest in. But the book came highly recommended by a friend and it is a great read! So, what does WWI have in common with sales leadership? 

In the book, Tuchman describes how both the Germans and French began planning for WWI in 1870. Both countries had extensive strategies and tactics planned down to the minutest details, from troop movement, roadmaps, train schedules and specific plans on day-to-day operations. These plans were ready to be executed based upon the right spark. Both countries expected the war to last just a few months and both were led by strong-minded generals who were focused on executing their plans.

The result?  During the first month, everyone was focused on the wrong objectives and not on the right objectives. The war lasted a very long time that was highly costly for every country in Europe and also the United States. Why? In the beginning, the generals stuck to their structured plans instead of using creativity, and did not adapt to changes in tactics by either side.

In the world of sales management, we are tossed challenges on a daily basis and it is easy to be distracted. It is common to lack the time or have difficulty maintaining a focus on achieving the planned activities. As sales managers we must have plans and tools for growing our organizations and achieving our goals, but we must adapt to our changing environments. Sometimes, we lose a salesperson unexpectedly, or a major opportunity starts to slide, or marketing fails to achieve its lead-generation objectives. All of these or other disruptions could cause a sales manager in a fixed mode to lose the battle.

It is critical we remain flexible and creative in our approach. But having a foundation, systems or structure can help leverage the busy life of a sales manager. Don't get locked in and but use the necessary tools to maintain direction and focus.

One of the reasons our Sales Manager Tool Kit is popular is that its 40-plus tools can provide the structure that is needed, but they are in a format where they can be modified or changed by the user to fit their changing environments.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 15, 2015 at 4:04 PM0 comments


'Trade Shows Don't Work'

I have heard the phrase "trade shows don't work" and similar comments from people when discussing why they don't include trade shows in their marketing programs.

In reality, the reason many organizations do not gain a payback from their trade show investment is that they don't work the trade show.

We discussed this topic in great detail last week while working with a client. When I reviewed our Trade Show Planning tools from our Sales Management Tool Kit the client was amazed at what they were not doing at events in terms of planning and executing. I speak at many trade shows and conferences. To better understand the audience, I normally walk the exhibit hall to listen to conversations and view the exhibits. I have always been amazed at what I find when I walk the floor:

  1. Most trade show booths are either confusing or do not clearly show what the company, product or service does or what benefit it provides an attendee. You only have a few seconds as someone walks past your booth to capture their interest or make an impression -- does your booth do that? Take the time to look at your booth with fresh eyes or simply ask your sales team to tell you what the booth says to them.

  2. Most individuals working the booth have never been trained on how to work the booth. There is an art and science to capturing awareness. In most cases, several good, open-ended questions should be asked as individuals are walking past your booth. Too often I see individuals sitting behind a table or looking embarrassed that they are even in a booth -- or worse, they are reading their phones!

  3. Another sin I see often is that pre-event work has not been performed -- no lead goals set, no booth appointments/meetings pre-arranged, and no trade show specials created. This is obvious when there no traffic at the booth.

  4. Just as we see No. 3 not performed, many times post-trade show work is not performed or tracked. No mailings are sent out or every lead is not followed up within three days of the event.

One of our recommendations is that at the end of each day, everyone who worked the booth should meet to discuss each lead, capturing the quality of the lead and any insights they recall about the conversation with the prospect. This is done as soon as the trade show closes for the day, not when everyone gets back to the office.

Trade shows can be expensive, what with exhibit fees, travel expenses, time and marketing costs. Working a trade show effectively is a must -- execution on all phases must be carefully managed and inspected. If you would like one of our Trade Show checklists from our Sales Managers Tool Kit, send me an e-mail at Ken@AcumenMgmt.com.

What are you best tips for working a trade show?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on June 01, 2015 at 3:50 PM0 comments


Are You the Maestro of Your Sales Team?

This was a musical weekend. On Friday evening, we went to the Knoxville Symphony, which was featuring the final program by Lucas Richman, who has led the symphony for the past 12 years. Sunday was Music Sunday at our church, with bell choirs, guest musicians, the adult and children's choirs and many ensembles -- it was a festive morning. In both situations, there was no doubt as to who was in charge and who knew the details: the maestro.

As I listened and felt the music, I was intrigued by how the maestros in both events led their respective teams. They anticipated the next movement or group to contribute and kept the pace that was required to succeed. They were always just ahead or anticipating the next phase.

Obviously, I am drawing the analogy back to you as the sales leader. In each concert, the maestro/conductor had to assume the same role as those with sales responsibilities. I see many times where the executive or sales manager is caught off guard by missed forecasts, a team member leaving unexpectedly, unsuccessful marketing or salespeople who cannot accurately sell their company's products/services.

The role of sales leadership must incorporate levels of management, a strategic vision and tactical programs, as well as the emotional aspect of creating an environment for success. What can you do to become a better conductor or even a maestro of your sales team? It is not easy -- that is why most sales managers fail in the first 18 months. I have listed below a few of the actions that we see missing when sales managers are struggling:

  • Taking time to ponder. Find your own private time to think about your team, the direction in which it is heading, what's working, what's not and the next six-month plan. I used to do this at least once a week or whenever I was flying frequently. I would shut down the work and simply take a blank tablet and write notes to myself as issues popped into my mind. In the concerts, both conductors discussed why they picked the music for each concert -- they had taken the time to make sure that the music fit the event.

  • Scheduling formal one-on-ones. These monthly meetings are not about the forecast; they are designed for you to have a conversation with your team members about how everything is going. A good leader has insights into the personal and professional lives of each person on their team. They learn what motivates them and what doesn't. This meeting allows for open communication and a building of trust. This level of trust is crucial in high-performance sales teams when personalities and tensions sometimes cause conflict. Learn to read your team. In an orchestra, each group of musicians, from violins to horns, meets with the conductor to ensure they understand the piece of music and what is expected.

  • Studying and learning accountability. In a research study we did several years ago, we showed that most entrepreneurs failed at holding their direct reports accountable. We see the same with most sales managers. Dashboard and CRM reports are one thing, but does your team -- as individuals and together -- feel accountable to achieving the organization's goals? This is not micro-management regarding doing the numbers, but rather an understanding that the team must achieve its goals as it is its responsibility to the rest of the members of the organization who are not in sales. The sales leader must reinforce this whenever possible, especially during the monthly company meetings with all the employees. The maestro, I am sure, reinforced to each musician their individual contributions and importance to the overall concert.

  • Focusing on continuous training in the field or in the office. The maestro congratulated the No. 1 chair with a handshake but recognized the entire orchestra whenever the audience responded. He made sure that everyone knew the music but set a standard in recognizing those who had taken the time to master their craft. I am sure there were many rehearsals before the main event! It is the sales manager's job to evaluate each salesperson's talents and skill level and to develop team and individual sales training programs. Increase the level of professionalism at all times. In June we will be releasing a series of five online videos of sales management training courses.

  • Putting systems in place. When we go onsite to consult with organizations, it is not unusual to find no new-hire on-boarding programs in place, limited sales training or sales meeting templates/agendas being used, and a lack of solid sales process or interviewing/recruiting systems. Struggling organizations thrash back and forth as if they were putting fingers into the dikes to stop the flooding. It's a continuous circus of confusion and frustration -- nothing seems to work. This breeds ineffective teams. Leadership must act on a continuous quest for quality improvement. One of the reason our Sales Managers Tool Kit is one of our most popular resources is there are over 40 tools/documents and best practices included. Take a look at it before you consider re-inventing a process or sales management tool. Each conductor had his or her music sheets ready, each musician knew when to change chairs, the microphone worked and the lights went down and up at the appropriate times. There was a system in place. Even the ushers knew when and how to escort us to our seats!

These are just five ideas. What ideas do you have to increase your level of success? I encourage you to share them with our community. Have a fun time and dance to the music.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on May 19, 2015 at 10:52 AM0 comments


The Need for Creativity

This past week, I had opportunity to work with a great client at its worldwide sales conference in Miami. During those two days, I spent several hours with the client's sales management team and four hours with its salespeople. The company has 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" and time management and 3) the fact that an individual's creativity can be learned or enhanced.

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 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 a high creativity quotient.

The good news? You can enhance your creativity by working on it. In my keynote, "No Regrets: The Do-Over Factor," I share three tenets for personal and professional success. Creativity is one of those three foundations. Here are nine actions you can work on to develop mind patterns that will enhance your creativity.

  1. 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.

  2. Inquiring minds want to know: Be inquisitive. Ask questions and increase your levels of interest.

  3. Learn about different things: Study a language, read a book, take a course and get active.

  4. Avoid set patterns: Break your habits -- floss your teeth differently, brush your teeth in different sequences, drive to work on a new route.

  5. Be open: Listen to others and try to accept new ideas.

  6. 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.

  7. Engage in hobbies: Your mind must disengage from normal business stress.

  8. Improve sense of humor: Learn to laugh, even at yourself.

  9. Be a risk taker: Try something different. The adrenaline will cause a positive impact on your brain.

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

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 29, 2015 at 11:04 AM0 comments


'Why Can't I Get an Accurate Forecast?'

Just last week, I heard that very comment from the president of a new client. Frankly, it is a common phrase I have often heard from CFOs, presidents and vice presidents of sales. So what's the answer?

Many consultants would drag out their scorecards or methodology to fix the issue. Instead, let's first learn to diagnose the signs and why the problem exists. This is what I generally see or hear when I begin to poke at the problem:

  • When you review the pipeline report (in CRM or Excel), all the closing dates are listed as the end of the month -- 6/30/15, as an example.
  • Beyond your current monthly pipeline values, future pipeline dollar values are not listed.
  • The velocity of the sale or the length of time it has been in the funnel is 90 days longer than the average velocity for your business.
  • Monthly forecasts by the sales team are always off by a wide margin. When asked, the sales team has no idea as to why they can't predict accurately.
  • The salespeople do not have a defined closing plan for active opportunities.
  • The salespeople are closing on topics (e.g., price) instead of he compelling reason the prospect has for your product/service.

What's the Action Plan?
First, as the sales leader, there are some obvious actions to take and some not so obvious. The first action is not to ask for a forecast. Remember that forecasts are like the weather person on TV -- they have just so-so odds of being accurate. Instead, we suggest asking for a commitment. This is how we recommend teaching this: During the first sales meeting of the month, when each salesperson "forecasts" their sales for that month (say, for example, $100,000), the sales leader says, "Great! You hit $100,000 and I will give you a $500 bonus. OK?" As expected, the salesperson gets excited. The sales leader would then say the same phrase to each of the salespeople on the team. After all the salespeople have forecasted the sales leader says, "And if you don't hit your goal of $100,000, each of you will owe me $500!"

Now that you have their attention, you allow them make a new "commitment" versus a forecast.

Second, we recommend that you begin to track each month's commitment by salesperson. Do this for at least four months without the sales team knowing you are tracking their commitments. Then record their actual sales for each month. By comparing those two numbers, you can determine the forecast accuracy of each salesperson and your entire team. When you have sufficient data, share this information with the entire team and discuss that you will continue to measure this data and it will be added to your sales dashboard -- assuming you have one! 

By tracking this information, your sales team will know that you are paying attention to this metric and they will begin to pay attention to the importance of the monthly goal. In sales management, what you pay attention to on an ongoing basis will begin to impact what your sales team pays attention to.

Third, it takes training. This happens during the weekly sales meeting, in your monthly one-on-one business reviews and in all coaching environments. This has to be an ongoing process and not simply discussed from time to time.   What we find is either the sales manager is not asking the salesperson the hard questions or the salesperson is not asking the prospect those pertinent questions. We call them the "magic questions." They are part of our Sales Management Online Tool Kit, but I want to share them with you to improve your process. My recommendation for the sales manager is to use these -- print them out -- during the weekly sales meetings and then make sure each salesperson has their own copy for their use. Each time that any opportunity is discussed, it is critical the sales manager continues to use the checklist of questions to drive their use into the salesperson's head!

By using these questions and being tough-nosed on making sure your salespeople can answer these questions, both you and the team will have more honest sales discussions.

  • What is their decision process? (Do you know every step?)
  • When do they want to be implemented or have our systems ready to go?
  • Who is involved in the overall decision?
  • Do they have a business need?
  • Are they listening to you?
  • Do they have funding?
  • What are the next two steps?
  • Who or what else are they considering?
  • When is the next board meeting or decision meeting?
  • What are they doing for me?
  • Do I know my strengths? Do I know my weaknesses?
  • Do I know their decision criteria?
  • Do I have an excellent closing strategy?

Make the commitment to get the commitment and your sales forecast (ugh) will become more predictable and accurate.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on April 23, 2015 at 11:26 AM0 comments