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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


Time for Salesperson Evaluations

Last week, one of my clients and I were discussing the end of the first quarter, salesperson performance and the next steps in their business strategy.  The conversation led me to suggest the following steps for my client, but it would work just as well for readers.

Step 1: Evaluate your team. Place each of your team members into one of the following categories:

  • Stars: How do we keep them?
  • Learners: Have high potentials, but do we have a plan to train?
  • Solid Performers: How do we maintain?
  • Followers: Good for now, but what about next year?
  • Deadwood: Can we do better?

Step 2: Once you have classified your team, the next step is to develop a plan to review each person and set a learning path for them.  We recommend that this becomes a formal procedure between the sales manager and each salesperson, at least twice a year. We use a salesperson development tool from our Sales Managers Tool Kit, which is a library of 40-plus robust sales management tools we have developed during our consulting practice.

The salesperson development tool includes a revenue-versus-quota section, but just as important is a section for the sales managers' evaluations regarding:

  • Skills/Strengths: What needs work, what items are good
  • Development Plan: What actions are to be taken and their target dates/completion dates
  • Obstacles and plans to reduce obstacles

This session allows both individuals an opportunity to honestly discuss career aspirations, personal goals and skill development. Using this approach along with the Salesperson's Business Plan, the manager can fully coach the salesperson to the next level.

Building a regular practice of "inspecting what you expect," you will increase the professionalism of your team and drive performance. What are your thoughts on improving the performance of your sales teams?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 30, 2015 at 11:33 AM0 comments


The 10 Traits Buyers Seek in Sales Superstars

What really separates the best salespeople from the rest of the pack? Our research shows that top performers not only understand each customer company, they also understand the person making the buying decisions.

Most sales training courses emphasize the importance of addressing the customer's needs. They teach salespeople to explain how "your product or service" can help achieve key business goals. Those discussions are critical for making sales. But few training programs address how buyers view salespeople as they're presenting that information -- knowledge that can be an equally powerful sales tool.

Our research indicates that from the buyer's point of view, the best salespeople:

1. Listen. Buyers want to deal with professionals who ask the right questions and truly listen to the answers, people who can take what they've heard and translate it into appropriate solutions. Want to boost your listening skills to top-performer level? Take notes, summarize and restate what buyers tell you and -- just as important -- listen when they confirm whether you've gotten it right.

2. Tell the truth. I cringe when I hear salespeople tell customers or prospects, "Let me be honest with you," as if they haven't been honest so far. If you don't know the answer, don't make it up. If you aren't professional enough to sell without lying, find a new profession.

3. Do more than push products. Of course, it's vitally important for salespeople to know about the products they represent, but talking only about features and functions went out in the '70s. Top performers focus on helping buyers achieve their business goals. One way to do that: Videotape and watch your own sales presentation to see yourself from the buyer's point of view. Are you helping or just selling?

4. Know the customer's business. Going after vertical markets has become a major emphasis for many organizations. Stay abreast of developments in your customers' worlds. When prospects see that you're familiar with their businesses and industries, that generates trust and confidence -- key ingredients in any successful sales formula.

5. Know what the customer's clients need. See No. 4. Why do their customers buy from them? Knowing their customers will help you sell them.

6. Address pain points. Top performers outdo the competition by personalizing their presentations, showing how their solutions help customers resolve specific business problems, achieve important goals and generate impressive ROI.

7. Keep promises. Buyers keep track of what you say you'll do and whether you actually do it. If you offer to send a whitepaper or list of references, follow through. And get it there when promised; never request an extension.

8. Avoid wasting time. As a salesperson, you've got the right to be persistent and to be respected, but not to be a pest. Dropping in unannounced because you were "in the neighborhood" falls into the latter category; it's also the mark of an amateur. Instead, schedule your calls, have a stated objective for each meeting and be sure the time spent results in value for the customer.

9. Serve as an information resource. Top-performing salespeople often provide customers with useful background materials, typically from reputable outside sources. Consider giving your buyers relevant information from The Wall Street Journal, local business journals, industry magazines and newsletters.

10. Make the buyer a hero. Top performers know what personal factors drive each buyer's behavior, whether it's ego, desire for a bonus, the potential for promotion or some other factor. Do what's necessary to make sure an important buyer regards a particular sale as a personal win. Do you know their personality style?

Long ago, someone told me the three key factors in sales are emotion, emotion, emotion. No question about it: If you recognize your buyers' emotions, you'll accelerate your sales.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 24, 2015 at 1:33 PM0 comments


If It Isn't Fun, It Isn't Selling

Last week, I was in Arizona speaking at a conference. During my program I used the phrase, "If it isn't fun, it isn't selling," and the reaction I received was interesting. 

Most of the audience seemed surprised or somewhat taken aback as I discussed the topic. Others were curious as to how to have fun during the sales cycle.

(I have to confess: I somewhat borrowed that phrase from Sam Hagerman, camp director at my old Boy Scout camp, Camp Decorah. His mantra was, "If it isn't fun, it isn't scouting." I did tell Sam I changed his statement to fit my audiences.)

My message last week was more about emotion and selling, managing and building an environment of high performance. There were two aspects around this topic that are important to understand in creating great culture. First, in every organization that I have been with or have consulted in that had great cultures, the sales teams not only worked hard and were professional in their approach -- they also had a culture of fun. Sales managers that created a culture of high performance always made sure they brought an approach to managing that included accountability and high expectations, but also one where the team had fun together. A few ideas to focus on:

  1. Build belief. Make sure your sales teams believe in your company, products/services and each other. This is the emotional work for sales leadership.
  2. Make sure your sales contests are sales games! They need to be fun and creative with exciting themes. An annual sales trip for spouses/sales teams is a must. These kinds of sales incentives build camaraderie, memories and teamwork.
  3. Create opportunities to socialize with your team. Organize pizza nights and breakfast meetings. These kinds of events allow everyone to talk, laugh and build respect between teammates.

The second aspect of creating fun and selling is with prospects and clients during the sales process. In my program, I stressed that you need to be a jokester during the sales process or be less of a professional. However, you do need a more relaxed approach that can separate you from your competition.

Many years ago, someone told me there are three rules in selling: emotion, emotion and emotion. You must have it, you must transfer it to your prospects, and they must take action based upon emotion. Jeb Blount, a friend of mine and the founder of Sales Gravy, likes to suggest to his training clients, "Ask yourself about your prospects: Do they like you? Are they listening to you? Are you listening to them? What kind of sales environment are you creating?"

As a salesperson, your interaction with your clients or prospects will always create an emotion -- positive or negative. Focusing on a positive, fun and interactive approach will lead to a connection with that person. That connection is critical to building the trust and confidence you need to win the opportunity. Here are several ideas to improve the power of connecting:

  1. Identify the personality style of the person you are speaking with. Work with them based on their communication style, but bring your personality.
  2. During any meeting, bring a lighter touch to your conversations. While you should have an agenda for your meetings -- being prepared with a pre-call strategy tool is great -- make sure you add a sparkle in your eye and smile on your face to your approach. It's OK to be yourself!
  3. Make the experience memorable. This is the power of creativity. Ask yourself, "What can I do to break through the traditional sales process and make the relationship unique?" If you use social activities in your sales process, can you align an activity that fits your prospect (e.g., a wine tasting or sports events)? Or if you are selling in a formal sales process, can you bring something else to the table during a sales call (e.g., a best-selling book autographed by the author, or an invitation to your Rotary Club meeting)?

Having fun and taking a lighter personal approach can separate you from your competition -- and that pays off with greater commissions. You will also enjoy the sales process and that emotion and approach will be felt by your prospects. 

What are your ideas around having fun and selling more?

Posted by Ken Thoreson on March 16, 2015 at 1:23 PM0 comments


Book Review: 'Enhancing Your Executive Edge'

I was on vacation last week and had the time to read three books, one of them called Enhancing Your Executive Edge by Kim Zoller and Kerry Preston. Published by McGraw Hill, it is a terrific read for all executives and managers.

In defining "executive edge," the authors quickly hook you in the introduction. They set the stage by showing their methodology, providing the reader with an experience in self-development and growth through an online assessment that determines your current "edge."  I would suggest you take this assessment after reading this blog.

As you read through the introduction, Zoller and Preston describe their plan of breaking the book into five major buckets with 18 distinct chapters on:

  • self-management and social awareness
  • personal branding
  • communication and presence
  • business protocol -- the details of executive edge
  • motivation, perseverance and excellence

Throughout the book, they make you work through various scenarios and checklists to assess your current status and your desired outcomes. In addition, they offer strategies to help executives handle various situations such as:

  • strategies for not being and looking arrogant
  • strategies for working with arrogant people
  • strategies for not posturing and avoiding extreme one-upmanship
  • strategies for working with others who are posturing

The chapter on "Knowing How To Read People" is outstanding, with checklists and tips that are critical in enhancing your ability to manage people. This chapter alone can assist any person in becoming a more effective leader.

One of the aspects that I always stress with my clients is to build "business ecosystem partners," or a network of people that can help you grow your business, as well as your personal level of professionalism. In Chapter 6, the authors hit this topic head on and show how to strategically build relationships and influence by providing useful tips.

The following chapter then moves on to showing the reader how to increase their effectiveness by learning to network and socialize in business. They do this by helping you build a BLT -- "believability, likability, and trust" -- in your business environment and in any situation. The authors walk you through their checklist in preparing for an event, how to work the event and how to appropriately follow-up after the event. If your salespeople network, this chapter would make a great sales training meeting. If your managers work events, this chapter is worth a discussion at your manager's meeting.

Standing out is part of the concept of having an executive edge. Zoller and Preston focus on personal branding extensively and how to build it. An entire section provides a great level of insight into how individuals can create a real presence. Their helpful tips will provide you an action plan to increase your ability to raise your position.

This book is a great read for the first-time manager and it would make a terrific book for an organization's management team to read and discuss. Hint: Add this book to each manager's executive development plan.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 23, 2015 at 11:48 AM0 comments


Have a Plan for Efficient Effectiveness

Boomsday, the largest fireworks display in the United States, occurs each Labor Day weekend in Knoxville, Tenn. An estimated 400,000 people flock to the riverfront to watch the event. For my first time witnessing those 45 minutes of noise, color and lots of "Oooh"s and "Aaah"s, I had to be prepared. There was also the potential of rain to think about.

For two weeks prior to that Sunday, I asked everyone about the event: where to park, when to arrive. I double-checked my reservations for my dinner cruise and thought of what to pack. The good news was I found a parking spot in the first ramp I drove into. Arriving at 2:30 p.m. allowed my friends and me to casually walk through Market Square, stop for refreshments and sushi, and then walk the 10 blocks to the river walk and boat launch. When the rain came we had hats, ponchos and umbrellas. At 9:30 p.m., when the show began, the rain stopped. On the walk back to the car, I took out my flashlight and the four of us made it home by 1 a.m. A great evening to remember.

What does this have to do with sales management? As a manager you must be prepared at all times for almost any event. The best plan is to have a plan, and to consider what might go wrong or what could impact your ability to exceed your objectives. I have listed below a series of topics for your consideration and for you to double-check against your plan -- or lack of plan. (Hint: This is a great idea for your next management meeting. Simply begin by asking each of the departmental managers about their problems or contingency issues that arise on a day-to-day basis, or what might occur if a disaster of any kind happens. Then ask them for their plan.)

Do you have a plan...

  • if you lose a salesperson?
  • if your sales team needs sales training?
  • to increase the sales culture of your team?
  • to increase your networking/partnering function?
  • that generates excitement for your products/services?
  • to say, "Thank you" to your support team?
  • that increases your level of professionalism/education?
  • to create a sales contest that drives revenue?
  • that adds net-new customers to your base?
  • that drives the necessary sales leads for each month?
  • to say, "Thank you" to your existing customer base?
  • to increase your public relations exposure within your community or market?
  • that will increase/improve your vendor relations?
  • to improve your CRM effectiveness?
  • if your computer systems fail or are destroyed?

That's enough for now, but if I missed anything, comment below. Let's build a complete list for the future.

Why is this critically important today? In any kind of business environment, the organization that operates the most efficiently generally outperforms their competition. In more challenging times, a focus on efficient effectiveness must become the mantra for the day.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 09, 2015 at 1:27 PM0 comments


What Is All This Talk About Added Value?

During my keynote at a recent sales kickoff meeting, I opened up the dialogue regarding how salespeople and organizations need to not only create value to separate themselves from their competition, buy also the need for a company to prove their value proposition during the sales process. Many organizations express their value on their Web sites or marketing brochures, but fail in this important step of proof. In a commodity business, it is critical you consider value and what it really is.

At this particular, highly product-driven company, the salespeople were really struggling to understand the concept of being unique or what kinds of value they could offer. During a 90-minute keynote, it might not be possible to create specific ideas around adding value or proving your value proposition, but opening the mind to the concept is critical in today's environment.

It comes down to the fact that without value-added, anybody can do what you do, including your competition. Value-added is up to the salesperson or organization in making the difference and, if it is done right, no one will ever compete with you.

The strategic thought-process question that should be asked before every meeting or client situation is, "How can I add value to this opportunity?"

There are three steps to adding value:

  1. Forget what business you are in. Understanding your business begins, paradoxically, by forgetting your product/service. You're not the products/services you represent. You sell dreams and you sell solutions; you simply deliver the product/service. I learned the power of this step as a young salesperson: I found out the reason the client was purchasing my computer/software was to enjoy her weekends at the lake cabin! That emotion is what I ended up selling. It is critical you always understand the compelling reason to purchase that is driving your client. I always stress this during sales strategy sessions.

  2. Move from the big picture to added value options. Ask yourself, "What actions can I take that will add value to my offerings and will exceed my clients' expectations? What can I do that will position me as different from and more valuable than my competition?" These can be the big questions that organizations can ponder during a strategic planning session or that can be driven by the salesperson in each unique sales situation. One client of ours sold heavily on ROI; what we did was assist in creating a sales process where on Stage 3, the salesperson would have the client visit our client's Web site (make it a sales tool). The prospective client then would actually enter a few variables into a data entry form. As a result, the CFO of the client's organization would create a business case for the project. This business case was then presented to the prospective client. This added value proved the company's value proposition and added a unique phase to the relationship. Figuring out what kinds of added value actions you can offer is challenging and will take time to develop. We suggest group meetings with a variety of employees, customer focus groups and brainstorming sessions during this phase.

  3. Evaluate the value-add. How can I bring this idea to my clients? Can I afford to do these things? Does it duplicate any other service we provide? I always say that competitors can "catch on" to what you are doing, but you don't want them to "catch up." It is critical you continually assess your ideas around the value you are bringing to the sales situation. Every six months, schedule a strategy session to evaluate your sales process and your value-add services.

It is a challenge to create value but the time and investment will pay huge dividends in revenues and profits. Get creative, open your mind, find your competitive edge and win!

Posted by Ken Thoreson on February 04, 2015 at 12:52 PM0 comments


Book Review: The Soft Edge

Rich Karlgaard's The Soft Edge, published by Jossey-Bass, is an excellent management book for any level in any company. I recommend to my clients that they need to read a minimum of two business books a year, and this book makes my 2015 list.

In the first chapter, Karlgaard discusses the three sides of the triangle of business. The bottom is the "strategic base," the left side is the "hard edge" and the right side is the "soft edge." The hard edge is the traditional operations, ratios, measurements and systems of running any effective organization. Karlgaard spends just a few pages describing the importance of the hard edge and the five components that make up that side of the triangle.

Karlgaard then moves on to describing what he means by the soft edge. It is made up of five components, as well: trust, smarts, teams, taste and story. Immediately, he begins to build his case for the power of soft-edge management. Each of the following chapters takes the five components and breaks them into greater details and explanations. 

Trust: Trust begins with culture and values. As with many management-focused books, The Soft Edge quotes business leaders on the topic to reinforce Karlgaard's points (one such quote is, "Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work"). Karlgaard describes both internal and external levels of trust and makes his point by quoting a survey: "For the first time in in history, impressions of openness, sincerity and authenticity are more important to a corporation's reputation than the quality of products and services."

(The amazing thing was that I was reading this book on my way to Las Vegas to speak at a conference, and one section of my program was on "building trust." During my speech, I picked up the book and quoted from it to help me drive home my points. When I packed my book for the trip, I did not know the contents of the chapters -- it was a total coincidence.)

Smarts: There are two components. One is the ability to learn new things and solve novel problems. The second is the ability to apply outcomes of learning -- call this intelligence -- as knowledge.

Teams: This chapter rang a bell when Karlgaard described the two-pizza rule: A team should never be larger than what two pizzas could feed. He writes on the need to improve speed and execution. It's a great chapter on a topic that many others have tried to cover without Karlgaard's insights and story.

Taste: In this chapter, Karlgaard identifies key organizations that have focused on the "experience" of going beyond the aesthetic of the product, but creating the emotional connection.

Story: The point Karlgaard makes in this chapter is the power of having a corporate story and the need to craft, share and create stories for both employees, customers and prospects. Building belief is critical in creating a sustaining business model.

In the concluding chapter, Karlgaard summarizes the prior chapters with a case study of a situation where companies have focused on the soft edges and where they have not -- and the results. If by the end of this book you are not a believer in the power of the soft edge, this chapter will convince you.

Buy this book for each member of your management team and discuss one chapter a week at your management team meetings. It will make a difference to your success.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on January 19, 2015 at 3:14 PM0 comments