Sales Management Guru Ken Thoreson shows sales leaders the path to enhance the performance of their sales teams using his Smart Business Roadmap.
Ken is the author of many books on sales management including Your Sales Management Gurus Guide to: Leading High Performance Sales Teams and President of the Acumen Management Group, a strategic sales management consulting firm. In this episode Ken lays out the foundation of his Smart Business Roadmap and explains the steps successful companies go through to develop and execute a plan for success.
It’s time to Accelerate! Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts on sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe to help you accelerate the growth of your sales business and most importantly, you.
Hello and welcome to the show. Today, my guest is Ken Thoreson, counsel, author, speaker, consultant and principal of the Acumen Management Group. Ken, good morning.
Good morning. Great to be with you.
Well, thanks for joining me. So, have me read off your standard buy. I want you to just take a minute to introduce yourself to the audience. Tell us what you do and who you do it for?
Terrific. Well, for the last 18 years, we’ve been providing consulting services and platform programs for primarily the technology area in the small business marketplace. We’ve worked with major vendors were Microsoft, Cisco down to individual resellers and partners and small business people outside of the technology sector area. Primarily and focused around sales leadership issues. We look at our clients as if we were the vice president of sales. And figure out what’s working, what’s not, and how to position your organization for growth.
Got it. How do you get your own start in sales?
Well, it’s interesting, right out of college. I interviewed in college for a sales positions and was luckily hired and spent four years with an organization that really did an excellent job in those days training people.
Which one was that?
At the time was a company called Burroughs Computers and they are now called Unisys.
I didn’t realize. I’m a Burroughs guy.
Is that right?
I didn’t know you started at Burroughs.
And we spent a lot of time training, which is great. Formerly in Detroit. It was really blessed to be not only well managed because they had good management teams, but I also was thankful and grateful to go through a variety of sales training programs. Both fundamentals as well as advanced sales training.
And do you remember Lita Boy? Absolutely.
So, just serve the audience. That time was a financier on VHS. I think a real, real film they showed of this guy that was sort of their sales training videos. They use to cast like a fundamentalist pastor, I don’t want to say, sort of evangelical type guy.
He was used Louisiana. And he talked about Mr. Big Ears and need to listen more effectively. A fact that I was vice president, sales running a channel, a large software company, and we actually use some of his material and then updated material for some fundamental basic sales training for our resellers. I know him well.
What was the impetus for you to start your own sales consulting business? What were the problems you saw in the marketplace that weren’t being addressed that you thought you could address with your business?
Interesting. I had been running as a vice president of sales of an international software company with resellers for about eight and a half years. And I realized during that 10 year that where I had strong sales managers, I had strong resellers or dealers or channel partners, and where I didn’t have a very strong organization. I started a national sales management association for my channel only. And I realized that that was kind of fun. I really enjoyed that.
Then we spent a lot of time growing the organization around that. And I said, you know, there’s a lot of people doing a sale string but nobody really focused around what generally is the weak link in most organizations. After eight and a half, nine years of traveling, extensively, living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
At the time, I thought, I think I’ll start my own business. I started my business right out of the chute with no contracts or nothing in place. And it took off really well. And I’ve been now very happy. I live in the south at the moment, but it’s been a fast 18 years for sure.
Yes, you’re an entrepreneur. What’s been the biggest sales challenge for you growing your own business?
I think I learned very early on that in this particular kind of business, professional services, that some people fail because they get wrapped up in a project and forget the prospect.
And I learned very early on in reading and talking to other people that you need to spend 25 percent of your time always looking at your pipeline, prospecting, looking for the next opportunity. I think that’s an important element for any small business, is to understand the dynamics of pipeline management lead opportunity and how to prospect effectively and how to build relationships.
In your work in the companies you work with. What do you see or the biggest or most consistent problems relative to prospect development and business development, new business development? What seems to be the bugaboo for most small businesses?
Well, it’s changed a lot in the last three to five years, maybe because of voicemail and because of everybody doing certain things. The biggest issue is twofold,
Salespeople are not very creative or marketing is not very creative in helping the company or helping the salesperson stand out in the marketplace.
They tend not to have a consistent program.
One of the first things we do when we look at organizations who are struggling, and in clients, we get involved in organizations who are startup brand new or where you get involved in organizations that have stalled out and they could be 50 million dollars in sales. They don’t have a consistent program of weekly, monthly, marketing events programs, campaigns, etcetera. They go up and down and so they either have a poor message and they have inconsistent levels of prospecting activity.
And I agree that consistency is key in all of that. How do you help them achieve this consistency? In my work, very similar profile companies that I work with. Especially ones those have stalled and that consistency has always been the problem.
Yes. And depending upon the organization from a sales person’s mentality. We have something we call the 2020 plan, where I don’t need to get into the details with you now. But it’s a program that every week the salesperson sends out 20 postcards to 20 different people.
The second week they send another second postcard with the same 20 people. In the third week they call those 20 people, but they have to do that every week to build up the activity. Very simple program but it forces the salesperson indeed prospecting.
You’re actually still on this day and age, still using physical postcards, not email?
Exactly. And the reason is, everybody uses email and it’s easy to delete. The postcards are unique today. In the old days, everybody threw them away. Today, they stand out. Oversized posters.It’s a kind of old school but I found out that email blast doesn’t work because people either had spam filters or they are deleted easily by the person without even reading the front line. Right.
And we try to mix it up and do some things that are different. The key issue is not to do a thousand names on an email blast because a salesperson will never have time to follow those up. Small bits. I talk a lot about pizza in my speaking area where I lay out the whole program in eight different slices, but you can eat one slice at a time. I like to keep it a lunchable for the salesperson. Now on the marketing side.
Well, before I move on. I think that’s just a great advice for people who are listening. Yes, maybe they didn’t appreciate it. We’re talking about they are sending physical postcards and there are services you can use that can help automate some of them. I don’t know if you do that or you do handwritten ones. But yes, we tend to think we just got so lock. In lockstep with this thought, though, has to be a technological solution to everything we do.
And the thing with postcards. I mean, the reason I love it, is I did that back in my first sales job at Burroughs. I mean, that’s how I had a routine that every week I was sending out postcards or so no prospects to invite them to come to my branch office for a demonstration. Exactly. And that’s how I built my pipeline. And I talk about that in my latest book. I mean, that was my prospecting methodology.
That’s why I said it’s old school, but it’s new school to the market today. And lazy salesperson will set up an email blast and send it out. The smart salesperson thinks about creativity, persistence in that area. Now, from a marketing perspective, we do a lot of events where we help them think about thought leadership concepts where it’s not to come in and see my product or command. And let me get an appointment for you.
We like to schedule an event the first Thursday of every month. As an example for breakfast, where we’ll have a topic that would be pertinent to the prospects. So, this gives this gives a salesperson a reason to dial and call people or send a postcard. Invite them to our executive form, 7:30, Thursday morning at a certain restaurant. And we’ll have a speaker that will speak about a topic that’s pertinent to the prospect, but not a product push.
Right. Let’s put this into context to say, if you’re a local small business. Give me an example of one of your clients that’s done something.
Let me give you an example. I worked with a company that was in that restaurant equipment business. They would sell equipment to a restaurant from a walk in freezer to forks and knives. We did a variety of programs for chefs. And we would have guessed chefs come in and speak about the latest trends.
We’d have a nutritionist come in and speak about nutrition. So, restaurant owners could come in and learn about something of interest to them and marketing. We’d had we had a marketing person come in and talk about how to market restaurants.
Now, it was sponsored by my client. It was obvious that it was put on by my client, but we attracted people to the event to learn. And that’s the secret in today’s world of differentiating prospecting, is that people are going to know more about you because your website, they’re going to know more about the industry what they have.
But people want to learn more about how to run their business more effectively. We do a lot of work around uniqueness from a thought leadership perspective. Right. It brings gravity to the buyer.
Exactly. And so in this case, the exposure, the cost or the investment on the part of your client, those putting on this monthly breakfast was the cost of a breakfast for 20 people or something like that.
Exactly. And it would end the marketing associated with it. We don’t believe in with a lot of people call lunch and learns. We found out from some basic experience that net new prospects will come to a breakfast meeting rather than come to a lunch meeting. It’s in the middle of the day. It’s drive there. Come back. It’s a two hour kind of commitment. Right.
Whereas in the morning we can attract people in the morning. The Rotary Clubs in the States, the fastest growing rotary clubs are breakfast clubs. And so, it makes sense to do that kind of prospecting and that kind of an event in the morning.
That’s a great suggestion for people listening. And take us a step further then, how then do you work with the salespeople of that client? Let’s just it say that, doing that monthly event to reflect that thought leadership in their own personal platforms?
Well, now, I don’t need to get into the social media side now, but that’s an important element. But part of what it also helps the salesperson become a value add individual to their prospects, because now the salesperson can stop by and leave a calendar of the next four events that we have planned out for months at a time.
All four events are planned out so people can put them on their calendar. The salesperson can drop that off. They’re not pushing product. They’re providing advice.
So the consultant or the salesperson starts to move away from a product pusher to someone the customer may want to see or the prospect may want to see, because all of a sudden they build a conversation. Now, the salesperson has to be able to attend those events and has to come away with a learning experience themselves about how to market a restaurant or what nutrition is or how to use a certain way to present your food to improve the presentation.
That they can speak that level as well. Out there in a vertical market and their type within a vertical market, then certainly the salesperson needs to be able to understand the business challenges and issues that prospect faces.
Well, I want to bring that point up because I love the name of your company, the Acumen Management Group, and there’s a lot of talking sales thought leadership circles these days about salespeople need to have more business acumen. How do you help them with that?
Absolutely. Well, we’re working with a large technology company right now and have for about three years. We developed something called “Smart Business Roadmap” and I don’t want to get into the details. I don’t need to get into details, but that’s essentially what the program is. The secret sauce where most people today fail, especially the younger salespeople is in
Developing a personal relationship with a prospect. Sharing something uniquely or understanding who that person is.
Understanding how to perform a discovery, an effective questioning process to understand the business challenges that that prospect faces. What the business strategies are of that company and that individual or multiple individuals. And then what I call connecting the dots, understanding what they’re saying.
Understanding how my product or professional services is going to solve their problems or challenges. And then coming back to what the benefits are that the customer is going to receive from providing that.
Somewhat old school but what we found is technology and especially in the younger sales people aren’t into that. And customers still buy an emotion. I always say there’s three rules in selling, emotion, emotion, emotion. And you have to be able to understand it, and provide it, and give it, and build it up in the prospects mind. Right.
Great advice from Ken Thoreson about some great tactical ways that sales teams can prospect for new business. It may seem a little old school but it’s so old, it’s actually it’s new and completely differentiating. Which is so important to actually get and attract the attention of your prospects with your message.
We’re going to take a short break and come back with Ken. Let’s hear more great thoughts about how to amp up your sales.
But before you go, getting a pose hypothetical scenario to you. And we’ll get your answer after the break. You have a client that’s sales have stagnated. They’ve hired you as a new sales manager. They’re really urgent. Need to make a change. When you came on board, what would be the two things you do the first week that would have the biggest impact? And we’ll talk about that after the break. I’m Andy Paul with Ken Thoreson. We’ll be right back.
Welcome back. My guest today is Ken Thoreson. You can find Ken online, Acumen Management. It’s an abbreviation of management, M-G-M-T, so acumenmgmt.com. And so, Ken, let’s start with the scenario I posed before the break. New manager, from a company of sales stagnated, urgency to make a change really there. What could you do in the first week? What two things to do in the first week that would have the biggest impact?
Great question. I’ve seen it happen and obviously there could be some variables in the scenario. But the two things that hit me first based on your question.
On the sales meeting that I have the first Monday, if I’m having Monday morning sales meetings. I would change what was done. Now the sales manager is coming in from the outside. He would have or she would have really tried to understand what was done in the past. If they come from the existing organization, they would know what was done. But I would change the tempo. I would change the format in the agenda of the sales meeting.
I would make sure that I made a set. If it was possible inside the organization. I’d make sales calls every day with different salespeople because my job would be there to evaluate the market. What’s being done? How effective those salespeople are? And begin to understand the sales process and perhaps using some business acumen help close some opportunities to drive that revenue.
Those are the first two things that in the first week I would do. After that, you get much more tactical in churn what you can do to drive the business.
That’s a good answer, because if you’re making sales calls, you’re going to understand what the customers are thinking about you as well. Exactly. That’s good. Good answer. And we asked this question to so many people and listening to this. They asked the same question of all the guests that come on board.
And the point is, you don’t always need to go outside and hire an expert like Ken to help you with this. So, it’s certainly a great idea. But there are things you could do yourself. And part of that could be is, if you bring a new manager from within the organization, change the tempo, make sure you’re engaging your customers and so on in a way that you really understand what their concerns are.
You write extensively about high performance sales teams. In your mind, what is a high performance sales team?
Well, I think it probably fits in a couple different areas. Certainly activity levels is high performance. I think culture is an important element of high performance sales teams. There’s a culture of expectation, accountability and success and camaraderie from that team perspective.
And certainly high performance organizations really are what I call market dominant. They’re the team in town that everybody wants to be on. They’re the team in the industry that everybody looks up to. They’re the team that hires best, trained best, and are actively driving market dominance from that perspective.
And doesn’t start with the hiring?
Absolutely. I believe that my first book, How to Hire a High Performance Sales Team, because number one, it tends to be the biggest challenge in any organization. If you hire, I always say that C sales managers hire C people, B managers, hire C people. If you’re an A sales manager, you hire A people because you know what you’re looking for. It starts with trying to identify what I call the five work experiences that I want on that team and the five characteristics personalities of the person.
So there’s 10 words we try to come up with that describe what we’re looking for. A lot of people hire and they hire people who don’t fit those categories. And then they wonder what happened.
Next step is the onboarding process, which is a critical success factor for anybody that I see most people failing at. They have not built a tactical prescriptive two week, three week, six week onboarding process to get that person up to speed on products, services, company, industry. And in sales management, we like to say, inspect what you expect.
They’re not inspected to see if they can stand up and articulate the company’s value proposition in our onboarding process. Generally a third week, that salesperson has to stand up in front of the president of the company if potential or a vice president and actually sell the company and sell the products and services.
So, it’s a very important element. And then ongoing training on a monthly basis is critical. In our clients, we’d like to recommend that they build a three month or quarterly sales training program that covers sales skills, product or service skills, CRM, operation knowledge and industry awareness.
We get back to the five and five, five of the five in five words, or the 10 words in total about the characteristics or the attributes you’re looking for a candidates for high performance. Give us an example of some of those.
Well, let’s say for example, and I work in the technology sector a lot but I want someone who has three to five years of experience selling into the vertical market that I’m in, say, healthcare. I want someone who can sell in a regional environment, meaning covering three or five states that so they understand that they live somewhere, how they’re going to cover remote states. I want someone who has taken a professional sales training course and has been selling for three years or more. That’s an example.
That’s what I call work experience. Defining what you’re successful salespeople have and what you’re looking for. It helps you write the ad. The ad you placed online or in the newspaper or whatever you’re doing more effectively as well. Number two, from a personal characteristic perspective, it could be I want someone who can communicate well, articulate well, can stand up and present a product or service. If I have to stand and present to a board of directors or at present to a management team.
I want someone who maybe has the ability to write, which is a big issue these days. And we may need to validate that from a capability. Certainly from an energy level, from an ethical perspective, maybe even a weather teamwork is important or not. In some organizations I can hire people would call cowboy someone who’s independent, go out, do the job, turn in the orders and keep going. In other organizations, I need a salesperson who can work with two or three people on a collaborative team and be able to work in that functionality. So, if you look at what you need in that person in that role and be able to find the characteristics of that person.
How do you coach managers to not be lazy in their hiring? Because it’s all well and good to have a great job description, and bring in a bunch of candidates. But too often I’m sure you’ve seen this as well. Yes, it’s not an easy process. They tend to hire the first person they fall in love with and oftentimes they don’t sufficiently validate or verify qualifications and so and so.
How do you work with their clients to build more rigor into that process?
We actually tell people that for every one person you hire, you have to interview five candidates.
We actually tell them and it’s true that in the first 45 seconds or minute, you’re going to make a decision whether you like this person or not, and you’re the way you ask questions. And yet handle the interview is based upon that first minute. So hold back. Be skeptical.
We have a set of interview questions that we provide that person is trained to read the question the way it’s written, not to just kind of throw it out there.
We actually have an interview scorecard. So at the end of the interview, I would grade you Andy, 1 to 5 on 15 different words, including the 10 that I already told about. So, I can get a numerical score on rather than say, wow, I like this person. Well I gave them a fifty five. What did you give them? Give her a forty seven. Why is your point differential?
We have at least three people interview each candidate. And we have an interview process that we built so that there’s a telephone interview. There’s some face to face interviews. There’s a sales person online assessment tool that we use.
And so just like a good sales process that is well mapped out for typical reasons, you have an interviewing process for the same reasons. If you follow your sales process, odds are you may win. If you follow an interviewing process, odds are you’re going to hire a better.
Got it. Great advice from Ken Thoreson, Acumen Management Group. So again, we’re moving to the last section of our show, which is some rapid-fire questions and answers. You can give one word answers or you can elaborate if you wish. It’s completely up to you. All right. All right.
What’s the most powerful sales tool in your arsenal?
I think credibility, not only because of years of experience, but people can look at my body of work and I can give a variety of examples of where and how we were successful.
Name one sales tool/application that you use personally for sales or sales management that you can’t live without.
Who’s your sales role model?
Interesting. I have three. One was a Boy Scout Camp Counselor. He was the head of Boy Scout Camp.
Number two was a person who hired me and I worked for him for eight or nine years.
And three was another person who hired me was the president of the company. And he was the first man who trained me how to be a sales manager.
What’s the one book that every salesperson should read?
Besides mine and yours?
That’s a great question, because there’s so many good books out there. Depending upon the product you sell or service you sell. That changes. Give us one that you think. I like the one that’s Mahan Khalsa wrote and he talks about, and I’m looking for that right now in my library, but it’s all about building relationships. And I’ll look for dramatically here in a moment. And one that’s very interesting was, How to Master The Art of the Sell. If he followed Donald Trump. His book is really good.
What’s your favorite music to listen to? To psych yourself up for a sales call.
That’s a great question. I live in Knoxville, Tennessee, so it must be country music.
Is that like a state law? Yes, that’s right. We’re listening to all of your music choices.
What’s the first sales activity you do every day?
I think the first thing I do every day is, hit my Outlook and see what popped up. I have a to do list that I make the night before and I double check that.
What’s your definition of value in sales?
Being a resource for my client beyond the products and services that I deliver.
What’s your favorite social media tool?
What do you do to keep fit and healthy?
I use a TreadClimber, Bowflex. If you’ve seen that on TV. Yes. It’s a hell of a machine. I call it the beast.
That’s when they can go up to like a 40 percent incline or something.
Yes. It’s a treadmill and a stepper and everything all combined.
The one question you get asked most frequently by salespeople is?
What do I need to do to be successful?
What’s your answer?
I talk about creativity, persistence and work habits.
Yes. Well, that creativity. I stress. In sales, you got to think. This is a thinking person’s profession. If you want to have a rote job, go work on assembly line somewhere.
Exactly. The most successful salespeople are creative. The cool news and I talked about this, my keynote program is creativity can be learned and you can increase your creativity quotient by a variety of areas.
Yes, it’s a skill. Definitely different skill income improved. So last question for you.
So, what do you do every day to improve yourself, whether in life or in work?
I read a business book. I read a sales book. I read a business book. I usually have two books going at a time.
What do you read non-business wise?
I read fun books. I read the CIA mystery movie.Mystery books I would call. Yes, thrillers. Right. Brad. Thor. Some of those kinds of guys.
Yes, me too. Good, good, good escapism. Oh, good. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Kenneth, what a great show. And how can people learn more about you?
Well, they certainly can go to my website, acumenmanagement.com. You spell out management fully. You can certainly Google, Ken Thoreson. And my blog is called salesmanagementguru.com. Someone came up to me one time and said, you know, you’re my guru for sales management. Well, okay. I’ll use that. But anyway, you can find me on my blog, certainly anywhere on the on social media.
All right. Great. I really appreciate you joining us. And remember, for people listening that clearly want to accelerate your sales and amp up your business, then you have to deliberately use that word deliberately, deliberately learn something new every day to empower you to achieve your goals. And I think we accomplished that today. Ken, thank you very much until next time. This is Andy Paul. Good selling, everyone.
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