Sales Management Interview with Ken Thoreson

thoresonWe recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ken Thoreson who is a globally recognized Sales Management thought leader and strategist. He is also an author of multiple books and a frequent speaker at major technology industry conferences and sales conferences.

Recently Ken  was once again named as one of the Top 50 Sales Influencers by Top Sales World. Ken is also the author of How  to Manage Sales for Predictable Revenue – The 40 Critical Sales Management Activities that Drive Results.

 Q: How do you define Sales Management and what is the top objective of a sales manager?

I stress 2 topics about sales management and all organizations require both. The first is that sales leadership is  strategic and is about setting the vision, direction and the tone as a catalyst in the organization.

Secondly, sales management is different: it is about defining a repeatable process and documenting it. It’s about  developing the sales playbook and tracking and measuring this process, improving its efficiency over time.  Importantly, sales management requires improving people through training and one on one coaching, monitoring and tracking monthly sales metrics vs. goals by salesperson. It is much more tactical than sales leadership.

A sales manager is someone who is responsible for building predictable revenue by building a high-performance sales organization. He or she must hire people well, create a new hire on-boarding process, train and develop new salespeople effectively, and provide coaching and insights to those who need to improve. They must track the effectiveness of each new salesperson closely with metrics. Then they need to work to improve the skills of their sales people.

At a high level, the top objective of sales management is to drive sales revenue. Sales manager’s key objective is not about making the sales quota however, but about hiring the right people who make quota – making sure they are properly trained, and ensuring they increase their skill level by coaching them effectively on an ongoing basis. It is the salesperson’s job to exceed quota.

Q: What is the key to being a highly successful sales manager?

First, the one key and also the one challenge is hiring talented people, otherwise you cannot succeed.

The second key is building a repeatable and consistent process. For example, ensuring the Monday morning meeting with the sales team is run properly, the quarterly sales plan is prepared, making sure that there is a coaching event each month with a direct report and that the compensation plan is aligned with corporate objectives.

All sales leaders should also set a vision and be a coach to your sales reps with their sales strategy.

Q: What do you see as a trend for sales management in 2013?

The concept of segmenting the sales process will continue to evolve. What this means is that the cost of sales will continue to decrease. While the cost of travel is high, selling using web conferencing is getting cheaper while margin focus is increasing. Due to the economy, we will see reduced margins so reducing costs of sales is critical.  Another trend is about increasing and improving connections – with inside sales you can touch more people, make great presentations with new technology, give virtual tours of the office, and have more collaborative conversations online. The use of technology as a trend continues to explode, making sales managers and especially inside sales more productive. We also see a new sales process evolving or additional aspect of selling; we call it Business Guidance selling.

Q: What are key challenges to becoming successful as a sales manager?

I’ve been a sales management consultant for 15 years and I was a former VP of a large sales organization and what I see as a big challenge is that many new sales managers have never been formally trained. They have gone to tactical sales training classes but have not received training or coaching on sales management and this creates a big gap in their experience and abilities to effectively manage salespeople.

A second challenge that I see is the lack of time spent on recruiting A-players. Many sales managers are not spending enough time on recruiting—20% of any sales manager’s time should be spent in recruiting mode in order to be successful.  They need to focus on hiring as many A-players as possible.

Another challenge is applying the right formula to make salespeople successful. It’s about discipline, accountability and control, not about micromanaging. Discipline means starting on time and having the right expectations of sales people that you hire.  Accountability means that sales people must be accountable for growth. And control is about measuring the right metrics on salesperson’s activities against the organization’s standards.

Q: What is your recommendation for coaching inside sales person?

When managing inside sales, you want to have a good set of metrics to measure your team by. Things like:

  • Dials : Connects
  • Connects: Appointments
  • Appointments
  • Sales
  • Talk time or duration

Are important metrics for determining how a salesperson is performing, and coaching them on these metrics is an easy way to help move the needle.

One recommendation I would make is to have the ability to listen to calls: have a peer group and bring the team in for everyone to listen to others’ calls so that everyone could hear the good and bad and coach each other on how to do things better. It’s critical to hear yourself and hear others on calls and to learn from each other as well as from your coach.

Q: How do you go about hiring good sales reps?

This is a great question; I’ve written one book on recruiting high performance sales teams—there are probably 100 things you can do but most important is to write down 5 experiences you want that person to have and 5 characteristics you want them to have. That way you can see how they reacted in those experiences, and also how those 5 desired characteristics help them in their interview.

Make sure you have a very prescriptive interview process – capture the voice, energy and knowledge of the person you are considering hiring. I also recommend using sales assessment tools, like an online sales assessment tool, not a personality style tool.  I recommend 3 assessments in my book, Your Sales Management Guru’s Guide to Recruiting High Performance Sales Teams.

Q: How do you recommend that sales managers structure their sales plan for 2013?

Sales managers need to have a sales plan and it’s much more than just an Excel spreadsheet or a revenue forecast. They need a plan by quarter and a forecast on a rolling basis for 8 quarters basis. Additionally, sales managers need a tactical plan of activities to support the plan by quarter. They need to make sure they have a hiring plan to achieve the numbers they lay out in their forecast.  HINT: over hire. Salespeople will leave throughout the year, and you always need to be hiring. The sales plan should contain: training plans, marketing events, contests, account reviews, vendor training, and any other useful learning materials.

Then, spend time focused on coaching people individually to improve the metrics for success that you’ve laid out. This way, your current salespeople will continue to grow and increase business for you, while you are able to onboard and grow successful reps join the team as needed. Always be hiring, and always keep your eye on the horizon.

Want to read more of Ken’s thoughts?

More About Ken Thoreson

Ken is the president of Acumen Management Group and has more than 20 years of software/technology experience, including 17 in niche market distribution with emerging and high-growth national companies. Ken is regarded worldwide as an expert in sales execution, channel management, revenue generation, sales analysis, forecasting, recruitment, and training within the sales function. He led a development-stage, entrepreneurial, and $250-million national vertical software sales organizations as Vice President of Sales. Ken is also a frequent speaker and keynote presenter at major industry conferences, including Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conferences, Cisco Systems Worldwide Partner Conferences, Sales and Marketing Executives International Conferences (SMEI), CA World, TechData/TechSelect Member Conferences, Ingram Micro’s XChange Conferences, SAP Partner Conferences, SolidWorks World, Gartner IT Visionshare, CompTIA BreakAway, and NASBA Management Academy. He has authored two books and many articles spanning a variety of sales management topics, which have appeared in Personal Selling Power, VARBusiness, Reseller Management, Business Products Professional and SmartReseller.

Ken provides exciting keyotes and sales programs.

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