Condensed from a Pipeliner SalesChat Interview with Ken Thoreson, conducted by John Golden
Ken Thoreson is the president of Acumen Management Group and a recognized expert in sales execution channel management. He has over 18 years in consulting and advisory positions and has led development-stage entrepreneurship as well as $250 million national vertical software sales organizations. He’s been ranked in the top fifty sales and marketing influencers four years in a row, is in the hall of fame of Sales Coach World, is ranged in the top twenty channel visionaries and is a member of the National Speakers Association.
Q: When you talk about emotion and sales management, what do you mean?
A: I find it especially true of first-time sales leaders, but even experienced people get too focused sometimes on the ratios, the tracking of activity and the dashboard concept. They’re missing the element of emotion, connecting emotionally with the person. I call it aligning the soul of the individual with the goals of the corporation because people need to have belief, a buy-in to the organization.
Q: There’s that statistic that the tenure of sales managers can be as little as 15 to 17 months, a little over a year. How can connecting on an emotional level help you as a new sales manager maybe get over that 1-year hump?
A: If you have your team behind you, they’re going to perform for you. Any sales manager needs to think about “How do I get people behind me, with me, working for me and achieving at higher levels?” They have to be able to transfer that emotion to someone, and that person has to act on it. So it’s really important that the sales manager understands that part of his or her job is to bring the emotion into the sales organization.
Q: How do you get in touch with your emotions in a situation like this, and unlock them in a positive fashion?
A: The new sales manager or any sales manager needs to learn how to communicate. One of the quickies that we like to recommend is that the sales manager schedule, at least once a month, an hour with each person. Not necessarily to talk about deal-flow, an opportunity or reports. It’s just asking them questions like, “How’s it going?” “I thought you did some things well here.” Learning to have that conversation is an important element, because when you need to deliver less than positive words that person has to have the right environment to hear you and understand you, and a certain amount of trust and confidence between the sales manager the salesperson have to be built.
The other thing I like to suggest is that the new sales manager—or any manager for that sake—should learn to say when a person comes into their office or the phone rings and somebody has to pick it up, “How can I help you?” That sets the tenor for the right kind of conversation to build that emotional bond there.
Q: Do you sometimes find a disconnect there, that there are many different facets to a good sales manager—not just driving against metrics all the time?
A: I don’t want to be mistaken here. It’s one thing to be emotionally connected and get people to believe in the company and build belief—but it’s also the job to hold them accountable. Even though you have a bond, and even though you are emotionally connected and understand that person’s needs, wants and desires, you still hold them accountable for achievement. You still make sure that they can professionally sell, that they can professionally do the responsibilities, that they work in the CRM system appropriately every day, all that becomes critical.
Q: How do you guide a sales manager to understand the limits to the emotional road as well?
A: People have to understand that leadership is different than management. Leadership sets a vision, sets goals and objectives. Management has to execute on those.
The reason sales managers and sales leaders have a challenge are sometimes they don’t put both of those in perspective and understand that. We like to say that you can’t be a buddy and a boss. It’s okay to be an understanding boss if that’s what your term is—but that’s what people need to understand.
Q: Let’s talk about some of the baby steps that somebody should take to implement what you’re talking about.
A: Earlier I talked about making sure you schedule a formal time to sit down and just talk about what’s working, what’s not, how are you doing, what do you like, what you don’t like. I think that’s important.
Number two (and not any priority order) I like to say “having fun.” I think it’s important that if it isn’t fun, it isn’t selling. Whether it’s a quarterly sales contest, simply a night out where people are eating pizza and shooting pool or going bowling or something, I think that’s an important element of how you build camaraderie.
I think the sales leader needs to espouse the vision of the company or their individual vision. One of the little things we like to suggest that the sales leader do is have an organization chart for the next twenty-four months, so they have a vision of how they’re going to grow the organization, what holes they want to have. They need to have a twenty-four-month running revenue focus as well, so they’re always ahead.
I think he’d also need to focus on training. I’m a big believer in creating a quarterly sales training plan that encompasses CRM training, sales skills training, products training but also I think you need to train on the mind—things as simple as goal-setting. I think it’s as simple as helping back and getting the community. I call it life enrichment. We found that people who are in balance both professionally and personally are higher performers.
Q: Is there a part of it too, were helping them understand the organizational process can actually help them to be more balanced?
A: Absolutely. I use the word proactive quite a lot. When we see sales managers that are reactive or salespeople who are reacting to situations, they are scattered and they are frustrated. That’s why in our account planning tools we actually have the salesperson create five proactive steps to preplan their strategy on the account. The more foundations in processes a sales manager has, the more proactive they’ll be.
Q: Can you describe some of the best examples of people you worked with and what really makes them stand out as sales managers and sales leaders, particularly on how they leveraged emotion?
A: As soon as you asked me that question I thought of two mentors that I had, and I worked for both of them.
The first guy was fun, held you accountable, taught you all the time about not only selling but life. One time he came into the sales meeting with hundred-dollar bills taped all through his sleeves. He just held the sales meeting and never explained about the hundred-dollar bills until the very end. We had a chance to earn some cash and do some things that were kind of fun.
The second person was a visionary. I had vice presidents, I had dealer organizations and sales managers in the dealer organizations. He taught me that my intensity level had to be at a hundred and twenty-five percent when I delivered my message because at every level it got diluted. By the time it got down to the key people, it might have been at ninety percent.
Q: Can you elaborate a little more into how sales management and sales leadership are different?
A: If you look at the definition of leadership, it talks about being a catalyst for change in continuous improvement. You’re the visionary but you’re the catalyst for making it happen.
A leader might go in and, for example, sit down and say, “John, I looked at your CRM last night I noticed you didn’t have it updated.” They’re actually acting as a catalyst for change and continuous improvement.
A manager will manage the process and manage people to make things happen. They’ll make sure the sales training plan is done for the next quarter. They’ll make sure that if they have marketing responsibility as coordination at a trade show that that’s organized.
From the management perspective, you must have attention to detail. Leaders may not. I’ve seen tremendous leaders with great vision ideas, an ability to capture the management team, fail when it came to paying attention to some of the details they needed to do.
Q: Thank you very much, Ken! How people might get in contact with you if they’re looking for your services, or just want to learn more about you?
A: Our web site is www.acumenmanagement.com, with quite a bit of free, very useful content. My blog is called Your Sales Management Guru. The best way to reach me is through either one of those two sites.