You Can’t Do It All. So Get Back To Selling!
In last week's blog post about getting buyers to talk about themselves, I promised to come back to the subject of delegating or doing without some of the time-consuming functions that are non-customer facing.
I realize that this is a sensitive subject and expect a lot of “yeah but’s” as you consider how to apply these tips and techniques in your own workplace. Not everyone sees how overtaxed sellers are, and not everyone is as eager as you are to see you cutting back on certain non-selling tasks. Nevertheless, I’m going to go out on a limb and describe the best practices I’ve seen for maximizing sellers’ time. Maybe this can open up some new discussions and restore a little more selling time for you.
First things first. A moment for a mini self-assessment – Do you really and truly want to free up more selling time? I have to ask, because I see a lot of sellers who use non-selling activities as excuses to put off customer meetings, prospecting, and strategic planning. If you find yourself choosing and preferring to do the tasks that I’m about to suggest you give away or stop doing, then I would encourage you to reconsider your job choice. Maybe you’re in a rut and feeling burned out in selling. Maybe you’d rather be in a customer service or order fulfillment role. Or maybe selling was the only job you could find during the economic downturn and now you feel trapped. Don’t worry – your secret’s safe with me. But do you really want to continue dodging the most important part of the job you’re in? That can’t feel good for you…
For those who genuinely want to find more time to dedicate to activities that directly drive sales, here are some tips for you. Let’s start with the ones that you can independently choose and use.
- Planning ahead saves time. Set a minimum of two objectives for every sales call. (One of the objectives should always be scheduling the next meeting.) Determine what you need to provide in order to reach the objective you’ve set. Gather those materials and anticipate the questions that might be asked. By doing this, you will cut down the number of calls you need to make to the same customer. They’ll appreciate your efficiency and planning, too.
- Dump the prospects that aren’t worth the continued effort. Be strategic in who you spend your prospecting time going after.
- Stop shuffling papers. Don’t even look at paperwork unless you intend to and have time to complete it right now. Adopt a “touch it once” rule so you don’t waste time re-reading and reconsidering what’s on your desk multiple times. This is a good rule of thumb for expediently dealing with e-mails, too.
- Delegate. You have resources that you are not using. There is no need for you to handle every single detail. Invest time in training the administrative, marketing, accounting or other support team members available to you. And treat them with respect – they can only do as good a job as you prepare them to do.
- Opt out of non-essential internal meetings. This does not include mandatory meetings or training. I’m referring to optional meetings where your contribution is not needed and where you can get the minutes or information elsewhere.
- Use your CRM and other tech tools. When used appropriately, these truly do save time and help you stay organized. Give up the tracking tools you’ve used forever and make the shift, especially if you’re using the CRM to satisfy the boss but still using your own tool out of habit. Streamline!
- Group your sales calls intelligently. Don’t waste time driving back and forth, going in and out of the office. Every transition costs you time and money. Every wasted minute behind the wheel of your car adds up and represents lost selling opportunities.
- Use your cell phone while you drive (NOT for texts or e-mails!). Set yourself up with a Bluetooth or other hands-free option. Confirm appointments before you make the drive. Program in prospect numbers so drive time is used to leave messages and to get appointments (know which days are open before you drive and call). Check in at the office on the work you’ve delegated.
- Complete your orders while you are with the customer. Don’t jot down notes that you take back to the office and transfer to the official order forms. Take the forms with you and fill in what you can while you are there. Look for other efficiencies like this to cut down on duplicated work.
- Take project work, paperwork, internal reports and other task work with you. When you are waiting for your customer, stay busy on this nuisance work. If you can, take it home and do it while you watch TV. Save the selling day for selling.
Of course, there are some broader changes that would require organizational commitment. I’ll mention these best practices here for any managers or executives who are interested in improving sales productivity.
At the management level, the right way to look at time-consuming tasks is this: How much time does it take a single sales rep to complete this task? Now multiply that number by the number of times they must complete the task in a month. Finally, multiply that by the total number of sales reps on your team. This is the total amount of time taken away from selling by this one task… Is it worth it? You could also factor in the time required for support people who contribute to the task plus your own time required for rolling up data, chasing all the pieces needed, correcting hastily done work, etc. Sometimes, the thing that’s easy to ask for isn’t easy to produce, so weigh the options.
- Consider the cost/benefit analysis of every single report you ask your salespeople for. Data that makes your job easier may be difficult to track and time-consuming to format and compile in the way you want it. If you can live without it, don’t ask for it.
- Scrutinize the value of looking back. What good does it do to spend time analyzing what’s already over? If you aren’t coaching and teaching based on the look back, then you’re probably not getting a lot of value on reports, meetings, beat downs or other time spent on looking backwards. Spend your 1-on-1 and group meeting time primarily on looking forward and planning for success.
- What are you really accomplishing in your sales meetings? If you have meetings mainly because you think you’re supposed to, stop. There is no magic about sales meetings. Most of them are boring, ego-driven, and far less motivating than you think they are. Ask yourself “what would happen if we cut the number of sales meetings in half?” Seriously consider doing that. When you do have meetings, set a specific agenda and circulate it before the meeting so everyone is prepared. Eliminate any agenda item that could be handled just as easily in an e-mail memo.
- How are your territories or account lists divided? How are leads “protected” and handled? Take a close look at how much of a sales rep’s time is involved in finding and getting to prospects and accounts. If there are internal quarrels regarding who “owns” an account or prospect, devise clearer rules of engagement. If there are uneven distributions of the workload, consider whether or not you’re really rewarding the top seller who has the most names on their list. With all that to juggle, perhaps you’ve hindered rather than helped them.
- If you’ve made cutbacks to the staff or added more sales reps without adding support team members, chances are that your sales people are doing a lot of administrative or other work. You’ve worked hard to recruit and retain top sellers. Do you really want to saddle them with work that they don’t enjoy and won’t do well? Wouldn’t you rather free up their time so they can go out there and produce more top line revenue?
This is just the beginning, some of the most obvious and easiest ways you could make more time for selling. Don’t stop with these. Set a goal that you’ll go after, something like “I will add 30 minutes of selling time each day by reclaiming the time I currently spend on _______.” Once you meet that goal, set another. Every minute of selling time truly makes a difference.