Who of us in sales is not wrestling every day with time management? In some ways effective time management techniques are no different in sales compared to other professions: In some ways it is very different.
We would like to share some thoughts with you to help in this ever present challenge.
Due to geographical mobility and measures by revenue, we believe there are six core time management strategies in sales & business development
Wherever we are responsible to deliver a revenue target, or sales of a specific product / service, continual monitoring of our current opportunities in play is critical. This is “Eyes on the prize” thinking: Being constantly vigilant that we have enough opportunities in our sales funnel, and that we are moving them through to paying clients.
Good opportunity management demands ruthless self-honesty: We must challenge our real chances of success with everything in our funnel. And we must regularly ensure that we prioritise our opportunities and nurture them through.
Doing this demands a “meeting with myself”
Don’t worry, this is not the preserve of the insane: This is simply high quality planning time where we “shut the door”, switch off the phone and decide clearly on our priorities for the day / week. It should be at least 15 minutes, and give us time to think through the best way to focus our efforts.
Normally, our opportunity funnel will form the basis of this planning. Where best to spend our time today / this week? Who must we contact? What are the next steps this week to move opportunities along? Without this clear thinking, our time management is dictated by others, by reactive, knee jerk demands of customers, internal staff and our own lack of focus
This meeting must be weekly at the very least, and include some updating of our opportunity funnel to save time later.
And when we have meetings with ourselves, we will for sure define “Key moments”
We cannot be all things to all men. We must apply the first principle of military engagement: Choose a single important objective, and apply overwhelming force to guarantee success. OK, bit drastic for sales, but there is an important link.
During our prioritisation process, there will be certain opportunities that can bring great rewards if we win them – long term business, game changing deals and strategic footholds. For these, we must set aside preparation time to ensure we “blow them out of the water” by totally exceeding our prospect / customer’s expectations.
This is of course a version of “urgent vs important” thinking: Our key moments are important moments – they can change our careers if managed well.
Of course, to do this, and keep on top of other valid demands, we have to be very adept at organising our lives. We need to be expert schedulers.
One of the joys of field sales is also its darkest temptress: The joy of the open road. Often there are many locations we can go to where opportunities reside. Working out where to be, when customers and prospects can see us is a perpetual headache. It is easily possible to chase around the country, spending several weeks of time each year travelling.
We can learn from operations managers who use 4 typical sequencing methods. “Shortest job first” means we do all the quick tasks first, get them out the way, often enabling others to get on with their work by doing so (for example by providing them with critical information). “Longest job first” means we concentrate on one single important task until it is finished: This often applies to an important tender or proposal. No interruptions, head down, get it done. “Customer priority” means we carry out tasks according to which customers / prospects are perceived to be most important (often decided during our “meeting with ourselves”). Finally, we have “due date” sequencing, where we plan our work according to deadlines.
Each of the four methods has advantages and disadvantages. We pick the one which best suits the challenges ahead of us.
Especially with route planning, we have to apply perpetual brainpower to avoid squandering our precious time resource. Getting this right is the work of the fifth discipline, continuous improvement.
We can look to our operations management colleagues for inspiration here: In order to remain competitive, nearly all production facilities have to engage in continuous improvement programmes. The logic is simple: Identify waste and eliminate it. Waste comes in many forms – unnecessary movement, leftover materials and slow production.
In sales, we do have waste. Poor travel schedules, inefficient procedures, lack of product and complaints to name but a few. These put a drag on our time.
At least once a month, we need a longer “meeting with myself” to review at higher level how we can make our work more effective and efficient. This will include listing the issues that keep recurring, and working on solutions to eliminate waste.
One very simple solution given to one of our consultants by a client was to ensure we have everything we need for the job in our car. And he meant everything. That way, most requests and jobs could be done “en route” to save time later.
Sounds like a lot of effort? Then the sixth discipline of energy management comes into its own
Sales is a hard job: Punishing travel schedules, urgent /important demands and relentless pressure to meet targets. It is quite easy to reach executive burn out.
But, the job is a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to manage our energy levels just like other resources. A “holiday every day” is a good spirit to build upon. Which moments of rest can we build into the day to enjoy the job and recover energy? Making sure we work a slightly easier pace after intense periods is plain common sense.
And, there are a plethora of practices we can apply to help build long term resilience in sales: Sport, relaxation, nutrition, social support and health management. All of these things help us to apply ourselves at a high level over time, without long periods of illness, depression or other malaises.
To build resilience, we need to work at it, and you will find more about that subject here