One of sales managers' biggest complaints is not having enough time in the day. When you dig down into the typical manager's schedule, however, you often find that time isn't the problem – it's how that time is prioritized.
Often, managers give first priority to those last-minute requests from the boss to pull together this or that report or send up a piece of data or sit in on this or that meeting. Complying with these requests can give you a short-term feeling of action, but it erodes your effectiveness, say Mike and Gary Braun, partners and founders of Pivotal Advisors, a sales-effectiveness consultancy.
To start, it's helpful to first understand how the best managers spend their time. A 2005 study of 300 managers and 2,500 sales reps found that just 20 percent of managers achieved plan three years in a row; the other 80 percent were inconsistent. What set the stars apart was that they spent the vast majority of their time in the following three areas:
Planning. Star managers spent significantly more time than mediocre managers setting targets, setting expectations for key skills, identifying and measuring the activities that led to sales, identifying the profile of the idea customer, and so on.
Coaching. Star managers spent more time in the field with their teams. Their coaching was structured, with agendas to measure specific skills, activities, or results.
Selling. No, top managers didn't jump in to save a deal; rather, they all had a deep understanding of where and how to insert themselves to influence a deal at key moments.
So where do the rest of managers – the inconsistent 80 percent – spend their time? Mostly on administrative issues, internal operations, meetings, marketing issues, CRM issues, and other non-customer-facing issues. Interestingly, that 80 percent also felt a need to do it all. "When we asked how they prioritize, invariably we got, 'Well, we have to do it all. We can't miss this and that,'" says Mike Braun. "No wonder they're working sixty to seventy hours a week!"
In a recent Webinar, the Brauns identified three steps managers can take to move from the core 80 percent to the star 20 percent with consistently high performance:
Step 1: Analyze your calendar. Understand exactly what percent of your time is spent doing what types of activities. Look for opportunities to purge. Do you really need to sit in on these upcoming meetings, or could you get the information via email? Is there work you could delegate? Reports you could consolidate? The test is in this question: "Is this activity more important than spending time in the field with my reps?"
Step 2: Determine your boss's needs. Star managers work closely with senior leaders to understand exactly what information and data they need to run the business. According to the Brauns, it's a good idea to go to your boss and say, "I need to spend more time in the field to make my team more effective, but I want to make sure you have what you need from me."
Gain agreement on the types of reports company execs truly need to run the business and the frequency with which those reports are needed, then eliminate the rest. "You'll be viewed favorably" if you do this, says Mike Braun.
Step 3: Learn to say no. When you get an "urgent" request for this or that data, remind your boss of the agreed-upon reports or point to information you've already provided. You should also ask whether this is information that will be needed on a continuing basis or something that is just a one-time request. Last, explain that you had planned to be on the road with Bill and Susan because you're at X point with the Acme Inc. deal, and ask if your boss would prefer that you prioritize the report ahead of that trip. "When you push back, a lot of the time you'll find things can wait," says Gary Braun. "More often than not, the report will suddenly become less important."