Time Back on Your Side

By Malcolm Fleschner

Even in the produce or perish world of professional sales, common sense time management can be an uncommon commodity. For a host of reasons, from insecurity and fear to disorganization and a simple lack of training, salespeople too frequently burn potentially productive selling time on trivialities. In Common Sense Ideas for Increasing Sales (Kehoe & Company, 1999), author Kevin Kehoe suggests seven steps for taking back control of your selling time.

1. Run the numbers
Begin with the end in mind. How many new leads do you need to add to your lead database every week? Schedule enough qualifying, proposal and closing meetings to ensure that the numbers work for you.

2. Spread yourself thick
Too many salespeople take on far more activities than they can give appropriate attention to. As a result they move on to new tasks before finishing the old ones. Concentrate your attention on all the critical, priority-one activities before investing any time in secondary distractions.

3. Narrow your focus
Top performers know which activities lie along the path to closed sales. Identify these activities and the difference between priority one and priority two will become clear. Sample key activities include generating and qualifying leads, preparing estimates, writing proposals, presenting and closing, issuing contracts and conducting follow-up.

4. Learn to say no
Every time someone approaches you with a fire needing to be put out immediately, pause for two seconds and ask yourself, “Does this need to happen now or can it wait until later?” Too many sales professionals spend the majority of their time reacting to outside circumstances rather than making a plan and sticking to it. Assess the difference between real and false emergencies, then practice saying that important little word: no.

5. Be a slave to your calendar
Schedule blocks of time for your activities, then stick to your schedule. If you allot one hour for writing a proposal, spend just that one hour writing. Then move on to the next item. Learn to be less concerned with perfection and more concerned about productivity. Perfection exacts a high price that is rarely recouped.

6. Be ruthless with your selling time
Besides learning to say no and taking two-second pauses to think, start looking at your calendar every hour. First, reflect on the hour passed and ask whether you have spent the time effectively. Then, regardless of the answer, decide what you need to do in the next hour to achieve your goals.

7. Put it on the spot
Every time a request, piece of mail, voice mail, email or memo crosses your desk, make an immediate determination about its future. If it’s something you need to do, put it on your calendar immediately. If it’s something someone else can do, delegate it. Otherwise, throw it away. If you’re wrong and it does prove to be important, the person will reiterate the request.