How to Work Smarter

By Alison Smith

You consider yourself a good salesperson, but in these tough economic times even the best salespeople must work harder to meet their quotas. So the question is: How are you going to become more effective?

“There are two ways to do this: work harder or work smarter,” says Andy Zoltners of ZS Associates, a consulting firm in Evanston, IL. “Squeezing one more sale sounds like effort. It sounds like all you’ve got to do is work harder and faster – make more calls, make more contacts, call your friends and neighbors, drum up that business! I would like to suggest that working smarter is going to be a more effective approach. You need to hit the right target with the right message at the right time.”

Zoltners, who also is a professor at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, emphasizes what he calls the power of targeting. He suggests that organizations invest the time and money to research their customers and understand what makes a good customer good.

Effective selling is precision selling, says Zoltners. “Go find where the most valuable accounts are,” he advises. For those who don’t have the advantage of a research team, Zoltners suggests sales reps learn from their successes.

“You constantly have to think about what has worked for you. Profile your great customers. Look at what makes them great and at what you did to make them so responsive. You don’t just want to make one more call each week. You don’t just want numbers. Ten average calls are not going to get you anywhere. It’s better to have nine great calls. That will lead to one more sale each week,” Zoltners explains.

He is quick to add that working smart is hard work. “It means thinking outside the box. It means constantly critiquing yourself and editing and changing your pitch. It means you have to step back and look at the big picture over and over again. It’s about problem solving. It’s about long-range thinking,” he says. “Don’t just call your brother and get him to buy the product so you have one more sale that week. That is not a long-term solution, because pretty soon you are going to run out of relatives and friends and you haven’t really solved your problem.”

Zoltners believes a long-term approach to improving sales numbers involves evaluating successes. “It’s not all about knocking down doors. It’s about finding the right door, opening it, and talking to the customer about the right things,” he says.

Finally, he suggests that sales reps set realistic weekly sales goals. “Be reasonable. If you set reachable goals, you will feel successful.”

Email Andy Zoltners at or call 847-492-3605.