As far as professions go, selling is one of the simplest. It has four basic elements: 1) identify a quality prospect, 2) connect with the prospect, 3) meet a want or need or solve a problem, and 4) monitor the solution to insure it continues to meet the need or resolve the issue.
There are few occupations in life that are simpler. Yet these four simple elements are fraught with complexity. Unfortunately, we salespeople often find creative ways to make them more complex than they really are, or more correctly, we find ways to make our workdays more complex and activity filled than they need be.
We have a myriad of activities that consume our day. When analyzed objectively, most of us will find that we spend the majority of our time preparing to perform one of the basic elements of our job. We spend a great deal of time preparing to prospect by gathering and researching our prospecting lists, preparing our presentations and follow-up packages, preparing the contract to be signed, preparing ourselves to return phone calls, preparing to prepare.
Our lives are cluttered with chores that we either assigned ourselves such as creating our own fliers and brochures because we don’t like the ones marketing created, or created for ourselves by our own mismanagement, laziness, or lack of organization such as “Where’s that Williams file? I gotta have the contract before I can call him back. I coulda swore it was in that stack and it isn’t in this stack either. Wow! Lookie here, I filed it–who would have ever thought?”
This work often displaces our primary work of finding, connecting with and selling quality prospects. Worse, for many of us these ancillary activities become our primary work, leaving little time for those activities that should be the bulk of our activity.
This is not to say that there aren’t legitimate activities aside from prospecting, selling, and customer service that we must do. There are. Certainly we must spend time lining up who we’re going to call; we must investigate those prospects before calling; there are contracts to get in order; research to be done prior to returning a call. All of these are necessary activities.
The issue isn’t whether or not we do them. The issue is when and more importantly, why we do them.
The when to do them is easy–except for emergencies, all of these activities should be done during non-selling hours. If your prime selling hours are from say 8AM to 11:30 and then again from 1:30 to 6:00, these preparatory and non-income producing activities should be done prior to 8AM, between 11:30 and 1:30, or after 6PM.
The why we do them is a far more difficult question to answer. Some of these activities as mentioned above are necessary. We must do them. They are part of our job. But how many of these activities do we create for ourselves to consciously or unconsciously keep us from having to do our real work of prospecting and selling? How much of our work is really designed to keep us from confronting those aspects of our jobs that we fear or even loath?
I know I’m not the only one guilty of both allowing non-selling work to interfere with my primary activities and creating unnecessary work to keep busy so I don’t have to engage in some of the less enjoyable selling and prospecting activities. I catch myself doing it far too often—and I see it happening with almost every salesperson I train or coach.
‘Working’ to keep from working is such an easy trap to fall into. In fact, we can usually convince ourselves that the activities we’re engaged in are critical and must be done now, not later. We can easily rationalize our way through a totally non-productive morning that becomes a non-productive day that becomes a non-productive week that becomes a non-productive month that in the most radical cases becomes a non-productive—and short—career.
How can you treat this disease of working to avoid work? I’ve found three keys to keeping myself on track:
1. Money making hours are reserved for money making activities—with short breaks: Money making hours—those hours during which you can engage in prospecting and meeting with prospects and clients must become sacred. Nothing short of a real emergency should impinge upon your money making hours. Nothing.
I’m a realist. I realize there are some activities that just cannot wait such as returning phone calls and answering emails. Consequently, I’ve set aside two times during the day outside my money making hours to do these activities. For me, these are somewhat arbitrary. Like many others, my selling territory covers several time zones—24 to be exact since I have clients and prospects around the world. In theory, my money making hours could never end. Nevertheless, the vast bulk of my business is located between
I still have to fight the urge to go off the reservation regarding my money making time rule. I’ll see a message and think, “Oh, I want to talk to her,” and find myself beginning to dial the number. And there’s a little voice that I hear that says, “It’s OK, just this once.” Of course, if I cave into the voice ‘just this once’ becomes a very regular thing and then I have to recondition myself back to my two times a day routine.
2. Turn your workday into a process: I’m a believer in processes. I try to turn everything into a disciplined process. I have to because I am one of the most undisciplined people in the world. Countering my lack of discipline requires a process that leads to the outcome I desire.
To that end, I’ve created a routine when I’m not traveling that gets me at my desk at about 6:30 every morning to get myself prepared for the day’s activities. I’m ready to get to work by 8AM—or if I’m not, I put aside what I’m working on and get down to real work. Mornings prior to 8 are committed to writing. One of my serious bad habits is I don’t eat breakfast or lunch—saves a good deal of work time but I pay for it in the evening. Lunchtime is focused on either reading blogs, working on proposals, or continuing to return phone calls from the morning. Late afternoon/early evening is devoted to getting things ready for the next day’s activities.
I’ve found this time allocation forces me to cut out a great deal of busy work and to concentrate on those activities that either make money or must be done. My workday becomes a simple matter of following the ‘script.’ I do activity one, then activity two, then three, on down the line.
Boring? No. Everyday is very different than the previous. It’s just organized into a process that takes me from early morning to the end of the day in a manner that allows me to accomplish what I need to accomplish without the useless—and fruitless—side trips. It keeps me on track.
3. Question everything you do: Ultimately, the key for me is to question everything I do. I have a sign above my desk that stares me in the face, constantly asking me, “And That Pays What?” That’s the question I must ask myself whenever I begin an activity at work. Now don’t get me wrong, the question doesn’t have to be answered in dollars, but it does have to be answered. What does the activity pay and am I willing to invest my time and effort for that return? If my answer is affirmative, I have an activity worth doing. If it’s negative, then I’m about to do something I shouldn’t be doing–or at least shouldn’t be doing right then.
Question everything you do. What does it pay in terms of dollars, personal satisfaction, advancing your goals and objectives, whatever. If the payoff is worth the investment of time and effort, you probably have an activity that is worth doing. If the payoff doesn’t advance your goals or increase your income, why are you doing it?
If you’re like me and find it easy to rationalize non-productive work to keep yourself from doing the less tasteful activities you must do to succeed, then try turning your day into a process that relegates the busy work to hours outside your money making hours. Question everything you do and commit yourself to only doing those activities that have the payoff you desire.