Excerpted from 11 Secrets of Time Management for Sales People, Career Press
Early into one of my sales positions, my boss informed me that the operations manager was upset with me. I was too focused and task-oriented in my dealing with the company’s internal personnel who made things happen in the business. I’d come into the office, drop projects and requests on everyone’s desk, and head out again.
My task-oriented behavior was upsetting people. As a result, they were balking at cooperating with me. My projects were being left at the bottom of the pile, and other salespeople were getting more cooperation.
I had better change my attitude, he told me, or I’d find it very difficult to succeed in this organization.
My lack of good relationships with the people who could make things happen for me was hurting my performance. Eventually, I came around to understanding that. I swallowed my pride, bought each one a six-pack of premium beer, apologized, and started focusing on building positive relationships with everyone inside the company.
That was a turning point for me. From that point on, I could accomplish far more because I had gained the willing assistance of a number of people. In so doing, I stumbled onto a powerful time management principle: Creating relationships that result in people gladly working to assist you can be one of your most powerful time management strategies.
A Painful Experience To Teach Me This Lesson
What seems like an obvious conclusion to a lot of people took me a very painful experience to see. I, like so many field salespeople, was accustomed to working pretty much by myself. No one else was in the car with me. Most of the time I was alone when I made a sales call. When I was in my home office planning for next week, I was doing that by myself. Most of what I did, I did by myself. So, naturally, when faced with any task, I did it myself. Just like you, and the vast majority of field salespeople.
It’s part of our mindset to think of ourselves as lone rangers – masked good guys out there in the field doing battle by ourselves.
So, we don’t think about enlisting the aid of other people. That mindset can be a major obstacle to our effective use of time. Here’s a poignant example from my experience.
At one point in my career, I was the general manager of a rapidly growing custom-packaging company. The materials manager was a key position in my organization. This person made sure that all the hundreds of items we needed for our custom kits were in stock when we needed them. But she had attendance problems, and after months of trying to help her establish good work habits, I had to fire her.
This brought on a crisis. The position was critical and I couldn’t go even a day or two without someone performing the task. In my rapidly growing organization, there was no backup for her. So I took over and did her work. After the end of the workday, I’d then stay and work until midnight or so, doing her job of ordering sufficient materials. This went on for a month or so until I was able to hire and train a replacement.
Later, I met with the president of the company, to whom I reported. As I told him the story, he said to me, “Dave, why didn’t you call here and ask for help? We have several people in the home office who could have stepped in temporarily and done her job.”
I was stunned. “I never thought of it,” I answered. It just never occurred to me to ask for help. The problem was me! My lone ranger salesperson mentality cost me hundreds of hours over those several weeks.
But I’m not unique. Most salespeople have burdened themselves with a similar lone ranger mentality. That mentality is a major obstacle to overcome.
There is yet another obstacle to implementing this powerful time-management principle. Salespeople generally do not have authority. No one reports to them. No assistants, and no secretaries. No genies in magic lanterns. If you are going to enlist the aid of people around you, you cannot, therefore, just delegate and rely on your management authority to make it happen. You have none – no management authority. No one has to do what you ask them to do.
If you are going to get people to help you, you must influence them to do so willingly. You must sell them on helping you. Which you can do, because, after all, you are a salesperson!
For what tasks can you enlist help?
Almost everything you do, with the exception of meeting face-to-face with your customers, can probably be delegated to someone who can do it better or more efficiently than you can. Here are some of the things that I have passed off to other people in my career. I offer them to you to stimulate your creative thinking about what you may be able to download for someone else.
Finding qualified prospects.
Why should I spend my valuable time searching through lists or driving up and down? I can give my criteria to someone else, and have them do this work for me.
Calling for appointments.
You know how frustrating this can be. Leave a voice mail message. Sometimes the person calls back. You’re not there, or you are in the middle of a sales call and have your cell phone turned off. You return the call, get voice mail, and the cycle repeats. Instead, someone who is at a desk all day can call, leave a voice mail message, and be there when the prospect or customer calls back. Give them a selection of times when you are available and have that person schedule your appointments.
Mailing information to prospects and customers.
One five-minute phone call to enlist the assistance of a helpful customer service rep can save you 30 minutes of finding the right literature, stuffing the envelope, searching through the slop sliding around the back seat of your car for the right address, etc.
Compiling useful reports.
My company provided weekly sales reports, showing every item ordered, shipped, and invoiced to every customer. That was nice, but I wanted to see patterns over time. In other words, I wanted to know what they bought this week, last week, the week before that, etc. So, I had my kids cut up the computer reports, sort them by the customer, staple them to scrap paper, and file them alphabetically in my account folders. Great bonding experience with the kids, whom I thought had learned the alphabet in school. Before I made a sales call, I’d review that compiled information and know what kinds of purchasing patterns my customers were following. That was helpful.
Reviewing reports and highlighting useful information.
Instead of looking at every item on a backorder report, I had someone highlight those over two weeks old. I’d look at only those items. Saved me time. Made them feel important.
Looking up prices for bids and quotes.
I could sit on a computer for an hour or so looking up costs for a complex bid, or, I could have someone else do it. This one is a no-brainer.
Turning my penciled notes into nice-looking bids and quotes.
OK, this was before I became adept at using templates and a laptop. Now I can do it faster than if I give it to someone else to do. How many words per minute do you type? If you are a hunt-and-peck person, maybe you should consider this one.
Checking on the status of the backorder.
I could spend hours on the phone, or intent upon my computer screen, or I could rely on my customer service people to provide me with specific information by certain times. Which makes more sense to you?
My teenagers needed something to do to earn their allowance. Better them than me. Yes, Kelly, H comes after G.
Cleaning out the car.
Calling customers following delivery to ensure that they received everything OK.
That’s what those inside salespeople and customer service people are for. It’s a nice touch. The customer is impressed that someone cared enough. That someone doesn’t have to be me.
Training customers in new product applications.
Technical service people, manufacturer’s reps, and others can do this so I can be out selling something else.
Making emergency deliveries.
Calling a limo service and having them pick something up and deliver it is cheaper than you taking an hour of expensive selling time for this task. Makes a bigger impression, too. You just need to convince your boss of that.
Dropping off samples.
Why should I drive out of the way and take valuable selling time to drop off a sample to a receptionist or receiving department? Surely there’s a better way. Taxi? Limo service? Unemployed teenager?
Why should I spend valuable sales time writing down orders, and then calling the office to relay them on? The customer can do that. I’m there to talk about their needs and my solutions, not to be a clerk.
And yes, believe it or not, I have even delegated sales calls!
This is a long story. Better left for the next book.
This litany of possibilities is designed to stimulate your creative juices. Once you get into the mindset, you can make all kinds of things happen.
Who can you enlist to help?
The world is full of people who can help an overworked and overwhelmed salesperson. Some of them include:
- Customer service representatives
- Purchasing and inventory people
- Product managers and marketing personnel
- Operations managers
- Your boss
- Your spouse
- Your kids and family
- Manufacturer and distributor representatives.
- Your customers
Implementing This Time Management Secret
1. Continually Seek Things to Download
Every few months make a detailed list of all the things you do in a typical week. Then look at the list and ask yourself this question: “Is there anything on this list that could be done by someone else?” Chances are almost everything on this list could be done cheaper or better by someone else. There is a single exception – no one else can create and maintain the relationships with your good customers except you. You are a unique human being, and your relationships are unique to you.
But probably everything else – all the tasks that fill much of your day – could really be done better or cheaper by someone else. Someone else can check up on a backorder more efficiently than you. Someone else can develop a price quote or fill out an RFQ more efficiently than you. Someone else can make a dozen phone calls to prospects more effectively than you.
If that is true for you, then some questions necessarily follow: Could you be more effective if you had someone else do many of those tasks? If you could free yourself from the tasks that could be done more efficiently by someone else, couldn’t you then redirect your time in ways that would make you more effective?
The answer, of course, is “Yes, you could be far more effective if you could so structure your tasks to allow you to spend more time on the high value-producing tasks and less time on the low value-producing tasks.”
This is as much an issue of mental habits as it is anything else. Because of our “lone ranger” mentality, we rarely even think about the question, “Can I find someone else to do this?” We just jump right into the task. By disciplining yourself to ask that question, you’ll find dozens of things to download.
2. Sell Everyone
Maybe “sell” is too strong a word. What I really mean is to create relationships with all the people around you, such that, when you ask, they are inclined to help. You know how to do this because you create relationships with your customers. Think of all the people around you as customers, too.
Be polite, take a personal interest in what they are doing and what they are interested in, and offer to help them when you can. Be sensitive to the stresses and demands they face in trying to do their jobs. Don’t make unreasonable demands. Most people are not waiting patiently for you to dump work on them.
Remember, the people surrounding you, whether it’s your boss or your spouse, are on your side. They want you to succeed. A little humility and sensitivity on your part will go a long way. You might be the mighty breadwinner and the superstar, but “please” and “thank you” are still important words to memorize.
3. Download Well
I’m not talking about computers here. When I say “download” I mean to move a task from your list to someone else’s list. I don’t use the word “delegate” because that implies that the people to whom you are assigning the task have an official reporting relationship with you. That’s not the case. If someone takes on one of your tasks, it’s generally because they agree to, not because you are their boss and you are telling them to do so.
Start with “I need your help.” It’s amazing what those words can do. They let the person know that they are important because you are asking them personally. It positions you as humble – you can’t do this thing without them. If you have done your homework, and have created good relationships with this person, then he/she would have to be either overworked already, or a miserable jerk to not give your request serious consideration.
Next, explain your situation – why you need their help. Don’t just say, “Could you look up the prices for these 76 line items?” Instead, say, “I have this quote due tomorrow at Smith Brothers. It came up overnight. If we can get this business, it’ll open the door to that account, and I’m sure we can leverage that business more. I’m already committed to being at Jones Manufacturing this afternoon, so I don’t have time to do it. Could you look up the prices for these 76 line items?”
You’ve asked for their help, you’ve explained why. Now, wait for a response and then lay out the specifics. So, you’ve just asked Bill, one of the CSRs to help. Bill says, “I’m right in the middle of this project, but I should be done in an hour. I can do it then for you.”
You reply, “Thanks, Bill, I really appreciate it. Here’s a list of the items. They are numbered from 1 to 76. If you could just create a spreadsheet and list the prices in the order in which I have them, and then email that to me so I can work on it tonight, that would be great. Thanks again.”
Notice that you now have laid out the specifics, giving Bill an exact understanding of what the task is, and a deadline for completion.
Let’s review the process:
1. Ask for their help.
2. Explain your situation.
3. After their response, give them the specifics – exactly what and when.
Use this process with people with whom you have created positive relationships – you know them, are interested in them, sensitive to them, concerned about them – and you’ll be able to download major parts of your job, freeing up time for face-to-face selling. And that’s where you make your money and provide value to your company.
Nurturing relationships with the people around you, and then downloading tasks effectively will help you take your time management skills to a new level, rendering you both effective and efficient.
- Make a list of all the tasks that you could conceivably download for other people.
- Make a list of all the people around you who could conceivably help you.
- Brush up your relationships with them.
- Identify the combination of tasks and people that you think holds the greatest potential for improving your effectiveness and efficiency.
- Implement the download process:
- Ask for their help
- Explain the situation
- After they say yes, show them the specifics