This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.
We are often asked by companies to help salespeople improve their time management. From their perspective, company leaders think salespeople seem to be working hard but are not managing their time well; however, when we dig deeper, we usually learn that salespeople are efficient in what they do – they show up on time and usually don’t drop balls – especially on the major tasks.
That said, we almost always notice that the same salespeople are not doing the things necessary to succeed. Most of their activity is reactionary and fear-based rather than strategic or with a mindset of abundance.
After years of analysis, my conclusion is that salespeople have action management issues, not time management issues (though that can improve as well). Addressing both challenges – action and time management – has proven to be the most successful. Here are six ways to do it:
1. Identify two to three types of activities that are important but not urgent and make them urgent.
Networking, professional development, prospecting, and strategic planning are among many activities that are never considered urgent but often lead to greatness. Unfortunately, as Stephen Covey famously illustrated in his Four Quadrants of Time Management, we tend to focus on urgent things – whether they are important or not. His advice is to focus on important things that are not urgent, because that is where excellence can be found.
Salespeople should list two or three things that need to be done for long-term greatness but are not urgent (the list above is a good place to start), and then make them urgent. Have them add it to their calendar and treat that time like other important meetings. Adding just 3-4 hours per week from the “important but not urgent” world can change someone’s life.
2. Manage email.
Nothing sucks time and energy from salespeople more than email. If you can do one thing about email, check it three times a day and keep it offline the rest of the time. For a more comprehensive strategy, I suggest reading Getting Things Done by David Allen.
3. Avoid Parkinson’s law.
“Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion” is Parkinson’s Law. If you have three days to do a task, it will get done in three days; if you have three weeks to do the same task, it will take you three weeks. Don’t fall into this trap –complete tasks as quickly as possible.
4. Use the 64-4 rule.
This means you earn 64% of your sales from 4% of your customers, or that you get 64% of your productive work done from 4% of your total work. The secret is to figure out who fits into the 4% and do more of them/it. For the other activity that must be done, outsource, delegate, or optimize with technology, but don’t focus on it.
5. Define your ideal week.
First, define what you would do throughout the perfect week and start every week with this template. Second, accept that you will never achieve that ideal week, but that’s ok. When you start with that, a salesperson will end up getting closer and closer to it as they keep practicing.
6. Schedule recurring catch-up meetings.
Avoid playing phone tag with a supervisor or going back and forth on email with a project manager – schedule recurring meetings. For example, meet with the boss every Friday at 8 a.m. and the PM every other Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. When a question or idea arises, write it down on the agenda for your recurring meeting and skip the email jail!
Chris Peterson is the founder and president of Vector Firm (www.vectorfirm.com), a sales consulting and training company built specifically for the security industry. Use "Security Business" as a coupon code to receive a 10% lifetime discount at www.vectorfirmacademy.com. To request more info about the company, visit www.securityinfowatch.com/12361573.