May 1, 1998 12:00 PM
One area of sales that is frequently overlooked is time management.Management is typically not so guilty of this, because they usually arepretty much aware of the value of spending time efficiently and wisely.What I refer to is time management for salespeople. It is common to findsales reps hanging out at the office. It is not as though they are sleepingin the place (although a few weeks ago a sales manager and I found anindividual doing just that). Ask them, and they will show you all kinds ofcustomer-related work activity. What makes this frustrating for their salesmanager is that they are right.
Customers do require follow-up activities, such as price quotes, letters ofconfirmation, bid proposals, product information, problem solving,complaints and a host of other valid, time-consuming activities. Let’s faceit— these are all business activities that come with any company, andthey must be considered and handled. So how do we do it? How to we findtime to sell, then do all the things necessary to support the sale andstill find time to use the bathroom? The secret is time management. I’vepulled some of the best ideas from my files.
Determine what your prime face-to-face selling time is for sales staff. Forin-home sales, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. is usually best. For sales to businessfirms, 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. is considered primetime. This is not to say you can’t sell other times; you can and will. Itis just to identify the prime money-making hours when your sales-peopleneed to be focused on nothing other than selling.
Selling is defined as either a face-to-face sales call or using a telephoneto set appointments (in some companies sales are done totally on thetelephone). That’s it. Looking up prospects, checking catalogs, shufflingpapers and the other dozen or so excuses some salespeople use to avoid theactual selling process are not included.
List all the other activities a salesperson must do. Decide on when it isbest for him to do these various activities and assign times for theircompletion.
List all the other activities your sales- people do that are not part oftheir job description. Why are they involved? For instance, I was in acompany where the sales staff had a number of customer service problems.Closer investigation showed they were losing accounts and commissionsbecause the customer service department was so badly mismanaged. After abrief investigation, two incompetent individuals were replaced. Managementthen instructed the sales- people to get out of customer service so thatthe new people could do their jobs, and sales started to increase.
Get your sales staff some help. A good, productive salesperson is anexpensive commodity. In one firm, the required proposals and customerletters were too burdensome, yet they were necessary. At my suggestion, aperson paid at the clerical level was hired and trained to do this work forthe sales staff on a word processor. Again, sales went up as thesalespeople focused on the job they were hired to do.
Use a reporting system that allows you to really see what your salespeopleare doing every day. No one likes new or burdensome paper work, but thetruth is, you can’t manage by assuming anything. Requiring adequate reportsis just good business practice.
Have a focused work plan written each week. People who come in and respondto the events as they happen never get much done. Make it a rule thateverysalesperson have a written weekly work plan completed on Monday morning.People who either come in and waste time trying to fill one out or have apoorly done plan they wrote in the parking lot should be penalized.
The worst kind of manager is one who makes up all kinds of plans and rulesthen weakens about enforcing them. The minute employees find out you arenot going to make them accountable for their behaviors is the minute youlose control. Do not talk the talk unless you will walk the walk, as thepopular slang goes.
I used to have two management axioms on the wall of my office: “Time ismoney” and “It isn’t what you expect of people, it’s what you inspect.”Learn these and apply them to your managerial practices.
Be fair but firm. Just as management has obligations to their employees,employees have obligations to management. Understand that no plan for timemanagement or anything else will be well received. Most people find iteasier to resist and seek out reasons a new plan or report will not workrather than learn and do the new behaviors.
Employees must see that management is committed to the new plan not just atthe start, but over a period of time.
Recognize that when individuals continue to resist or sabotage efforts, itsometimes indicates that the new reports or rules cramp their style.
Effective time management is crucial to generating profitable sales. Bydeveloping and implementing a comprehensive time management strategy, youwill help your salespeople do their jobs better.
Good luck and good selling!