If there’s something that we all have in common, I’d reason it is time. How we choose to spend it determines how we feel and what accomplishments we achieve. A big problem is that there’s often a conflict between what’s important and what’s urgent, between short and long-term gains. Checking emails every five minutes may increase your dopamine levels, but it probably won’t take you much closer to your sales targets.
In sales, if we’re not careful, time is easily wasted on low-value activities. You may find it urgent to read the latest stories in your news feed, report the latest numbers to management and get that expense report out of the way. You may feel urgency to reply to the recent emails, phone calls and texts you’ve received. In this stress frenzy, you may be missing the most important tasks that will take you closer towards the long-term goals and targets.
We all need to keep focused and not become stuck in busy-work. Too many sales organizations make no distinction between activity and progress. If activity is too loosely measured and awarded, we’ll end up with a lot of activity, without real progress towards set objectives. This is one reason why so many pipelines are stale, even though there’s a lot of activity going on.
Frontline sales managers can probably help to increase sales results more than any other member of the sales organization. How they spend their time is very important, as their decisions will trickle down to the sales people and can make or break the team.
The former US president Dwight Eisenhower created a matrix to help visualize and prioritize tasks according to their level of importance and urgency. The model makes it clear how the feeling of urgency lures us into busy-work. This matrix has become a classic in productivity literature. To the right is a generic example copied from Wikipedia. This is a useful tool to help get priorities straight (an excel template for sales managers can be downloaded below).
”What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Just like most people, sales managers have a tendency to spend too little time with activities that help create long-term success. In a sales management context, such activities are providing clear goals and objectives to the team, coaching regularly, holding people accountable and developing top-notch skill sets. Unnecessary meetings, time-consuming excel reports and low-priority emails are examples of activities that consume too much valuable time.
I recommend taking a step back and looking at your past week. Make a list of all your activities and then place them in the box where they belong. What falls into the lower right box? Take the risk – eliminate those tasks or bad habits! Looking at what you placed in the lower left box – what can you scratch or delegate?
If a feeling of guilt comes to you when you find the upper right quadrant to be surprisingly empty, make sure to set aside time for non-urgent and important activity in your calendar today!
The top left box should contain activities that progress you towards your goals and you should complete them quickly and professionally. Be careful not to get stuck in problem-solving for your sales people – that’s not your role. The saying: “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” is relevant to keep in mind for tasks in the upper left box.
Take a snapshot during the day and ask yourself towards which goal the task you are doing is getting you closer. If you don’t know, it’s probably not the most value-creating task to perform and you should reprioritize or delegate. Or, perhaps you are lacking clear goals and objectives and need to spend more efforts in creating and communicating them? If you find the matrix helpful, start using it to reach your goals.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals.
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