Across all industries, one of the major issues professional salespeople struggle with is proper time management. All too often, at the end of the day the professional salesperson can look back and feel as if they accomplished nothing of value. We evaluate three key tips to improving time efficiency and your mastery of time management.
Tip #1 Have your day planned out before you start.
As simple as this sounds, this is by far the biggest key. If you start your day without a plan, you are guaranteed to have an inefficient day. Don’t wait until the morning of to make your “To Do” list. Make it the day before, and when you get to the office or start your day, you will have already mapped out in your mind how you will go about accomplishing your list. Not doing so opens you up to all of the distractions the day can offer. Knowing exactly what you have planned to do for the day allows you to stay focused on the project at hand, and once you accomplish your individual task, you can then move on to the next one and power through an amazing list of productive activities. At the end of the day, you like all goal setters and schedule planners will be shocked at how much more you can get accomplished by planning your day in advance. Likewise, all time management gurus suggest that you plan your week before you start it, plan your month before you start it, and play your year before you start it. Without goals and plans, you are like a rudderless ship that will be unable to maintain its course over any definite period of time once distractions come your way. However, if you have long range goals and all of your activities point toward accomplishing them, you will shocked at how quickly you reach your goals. Start you day, week, month and year with a plan, and watch your productivity skyrocket.
Tip #2 Know your weaknesses, and find ways to limit their impact.
Are you the type that just HAS to respond to emails the moment they come in even if it takes you away from the project you are working on? Do you HAVE to take every call, even if it is interrupting your proposal time, cold calling time, or presentation time? Are you an IM fiend? Are you a cell phone junky? Does your desk need to be in perfect order before you feel you can start you day? Are you entirely too conversational and need to limit the length of your appointment times or “lunch dates”? Do you do too much random surfing on the net when you should be working? Day after day, professional salespeople let minor things get in the way of major objectives. The first step to solving this problem is to identify your weaknesses, and then find ways to limit their impact.
For example, if your email is a distraction, close the program while you work through your “must finish” projects. If you need to finish proposals or have some dedicated cold calling time, perhaps you need to turn off your cell phone, email, and IM for a couple of hours. Contrary to popular belief, the world will continue to operate even if you are not “ever-present” at a moment’s notice. Your emails will still be waiting for you, and so will your messages.
How can you possibly concentrate with the focus you need to accomplish your major sales objectives with constant interruptions? You CAN control the amount of interruptions you receive in many cases, but it takes discipline and will power to keep your weaknesses from running your schedule. Not taking control of interruptions in your daily schedule will cause your day to be chopped up with insignificant “emergencies” that can be dealt with at pre-determined periods. Identify your weaknesses, and make plans ahead of time to limit their effect on your day.
Tip #3 You set your schedule, not your clients.
On a daily basis there are typically a few major activities that must be performed in order to achieve success in sales. They may include a few of the following and more:
• Call backs
• Proposal Generation
• Follow-up to orders
How will you fit all of these in during your limited work hours, and in which amounts? If you do not know when you want or need to perform these activities, you leave your schedule open to the whims of each and every potential prospect you deal with. Top salespeople dictate their schedule. Not their clients. What does this mean exactly?
It is a huge temptation for salespeople to jump at the first opportunity to meet with a client no matter the time or place in the pursuit of the almighty “quota”. But does this make any sense at all? Over time you will have executives ask you to come in at 7 AM or 7 PM, so we come in early or leave late all in the name of duty and service. Do these opportunities work out? Are they worth your time, or are they more likely to be a greater interruption to the bigger goals you have in mind?
When you dictate your schedule, you will find your productivity will increase immensely. Try adding the following changes to your scheduling.
• Write pre-determined appointment times on your calendar, and fill them. Keep your clients on or around those appointment times so that you can set aside the time you need for other activities. Depending on your area and industry, you may want to schedule appointments for 10:00 AM, 11:30 AM, 1:00 PM, and 2:30 PM. The times do not matter as much as the reasons for setting predetermined time frames. Do you live in a metro area? Does traffic get horrific at certain times early and late in the day? Is sitting in traffic a valuable use of your time? Probably not. Set your appointment times at intervals you can run consistently and still be able to maintain a reasonable schedule. Doing so will allow you to “lock out” other time frames for your additional essential activities such as prospecting, returning calls, returning emails, etc…
• Block out prospecting times, and do not let them be interrupted. Perhaps the biggest challenge for professional salespeople is successfully blocking out dedicated prospecting time. We can get so caught up in taking care of “processes” that we can be distracted from our major function. That is selling! Who cares if your email is in perfect order and your desk is spotless if you haven’t sold anything? Exactly. Once you have blocked out appointment times, you should be able to plan specifically when you will be doing your prospecting. Block those times out, and do not schedule anything else. Turn off the cell phone, turn off IM, send calls to voice mail, and do whatever it takes to get your dedicated time to prospect. Your quantity and quality prospecting time that you set aside may very well dictate your success. By setting aside the time it deserves, you can insure your future success.
• Set aside time for communications. This may include all of the types aforementioned and more. Even though it is difficult for us to believe, it is acceptable to return emails, calls, IM’s, etc by the end of the day. We may live in a microwave society that expects instant reaction to requests, but we also live in a society that appreciates dedicated attention to details and problems when they are dealt with. By setting aside dedicated time to communicate, you can be completely focused on your client’s needs without the feelings of guilt that can be associated with being unable to concentrate of the important things of the hour. The best times for communications are the first thing in the morning, lunch hours, and at the end of the day. By dedicating time specifically to this activity, you will not be as tempted to let it interrupt your valuable appointment and prospecting times.
Implementing these three basic time management strategies of planning your days before they start, knowing your weaknesses and limiting their impact, and dictating your own schedule can potentially free up hours of your day, increase your dedicated selling time, as well as make your schedule more predictable and productive. The great world of selling is full of daily and hourly distractions, and it is up to the professional salesperson to limit their effect upon peak performance.
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