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Planning for the Obvious

Time is the great equalizer, every day we all get 24 hour, consisting of 60 minute no matter who or where you are. As we have spoken in the past, you can seek all the sage advice, old school, new school, school 2.0, or even the ultra-hip and modern social school, nothing will change the fact, you can slice and dice it, digitize it, but you can’t manage it. Do what you will; it’s still 24 hours, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

What you can do, is understand how much time you need to apply to which specific tasks. With that, you can then allocate the time needed to complete those tasks successfully on a consistent basis, and then spend the allocated time actually executing and completing the task at hand.

If you are in sales, it comes down the roughly 2,115* hours each year that you could spend actively selling, or what is traditionally called “face time”. Needless to say there are others things that have to be done, but some things can be just as well done outside of hours where you can interact with real buyers.

Getting the basics done is simple, and based your experience and your track record to date; write down all the must do activities required to successful execute your sale. Just look at you last dozen or so successful sales and see what went into it, and mark it down. Then calculate how much time you spent on each of the captured activities during the sales cycle. Remember you don’t have to get too granular, the details will vary. For example, when it comes to researching potential prospects, that would be part of the prospecting number, you don’t need to break it out as separate activity.** If you already have metrics in place, great, if not you will have to do some work, and start tracking key stats and conversion rates along the way.

If you do the above, you will have a snap shot of all activities you need to succeed, including new business activities, account management, admin, training, meetings, etc. This part is the easy one, where things break down is when people overlook two obvious things they deal with every day, but are never included by sales people in the above exercise.

One activity, and definite time consumer, is putting out “Client Fires”. If you are in sales, you will need to deal with client issues. For most of us not a day goes by where we do not have to respond to some client situation, could be big, could be small, but it has to be dealt with. Sometimes it will eat up a few minutes, other days it can consume hours. The reality is that it will come, so you need to include it in your time allocation exercise, yet sales people never do. Somehow they feel that this is something that is relegated to being reactive, not proactive, mistake! More than any other aspect of time allocation this is where you benefit most from being proactive.

The challenge is that you can’t know in advance when the fire will ignite, and what it will look like, how much time it will take to put out, but that is not an excuse for not allocating time to it. As above, you can look at your experience to date, (if you are new, talk to some of the tenured AND Successful sales people you work with), and from that surmise how much time on average per week is consumed by “putting out client fires”. Take that time and make it part of your time allocation. For example, if you have to dedicate five hours a week to this, then set aside an hour a day in your calendar for this. If you don’t, the fire will still come, you will still spend time responding, but the time you use will come from another activity and you will not have time to complete that task. Most sales people will steal it from the activity they like least, and for many that is prospecting; the impact of that is detrimental over time. More sadly, some sales people look for fires to put out, using this as a means of feeling productive while avoiding other key activities, like prospecting. They tell their managers “hey I know I didn’t get around to prospecting this week, but hey, I saved two accounts”.

Set the time aside even if you don’t know when it will hit. If it comes in during a time you allocated to prospecting, simply switch the two around, and both will get done rather than just one. On those days where it doesn’t hit the fan, great, you have an hour that you can get things done beyond your plan, bonus, more prospecting.

The other thing sales people do not make allowance for in their calendar is planning. Planning is key to success, especially if you buy in to the fact that sales does involve thinking, evaluating and adjusting based on market experiences. Yet again, few if any speak about planning when they discuss time and sales. Unless you are selling eggrolls at the mall, you need to step back regularly and think about your sales, ad plan on a number of levels. There is the tactical day-to-day plans, for me it is more like week-to-week; there is account planning; finally big picture planning. These do not have to be big chunks of time, especially the first two, but they do require time, unless you plan to execute your sale like a mouse on a wheel, doing, doing, doing without thinking.

The other benefit to doing the allocation exercise a couple of times a year is to help you stay on track. I often find when I work with sales people that when they are missing their numbers, it is accompanied by their time allocation deviating from their plan. Spending too much time on one task, while not enough time on the other. We can usually see improvement by helping them recalibrate and get back to the right amount of time on the right activity.

The little time it takes to do this exercise, with all its element, is a small investment compared to the success dividends it pays.

Tibor Shanto

* Based on 235 work days a year, and a nine hour workday. (I know sunshine, you work way more!)