Organization and self-discipline are key traits for any profession – none more so than sales. While stellar salespeople generally possess several important key attributes such as the drive to succeed, the ability to relate well to others, strong verbal skills, and persuasiveness, a sometimes-overlooked trait is strong organizational skills.
Even the most hardworking salesperson has a finite number of hours in a day to get things done. Salespeople who use those hours most efficiently tend to be high performers. The key to maximizing efficiency is creating a daily plan every day.
Plan today for tomorrow
If you visit your neighborhood coffee shop between 9 and 10 any morning, you’re likely to see salespeople in nicely tailored suits hunched over their laptops. More than likely, they are checking their schedules and developing a plan for the day. But I strongly believe that it’s more efficient to draw up a daily plan on the previous afternoon so that you can start your day being productive right off the bat.
In my executive search firm, for instance, at 4:30 every afternoon, my recruiters and I take about a half-hour to map out our next-day strategies. We have an almost religious devotion to this practice. We compile a list of people we need to call based on our current priorities, and draw up a rough schedule of when to call them.
Because we have clients nationwide in different time zones, this schedule helps us contact people when we are most likely to reach them in person rather than by voice mail – call the east coast in the morning, and the west coast in the afternoon, for example. The schedule also helps us stick to our goal of reaching X number of people per day. If a conversation lasts longer than expected, we have the option of informing the person on the other end of the line that we have another appointment to keep – it says so on our schedules. (Of course, in special cases, particularly with our best clients, we may break this rule.)
Some salespeople may chafe at this high degree of organization, but chances are they are not setting the sales world on fire. There are so many potential distractions that crop up during a typical day that it’s crucial for salespeople to adhere to a daily plan as much as possible. Otherwise, it’s much too easy to get bogged down with non-productive e-mail messages, phone conversations, web research, and interactions with office mates.
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According to a recent study conducted by AOL and Salary.com, the average employee admitted to spending 2.09 hours per day online. More than 44 percent of those polled said they browsed the Web, sent personal e-mail, engaged in non-work instant messaging, or played online games during work hours. These practices obviously hinder sales, and good salespeople do very little of this. Socializing with co-workers, the second-biggest time-waster, came in at 23 percent. Of course, some interaction among co-workers is expected, and it can help build team spirit and boost morale, however, high performing salespeople keep this to a minimum and spend as much time as possible interacting with clients and prospects.
While clients expect us to be responsive to their inquiries – and rightly so – that doesn’t mean that we have to drop everything to answer a call or message immediately. I recommend waiting until a set time every day to answer non-critical e-mail and voice mail from clients. It’s important to respond within a few hours as much as possible, but if you fall into the trap of answering every client question or concern immediately, you’ll end up spinning your wheels too much and disrupting your daily plan. Clients may be impressed with instant response, but reasonable people don’t expect that level of service unless they have some sort of emergency.
If you’re not accustomed to a hyper-organized scheduling regimen, I recommend getting started immediately. Use either a paper day planner tool or some kind of software scheduling system. Even Microsoft Outlook works very well. It can take 30-45 days to become accustomed to a new scheduling system, but it’s well worth the effort.
What do you think? Let us know.