Saturday, 3 March 2012

Time management in sales career

What is this potential - the real value of time to a sales professional like you?  This will vary based upon a multitude of factors, including your pay plan, frequency of your compensation, expense reimbursement system and the length of your specific sales cycle.

It will also consider the size of your territory, your type of product or service, the size and complexity of your customer base, the administrative support and service, and the extent of your personal involvement in the delivery of your product or service after the sale.  Not to mention the style of management, the price, size and complexity of the very product or service that you sell.

Before you analyse these variables on a personal basis, it's important to take an overall view as to the value of time in the most absolute terms.

If you earn RM20,000 a year, every hour is worth 10 ringgit and 25 sen, every minute -  17 sen.  And if you fritter away just one hour a day, you lose RM2,500 every single year.  If you earn much more naturally your time loss will commensurate with greater loss.

Unfortunately, that's not the whole story.  We need to consider opportunity costs, energy costs, or de-motivation costs.  If you are not consistently maximising your time to a highly profitable end, you have not capitalised on the potential of varied opportunities that come your way by maximising that time and exposure.

The costs can be staggering if you think of missed opportunities that occur when you're doing the wrong things, at the wrong times, for the wrong reasons - and maybe even with the wrong people, instead of vice versa.

Energy costs come from the loss of physical and emotional energy that are the result of wasted time.  Constant wheel spinning, excessive duplication of effort, fixing mistakes, spending excessive and wasted time on the telephone, in travel, or in meetings are all tremendous wastes of energy, both physical and emotional.

And once spent, it becomes increasingly more difficult, if not impossible to resurge and tap that consistently diminishing source of human energy.

De-motivation cost is the price paid for excessive time being spent on totally fruitless endeavours and like energy loss, is irreplaceable.

Talking to unqualified prospects, handling paperwork entirely too many times, shifting priorities, unclear objectives, are some but the list goes on and on.

To the sales professional, these four costs of excessive time waste, dollars, missed opportunities, energy loss, and the cost of de-motivation can be absolutely staggering.

With this as a backdrop, it is critical to start examining the real potential that time holds for you as a sales person.

First, let's examine how your pay plan is linked to your management of time.  Clearly, if you are on a commission pay plan, there's a direct correlation between your time use and your pay level.  In short, your income is in direct proportion to how you use your time.  Waste your time and your pay check is affected.  Waste a lot of time and you may have no pay check at all.  Simple, isn't it?  Waste too much time, you have no job.

For salary based sales professionals, the formula is a little different.  You may receive a salary while still wasting lots of time - but not for too long.  You see, sales people at any level and with any pay plan, are ultimately judged by two things and two things only - sales volume and profitability.

Often overlooked, the frequency of compensation is also a critical factor.  This is so true if you are guilty of wasting lots of time and are on a pure commission or bonus plus salary or salary plus commission plan.  The longer the time between critical activity (sales) and results (pay), the easier it is to lose sight of the direct relationship between time utilisation and income.  The result is a loss of income, potential opportunities, and perhaps, ultimately, even a job.

Let's take a look at something so mundane and trivial as an expense reimbursement cycle and how this relates to time.

Some time ago, I was working with a client who had to let their top salesperson go because she was habitually late with expense reports and virtually every other type of paperwork related to her high sales volume.  In the process, she made life miserable for everyone else in the organisation - high sales with no follow-up, including paperwork.  The consequence - a top selling pro was soon out of a job.  The cause - the overall poor image that she gave.

It was easy to see that her supervisors drew the conclusion that if she was missing paperwork deadlines, she must be missing other bigger deadlines too.

Mishandling of paperwork and detail is a common time problem for sales people.  The reasons are multiple.  However, the impact that this can have is immeasurable.

Depending on your company's policy and length of time for repayment, this could become critical to your personal cash flow, not to mention your image and your credibility, and in this case, a job.

1. The length of your sales cycle is another major component in this thing called TIME MANAGEMENT.  The longer the sales cycle for your product or service, the more complex contacts you have to keep organised, the more paperwork and correspondence, the more frequent the travel, the more detailed the management of the account becomes, and it can become a real quagmire if you either don't want to, or don't know how to manage it properly.
2. The shorter sales cycle has its own characteristic pitfalls: more compressed and fast-paced travel, frequent presentations, more carefully orchestrated  and quicker delivery systems and the like.  Just as in war, the longer your supply line becomes, the more vulnerable you become.  In short, when you have an extremely long sales cycle, the more potentially volatile your lack of time management skills can be.
3.  The paradox is that with a long sales cycle, it appears as if everything is easy to manage.  Well, the opposite is really true.  The result - we get lulled into believing that length of time equals relaxation.  Wrong - the culprit, short-term versus long-term thinking.
4.  Territory size is another key element.  Size does not mean how geographically large it is for the travelling sales professional.  We are also discussing complexity, a rural territory versus urban, for example.  You know there are sales people whose entire sales territories can be a single office building in a major city, and perhaps that describes you.  While others have an entire, multi-state region.  Therefore, their needs and their time management skills are much different.
5.  There are many telemarketing professionals whose territory can cover the entire nation and even foreign countries.  Time zones can be misleading - calling across the International Date Line can be a nightmare, and travelling across it even more disconcerting.  Dealing with international trade regulations is almost impossible.  And dealing with cultural differences becomes a real barrier.

Are these time management problems? You bet they are.  The real issue at this point is not how you as a sales person manage your time, buy why you manage your time.

Clearly it's for results.  In order to deliver these results, a lot has to go into the formula.

Does your territory mandate that you master travel skills, scheduling skills, planning skills?  How about prospecting or organisational skills?  Maybe you don't have a territory at all, maybe prospects come to you, maybe you work primarily on the telephone, and maybe, you don't even travel at all.  The list could go on.

The type of product or service that you sell is also a critical factor to this whole issue.  For example, some products allow the salesperson to make the sale and immediately move on to another prospect.  Others dictate that the salesperson not only sell, but install, service, and provide ongoing support services, while still others require not only sales and support but extensive travel and ongoing penetration, prospecting, and in-depth selling.

In short, retention marketing becomes a myriad of time management skills that are specific to that person's unique selling situation.

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