Multitasking In Sales

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I’m reading a couple of interesting books and by chance they both discuss multitasking. In fact, the first one deals entirely with multitasking from the point of view that it is far more effective to tackle one thing at a time. The second is about SCRUM, the highly popular way to manage software teams and projects. It talks about using SCRUM outside of the realm of software—I’m interested in applying the principles of SCRUM to all areas of business.

The One Thing by Gary Keller is a #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller and deals with personal productivity. I like this book—it’s an easy read, and has some lovely diagrams. The title says it all—stop trying to do too much in life. Distill things down to the essentials and focus on them one-by-one. This approach will actually get more things done with much less stress. One of the myths that is debunked is multitasking—don’t do it, it will take more time if you do.

I’m also reading SCRUM by John Sutherland. John is the father of the Scrum movement, and together with Agile, these are very successful new ways to get software projects finished in half the time with half the effort. My own software group are doing some impressive things with Scrum and I bought this book to see how I can apply it’s ideas to our sales and marketing.  Again, the author is not a fan of multitasking and he references a number of scientific papers that prove that it doesn’t work to tackle multiple projects at the same time.

One big problem is what’s called “context switching”, which means that it costs you time to switch from one project to the other. One example quoted involves the case of running five simultaneous projects. Context switching eats up 75% of the available time, leaving just 25% of actual work time on each project. (Quality Software Management by Gerald Weinberg).

I guess the whole thing about multitasking is a misnomer anyway. It’s a word from the earlier age of computers and has inserted itself into everyday language. It literally meant the process whereby a computer processor chugged away a multiple tasks at the same time. Actually, it did not infer that the tasks were being handled simultaneously (at the same instant) but rather, the tasks were sliced up such that they could all be advancing together over a set period of time. The analogy applied to humans implies that someone who is multitasking tries to handle many different things at once, and as the two books I referenced seem to think, at the detriment of doing any of them well.

Having worked in sales for most of my life I know that I was faced with having to multitask. Sales is like that. There are some things you can plan, and others have to be done there and then—you have no choice about it. In day to day activities salespeople are subject to multiple demands from not only their customers, but also their own organization. At times it’s difficult to find the time to sell, which is what it is all about. But if that is happening to you, watch out, work out your priorities to get the selling done, and follow them to the letter. In particular don’t let multitasking interfere with the two essential priorities in sales planning.

First you have to figure out the best way to win an individual sale. Treat it like it is only one you are working on—no compromises. A clear case for the advice offered in The One Thing. Find quiet uninterrupted time for thinking and strategy. Let this be the one opportunity you are working on. Figure out the next action and put it in the list to get done. Then do it.

But we all know that there is not just one opportunity—there might be twenty, fifty, or even a hundred—all needing attention, all unique, and at different parts of their sales cycle from just starting to just closing and all points in between. Here the challenge is different. Look at the opportunity portfolio as a whole and get some high-level prioritization into it. Some deals will need attention, but many will not. At SalesWays we look at an indicator called intrinsic value which gives a neat solution for sorting or grading opportunities to work most effectively on the portfolio. You extract more time to sell by only focusing on situations that need attention now.

Check out our sales productivity app, ASPEC (it’s free here). It works with you on the high-level opportunity management, prioritizing the portfolio, and, it ensures that your ground level strategic thinking on a single opportunity is correctly tuned to win the sale.

Multitasking is unavoidable, but sensible prioritization makes it workable, efficient, and productive.

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