Sales Coaching: Time to Sharpen Your Ax

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Sharpen AX

As near as I can figure, salespeople only sell about 5% of the time!  Oh, we’re all busy doing things, but selling isn’t one of them. We visit customers, deliver literature, chat about the weather and sports, and talk about our weekend.

You’ll notice I’ve included myself in the above paragraph. Yes, I also find myself in this situation from time to time. It’s not that I’m lazy, or that I don’t want to do my job. Sometimes I simply lose my prime focus (selling), and I find a thousand other things to occupy my day. How about you?

Some salespeople are like papers in a light breeze. When they leave the office in the morning, they flutter off to wherever the first wind takes them.

Others have a great sense of direction and purpose. They know exactly where they’re going and what they’ll do when they get there. The only problem is that it often has little to do with their primary function — selling.

Before I continue, let’s pause here for a brief definition of selling:  Activities that cause the prospect to react favorably and profitably to your firm — a reaction that would not have occurred without your involvement.  Note the words favorably and profitably and without your involvement. Sure the prospect might be favorably impressed because you personally dropped off some product literature, but was it profitable?  A courier could have provided the same service. Did your involvement really make a difference or were you nothing more than a talking catalog?

Salespeople don’t deliberately set out to waste time. If asked by their sales manager, they will usually have a strong reason (rationalization) for doing something that might be considered non-productive. Often salespeople don’t make the best use of their time because they haven’t honestly assessed how they’re working and haven’t made the necessary changes for improvement.  That’s where a good sales manager is critical. Not the kind that dumps on you whenever it’s slow, but one that will support your personal sales goals and help you find ways to reach them — a sales manager that will help you work smarter rather than just harder.

It’s especially difficult for those salespeople who don’t have a sales manager to provide guidance. They have to do their own assessments. You can start by being honest with yourself. Are you as good as you can be?  Are your work priorities set correctly?  Are your activities moving you towards your personal and work-related goals?  Have you lost sight of your goals?  Do you even have any goals?

I’m reminded of the tale of the woodsman who stopped from time to time to sharpen his ax. He was far more productive than the one who continued to chop away at the trees long after his ax became dull and ineffective.

Is your ax getting dull?  Let’s face it, we all like to think that we’re doing our jobs exceedingly well and that we’re worth every penny paid us. The truth is that often we could be doing our job even better.

So what can you do about it? The very least you can do is set some measurable targets for yourself so that you can track your achievements. If you can’t easily set production targets, then set activity targets. This means measuring the activities that will lead to higher production.

For example, if I set a monthly sales target of $10,000, I may or may not be able to reach it. But I can do the activities that will cause it to happen. If my average sale is $1000 and my closing ratio in 50%, I know I need to find 20 good prospects each month. If it takes me 5 calls to find one good prospect, I know that I have to make at least 100 calls to get my 20 good prospects. So I set my activity target at 5 calls per working day. Is this guaranteed to work?  No —  but at least it gets you started in the right direction. Hey, even something as simple as a post-it note on the bathroom mirror to remind you of your daily commitment can make a difference.

This is where personal integrity and the sales profession meet. We can continue to kid ourselves into thinking we’re doing our best, or we can take a step back and realize that we can do even better.

So why not pause to sharpen your ax. Make a commitment to be as good as you can be. Refocus your energies on what will make you and your organization profitable. Make a difference to your company, to the sales profession and, most of all, to yourself!

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