Setting Priorities: How Do You Spend Your Selling Day?

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When I did my research for this article, trying to see what statistics are available about how sales professionals spend their time, I got some very useless information. Things like “24% of the salesperson’s time is spent on generating leads and researching accounts.” How is that useful information? First, is 24% of my time working at this too much? What is the right amount of time? And why do they bundle generating leads and researching accounts? These are very different activities with very different goals and skills.

There was a lot more of these statistics that seem, on a quick read, like valuable information. But when you stop and think about it, what benefit is it to you in your selling or sales management role? I did find some good advice, though.

Rachel Clapp Miller of Force Management, a sales training company, wrote, “The tools (salespeople) use in their sales planning and execution processes should be practical and repeatable. If you don’t have a mechanism that enables your sales team to drive an efficient pipeline, forecast accurately, and effectively move opportunities through the sales process, you can guarantee your team will spend more time with organizational logistics than with their opportunities and customers.”

Good stuff. Here is a stat we found through years of research and experimentation: with the proper tools and processes as described by Ms. Clapp, sales people can save 20% to 30% of their time. The important part of that phrase is the word “proper.” Tools and processes that simply organize information and provide lists and reminders and reports will not get you that kind of result.

So the question is, how? In our research, we found is that most sales professionals spend way too much time answering the question, “What should I work on today?” And all too often, their answer was wrong.

Rapid, accurate, and consistent prioritization of your opportunity portfolio can save as much as 30% of your time. Prioritization must be based on a set of rules and indicators that reflect the environment and goals of the organization. They must consistent and weed out any irrational considerations like (stay with me on this) the dollar value of the sale or the clamor of hyperactive customers. Sex appeal and squeaky wheels are not effective strategies. Staying focused on what is best for the organizations success is.

Look at successful gamblers. They don’t draw to an inside straight or double-down on a pair of face cards or go with the long-shot because of someone’s tip. They understand and go with the odds. And salespeople must do the same to assure long-term success.

And unless you have the tools and processes to do this routinely and automatically, you will spend too much time every day reviewing and reassessing the circumstances of your opportunities, because those circumstances change every day.

Here is what must be accurately measured, carefully analyzed, and effectively factored into your prioritization:

  • Where are you in the sales cycle? Early, late, somewhere in-between? If you’re early, time is your friend. You can turn around bad situations or protect good ones. But time passes whether you’re paying attention or not, and when it’s late, priority changes. So your tool should be automatically factoring in your position in the sales cycle.
  • What is the probability of winning the sale based on consistent and appropriate measurements? Not “I’m at the demonstration stage so I must have a 40% probability of winning” but, “Oops, that demo didn’t go too well and I just hurt my chances.”
  • What are the selling-side circumstances? Price, relationship, competition, product. Do these fit the customer’s needs? Does your product cure their pain? Do they already own some of your products, or the competitions? Etc.
  • What is the buying-side environment? Do they have a real need? What is their funding? Who has the authority? This side is often ignored by salespeople because they can’t control it. But having the right product at the right price and a good relationship doesn’t help if the customer’s funding just got cancelled.

So prioritization is a complex process. It must be done accurately or it’s just throwing darts at a map to decide where to take your next vacation. And it must be done consistently, every day for most of us, because change happens and we have to keep up with it.

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