“The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”
W. M. Lewis
I started my career with IBM last century. Training was a yearlong and comprehensive, including product information, sales strategies, and even time management. Quotas back then were big and complex. Not much has changed. I never missed making an annual quota, but I did almost get fired once.
In his recent post in The Sales Blog, Anthony Iannarino writes:
"Even though nothing changes much in sales from one year to the next, the requirement that one be truly consultative and create value continues unabated. If you want to succeed in business-to-business sales, you have to get a lot better at getting a lot better."
If too much of the journey is spent doing things that don't contribute to "getting a lot better", to learning through trying, progress is impeded.
The thing about getting a lot better is it takes time. Malcolm Gladwell declares a 10,000-Hour Rule, that he postulates is critical to success. Practicing specific tasks over many weeks and years, produces what he terms as Outliers, those that achieve well above the mean.
For sales, especially consultative sales, this means time spent thinking and investing in getting better. Sometimes this is through experience. Other times, it's through research of companies and competitors. But mostly it's through time spent on sales calls and meetings with customers. This is where messages are tuned, mistakes are made, and lessons are learned. Getting better is a journey.
Sales rep success starts with recruiting and effective training. Sales management that organizes, compensates, motivates and coaches well produces achievers as well as higher levels of rep retention. However, sales stars separate themselves even more through individual initiative and motivation. Hard work brings outstanding results; reps that are creative and deep thinkers, achieve even higher levels.
Without commenting on the ever-increasing numbers of distractions from mobile phones, social media, and the internet, focused thinking and good time management are harder to come by in today’s world. This includes think time on the way to work or a sales call; dedicated preparation for meetings and presentations; and even more importantly strategizing with teammates or more senior reps on how to win.
According to the Forbes article, Why Sales Reps Spend So Little Time Selling, the average rep spends 35% of their time selling and 65% on everything else, but selling! From surveys, the non-selling time varies, but major chunks include meetings, product issues, administrative tasks, seeking approval, and internal policies.
As business leaders, our job is to remove those items that are not selling. As you start this new decade, spend time thinking about how to simplify the non-selling jobs of your sales team. Remove those barriers that might be a remnant of a last century or last decade policy or practice. This might be email patterns, HR reporting requirements, company meetings, and the ever-present paperwork.
One of those burdensome, but necessary administrative tasks is what nearly got me fired from IBM. Submitting expense receipts.
As a rep, I took customers to working lunches regularly. They weren’t expensive so I didn’t worry about turning in weekly expense reports until I needed the money. One time I went six. I couldn’t find all of my receipts so I reviewed my calendar and tried to recreate who I had lunch with on a certain day. Unfortunately, my Systems Engineer who was more organized and turned in his receipts on time, claimed lunches with the exact same customers on the same dates. When the administrative team discovered this, I was called before the Branch Manager to explain.
Through honesty and a great deal of grace by the branch’s leadership, I was given the chance to fix the problem and never let it happen again. In my defense, I was too busy selling to take the time to create expense reports. It seemed like a waste of time until this happened. Even after the event, it was not a good use of my time.
As one example in today’s business world to simplify, there are many new technologies and software that will capture receipts and submit them almost automatically to save your reps and your managers time in submitting and approving. Check out the approach they use at PixMettle.
Begin creating a productive sales environment for your team today. Look into these non-selling barriers like this to keep reps focused on selling this year!