Early into one of my sales positions, my boss informed me that the operations manager was upset with me. I was too focused and task-oriented in my dealing with the company's internal personnel who made things happen in the business. I'd come into the office, drop projects and requests on everyone's desk, and head out again.
My task-oriented behavior was upsetting people. As a result, they were balking at cooperating with me. My projects were being left on the bottom of the pile, and other salespeople were getting more cooperation. I had better change my attitude, he told me, or I'd find it very difficult to succeed in this organization. My lack of good relationships with the people who could make things happen for me was hurting my performance. Eventually, I came around to understand that. I swallowed my pride, bought each one a six-pack of premium beer, apologized, and started focusing on building positive relationships with everyone inside the company. That was a turning point for me.
What seems like an obvious conclusion to a lot of people took me a very painful experience to see. I, like so many field salespeople, was accustomed to working pretty much by myself. No one else in the car with me. Most of the time I was alone when I made a sales call. When I was in my home office planning for next week, I was doing that by myself. Most of what I did, I did by myself. So, naturally, when faced with any task, I did it myself. Just like you, and the vast majority of field salespeople.
From that point on, I could accomplish far more because I had gained the willing assistance of a number of people. In so doing, I stumbled onto a powerful time management principle: Creating relationships that result in people gladly working to assist you can be one of your most powerful time management strategies.
Its part of our mindset to think of ourselves as lone rangers - masked good guys out there in the field doing battle by ourselves.
So, we don't think about enlisting the aid of other people. That mindset can be a major obstacle to our effective use of time. Here's a poignant example from my experience.
At one point in my career, I was the general manager of a rapidly growing custom-packaging company. The materials manager was a key position in my organization. This person made sure that all the hundreds of items we needed for our custom kits were in stock when we needed them. But she had attendance problems, and after months of trying to help her establish good work habits, I had to fire her.
This brought on a crisis. The position was critical and I couldn't go even a day or two without someone performing the task. In my rapidly growing organization, there was no back up for her. So I took over and did her work. After the end of the workday, I'd then stay and work till midnight or so, doing her job of ordering sufficient materials. This went on for a month or so, until I was able to hire and train a replacement.
Later, I met with the president of the company, to whom I reported. As I told him the story, he said to me, "Dave, why didn't you call here and ask for help? We have several people in the home office who could have stepped in temporarily and done her job."
I was stunned. "I never thought of it," I answered. It just never occurred to me to ask for help. The problem was me! My lone ranger salesperson mentality cost me hundreds of hours over those several weeks.
But I'm not unique. Most salespeople have burdened themselves with a similar lone ranger mentality. That mentality is a major obstacle to over come.
There is yet another obstacle to implementing this powerful time management principle. Salespeople generally do not have authority. No one reports to them. No assistants, and no secretaries. No genies in magic lanterns.
If you are going to enlist the aid of people around you, you cannot, therefore, just delegate and rely on your management authority to make it happen. You have none -- no management authority. No one has to do what you ask them to. If you are going to get people to help you, you must influence them to do so willingly. You must sell them on helping you. Which you can do, because, after all, you are a salesperson!
For what tasks can you enlist help?Almost everything you do, with the exception of meeting face-to-face with your customers, can probably be delegated to someone who can do it better or more efficiently than you can. Here are some of the things that I have passed off to other people in my career. I offer them to you to stimulate your creative thinking about what you may be able to download to someone else.
- Finding Qualified Prospects. Why should I spend my valuable time searching through lists or driving up and down? I can give my criteria to someone else, and have them do this work for me.
- Calling for appointments.You know how frustrating this can be. Leave a voice mail message. Sometimes the person calls back. You're not there, or you are in the middle of a sales call and have your cell phone turned off. You return the call, get voice mail and the cycle repeats. Instead, someone who is at a desk all day can call, leave a voice mail message, and be there when the prospect or customer calls back. Give them a selection of times when you are available and have that person schedule your appointments.
- Mailing information to prospects and customers. One five minute phone call to enlist the assistance of a helpful customer service rep can save you 30 minutes of finding the right literature, stuffing the envelope, searching through the slop sliding around the back seat of your car for the right address, etc.
- Compiling useful reports. My company provided weekly sales reports, showing every item ordered, shipped and invoiced to every customer. That was nice, but I wanted to see patterns over time. In other words, I wanted to know what they bought this week, last week, the week before that, etc.So, I had my kids cut up the computer reports, sort them by customer, staple them to scrap paper, and file alphabetically in my account folders. Great bonding experience with the kids, whom I thought had learned the alphabet in school. Before I made a sales call, I'd review that compiled information and know what kinds of purchasing patterns my customers were following. That was helpful.
- Reviewing reports and highlighting the useful information. Instead of looking at every item on a back order report, I had someone highlight those over two weeks old. I'd look at only those items. Saved me time. Made them feel important.
- Looking Up Prices for Bids and Quotes. I could sit on a computer for an hour or so looking up costs for a complex bid, or, I could have someone else do it. This one is a no-brainer.
- Turning my Penciled Notes Into Nice Looking Bids and Quotes. OK, this was before I became adept at using templates and a laptop. Now I can do it faster than I can give it to someone else to do. How many words per minute do you type? If you are a hunt-and-peck person, maybe you should consider this one.
- Checking On the Status of Backorder.
I could spend hours on the phone, or intent upon my computer screen, or, I could rely on my customer service people to provide me specific information by certain times. Which makes more sense to you?
- Expediting Backorders. Ditto.
- Filing. My teenagers needed something to do to earn their allowance. Better them than me. Yes, Kelly, H comes after G.
- Cleaning out the car.Ditto.
- Calling customers following delivery to insure that they received everything OK.
That's what those inside salespeople and customer service people are for. It's a nice touch. The customer is impressed that someone cared enough. That someone doesn't have to be me.
- Training customers in new product applications. Technical service people, manufacturer's reps and others can do this while I can be out selling something else.
- Making emergency deliveries. Calling a limo service and having them pick something up and deliver it is cheaper than you taking an hour of expensive selling time for this task. Makes a bigger impression, too. You just need to convince your boss of that.
- Dropping off samples. Why should I drive out of the way and take valuable selling time to drop off a sample to a receptionist or receiving department? Surely there's a better way. Taxi? Limo service? Unemployed teenager?
- Taking orders. Why should I spend valuable sales time writing down orders, and then calling the office to relay them on? The customer can do that. I'm there to talk about their needs and my solutions, not to be a clerk.
This litany of possibilities is designed to stimulate your creative juices. Once you get into the mindset, you can make all kinds of things happen.