Being distracted away from our daily sales activity is easier and more innocent than we realize.  Sure there are the obvious “guilty” distractions of social media, online shopping and chatting up your co-workers, but real work can also take up our time—things like completing reports, research, attending conferences, and drive time all eat away at our ability to do sales work.  There’s a simple antidote to all this distraction, one that works on your own productivity as effectively as it does on a procrastinating customer.

In the words of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein:

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.   

There you have your antidote.  A goal and a deadline. How’d we put a man on the moon and bring him back safely? JFK challenged his team with a very ambitious, very public goal and a deadline.  The plan without the deadline might not have inspired such an achievement.  Nothing snaps a goal into focus faster than a ticking clock.  Picture you’re a rep doing your best to prospect this week.  You are going to fit in as many calls and emails as you can.  Now picture you’re a rep trying to prospect 100 schools a day this week.  In other words, you’re a rep with a goal and a deadline.  At the end of the week, which scenario will have produced the most connections?  In scenario one, it’s pretty easy to see how days and even weeks can slip by where other tasks or distractions were more important than the mundane work of prospecting.  Unfortunately, prospecting waits for no man.  It’s a numbers game that needs persistent number accumulation to work.  Time lost makes the resulting sales opportunities gone with the wind.

You might think a daily or weekly activity goal sounds like a lot of pressure.  Personally, I think facing a sales goal at quarter or year end, without any pipeline to make that goal with is far worse pressure.  It’s far more humane to manage reps around activities that they can control, than sales coming in that they sometimes can’t control.  Give yourself or your team challenging activity targets with short term deadlines.  Avoid using outcome-based goals as activity targets.  Number of appointments set or opportunities created per week, for example should already be accounted for in terms of sales quotas, and doubling down on them won’t help a rep that’s struggling to build a pipeline to focus on prospecting. Here are some forms activity goals can take to be more effective in stamping out procrastination, guilt and reps coming up empty handed when their sales quota is due.

  1. Make a prospecting activity plan for the week ahead. It doesn’t have to be super specific but it should have details about what happens each day, such as contacting the STEM Director from all 50 Regional Offices of Education in the territory on Monday and Tuesday, then doing follow up calls on new pipeline Wednesday, and doing 20 drop ins Thursday and Friday in a certain district.
  2. Define your power hour time. I’ve written in the past about blocking sacrosanct prospecting hours on your calendar where you do nothing but prospect. But in practice I find if you really want those to be useful, you also need to plan ahead for what you’re going to do in those hours, or they wind up turning into 35 minutes of deciding who to call and 25 minutes of actual calling.  Maybe use a pre-planning hour for the week where you pull a call list for each power hour, or book each power hour by also adding a county and/or job title that is the specific plan for that session.
  3. Map your territory by date. Print a map of your districts and plan the month or two ahead with some colored highlighters.  Two weeks ahead of each planned visit, prospect for appointments in each segmented area.  If you’re an inside rep, you can use the same method but obviously you’re not saying “I’ll be in your area on March 5,” you’re saying “I’m scheduling appointments with schools in your area on March 5.”  Somehow putting a tentative date out there helps to force a yes or no out of those requests.  If you are always working two weeks ahead of your geographic plan you will know what you have to accomplish every day for prospecting. Hence it counts as a goal and a deadline.
  4. Plan your prospecting around Marketing’s plans. This is especially good for reps with small territories, because you are contacting the same targets more frequently and need to change your messaging more than reps in large territories that stick to a more consistent drumbeat.  Use your Marketing Team’s plans, blog calendar, conference schedule – whatever you’ve got to go on, to create a theme for each week or set of weeks.  Your activity goal and deadline will be to run through your entire prospect list with that theme during that time period, then rotate to the next message or theme.
  5. Make it a simple 50 contacts a day, 70 contacts a day – it depends on your business but you probably know what’s reasonably achievable on a consistent basis — and chart it where the whole team can see. Reps are very accountable to one another when those numbers are transparent.  Startups:  A word of caution.  If you personally haven’t sustained a certain volume of outbound prospecting for a few months yourself, don’t pull a number out of thin air for reps. Let the reps set that first goal as a team and together you can adjust it as time goes on.  It will make all the difference in your sales culture.

And remember, always track prospecting activity, good, bad or ugly though it may be.  This is the data used to confirm what it takes to earn each sales dollar.  If a business has a data-informed formula instead of having to guess how many calls, meetings and opportunities they need to make their annual sales goal, it is going to have a successful sales organization that has realistic targets, and whose team members feel great at the end of every week because they’ve done what they need to do to be successful.

I haven’t forgotten — I mentioned that the antidote works as well on customers as it does on us sales people.  It’s true.  Encourage your prospects to share their goals, then ask their time frame for implementing and achieving that goal.  In doing so you are giving that prospect a deadline to go with their goal.  You can discuss strategies for implementing your product to meet that deadline and show them what that looks like, even penciling in when you’d need their order by to make it happen.  It’s a great strategy to help them avoid procrastinating on their goal, and thereby risk not achieving it.  A plan and not quite enough time — the path to great sales achievement.

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