The question I ask sellers and business owners most often is,
“What’s the biggest obstacle to where you are now and achieving your sales goals?”
What does your gut tell you is the most popular response? What would YOU say?
Here they are in descending order:
3rd most common response – “Better pricing/lower costs would help me convert more.”
2nd most common response – “Finding better, more qualified prospects to buy.”
MOST COMMON RESPONSE – “I don’t have enough time to spend prospecting and developing new business.”
If you’re my client and we’re working in your business, or you’re a sales pro and I’m your sales coach, you’ll find me poking holes in all 3 of those responses. I’d tell you, #1 – that’s a lack of knowing your customers and connecting them to the true value of your offers. I’d say #2 is probably a flat-out excuse for lack of persistence and loss of patience, which means a wimpy pipeline.
The most popular answer, however, I take a bit of a kinder, gentler approach to help sellers clear the path to sell so that they (you guessed it) then have NO MORE EXCUSES for lack of productivity.
Lack of productivity, ie – time for active selling, can usually be boiled down to two key things: Distractions and Discipline.
Frustrated sellers usually think getting organized and improving their productivity requires a giant overhaul. Just like when we make those New Year’s resolutions to be healthy and throw everything out of our pantry, vow to eat like a caveman/woman, buy spanky new shoes and workout gear, and sign up for a fancy gym package – those intentions are great but how realistic is it to think that you can suddenly exist as a new person in a new reality? Welcome to broken resolutions. That’s exactly how it happens. We change everything instead of looking around to figure out the root causes and how we became programmed or conditioned to our current circumstances.
Instead of trying to make radical changes, to clear the path to more selling time, examine these three factors and reduce your distractions to engage your discipline:
Environment – scan the place you work and realize there is definitely room to make improvements here.
Distraction: What does your desk look like? Does everything have a home? How many times are you touching paper, files, folders, et cetera?
Discipline: Try to only touch everything once. Do it, Delegate it, File it, Trash it. Take a few minutes and organize your desk so that you have a clean workspace and reduce the clutter in your brain. Get in the habit of cleaning your desk before you leave every day so you can start literally with a clean slate and few distractions when you get into the office.
Distraction: Are you in an open-concept office? Are you in a cube or do you have a very social office where people pop into your space and frequently interrupt you?
Discipline: This is a tough one but you may have to do a few things here to cut down on distractions. Talk to your coworkers, give them a signal, a sign, or shut the door to let them know that you’re busy working or need to concentrate. If you have employees or direct reports, set up “office hours” where they can come to you (outside of an emergency, of course) to discuss things. Push off interruptions or pop-ins to a designated time when you can help them. Most issues aren’t urgent, your colleagues are coming to you when they think of something and THEY’RE actually distracted and pulling you in with them.
You may also have to get up and move to another spot to make calls or escape the social butterflies. If you’re not making business development calls or follow-up calls because you’re missing the privacy or time, stop making excuses. Go to your car. Go to the conference room. Go to a closet, if you have to – make a seat out of the copy paper boxes. Yes, I’ve done that before. There is no excuse for not making pipeline filling, or opportunity moving calls. No excuses.
Habits – be honest about how you really work and how your habits are undermining your priorities.
Distraction: Do you check email first thing when you get to work and get sucked down a rabbit hole that gobbles up two hours of your time?
Discipline: Get control of your email. Use filters and folders to organize conversations and work. Make the delete button your friend. “FYI” and “CC all” emails are time vampires. Delete immediately and try to train your colleagues to not send extraneous email conversations. I’ve found it extremely helpful to set time blocks for email. I won’t spend more than 15 minutes at any given time on checking, responding, and clearing emails. If there is an email that requires more work, a more thorough response, or other action, put it on your calendar as a “to do” when you designate the appropriate time for it. Your email inbox shouldn’t dictate how you spend your time. Email doesn’t pay the bills so stop letting it drive your bus.
Distraction: Social Media. It’s so addicting, those little “likes” and thumbs-up release bursts of dopamine in our brain and we experience a little “high” as a result. Partner that with a sneaking suspicion that we might be missing out on something someone did, said, posted (FOMO), and you’re seeing 15 to 30 minutes wasted (probably more) in any given sitting. It’s also hard to focus after you’ve just seen THE FUNNIEST cat video and, of course, you can’t keep those cat videos to yourself – you must re-share, tag your friends, and then, of course, share with your coworkers because you have to explain the laughs and giggles.
Discipline: Set specific times to check your social feeds. (*Note, we’re not talking about the use of social media in social selling scenarios). Limit your social time to breaks and lunch. Remove notifications from your laptop or PC and even your phone if it’s too tempting to not be distracted. This goes for text messages too. Stop letting those time vampires suck you in.
Personality – how do you best direct your own productivity?
Distraction: Do you always do the easy stuff first and time runs out before you can get to the stuff that really makes a difference in your success?
Discipline: Procrastination can be the cause or a symptom of the root cause. True procrastinators have some mental monkeys that make things difficult (read this fantastic post that illustrates what’s going on in a true procrastinator’s brain). More often, especially with salespeople, procrastination is a symptom of the problem – which is that they don’t want to make the calls, knock on the doors, or ultimately do the things that could result in rejection. This is a painful admission – does it sound like you?
The first step is admitting your reluctance is pushing off these prime activities. The second step is asking WHY. Why do you avoid making calls? Is it because it’s hard and awkward to ask people for their time or trust? Do you really fear the “no” or rejection, or do you deep down fear you’re not good at this and you’re faking your way through this job? Once you figure out WHY you put these pipeline building, sales making, and quota butt-kicking activities last, you can decide to change.
Make a list, make a plan (I know procrastinators LOVE to plan and make lists – planning is easy because it’s not DOING) and then do the first thing on the list. And then the second. Remove the environmental interruptions and the bad habits that distract you. Get started. That’s the hard part.
Author and motivational speaker, Jim Cathcart, writes in “The Self Motivation Handbook” about how to do those “hard things” that you keep putting off and change procrastination and excuses into discipline. When Jim wanted to get healthy, he decided to start jogging. But, it was hard and painful, and he would find reasons to not do it. So he decided to make a promise to himself. He promised that every day, no matter what, he would get dressed, put on his running shoes, and at the very least, make it out to the curb. What he found was that when he kept his promise and made it to the curb, the most challenging part – getting started – was over. He was there and there was little to no resistance to keep going. Instead of talking himself out of it with excuses inside the warm and cozy house, he had to make the decision to go back once he was already dressed and outside at the curb . . . where it was actually pretty easy to keep going. Jim became a runner and still is to this day at the age of 70.
What excuses and distractions are keeping you from world domination or life-changing successes? Are there interruptions in your work environment that keep you from making calls? Do you have habits that are time vampires sucking away at your productivity? Or is fear there, making excuses to keep you from starting those challenging actions that lead to big payouts?
You don’t have to overhaul your life to become more organized and productive. Take a look at these three things and for every distraction, turn it into a discipline.
Until next time, stop hoping, start SELLING (and make it to that curb)!