“It’s not a proxy of your seriousness that you’ve filled every minute in your schedule.” –Bill Gates
“I need to get out of the weeds,” the salesman said. His manager nodded in agreement. “I’m spending all of this time doing my job and it’s starting to eat in to my personal life. We have a child and another one on the way and I want to be there for them.”
I think that most salespeople have felt this way. You might be feeling this way right now. Long days, plenty of meetings, putting out fires, building proposals, following up on emails or voice mails or text messages. Too much wind shield time. Then there’s everything that didn’t get done that still has to get done. So you come home from work, maybe hit the gym or make time for the family, and then get back to the laptop because you have to update the CRM or answer all of the emails that you weren’t able to answer during the normal day. Repeat until burnout.
Too many salespeople have convinced themselves that busy and productive are synonyms. What the hell happened to us? Did we all see too many pictures of Gary Vaynerchuck pretending to martyr himself while sleeping in an airport or read too many Elon Musk tweets about a 20 hour work day? It’s time to get out of the weeds by focusing on high-gain/low effort activities, systems, and technologies that can help improve your quality of life and your sales results.
Spending time with low-gain accounts will put you in the weeds. They can be just as demanding as a high-gain account but yield little, if any, gain. Focusing on high-gain/low-effort account activities will de-leverage your time while allowing you to re-direct your energy on the best projects. Consider the following:
Which quadrant would you like to be in most of the time? Hint: Upper right. If you’re in the weeds where do you spend too much time and energy? Bottom left. Are you spending time with accounts that demand a huge amount of your effort and don’t buy very much of your product? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time with accounts who are openly disloyal (but one day, trust me, they’ll come on board)? Do you spend too much time with accounts who have expressed no interest in legitimately partnering with you while demonstrating that partnership in the form of new sales? The list goes on.
Here’s a test. Look at your last month of scheduled appointments. Put a check mark in one of the 4 quadrant field for each meeting. Notice any imbalances or patterns? If you’re in the weeds then you’re probably putting more check marks in the low-gain/high-effort or low-gain/low-effort boxes. Compare the time you spent with these accounts as well as the money you made from these accounts. Was it worth it? Could you have delivered better service and made more money by spending more time with your high-growth/low-effort accounts? If you have 50 accounts and you generate most of your income from 10 of them then what would happen to your quality of life and income if you spent significantly more time delivering value with The 10 and significantly less time with the low-value accounts? The hard-won loyalty you have with your best accounts can be amplified if you create the time to over-serve them.
You have to trust your systems, however imperfect. Getting out of the weeds means learning to use your systems and support network. Your inside sales team, your counter representatives, your branch managers are there to help you and you’re there to help them. But you have to trust them. That trust has to move in both directions. If you don’t trust your systems you’ll never be completely out of the weeds. “But they’ve messed stuff up” or “They screwed up an order and I had to deal with it.” And so have you! Sales is an imperfect science. Learning and improvement are happening with every transaction. If your company is culturally committed to systemic improvement then you have to learn to trust and use your systems. Luddites will eventually work themselves out of the organization. The idea of sitting in a Starbucks hammering out an order because you believe that you’re the only one that can do it right is the recipe for obsolescence. Learn to trust your systems, communicate with your accounts that these systems are in place to help them, and let the systems do their jobs. I know I’m asking you to give a sacred cow but it’s another way to create the time needed to focus on high-gain/low-effort activities.
Learn to manage your territory using technologies. It makes more sense to record a weekly Zoom that you can distribute to your low-gain accounts than it does to chase down a low-gain meeting. Investing in a newsletter service will help you share all of the general up-dates with your company. Write it, schedule it, and move on to high-gain work. They’ll all receive the same information at once and you can follow up with phone calls if you feel the need. Apps can also help you reach your entire territory at once. The Superphone app, for example, helps you organize your contact list for text-based marketing. Use it for promotions, product updates, trainings, announcements. Let your smart phone do the work. If you’re using face-to-face visits to share information that can be quickly broadcasted then it’s time to re-consider the value of your time and the quality of your meeting content.
Your customers give you feedback every day in the form of purchases. It’s frustrating to look at your sales numbers for the day and think ‘I was so busy today yet I missed my number.’ It’s also frustrating to look at your to-do list and realize that a lot of the effort you’re going to spend shoring it up will be spent on clients who aren’t rewarding you proportionally. But you’ll do it–another long night and/or another early morning.
Time goes by my friends. Protect your time. Be stingy with it. Discipline yourself to spend most of your time with a handful of high-gain accounts and much less time with low-gain accounts. I doubt your sales manager will object to that. Trust your systems. For some people that means setting their ego aside. Finally, learn to use technologies to help you share information on a broader scale at a significantly reduced effort.