Mike Rockwood believes salespeople need to approach all selling situations proactively. He says their fear of uncomfortable situations too often leads to over-preparation and over-planning.

Productivity Prevents Stupidity

Oct. 1, 2015
Nothing is more discouraging to salespeople, creates more stress for them, and is more mind-numbing than to be routinely overwhelmed by too many demands, too much data, and too little time to do the right things really well.

Are your salespeople becoming stupid? Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, says that’s what will happen if you merely provide a paycheck and fail to challenge a worker’s thoughts and emotions. He says your salesperson, “generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it’s possible for a human creature to become.”

To avoid such a tragedy, help your team operate at a challenging and rewarding level — that Flow state of performance we have discussed in this series of articles over the past year. One of the best ways to do this is to help salespeople become more productive. Nothing is more discouraging to salespeople, creates more stress for them, and is more mind-numbing than to be routinely overwhelmed by too many demands, too much data, and too little time to do the right things really well.

Productivity skills should be included in the foundation of any training for sales teams in the electrical industry.  But how can we teach such a complex and personal concept? We could enroll each newbie in a David Allen seminar or require them all to listen to the Tim Ferriss Show podcasts or read all his books. My company has culled some sage advice from many sources and present it in an easy-to-remember format and then repeat, repeat, repeat. Each time we go through this class, four times per year, we ask each salesperson to choose one item and perform it for 30 days. Making a habit of four of these each year will revolutionize their productivity and help them reach flow states of performance more often. 

Seven Secrets to Sales Productivity

Time block. Multi-tasking is a myth; you can’t do it. Your brain actually time-splits and you produce the same amount, but it takes longer and increases your error rate. For all important work, you need to block out time and pay attention to it. Take at least 10% of your day and block yourself from all interruptions so you can concentrate and get important things done.

Default to action. When in doubt, act. Too often, our fear of uncomfortable situations leads us to too much preparation and planning. It’s always better to call or go to see the person, and it’s always better to submit the report. A mediocre plan well executed is better than an excellent plan poorly executed.

Run toward fire. Navy Seals are trained that they are ultimately safer running toward enemy fire than away from it. The same holds true for you when problems arise. When a customer is dissatisfied because of a problem with the product or a warranty issue, or your service has been unsatisfactory, run toward the problem. Running toward problems and getting very involved minimizes the effects and builds trust. 

File, don’t pile. It’s tempting to just pile papers, emails and voicemails, but it’s the least productive way of keeping track of things. Use Must-Do Lists and calendars to manage your workday. Use filing systems based on person, topics, and dates to store things where you can retrieve them.

Think in terms of the Next “X” Action Step. We do large, complex tasks in small manageable steps. Do not be overwhelmed by the complex tasks and don’t delay getting started because they intimidate you. Identify the next step needed and devise an “X” (extraordinary) way to get it done. 

Start early and start with important tasks. Most salespeople —  your competitors included — do not do this. That’s the best reason for you to do so. You do not want to be like most salespeople.  Most start their day at the same time as other salespeople and with tasks that are urgent or are of interest to them. These are bad habits. Starting early will pay big rewards and starting on the most important tasks will insure that you accomplish them before the urgent matters of the day overtake you.

I know of one very successful salesperson who schedules her important client visits for the first thing every morning and has seen three or four of them by mid-morning, when most of her competitors are just getting started.  Needless to say, she is a very productive person.

Get organized. Do not be overwhelmed by the vast amount of data and the sheer number of demands on your attention and time. It’s bad nowadays, but data overload has always been a problem for salespeople. To get organized, two areas deserve special attention —  emails and inboxes. Below are seven secrets to organizing each of them.

You probably have five or six inboxes, including a mobile phone voicemail inbox, an email inbox, text inboxes, office phone voicemail inboxes, a Twitter or GroupMe App inbox and a U.S. Mail inbox on your desk. Crazy, right? For better inbox management, try the following:

1. Limit the number of inboxes to the fewest possible, forwarding some to others and eliminating some altogether. If you must to have an inbox but do not want to monitor it, leave a message to that effect, such as, “This is my cell phone mailbox and I do not use it. Contact me either by text or email.”

2. Remember that your brain is not an inbox. Your brain has only so much processing bandwidth, no matter how good your memory or how high your IQ. It’s a mistake to use up that bandwidth for easy tasks like remembering promises, dates, commitments, etc. Those tasks should be relegated to inboxes (and Lists and Calendars). 

3. Do not let inboxes be junk drawers that you rummage through looking or listening for things. Empty all your inboxes regularly, at least weekly so that they remain inboxes and not trash cans or files.

4. Deal with items in your inbox in the order they are in, do not “forage.” Every time you look at a document, or listen to a message for a second or third time, you are wasting time.

5. Tackle all items in your inbox that you can take care of in two minutes or less. Don’t record it for later action, don’t file it, save it, and don’t put it on your calendar. If it will take two minutes or less, do it right then. Do it before you even read the next email or listen to the next message.

6. Use your Calendar and Must-Do List to capture items that require your attention in the future.

7. Use a filing system to store important items for future use. This system should be out-of-sight so it does not “nag” you but is available when you need it.

I also have found the following tips will help you manage your email more effectively.

1. Turn off audible notifications on your computer and phone. This will help you focus your attention and be more productive.

2. Delegate response needed on as many emails as possible. If a supplier rep needs to contact the customer, delegate it. If the inside salesperson or the credit department or customer service department should handle it, send it to them, copying all. The point here is to make that delegation quickly.  Do not wait until you see them later in the day.

3. Schedule routine times each day when you check your email. Be sure to notify all your VIPs that this is the case. Do not view emails constantly all day.

4. Work on an important priority task before even checking email in the morning.

5. Store messages you can’t or won’t work on. All email programs are searchable databases, so each day you should move yesterday’s emails to the “Saved Emails” folder. It takes just one click to store them in this folder, and then the messages aren’t cluttering your inbox and are easy to find if you need them later.

6. Discard everything you possibly can. Block senders of junk email and unsubscribe as much as you can. You should be able to trash more than half the things in your inboxes after only a cursory read.

7. Schedule anything you can’t do right now by putting it on your Must-Do List or Calendar. Do not let it sit in the email. If you do not schedule it, you are fooling yourself and cluttering up your work life.

I hope these tips will help you and your sales team work smarter, not harder.   

Mike Rockwood, executive V.P. and general manager, Associated of Los Angeles in Los Angeles and Lou Pontarelli, the company’s sales and marketing manager, are sales veterans with years of experience in this market. This is the fifth article they have written for Electrical Wholesaling magazine this year. To access these article, go to www.ewweb.com and type “Rockwood” in the search engine. You can email Mike at [email protected] and Lou at [email protected].