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Time is Enemy Number One

Ever-shortening product life cycles due to rapid technological advancements in the global economy are causing virtually every product and service to quickly become a commodity. Given the warp speed economy in which we do business, nothing is more important in salespeople’s work life than time.

Time is your single most important leverage. Unfortunately it is a depreciating asset that is non-recoverable. Once you’ve given it away, you can never get it back. Since time is money, you should be discriminating as to whom, when and under what circumstances you should allocate it. Not only do we have to manage spending time on the right people, we also have to work to shorten the length of time it takes to sell people. Equally important is the time it takes to lose deals. Bad news is good news when it’s received early. Too often salespeople operate under the belief that “my time isn’t as valuable as yours”. They would rather patiently wait for the occasional bones or crumbs that prospects throw their way than going out and looking for better opportunities. Clients receive this unintended message and they have no problem having you go on unending fool’s errands. Many salespeople would rather chase opportunities in the face of insurmountable odds and face inevitable failure than to prospect. A lot of misdirected use of time is simply avoidance activity. There will always be more opportunities to invest in than there is time and resources. Therefore, salespeople should be discriminatory and selective with their time.

Traditional salespeople operate under a false sense of security that if they persist, outlast the competition, show the customer they care, and be assertive, they will ultimately prevail. In reality, this is simply not true. Professional salespeople are good at qualifying their opportunities and cutting their losses when they are operating under non-optimum conditions. They know there are only two winners in a competitive selling situation: the salesperson who was awarded the deal and the salesperson who lost early and saved time.

In today’s marketplace selling is more about sifting, sorting and selecting opportunities that have the greatest likelihood of closing, as opposed to always trying to sell, convince, persuade and cajole. Salespeople who take on a business owner mentality look at acquisition cost as overhead that needs to be judiciously guarded and protected. Unfortunately, 80% of what salespeople are spending their time on has a low value. Working in this way is a waste of your most valuable asset, time, and not consistent with a business owner mentality.

Time should also be viewed as an inventory control system. A business owner who looks at inventory has one thing in mind: turn it as quickly as possible, because time is money. A salesperson with a business owner mentality sees their sales pipeline in the same way. A poor inventory control system in sales is a surplus in the pipeline of accounts that aren’t viable, closable, and moving in a timely fashion. Time-oriented salespeople know the longer it takes to sell prospects, the more time and money they have to invest elsewhere. “Time becomes your enemy because it downgrades the value of your proposals, the likelihood that priorities will shift and the money your customers can save or gain by your proposal,” says Jim Holden.

In sales, you only have a limited amount of sales calls you can make in a year. They represent your acquisition or opportunity cost. Hence, sales calls are your currency. Where you invest them will determine your return. It is important for salespeople to create rules of engagement: what is the minimum acceptable action I will accept from a prospect? If you aren’t getting results in exchange for your effort, you are wasting your time and your money.

Unlike relationship selling where you don’t have to continue reselling a customer when you get an order, transactional selling can be very time consuming and costly. In transactional selling you incur the direct costs of selling your customer over and over again each time they present you with an opportunity until the sale is made or lost. While you are waiting to close one customer, your time is delayed in pursuing any new opportunities. This is relevant also in the opportunity costs of sending information, doing presentations, filling out quotes and following up with disinterested prospects.

“‘Transactional selling’ unnecessarily delays deals and eats up your valuable time because it is in the customer’s best interest to exchange time for the price cuts that inevitably accompany it. They wait for the fourth quarter or the end of the month knowing they can weasel price concessions from you. However, in relationship selling, time is money for your customer. Stalling works against this type of customer because it increases their opportunity costs by not getting an immediate return on their investment,” says Jim Holden.

The name of the game in sales is efficiency. But the process most salespeople use is appallingly inefficient. They waste an untold amount of their time. Frequently, they allocate their time equally among the entire universe of opportunities and wait until prospects disqualify themselves. They aren’t treating their time with respect and it shouldn’t come as a shock that their prospects don’t either. The more you respect your time, the more likely you will attract prospects who will treat you and your time with the same respect.

In the old days you could use dogged determination as an effective sales strategy. Salespeople would simply employ a full frontal assault and mercilessly chase prospects down until the prospect said, “Never call me again,” or they threw up the white flag and said, “Enough is enough, I‘ll buy.” But with the advent of do not call lists, voice mail and email coupled with hectic work schedules, long work hours, less loyalty with suppliers and more bottom line accountability, this bygone strategy no longer works. Salespeople can no longer be world-class acrobats, jumping through hoops and using false hope as a sales strategy.

Salespeople also fall into the trap of spending too much time with the wrong type of opportunities and not enough time with the right opportunities. These are the type of salespeople who have the exact opposite problem that most salespeople have who wantonly and indiscriminately call on everyone. They are very good at precisely targeting key accounts in segments where they aren’t competitive or it is a poor match. It is fondly called the Mt. Everest effect because it is there and it is monumentally huge. They go after big-name accounts which they don’t have a chance in the world to get.

Another common mistake salespeople have about time is that they believe they can manage it. Time management is an oxymoron. You can’t manage time, only what you do with time. In essence you must become a master of prioritizing. Most salespeople make the mistake of trying to manage time by organizing their week with activity that is unqualified and a poor use of their time. If one looked at their calendar they would be impressed with their organizational skills but upon further examination, they would see they have organized and arranged their week with sales calls that will at best only net them a 5-10% return. There will always be more opportunities to invest in than there is time. Therefore, one of the greatest skill sets a salesperson can have is being able to quickly assess whether a prospect has a “compelling reason to change”, and being able to confidently walk away from opportunities that will be a time drain.

Time is money and salespeople need to be fiscally responsible. Peter Drucker wrote in The Effective Executive that one needs to know what to do with their time and what not to do. This is the power of being discriminatory. The sign of a good salesperson is to know which business to pursue. The sign of a truly accomplished salesperson is knowing what not to pursue and when to cut their losses. A recent study commissioned by Fortune Magazine concluded that a leading indication of executive denial is a background in sales. The conclusion is that hope and reckless determination are not a stable strategy in today’s marketplace.

The customers with whom you do business always pay for those with whom you do not. Your mandate is to maximize your time with those prospects which you have the highest likelihood to do business with and minimize your time with those who have a low likelihood of doing business with you. Protecting and guarding your time lowers your costs of sales.

Effective salespeople are like money managers or portfolio managers. Windows of opportunity come and go so quickly that you always have to alter your portfolio. You ruthlessly replace the old and inefficient with the new. This strategy is effective for both parties because when you and the prospect don’t waste each other’s time everyone wins. If your time isn’t being respected or it isn’t being reciprocated, know that it may be time to exit.

As you think of yourself as a money manager, you start to think of your time as an investment account. You are either investing in it wisely or wastefully withdrawing from it. If you earn $150,000 and waste an hour each day, that is $18,750 you are wasting and withdrawing. Big prospects justify major time and small prospects justify small amounts of time.

If time management is critical to one’s success, timing is even more important. With whom and under what circumstances are critical elements of timing. Good timing will carry the day more so than a superior offering. Therefore, time your offerings when your prospect is in a position to make decisions that can forward your cause. In real estate it is location, location and location. In sales it is timing, timing and timing.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com