There are many ways to work in sales these days. You could be an individual sales professional, or a key account manager who either maintains and ‘farms’ an account or ‘hunts’ for new business with existing or new clients. You could also be a sales manager, managing a team of sales professionals all the way to being a director or vice president of sales. No matter what role you play in sales, it is imperative to be effective with your activities, efforts and time, especially if you lead people, no matter if they report to you directly or indirectly. Since leadership is paramount in sales, no matter what role you play, to win a deal, you need to step into being a sales leader. This article reveals how to step into the role of a sales leader and the critical ingredients for running successful sales campaigns without wasting time and money.
According to research, sales leaders only spend 35% of their time actively selling and the rest of their time on activities that don’t generate direct revenue. So it is not surprising to see Gartner’s research, which shows that 58% of sales managers report they struggle to accomplish all the tasks they have been given in the time allocated. Many clients I work with tell me they are constantly “running out of time”. On digging deeper, I have discovered that they experience various feelings, thoughts and inner dialogues about time. Some examples are:
- “There is never enough time!”
- “How can I get all of this done within that timeframe?”
- “My company wants me to do all this extra processing and admin work.”
- “When will I have the time to sell?”
- “Will this activity get me closer to a purchase order?”
- “Time is money.”
If, as a sales leader, your relationship with time and how you manage activities is not shifted, the repercussions can be serious. You may constantly run out of time and not be able to address and manage the activities required to enjoy a thriving sales track record. And you may compromise your health and wellbeing by working more time than necessary to get everything on your to-do list ticked off. Eventually, you could miss your targets and KPIs and risk becoming like the 67% of sales professionals who are close to burnout.
So, what’s the solution? The market is full of ideas on how to solve time management issues. You need only google time management to find an abundance of generic training on the subject. But how can sales leaders, in particular, shift their relationship with time?
5 checkpoints to gain a ‘let’s get real’ perspective on time
There is nothing more equally distributed than time. Everyone has 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Time doesn’t care about what you do or focus on. Let’s look deeper into our relationship with time when we tell ourselves, “There’s not enough time”, using an ontological approach.
When we look at the reality of the situation, placing our energy on how much time we have, or wanting the amount of time we have to change, is not fruitful. Instead, by putting our energy into that which we can influence so that we can effectively produce results with the same amount of time, we can move closer to hitting our targets.
While there are many reasons and root causes for not having enough time, such as doing everything ourselves rather than delegating, being stopped by a fear of failure, or the need to be perfect, to name a few, let’s consider a few key aspects you might not be aware of.
Checkpoint 1: Layers of Reality
According to Ashkan Tashvir, author of best-selling books BEING and Human Being, the word ‘reality’ is overloaded. It is also ambiguous because it refers to three separate meanings: the absolutes of the world, which he calls First-layer Reality, the reality we collectively create, which he calls Second-layer Reality, and your own version of reality, which he refers to as Third-layer Reality. Applying First-layer Reality, time itself exists as an absolute. A requirement to complete various tasks within a defined timeframe is an example of a Second-layer Reality because the tasks and timeframes are collectively agreed upon within the organisation. How we experience the allocation of those activities and what we make it mean, such as, “I don’t have enough time”, is an example of a Third-layer Reality, which is our own individual experience.
Checkpoint 2: Perspective Quadrant
What if we were to expand our perspective? In the Book Human Being, Ashkan writes, “Perspective is your attitude towards something. It’s where you stand on a particular matter, your point of view or how you regard something. If you continually look at something from the same angle, you risk only ever seeing part of it”. Explained in detail in this article, expanding our perspective allows us to discern the real challenge from various angles. Ask yourself, “What is my perspective, my client’s, my competitor’s, my partner’s, senior management’s and the global perspective?” Most importantly, consider how the situation would look if you were to combine all perspectives to create the ‘leader’s perspective’. Perhaps there is a faster route to meeting the goals and expectations of the other stakeholders you are working with without consuming so much of your time and resources. By carefully considering all perspectives, you can identify more effective ways of meeting the objective.
Checkpoint 3: Narrative Lens
The narrative lens – explained with an example here – is defined as storytelling, such as the stories we repeatedly tell ourselves and others. Ask yourself, “When did I create the story that I never have enough time?” Maybe you ran out of time in responding to a tender in the past or missed a deadline, and this has become the reference point for your experience with time. Perhaps that experience has led you to tell yourself, “I always run out of time”, and, “There’s never enough time in the day to meet my deadlines.”
Checkpoint 4: Vision
According to Ashkan, vision is the faculty or state of being able to see, the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom. With that distinction in mind, ask yourself, “What is my client’s vision? Where do they want to go? What are their pain points?” Examples of their pain points could be needing to cut costs because their major shareholder has just appointed a new CEO who has urged all staff to reduce spending so the company can return to profitability. Or perhaps they have a vision of becoming the market leader and growing as quickly as possible through their suite of new products?
Checkpoint 5: Responsibility and Choice
In his latest book, Human Being, Ashkan distinguishes responsibility, a Primary Way of Being, as being “the primary cause of the matters in your life, regardless of their source”. He writes, “It [responsibility] is the extent to which you choose to respond rather than react to them by how you honor the autonomy that you have as a human being and is considered the power to influence the affairs, outcomes and consequences you are faced with”. Applying responsibility to the story of “not having enough time”, ask yourself, “What activities do I prioritize and how do I respond to circumstances relating to my work or clients”? For example, imagine a competitor has just launched a marketing campaign and declared your client to be the ‘must-win’ for the next twelve months in the same area for which you have provided, or are about to provide, a solution. How do you respond? By working overtime?
When leading sales teams and servicing clients as an account manager, I was constantly concerned about what people thought of me and whether they would buy from me. I would also run out of time constantly and would often be the last person to leave the office. In my mind, everything had to be perfect, from our responses to clients and presentations to tender submissions or any form of documentation. I had created this narrative for myself as a leader. Furthermore, I always considered the perspective of our clients and carefully analyzed their needs, convincing myself that they would buy our products. Despite my efforts, however, one particular client did not purchase a solution I had worked on with them for more than two years. Why? Because I had missed several critical elements, such as their preference for certain product characteristics. I had also missed their vision. Although I knew my client engaged with competitors, I continued the campaign, believing they would choose us. Ultimately, they did not choose us, mainly because of a different technology preference and product fit. Had I been authentically aware from the start, following the checkpoints and resources, a great deal of time and effort would have been saved.
Conclusion and results
Among multiple clients, one, in particular, stands out as someone who was highly challenged by time. By following the checkpoints outlined in this article, his actions became more and more effective. As a result of his shifts, he increased company revenue 10x.
To shift your relationship with time from a perspective of “not enough time” to being effective with time takes consistent effort. It helps to follow a proven checklist:
- Check the layer of reality - your own (Third-layer Reality), the group’s (Second-layer Reality) or at the natural law level (First-layer Reality).
- Review various perspectives about time and your challenge:
- I – your personal perspective
- Them – directly involved parties
- Others – people looking from a distance
- Global – looking at the challenge from above without emotion
- Leadership – taking all perspectives into account
- Through what narrative lens are you seeing the situation? In other words, what story are you telling yourself about it?
- What is the vision of your organization, client and partner?
- How are you choosing to respond to circumstances and client requirements/pain points? What are you choosing to spend your time on?
I would like to leave you with a quote from Margaret Heffernan: “Overall, people are about twice as likely to seek information that supports their own point of view as they are to consider an opposing idea”. If you would like to shift your relationship with time and increase revenue as a result, please contact me here.