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How to manage your time for better sales

Published:Sunday | March 31, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Francis Wade, Sunday Business COLUMNIST

Many salespeople in Jamaica believe that their results are all about the numbers.

They focus on seeing the most prospects in the shortest amount of time. They approach sales planning with 'brute force' and they see time management as a tool to cut out all non-sales activities.

However, this approach overlooks something essential.

Great time management is not just about getting a lot of stuff done. It also has to do with the way people complete tasks. Salespeople who stress and panic about finding new customers end up perfecting the habit of being frantic and distracted.

Once, I met a salesperson who closed a very quick sale with me. In subsequent interactions, I found that I had to work hard to get anything done with him: lost email and full voicemail-boxes were the norm.

After about a year, he disappeared altogether, and when I sought him out to make another purchase, he could not be found. I was forced to find another salesperson.

A few months later, he called out of the blue, explaining that someone had mentioned my name to him and it had jogged his memory. I was surprised to hear that he was still in the business. By then, it was too late: his poor time management had cost him the sale.

Among salespeople, this story sounds familiar; it's a frequent occurrence here in Jamaica. Sales professionals often cannot organise their time well enough to do the basics, like maintaining contact with customers and prospects long enough to make it through a complete sales cycle.

Nurturing a relationship for the one or two years it takes to close a sale requires good time management. Many salespeople find themselves too frantic and distracted each day to keep track of the information that comes in, let alone adjust their own activities in response.

Instead of developing the more advanced habits of calmly creating and executing plans, they jump on their smartphones and start putting out fires before breakfast.

In the middle of a meeting with a prospect, they answer calls, texts, and email messages, hoping that a 'bigger fish' is trying to contact them.

While they drive from one appointment to another, they multi-task furiously and endanger their own welfare as well as others. They don't have time to take care of their health, appearance or relationships; that neglect eventually catches up with them.

Whether or not you think you currently engage in all these behaviours, you should:

1. Recognise the symptoms:

As salespeople, you wear your high energy level and ability to work hard as a badge of honour. You often put in longer hours and don't consider the need for time- management assistance.

However, you may be overlooking some of the modern symptoms of time-management failure: overflowing email inboxes, feelings of guilt from not spending enough time with loved ones, late arrivals, and a growing reputation for losing track of action items.

2. Know that you are not a machine:

Machines have neither feelings nor living spirits, so they can be run into the ground and replaced at will. Human beings aren't the same.

When you ignore your well-being and treat yourself like a robot, you'll pay for it in disease and burnout. You can delay the consequences, but you can't deny them.

3. Shed outdated time-management skills:

Research shows that we develop methods for managing time in our teens and early twenties.

These methods may have lasted a lifetime in the past, but the information explosion means that today's professionals need to adjust and revamp their time-management methods many times, especially when technology advances.

Some salespeople are unable to use the latest technology designed to help them take better care of their customers and prospects. They rely on old skills - like getting someone else to manage their email - and it leaves them out of touch and unable to manage the information that they encounter each day.

If you're relying on old skills, learning new ones won't just advance your career, it will also ease your workload and improve your well-being.

4. Put in support to change habits:

It's tough to change ingrained behaviours, and time management is no exception. If you need to upgrade your productivity skills, it won't happen overnight, no matter how motivated you are.

Instead, you need external support from several directions in order to effectively change your habits. Your manager may often be the best influence, but whatever supports you use, make sure you have something in addition to personal willpower.

As a salesperson, you must treat your time-management systems carefully.

Time isn't just money - it's opportunity.

Francis Wade is president of Framework Consulting and author of 'Bill's Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure'. Send feedback to