“Time is money” and in the cut throat world of B2B sales, any second you waste could be an opportunity missed – which is why effective time management techniques are high on the agenda for top performing sales teams.
The risk of burning out is a real one, particularly for those working within a sales environment where expectations are high and targets are challenging. The temptation may be to just get your head down and work, work, work, but taking time-out to recharge is just as important.
That’s because the key to success is the quality of the work being done. Optimizing the time you have available, so it is used in the most effective and impactful way, is what will ultimately lead to the best results. And on a plus side, there are now loads of digital tools on the market that can help you.
From software that can help streamline your processes, to tools that can provide valuable data and insights and new channels of communication that have opened up. But it still takes time to manage them all and dealing with the information that’s flooding in has become a science in itself.
It’s likely that at any one time you’ll be juggling multiple projects and a whole host of different tasks, from contacting prospects, to conducting follow-up calls, going for meetings, checking in on existing accounts, analyzing data, planning sales pitches, the list goes on. If you’re not careful, it can quickly become overpowering and balls can accidentally be dropped.
Here we’re going to give you some ideas and top tips for how to manage your time more effectively and stay on top of a heavy workload.
Time management is essentially about knowing where your priorities should lie and it can broadly be separated into three categories:
- The mindset you apply
- The process you define
- The tools you use
Focus on making improvements in all three of these areas and it will go a long way towards helping you manage the demands being placed on you.
A good sales person knows that they need to control their mind or the little voices can start to take over. Distractions, such as anxiety, can quickly overwhelm and will be poisonous for your output. It’s therefore a good idea to find out what is going on and to develop strategies that will help keep your mind in check and performing at the optimal level for your personal circumstances.
How much do you value your time?
Take a moment to reflect on this question, as it’s not always as straightforward as it may sound. Again, it comes back to your priorities. Those things that are high priorities for you will naturally consume most of your time. The problem is, many people don’t take enough time to consciously decide what their priorities should be.
For example, if you’re a sales rep with a young family, you’ll want to make sure you hit your quotas in good time, so you’re able to spend as much quality time as possible with your family.
If you’re dealing with financial issues and need money fast, then your priority will be to make that buck quickly.
No matter what your motivation is, look at your priorities. What is important for you and how much do you value your time? Brian Halligan (CEO of Hubspot) offers us a valuable insight here: “I find that people work work work and don’t think think think, and that the percentage of time people work versus think is off. So I see people working a lot, and I say what’s your time spent thinking versus working?”
Take a moment to think about your priorities, before diving head-first into work work work.
I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve
The world is full of ‘shoulds’ and they can stop you from achieving your dreams. On a personal level, it can get so bad that your ‘shoulds’ become a major cause of anxiety and before you know it, you’re caught in a vicious cycle.
If there is a ‘should’ in your life but you haven’t done it yet, why not?
The answer is likely to be because the priority level you set for the task wasn’t high enough. So why waste time worrying about it? And if you really want it done, then get on and do it.
Sometimes these ‘shoulds’ can become tasks we just keep putting off all day long. We know we need to make that difficult call today, but we’re anxious about it, so we keep postponing it. All that means is that all day long it is eating away at you in the background, damaging your mental capacity.
If you must do it, then get it done! If you actually don’t really have to do it, then declare it an “I won’t” and resign yourself to living with the consequences. Either way, make a decision and move on, so you can get more work done.
Consider your mental load
Mental load is a term that refers to all the things that can be happening in your mind at the same time – the millions of thoughts, questions and fears. The greater your mental load is, the more difficult it can be to execute tasks.
If you keep everything in your mind all the time, then at some point you’ll forget something or get confused. Don’t let that happen.
Instead, have a system for recording everything of importance. David Allen of GTD (Getting Things Done) talks about an inbox everywhere and dealing with what’s in there at set times.
The idea is to batch process. Our minds work best when they can fully concentrate on one activity. Multitasking is a myth. In reality, we are just switching between things quickly, but to the detriment of our overall speed and ability to process.
Imagine if you had to reboot your computer every time you switched between programs. Instead of having all the programs open at once, you’d very quickly learn to do all the tasks relating to one program, before moving on to the next.
For sales people, this is an even more important technique, as the range of activities you engage in are very broad. Each demands a different type of mental activity and doesn’t lend itself well to constantly switching in and out.
Being able to focus on one activity at a time will increase your productivity – a lot!
A simple hack to help you create this new habit (if you’re not already doing it) is to schedule time slots in your calendar for certain activities.
For example, put in a 1-2 hour morning slot for prospecting. It’s often the least liked activity, so get it done and out of the way, so it’s not sitting there in the back of your mind. The rest of your day will then flow far more easily.
Next, add a slot for answering emails. This is a huge change for most people. Instead of reacting to emails as and when they arrive, deal with them within the scheduled time slot. Inbox zero may seem impossible at first, but it’s worth investigating.
Another important hack is to make sure you take breaks. When you work – work. When you take a break – take a proper break. You’ll be far more productive after refreshing and recharging. It will help your mind stay focused.
Master the game of flexibility
In sales, nothing ever goes according to plan. Prospects cancel meetings last minute, some close sooner than expected, while others can drag on.
What you need to have is a solid plan but one which is flexible enough to allow you to react on the fly. And that comes down to your preparation.
Imagine you’re going to call a difficult prospect. Because it’s likely to be a hard conversation, you’ll probably spend a lot of time getting into the right frame of mind before finally picking up the phone.
But what are you planning to do afterward, when you put the phone down?
If it goes well, then make sure you keep the momentum going. Don’t stop there and let that positive energy go to waste. Keep working your way through your prospects. Only stop when it’s time to take a break.
Always have a contacts list ready that you can crack on with and when you plan in your prospecting time, make sure you have enough leads to call.
If you are visiting a client physically then sit down and prepare a list of other leads you could call on, who are also in the area. Should anything happen to your original appointment (should be canceled or finish sooner than expected), you can use the time to call on other prospects.
Being mentally prepared won’t help you if your sales process isn’t well thought through and fully optimized. Start by making sure you’re only working with the very best leads. If you aren’t already doing so, sit down with the marketing team and figure out together how you can improve your lead generation process. Align your resources and thinking, then use them to attract the right kind of leads. Check there is a strong qualification process in place and keep talking to each other to refine the process.
What system are you using to make sure you only speak to the best opportunities? All that glitters isn’t gold, when it comes to sales pipeline management. There will be companies or deals we expect to be great that turn out to be far from it. As little as 20% of your opportunities may end up bringing in 80% of your revenue. Which opportunities are they? What are their characteristics?
Work out what they are and put markers and checks in place to help you filter out those leads and the best opportunities. Always work on your top priority list first and aim to move that pipeline along.
Know your story
Before you speak to any leads, work out a top class elevator pitch, put together your general call scripts and any other helpful materials ready. Knowing what to say, to whom and at what exact point, is a skill every good sales rep needs to master. Having all the material prepared and at hand will save you an enormous amount of time. Have a look at our free guide below for examples of great sales call scripts and advice on creating your own sales call script.
Don’t schedule in another meeting or call, if you can get more out of the current one. For example, if you want to send the prospect a specific piece of information, do it during the call and offer to go through it together straight away.
Also, go through the typical questions and objections that you may face and be clear on the answers. Know your story.
On the call
The first thing you need to think about, is when is going to be best to call your prospects. You want to reach them in the most receptive mood.
If you’re selling kitchen utensils to restaurants then calling during the busy lunchtime rush isn’t going to get you anywhere. It will be a waste of your time.
Refer to your buyer personas and work out their schedules, then slot calling times into your calendar that are going to be most appropriate. Fit in the rest of your tasks around these.
When you are on the call itself, keep it short and sweet. Nobody likes long and winding small talk or introductions. Say enough to be polite and friendly and to set a good tone for the call, but otherwise don’t drag it out.
With face-to-face meetings, a slot of one hour will usually be the default. In reality, many meetings won’t need an hour. Be realistic and help everyone save some time by allocating less and remaining on point.
Don’t stay longer on a call than you need to. Get your points across and move the call on to the next step as quickly as possible. Always have an end goal in mind for every call. Usually, there’ll be three possible scenarios:
1. You’ll achieve the outcome everyone is striving for (making arrangements for delivery of the product/service)
2. You’ll get a positive outcome that moves things along (such as getting the next meeting booked)
3. You’ll get a bad outcome
Remember these wise words said by Richard Branson (Virgin Group)- “Speak to people … It can save you and them a lot of time”. Hitting the nail on the head, this should forefront your mind; the person you’re calling is always the most important thing- they hold the key to your success.
As we’ve already touched on, batch processing activities makes a lot of sense and will help you stay in the zone, aiding your productivity. Here’s how it can work in practice – take 10 leads and call them one after the other. Only make quick notes for any important things you might forget, otherwise after you called the 10 leads batch process all the admin. Open the CRM and enter all the details. Then write the 10 follow up emails and schedule in the follow up activities. And then you take the next 10.
Have the right tools
In today’s world of advancing technology, there are now loads of digital tools that can help you do more, in less time. They can be especially useful for managing your time more effectively.
In the area of sales technology, huge strides are being made. For example, you no longer need to log activities manually. Calls and emails can be automatically captured by your systems (if your current system can’t do this, then perhaps it’s time you revisited your options).
Automation is the name of the game nowadays. You want to be automating as much of the sales process as possible. Including:
- Set up reminders and alerts in your calendars and your CRM system
- Have a content library at your fingertips – ideally with performance statistics included that let you know which email works best with what attachments
- Create template emails
- Share success rates with your colleagues and figure out what works best in what scenario.
Everyone wins when the system is fully optimized in this way.
Look to business experts of the world, for their advice on tools they find useful- no matter how simple. Consider these words of logic from Microsoft’s Bill Gates– “On my desk I have three screens, synchronized to form a single desktop. I can drag items from one screen to the next. Once you have that large display area, you’ll never go back, because it has a direct impact on productivity.” Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference to your daily life in B2B sales, and easy hard-ware perks such as extra screens, a slicker keyboard and wireless mouse can offer more than you’ll know.
Try to keep distractions to a minimum. Again, apps and other system tools can help you here. A key one here is stopping notifications, such as for new emails or for social media activity. Turn them off. That way you can focus on the task at hand and work through your emails and other tasks, during the time slots you’ve allocated to them.
This CSO Insights study is very revealing:
Currently, salespeople are spending 35.9% of their time selling, with the rest of their week consumed by other tasks. But more selling time is just half the equation. Salespeople don’t just need to make “more” calls, they need to make “great calls” as well. Item three on the chart shows the need to improve salesperson/client communication.
What the study shows – and what we hope you’ve taken from this piece – is that striving for better time management by ensuring you’re in the right frame of mind and using tools to help automate and streamlining your processes, is the best way to go.