I was having a therapy session recently with a couple of district sales managers when an interesting topic came up – coping with overload.
By the way, a therapy session is when I buy someone lunch and they use the opportunity to vent.
In this particular case, one of the sales managers, whom I’ll call Dave, was expressing his concerns about not being able to be in the field with his people as much as he felt he should because of a myriad of other tasks that fill, not only his day, but his morning and evening time as well.
Dave’s not a whiner. His company is undergoing some internal changes that will ultimately improve efficiencies and help them stay competitive in their marketplace. Meanwhile, these changes are pushing some of the salespeople out of their comfort zones and Dave’s people are looking to him for answers and support.
Unfortunately, these same changes are impacting Dave also as he tries to get answers and put out the many fires that the changes are creating. In addition to feeding the chickens (his salespeople), he has to beat off the alligators (management) while at the same time, maintaining peace and calm throughout the kingdom (the customers).
As you can see, this is just a typical day in the life of a sales manager. You’ve probably been there yourself. Oh, you’re still there? Maybe I can help.
No, I’m not going to buy lunch and let you vent. I’m going to pass along a couple of ideas that may help. Notice the use of the word “may”. There’s no guarantee, but if you can make these ideas work for you, you’ll be ahead of the pack.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
When your to-do list is longer than your left arm, you either start picking things to do at random or you have to prioritize and do the things that are most important.
Of course, who has time to prioritize, right? We’re so busy trying to do stuff that we can’t stop and decide what stuff we really should be doing. In fact, most of us really don’t know how to prioritize.
Crash Course on Prioritizing
Here is a crash course on prioritizing for sales managers. By the way, this stuff works equally well for salespeople.
There are two things you need to do with each item on your to-do list.
First, classify each item as to whether it is a “Progress” or a “Maintenance” task.
A progress task is something that, when completed, will advance a sale or puts you into a better position to get a sale. Basically, anything you do that helps your salespeople advance a specific sale is likely to be considered a progress task.
A maintenance task is one, that when completed, maintains the status quo. Once a maintenance task is completed, you’re usually no closer to getting a sale. Doing paperwork and holding meetings are typical maintenance tasks.
Obviously we should be spending our time on progress tasks first.
Secondly, decide if each item on your to-do list is Important and/or Urgent.
Urgent items are time sensitive. An item is urgent if failure to complete it by a certain time will cancel or reduce the benefit of doing it. Responding to a RFP before the close date is an urgent item.
Important items have a high benefit. The higher the benefit, the more important the item. Returning a telephone call from a hot prospect is important.
Your top priority “A” items are those that are important and urgent. Your next priority “B” items are those that are important but not urgent. Your third priority “C” items are urgent but not important and your last priority “D” items are those that are not important or urgent. Many people often consider priorities “B” and “C” to be the same.
Once you’ve classified your to-do list as to type (progress or maintenance) and set the priority (A, B, C, or D), you start with your “A” priority progress items, then do your “A” priority maintenance items, then “B” priority progress items, “B” priority maintenance items, etc., until you’ve completed all the items which, for most of us, will be in about two years’ time.
Remember, the farther behind you are, the more time you have to catch up.
Using this method doesn’t change the number of things you have to do; it just shows you what you should be doing. That alone is progress.
Give Back the Monkey
Another challenge for both Dave and the other sales manager, Neil, is that they are highly supportive of their people and too often bend over backwards to assist them. This means that they are taking the monkey off the salesperson’s back and carrying it around for them.
Anytime someone comes into your office and drops a problem on your desk, they just gave you the monkey. Monkeys are messy, so I recommend you give it back as soon as you can.
I used to tell my salespeople that I didn’t want them coming to me with their problems unless they also had a couple of potential solutions they wanted to kick around. It’s amazing how creative people can be when tasked with coming up with their own solutions. Practice the following sentence, “That’s an interesting challenge you have there. What do you suggest we do about it?” Once you’ve said that, you just gave back the monkey.
I used to keep a small note on my desk that said, “Whose problem is this?” It helped remind me that I don’t have to carry everyone’s monkey around, just my own.
How many monkeys do you have on your to-do list? How many of your to-do items really belong to someone else? Give them back and get on with your job.
It Comes with the Territory
Frankly, I don’t know many sales managers who are not operating in perpetual overload. It seems to come with the territory, which is why many salespeople who move into sales management often go back into sales again.
I hope these tips help ease the load of being a sales manager just a little bit.
For more information on sales coaching and training, please refer to The Right Skills.
Salesforce Training & Consulting is a professional sales training firm and registered Salesforce.com Consulting Partner based in Toronto, with offices in Boston and Chicago, providing sales coaching, sales management consulting, salesforce implementation, sales training and sales personnel assessments.