How Salespeople Must Manage Their Time and Availability

Time management is critical for salespeople. Yet many salespeople struggle because they want to be available to their clients. Here is how to think about managing your time in sales.

When you are in a sales call, you do not have your email open. You also aren’t monitoring your phone for incoming texts or emails or one of the many other forms of notifications that continually distract you throughout the day. You wouldn’t dream of offending the person you are sitting across from by being distracted by these things, nor would you want to waste the gift of their time. For some period between, say, sixty and ninety minutes, you give your attention to what’s most important, without any fear of negative consequences from some message you might miss. For many, however, outside of a sales meeting, it is impossible to find them without their inbox open and smartphone dominating their time.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Availability

There are very few negative consequences for being away from your email for ninety minutes at a time—and likely none for your absence over more extended periods. When the downside risk is extremely low and the upside so great it’s impossible to measure, there is no reason to allow false beliefs and bad habits to cause you to choose former over the latter.

“Wait,” you say. “Iannarino, what if I am away from my email when one of my clients sends me something important?” The question itself is an excuse and carries no weight in determining how you work unless you are willing to concede that it is also necessary to have your inbox open when you are meeting with a prospective client. Would you be willing to subject this hypothetical client who might email with an equally theoretical important message to looking at the top half of your face hovering over your laptop lid while you scanned your inbox for notes so important they prevented you from giving them your undivided attention? I suggest you would not.

“What if I am away when the dream client I have been working on for months calls me back,” you ask. Here, we must again refer to the paragraph above, as there is no difference from a message in the first communication medium and the second. If you are willing to miss the call because you are in a face-to-face meeting with a client or prospect without fear of losing an opportunity, then you have already lost the argument. In any of the cases above, you act as if the client sending the message would excuse your absence if you were in a face-to-face meeting, treating the same absence differently were giving your full attention and focus over to something else. Your hypothetical client doesn’t know that you are not in a face-to-face meeting.

The lie that you need to be available at every moment through your inbox or phone deprives you of the focused time and attention on the critical things you need to do to succeed in sales.

What You Believe Is Important

How you manage communication is evidence of your mindset and your priorities, two factors critical to success in any endeavor, but with heightened importance to salespeople (and sales managers) due to the nature of our goals and responsibilities.

It is not healthy to believe that you will experience a negative outcome, personally or professionally, by being unavailable throughout periods of the day. This belief indicates you think your role is something other than sales, that your position is that of an account manager or customer service rep or some role that might require you to be at your client’s beck and call. Even more, this mindset suggests you believe you are servile, subservient, and that you create so little value that your unavailability for a relatively short time would cause you harm.

More still, the belief that you can’t give something else your full focus and attention demonstrates your priorities. An unwillingness to close your inbox and silence your phone is an indication that you prefer to be reactive to being proactive. It proves that you are open to any distraction that might give you something to do now instead of the work you need to do.

In many cases, it means choosing what Present You wants over what Future You wants. Future You wants you to create the new opportunities necessary to reaching your goals. Future You also wants you to improve your results and your income. Present You wants to look busy, so it wants you to react to everything in real-time so it can tell the story about why you can’t do what Future You knows is necessary. Present You like things that look like work, but that does little to produce results. One of the behaviors that best demonstrates the conflict between your present actions and your future outcomes is the willingness to leave your inbox open, responding to email in real-time instead of prospecting, following up, and building a pipeline.

I will concede without argument that everything is important, including every email that shows up in your inbox, knowing that some significant percentage of those messages are not and very few are both urgent and important. I will ask you to concede that everything is not—and cannot be—most important. The Pareto principle suggests that eighty-percent of your results come from twenty percent of your actions. What, then, deserves your full focus and attention?

How to Live on Ninety Minutes

Give yourself over to some task or some project or some important outcome for ninety minutes. Close your inbox, silence your phone, and shut down any other potential distraction. At the end of those ninety minutes, open your email, scan it for anything that might be urgent and important, or substantial enough for you to act on it now. This strategy is no different from what you would do were you on a sales call, and should you decide to use that ninety minutes for prospecting, you will no doubt have many more periods of unavailability because you will have many more meetings.

An eight-hour workday is made up of four, two-hour blocks. You can use three blocks of ninety minutes for focused sales work, with thirty minutes after each block to respond to anything that needs your attention. If your role requires more time to respond to email and voicemail, you can use sixty minutes of your last hour for focused sales work and use the final hour of your day to fight the never-ending deluge of emails and message that pour into your inbox, most of which will do nothing to move you closer to your goals.

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