The Practical Disciplines That Support Autonomy In Sales

Salespeople are knowledge workers. What makes work difficult for knowledge workers is the autonomy around what work they do, when they do it, and how they go about doing it. Your effectiveness in knowledge work comes from the discipline to do your most important work and a process for deciding what exactly is your most important work. Fortunately, deciding what is most important is easily discovered by examining the outcomes you are responsible for producing. The willingness to exercise the practical disciplines that support autonomy, however, is a variable and may take a little more effort. 

What Do Salespeople Do?

There is only one outcome salespeople are responsible for, even though it makes sense to look at it as two parts. The outcome is to “make sales.” The two  parts are “creating opportunities” and “pursuing and capturing opportunities.” Everything else we talk about when we talk about sales is a commentary on these two sets of activities. 

If you are not creating and pursuing opportunities, you are not going to “make sales.” There are only a few activities that allow you to create new opportunities. The first and most important is prospecting. The second is the nurturing and communication that makes prospecting easier and more effective. Prospecting may mean making calls to ask prospective clients for a meeting, asking your existing clients for referrals, showing up at trade shows or networking events, or meeting with your current clients to identify new opportunities. 

The problem with autonomy when you don’t match it with an equal dose of discipline is that you know what you need to do but resist doing it (or doing enough of it). Worse still, nothing terrible happens on any given day if you don’t prospect (or a given week, and maybe a month) Like smoking, when the negative consequences inevitably occur, it is too late for you to do anything about them. 

Capturing opportunities is made up of several activities, but mostly it is made of meetings.  Many meetings are with your prospective clients, but some are with members of your team. For most of us in B2B sales, the measure of how well we are going to do in the future can be found on our calendar. A full schedule of meetings is evidence that you are pursuing opportunities in an attempt to capture them. An empty calendar leads to an empty pipeline, an increased heart rate, difficulty in breathing, profuse sweating, and finally, a new job in customer service. 

In Order of Importance

Everything is important, but not everything can be most important. With nothing more than the idea that you need to “make sales” and an understanding of the few activities that “create opportunities” and allow for their “capture,” you should have little trouble deciding what work needs your focus and attention. 

  • Prospecting: Everything good starts with a conversation or a meeting. Any attempt to avoid this work or distraction that takes you away from prospecting is harmful to you and your results. There are plenty of things that masquerade as work.  Any time you are unsure of what you should do, you should immediately pick up the phone and dial through a list of prospects. If you are bored and distracted, dial five of your most difficult to convince prospects to ask them for a meeting (you will no longer be bored). 
  • Nurturing Your Dream Clients: The biggest, best prospects in your territory belong to your competitors. You should call them and ask them for a meeting. When they refuse your request for a meeting, you should start the Year Negative One (-1) process of nurturing them, providing them with ideas, and communicating frequently enough that they know you for your ability to help them produce better results. 
  • Meetings: You might have expected to see “follow up” on the list, but it doesn’t appear here for a fundamental reason: the idea that you have to follow up means you left a meeting without already scheduling another meeting. If you are in B2B sales and had five meetings this week, you should have another five booked with those same prospects over the next couple of weeks. There is never a reason not to start your week with a relatively full calendar. No doubt you have internal meetings with people who help you develop solutions that are part of the capture. 
  • Follow Through: Follow-through is not follow up. Follow-through means you made some commitment you need to keep. You promised to make a call, send an email, provide more information, schedule a meeting for your team to meet with your client’s organization or anything else you said you would do. No more pushy sales tactics. The Lost Art of Closing shows you how to proactively lead your customer and close your sales. The Lost Art of Closing

All the other things you still need to do but don’t find on this list are of lesser import than what appears here. However, making good decisions here comes down to your discipline. 

Practical Disciplines 

Discipline is doing what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it. It is a muscle that atrophies when it is not used and increases in strength when used (I have seen salespeople with massive biceps and triceps from their religious devotion to lifting weights who found the telephone too heavy to pick up). 

The discipline to prospect for some part of every day increases the likelihood that you create enough opportunities to reach your goals. If you don’t have a block on your calendar for prospecting each day, you will allow other, lesser things to crowd out what’s more important. The same is true for nurturing your dream clients. 

There is a discipline around managing deals that you might describe as “selling the meeting,” “selling the process,” and “selling your solution.” There is a disciplined way of thinking about stringing meetings together, with one naturally suggesting and leading to the next. 

The autonomy and independence that accompanies a role in sales requires you possess an equal or greater self-discipline to match it. Here is a list of 10 mandatory sales disciplines. 

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