The Three Categories of Sales Tasks and Where to Invest Your Time

The Gist:

  • Selling may seem never-ending, but actual sales tasks that produce results can get overshadowed.
  • The two activities that exist within “The Line” of actual selling are prospecting and sales calls.
  • Tasks “Below the Line” are all necessary tasks that need to get done, but don’t contribute to actual selling. Spending less time here means spending more time selling towards results.

While selling may seem like a never-ending series of tasks, the list of actual sales tasks is incredibly small. It’s easy to let them get overshadowed by the myriad tasks that follow in their wake, even though none of them technically constitute selling.

Because selling requires activity, the more time you invest in the few tasks that generate new opportunities, new clients, new revenue, or increased sales to your existing clients, the better your results will be. Conversely, the less time you spend actually selling, the more likely your performance will be mediocre at best, and potentially abysmal.

A plane flying over the line of sales tasks

1. Above the Line: Preparing for Sales

Let’s label these projects “above the line”: the things we have to do to be able to sell. While they are not themselves selling, they are necessary.

Planning Your Week: To give yourself the best chance of being productive and making the most time for selling, it’s important to plan your week ahead of time, blocking time for the few things that are necessary for creating and winning opportunities.

Research for Prospecting: Researching is not selling. You are not engaged with a prospective client, exploring change, or helping them produce better results. Instead, you are trying to find their contact information and a theory about why they should consider changing—both necessary tasks.

Preparing and Planning Sales Calls: There is never a reason not to prepare for a sales call. When a client gives you the gift of their time (time they can never get back, even with a receipt), you show your gratitude by making certain that you can use it wisely. That might mean research, and it always means planning the call. (Get the sales call plan eBook here.)

There is nothing else above the line. If you have planned your week, blocked your time, and generated a good list of thoughtfully-targeted prospective clients, you have all you need to begin selling.

An iceberg representing the line of sales tasks

2. The Line: Actual Sales Tasks

The total time you spend on these two activities is the sum total of all the time you spend selling. The work that you do above the line or below the line is important, but it doesn’t count as selling.

Prospecting: When you call a prospective client, you are selling. You are not selling them whatever it is that you sell; instead, you are selling them a meeting. The time you spend prospecting is critical selling time because it is necessary to creating new opportunities.

Sales Calls: Whether or not you admit that it’s a sales call—calling it a “meeting” doesn’t change much—the time you spend with your prospective clients is time spent selling. But this is only true if you are creating or pursuing a new opportunity. If what you are doing is below the line, it doesn’t count as selling.

An iceberg representing below the line of sales

3. Below the Line

The list here is much longer. None of it is selling; all of it is necessary. Because this is true, spending more time here means spending less time actually selling.

Solutioning: The time you spend meeting with people on your team to create a solution is very close to the line. But because there is no client present, it is not selling. It is, however, essential to selling and winning new deals.

Creating Proposals and Pricing: This work is not selling, but it is a high-value activity, and it’s closer to “the line” than most other tasks in which you might invest your time. Without a proposal and pricing, your client has nothing to which they can say “yes.”

Following Up on Your Commitments: Say you promised your contacts that you would send them a case study with your notes on how your solution will require a radical change of their process and how much new capacity it will give them. Now you have to follow up, by keeping your commitments.

Responding to an Engaged Client’s Emails and Phone Calls: All emails, with the exceptions of those you use as part of your prospecting sequence, are below the line. However, some are closer to the line than others. The emails that come in from your engaged prospective clients and clients are close to the line, while most others are nowhere close to “selling.”

Ensuring Execution: The time you spend ensuring that your client is executing and capturing the value of what you sold them is pretty close to the line. You sold an outcome, so it is necessary to ensure your client generates those results.

Updating Your CRM: Managing your relationships and your opportunities is closer to the line than you might suspect. CRMs hold the information that you need to be able to effectively create and win opportunities, and to inform your organization on the status of the opportunity, so they ensure you get the help you need from your teams.

Account Management: While it may be necessary, it is not selling, unless the time you spend is, say, pursuing a new opportunity or expanding the business. Hunting down lost orders, retyping an incorrect invoice, or playing customer service are too far away from the line to count that time as selling—even if you are communicating with a client.

Internal Meetings: Internal meeting are important, but they are not selling. This is true even when the meeting is about selling, be it a pipeline meeting, an opportunity review, or individual or group coaching. Talking about clients isn’t the same thing as selling, even though it can help you help your clients.

Almost All of Your Emails: If you have come to suspect that I might possibly not be a diehard fan of email, then you are seriously underestimating my disdain for the medium—even though, like you, I use it every day (just not all day). Most of the emails that find their way into your inbox (and mine) are so far away from the line that they aren’t even related to sales.

The hours you spend in the two areas where you are actually engaged with prospects or clients is the only time you can count as selling.

Do Good Work

  • Create a catalog of the tasks you perform each day with the time you spend doing them. Chart how much time you’re spending above and below the line versus the amount of time you spend actually selling.
  • Where are you spending too much time?
  • What do you have to change in order to spend more time selling?

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