Sales Leadership and Your Relationship to Time

The Gist:

  • Time is your single, finite, non-renewable asset.
  • Don’t let the fact that you are busy prevent you from making the decisions that improve your results.
  • The longer you take to make the adjustments necessary to reaching your goals, the more time you are giving up.

When you are in middle school, every tick of the nondescript clock on the wall is an eternity—and that goes double for the hours I spent in Sister Mary Katherine’s history class. All I could do was suffer until the clock finally admitted three o’clock and the school bell rang, ending what felt like a perpetually repeating life sentence.

Now, you might ask yourself “where does the time go?” You start your day, and before you know it, it’s midday. Then it is three o’clock, but instead of being grateful the day has passed so fast, you recognize that you didn’t get nearly enough work done. When you are bored, time passes slowly. When you are busy, it races by faster than seems possible. The nature of time in sales leadership is that the further you are from your goal, the faster time seems to slip by. Don’t let it go without a fight!

Game of quarters

A Game of Quarters

Unlike most other areas of the business, professional sales roles tend to have more accountability and much more transparency around results. Farming offers some instructive metaphors. Every farmer knows that their August harvest was made possible by planting seeds in April, as well as the work they did on the soil in the months leading up to spring planting. Likewise, much of the urgency around closing deals at the end of the quarter is the result of what happened—or more accurately, what didn’t happen—in earlier quarters.

Sales leaders tend to want to hold their team accountable for the harvest without holding them accountable for tilling the soil, planting the seeds, nurturing them over time, and ensuring there is something to harvest later. This is the nature of time in sales: what didn’t get done two quarters ago cannot be made up in the current quarter. Yet we let quarters pass without creating the opportunities we will need later.

The real challenge here for leaders is that the time cannot be recovered. There was a ninety-day period in which to create the opportunities that would close a quarter or two later, but without having created them, there’s rarely a way to compress the sales cycle enough to win enough deals to reach their goals.

Game of improvement

A Game of Improvement

There is nothing more important to reaching your goals than improving the overall effectiveness of your sales force over time. The greatest risk for sales leaders is not making decisions fast enough. The account executive who is really an account manager has still not been moved into a role that better suits their skills and their natural abilities. The senior salespeople who are living off their existing clients are still not prospecting, even though they may have the greatest ability to create value for new clients and win big deals.

One quarter slips into the ether, followed by another, and in what feels like a blink of an eye, you’re in Q3 with precious little to show for it. Sadly, unlike the Aldi cart return, in sales you cannot recover those quarters. In a time when the legacy approaches to sales are no longer effective, allowing the sales force to use outdated strategies and tactics is simply a recipe for disaster. The more effective your sales force, the better their results will be in both creating and winning new opportunities.

A conversation with a prospective client either creates value for them or it is time they wish they could get back. But no one should regret the failure to turn the conversation into an opportunity more than the sales leader. The time and energy used to schedule a meeting was wasted due to the salesperson’s lack of effectiveness. Even after the hard work of creating opportunities, an ineffective sales force results in far too many lost deals.

You might be able to reengage these prospective clients in the future, but you have given up the time, the deal, and the revenue for some period of time. Johan Bruyneel, Lance Armstrong’s coach, once said, “If you are going to expend that first big block of effort and energy to participate, you might as well go ahead and give whatever it takes to win.”

The decision to improve from week to week, month to month, and quarter to quarter creates an upward spiral of increasing competencies and results over time. Making that decision is the only way to reverse the ineffectiveness that governs your results. When it comes to opportunities, waste not, want not.

Master improvement

How to Master Time

Any decision you need to make should be executed without delay. The longer you go without taking action, the more time you are allowing to pass without improving your future results. Most leaders are living with problems that go unaddressed much longer than they should allow. They mistakenly believe they have time because there is always a tomorrow, not recognizing that they gave up today and yesterday and the two preceding quarters. The only way tomorrow will be better than today is if you changed something to make it so.

You want to field the most effective sales force possible, one with the capacity to create and win new opportunities. Like another game played over four quarters, football, you want to score every time you are on offense. The greater your team’s effectiveness, the better your results. But unlike football, there is no value to running out the clock.

Time is your single, finite, non-renewable resource. It is more valuable than anything and everything else. You can create more opportunities, you can acquire new clients, and you can even replace members of your team. But time, once it passes, can never be recovered, replaced, or returned to you.

I’ll bet you miss the endless hours in Sister Mary Katherine’s history class now, don’t you? I know I do.

Do Good Work:

  • Don’t put off decisions you need to make now.
  • Prioritize building the effectiveness of your sales force: it is your primary responsibility.
  • Make certain you are fielding a team that is trained and developed in a modern sales approach, one that eliminates wasted effort, wasted time, and wasted opportunities.

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