Time Management Essentials

by Dave Kahle

“How can I sell more when I have so much to do?”

That’s a question I’m asked whenever I’m talking to a group of salespeople. I’m sure you can empathize with the feelings behind it. You have new products to learn, paperwork to complete, hundreds of customer problems to solve, meetings to attend, inside people to cajole, managers to mollify — and, on top of all this, you are expected to sell something.

It’s hard to do so when you have all these other aspects of your job howling for your attention. How do you manage all of this while at the same time building your sales? How do you sort through all of this and focus on the essentials of your job?

Good question. Let’s start by identifying one of those essentials. Think about the sales process — the activities that it takes to make a sale — and certain key activities come to mind. You know that you need to make appointments with qualified decision makers, to collect information about their needs, to build relationships, to demonstrate products, to follow up, to answer questions, etc. Your list of important sales activities is probably expanding monthly. But if you’re going to focus on the essentials, there is one absolutely necessary activity around which everything else revolves. All of the other activities are either means to bring about this activity, or actions that spring out of this one key activity.

What is it? Making a persuasive offer to your customer. Think of it as an offer. In its simplest terms, making an offer means saying something like this to your customer: “Here is this … (product, service, package, deal, etc.). How about buying it?”

You make an offer whenever you respond to a request for a price. When you demonstrate a product, you make an offer. When you bring in a piece of literature and tell your customer about some new product or service, you make an offer. When you respond to your customer’s request with information about a product or service, you make an offer. All of these are variations on a theme, but all of them can be classified as the presentation of an offer.

And those offers are the heart of your job. Without them, you can sell nothing. Your customers will never buy if you never offer them something to buy.

It is an unmistakable fact of life that in sales, quantity counts. In other words, to be successful, you must make a certain quantity of sales offers. No matter how much skill and sophistication you apply to your job as a salesperson, you cannot totally negate the quantity aspect of it. Given two salespeople in approximately equal territories, or of approximately equal abilities, the one who makes the greater quantity of sales offers will generally have better results than the other.

With this in mind, one simple way to cut through all the mass of things that you have to do is to focus on the essential component of the sale process — making an appropriate quantity of sales offers. If you’re looking for a simple way to increase your results, focus on the quantity of sales offers that you make.

Do two things: First, begin to keep track of how many of these sales offers you make in the course of a week. Initially, don’t worry about what you’re presenting, and don’t be concerned about the dollar volume of each potential piece of business. Those are more sophisticated concerns that can be considered later. For now, just keep track of how many offers you make. Use a simple hash mark system in your planner. Each day, make a hash mark for each offer you presented to a customer. At the end of each week, add up the number of hash marks.

There is an amazing law of management that states that the behavior that you measure is the behavior that you get. That applies to self-management as well. Just the act of keeping track of (measuring) the quantity of sales offers you present will help you to focus on those essential activities. As you become more aware of the quantity of sales offers, you’ll naturally be drawn to ways to increase that quantity.

Which brings me to the second thing you need to do: Begin to find ways to increase the quantity of those sale-offers. If you find yourself averaging five presentations a week, try to increase that to an average of 10.

When I was a new distributor salesperson, my manager told me that I ought to attempt to have at least one new product to present at every sales call. I thought he probably knew better than I did, so I did what he suggested. At some point along the way, I began to think in terms of the quantity of sales offers. It occurred to me that I could double the number of sales offers I made by taking two or more products in to every sales call. So I began to spend a little more time preparing my samples and literature each week, so that I could dramatically increase the quantity of sale offers I made. That simple strategy was certainly part of my $1 million a year increase in sales.

It can be for you too. When you’re overwhelmed with too much to do and when you’re feeling like you’re being drawn into a kaleidoscope of conflicting directions, focus on the essential part of your job. Measure and increase the quantity of sales offers you make. It will keep you close to the heart of your job and help you focus on the highest priority activities.
The Trials And Tribulations Of Starting A Manufacturers’ Agency From Scratch

Part 4

by Sharon S. Kilborn


At the end of our first full year with products, we reassessed the business plan we had done for each principal to see how to proceed, and evaluate what was working and what wasn’t working. We still had a couple of areas (CEMS, Fans, Turbines, Material Handling) that we needed products for, and we have one principal that we find we can’t sell because of the way we go to market. His line requires day-to-day selling to stock room personnel or maintenance personnel. We’re geared to maintenance as well as purchasing personnel, but we sell capital equipment and services where the services are bought at their most frequent on an annual basis, and are generally tied to outages. We don’t call at the right level and frequency in the customer base to suit his product.

We also may have to downsize our territory with a couple of our principals because we find that at present we can’t cost justify calling on general industry in New Mexico and Arizona. Our business by early 1995 had reached a point where it paid for itself, but we weren’t able to take any salaries yet.

We did a product search for a CEMS line, and obtained information and literature on about 30 companies in this market. We selected a packager rather than a manufacturer because we felt that their skills most closely fit the market as we saw it. We also added a packaged boiler line to our list of products. This was our first step toward adding “process equipment” to the “air pollution control products” that we already had.

We sold a very large CEMS order, a large customer baghouse, and a few other small orders. We also picked up a great line of tower packings that we got several small orders on immediately following an aggressive direct mail and sample campaign. Inquiries and activity level were really picking up at this point as we continued with active telemarketing and direct mail. 1995 was a successful year for us. We were able to fund all of the office expenses, and start to pay down a small portion of the debt of the corporation (from loans from my partner and me) that year. We had enough orders booked already to fund the office expenses for the next year from commissions due.

Sales Strategy

We are now beginning to focus on the holes in our lines to fit the customer base we are most comfortable and most successful with. We find that we now have lines that fit our selling skills, and most of them are reasonably sellable in our territory. We have a couple of principals who are inexperienced at working with sales representatives or who want to retain house accounts, and that may ultimately require a change to another vendor who can better fit our needs, although we hope not. There’s a lot to be said for the comfort of working with people over time as you each reach a point of knowing what you can expect from each other. We plan over the next few years to be the biggest and best manufacturers’ representative in the Southwest. We believe our success rate in these first years shows our ability to make that happen. We’ll be ready to move on to more product lines once we reach the point where we feel that every line we have is very successful in our territory, and we’re not there on all of our product lines yet.

The series continues next month.

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