The Ninth Time Management Secret:
nurture helpful relationships
Edition: May 2003 - Vol 11 Number 05
Author: Dave Kahle
Early into one of my sales positions, my boss informed me that the operations manager was upset with me. I was too focused and task-oriented in my dealing with the company’s internal personnel who made things happen in the business. I’d come into the office, drop projects and requests on everyone’s desk, and head out again.
My task-oriented behavior was upsetting people. As a result, they were balking at cooperating with me. My projects were being left on the bottom of the pile and other salespeople were getting more cooperation.
I had better change my attitude, he told me, or I’d find it very difficult to succeed in this organization.
My lack of good relationships with the people who could make things happen for me was hurting my performance. Eventually, I swallowed my pride, bought each one a six-pack of premium beer, apologized and started focusing on building positive relationships with everyone in the company.
From that point on, I could accomplish far more because I had gained the willing assistance of a number of people. In so doing, I stumbled onto a powerful time management principle: Creating relationships that result in people gladly working to assist you can be one of your most powerful time management strategies.
What seems like an obvious conclusion to a lot of people took me a very painful experience to see. I, like so many field salespeople, was accustomed to working by myself. Most of the time I was alone when I made a sales call. When I was in my home office planning for next week, I was doing that by myself. So naturally, when faced with any task, I did it myself. Just like you, and the vast majority of field salespeople.
It’s part of our mindset to think of ourselves as lone rangers – masked good guys out there in the field doing battle alone.
We don’t think about enlisting the aid of other people. That mindset can be a major obstacle to our effective use of time. Here’s a poignant example from my own experience.
At one point in my career, I was the general manager of a rapidly growing custom-packaging company. The materials manager was a key position in my organization.
This person made sure that all the hundreds of items we needed for our custom kits were in stock when we needed them. But she had attendance problems and after months of trying to help her establish good work habits, I had to fire her.
This caused a crisis. The position was critical and I couldn’t go even a day without someone performing the task. In my rapidly growing organization, there was no back up for her, so I took over and did her work. I’d then stay and work till midnight or so, doing her job of ordering sufficient materials. This went on for a month or so, until I was able to hire and train a replacement.
Later, I met with the president of the company, to whom I reported. As I told him the story, he said to me, “Dave, why didn’t you call here and ask for help? We have several people in the home office who could have stepped in temporarily and done her job.”
I was stunned. “I never thought of it,” I answered. It never occurred to me to ask for help. I was the problem! My lone ranger mentality cost me hundreds of hours over those several weeks.
But I’m not unique. Most salespeople have burdened themselves with a similar lone ranger mentality. It’s a major obstacle to overcome.
There’s yet another obstacle to implementing this powerful time management principle. Salespeople generally do not have authority. No one reports to them. No assistants, no secretaries. No genies in magic lanterns. If you’re going to enlist the aid of people around you, you cannot just delegate and rely on your management authority to make it happen. You have no management authority. No one has to do what you’ve asked.
If you’re going to get people to help you, you must influence them to do so willingly. You must sell them on helping you. Which you can do, because, after all, you are a salesperson!
You can enlist help for almost everything you do, with the exception of meeting face-to-face with your customers. Here are some of the things that I’ve delegated to other people who can handle them more efficiently:
Finding qualified prospects
Why should I spend my valuable time searching through lists or driving up and down? I can give my criteria to someone else, and have them do this work for me.
Calling for appointments
You know how frustrating this can be. Leave a voicemail message, and sometimes the person calls back. You’re not there, or you’re in the middle of a sales call and have your cell phone turned off. You return the call, get voicemail and the cycle repeats.
Instead, someone who’s at a desk all day can call, leave a voicemail message and be there when the prospect or customer calls back. Give them a selection of times when you’re available and have that person schedule your appointments.
Mailing information to prospects and customers
One five-minute phone call to enlist the assistance of a helpful customer service rep can save you 30 minutes of finding the right literature, stuffing the envelope, searching through the back seat of your car for the right address, etc.
Compiling useful reports.
My company provided weekly sales reports, showing every item ordered, shipped and invoiced to every customer. That was nice, but I wanted to see patterns over time. In other words, I wanted to know what they bought this week, last week, the week before aand so on.
I had my kids cut up the computer reports, sort them by customer, staple them to scrap paper and file alphabetically in my account folders. (Great bonding experience with the kids, by the way.) Before I made a sales call, I’d review that compiled information and know what kinds of purchasing patterns my customers were following.
Reviewing reports and highlighting the useful information.
Instead of looking at every item on a back order report, I had someone highlight those over two weeks old. I’d look at only those items. It saved me time and made them feel important.
Looking up prices for bids and quotes.
I could sit on a computer for an hour or so looking up costs for a complex bid or, I could have someone else do it. This one’s a no-brainer.
Turning my penciled notes into nice looking bids and quotes.
OK, this was before I became adept at using templates and a laptop. Now I can do it faster than I can give it to someone else to do. How many words per minute do you type? If you are a hunt-and-peck person, maybe you should consider this one.
Checking on the status of backorder.
I could spend hours on the phone, or I could rely on my customer service people to provide me specific information by certain times.
Which makes more sense to you?
My teenagers needed something to do to earn their allowance. Better them than me.
Yes, Kelly, H comes after G.
Following up with customers after a delivery.
That’s what those inside salespeople and customer service people are for. It’s a nice touch. The customer is impressed that someone cared enough. That someone doesn’t have to be me.
Training customers in new product applications.
Technical service people, manufacturer’s reps and others can do this while I can be out selling something else.
Making emergency deliveries.
Calling a limo service and having them pick something up and deliver it is cheaper than you taking an hour of expensive selling time for this task. It makes a bigger impression, too. You just need to convince your boss of that.
Why should I drive out of the way and take valuable selling time to drop off a sample to a receptionist or receiving department? Surely there’s a better way. Taxi? Limo service? Unemployed teenager?
Why should I spend valuable sales time writing down orders, and then calling the office to relay them? The customer can do that. I’m there to talk about their needs and my solutions, not to be a clerk.
This litany of possibilities is designed to stimulate your creative juices. Once you get into the mindset, you can make all kinds of things happen.
Who can you enlist to help?
The world is full of people who can help an overworked and overwhelmed salesperson, including:
• Customer service representatives
• Purchasing and inventory people
• Product managers and marketing personnel
• Operations managers
• Your boss
• Your spouse
• Your kids and family
• Manufacturer’s and distributor representatives
• Your customers
Steps to Success
Here are some steps to help you implement this management secret:
1. Continually seek things to download.
Every few months make a detailed list of all the things you do in a typical week. Then look at the list and ask yourself this question: “Is there anything on this list that could be done by someone else?” Chances are almost everything on this list could be done cheaper or better by someone else. There is a single exception – no one else can create and maintain the relationships with your good customers except you.
But probably everything else – all the tasks that fill much of your day – could be done by someone else. Someone else can check up on a back order more efficiently than you. Someone else can develop a price quote or fill out a RFQ more efficiently than you. Someone else can make a dozen phone calls to prospects more effectively than you.
If that’s true for you, than some questions necessarily follow: Could you be more effective if you had someone else do many of those tasks? If you could free yourself from the tasks that could be done more efficiently by some one else, couldn’t you then redirect your time in ways that would make you more effective?
The answer, of course, is “Yes, you could be far more effective if you could structure your tasks to allow youself to spend more time on the high value-producing tasks and less time on the low value-producing tasks.”
This is as much an issue of mental habits as it is anything else. Because of our “Lone ranger” mentality, we rarely even think about the question, “Can I find someone else to do this?” We just jump right into the task. By disciplining yourself to ask that question, you’ll find dozens of things to download.
2. Sell everyone.
Maybe “sell” is too strong a word. What I really mean is create relationships with all the people around you, so that when you ask, they’re inclined to help you. You know how to do this, because you create relationships with your customers. Think of all the people around you as customers, too.
Be polite, take a personal interest in what they’re doing and what they’re interested in, offer to help them when you can. Be sensitive to the stresses and demands they face in trying to do their jobs. Don’t make unreasonable demands. Most people are not waiting patiently for you to dump work on them.
Remember: the people surrounding you, whether it’s your boss or your spouse, are on your side. They want you to succeed. A little humility and sensitivity on your part will go a long way. You may be the mighty breadwinner and the superstar, but “please” and “thank you” are still important words to memorize.
3. Download well.
I’m not talking about computers here. By “download” I mean to move a task from your list to someone else’s. I don’t use the word “delegate” because that implies that the people to whom you are assigning the task have an official reporting relationship with you. That’s not the case. If someone takes on one of your tasks, it’s generally because they agree to, not because you’re the boss giving instructions.
Start with “I need your help.” It’s amazing what those words can do. They let the person know that they’re important, because you’re asking them personally. It positions you as humble – you can’t do this thing without them.
If you’ve done your homework and created good relationships with this person, then he or she would have to be either overworked already, or a miserable jerk to not give your request serious consideration.
Next, why you need their help. Don’t just say, “Could you look up the prices for these 76 line items?” Instead say, “I have this quote due tomorrow at Smith Brothers. It came up overnight. If we can get this business, it will open the door to that account and I’m sure we can leverage that business into more.
I’m already committed to be at Jones Manufacturing this afternoon, so I don’t have time to do it. Could you please look up the prices for these 76 line items?”
You’ve asked for their help, you’ve explained why. Now wait for a response and then lay out the specifics. So you’ve just asked Bill, one of the CSRs to help. Bill says, “I’m right in the middle of this project, but I should be done in an hour. I can do it then.”
You reply, “Thanks, Bill, I really appreciate it. Here’s a list of the items. They’re numbered from one to 76. If you could create a spreadsheet and list the prices in this order, and then e-mail it to me, so I can work on it tonight, that would be great. Thanks again.”
Notice that you now have laid out the specifics, giving Bill an exact understanding of what the task is, and a deadline for completion.
Use this process with people with whom you’ve created positive relationships – you know them, you’re interested in them, sensitive to them, concerned about them – and you’ll be able to download major parts of your job, freeing up time for face-to-face selling. And that’s where you make your money and provide value to your company.
Nurturing relationships with the people around you, and then downloading tasks effectively will help you take your time management skills to a new level, rendering you both effective and efficient.
1. Make a list of all the tasks you could conceivably download to other people.
2. Make a list of all the people around you who could conceivably help you.
3. Reinforce your relationships with them.
4. Identify the combination of tasks and people you think holds the greatest potential for improving your effectiveness and efficiency.
5. Implement the download process:
· Ask for help.
· Explain your situation.
· After the person says yes, describe the specifics.
(Excerpted with permission of the publisher, from 10 Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople, Copyright 2003, by Dave Kahle. Published by Career Press Inc., FranklinLakes, N.J. All rights reserved.)
Dave Kahle is a consultant and trainer who helps his clients increase their sales and improve their sales productivity.