If there’s one thing we all have in common, it is time. How we choose to spend it determines both how we feel and what results we will achieve. A big problem with time management is our inability to prioritize effectively. Too often we do not separate the important from the urgent or differentiate between short and long-term gains. Checking emails every five minutes may increase your dopamine levels and sense of accomplishment, but it won’t bring you much closer to your sales targets.
The Eisenhower box
”What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
The former US president Dwight Eisenhower created a matrix to help visualize and prioritize tasks according to their level of importance and urgency. It has become a classic in productivity literature and makes it clear how the feeling of urgency lures us into busy-work. To the right is a generic example copied from Wikipedia. This is a useful tool to help get your priorities straight on a daily basis (an excel template for sales managers can be downloaded below).
What do sales managers do too much and too little of?
More than any member of the sales organization, frontline sales managers are probably in the best position to help increase sales results. How they spend their time is very important, as their decisions will trickle down to the sales people and can either make or break the team.
However, sales managers tend to spend too little time on the activities that help create long-term success. Rather than scheduling regular coaching sessions, developing talent, providing clear goals and objectives and holding people accountable, their calendars are filled with unnecessary meetings, time-consuming excel reports and responding to low-priority emails.
Activity or progress?
Sales people are not exempt from wasting time on low-value activities. You may find it urgent to read the latest stories in your news feed, report the latest numbers to management and get that expense report out of the way. You may feel compelled to answer the recent emails, phone calls and texts you’ve received. However, doing something unimportant well does not make it important. In this stress frenzy, you may be overlooking the most important tasks – the things that will take you closer towards reaching quota.
Too many sales organizations make no distinction between activity (phone calls, emails) and progress (milestones achieved, commitment gained). As a consequence, we end up seeing lots of activities, but little real progress towards our set objectives. When we spend our time in the wrong quadrants, we end up with stale pipelines.
Break the vicious circle and align action with direction.
I recommend taking a step back and look at your past week. Make a list of all your activities and then place them in the box where they belong.
Contrary to popular belief, the end goal is not to spend most of your time in the top left box, often called the quadrant of necessity. Submitting the Q3 Forecast and putting together last month’s expense report are both important activities with deadlines attached, but neither will help you achieve your goals quicker.
Also, be careful not to become stuck in problem-solving for your sales people – that’s not your role. The saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is relevant to keep in mind for tasks in the upper left box.
Instead, you want to dedicate more of your time to quadrant 2; this is where you will do the work aligned with the long term goals of your sales organization. Examples of quadrant 2 activities would be conducting a win/loss analysis, or putting together a training and coaching program to develop your team.
In the lower left box (also known as the quadrant of deception), you’ll find the majority of your busy work, such as responding to emails. Looking at what you’ve placed here, what can you scratch or delegate?
Finally, what falls into the lower right box? These are your time wasters and need to be eliminated altogether.
What am I working to achieve?
As a daily habit, ask yourself which goal the task you are currently doing is getting you closer towards. If you can’t find an answer, it’s probably not the most value-creating task to perform and you should reprioritize or delegate. Or, perhaps you are lacking clear goals and objectives and need to spend more time towards creating and communicating them to the team (and yes, this type of task would go into quadrant 2)?
If you find this matrix helpful, start using it to reach your goals.
Download the Sales Manager Time Matrix