It is said that the number of people procrastinating has tripled since the 70s. This is a serious problem for sales teams, leading to stalled sales and poor pipeline performance. To make matters worse, the problem is often difficult to identify clearly and even harder to remedy.
The addition of mobile devices, social media, and 24/7 news and connectivity doesn’t help. Today’s sales forces are faced with a barrage of potential distractions that provide quick hits of dopamine—the “reward” chemical our brains give us every time we complete an “achievement” in the latest online game or get a “like” on our latest social media post.
Likewise, customers have more options and information than ever at their fingertips to distract them from making a decision. Could it be that these factors are a major contributor to the continuing decline [HH1] in sales effectiveness over the past several years?
For sales executives, the problem is a pervasive one. Some organizations try to “solve” it by limiting access to social media during the work day, or punishing the poor outcomes that result from procrastinating behaviors, but neither approach gets to the root of the problem, and both approaches have unfortunate side effects. Limiting social media access means that your salespeople can’t use social media as a prospecting and nurturing tool, and punishing poor outcomes only addresses the problem after it’s already a problem, which can be de-motivational to future performance.
But what if there were a way to truly address the causes of procrastination, treat them at the source (both for customers and salespeople), and drive sales teams to exceptional performance?
There is. Here are five “secret” steps to take to drive out procrastination and drive up sales performance on your team.
One: Know what’s important
Faced with an endless variety of activities to choose from—posting on social, answering emails, making cold calls, following up on old sales leads, playing golf with a potential customer, recording their activities, filing paperwork—salespeople will often dink around doing less-important things to the detriment of the more-important things.
Some of this can be attributed to fear, laziness, or ADHD, but the vast majority is due simply to not knowing which of those activities is most important to achieve success. In order for sales executives and managers to get their teams focused on the important things, they must first become clear on what actually matters, and then make that clear to the sales team.
Two: Create a system that rewards focus on what’s important
Some salespeople will be motivated simply by understanding which activities matter to their bottom line, but without reinforcement and ongoing training, most salespeople will return to old habits as soon as their excitement over a new “idea” wears off. That’s why it’s important to build a system that overtly rewards salespeople for focusing on the daily “important” activities, and not just on the outcome of those activities.
Three: Break it into chunks
One of the big reasons that social media, gaming, and small but insignificant tasks (like answering emails) create such a powerful distraction for salespeople is that they provide frequent small hits of dopamine. Every time someone “likes” or “comments,” every time a new “achievement” is reached, and every time they mark an item off the “to do” list, the body literally sends “feel-good” chemicals to the brain to celebrate. That’s hard to combat with sheer willpower.
Smart sales organizations, instead of wringing their hands over the difficulty of competing with procrastination distractions, harness the lessons those distractions have to offer: Break the desired tasks into chunks, and offer up the dopamine hits your sales team craves, in exchange for completing the tasks that matter (see #1 above).
This “chunking” also applies to deadlines. Many procrastinators work well under pressure—when there’s a deadline looming, they kick into high gear and get it done, and then slack off again until the next deadline. While this is preferable to not meeting deadlines, it’s counterproductive to long-term success if they’re only kicking into high gear around the end of the quarter. Smart organizations chunk deadlines into small pieces, based on activities and accomplishments that matter (again, #1), and enforce the smaller deadlines rather than waiting for a “big” deadline.
Four: Create visibility
In order to reinforce and support the positive activities you know matter, your sales coaches and managers need visibility. They need to see both when a salesperson is lagging, and when a prospect is procrastinating. Your system should include software tools that show managers when a slow-down occurs, and helps them to identify the cause, so they can coach and manage their people through the slump and get them back on track quickly.
Five: Create a positive feedback loop
Once your anti-procrastination system is up and running, you’ll be able to see more clearly where your problems lie, as well as where your sales team is doing well. Over time, patterns will develop that show you where common bottlenecks occur, and where top performers are doing something different that’s getting them results. Make it part of your system to respond to this feedback and recognize when the “what’s important” part of the equation changes or develops. Feed that information back into the system, so that you continually improve how and what you reward.
Once you implement these five “secrets” for your sales team, you’ll see immediate short-term results in your team’s productivity, which will ultimately contribute to better long-term results.