The objective of this chapter is to discuss the more difficult personal problems we encounter in sales—belief in yourself, burnout and how to recognize it, tips on how to deal with stress, and other psychological issues. Of all the subjects in this book, I believe these are the most important to address and recognize.
Belief in Yourself—How Important Is This Concept?
In the end, we are all driven to make sales. It is our emotional approach to this very important task that sorts the performers from the nonperformers. The following nine triggers are keys to understanding yourself better as a seller.
Please identify whether you have any of the following feelings about your current job?
- Belief in Yourself: The most important fundamental selling need over all other skills you have
- Belonging: A strong desire to belong to something such as a sales team, this can be traced back to infancy
- Fear: Used as a marketing tactic for loyalty but holds a powerful trigger for job security
- Guilt: The most puritanical of all emotions, related to deep psychological issues; are you being honest at work and to yourself?
- Trust: Trust is what you should be aiming for, but can you be trusted too?
- Leadership: The driver behind long-term sales; is your leader inspiring enough for you to want to work hard for them?
- Values: Do you operate in sales with your values or principles foremost in mind before your company?
- Gratification—when we don’t get what we want, the psychological response is anxiety or tension. Are you getting gratification from your work?
- Belief in Your Product—if you don’t have belief in your product, do not attempt to sell it at all.
If you say I have all of the feelings listed, I would suggest that you seek help from a professional immediately. It is good to look at this list and say, “I relate to some of these feelings about my job.” You should, in general, align closely with trust, values, and belief in yourself, and product knowledge as a starting point.
Belief in Yourself…
Undoubtedly, this is the most important trait we need for professional sales. Say it to yourself every morning and night. At the worst of times, such as low sales periods, keep saying it. As a leader, belief in yourself is paramount. Your staff are constantly observing you and your leadership skills, looking for the ultimate confidence. Your self-belief is essential for motivation and leadership.
“I Believe in Myself”
Look at others in your sales team and ask yourself who are those members that have a high belief and those that have a low belief in themselves? The belief in yourself is a continual practice and needs ongoing reinforcement each day. It is an inner feeling that only you can feel and gives you a reason to push on regardless. A word of warning, if I may: If you need to say continually, “I believe in myself,” you should question yourself. Salespeople with low self-esteem will not be successful, and may need to find a job elsewhere.
Of all the personal traits I have (good and bad), i have always believed in myself. This trait or quality is to be the most important life skill to inherit from your parents. Parents hand down this quality to you to practice and play out during your life. If you did not have this quality handed down, try the following exercise.
- Practice your product knowledge and start to like learning.
- Practice your selling skills, and be prepared to alter behavior.
- Practice your delivery presentation skills.
- Take a good look at your appearance so as to fit into your sales environment.
- Take on a mentor for ongoing improvement, and set out a program to follow.
- Finally, practice ethical sales so you do not have to defend untruths.
Interestingly, I have never been asked during an interview, “Do you believe in yourself?”
Additional Behavioral Learning to Try
Practice the following behavioral suggestions. On realizing certain traits, you need to work on the following suggestions that you may want to continue to practice:
- Push past your discomfort barrier, overcome it, and believe in yourself.
- Put yourself out there, and be “OK” with not knowing whether people will accept you.
- Stick to a habit, not listening to the negative self-talk that normally holds you back.
- Learn to trust yourself and your personal judgment, knowing you will make mistakes.
- Never give in and never give up; the sales will happen.
- Learn through repeated attempts that it’s OK to fail, that you can be OK in failure.
- Learn through repeated experiments that you are stronger than you think and that you are more capable and more tolerant of discomfort than you think.
- If the sale falls through, get up the next day fresh and ready to go again.
- Remember your customers will see this belief in you.
Failure as a Behavioral Issue
Failure is not a personal fault. It is a very normal human behavior we learn from childhood. You can fail several times doing a task, but, in the end, you must master it. This is called behavioral learning. Surprisingly, this learning phase continues through our normal life.
Example of Failing to Learn
You have made an appointment with a customer to sell a new product. You take a cursory look at the new product the night before. Your sales manager is also attending the sales call with you. Over a cup of coffee prior to the sales call, you both discuss the forthcoming meeting strategy and come up with a close option for the customer, whom you know very well.
The sales call proceeds reasonably, but the customer is not convinced and fails to give you an order. What has gone wrong? Obviously, lack of preparation.1
Pushing on No Matter What
The best advice I can give you is to focus on the end game outcome: What do I need to do to achieve this goal, and what assistance do I need for its execution?
- Know your sales budget for each month in dollars and units.
- Plan the opportunities that will achieve the monthly sales you need.
- Appoint or see the customers as “low-hanging fruit” to achieve the immediate sales.
- Take time out to review medium to long sales funnel opportunities.
- Critically look at the timelines for order entry.
- Think about whom you need to pull into the sales project to help you.
- Plan the project phase and timeline of customer engagement.
- Accept sales deadlines as a pivotal end to the objective.
- Obsess less about this, and believe in your planning and sales abilities.
- Be prepared to work hard, and put in the hours needed for success.
- Believe in yourself to achieve good sales.
- Always be on guard for new business opportunities.
In the end, I can’t tell you how to believe in yourself, as it comes from doing the job well; follow the preceding list, and self-belief will come automatically. Practicing selling, reviewing the sales, and accepting coaching are key to the evolution of this belief.
Personal quote ____________
Many people have asked me over the years, “How come you are so confident and get the sale so easy?” Little do they know that I am generally a shy person and can suffer a high degree of anxiety at times. It has taken me many years to develop a positive self-belief, and it has come not from attending personality development training courses but from sheer determination to be successful. The confidence tends to just follow on behind and develop along the way. There is a reason for promoting and selling these programs, and that is money and profit.
Burnout and the Medical Implications for You and the Company
The sales profession has its own unique kind of stress, and it should be easy to spot when you’re on anxiety overload. These signs are not always clear from the start but can creep up on you over months or years. Everyone experiences some of these signs in their work from time to time, but if you’re feeling several of them on a regular day-to-day basis, you’re heading for burnout, and you need to seek professional help.
Look at the following list and pick out what symptom is close to what you may be experiencing now.
- Indifference—lost a sale, and you’re not even that bothered by it, feeling no loss
- Malaise—having a hard time getting motivated to do anything
- Dog-sees-squirrel syndrome—you’re easily distracted, missing key selling
- Regular illness and at the doctor’s regularly
- Spinning your wheels—you feel like you’re working harder and not getting anywhere.
- Losing a big sale and not recovering back to work as you should the next day
- Snapping at your team members/boss and losing your temper for no reason
- Starting to look at other jobs to solve the immediate problem
- Not recognizing your personal and private home issues
- Having serious health problems associated with stress.
If the preceding list bothers you, then take stock and ask yourself, “How close am I to burnout?”
I have been in the same situation of spinning my wheels; did I have burnout or not? I think I did, and I consulted my mentor to help me with the situation. Breaking this mindset is difficult. Recognizing the symptoms and identifying the particular reason is even harder; this is where having a mentor comes in handy.2
Exercise: pick out any of the examples and notate for future review.
- Pace yourself. Stop getting pulled in twenty different directions. Prioritize your time and efforts. Get rid of “excess baggage” projects.
- Call it a night a little earlier than usual. Getting more sleep is a surefire way to help the mind and give up alcohol for 3 months.
- Exercise and eat healthier, limit the caffeine to two cups per day, drink more water.
- See your doctor for medical advice; you may have depression also and be in need of treatment.
- Surround yourself with positive people and activities. Helping, serving others is also a great way to “lose yourself” and keep the burnout under control.
- Buy some new business clothes… shoes, shirt/blouse, anything. Feeling good about your appearance really does help get yourself out of the fog. Also, getting a haircut, style, or color change can help. Get a new look!
- Spend time with your family and friends—get back to your “roots,” so to speak.
- Get some sunshine in your life. Get outside, where there’s sun and fresh air, even a holiday.
- Work on a short-term list of personal and work objectives you want to achieve, and post a reminder in your Outlook for review.
Taking steps to reduce burnout is simple, but when the individual wants to address it, the problem can be overwhelming. Going to the right doctor for the medical issues, having a good mentor to consult, and making an objective short-term list are a great beginning.
Please note that the quick fix for burnout doesn’t come quickly; it takes months to recover, so plan a simple list of recovery activities, and work your way through it slowly.
Assuming there’s nothing clinically wrong … If you’re still having issues, then perhaps it’s time for a new position, possibly a new company. However, if you are going to travel down this path, look at the reasons why a company move is in order, and list them.
Figure 5.1 Steps to check off when leaving your position
Distinguishing Salesperson Burnout versus Stress
Commissions, quotas, competition—Many factors trigger stress in the daily life of a salesperson. By nature, salespeople find themselves in situations that create a high-stress environment. While some of that stress is good, it’s also likely to have a negative impact on the productivity of each individual sales team member and his or her daily activities.
We all deal with stress differently, but there are a few techniques that every salesperson can apply to cope with stressful situations, while keeping their composure and continuing to close deals. Most people experience stress, but there is a difference between regular stress and burnout, which is mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.
Burnout Starts as a Normal Stress Response
The limbic system prepares us for fight or flight when we meet with a difficult emergency. Often, we don’t need this primitive response as we’re not actually in flight or fleeing from a physical threat. But the limbic system doesn’t discriminates. So it creates physiological arousal such as heart racing, shorter breath, muscle tension, and periods of severe anxiety. This can lead to burnout, a constant state of stress for a prolonged time, and placing unnecessary pressure on the limbic and adrenal system. You may not be aware that it is happening, but your body and mind do, so listen to them more often.
Burnout can lead to severe depression and anxiety. Periods of excessive and prolonged stress can also manifest physically and cause health to deteriorate. Along with headaches, memory impairment, and respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, burnout can cause sleep disturbance and suppress immunity. A simple cold or flu can end up in far more serious medical conditions. The end result is that working in sales while suffering burnout results in sales decline.
Tips to Pick Stressors
The biggest stressor most salespeople face is the constant pressure to meet overly optimistic activity and funnel sales goals. Can you really make 10 sales appointments in a day? When the expectations are too high, sometimes sales calls can feel like high-stakes, make-or-break moments. Additional stressors develop from low sales results vis-à-vis those of other team members. Pressure from upper management to meet sales targets and not really knowing your sales funnel properly adds to the overall stressors.
Is there a Solution?
Take an honest look at your data before setting hard sales targets. To gain an even deeper understanding of the marketplace, business owners should get firsthand experience generating sales themselves so they know what to expect from their sales team. You and the sales manager should be out in the marketplace, coaching and being closely involved in the day-to-day business. This process in itself shares the market load and creates an engagement between your boss and you.3
Many global companies demonstrate an overall disappointing attitude and lack of care for professional salespeople, primarily in regard to health and safety and training.
Every research respondent highlighted this overall lack of care from his or her management team. The word “safety” was in some cases interpreted differently, but, generally, respondents aligned it with their own care and safety at work.
Taking time off for illness, in general, presented no problem, with the obligatory 10 sick leave days allowed in most countries. Additional sick leave, if needed, was negotiated between the sales manager and the individual. However, working late at night, driving home late at night after visiting customers, attending conferences, and getting home late were the most common concerns raised.
Let me share some of my own experiences:
On two occasions working late at night in an operating theater for one of the major Melbourne hospitals, I made my way to the adjacent car park and found people shooting up drugs near my car. On other occasions, a female work colleague worked in an intensive care unit late at night, and requested assistance to the car park at 2 a.m. to go home. This is a common situation for medical trials as patients come through at any time and require company technical advice and guidance for “go live procedures”. Many times, my colleague tried to request hospital security to accompany her to the adjacent car park, but they were often too busy in the emergency department.
This issue of safety was raised not only with sales management but also with human resources by many employees of the company. Unfortunately, there were frustrating replies: “Finish up earlier” or “wait for security to help you.” This is not feasible and showed a clear lack of understanding of how business requires us to do what we need to do and a lack of care from higher management. In my opinion it is a disgrace.
In my case, on two occasions I wrote to human resources requesting a written policy on this very issue, and the reply was “we do not have a written policy to give you.” No further discussion was offered, and I felt a tone of “don’t ask again.”
Research respondents felt the question of safety was a significant problem. Some suggested that if a sexual assault was experienced by a female salesperson after hours while being engaged at work, the police would request the company policy regarding employees working after business hours. The absence of such a policy is common, and I am still trying to secure such a policy within our medical industry.
An example of policy change occurs in the real estate industry, where it is normal practice for a female agent to be accompanied by another agent for after-hours appointments. These changes came about after several well-publicized appointment assaults in the last few years. If real estate agents can pull it together and look after their sales agents, why are we lagging so far behind in formulating an effective employee safety policy to protect hardworking salespeople?4
This important article highlights the following health and safety issues for salespeople in the United Kingdom; we still have the same issues.4
Other Areas of Sales Employee Safety
There is compelling evidence that company car drivers are at increased risk of accidents compared with the general population. One study found company car drivers to be 49 percent more likely to be involved in an accident. The reasons for the high accident rate among company drivers are varied. Research undertaken by Adams-Guppy and Guppy indicated that it was due to strong demands on time, which ultimately affected decision making regarding speeding and overtaking.5
Falling Asleep or Driver Fatigue
This accounts for a considerable proportion of accidents under monotonous driving conditions; circadian factors are as important in determining driver sleepiness, as is the duration of the journey. This identified the sales force as a “high-risk” group for road accidents and advised on the benefits to be gained from the introduction of clear policies to ensure that these individuals are protected.
There is a need to motivate employers to introduce road safety policies that reduce accidents and associated losses. Procedures should be employed to address work-related road safety, including risk assessment, driver training, incident reporting, mobile phone use, vehicle maintenance, ergonomics, breakdown guidance/assistance and alternative means of transport, incentive programs, and awareness campaigns.
Driver Safety Driving Courses
Undoubtedly, your company should enroll you in a driver defensive safety course. This covers car safety, braking, steering, and accident avoidance skills. Companies that do not support this essential training are lacking in care.
In 1999, there were an estimated 1.3 million incidents of violence at work in England and Wales, comprising six hundred and thirty-four thousand physical assaults and similar threats of violence. Occupations with above-average risks of violence were identified, and although the sales force does not, as a group, fall into a “high-risk” category, when compared with the national average, the report finds that employees who work in the evenings are at greater risk of violence at work and feel more exposed to threat and harassment.
Mobile Phone Use
Analysis of scientific studies on the hazard potential of mobile phones when used in vehicles unequivocally shows a marked impairment of driver performance. The evidence reveals that the use of mobile phones while driving has a detrimental effect on the driver’s reaction time. Bluetooth has now avoided such infringements when driving. The purchase of a Bluetooth device is cheap and helps avoid losing your license for a period of time.
Employers should be encouraged to have a clear policy on drugs and alcohol. This policy should actively discourage all employees from using such substances during working hours or when driving on business. The sales force is a group that may be placed in a difficult position, as the role includes organizing and participating in late meetings and conferences. During the Australian research interview process, some salespeople confirmed their company had encouraged or installed a mandatory drug test process.
In some countries, professions such as truck driving, ambulance driving, flying, and many others require a drug test on a regular basis.
The most important factor in reducing the risk of low back pain due to long driving or lifting is the implementation of a robust manual handling policy for employees, combined with a risk assessment and management approach involving line managers and employees. Sorry to be cynical about this point, but good luck with this one.
Holiday Work Contact
Holiday work contact is now becoming a big issue in sales. By force of habit, salespeople scan their phone regularly during holidays for any e-mails or orders, reply to customers and managers, and take calls. One solution to the problem is to have two mobile phones—one for work and the other for time off.
I was very surprised to be cornered in the office one day by our human resources assistant, who asked, “What time do you have lunch and for how long?” I felt the question did not even warrant an answer, but I answered her question, saying, “Perhaps never.” Changing your diet dramatically for a period of time is not good, and doing this on a regular basis can’t help.
Skin Cancer Safety as a Driver
As professional drivers, we do forget the care of our hand/arm skin in the car. Global companies do not present this and the dangers of skin cancer as a problem to their outside employees. Only recently, I had a squamous cell cancer removed from my left hand, presumably developed over many years of driving and sun exposure during driving.
Employees can help minimize ultraviolet (UV) exposure when driving, and this may include:
Reducing the amount of time in the car on high UV days. A company providing skin protection (50 UV Plus) for use in your car and covering doctor visits for mole map tracking. In Australia and the United States, where sun exposure is a problem, it should be made mandatory for companies as a safety precaution of high importance.
In addition, eye care is important. In the short term, exposure to high doses of UV radiation can cause certain eye conditions, some of the more serious long-term problems being:
Cataracts, retina damage to the cornea, overgrowth of the conjunctiva, and cancers of the conjunctiva. Symptoms to watch out for are gritty eyes, difficulty looking at light, swelling in the eyes, and blurred vision.
While not suggesting that the company provide sunglasses for driving, we believe you should spend a reasonable amount on a good pair of ultraviolet driving glasses to protect your eyes. Put on your sunglasses every time your drive, even if it is overcast!
Headspace When Driving
Going back to issues such as burnout and work stress, these and other intrinsic and external pressures greatly influence how you drive and function behind the wheel. Including drinking and taking drugs. Before turning the key, stop to think: “Am I in a clear state of mind to drive?”
Here are some personal accounts of risk and safety I have experienced.
Account A—Injury at Work
In my last year as an account manager, I was packing an urgently needed product to deliver to a customer. Rushing to tape up the box, I cut myself deeply in my left hand. Running around the office to seek assistance, I was told by the office staff that the first aid kit was to be found in the customer service center. Running to the customer service office and sitting down for assistance, I was looked at with horror by the staff. Asking where the first aid kit was, and bleeding all over their lovely clean desk, I found out there was no first aid kit. I then decided to take myself to hospital, where I had seven stitches.
I did not receive calls from any manager as to how I was, but I received an e-mail the next day from human resources, requesting me to attend a meeting at 9 a.m. The meeting was not about the company’s concern that I had a serious accident and had lost all feeling in my left finger but about a complaint from the customer service staff about my verbal frustration and why I was in their office bleeding on their precious desk. I did point out to the human resources representatives that I was the victim and that I thought the accusation against me was unreasonable. Nothing I said would make them budge. I was dumbfounded at this situation and, furthermore, was requested to apologize in writing to the customer service staff that very day.
This illustrates issues with the rights of victims and the rights of the accuser. The company had failed to alert staff that they had a very good first aid room available in the warehouse. Embarrassment ensued among the staff, and my rights were eventually upheld when I was offered a royal tour of the first aid room. This did indicate that the company realized I was the victim; however, at no time did they apologize for their behavior.
Account B—Detained in Bali
During my tenure as sales manager for Southeast Asia, I was somewhat new to the international markets and unfamiliar with individual country laws. My boss was everything to me, and I trusted him implicitly. He was the best salesperson I have ever been mentored by, and I emulated his style and selling techniques to a T. My business area of responsibility was Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the Philippines. I received a fax from a doctor in Semarang, Indonesia, requesting my assistance in a device procedure the following month. Picking up the products at head office in Sydney, I discussed the requirements of the procedure with my boss and caught the flight out the next day to Denpasar.
Arriving in Denpasar the following morning, I checked through customs, unaware of the attention I was receiving. Just as I was near to the green line to exit, I was detained by two customs officers and told I was cautioned for smuggling medical devices into Indonesia without local statutory approval. I was amazed that this could happen to me and was escorted to an interview room adjacent to the customs department. I waited about 3 hours in the heat to be interviewed by a senior customs officer. He went on to interrogate me for some time. He had my bags opened and was showing the sterile devices packed within. I explained the products were samples and that I was showing them to a doctor in Semarang the following day. This went on for what I thought was hours, and during this time his assistant was continually hitting his back pocket, signifying “you pay money now.” I was smart enough to resist his persistent invitations, and, finally, the lights came on.
I reached into my notes and pulled out a business card of the doctor I was to work with, a Colonel in the Indonesian Army.
In Indonesia, nobody argues with a military Colonel!
Quickly, I was offered apologies and sent on my way to the flight that had left hours before for Semarang. Eventually, I arrived back in Sydney to meet up with my boss, who knew all the details. To my surprise, he said, “Well, that was a close one, ah?” Nothing more.
These two stories are true and demonstrate the lack of care and safety provided by companies to their people in the field. Call it what you will, but intentionally placing me in a very compromising position overseas was irresponsible and careless. When I arrived home, there was nothing said by human resources about my situation overseas; in fact, I would go so far as to say that they were probably not told.
Speaking with other colleagues today, I have learnt that not a lot has changed regarding safety for salespeople traveling overseas.6
Excessive working hours and how to manage time.
What are excessive working hours in sales today? Many global companies want their sales staff on territory no later than 8 a.m. This is fine, but one has to begin much earlier in order to be, for example, in an operating theater at, say, 7 a.m.
Pharmaceutical salespeople do start later, as seeing doctors is difficult before 10 a.m. The general working hours other than in the pharmaceutical sector is about 10 hours per day, 5 days per week. This equates to a 60- or 70-hour week all up. Working in the Asia Pacific, we worked 6 days per week, having Sundays off.
Europe’s Ban on 50-Hour Weeks
In other Western countries, the facts don’t bear this out. In six of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world (Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom), it’s illegal to demand more than a 40-hour work week. You simply don’t observe the 70-hour work weeks that have become the norm in some parts of the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
Sweden has led the Scandinavian countries with its renowned family-friendly policies by shifting to a 6.5 hour sales day. Businesses across the Scandinavian countries are implementing the change so workers can spend more time at home or doing the activities they enjoy; this has also extended to sales in selected sectors.
Many would argue further that a shorter working sales week would inevitably affect overall sales results. The evidence says otherwise.
Work–life balance is now an international workplace issue. Within Scandinavia, the sales profession also follows the law (or do the sales people bend the law?), When we turn to hours worked in sales per week, we see the average as follows.
What are the standard working hours in sales? In Australia, thirty-eight hours per week is statutory legislation and listed on your employment contract, but we all know, especially if you are new in the job, that you will put in excessive hours to become established. After a few years in the position, you will still be working the same 60 hours per week or have pegged back for a more realistic working week.
LinkedIn reports roughly three hundred thousand salespeople and account executives currently in the workforce. This suggests 300,000 * 70 = 21 million salespeople hours is being worked in the world today.
In the United States, the researchers discovered that sales reps work an average of 50 hours per week. Of those hours, they spend only 22 percent of their time selling and actively seeking out new business.
In the United Kingdom, research shows that working hours vary according to the sector but are generally quite long and can exceed 50 hours per week.
While it may look like we are working longer hours than are other countries, the average actual number of hours worked in sales has decreased in the last few years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
This is a generalization of “sales,” not specifically medical sales. Most sales reps will tell you they use their time efficiently. Unfortunately, this is an exaggeration of the sales industry and could be verified only by a time clock measuring each day’s work.
The goal is to be, as much as you can, face-to-face with your customer, conducting selling activities. The most surprising statistic is that we spend only about 10 to 15 percent of our day in front of the customer, while forfeiting 40 percent of our day conducting administration activities. If we introduce official shorter working hours, for example, no salesperson should work longer than a 35-hour week. Would we increase productivity and sales, or would we become less productive? The question here is, do we think 15 percent is enough face-to-face time in front of the customer to produce sales excellence? The answer here is no.
Apart from believing in yourself, one of the key sales drivers are “doing the numbers.” This means seeing as many customers in your territory as possible. Of course, quality sales calls are a priority, but seeing the numbers of customers will clock up a far greater funnel list of opportunities than a sales person that is seeing only, say, two customers per day. The pharmaceutical industry has gone as far as stipulating a specific number of doctors to see per day. How does this equate to fewer hours per week? It clearly doesn’t and will create a heaver workload.
I would go so far as to say that if a company mandates meeting a specific number of sales calls per day, this will be abused and may cause fudging of sales call numbers. Alternatively, if a sales rep is not aware of the company sales call benchmark per day, then this could create fewer customer calls than desired.
The following table tells us what we do with our average selling day.
• Face-to-face meetings
• Account planning funnel creation
• Customer issue resolution
• Business development in territory
• Expense reporting
• Internal processing
• Sales meetings
• Company meetings
• Training/sales & product
• Travel time
• Waiting to see customer
Anecdotal information compiled from several companies based on the medical industry 2018. No research has been documented on this statistic.
Top Performers and How They Use Their Hours in a Day
The standout differences on the preceding chart shows that top performers spend 8 percent on entertainment and 10 to 20 percent on face-to-face meetings.
Where top performers are different in their use of time, they increase face-to-face customer contact to 20 percent increase telephone customer contact, and account planning. Leaders would like to see this and even a greater reduction of internal processing from 14 percent down to 10 percent.
So how does this correlate with the current scenario of excessive salesperson working hours? In general, we do not have a “Personal Planning Process.”
This Was My Week’s Planning Break-Up
The difference between the documented figures and my own lay in face-to-face customer meetings, where I would spend up to 30 percent of my time.
Where Can You Trim Wasted Hours Further?
Reduce entertainment, customer resolution, expense, and internal processing time, allowing you to increase your customer face-to-face and telephone contact. It is not all that hard, requiring only some simple changes to your daily habits and follow-through with a small degree of “discipline” to increase face-to-face meetings. By the way, do not do your company expenses at work.
Simple Changing to Your Outlook Diary Habits Can Give More Time
During my coaching career, filling in time around sales calls was, I believe, the biggest time-wasting problem and undue procrastination, customer relationship management (CRM) information overload, the boss wanting useless reports on a priority basis, personal calls, and poor management of time allotted to the day’s activities.
We all do this but tend to be less aware of how much time is actually being wasted. If we addressed this problem carefully and systematically, reduced time wasting and redeployed it into face-to-face customer engagement, sales would increase exponentially overnight.
The fundamental attribute all salespeople share is individual self-discipline. It is this that allows them to keep the commitments that they make to themselves. They know that exercising self-discipline will get the job done eventually. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: successful people do what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do. It’s not that the unsuccessful are unable but that they are unwilling.
The following six areas require a thoughtful, disciplined approach
- The discipline of prospecting: There is one area of sales where self-discipline makes a tremendous difference and is rarely found. That area is prospecting. You can immediately produce better sales results by applying your self-discipline to prospecting. Salespeople with no real sales abilities or skills often outperform those with greater skills or abilities simply through disciplined prospecting. Go through potential clients in CRM one by one in a methodical manner, and the possibilities appear out of nowhere.
- The discipline of nurturing dream customers: Your dream clients already have a supplier, maybe even a partner. Ignoring and neglecting your dream clients doesn’t do anything to move you closer to the relationships that you need. The discipline of nurturing is what eventually opens the relationships that open opportunities. Your effort to create value for your dream clients before claiming any is what will eventually bear fruit.
- The discipline of following up: Your clients and dream clients are judging you. They are watching to see if you keep your commitments. The discipline of following up is more than just sending the e-mail you promised to send. It’s also the discipline of doing high-quality follow-up work. You make it easier for your customer to say yes when you observe the discipline of follow-up, keeping your word, and doing quality work.
Practice the discipline of follow-up, and be someone who can always be counted on. You are ultimately judged by your customer if you keep promises. I found keeping my promise is paramount to success for sales.
- The discipline of continuous improvement: You can’t afford to rest on your laurels. Although you did the work to turn your dream customer into a paying customer, becoming complacent can cost you their business. From quarter to quarter, you have to improve what you do for your customers. You have to share with them the value that you are creating, as well as your plans for creating even more value together in the future. Each sale brings value to your customer base; however, it also brings greater discipline and skill improvement to you too.
- The discipline of personal development: The environment that we live and sell in is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The forces of globalization make for some difficult selling. Success means that you have to become the very best possible sales version of yourself. You need to become version two. The self-discipline of personal development begins with your ability to identify and eliminate distractions and bad habits. Instead of filling in downtime with distractions and useless inactivity, you have to use some of that time to improve yourself through reading, studying new courses, taking a class, or attending sales webinars.
- Taking personal calls at work: Taking mobile calls from friends, acquaintances, and family each day adds up. Five 4-minute calls per day by 5 days a week will clock up to well over an hour on the phone not working. I am not advising you to stop this activity completely. Rather, let your friends and family know that you are at work and that you will call back after 6 p.m. Tell them to text you instead or call after hours.
An example of this, working with a young sales rep for a training day and she received over 10 personal mobile calls. This said to me she was happy to take calls from her friends all day!
Working from Home or Your Car
When you see sales teammates only in a brief chat or a weekly video call, it’s hard to develop the sales camaraderie that makes for truly great teams. Let’s look at working from home in today’s professional selling. Most global companies want you out of the office in front of the customers. The transition to having us out of the office and mobile came around 30 years ago.
No longer did you have the importance of your own desk and items that stayed where they were left. This transition was driven by two theories: firstly, to push the salespeople out of the office on the assumption that this would generate greater interaction with customers; secondly, having individual state offices accommodating rep rooms was seen as extravagant. Cost of office space is at a premium, so in the end, management had to find an alternative working environment, and hence the car or home office.
The next step was a total ban on working in the office, with management making it clear you were not welcome and ignoring the issue of where you could do your administration. The replacement office was the company car or home office.
Today’s Sales Office
Companies want you to use your car or home for a number of reasons. Even at the interview stage, it is made clear that the sales position functions are on the road. Working from the car or home is the norm now; however, companies turn a blind eye to the problems involved in working remotely.
Face-to-Face Interaction Has Now Been Lost
One of the issues that I have encountered working remotely is differences that arise from different cultural expectations and work ethics. There is a temptation to take a few hours here or there. Activities such as doing the washing, preparing a meal for the night, or popping out for some shopping creep in and set up a habitual problem. Many would argue with me on this point, saying, “I have a disciplined routine and never stray from work at home” or “this is one of the ‘perks of the job.’” Surprisingly, many sales reps believe that taking time off here and there is owed to them because they justify working long hours.
Everybody that has worked from home at some time has broken the rules. But, then, what are the rules?
Working independently with just a computer screen to keep you company is vastly different from the hustle and bustle of an office. Then, again, many would argue that the quietness of home as a place to work is better and that it is more productive than the office environment. After taking into account the downside of working from a car or home, I believe the upside is superior. In the end, I got greater productivity as the office distractions were not there. Many of my sales colleagues also argue that the office is too distracting and that they would prefer to work from home.
Control of Data and Information
Remote workers must balance various, almost overwhelming, communication streams. There are instant messaging apps, video call software, project management tools, and, of course, the ever-present e-mail coming through on your mobile phone. With so many channels to check, managers are, understandably, worried about information slipping through the cracks. One fortunate benefit of working for larger companies is that they have very good control of information via Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Low Reliability and Retention
Remote workers tend to look at jobs as a stepping stone or waypoint in the transition to something bigger and better. And since the team spirit is harder to develop among remote workers, they feel no guilt about moving on to new opportunities. However, trust can be an issue, unless it’s an employee who relocated. Some remote workers like this style of work as they can hide away, thinking they are not above water to be noticed. This is a falsehood.
Reliability is a problem for most interstate teams, but when you remove the manager’s presence, things can turn catastrophic. And even after you’ve taken the time to train remote workers so they are effective, what happens if they just stop answering your e-mails and disappear without a trace? An example of this was a sales person that went overseas for a holiday and never returned. Apparently, she met a partner and did not contact the company about her proposed return. The company resorted to having some of her colleagues make personal contact with her, and eventually she did return some weeks later to face the music.
In some companies contending with global time differences are enormous. This problem exists in the United States and Australia, with time gaps of up to 3 to 4 hours behind.
This places an extra burden on sales managers, requiring them to organize their time more into territorial blocks. Sales managers get this, but the temptation to call a distant sales member at 7 p.m. their time is always happening. This raises the question, do you turn your phone off at 6 p.m. or answer the call?
Remote work is a skill you should be adding to your résumés by documenting past experiences. Speak to people who have done it before or who have run their own businesses. These are great indicators of initiative and independence.
When considering working for a company that has a head office in another state, consider the following communications issues: What are the company’s expectations of contact each day, and are you required to take early morning calls from head office? Are you required to attend sales meetings online early in the mornings, and are you given time to respond to requests from sales managers coming through late in the day?
Think through the remote selling issues, and be completely aware of the pitfalls before proceeding.
Loss of Productivity
Most remote sales members become comfortable with working from home, car, or hotel and need little to no insight as to what they are doing during the day or how distracted they may be. This is fine for self-starters and responsible employees but not so great for junior and/or unproven sales teammates.
Working from Coffee Shops
Background noise, massive distractions, unreliable Internet access due to a poorly maintained connection and/or capacity and overuse issues, and annoying shop neighbors are just some of the distractions you have to put up with. Remote doesn’t work for some salespeople. It works for those who are self-reliant and can manage themselves alone. Again, discipline is the key to this type of sales position.
Stick to an objective and use a plan for the day. Keep to the plan and don’t deviate. I am not saying, “Don’t put the washing on,” but do this early and hunker down for the day’s work as if you were in a working environment. Have a workplace away from TV, and perhaps have a workplace devoid of any personal distractions. Perhaps make up your office devoid of pictures and personalization.
Security Issues to Consider
For remote sales workers and businesses that may employ them, the loss of a laptop or phone is catastrophic. A few years ago, I had a nightmare about someone stealing my laptop, I would have woken up in a cold sweat, screaming loud enough to wake up my family. Now, with the ability to host so much online and protect your data, I would probably just wake up and triple-check if my laptop was still there. However, this is a very real concern, especially if your business deals with sensitive data.
Precautions for Tech Devices at Work (Mobile Phone, Laptop, Tablet, etc.)
- Use VPN always.
- Upgrade your pin every 2 to 3 months.
- Be alert to physical threats such as theft of computer or mobile phone from your vehicle.
- Loss of mobile phone or computer devices at home office.
- Avoid such devices on display in your car or home, and utilize a door lock in the office.
- Disallow your family members access to such work devices.
- Ring-fence sensitive data in your data center so only thin client access is allowed.
- When traveling, do not let your devices out of your sight.
- Using e-mail for private use is treacherous—use private e-mail from another device.
When management decided to push us out of the office to work remotely, many years ago, they didn’t realize the overall benefits to salespeople. Now, we have communication aids at our fingertips, with the protection of VPNs and the cloud. However, if you work remotely, you need to be mentally equipped and disciplined. Don’t kid yourself—I mean disciplined!
I found it liberating and was far more productive.
1 The concept of pushing on regardless comes from digging deep and convincing yourself, “tomorrow is a new day and new opportunity,” and if you try hard enough sales will happen.
2 Please note, some better companies offer anonymous psychological counseling, whereby your name or details are withheld from the employer. This should be included in your employment agreement and contact numbers attached. I have availed myself of this service and found it helpful.
3 How to deal With Stress in Sales/Pub November 23, 2016 by Nick Hedges. Nick Hedges discusses the same issues we have dealt with, stress being the precursor to burnout.
4 G. Harris, G. Mayho, and L. Page. 2003. “Occupational Health Issues Affecting the Pharmaceutical Sales Force.” Occupational Medicine 53, pp. 378–83. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqg118.
6 Personal account Eden White.