4 lessons from the sales department that will benefit all employees

Recently I polled a group of successful inside sales people. I asked: “What is it that you hate to do, but you do it anyway because you know it will make you more successful?”

As an inside sales trainer, I think I know what those things are, but I decided to get their feedback.

Once I collected their answers, I broke them down into four categories.

1. Prospecting or Outreach
2. Completing Daily Repetitive Tasks
3. Being Focused
4. Controlling Attitude

Remember, the premise was that these things had to contribute to the salesperson’s success.

In further digging, it was clear these successful salespeople had seen what happened to themselves or others when they did not do the activity.

Surprisingly, this informal poll with a group of salespeople identified something bigger than themselves, a truth about any company. It turns out these four things are necessary for employees at all levels of the organization, from sales to front desk to ownership and management.

Let’s start with the first one.

Prospecting and Outreach

With prospecting, we teach salespeople to set benchmarks and read the numbers. How many phone calls, appointments, demonstrations, video downloads, etc. does it take, on average, to win a new customer? You can’t improve if you can’t track your results, so we need those numbers. The ambitious salespeople will see what works and set their prospecting goals even higher.

I have sales clients who regularly raise their benchmark numbers as if they were adding weights to the weightlifting bar. If 50 phone calls a day will fill the pipeline, then let’s try 75 or a 100. If they see that networking at events means they can sell deeper into a customer’s organization, then, holy cow, they will add 5 more events each month. They will factor in market conditions, trends, the relative effectiveness of whatever prospecting tool they are trying, and many other factors. Then they will force themselves to keep prospecting.

This is why I love working with salespeople.

They may hate prospecting, but they know it works. Even if they have a predictable flow of new customers, they know they need to add to the pipeline every day.

So now let’s think about how this applies this to the other employees in the company.

They too can start paying attention to regular prospecting or outreach. They can analyze the data to see what has an impact on success, and they can build their own habit of outreach.

Here are some examples:

  • If a delivery driver adds one more delivery per day, what is the effect on new sales the following month?
  • If an owner reaches out to 30 people in her social network in a month, how many of those people will say, “Great to hear from you! I’ve been meaning to get some printing done.”
  • If a pressroom manager arranges to have the customer tour the pressroom and view exciting samples, how does that correlate to customer satisfaction or new orders?

Two more things about prospecting (yes, it’s THAT important) before we move on.

First, prospecting and outreach takes practice.

Being good at reaching out to prospects, making phone calls, sending strategic communications, and attending events takes skill and mastery that you can only get by repetitive activity.

As other people in the organization take on responsibility for outreach, they may have to build their way up to the level of activity that makes a noticeable difference. Don’t let this phase frustrate you. There is a tipping point when you look at your sales numbers for the month and say, wow, it worked. We pulled together, made an extraordinary effort, and the proof is indisputable.

Second, practice makes permanent.

What do I mean by that?

  • Make sure you’re not making lazy attempts at outreach.
  • Make sure that every touch has the potential to jump start a business relationship with your prospect.
  • Make sure that you are becoming more masterful with every type of outreach that you choose.

At minimum, all employees should master the following:

  • How does your service helps people in the marketplace?
  • What makes customers happy?
  • What is the human benefit to doing benefit with your company, not just the chain of buying and selling?
  • What is the most effective way to reach into the highest level possible within a prospective buyer’s company?
  • What should you say to a prospective customer to improve your odds of making a good impression?
  • How can I have a true conversation with prospects and not just talk at them?

Your sales team can help your entire organization learn and do these things.

Then do them!

Remember, salespeople may hate prospecting, but it is the number one thing they say they do because they know it will make them successful.

What is the second thing they hate to do (but do anyway)?

Completion of Daily Repetitive Tasks

It sounds horrible, doesn’t it?

If you put together jigsaw puzzles, you know that they also can seem hard. Without a plan or a process, a complex puzzle can be daunting. And, like puzzles, your Daily Repetitive Tasks need to fit together to form and fit with the bigger picture.

Two important pieces in the puzzle are data entry and documentation.

These are often mentioned among the Daily Repetitive Tasks we salespeople hate to do. We know they’re not complex tasks, but they’re not consistently easy to do with the attention, accuracy and strategic thinking that the process requires.

One barrier to data entry and documentation is not having a good system.

Chaos and disorganization can make a basic task into something truly worth hating. So, first of all you need an accurate system that works for you and is something you’ll actually use.

Most of us are using some kind of customer relationship management software or tracking system. I hope you are. I don’t care if it’s Salesforce.com, some homegrown version, a web application, a notebook, or a file system.

At minimum, you need to be entering contacts, taking good notes, tracking your conversations, and documenting them in a way that allows you to access them when needed.

I’ve fallen into that trap where tell myself I will not forget a conversation. At the time it is happening I don’t believe there is any way I won’t be able to recall, with crystal clarity, everything that was said, down to the last detail.

However, two hours later, two weeks later, two months later, do we remember those detail pieces of the conversation that help drive our sale process forward?

We don’t.

One way to reframe our Daily Repetitive Tasks is to think about the benefits beyond our own organization. We may grumble about internal paperwork and our manager reminding us to get our contacts updated in Salesforce.

But think about this: there’s a benefit to our potential customer as well.

Entering accurate information notes about our contacts – and then documenting the details of our conversations – are effective ways to build trust, demonstrate credibility, and show the kind of attention to detail a prospect can expect as a customer. Accuracy and detail in the early days of courting a prospect can be a game changer.

Furthermore, the better you are at documenting even miniscule details, the better you’ll be at capturing something that turns out to be significant. The longer you’ve been in the sales profession, the more you know that one seemingly inconsequential thing you’ve documented can sometimes end up making a huge difference.

Beyond the benefits of capturing good data, what are other advantages to our Daily Repetitive Tasks?

Let’s revisit my original question: “What are the things that you do because they help you be successful but you hate or would rather not have to do?”

Would you agree that the corollary is: “What are the successful salespeople doing that the unsuccessful salespeople are FAILING to do?”

I’m not usually so harsh about saying what is or isn’t a success or failure. We each have our own bar that is our own personal boundary defining success (above the bar) and failure (below).

So, I will say this in the most compassionate way I can: “Completing your necessary daily repetitive tasks (especially documentation and data entry) will put you on one side or the other of that bar.”

Now let’s apply that to employees at all levels of the organization.

Yes, there are tasks that seem ridiculous, and we just have to bite the bullet and do them. Yes, there are tasks we should streamline and improve. And, yes, there are tasks that will improve your success if you do them every day. That’s true in every level of the organization.

If you do the task once, it will get you “x” results. If you do the tasks 20 times, you will get “y” results. If you do the tasks accurately and with intent, every day, you will get “z” results.

Knowing that you can achieve more success if you do the tasks at “y” and “z” level, yet persisting in doing them at the minimum “x” level is a missed opportunity.

Aside from the sales department or maybe the production department, are there any other places where we are tracking our activity with such precision? Probably not.

What are the daily, repetitive tasks that are going to bring you and the people in your company to success? I don’t know what they are for you, but I’m guessing you know in your heart what they are.

Okay, let’s move on to the third thing that salespeople hate to do, but they do it anyway because they know it will help them be successful

Being Focused

Face it, we live in distract-o-world. From the moment we wake up and reach for our phone until the time we turn off all our devices and pat them goodnight, we’re distracted.

We’ve got social media, whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube (guilty!), blogs that you read, blogs that you want to read, podcasts that you listen to in your car, and webinars that pull you in with great titles and exciting guests. You’ve got information coming in, and you have information you’re sending out.

And if your workspace is inside a cubicle, oh my gosh! Distractions, distractions, distractions!

In the sales bullpen, the distraction might be an exciting sales call our cubicle neighbor just had. It might be someone complaining about something. (That never happens, right?) It might be a top seller who asks our help with their sales strategy. Flattering, yes, but still a distraction.

So, what can we do in our world to focus a little bit more?

I asked a group of top salespeople: what are the time increments that help you stay focused?

My “study subjects” said that THREE one-hour blocks of focus time worked really well for them in their day.

Remember, salespeople are not chemists or boat builders or artists. We’re people who need time to get in the groove but not so long that we lose our groove. (By the way, I think people who are drawn to the sales profession probably weren’t made to focus for extremely long periods of time. Don’t you agree?)

So when salespeople are trying to focus on something, whether it’s putting a proposal together or making those outbound cold calls, we need to turn off the outside world for ONE HOUR.

Shut down email.
Turn the phone ringer to the off position.
Send mobile phone calls to voicemail.

And then really focus for one hour on something you know you need to do to be successful.

Now let’s apply this to the other employees in the organization.

Are your employees’ jobs structured in a way where they can get a few focused hours of work without distractions?

Here’s an example:

Give front desk workers a private place to work that is free or visual and noise distractions. In a small area, perhaps have a workstation that faces away from traffic and has noise cancelling headphones available. When this person is hard at work, there’s a visual cue (facing away, headphones on) to other employees to minimize distractions. Can you imagine the difference in productivity this would make, without sacrificing customer service or internal responsiveness?

Here’s another thing that helps us to focus: writing things down.

It doesn’t matter how you do this, right? Whether it’s all electronic or not. The piece that matters is that the process of writing things down helps us stay focused on the tasks at hand.

One sales client told me she carries a notebook everywhere she goes. She writes everything down. Everything. At the end of the day, she reviews her day, crosses off completed tasks, refreshes her mind with her notes on goals and priorities, and then sets up her day for tomorrow. Although she has busy days, by writing everything down, she can focus at the end of the day and be deliberate about her next steps.

Can you picture yourself doing this? I invite you to imagine yourself practicing the discipline of daily, focused time with a solid habit of writing things down.

Have you set that mental picture? What needs to happen next to make it a reality? What are the obstacles to that reality? What can you do now to make it a reality?

Remember, you control how and when you shut out distractions. You make the personal decision to make this a priority. If you report to a manager who doesn’t value your need for focus time, you are the one who has to advocate for it. And if it can’t happen within the work day, it’s up to you to carve out an hour or two at the beginning or end of the day to truly focus on what’s important.

And now we move to the final item on the list. I believe it’s the most important thing salespeople — and really all business people — need to deal with to be successful:

Controlling Attitude

Let’s start by saying, yes, you can control your attitude.

When I work with sales teams, I can get some push back here. “I am what I am,” is that Popeye line that I hear all the time. Salespeople, especially if they’re really good, sometimes think they don’t need to control their attitude.

I have observed that top managers and even owners can have this viewpoint as well.

“Like it or leave it.”

“Love me as I am.”

“My way or the highway.”

Let’s get back to my mathematical mind. My research shows without a doubt that, when the top people in the company control their attitudes, the other employees do, too.

I’m not saying you have to be cheery all the time or have an affectation of optimism if you are a glass-half-empty person.

However, if you can show that you control your attitude, even when the chips are down or there’s an especially annoying or frustrating situation, you are being a role model. Are people watching? You bet they are!

Like everything else we measure in the sales world, attitude can be measured.

No we don’t measure good attitude and bad attitude. We measure (1) where you are and (2) where you want to be.

Face it, you know in your heart where your attitude is, where it could and should be, and you know with certainty that it’s in your own control to achieve that.

It DOES take effort! In sales, especially, controlling our attitude is daily work.

Whether it’s a re-frame, a refresh, or simply a reminder each day to count our blessings, our attitude is one of the four things thing we salespeople hate to deal with….but we do anyway…because we know it will help us be successful.

We sales trainers are partly mathematicians. We love to look at before and after numbers. We’re partly surgeons because we love to dissect the parts of the whole and see how things are connected. We’re partly magicians because we can turn something as mundane (and hated) as daily tasks into *poof* success.

So there you have it.

Prospecting, daily tasks, focus and attitude.

You can see how important these four things are for the successful salesperson. And now I hope you can see what a difference these four things can make to every employee in your organization. By pulling from the experiences of the sales teams I train, we can learn valuable lessons about the power of measuring our progress and the capacity for all employees to contribute to the company’s success.

Being good at reaching out to prospects, making phone calls, sending strategic communications, and attending events takes skill and mastery that you can only get by repetitive activity.

Chaos and disorganization can make a basic task into something truly worth hating. So, first of all you need an accurate system that works for you and is something you’ll actually use.

Remember, salespeople are not chemists or boat builders or artists. We’re people who need time to get in the groove but not so long that we lose our groove.

Remember, you control how and when you shut out distractions. You make the personal decision to make this a priority. If you report to a manager who doesn’t value your need for focus time, you are the one who has to advocate for it.

Lynn Hidy

Lynn Hidy

Lynn Hidy is founder, principal coach and certified sales trainer at UpYourTeleSales, LLC in Paul Smiths, New York. She incorporates novelty and fun into her work with inside sales teams, calling her approach “off kilter.” This refreshing approach has a proven track record among her clients, who report learning to sell more creatively and effectively while increasing the enjoyment of their jobs. Visit her website at www.upyourtelesales.com. Sign up for her weekly email newsletter at http://buff.ly/2q4ybfd to join a community of inside sales pros who are refining their skills, refreshing their attitudes, and refusing to settle for “good enough.”