Written By: Dave Kahle
The average salesperson only spends about 25 – 30 percent of his/her work week actually talking with prospects and customers.
Most salespeople love to be active—talking with people, solving problems, putting deals together. This activity orientation is one of the necessary characteristics of a sales personality.
Unfortunately, this activity orientation is both a strength and a weakness. Much of a salesperson’s ability to produce results finds its genesis in the energy generated by this activity orientation.
But it can be a major obstacle. Far too often, salespeople are guilty of going about their jobs directed by the credo of “Ready, shoot…aim.” But unfocused activity wastes the sales day.
In order to be effective, salespeople must be focused and thoughtful about everything they do.
Activity without forethought and planning is a needless waste of time and energy.
And the most important part of the job to think about is the time they spend in front of their prospects and customers.
Of all the different parts of their job, there is nothing more important to think about—nothing more important to plan—than face time with prospects and customers.
For most salespeople, if they were to make a list of everything they do in the course of a day, and then considered each of the items on the list, they’d likely discover that almost everything they do can be done cheaper or better by someone else within their company.
Someone else can call for appointments cheaper or better than a salesperson. They can more easily check on back orders. Someone else can fill out a price quote, write a letter, or deliver a sample, cheaper or better than most salespeople.
In fact, it’s likely that the only thing a salesperson can do that no one else in the company can do cheaper or better is interact with the customers.
It’s the face-to-face interactions with customers that define the value they typically bring to the company. If it weren’t for that, your company would have little use for salespeople.
So, the face-to-face interaction with the customer is the core value salespeople bring to the company.
Yet, most studies indicate that the average outside salesperson only spends about 25 – 30 percent of his/her work week actually face-to-face with the customer.
In the light of that, doesn’t it make sense to spend some time planning and preparing to make that 25 – 30 percent of the week the highest quality you can possibly make it? Of course it does.
Mastery of this practice is built upon several powerful principles.
It’s the Information Age, remember. And that means, if you’re going to be an effective professional salesperson, you must collect, store, and use good information. You can’t make effective plans if the information on which you build those plans is faulty or sketchy.
If you were going to build a home, for example, you’d want to know about the nature of the ground on which the home was to be built.
You’d need to have a good idea about what kind of weather conditions the home would be enduring, what the building codes were, what materials were available and what they cost, and what kind of skilled workmen were required.
The list could go on and on. The point is that you wouldn’t be able to build a home very effectively if you didn’t have good information on which to base those plans.
The same principles that apply to building a home, also apply to maintaining effective sales performance. In both cases, good planning requires good information.
It may be that your company provides you with all the information you need. But, it’s more likely they don’t.
If you’re going to work with good information, you must be the one who collects that information.
That means that you must create systems to collect, store, and use the information that will be most helpful to you.
Since our world is constantly producing new information, the system you create isn’t something you can set and forget. Rather, it must be a dynamic system that is constantly processing, storing, and using new information.
The Information-Collecting Process of creating and maintaining your system requires you to follow several specific steps.
Start by listing the kinds of information you think will be most useful to you.
Think about your job and determine what kinds of information you’d like to have to help you deal effectively with your customers.
Here’s a partial list of information that would fit most people:
You may have a number of other categories, but this is a basic list with which you can begin.
Once you’ve categorized the kind of information you’d like, you can then think about what information would be ideal to have in each category.
Start at the top and work down. Look at customers and prospects first. What, ideally, would you like to know about them?
Some typical pieces of information would include information about the account’s total volume of the kind of products you sell, the dates of contracts that are coming up, the people from whom they are currently buying, and so forth. All of that seems pretty basic.
However, most people have no systematic way of collecting and storing that information. So, while you may occasionally ask a certain customer for parts of it, you probably aren’t asking every customer for all the information.
And, you’re probably not collecting it, storing it, and referring to it in a systematic, disciplined way.
Do you think your competitors know exactly how much potential is in each of their accounts?
Do you think they know other pieces of useful information, for example, how many pieces of production equipment each customer has, and the manufacturer and year of purchase of each?
If you collect good quantitative marketing information, you’ll be better equipped to make strategic decisions and create effective plans.
For example, you’ll know exactly who to talk to when the new piece of equipment from ABC manufacturer is finally introduced.
And, you’ll know who is really ripe for some new cost-saving product that’s coming, or the new program your company is putting together.
You may currently be doing a so-so job of collecting information. It’s like golf. Anyone can hit a golf ball. But few can do it well. Anyone can get some information. Few people do it well.
The single most effective tool is an account profile form. It’s an incredibly effective tool that generates and organizes some of the most powerful processes.
You may have done a great job of collecting information, but if you’ve stored it on old matchbook covers, coffee-stained post-its, and the backs of old business cards somewhere in the backseat of your car, it’s probably not going to do you much good.
If you are into digital filing, then your computer can be the super tool that allows you to efficiently store the information. If not, you’re going to need to create a set of files (yes, manila folders!) in which to store your information.
Before every sales call, review the information you have stored. That review will help you make good decisions about each aspect of the sales call.
Likewise, review the information as you create your annual goals and sales plans, when you create account strategies, and when you organize and plan your territories.
As you can tell, an account profile form is a master tool that holds all of this together.
This free guide on prospecting sequences will teach you how to develop a series of prospecting touches, arranged in an intentional sequence, to improve the probability that you engage your prospect. Download the FREE Seven Steps to Building Effective Prospecting Sequences ebook here.
Dave Kahle is one of the world's leading sales authorities. He's written twelve books,…
Join more than 360,000 professionals who get our weekly newsletter.
Self-paced courses from the
world's top sales experts
Live, interactive instruction in small
groups with master trainers
One-to-one personalized coaching
focused on your unique situation