The following is an interview with sales guru and best-selling author Jill Konrath. We spoke with Jill about her most recent book, More Sales, Less Time, and the strategies and tools that sales professionals can use to work smarter.
Q: Your most recent book is called More Sales, Less Time. What would you say is the biggest challenge for sales professionals when it comes to effectively spending their time?
A: The biggest challenge for anybody in sales today is the fact that we live in a digital world. And when you live in a digital environment and constantly have to be on social networks and email, you are exposed to innumerable distractions on a regular basis. Every email has the potential to send you down a rabbit hole. A half an hour can go by and you’ve clicked from one article to the next and suddenly you find yourself watching a video about a sinkhole in Florida!
But it’s not that we lack willpower or can’t control ourselves – we’re designed as human beings to pay attention to everything that is distracting. So when we go online, our amygdala, which is the oldest part of our brain and is designed to protect us from anything new in the environment, jumps to the forefront and says, “Here, I’ve got this.” And every time the amygdala discovers something new, our brain is rewarded with a shot of dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone. We get pleasure from being distracted – that’s what we’re fighting on an everyday basis.
Q: So given that, what are some strategies you can offer to help sales folks work more efficiently?
A: The first step is to recognize that you do not have sufficient willpower in your body to fight the distractions that you’re up against all day long. The second step is to get a baseline of how you’re currently behaving online, because most people don’t even realize how much of their time is frittered away on non-productive activities.
I also suggest that you consciously reduce anything that can pull you away or distract you from the task at hand. Probably the biggest thing people can do is to turn off all notifications so that you can’t see when you get a new email or when someone mentions you on Facebook, thereby putting you in charge of your environment.
Q: What are some of the consequences of failing to take these steps?
A: If you’re constantly bouncing back and forth from activity to activity, it increases the amount of time it takes to do your work by 20-40%. The other issue is that it actually reduces the ability to be good at your job. Research shows that when women bounce from task to task, it reduces their IQ by 5 points, and when men switch back and forth between activities, it reduces their IQ by 15 points.
This matters because in today’s business environment, you need to bring your best game and be thinking about prospect needs and issues, how to get buy-in, how to beat competition, etc. So at a time when we need to use our brains to differentiate ourselves and win deals, we are actually causing ourselves to be worse at what we do. This isn’t just a function of productivity; this is a function of quality and effectiveness.
Q: One of the main reasons why the sales process exists is to help salespeople be more productive and efficient. But if it’s not set up correctly, the sales process can actually detract from focus and performance. What is your advice for helping companies make sure that their sales processes are built to fuel efficiency?
A: One of the things I suggest to sales organizations today is that they constantly run tests to discover how they can increase the effectiveness of their calls, messages, presentations, etc. And then once you know what’s working, don’t stop refining it, but roll it out to people in the form of your sales process.
I’ve seen a lot of sales processes that were invented in the 80s or even earlier that don’t take into consideration the amount of data that’s available about customers today or changing buyer expectations. When I see that 85% of execs believe that their initial meeting with a salesperson wasn’t worth their time, that’s appalling to me. When I see that 50% of forecast deals fail to close, that is an effectiveness issue. Companies need to continuously refine and innovate their processes and align them with the latest proven sales tactics, data and discoveries.
Q: What sort of data do you think is most critical to informing companies around how reps are spending their time and how they can work smarter?
A: I’ve always felt that early stage data is the most important data, because that’s where the greatest losses of opportunity occur. When I look at reps and see the sheer number of contacts they have to make to get a meeting, I think that the goal of the organization should be to reduce the number of contacts and increase the quality of conversations. Smart sellers are so knowledgable about their buyers and what’s important to them that they can literally step into their shoes. Without that depth of knowledge, it’s impossible for reps to have the quality of conversations necessary to move forward.
They are missing the forest for the trees, looking at little actions that make them feel busy and important as opposed to the bigger things they should be doing that can have a much greater impact. It’s very easy to get seduced by vanity metrics – x number of demos, x number of calls, etc. – but what I’ve found out is that top salespeople make fewer calls, do fewer proposals, etc. Fewer, but better. Of course, there is a certain quantity that is necessary, but quality needs to be thought of first. Effectiveness is more important than efficiency. You can make 100 bad calls and get 0 results, or make 5 good calls and get a 20% response rate. That’s what sales teams should focus on.
Q: What do you think are some of the best tools out there for helping improve sales productivity?
A: The app RescueTime is extremely helpful because it tracks what you’re doing online for you. As a sales person, you’re bouncing from this resource to that resource and you’re all over the place. This app allows you to see how much time you waste by showing you how much time you spend on LinkedIn or Excel, for example. Plus you can set performance goals to improve.
I also like Freedom because it actually blocks me from going online or to certain sites for specific periods of time, and it can run across all devices. If you really want to focus for the next hour and a half and don’t want to be tempted to look away, it puts a firewall up so you can’t get to ESPN or LinkedIn. I think it’s a very important tool to have.
Finally, the Pomodoro technique is a great resource for helping you get started on on a difficult or distasteful task. You set a timer for 25 minutes and just start writing or sourcing – whatever the task is. After 25 minutes, you have to take a 5 minute break, and then come back and do it again, and so on and so forth. Just by doing that you get a whole lot more done.
For more information around how next generation sales leaders like Jill are managing their sales processes, productivity and performance, download The 2017 Guide for Next-Generation Sales Leaders.