In a conversation with a sales manager, he was struggling with the performance of his people. They were making their numbers–kinda/sortof–it was actually spotty, some months were great, some months were awful, everything evened out over time. The challenge was, a lack of consistency within the team and from month to month.
We started talking about activity levels. He said the people always seemed to be busy. I asked, “What are they doing?”
He really didn’t know, but had a general impression of “busyness.”
Fortunately they had a shared calendar system. I asked him to show me the calendars for each of his people for the following week (we were having our discussion a couple of Fridays ago.)
All of the calendars looked something like the example below:
We were both shocked, the calendars for the following week were sparse (ever the master of understatement). We looked at the calendars 2 weeks out, they were even worse.
We talked about these calendars for a while. I asked, “How can they be so busy, if they don’t have much planned for the coming weeks? What’s taking their time?”
We decided to wait a week to review things. He asked his people to make sure they were keeping their calendars updated.
A week later, we looked at the calendars for the week just completed. We wanted to see how they actually spent their time, versus the plan for it (shown above).
As we expected, the calendars filled up quite a bit during the week. The people were really “busy,” but it turned out they were largely in react mode. Rather than planning their time proactively, rather than looking at what they needed to do to move their deals forward and what meetings needed to be arranged, or what prospecting needed to be done to generate new opportunities; they tended to be reacting to things that were coming up, calls from customers—both on deals and problems. Deciding at the last minute to have a meeting with a customer. Suddenly realizing, they should do some prospecting (actually, the sales manager started getting pissed off on Wednesday and insisted people do prospecting).
As you might expect, being in react mode, a lot of the work ended up being internal and not customer facing. All that time was “necessary,” but were they using their time as effectively as possible. Particularly, taking so much of the core business day doing these tasks.
Seeing similar things on each person’s calendar, we started to understand the problems he was seeing with the consistency and level of results. People weren’t managing their time. They weren’t thinking ahead about what they needed to do to drive deals forward, what they prospecting they needed to do to drive more opportunities.
Yes, they were busy, but it was not focused proactively on driving the business. It’s no wonder why they were struggling to perform.
At the same time, after this week of tracking how they spent their time, we looked at the coming weeks on their calendars, wondering if any were taking the initiative to plan more proactively.
Unfortunately, you’ve probably guessed what we saw. Most of the calendars barely had anything scheduled for the next two weeks–perhaps because they were dealing with too many crises this week, so they didn’t have the time to think ahead.
Too often, we confuse busyness and activity with accomplishment. Without a doubt, every business professional I meet is extremely busy. They have more demands on their time than they can manage, they run from meeting to meeting. They are driven by interruptions—mostly of their own doing. Yet they aren’t accomplishing what they should.
The sales manager and I started talking about what he should do. We agreed on a few things:
- He started having weekly 1 on 1’s looking at and discussing their plans for the next 2 weeks. He wanted them to start proactively thinking about the things they needed to accomplish to move deals forward.
- He set some rough guidelines about the amount of time they should be spending with customers discussing their deals and next steps. We decided to just provide suggestions, recognizing if we provided hard metrics, the sales people might start gaming them, wasting customers’ time with bad meetings.
- The entire team blocked 2.5 hours each day on Tuesday through Thursdays for prospecting. They needed to move on generating more pipeline.
- We knew there would always be crises that would require a lot of internal work, but rather than responding immediately to each one, he suggest people set aside an hour each day to work on all the issues that came up during the day. Also, rather than using core business hours to do this, he suggested people move those times to late in the day or early the following morning.
- Aligned with 4, he started asking people to move all office work to early morning or late afternoon, freeing the core business day to be working with customers. Putting his money where his mouth was, he also rescheduled the weekly team meeting for a breakfast meeting every Friday.
- He was careful about people over-scheduling themselves. He recognized that every hour shouldn’t be scheduled, things would come up that would impact people’s time, so as he looked at their calendars he made sure they weren’t trying to be unrealistic in their time management. (Of course, initially, the struggle was to get them to put more into their calendars for the upcoming 2 weeks.)
We’re in the very early stages of implementing. The calendars are looking stronger, they aren’t where they need to be, but we have people planning more proactively. They are thinking what they need to do with each opportunity, planning/scheduling those to keep them moving. They are thinking about what they need to be doing to generate new opportunities — and are forced to do something about it with the 3 times that have been blocked for nothing but prospecting. We’ve seen a big change in just moving internal activities to non core hours. The good news is they are freeing time to meet with customers–the bad news is they are struggling to fill that time. But we are confident this will start improving pretty quickly.
If you are a sales person, you should be looking forward at least two weeks, planning how you will spend your time, looking at what next steps or actions you need to take to move customers through their buying process. You should be blocking your time, maximizing your availability during core business hours. You should stop reacting immediately to problems or crises that come up and interupt your schedule. Very few need to be addressed immediately. You can address them more effectively by grouping them and dealing with them at one time, during non-core hours. You can’t anticipate everything, so be careful about over-scheduling.
For managers, sit down with your people, take a look at their calendars for the next couple of weeks. Look at how they are allocating their time, make sure they are thinking ahead, they are being proactive, they are managing their time, not letting events manage them. Don’t worry so much about the details of each meeting, but look to see they are maximizing time spent with customers, they are committing to regular prospecting, they are minimizing busy work. Be careful about your own demands on their time–minimize meetings and internal work with them during core business hours.
Time blocking is very powerful in minimizing busyness and maximizing our ability to achieve. Make sure you are leveraging this to help you produce the results you want.