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Time is a fleeting thing

A process for improving sales performance by taking stock of how sales people spend their time

by Frank Hurtte

Frank HurtteWhile many of us think of selling in terms of products and catalogs of services, the commodity we truly deal in is time. Selling is a hands-on and emotional undertaking. Most of us were attracted to sales because of the people aspect. We love helping others, learning about our customers, and we are turned on by making things happen. But, it’s easy to get distracted.

I originally started tracking my own time as a young salesperson. It came as a challenge from a mentor who had observed my actions first hand. When I told him I had difficulty doing everything each day, he demanded that I take time to understand where my workday went. He called it taking inventory. He suspected I let my time drain away in low-value work. I can remember him saying, “Time is so easy to fritter away.”

He challenged me to “log” my actual time spent in every activity in 15-minute intervals for a week. I bought myself a Casio watch with an interval timer and set it to beep every 15 minutes. When it “beeped” I made a quick journal entry as to my activities during that time. At the end of the week, I reviewed my time log. I discovered I spent about 20 hours a week in the car. This was back in “prehistoric times” before cell phones were invented. This realization did two things. First, it helped me plan my driving time to take better advantage of before work and lunch time driving (drive through restaurants prospered) and later (about 1989) it helped me justify the cost of a cell phone to my boss.

In a recent article in Industrial Supply magazine, I noted that companies would be surprised to find out how little time salespeople actually spend selling each day. Much of their time is "frittered away" on administrative tasks and other low-value activities. The article explained the value of asking salespeople to log their daily activities in 15-minute increments. To help in that regard, here's a chart that you can download. It will help you categorize the 12 major activities that salespeople engage in on a regular basis.

Nearly everyone who has ever used this tool to log their activities has been surprised by what it reveals about how they spend their time.

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