Time is your enemy: put the customer first and plan to win

Mike Hurley, APS sales ambassador, is a veteran sales executive with a master’s degree in business.

May 25, 2018

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential” – Winston Churchill

It sounds obvious, but too few sales leaders make the time to reflect, research and plan. In sales, it’s not enough to say work smart, not hard; you need to do both, but slogging away without a focused, rational approach won’t get the results you’re striving for. You need to work in an intelligent methodical way, and work hard, comments Mike Hurley a former sales executive with a master’s degree in business from Middlesex University.

Mike has spent his career in the sales industry working with, amongst others, tech giants IBM, HP, and Unisys, and management consultants RIiSE. Now he is sales ambassador for the Association of Professional Sales.

“I like to have the word ‘sales’ on my business card,” he says. “We should be proud of what we do.”

Mike has been evaluating what keeps sales leaders busy and what they get in return. He is clear that time is the “enemy of the salesperson” so treat it as a precious resource.

Unfortunately for a lot of sales executives that doesn’t happen. Instead when they are appointed to a business they follow an existing pattern of working which means they can get sucked into a vortex of numbers, spending all their time on the minutiae so they can report up the line to their bosses, who are eager for figures to show success or failure.

“It doesn’t work, or add value,” says Mike.

Instead, the key to good selling is planning and keeping the whole process clear and simple.

Business is about making money, making money is about selling and selling is about the customer. It’s not a difficult equation but it’s easy to get lost in the mix. The key is the customer. They should be your focus.

“A smart salesperson will create the agenda with his customers and be in front all the time.

“Customers see that as adding tremendous value to them, rather than just a transactional relationship. If you can understand your customer’s business and be proactive in the way you help them move forward, they’ll stop thinking of you like a salesman and they’ll start to see you as part of their team that problem solves,” says Mike.

So how do you get to this ‘flow’ state, where everything runs like, well, clockwork?

“It’s not clever to have a packed diary, every minute of the day taken. At least one third of your time needs to be spent on reflecting, thinking and researching. If you’re a sales leader or executive, another third of your week needs to be spent with your people, coaching them, listening to them, helping them find the right answers to win the deals. And then the final third needs to be on the traditional things that some are probably spending 100 percent of their time on, and that’s the detail, like cadence, pipeline reviews and deal reviews.”

At every stage your customer is your focus. Your research and reflection is about the customer. Sometimes you will do this on your own, at other times you will do this with the customer. The customer is at the centre of what you do.

And if you’re a sales rep rather than running a sales team, Mike says the division of labour might look this: “A third reflecting, thinking and planning, a third researching your customers so you become relevant to them, and a third selling and having meetings, talking to your customer and helping your customer directly. Preparing quotes, that kind of thing.”

“Generally, sales people react to what their customers are asking them for: ‘Can I have a quote for this. Can you do that. Can you come in and see me, I’ve got a problem. That delivery didn’t go too well. I want a refund for this. I want extra discount.’”

When it comes to working with your customer, so you become a trusted partner, you need discipline and a plan that will create value for both of you.

In business, the rear-view mirror might be clearer than the windscreen but, as Mike has learnt, you need to focus on what’s coming up, and plan, so you look ahead with confidence, knowing you are prepared for the challenges that any deal might throw at you.

To echo Churchill’s words, planning is essential so when things change you are ready. You are not tied to a written plan because you can adapt quickly, and win.

Mike’s key takeaways:
:: A third of your time should be spent reflecting, thinking and researching
:: Your customer is always your focus.
:: Understand your customer’s business, be proactive and they will see you as a trusted part of their team.
:: Working smart is thinking about things, not just doing things.
:: A clever salesperson creates the agenda, and stays in front, rather than just reacting to problems.
:: Time is the enemy of the salesperson. You cannot afford to work on things you do not believe you can win.

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