More than ever, sales professionals are concerned about their very livelihoods. The Covid-19 pandemic has each of us in business asking tough questions and facing difficult, unprecedented challenges. How do I plan my way out of this situation? What is the marketplace going to look like when I return? Are the familiar sales models still going to be there when we return? Are the products going to change? What are the expectations of my customers?

While this situation is certainly unusual, facing challenging times is not. In my career I can think of high inflation and deep recession in the early 80’s. The circumstances of 9/11. The Great Recession a decade ago. These are huge cultural and economic events, but even on a micro-scale, industries and organizations encounter hard times where it seems sales funnels dry up, grow unpredictable, or simply evolve. Sometimes we can foresee a bumpy road ahead, and sometimes they take us by surprise.

In my years of sales craft and training, I’ve learned some valuable insights from my experiences that I want to empower you with today. These are the behaviors and habits I’ve learned from my teachers, taught and coached countless others, and consistently see in the true high performers – the Breakaway Sales Performers – that seem to instinctively know how to manage the unknown better than their peers.

Ignore The Noise

It’s tough to tune out, but hard situations create platforms for opinions and even snake-oil products and approaches that just won’t help you in the practical and pragmatic job of serving your customers and managing your own capabilities and opportunities for success. I see this a lot with productivity – an essential skill for top sales performers, but one that seems to have a new book, app, gadget or widget that promises to make a sales pro “better”, seemingly without work, effort or sacrifice. Productivity is key to your success in any sales climate, but especially today or in challenging circumstances. The noise won’t help you. Let’s explore some of what will.

Improved Productivity Comes From Meticulous Planning

A trait shared among top performers is they limit opportunities for chance, or the unknowns, to impact their performance. This starts with looking at an assigned quota and reverse engineering an annual plan to not just reach it but exceed it. I train my students to double it. Whatever quota is, chart a course to hit 200%. When reps plan against 200% of quota they sometimes hit it. They often exceed 150% or so. But they almost always manage 100% of quota. While others are scrambling at mid-year to hit 40% or higher of quota, high performers might already have reached 100%. They achieve this by breaking 200% into 4 quarters and creating smaller plans to hit quarterly goals. To hit those goals, reps chart goals against shorter time quadrants like monthly and weekly.

Planning Time and Sales Territory

Top sales performers also find where the opportunities are – a requirement to exceed quota, and especially necessary in tougher sales climates. Who’s buying – and where? Great sales reps get to know and own the opportunities in industry segments, locations, geographies, zip codes, industrial parks. Take a goal to exceed quota and distill it down into very precise market targets that you know you’ll have a high probability of gaining success. Then evaluate time against that. How much time do you have to contract for new business, how much time do you actually farm against existing business or existing accounts? Don’t leave this stuff to chance or happenstance – own the results you can achieve.

Simplify Your Sales Focus

When you free yourself from distraction (or panic), you realize it’s just a math problem to solve in reverse. A plan helps you manage time specific to achieving results and focus your time and attention. Evaluate how much time it takes to act on something, bake it into a daily calendar and eliminate anything that doesn’t serve the quota goal. Reps with 80 items on a list won’t get any of them done, and 90% of those tasks are probably busy-work or extraneous to goal achievement. You only have eight hours, maybe 10 if you're working hard. If you don’t learn what’s essential and focus on those activities you’ll do a lot of things sloppily and ineffectively.

Plan the Work, Work the Plan

Exam your territory for farming and hunting, and execute your plan on a daily basis to exceed quota. It's really that simple. Be cautious of gadgets and time management systems and books and apps and calendars, etc. You might find some things that legitimately help you, but I find very often those things create the illusion of productivity. You can spend 8 hours in a fancy time management journal checking boxes and planning the day and at the end of the day…you’re 8 fewer hours made selling but you sure have a nice journal to show for it. Instead, keep it simple:

  • Plan for more than quota. Go for 200% of quota.
  • Create your “beachhead” – the territory you’ll manage with precision and success.
  • Work that territory by managing your time effectively on activities that serve goal achievement. Eliminate distractions, extraneous, and “productivity traps” that only create the illusion of getting good work done.

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