If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my axe.
Abraham Lincoln's productivity secret was to work smarter rather than work harder by simply using sharper tools to get the job done more efficiently. Inefficient tools waste your time and energy, and simply knowing what to do is never enough. It’s the matter of actually doing it that makes all the difference.
Great leaders grow themselves and their organizations by deliberately managing the present, letting go of old beliefs and behaviors, and purposefully creating a future by adopting new practices.
So, how does Honest Abe's philosophy apply to sales management today?
Invest in Learning and Training
In today's bustling world, sales managers and salespeople are too busy doing rather than trying to learn and grow. It's hard to take the time to freshen up our skills and knowledge, and adjust our beliefs about the industry.
Here is an example of what one manager said when talking about quality prospecting:
"I don't have time to pull everyone together to focus on valid business reasons and securing better appointments with new prospects. Right now, I need everyone focused and working hard. We had a soft January, and February’s pending numbers are not where they need be. So we don't start the year off too far behind, I've challenged everyone to work harder than ever before. I know that we can do it… we just need to put in the extra effort!"
This is certainly not the first manager to find themselves stuck in this precarious situation. On one hand, stepping away from “working hard” for training or planning feels wrong. But, on the other hand, we know that when we focus on strategies like a valid business reason and when we use proven techniques for securing better appointments, we do, in fact, increase the type of work that leads to quality pending and eventually, sales.
We're Addressing the Wrong Sales Issue
We see salespeople working hard and striving for success. However, the problem is not the lack of effort, but rather the shortage of skill development and the failure to identify the bottleneck in the sales process. When we fail or fall short in the development of our salespeople, we prevent their hard work from paying off for them. And, there’s only so long that a seller can work hard and not get results before they explode with frustration.
We owe it to our sales people to focus their hard work on the right activities so they can enjoy some much-deserved return on their effort.
Ways to Sharpen the Axe:
- Go in the field with your sellers and look to see where they are having great success and where they are not.
- Establish a sales dashboard that will provide you with past performance measurements as well as the leading indicators specific to activities that you know to produce results in the future.
- Study your sales process. Find, select, approach, define, solve, confirm, and deliver. Look for areas in which you can apply additional focus on skill development to realize significant improvement.
The bottom line is that taking your salespeople off the street to focus on skill development that they don't need is a big waste of time. But failing to invest your time on the skill development they do need will lead to frustration and a lack of success.
If you are looking to increase your sales revenue, establish a rock-solid talent bank, decrease key account attrition, or grow target account revenue, and your solution is simply to work harder, you must stop the craziness. Instead, spend more time sharpening your axe—or in this case your team’s skills—so they will be more prepared to use their strengths to achieve success.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on April 6, 2016, and has been updated.