Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The New Salesman: Territory Management via the Calendar

Whichever method you choose to do so,
making time to manage your calendar is important.
Calendar Management Equals Territory Management

Braving the risk of conjuring up some unpleasant memories from your grammar school days, let’s start our discussion with a pop quiz.   Ready… here goes.  True or False?  Everybody knows how to use a calendar.  My own experience is this; everyone recognizes a calendar when they see one.  Outlook has a calendar built in to the software.  Most smart phones have a built in calendar as well as over 14,000 calendar apps available (yes, we checked.)    Google has a calendar that can be utilized by both desk top and mobile users.  But still, very few people know how to use a calendar.

A sales manager who assumes their new people know how to use a calendar is in for a life of disappointment and frustration.   A few months ago, we did a cross compiled survey of distributor salespeople and regional managers from the distributor’s top supply partners.  Our goal was to measure the ability of distributor salespeople to make use of selling resources available through their partners.  The results were disturbing.

Even with long windows of notice, very few salespeople were able to schedule customer appointments with any degree of efficiency.  An amazingly large percentage of the total were basically “flying by the seat of their pants,” calling on customers without an appointment.   An even greater number scheduled their time less than two days in advance.  Over a quarter of them appeared to not schedule their day until they arrived at the office.  Obviously for that new guy, this is a habit that should be avoided at all costs. 

Create the habit of setting appointments-scheduling time to schedule time
So what makes for a good use of a person’s calendar?  Appointments are a fantastic start.  Realizing that new salespeople have a difficult time making the connection leading to appointments, this one can be tough.  However setting appointments is a skillset that must be developed.  Experience dictates many new guys fail to schedule time for making appointments.  The best time to making appointments is Monday morning and Friday afternoon.  So the first bit of calendar training comes in scheduling a time for actually setting up these appointments.

Let’s not sugar coat it; early on, setting appointments is a double dose of tedium and rejection – almost totally thankless work.  Given this little dash of unpleasantness, the new seller falls into more pleasant tasks.  Pleasant translates as “easy,” however, easy does not mean money making. Things like answering emails, reviewing quotes, answering incoming customer calls typically handled by inside sales staff and updating files quickly fill the time.

Here’s a better way.  Prior to that Monday morning or Friday afternoon scheduling session, the salesperson (and their manager) divides the territory into quadrants.  The salesperson uses the quadrants along with a list of people he would like to meet for an appointment – this includes their company, the customer’s quadrant location and phone number.  To maximize face-to-face selling time, calls are made to the customers by quadrant with the idea of filling in activities in a particular quadrant by day.  This eliminates back tracking and reduces time spent zigzagging all over the territory.

Whenever possible, the first call should be made as close to 8:00 as possible and the last call should be set at 3:00.  This gets the salesperson into their territory as soon as possible.  3:00 may seem like an early end to the day, but as an experienced sales person can attest, “I hate to visit after 3:30 because the customer is ALWAYS in a hurry.  This means we have to skip over important details and end up either rescheduling or doing more follow up by phone and email, which takes away from my time with other customers.”

Our experience indicates the most efficient way to handle making appointments is to use the business land line for outgoing calls and a cell phone as the number for customers to return the call.  Using this technique, voicemail messages result in calls back to the cell number – where they can easily be converted to appointments.   Once the first and last selling times are scheduled, the rest can be filled in with a comment like this one:  “I will be in your area on Wednesday.  I have an appointment at 8 but could stop by later in the morning if you are available.”   Once an appointment is set, a follow up confirmation email is a great reminder for the salesperson and the customer.  Sending an invitation for the appointment will assure that both parties will be reminded.

Block out the calendar for better efficiency
We already talked a bit about setting appointments for 8 and 3 but there’s more to it than this.  Over the years, we have seen dozens of otherwise good salespeople fall into the habit of stopping by the office each morning to “take care of a few things”.   Even when they arrive well before the start of working hours, they find themselves “stuck” in the office. 

Phone calls from customers, “drop by stops” from supply partners, and conversations with their support staff cause them to stay in the office far later than anticipated.   By blocking off their calendar with an appointment at 8, they get out of the office and into the field every morning.  Setting up an appointment at 3, keeps the new guy working throughout the day.  Drop by calls and reactive calls to customer issues might fill the rest of the time but at least the first and last bit of the day are proactively focused.  He will eventually find that having an appointment at 8:00 will lead the way to appointments at 9:00 and 10:00 and so on.

If no appointment or customer can be found, the nation’s network of Starbucks (and similar establishments), offer a quiet haven for answering emails, returning phone calls or building proposals.  In my mind, all of these make for better time usage than a long drive back to the office just to do “paperwork”.

Blocking out time on a calendar is also beneficial for those that help indirectly with selling.  Whether it’s an assistant/receptionist, inside salesperson, management, or even a spouse, sharing a calendar that gives an accurate picture of your day can help others know if and when to forward calls, schedule meetings, or expect your return to the office.

Create a system for follow-ups
Salespeople are faced with an avalanche of dates.  When a customer needs something tomorrow or next Friday, typically there is no problem.  But when a customer says, “We decided to postpone this project for 90 days…” problems occur.  Rather than leave these important dates to the customer to remember, or counting on an iron clad memory to recall, why not tag the item for later action?  Without sounding like the grandpa character from a cartoon show, back in my day a major breakthrough skill was the creation of a follow-up file.  Quotes, important customer information and reminders to call customers were gingerly placed in a follow-up file with a date written across the top.  At the beginning of each week, I went through the follow-up file to pull out everything I needed for the following week.  I personally still use this system even for non-selling activities, but I also use my Outlook reminder, which is synced with Google, that sends me a text reminder.  I know some more advanced CRM systems allow the placement of reminders and other tasks, including some with email reminders.  However this follow-up is done, we cannot count on a new salesperson to come onto the job with these skills.  And, they’re too important to overlook.

If your company doesn’t have a prescribed process for handling tasks and reminders via a CRM system, develop a paper based system.  Build in a methodology of measurement.  If a new salesperson has been working for 60 days and doesn’t have a single reminder set up, then a “management moment” might be highly recommended.

Calendar management is closely linked to territory success.   Returning to our earlier premise – most people don’t know how to work a calendar.  Invest early for future dividends; error on the side of safety.  During the first 120 days, spend some time teaching, measuring and managing your new folk’s use of the calendar.

A final note: Paper calendars have provided a reliable reminder system since people started setting appointments.  As great as electronic devices are, they are prone to bugs, often need to be charged, or require certain signals to work.  A paper calendar is never a bad option and is always a good back up, even if it’s just printed from said electronic device. 

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