Sales Productivity: The most important decision you make every day

Do I turn left or right?

Sitting at the stop sign at the end of my neighborhood road, I paused.  At 9 a.m. the roads were quiet and there was no hurry for me to move.  That was good because I really didn’t know where I was going.  So, I paused.  While sitting there, I got a call from my sales manager.  Considering him as a great resource and coach, I told him about my current dilemma.

I had been in sales for about four years at this point.  I had my schedule under control.  It felt like I was covering my current customers adequately and doing a decent job of prospecting for new accounts.  But I hit that moment in a month or quarter or year when I didn’t have anywhere specific to go.  There were no fires to fight, no urgent prospects to go see, no trade shows or industry events going on, and surprisingly, no internal meetings.  It was a true lull in the action. 

Earlier that week, it hit me hard as I didn’t have any solid plans coming into Monday.  The previous Friday ended without solidifying anything for this week.  Monday was spent in my home office on paperwork, planning, and some phone calls.  By Tuesday afternoon, I was both stir crazy in my office and feeling that “salesperson guilt” of spending too much time in my office versus being in front of customers.

Wednesday morning, I made up my mind.  I was getting in my car and getting “out in the country”.  Wrapping up a few morning emails, I packed my lunch, threw my sales material in my car, and headed down my street.  Coming to a stop, I realized that I had absolutely no idea where I was going.  I just knew I didn’t want to sit in my office anymore. 

Saved by the phone ring, my manager and I discussed this big dilemma.  Again, I considered him a great resource with insight and advice over the years.  So, I felt comfortable telling him that I had no idea where I was going. 

He asked, “Well, which way did you go the last time you left the house?” 

“Left, I think.  Why?”

“Well, try going right this time” he half joked. 

I think about that day for several reasons.

The biggest reason is planning. 

As Ag salespeople, we have been working from home (WFH) long before the pandemic made it so popular.  The one thing we know is that it’s not as lucrative as people imagine.  One of the biggest challenges is that on a daily basis, you have to create your schedule.  You have to create the demand for getting appointments with customers.  And that’s not easy to do day after day, month after month, year after year.  Eventually, you reach that point where you tire of making appointments.  So, you get up and charge out into the sales territory but have no idea where you are going.  You’re just going because that’s what Ag salespeople do.  We go to the farm, elevator, feed mill, and we sell.  Belly to belly as some of the old timers called it.  We feel a sense of guilt when we spend too much time in our home office.

Working with sales teams on their selling skills, many of them want to know how to close more sales or how to deal with price objections.  Certainly, I always say and we do cover those topics.  However, far more important is that single decision you make every day at the end of your driveway or the end of your neighborhood road…. Turn left or turn right.  I find more salespeople fail because of this decision than a lack of any one selling skill like closing or handling objections.

Other versions of that daily decision are:

  • Do I go see current customers or prospects?
  • Do I go into my company facility to get caught up or go straight out to see customers?
  • Do I go see my best customers or maybe some mid-level performing customers to develop them into becoming a best customer?
  • Do I go to that networking event or go collect on some accounts receivables that have been hanging out there?

So many choices and here’s the kicker.  Nobody ever tells us how to make those decisions!  I’ve been in front of hundreds of sales teams over the years in workshops.  And I ask every one of them, “When you got the keys to your sales territory, did anyone tell you how to manage your time, or where to go and who to go see?”  Never does a hand go up.  Never does someone raise their hand and tell me of their company giving them a grand plan on how to manage a sales territory.  Once in a while, someone will mention they were given the advice, “Go sell to farmers!” or “Go sell in these five counties or in this state.” 

That’s it!  That’s the best advice we have for our newly minted salesperson who we spent enormous time and resources to find, hire and train.  Then we hand them the keys to a million-dollar territory with little to no guidance. 

Whether you are a salesperson or sales manager, here are the keys to sales productivity and running a territory:

  1. Plan:  Make a plan, and work with each salesperson to get them to develop their plan.  Planning is one of those low-urgency but highly important activities.  Since it’s low urgency, we put it on the back burner.  We get good at winging it every day.  That works for a while until we develop bad habits.  The worst of which is calling on all of our favorite or pet accounts. 
  2. Modify the plan:  No plan sustains the rigors of real-life selling.  Good and bad things will happen in the weather, politics, your company, or your customer’s business.  Don’t scrap your entire plan due to a downturn in the market.  Adjust it to be more on course than it was.
  3. Prioritize:  There are several priorities to consider in Ag sales.  The first is the ROI of dollars by customer.  Bigger customers get bigger amounts of our time and resources.  Then there are geographic priorities.  We cover big territories and they are getting even bigger.  Learn how to manage your driving time or it will destroy your productivity. 
  4. Communicate:  Talk about this subject a lot.  Talk with your peers, your manager, your trusted vendor salespeople, and other department managers within your company.  It’s amazing how often experienced salespeople learn how to do something more efficiently from their peers.  During sales training workshops, I often hear these discussions.  Every one of your peers is trying to solve the same problems you are and they are not the competition.  Please don’t reinvent the wheel every day. 
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