Breathing Space for Sales Professionals

Q: How do you define breathing space?

A: On a simplistic level, breathing space is the capability of the individual to recognize that he or she, not the boss or client, is driving his days and life. Yes, sales reps have goals to meet, but they can approach those goals without beating up themselves in the process. Too many people are exhausted by the end of the day.

Q: How does breathing space differ from time management?

A: Time management is essentially a set of rules to follow. For example, time management books say to handle a piece of paper at once. That’s a rule, and rules work well when an individual is confronting a situation that is relatively definable and linear. Rules don’t work when a person is faced with multiple options, constantly changing needs, or a quickly changing environment.

Under breathing space guidelines, the number of times one should handle a piece of paper depends on what the paper says – it might need to be handled 25 times. However, the optimal number of times to handle most pieces of paper is zero; the content is not worthy of retention.

Studies show that 80 percent of what executives file is never used again. That’s four out of five pieces of paper. Look into any salesperson’s briefcase, filing cabinet, or glove compartment and you’ll likely find excess paper that clogs the system and dampens effectiveness. All the paper and online information people encounter in their personal lives added to what they encounter in their professional lives yields an “information over-glut.”

Q: How can sales reps handle information over-glut?

A: A key principle I discuss in my book Breathing Space is “managing the beforehand,” which means operating in an anticipatory mode. Most people typically deal with the aftermath of an event.

For example, if a rep planned to call on eight accounts in one day, he would address an envelope to each account and stamp it in advance so that after he left the account and got in his car, he could immediately write a follow-up letter saying, “Nice meeting with you today…,” or “Thanks for introducing me to the others in your firm.” The rep is not writing a form letter, but a note specific to something that happened at that sales call.Then, the rep would mail the note from the next mail box.

This approach might sound as if I’m creating more work, but it actually creates a foolproof system for ensuring customers always receive immediate written follow-ups, via snail mail, which no one else is doing!

Q: Where else can “managing the beforehand” be used?

A: In all aspects of life. If the rep is the family member responsible for getting the kids ready for the day, you can manage the beforehand by ensuring all of the children’s coats, hats, or school items are in front of the door the night before. The rep should also pack up his/her car the night before. These tasks require a little more effort in the evenings, but they yield superior piece of mind and make the mornings more pleasant.In short, they yield breathing space.

Salespeople can manage the beforehand in other ways. For instance, they can create files in advance. If a rep is calling on a new account, he/she can create a file folder before the call. Even though he has nothing to put in the file at that time, he has created the space so that, as he begins to accumulate brochures, data and other information, he has a home for them.

Most reps stack up the hard copy data they collect and create files only begrudgingly.It’s time for them to look at filing as an art – as the key to more effective selling.

Vital: to be more effective and efficient, a salesperson must first slow down a bit. By slowing down at the appropriate moments, a salesperson can increase his efficiency and thus make specific aspects of his job go much faster and easier.

Q: What is “conditioning your environments”?

A: Conditioning your environments is a principle related to managing the beforehand. When an individual conditions his environments, he is arranging the spaces and products that he uses regularly in such a manner that they more effectively meet his needs. For example, it’s important that inside sales reps condition their desks.

The salesperson’s desk has to be a comfortable place because it is at the core of his livelihood. If making his desk more comfortable means getting a better chair, he needs to get a better chair. It might mean obtaining a computer swivel arm to raise the monitor off his desk, thereby increasing his desk space. Any changes that add to productivity are worth it if the rep looks at his career as an investment.

A rep might also condition his environments by setting up his home and car to be more productive. A rep should have at least 50 quarters and 50 dimes in his car at all times. A salesperson is asking for trouble if he goes into any metro area without the proper change for parking meters. Anything the rep can handle on the road is going to enhance his home life, and if he enhances his home life, he enhances his career.

Q: You’ve said that by increasing breathing space a person increases his energy level. Would you explain?

A: Let’s say there are two reps that do the same job in identical offices with identical supplies. The only difference between the two is that one rep has a desk piled high with subscriptions, reports, data and the one particular customer file he wants to work on that day. The other rep has on his desk only that customer file he wants to work on – all of his other papers are filed. Both reps start to work on their files. All other things being equal, who is going to be more focused and productive working on the account, the person with only the customer file in front of him or the person with the array of papers piled on his desk?

Let’s extend this example. Say it’s late at night and the same two reps are reviewing their customer folders. The person with the clean desk will close the folder at the end of the day and leave his office. This rep will return to a clean desk in the morning. He will have more energy than the person who leaves his office with the papers strewn everywhere. Office clutter takes a mental toll on salespeople. You can’t pretend the clutter isn’t there.

To the degree that salespeople can keep the flat surfaces in their lives clear – desktops, table tops and tops of file cabinets – they will have more breathing space, and space yields time. In other words, by keeping the spaces open, salespeople will feel more in control of their time.

Q: Why is it more important today that people feel in control of their time?

A: Because people believe that they need to “keep up,” and that they can keep up. But there is no way to keep up with everything.

Every aspect of society has sped up, and it’s giving people the message that they have to run, run, run. Because of this drive to go faster, I advocate that instead of trying to watch every news program or read every newspaper, people look for the pattern or trend.

Q: You have stated that the amount of paper inundating us in 10 years will decrease. Does that mean you believe we will have more breathing space 10 years from now?

A: Yes and no. Yes, because each time a person reduces his paper handling, he increases his breathing space. If a person has old newspapers around the house and sends them out to be recycled, he feels better immediately, and his whole house looks better.

No, because the moment new technologies become available, such as bar code scanners in cars, expectation levels immediately rise to meet those new technologies.

At all points in a person’s life, one can stop, take a breath, and collect his or her thoughts. Sales reps must reward themselves for what they have done, which will prompt them to achieve even more.

Box: Why are sales reps still confronting too much paper?

* In this world of more than 7.2 billion people, more information is newly generated on Earth in a single second than a person could ingest in the rest of his or her life.

* More than 3,000 books are published per day.

* The typical sales professional encounters more than 660 pounds of paper per year, which equals a 55-foot high stack.

* The typical sales professional receives more than 240 pieces of mail per month that he did not solicit.

* The typical American family receives more than 200 catalogs a year.

Jeff Davidson

Jeff Davidson, the Work Life Balance Expert®, can move an audience like few others. Jeff offers dynamic learning keynotes and seminar presentations.

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