Small Business

Prioritize! It's a Matter of Urgency


While the Declaration of Independence proclaims that all men (and women) are created equal, not all selling tasks are created equal. If you want to sell more and close faster, some activities are much more valuable than others. Once a year, it's a good idea to evaluate your various selling activities and decide which ones to continue at the same pace and which ones you want to increase, decrease, or stop doing altogether.

There's a simple exercise to tune-up your selling process and identify which activities are the most valuable to you. To begin, think back over the last month or two and write down a list of all your various sales activities. Then rank each one in terms of urgency and importance.

At first glance, it may seem these two characteristics are the same, but let me clarify. A task is urgent if it seems as if the world is screaming for you to do it right now, like an insistent toddler. For instance, making out the payroll checks or paying your quarterly taxes when they are due are examples of tasks that are urgent but aren't important in the big scheme of developing your business.

FOUR COMBINATIONS. On the other hand, a task is important if the quality of the job could dramatically affect your sales. Long-term planning is an example of a task that is important but rarely urgent.

Let's look at all four combinations and explore how you can use them to increase your sales results. An hour or two of time invested in this analysis will help you leverage your time and energy over the year ahead.

Obviously, you should spend most of your time on activities that are both urgent and important. The best example of this is time spent selling to qualified prospects. Just imagine how your sales would soar if you spent 100% of your selling hours in front of folks who need what you sell, at the price you're offering, and wanted to purchase it today.

Mind-boggling, isn't it? And yet, most of us spend an embarrassingly small percentage of our selling hours in this category. Resolve now to spend more time in front of customers who can buy and your sales are guaranteed to grow.

DOUBLE UP. Next in importance are tasks that are important yet not urgent. They would include the above-mentioned long-term planning or taking some sales training, whether from a class or a recent book. Prospecting, networking, creating marketing programs, and anything else that falls under Steven Covey's rule, "Sharpen Your Saw," belong in this category. These jobs must be done by you personally or in conjunction with other professionals.

Be careful not to spend too much time on this group. I've met sole proprietors who spent a year writing policy and procedures manuals when they should have invested more of their time in front of real, live customers.

Explore, if you can, multitasking two or more of these activities. For me, developing my spirituality and my body are important because they make me more effective. These tasks are also tempting to put off until tomorrow. I solved this by starting each day with some spiritual and business reading while walking on my treadmill. In fact, I've renamed my treadmill my "Education Station."

"SCRAP TIME." I set my treadmill on a sensible 3 miles per hour pace, crank up the incline to get my heart pumping, get out my religious books, and study away. After my lesson is completed, I read key stories in the morning newspaper. I keep a pen, a highlighter, and scissors nearby so I can clip out stories to either forward to customers or use to update my selling spiel. By the time I've walked a few miles and burned a few hundred calories, I have put myself in the right frame of mind, worked up a healthy sweat, and been brought up to date on issues that affect my business and my customers.

For marketing calls, carry a list with you of folks you want to contact during "scrap time," that is, time that would otherwise be wasted waiting. You can use the same idea for brainstorming on sales campaigns, brochures, Web pages, and more. If you get to an appointment early, you can work from the car. If a customer is delayed, ask for an empty office or quiet spot where you can complete these important selling tasks.

Ranked third are jobs that are urgent but not important. These are great to identify so you can outsource them. Accounting, cleaning your office, and updating your Web presence are some examples of this. They have to be done, and they have to be done well because they reflect on your company -- or keep you out of jail -- but they don't have to be done by you. Identifying as many jobs as possible that you can hire a professional to handle to your level of satisfaction is worth the time of finding, hiring, and managing that vendor.

GET STARTED. Last in importance are activities that are neither urgent nor important. Sometimes these are just plain fun, like doing a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. There's certainly a place in life for fun and relaxation, but use these activities as a reward, after you've completed your selling tasks.

This "tune-up" of identifying and ranking urgent and important sales activities is important but not urgent. However, it can only help you sell more if you stop now and take the time to work your way through it. You might want to select an activity from the last category as a reward for completing the task. Even better will be the harvest of increased sales you'll reap. Happy selling!


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