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Time and Money

More Sales and Less Stress…Sound Nice?

If you’re a top performer you’re always looking for more sales. You also know the details of wrapping up new business can be stressful and get in the way of finding new opportunities. It can seem like no matter how hard you work, it’s tough to find that breakthrough into a higher earning level. You’ve increased the revenue per account and you’re selling to more accounts, but the time needed to squeeze in any more business is becoming a challenge. You seem tapped out but you want to earn more. Sound familiar?

Rather than simply working harder, I suggest taking a step back and work on your detail management. Making improvements with how you manage details cannot only find you time to fit in more business but can also reduce stress and increase your creativity.

I made a radical change one year ago that coincided with some interesting results. During this time my client volume and revenue increased significantly, but my stress level did not. Most importantly, I didn’t compromise my work/non-work life balance. More clients, more income, less stress, and life balance. Can you figure that one out? I think I have, so let me share with you what I’ve learned.

Before jumping in, you might have noticed I said results coincided with my changes rather than because of my changes. It’s important to note that by improving the way you manage details may increase your revenue and sales, but it’s not always an instant reward. You will still need to stick to your selling fundamentals and disciplines to capitalize on any improvements.  So let’s get started!

Begin by Viewing Your Email Inbox for What it Is, An Action Center

No matter how dialed in your own systems currently are I would have you rethink how you manage your email inbox. Most everyone I work with has some sort of system to help them stay organized with their email. Most systems are set up as storage systems rather than action systems. They hold emails for you to review, sort, review again and worry that you have not forgotten something.  Unread emails are grouped with read emails. The inbox becomes a place for emails that don’t have a home and deleting is something most people avoid.

The methodologies I’m now using with my email and project management process are from David Clark’s book, Getting Things Done (GTD). His point of view is that email really is an action inbox and by utilizing his methodology you can free up some time and more importantly your CREATIVITY. When we’re selling we need creativity to help us in those critical stages of a sale with multiple buyers and personalities. We need creativity to help us open a new door with a new prospect and we need creativity when putting a solution and presentation together.

A quote on David Clark’s website states: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”  When our systems require us to remember where we stored things an internal conversation like this can occur, “Did I leave it in the inbox or move it to their customer folder? Who sent it, what’s the subject……where is it?” Sure, most of the time you can find it and keep things moving, but the point I hope to communicate is that simply staying on top of things is not enough if your systems are requiring you to apply your memory as a key component. When you’re using your brain to remember things, your creativity and time suffer.

When you better manage your activities that show up in your inbox, you will free up your time to increase sales, but probably more importantly you’ll free up your mind to be more effective.

I highly recommend buying the book, Getting Things Done to really understand the system.  For a quick overview, here’s a video link to a very good explanation of the GTD methodology.

You need a system that helps you manage your inbox

Part of the system is creating action folders (outlook) or labels (gmail) that make sense and now hold categories of emails (tasks) that need to get done. Where should you put your emails if not in the inbox or a customer folder? The GTD method and one that I have adopted suggest the following:

Action – This is for emails that need your attention.
Waiting – This is for emails that need a response back to you.
Today – This is a folder of emails needing attention today.
To Read – Items that need reading.
Someday – For items that might need action but not a priority.
To Write on – For those of you that write.
Archive – Use your archive folders to hold things you don’t want to let go of but don’t need in front of you. This is what you might be hanging on to in your inbox. If you don’t want to use the Outlook Archive, create you own archive folder.
Trash/Delete – Use it!

For Outlook users, David suggests using the @ symbol before the folder name so these folders are at the top near the inbox for easy dragging.

Add the folders you need but be careful not to grow this list too large, as you will find it difficult to effectively manage and monitor all the folders. Also client and customer folders seem handy, but using a search tool can do about as much as your folder is doing. See if your CRM can attach important emails to their account.

David goes into more detail in his book and has an excellent guide for Outlook users on his website.

Making Small Decisions is Critical to Managing Detail

Every email that arrives needs to be attended to. What will you do with it? If you set up your action folders you now have places to send emails once your decision is made. One suggestion made with GTD is to ask yourself if you can take care of the email in two minutes or less. You should take care of these first. If you can’t complete it in two minutes you should send it to the appropriate action folder.

Be willing to let go of your tried and true methods

When I started using a Mac again, I had a hard time finding a CRM that would truly integrate with Outlook. I loved Outlook and was not willing to let go of my systems until someone convinced me to let it go to accomplish what I really wanted, which was an email and CRM system that were almost one. So I took the plunge and tried working with Google Apps for business (Gmail, Calendar, Tasks, Contacts, Cloud Storage and Documents) at $50 a year. I was also able to move my domain name of salesmanagernow to Googleapps rather than having a Gmail handle, a capability I was not aware of.  I added Zoho for my CRM.

When I let go of my “security blanket called Outlook” it opened up a whole new world of email plug-ins that did not crash. I used to have that problem with outlook so I used to steer clear of plugins.  I was introduced to GTD by an incredible plug-in called Active Inbox  I currently use email as my task manager, project manager and for CRM updates.  My CRM has a gadget at the bottom of each email that allows me to add notes, create potentials or add a contact. My project manager plug-in Streak resides in my inbox where emails are attached to projects and notes, due dates and contacts are associated, all in my email. The best thing is I don’t have to remember what to do anymore. Well almost, I’m getting better. If an email action has a due date, a plug-in allows me to attach a reminder date to the email as well as a note to what needs to be done. That email and note show up in my inbox on the date I want to work on it. Pretty cool huh? No more hitting the snooze button on task reminders or seeing the forever red flags telling me I have tasks undone. Oh, and did I mention my inbox is empty at the end of most days and often during the day? And, I spend less time reading emails?  Can you feel my excitement?

None of this would have happened if I didn’t let go of my tried and true methods and explore the new frontier. There are a lot of great applications out there to help us be productive.  I am completely sold on using the Google apps browser based application to manage email. I never found the ease of use that I have found with Gmail plus plug-ins with Outlook.  It has some limitations on formatting, but as far as processing my details, it flat out works.

Find systems that integrate with each other

If you’re looking at new systems for yourself or for your company, keep integration in mind. You can’t always find that perfect system that does it all, but everyday there are new systems that integrate very well in project management, CRM, email, customer service and marketing.

If you are a salesperson and your company does not have a good system for you to work within, consider getting yourself set up. You don’t have to go with Sales Force for $65 a month because there are plenty of robust CRM systems for free to $20/month.

Find systems that work to your style

I’ve already explained how my systems are integrated within my email. They are there because that is where I work most of my day. I did not find these plug-ins all at once. I searched and tried different apps and programs to see what fits best.

Work your systems

When you set up a new action system and start making decisions with each email to keep them out of the inbox, you need to attend to each action folder as required. Today and Action should be looked at daily. Waiting On could be daily or longer. You get the point. Decide on when these folders are checked and take action on them. What I love about this system is my mind is ready to handle more difficult emails in Action when I go there. When I am in Waiting it’s easy to just check on things. No longer am I taken away to web sites when I need to be making decisions on where these email tasks go.

If you’re managing or selling, challenge yourself to become more organized to free up your creativity. Don’t let yourself fall back to spreadsheets when you can sign up for a free CRM that will do more for you. Delegate more emails rather than saving them to look over and over. Send yourself a delayed email to do something as you might take more notice of a new email than those pesky reminders pop-ups that most people snooze all day long.  Don’t be afraid of new technology, embrace it.

When you are able to better process more details related to finding and closing more business in a more efficient and effective manner, it can lead you to the extra time you need to increase your income and in a way that doesn’t add more stress.

Rene is the President of Sales Manager Now, a company that provides fractional sales management services to small and family-run businesses. He has twenty-seven years of experience in sales leadership, coaching, and consulting. He is also the author of the Part-Time Sales Management handbook and is based in Auburn, California.

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