This is an excerpt from my second book, Managing the Sales Process, available on Amazon.com. You can find a series of these excerpts in a dedicated blog category to get a broad overview, post-by-post, of the book (they are listed in reverse order in the category, so start with the oldest).

From Chapter 2 – The Right Skills: Prospecting

An ability to manage time and projects is a critical skill set for salespeople. Its importance transcends prospecting, but it is worth noting here since prospecting is the first thing to be ignored by most salespeople. Have you ever heard this:

“I am too busy with my current clients”

Funny how this so often comes from people who are not at the top of the sales organization in terms of revenue. Hmmm.

Let’s refer back to Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book, he tells the famous “big rocks” story, which goes something like this:

During a lecture on time management, the speaker puts a large, clear container on top of a table. He then starts to fill the container with cantaloupe-sized rocks. As he does so, he asks the audience to tell him when the container is full. After a while, the audience comes to a consensus agreement ─ the container is full of rocks.

So the lecturer pulls out a small bucket of pea-sized rocks and begins to pour them in. He adds several buckets of the gravel into the container since the gravel finds places to go in between the gaps of the larger rocks.

So he asks again, is the bucket full now? The audience is starting to catch on and is less eager to agree. Sure enough, next comes sand, then sugar, and, finally, water. After the water, everyone including the speaker agrees that the bucket is indeed now full.

But then comes the question: “What did we learn here?”

Initial responses include things like:

“You can always fit things into the cracks, so you can improve your efficiency by doing little things in between big meetings and projects.”

That was not what the speaker is looking for.

“There is always more time than you think there is”.

Nope.

The point of the exercise is this: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, then you will never get them in!

It is very easy in all jobs, and especially in sales, to become reactive. A salesperson can stay quite busy by simply coming into work every day and answering e-mail, responding to price requests, and other important but reactive tasks.

Successful salespeople and businesspeople of all sorts are much more effective when they take the time to identify the “big rocks” in their professional lives ─ the things that will take them to their medium and long-term goals. In sales, making time to deliberately and proactively pursue new lines of business is a key big rock. If your salespeople are unable to do this because of an inability to manage their time in a disciplined way or an unwillingness to prioritize this key task, they will struggle to reach new revenue goals.

So how can you identify this skill when you are interviewing?

In my experience, the best way to see if someone is familiar with an intangible concept like time management is talk about it. Ask your interviewees to describe challenges they have faced in time management and what they did to overcome them. If they don’t offer specifics about making time for prospecting, then ask specifically about prospecting as a follow-up question. An honest answer will probably include some challenges and adjustments, and also some specifics. Specifics should be along the lines of “I spent the first half hour of each day prospecting.” People won’t immediately believe that you are interested in the details of their prospecting time management challenges, so keep digging for greater detail. If you get nothing but generalizations, let them know flat out that it doesn’t appear that they have faced and overcome challenges related to prospecting time management. Tough questions like this will allow you to test the next required skill for prospecting: Insecurity.

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Authors note (AKA shameless plugs)

So, this 7-step sales process and associated topics…. Yup, I write about that a lot. I’ve been working with it since I developed it about 25 years ago – in my own diverse work experiences, with my teams when I had them, and with clients ever since.

If you would like to develop you own personalized and customized, highly effective and efficient B2B selling system, here are some further steps you can take:

The Salesman’s Guide to Dating is a free or very cheap (depending on Amazon) Kindle book that walks you through the sales process using the familiar analogy of dating. It’s a good, fun and quick way to get your mind around the whole process and how the pieces fit together.

Building Your Sales Process (BYSP) is a free and very thorough exploration of the same 7-step process that will walk you through the development of your own customized, personal B2B selling system. When you are done, you will know exactly what to do to get new business.

The Momentum Selling System® is an inexpensive but very robust online sales training course that is similar to BYSP, but goes deeper into the concepts behind each of the steps, and also helps you develop a plan not only for the 7-step process but also addresses mindset, repeat business and client base management.

If none of that sounds right, I do personal coaching and offer a free 30-minute intake session so that we can both learn if it makes sense to work together 1-on-1. If this sounds interesting, click over to the coaching page on this site and sign up for the free session.

Here’s to your success!

-David