Sales success trap – confusing busy with productive

Salespeople like everyone else can succumb to the temptation to stay busy. Research tells us that most people have an aversion to idleness and a bias toward taking action – especially when facing uncertainty.

The rub is it doesn’t seem to matter if the action is a productive effort or not. People just feel better “doing things.”  In an interesting HBR article, Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats reported people said they feel more productive when executing tasks than planning them – even though they knew planning usually leads to higher performance than simply diving into tasks without a predetermined course of action.

With all this in mind let’s turn to the world of Sales and examine some of the “busy traps” and some of the productive activities that are likely to fall by the way side.

  • Chasing bad business.  We have all experienced the account that despite continuous work it will not move from Stage 3 of the pipeline.  Yet it is too painful to pull the trigger – perhaps tomorrow will be the day.  Chasing bad business will certainly keep you busy but productive – not so much.
  • Confusing institutional friends and internal champions.  Developing and rehearsing internal champions is a key best practice in major account selling but it takes time; hence the potential internal champions must be selected with great care.  They must be both willing and able to help you actually pursue the business.  You can spend a lot of time with an institutional friend – nice to do, yes – busy, yes – productive, usually not.
  • Excessive attention to paperwork. Top sales reps are very good at distinguishing paperwork that can be postponed or ignored from that which needs to be a priority.  In major organization paper work can become an unbelievable time sink – talk about busy!
  • Jumping in too soon with a solution. Gino and Staats also reported that a bias towards taking action can lead to jumping in too soon with solutions before fully understanding the problem.  Sound familiar?  How many sales managers have been on sales calls with sales reps that jumped into soon and talked too much about their product before understanding the breath and depth of the customer’s problems.

The problem with “busy” is that “productive” gets postponed until Friday and then never gets done.  Here are three sales winners that often experience that fate:

  • Developing and updating the account strategies for your major accounts.

Most sales reps do not spend enough time selling and the time they do spend is not optimized from a productive perspective.  If one had a 100 person sales force and tomorrow you could get a 10% shift from busy things to productive things – what a difference a day would make.

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©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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