Going from ‘Active’ to ‘Productive’

by Linda P. Kester March/April 2014
Drawing on her experience and the wisdom of other industry veterans, Linda Kester asks the question: What is the best use of your time, and are you being productive or merely active? In this article, Kester explores the underlying reasons why activity alone does not necessarily translate into productivity.

In today’s complex world, and with all the demands on your time, it’s critical to know where to focus your sales efforts. Calling prospects, emailing, snail mail and social media are pulling you in many different directions. The question is: What is the best use of your time, and are you being productive or merely active?
Unsuccessful sales people typically have low call numbers, don’t like their jobs and always have an excuse as to why they can’t stay focused. They have a minimum amount of activity and very poor productivity.

Many leasing sales people have high prospecting goals and no clear objective on each call. They become like robots making calls and leaving uninspired voice mail messages. When a prospect actually does pick up the phone, the rep is surprised. They start to stammer and then they end up talking too much. They dump a whole bunch of information and the prospect is never properly engaged. The sales rep looks like he is selling, however the end result is that all his hard work accomplishes very little.

Productivity Vs. Activity

Productivity refers to moving the sales cycle forward, improving application numbers and increasing booked volume. Productivity measures how well you are able to meet the goals and objectives of your leasing company, regardless of whether these are short-term or long-term goals.

On a day-to-day basis, if you write out a to-do list at the start of the day and are able to cross off most or all of the items by the end of the day, then you can consider it productive. On a bigger scale, if you are able to meet the goals and objectives you have established for your leasing company, then you are seeing productivity. Increasing productivity means that you will come closer to your goals.

Hugh Connelly, president of Univest Capital, says, “In my mind activity can, but does not always, result in productivity. Being active is getting things done; being productive is getting the right things done. An ineffective sales rep who makes 110 calls a day every day and doesn’t make a sale is ‘active’ but not ‘productive.’ This is not just isolated to sales people. I have seen workers who always look busy but never seem to get much done; activity but not productivity.

“What can a sales rep do? They need to be honest and willing to change things up. I used to change the time of day I called, alter my sales pitch and even my delivery. I once got great success by FedEx-ing a sales letter to the president of an unresponsive prospect. It was a risk, but I had nothing to lose. The letter got the president’s attention and therefore my gatekeeper’s. Ultimately it led to a sale. For me, in the end, playing a favorite song, getting “pumped-up” and having fun make the prospecting effort more productive. No one wants to talk to a drone, or overly ‘salesy’ person, but most people will talk to someone who is upbeat and has a sense of humor.”

Connelly’s statements are supported by Alexander Kjerulf’s book Happy Hour is 9 to 5. Kierulf writes: “Research shows that one of the key reasons employees get caught up in non-productive activity is because they don’t make it fun. They don’t like what they do. One of the most efficient ways to increase your productivity is to be happy at work. No system, tool or methodology in the world can beat the productivity boost you get from really enjoying your job.”

It’s vital to have a positive attitude. Vendors will use your leasing services more because of your attitude and enthusiasm than your product knowledge. Happy people are a lot more fun to be around and consequently have better relations at work. This translates into increased volume.

In addition, happy sales people fix problems instead of complaining about them. When you don’t like your job, every rejection looks like a mountain. It becomes difficult to fix any problem without agonizing over it or complaining about it first. When you’re happy at work and you run into a problem you simply think of solutions.

Happy sales people are more optimistic, they have a more positive outlook, and as research shows (particularly Dr. Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology), optimists are way more successful and productive.

Kierulf also states, “Happy employees are way more motivated. Low motivation means low productivity, and the only sustainable, reliable way to be motivated at work is to be happy and like what you do. They also get sick less often. Getting sick is a productivity killer and if you don’t like your job you’re more prone to contract a long list of diseases including ulcers, cancer and diabetes. You’re also more prone to workplace stress and burnout.”

There is a clear link between happiness at work and productivity. Does being productive make us happy or does being happy make us productive? The answer is yes. It goes both ways.

Turning the Quantity of Calls to Quality Calls

Besides making work fun, high prospecting numbers are vital for increased productivity. When sales reps are first getting started, prospecting calls are the most important use of their time. Connelly states, “Bill Clark [Univest senior vice president] and I have found that skills improve with practice. Having a sales rep make a significant amount of calls gets him up to speed faster. We review what works and make changes along the way, effectively turning activity into productivity. Having a rep take action is more productive than the rep who over analyzes and never picks up the phone.”
This point is illustrated in a story from book called Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an A.

“Well, it came grading time and a curious fact emerged: The works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

The key is each time you prospect make tiny changes like setting objectives, asking better questions and listening to understand. This is what turns a call into a productive call.

Focus Your Efforts

In addition to making work fun and having lots of activity, staying focused and on track shortens the sales cycle.

Staying focused means not being distracted by email. Start you day making 30 prospect calls and then open your email. Sounds simple. Nobody does it. It takes a while to get over the urge to open your inbox, but eventually you’ll realize that email can wait. Use the morning to do what’s important…prospecting.
Turn off your cell phone or at the very least, put it somewhere that is out of sight. This eliminates the urge to check text messages, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This simple strategy eliminates the likelihood of slipping into mindless activity and wasting time dividing your attention among meaningless tasks. If you give your mobile number to lessees or use texting as communication with vendors, then this is the exception.

Being focused includes recording and listening to your prospect calls. When reps listen to themselves, they truly understand what works and what does not. Athletes look at video tape of their performance and find ways to improve. Professional leasing sales people listen to audio tapes of their calls and make adjustments.
For a new sales rep, staying focused includes having trust that it will get easier. We often struggle to stay engaged during difficult tasks because we imagine that they will continue to be just as hard in the future. We feel defeated or hopeless and give up. To combat that feeling, remember that a great vendor relationship can develop on the very next call. Keep picking up the phone until it happens. Find ways to make it fun. Appreciate that getting started is difficult but don’t tell yourself the story that it’s always going to be difficult.

If you want to be more successful, earn more and reach your goals faster, like what you do, turn activity into productivity and commit to focusing your efforts. The difference will amaze you.

Linda P. Kester is a bestselling author and professional speaker with 20 years of experience in leasing sales and marketing management. As founder of the Institute of Personal Development, Kester has helped hundreds of salespeople increase their volume. Her book, 366 Marketing Tips for Equipment Leasing, has produced results for leasing companies in the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia. For more information, visit www.lindakester.com.

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