The Myth of Time

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Jan 31, 2011 7:39:00 AM

    • Let’s have Bill put 20% of his time towards sales.
    • We’ve got a new initiative; let’s get one of our salespeople to put 30% of her time towards this effort.
    • Our project managers should spend 15% of their time focused on developing new business.

I could go on.  These are all examples of a critical error people make when they consider sales efforts.  They look at the (direct) time associated to selling, determine that it is not a full time effort, and so, they under-allocate resources to sales.

The problem is that the only barrier being measured is time.  Ignored are the barriers of attention (often called bandwidth) and disruption.  Selling may not always be a full time activity, but it is almost always a full bandwidth one.

The myth here is that people can actually carve out a niche of time and get the same result.  We think that a full time job is 40 hours/week, so if we spend 10 hours/week we should technically be able to get the same results in one month that a full time person can get in a week.

The myth would work if the effort it took to sell successfully were predictable and consistent.  The problem is that selling is neither.

The myth of carving out time, and expecting sales success fails for three reasons:

    1. Mindset.  I've often said that sales is not always a full-time "job," but it's always a full-time mindset.  The biggest mistake a business can make with its sales focus is to underallocate the focus.  The difference between "almost" and "successful" is quite small when measured by costs, and huge when measured by economic impact.  Today and in the future, good is not good enough.  Sales success requires clarity of focus.  The clearer someone is about what they must do, the more creative they will be.  They'll find ways no one else will to overcome objections, or to develop a new method to gain market acceptance.  They'll multiply their ability to gain access to the market and drive profits.  Plus, from a management perspective, you'll be clearer about what's needed to be successful.
    2. Disruption.  Building a pipeline, launching a new initiative, or pursuing additional business while taking care of the current business are all very disruptive activities.  They interrupt you, have loose ends and can even cause discomfort between the parties (not the feeling you want to create if your primary job is "delighting clients/customers).  That's not to say that one's primary job doesn't bring with it a tremendous amount of disruption as well.  The point is that the disruption caused by selling is very disproportionate to the time it takes to sell.  Most people cannot afford to adjust to the disruption caused by sales initiatives (see competing priorities), and that inability dooms the effort.  Don't get me wrong, the activity and effort are there, just not the results.
    3. Competing priorities.  Combining a new business development focus with another focus can make a lot of sense on the surface, the problem is that you have fundamentally conflicting priorities.  The question – and the killer – is what do you do when the needs for each priority conflict. The reality is that 90% of the time the primary responsibility wins.  That sales initiative is left working with “table scraps.”

I understand the temptation to split time to focus on sales (especially as we enter The Great Recovery).  But, please (PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE) be cautious when doing so.  As yourself two questions before jumping into it:

    1. If this effort can really make a difference in our company's performance, doesn't it justify a full-time focus?
    2. What would the impact on your business be if you took the time you were going to spend on the additional focus, and reinvested into what you are currently doing?

Topics: Performance, B2B Sales Strategy