Secrets of the Top 10% - Part IV: Stay Focused!

By Colleen Francis

Over the past three issues of Engaging Ideas, we've been discussing the habits of highly successful sales people - the top 10% of performers. You may have noticed that, over those nearly 5,000 words, I haven't yet so much as mentioned the surefire "six-step process" that these top performers use with each and every prospect, over and over again, to ensure their success.

I haven't mentioned it, because no such process exists. Top performers don't master processes; they master behaviors. It's those "success behaviors" that we are examining in this series, and which we'll continue to explore today when we uncover the importance of Staying Focused!

1. Focus on your most important investment - your time
Almost all successful sales people focus on three key things: their time; their objectives when dealing with clients; and what not to do to succeed.

The first and perhaps most important of these is time. No matter how wealthy, talented or successful we become, time is the one thing we can never get enough of. The top 10% of performers are acutely aware of the value of their time. As a result, they spend the most time doing those activities that make them the most money, and little time doing those tasks that earn them little or nothing.

When it comes to sales, this boils down to focusing your time on the three Holy Grails: Prospecting, Presenting and Closing. Notice that all three of these activities involve being face-to-face with prospects or customers. That's because you sell more when you spend more time in front of your customers, whether prospecting for new business, presenting solutions to problems or closing business.

Mediocre performers, on the other hand, routinely spend too much of their day on admin tasks, or tasks that don't directly increase their value. In many cases, this is simply because they don't know - or haven't taken the time to calculate - exactly how much this wasted time is costing them.

I can practically guarantee you that the vast majority of six- and seven-figure earners can tell you to the penny precisely how much their time is worth. If you don't know what your average hourly rate is, then I suggest you figure it out using the following simple formula:

1. Add up your total earnings for the year. This includes salary plus commissions and bonuses, as well as any benefits you receive, such as health insurance or retirement savings plan contributions. For most people, benefits are generally equal to about 1/3 of their annual base salary. For example, total earnings for someone with a $60,000 base salary plus $40,000 in commissions and bonuses would be about $120,000 ($60,000 salary + 1/3 + $40,000 in commissions and bonuses).

2. Divide this amount by the number of working hours in the year. For most of us, this would translate into 210 days x 8 hours a day = 1,680 working hours. This includes 2 weeks' vacation, or 10 days. For your own calculation, use the number of vacation days you would normally take.

3. Divide your total annual earnings by the number of working hours in the year. In the example above, this would result in an average hourly wage of $71.43.

Now that you know your hourly wage, your goal is to increase it, every month. There are two ways to do this: increase the amount of sales you make to increase your total commissions, or reduce the number of days you work. The choice is yours.

Whichever choice you make, you will need to become more careful of how you spend your most important resource - your time. Both strategies require increasing the percentage of time you spend in front of your customers, prospecting, presenting and closing.

To get you started, begin by taking note of how you're spending your days today. For help doing this, download a free copy of our Time Allocation Worksheet.

After two weeks of tracking your time, determine what percentage of your week is spent exclusively on prospecting, presenting and closing. Then, set a goal to increase that percentage by a specific amount over a specified period of time, and write that goal down in the present tense to show the world (and yourself!) you mean business. For example:

"By December 31st, I will be spending 60% of my time on prospecting, presenting and closing."

Next, spend 30 minutes writing down everything you could be doing to increase your selling time, and reach that goal, such as:

  • Hire a bookkeeper at $15.00 per hour to complete and submit your expense reimbursements.
  • Make 5 more cold calls per day.
  • Ask for 1 more referral every day.
  • Attend 2 networking events per week rather than 1.
  • Get your manager involved on deals that are over $XX to help close them faster.
  • Tell your manager your goal to enlist his or her support.
  • Outsource support calls to the support department rather than taking them yourself.

Try to get at least 20 activities down on paper, and then spend time every day implementing at least one of them. Before you know it, you'll find yourself focusing your time on your paying customers, rather than on those tasks that bring in no additional revenue.

2. Focus on where you want to be - not where you are
Top performers also focus on where they want to go, not where they are today.

This is applicable to many areas of the sales process. The two most important are Setting Goals, and Handling Objections. For a more detailed discussion of goal setting, I would encourage you to read some of our other articles on Goal Setting and Planning Motivation, available at no charge on our Web site.

When it comes to handling objections, top performers continuously focus their activities on where they want the prospect to go (the outcome), not on where they are now (at an objection). They do this by focusing on the positive, and remembering that anyone, yourself included, who is about to make a large investment thinks twice about that decision before they commit.

When a prospect is seriously considering your product, it's natural for them to be nervous, and to reevaluate all the criteria to make sure they're making the right decision. Prospects do this because a large investment is at stake, and saying "yes" is always riskier than saying "no." Your role is to help them focus, and discover that engaging with you is the right decision.

To keep your focus positive when handling objections, try the following 3-step process:

  1. Improve your hesitation-handling attitude.
    • Pre-empt the prospect's objection. Bring it up first, and deal with it together early on.
    • Remember that hesitation is a natural part of the buying process. It's a sign that your prospect is seriously interested in buying, not a signal that they are trying to end the deal.
  2. Examine your behavior.
    • Keep your sales funnel full of prospects, so that losing one will not be a big deal.
    • Record common hesitations and questions, and look for trends and patterns.
    • Use your new responses and track the results you're getting.
  3. Appreciate your prospect's hesitation, and try some new techniques.
    • Ask questions to truly understand your prospect's reality. Don't make statements, especially defensive ones.
    • Acknowledge when a prospect's position is correct. For example: "Bob, you're right, we're not the lowest priced product on the market."
    • Tell them that you understand their position, even if you don't necessarily agree with it: "Bob, I can understand that you're not happy with the price; have you seen something lower in the market?"
    • Question, question and question again until you're sure you understand.
    • Ask your prospect for suggestions on how the business could move forward.
    • Be creative. Ask your prospect up front: "If I can't find a solution to this objection, does that mean that it's over between us?"

Focus on what not to do to succeed
As we mentioned in the first point, top performers focus their daily To Do list on those activities that bring them face-to-face with their customers. For most highly successful people, this list is razor sharp, containing only those things they need to do to maximize their prospecting, presenting and closing. In many cases, these lists may be no more than 6 items long, and might include such activities as:

  • Make 10 cold calls today.
  • Attend 1 networking event and pick up 5 business cards.
  • Call 5 customers for referrals.
  • Schedule 4 meetings.
  • Call 10 existing customers with up-sell/service ideas.

The important thing is to make sure your To Do list is dynamic. It might also change from week to week or month to month, based on your actual goals. For example, to hit a sales target one week you might need to make 10 cold calls, while the next week, you might need to target 8 or 15 calls.

In addition to their To Do lists, however, top performers also invariably have a Not To Do list. Let's face it, if you are a goal-oriented person who is focused on succeeding, you already know that you have to give certain things up in order to achieve the level of success you want.

So what are you willing to give up to get ahead? An outdated cold calling script? That prospect you keep calling who's never going to buy? Television so you have time to get to the gym after work? The morning news to help you start your day in a positive mood?

Whatever goals you've set for yourself, there are things that you're going to have to stop doing to make them a reality. Rather than just thinking about those things, go one step further and write them down. Remember: Top performers know that when they write down a Not To Do list, it frees them to be more focused on doing those things that have to get done in order to hit their goals

By focusing your effort and attention on these three key areas, you'll find yourself well on your way to joining the Top 10%, and succeeding beyond your wildest dreams.

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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