Arthur Miller’s famous play, “Death of a Salesman”, made its debut in 1949. It ran for 742 performances and became synonymous with the struggles of a salesman, especially an ageing one who can no longer support his family through his sales efforts and ultimately kills himself to try and claim some insurance money.

David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” showed a team ofNew Yorkreal estate salesmen in a desperate push to close deals in a pressure cooker environment in which the winner earns a Cadillac, the runner-up a set of steak knives and everyone else is fired.

These two works of art – and both are mandatory viewing for anyone involved in sales – show, as if we didn’t know, that sales can be a matter of life and death.

Far better to look at life: in this case the life of a new-age salesman set against that of an old-age salesman.


The old-age salesman

Contrary to the title, this is not the kind of salesperson we see in “Glengarry Glen Ross”; rather, it is the salesman who follows a well worn tradition. For ease of reading, I’ll stick to the male gender.

This salesman get ups, goes to the office, reads his e-mail and processes its contents. Two hours later, he attends a meeting, tackles internal issues; puts together reports for internal consumption; and then, by 3pm, actually gets to see a client on the way home.

Now, it doesn’t matter which sales methodology or process you follow: they all depend on some form of development of a funnel of leads, being fed into a pipeline, with leads being qualified or disqualified and then pursued according to current, future and potential value.

But the actions you choose from this point will determine your overall success.

If you are an old-age salesman, you will be seen to be busy. You will constantly impress all with your time in the office, your speed of response to e-mails, your ability to make important (and unimportant) internal meetings. But it’s a myth that a busy salesman is a successful one; you might be busy with the wrong activities. You will always be seen to be doing that which impresses management, but you will almost certainly be missing your numbers.

Problem is, management doesn’t know about it early enough to do anything about it. But you’re a member of the old school, it’s always been done this way, and it always will be, from your perspective.


New-age salesman

At the start of the week, he knows his schedule. He has a four-quadrant grid in front of him (or it’s in his head): the left axis reads “Urgent”; the bottom axis reads “Important”. Anything that resides in the bottom left-hand quadrant (not Urgent or Important) is disqualified. Anything that is Important (reading e-mail, attending internal meetings, submitting reports) is pushed to one side, for dealing with later. Urgent issues need to be prioritised: and note, urgent issues aren’t what you plan; rather, they happen to you and they can overwhelm a day.

This leaves you with the Urgent and Important quadrant, and this is where a salesman’s focus must be. What belongs in here? All the actions you must perform to increase your sales. Everything else must be filtered out. As an example, being in a meeting, writing a report or handling customer problems cannot increase sales, but visiting a customer can.

And you need to be ruthless with filtering out the other issues that go together to make up a day.

Either you go and see a client, understand his issues, devise a solution, or you come into the office, and get so busy you don’t leave.

Prioritise which people will give you your business and customers will need the most effort. Proactively contact them and prepare your schedule a fortnight in advance. Once you know what your working weeks look like, then you can do your e-mail and fit in your internal meetings.

Start with your important work, plan and implement it, then let your urgent work run around it. If you start with your urgent work, it will consume you, so you never get around to the important work.

Vitally, the new-age salesman seldom has to go to the office; he’s empowered with a mobile sales solution, and reads e-mail where he wants to and it’s already been categorised. He makes his appointments on the same device, and his office-bound sales support prepares all he needs for his customer visits. His mobile device advises him of key events in his customers’ lives, such as birthdays, and he deals as a priority with customers which offer the highest potential. This prevents the age-old malady of being so busy with bottom feeders that the big fish get away.

The new-age salesman may not be as busy as the old-school one, but he will certainly be more productive and profitable.

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