April 23, 2024

During the late 1980’s I was a field sales representative for a computer distributor, selling computer systems and peripherals in and around Los Angeles, California. The traffic was horrendous, and the time I wasted driving to and from appointments just drove me crazy (no pun intended).

Sure, you could have cell phone conversations with prospects and customers, but you couldn’t write notes while driving (unless you had a death wish), and you couldn’t prepare proposals and fax them. Plus, there was nothing like slogging through traffic to attend a meeting, only to learn that the meeting had been cancelled at the last minute.

Why did I spend so much time driving? The company I worked for had a prejudice against salespeople spending time in the office. They felt that salespeople should be in front of prospects and customers as much as humanly possible, and that time spent is the office was “wasted time”. Many other companies shared this philosophy, which meant that prospects and customers were “trained” to book appointments with salespeople if they wanted their assistance.

I have always been a true believer in the saying a salesperson’s only inventory is TIME. I felt that if I could find some way to reduce my “windshield time”, I would be much more productive. Fortunately I worked for a progressive sales manager, and he gave me permission to try the following experiment.

Whenever a telephone conversation with a prospect or customer got to the point where it made sense for us to book an appointment, I would book the appointment. However, instead of ending the call, I would say something like:

(Name), your time is valuable, and so is mine. I’d like to make sure we make the best use of our time together on (appointment date). If it’s OK with you, I’d like to ask you some questions prior to our meeting so that I can be as well-prepared as possible. Do you have time now, or should we book a brief telephone appointment between now and (appointment date)?

I found that prospects and customers were always willing to make time to answer my questions, either right then or during a scheduled telephone call. What questions did I ask? All of the questions I needed to ask to thoroughly qualify the opportunity! When I had finished the opportunity qualification, I would say something like:

(Name), we can still get together on (appointment date) if you wish. Or, I could fax you a proposal in 20 minutes. Which would you prefer?

Do you know what? Not ONE prospect or customer EVER wanted to go ahead with our scheduled appointment! They were delighted that I could fax them a proposal so quickly. They weren’t interested in having a meeting or seeing me in person — they were interested in having their problems solved!

The end result of the experiment was that I made my quota during my first full year as a field sales representative for the computer distributor, and more than doubled my quota the next year. When I was promoted to sales management, I quietly ignored my employer’s mandate that salespeople spend most of their time in front of customers. Instead, I trained my sales team to do what I had done, and my sales branch performed exceptionally well.

Does that mean you should never have in-person meetings with prospects or customers?

Of course not! In-person meetings can provide real value, especially when it comes to building lasting relationships. The challenge is that most businesspeople are extremely busy, and they want their problems solved as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you can help them achieve that goal, you will have the luxury of choosing mutually convenient times to schedule stress-free in-person meetings.

In today’s world, with the availability of e-mail, teleconferencing, and web conferencing technologies, it is easier than ever to sell effectively while minimizing windshield time. Use technology to your advantage, and make maximum use of your only inventory — time!

Copyright 2005-2008 — Alan Rigg