The cabinet industry is filled with stark contrasts, and nowhere in the industry is the difference between success and mediocrity as vast as in the sales arena. Some new salespeople get up to speed in a few months, others take 2 years and still others are never really successful.
The best salespeople sell up to $4 Million per year; while the poorer performers might only sell $200,000. Some of the variations can be explained by differences in markets, products and types of customers served; however, in working with over one thousand cabinet salespeople over the years, I found the real reason for the differences boils down to one key issue – organization.
Salespeople are notoriously disorganized. They often remind me of my son. He is ten years old, full of enthusiasm and wherever he goes, a pile of toys lies in his wake. But when he wants to play outside, he often spends twenty minutes looking for his shoes. Over the years I’ve tried to help him by adding more structure. Now might be the time you should help your salespeople by adding a little more organization to their life; so they don’t spend 20 minutes looking for a file every time a customer calls.
Over the years I have developed a system that helps salespeople with organization. This system is comprised of 3 areas:
- Follow Up
To start, the salesperson will need to go to the office supply store and buy a 250 page lab book, plastic inbox/outbox trays, a 31 day expandable folder and a 12 month expandable folder. The whole package won’t cost more than $20.
All salespeople’s work comes from one of three sources – conversations, email and or physical documents. The system I share with you uses the lab book, email folders and trays as tools to help salespeople capture all their obligations in consistent places so that when they take time to organize their commitments, it is fast and easy to find all of them.
The process is simple. Have the salespeople keep their lab book with them at all times. Any time a customer requests additional work, the installer calls for another filler or the superintendent calls about rescheduling an installation; the conversation should be recorded in the lab book. All action items or commitments should be starred or highlighted so they can be easily found.
Next, better organize their e-mail. Educate your salespeople on the value of adding folders to their inbox. Sources whom the salesperson gets e-mail from frequently, like a superintendent or e-newsletter from a manufacturer, should have their own folder. In addition, folders named “delegated” and “planning” should be added. Next, use your e-mail software’s rules or filters to have e-mail from the frequent contacts automatically routed into their respective folders. The main inbox should only contain e-mails that the salesperson needs to read and act on. For many salespeople, this is like giving up crack cocaine. They must get to the point where if an email does NOT require action, it does NOT need to be in their inbox. It should be filed in an email folder for reference.
Another note on email; many salespeople get too much junk mail (non-work email). The amount of junk email increases over time, and every junk email that has to be looked at is a chunk of a salesperson’s time. Have your administrator get a sense of how much non-work email is being received. Find a good junk email filter system. Some dealers even change a salesperson’s email addresses periodically so that they can control this type of time-waster.
The plastic trays provide salespeople with a single place to put all the paperwork they receive. The trays serve the same purpose as the shoe rack by the door where my son always keeps his shoes. It is a single place where all installer punch lists, designs that need to be reviewed and measurement notes are stored. Any document telling the salesperson to do something should go in the inbox tray until they review it in their planning time. Documents currently being worked with should be stored in a file on the salesperson’s desk. Completed work should be in the outbox tray.
This next part requires discipline. Two or three times a day, the salesperson should spend up to 30 minutes planning. This involves reviewing all the new commitments they recorded in their lab book or received in their e-mail or inbox tray and organize them for completion. The key to success is decisiveness.
The salesperson should go to their lab book, e-mail and inbox tray and review all their new commitments. All these commitments are not the same. Some will take little effort to complete; others will take hours of focused effort.
If a follow-up call, response to an e-mail or verification of a customer’s kitchen measurements takes under two minutes to complete; the salesperson should do it right then. A quick response to an e-mail and short calls should be taken care of during this 30 minute planning session.
The salesperson will then have two types of tasks left. A set of tasks that can be delegated to others and tasks that need focused time to complete. Completing a kitchen design and taking measurements are good examples of tasks that need focused time set aside for their completion.
Encourage your salespeople to delegate anything that doesn’t directly contribute to new sales (i.e. service follow-up activities, any type of investigation work, job status inquiries, scheduling issues, etc.). Most salespeople’s sales production is limited due to their poor delegation skills. Remind the salesperson that if they are going to be successful delegating they need to be clear about what the task is, the time and date of any interim follow-up, clarity about when the task is due and what the result is when the task is successfully completed.
Salespeople also have a tendency to be over optimistic about how much work they can get done. Here’s a little trick that I use to help them keep on track. When the salespeople review their commitments, I tell them to estimate how long it will take them to complete the task if they have no interruptions. Then, when planning to complete the work, I insist they book only fifty percent of their time to planned activities.
Why? Because no one in the cabinet industry has more than 20 minutes of uninterrupted time and interruptions cost the salesperson 50% of their focused time for planned activities.
So now the salesperson has looked at their lab book, email and inbox tray and either completed the task, delegated or planned for doing the work themselves. What’s missing? Follow up. Good follow-up is how the salesperson avoids spending their entire day fighting fires.
Providing a good follow-up system is where the expandable file folders come in. During the daily, 30 minute planning sessions, the salespeople should keep a pad of paper with them. As each task is either delegated or planned for later, the salesperson should drop a note in the slot of the 31 day file folder corresponding to the date the salesperson is to start the task. Place the note in the slot of the 12 month folder that corresponds with the month the work should start if the start date is more than 31 days away.
Every Sunday night the salesperson should review their schedule and 31 day file folder to review the week’s commitments. At the end of every month, the salesperson should pull all the following month’s information out of the monthly expandable folder and organize it into the 31 day folder. The notes for work that has been completed should be thrown out and any related e-mail should be moved to an archive folder from the “delegated” and “planned” folders on the salesperson’s computer.
This is called a “tickler file”. It allows the salesperson to forget about the commitment once they file it, knowing they will be automatically reminded of it when they get to the day it was assigned. It keeps everything nice and clean and gives the salesperson more selling time, not to mention less stress from trying to keep all the commitments in their heads.
There you have it. Most studies say the average executive manager loses over an hour a day just looking for paperwork. I don’t know about you, but many salespeople I have worked with are much less organized than a manager – so there’s no telling how much time a disorganized salesperson loses. And when a salesperson is disorganized, most of their stress comes from emergencies and issues that bite them later from the disorganization itself.
With a little discipline and this system you can help your salespeople gain back most of their wasted time and selling more of your products & services. In addition, you can help them have a better quality of life from the reduced stress level.