This is not a new problem faced by us who are responsible for sales, especially those seller-doers. You know that you are supposed to call this person, set up a lunch meeting with that person and meet with that client; but you have a deadline. Before you know it a couple of days have gone by, then a month. Then you realize it has been three or four months and that relationship is now cold, if not dead.
Project deadlines are not going away. You need those billable hours; those are what bring in the revenue. However, you know you need to develop and nurture relationships with clients, potential teaming partners, and industry leaders—this is what will keep the sales coming in.
How do balance both needs with limited time? Below are just a few tricks I have found to be useful in balancing the needs of getting work completed in the office, while making sure I build relationships outside of it.
1. Develop a realistic plan. You wouldn’t promise a client that you could deliver a project within unrealistic timeframe. Treat yourself (and your business development activities) like a client. Set up a list of clients, teaming partners, etc. you want to meet with and assign a timeframe to set up the meetings. You know when you will be working on project work, so you will have to be mindful of that when planning your meetings. Space out the sales meetings, to work within your deadlines. For example, don’t schedule them all in one week.
2. Treat your “sales” schedule like a project deadline. Once you have your plan, make sure you treat it like any other submittal to a client. Remember, you are the client in this instance. If you don’t develop these relationships, you won’t have any project work to worry about. Keeping that mindset will help you make, keep, and prepare for each meeting.
3. You need to eat. Even if you are swamped with multiple deadlines, you still need to eat. The traditional approach is making lunch meetings. Often times, it is even harder to leave the office mid-day. I have found scheduling breakfast or coffee meetings on my way to the office to be more realistic. I try to schedule at least one a week. This has really helped me stay on my “plan.”
4. Organize your follow up—and follow up. When you are out at networking events, luncheons, or where ever; you will most likely run into someone you know. That conversation will end with a “let’s have lunch,” “call me about that project,” or “call me next month.” You go back to the office, put his/her card in your pile and go back to work—forgetting about your follow up. You see that person six months later at the next luncheon or event. As a sales manager, this missed opportunity to reconnect could be a lost sale.
There are several methods to organize follow up items. The traditional way is to have a folder for every day, week, and month of the year. Then place that business card in the appropriate folder (such as three weeks from now). Every day you check that day’s folder and contact whoever’s card is in there. This works for those who are less comfortable with technology and who do not travel.
What I have found works for me, is to take my plan and insert each activity into my Outlook calendar with reminders. Then after I am out at events, I take those cards and add those follow up activities into my Outlook. Even better, is when I have upcoming deadlines I can plan that work around my sales activities because they are already listed on my calendar.
5. When you just can’t get out. You have been implementing the tips above and you are getting out of the office, while stile completing your work. But the next couple of weeks you have a senior manager’s meeting, three deadlines, and training. There is no way you will be able to make any sales meetings. This happens to all of us. First and foremost make sure you reschedule any meetings you already had schedule. Next, look at your follow-up items (either in the folders or on your Outlook) and reach out to those people early. Let them know you are due to follow up with them and ask them if that follow up can be extended until you are out of the weeds. People will appreciate, and remember, this courtesy. Often times, they are in the same situation and are grateful for the head’s up.
Take action now. Start with step one – develop a realistic plan. Identify at least three partners, clients, or peers you know you have been meaning to follow up with and look at your schedule for the next two weeks. Which ones will you be able to fit in? Report back how many you are able to schedule in over the next two weeks below.