Expert Commentary

Me Prospect? I'm Too Busy!

Some salespeople start out producing well and then their sales begin to dwindle. They always appear busy but they have no positive sales results to show. Sales managers think these salespeople are not motivated or just don't care. This may not be the reason sales are slow—it could be "goal diffusion." This is a condition that affects some salespeople who seem to be forever chasing their tails, spinning their wheels, and not getting the sales in.

Eradicating Sales Call Reluctance
December 2004

Goal-diffused salespeople do have sales career goals—these just get lost among all the other goals they have and, faced with too many things to do, they end up doing the things most urgent to them at the time. Unfortunately, prospecting is hardly ever that high on the list.

Time Management May Be a Solution—or Not

Sales managers, and these goal-diffused salespeople, often clamor for time management programs when the problem is seldom a lack of time management. It could be Call Reluctance or one of its impostors—goal diffusion. Time management classes may help or they may exacerbate the problem.

Let's look at Nancy. Nancy is a highly motivated working mother. She is a business owner and mother of two children, 5 and 13 years old. She attends two classes each week, speaks at conferences, writes and sings music, paints watercolors and murals, teaches a class, sings in a choir, and has recently published a book. Her schedule is so busy, she rarely has time to attend to household chores, spend time with her husband, pay bills, shop for groceries, or visit her friends. Her business is not doing so well either. She is often late—and always exhausted. It's not that she lacks energy; it's that there are just too many different demands on the available energy.

Fortunately, Nancy is not in sales! Can you imagine a salesperson with this schedule? Where would he or she find time to prospect? Unfortunately, there are many Nancys who are in sales and they fail to deliver on the promise they showed at their first interview because they are running themselves ragged.

Nancy thought she found her solution. She somehow managed to find the time to attend a time management seminar. She learned all the things she already knew and then promptly dismissed them as not being applicable to her special, busy lifestyle. As a result, she is still running around crazily.

How about Harry?

Substitute some of the things Nancy does with some of the things you do—as Harry did. You will see why your sales are not as spectacular as they should or could be. I first met Harry in a Call Reluctance workshop. His test scores indicated enormous goal diffusion. We spoke about it in the workshop and he seemed to understand the problem. He called me several times after the workshop and we became friends. One night, over dinner, he was telling about his latest goal—learning to play the guitar. His wife rolled her eyes when he started talking about it. I looked at her and then at him.

"You haven't done anything about your goal diffusion, have you?" I asked.

"Well, I have tried to focus on certain important goals," he told me.

We spoke at length about his career and his goals that evening. His wife seemed pleased with the direction of our conversation. She obviously knew the problem but did not have a solution. His sales had started to fall off several months back and they continued to decline. He knew he could bring himself back on track simply by getting out and prospecting more but he didn't have the time. So many other things got in the way.

"Not personal things," he was quick to point out. "Career things like insurance industry meetings (I'm chairperson of …, co-chair of …, treasurer of …) and the endless paperwork."

We spoke about his goals. Talk about substituting with Nancy! Harry had so many goals and activities it was surprising he had time to sell at all. From her body language, I could tell his wife was thinking the same. We decided to do an exercise that night. I asked him to write down his goals. He agreed. When we got to the third page, Lauren, his wife, looked at me and said simply, "Help!"

So What?

What's the big deal about being a bit ditzy, of having some goal diffusion? One of the consequences of goal diffusion is that salespeople with this condition tend to confuse customers. Because they are so easily distracted themselves, they tend to go off on wild tangents at a moment's notice in a sales presentation—leaving the customer thinking, "I'd like to buy from you, but I just don't know what you're selling."

Another consequence is the lack of focus. This is displayed not only in the sales presentation but also in the follow through. They often forget things they had promised to do or do the follow through in such a rush that they underperform in this area.

Then there is the lack of important sales activities such as prospecting. There is simply not enough time. Other things have to be done too. The lack of focus takes the attention away from the really important activities—like bringing in money so the family can eat.

So what? This results in fewer sales, underwhelmed customers, and not a lot of repeat business. As a result, they have to work harder just to keep up but they don't have the time to do the extra work.

Is It Wrong To Have Too Many Goals?

I often get asked this question. The answer is simple—you can have as many goals as you want as long as you are able to manage them. Not everybody is goal diffused. Goal-diffused people simply cannot manage all their goals. As a result, they tend to spin their wheels, appear to wander aimlessly about, and accomplish less than most people who are focused. They do not suffer from a lack of goals; they suffer from too many unmanageable goals. They expend their energy keeping goals alive and simply do not have the energy to get them accomplished.

This is like a diffusion flashlight. When you focus the energy by twisting it, it produces a clear spotlight that allows you to see a defined area clearly. Twist it in the opposite direction and it diffuses the light. The result is a spreading out of the light to the extent that it becomes almost worthless. The same amount of power comes out of the flashlight but, in one case, it produces useful results while in the other, it loses its value.

What Causes This Condition?

Changes in management, policies and/or computer systems are the norm in today's business world. The rules keep changing and one's ability to keep up can be challenged on a daily basis. But these apply to all of us, not just the goal-diffused.

However, many times the culture of an organization contributes to the problem. For example, have you ever come into your office and found an urgent message already on your desk? Then, ten minutes later, another urgent message appears? An hour later, another urgent message makes it to your desk. Salespeople in situations like this become confused about what is urgent, when everything is urgent.

Have you ever had a manager who constantly comes up with wild ideas and activities for salespeople and they are frivolous or have nothing to do with selling your product? A team-building workshop is an example. These are all things that contribute to a goal-diffused culture within an organization. When management cannot keep a clear focus, salespeople tend to reflect this. In a goal-diffused culture, a lot of activity takes place but results are disappointing. People look busy but the bottom line is sluggish.

Can It Be Cured?

Yes, it can be cured but it requires two or more people if you are goal-diffused. Here is the simple solution:

  • Step 1: Write out your goals.
  • Step 2: Prioritize your goals.
  • Step 3: Pursue the most important goals first, and ignore the rest.

Organize your time to deal with the goals that are most important. It sounds simple, but the goal-diffused person also has a counting disability—he or she can only count to two. The level of priority placed on each goal is either a #1 priority or a #2 priority. The second person (who knows you well and is not afraid of you) comes in to help. Once you have written out your goals, have this second person reprioritize them for you.

It will not be an easy exercise, but who knows? You might finally get your most important goal accomplished this year.

And Harry?

Once we had all the goals written down, I asked Harry to prioritize them. He started out well enough. He even labeled one goal as number 3. Then he fell apart. Everything became very important. I was patient because I knew where we were headed and that we were finally going to deal with his problem that night.

Lauren was less patient. She leaned over both of us, picked up his sheets of paper, calmly tore them up and dumped the pieces on the table. Harry was distraught. I laughed. She instinctively saw what had been going wrong and she displayed more courage than I had. She took over at that stage.

"Okay Harry," she said, "What is the number one thing you want to accomplish this year?"

"Personal or business?" he asked.

She slapped him on the side of his head. He winced. So did I.

"Sorry," he said, "I guess I would like to run the Boston Marathon more than anything else."

"That's your goal for this year," she said in a voice that would stand no argument. "Nothing else matters."

"What about…?" he started. She raised her hand. He stopped. I was disappointed. I would have liked to have seen her slap him again, but that's just me.

He did pick a career goal as well that night. It was to contact 5 new prospects each week. That, too, was Lauren's idea.

It was Harry's year. That year he achieved a dream he had had for many years. He ran the Boston Marathon. He didn't win but he did finish. He also moved from 123rd in sales to the number 10 spot in his company. He now sets goals one at a time and he achieves them.

By the way, Lauren had set a personal goal that night too. It was to buy herself a new Mercedes funded by Harry's additional earnings. She achieved her goal.

Call Reluctance, the Fear-Free Prospecting and Self-Promotion Workshop and all related terms are copyrights and/or registered trademarks of Behavioral Sciences Research Press, Dallas, Texas.

Sales Academy, Inc. is an Advanced Authorized Dealer for the Call Reluctance® Program. Frank Lee is an international expert on Sales Call Reluctance®. 1-800-898-3743.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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