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Use The 80/20 Rule To Optimise Your Sales Performance

All of us have too much to get done every week and not enough time to handle it all. Yet some of us experience less stress and still manage to sell more. They have learned to prioritize their work better than the average salesperson. You, too, can Use The 80/20 Rule To Optimize Your Sales Performance.

The 80/20 rule is one of the only genuine "shortcuts" that works in business today. There are many examples of the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle after a 19th-century Italian economist of the same name). The one I want to focus on here simply states that you will receive 80% of your return from 20% of your activities.

For example, make a list of 10 things you have to do today. Chances are that two of those 10 items will have 80% of the impact on your company. Those two items are your priorities.
Most managers I know don't understand how the 80/20 rule works, so they never get to cash in on its benefits. The first key to the 80/20 rule is to identify the 20% of your activities that bring you your greatest return. The second key is to make sure those things get done.

For instance, if you have the following 10 tasks, then your job would be to determine which one or two of these will bring the greatest return to you and your company and to make sure they get done first -- as a priority:

Taking inventory
Writing ads
Having one-on-ones with salespeople
Writing schedules
Opening mail
Taking incoming phone calls
Seeing outside vendors
Handling customer complaints
Typing reports
Arranging displays

Too many managers make a to-do list and race through it with little regard to whether they are truly accomplishing the "first things first." They are busy with activity but rarely complete the areas that will bring the most benefit. Here are some ways most managers get things done. See if any of them sound familiar:

Unpleasant things first

This is when you do the thing you hate first, just to get it out of the way. This is OK as long as the unpleasant thing is a task that will bring you top return on your time. If it's not, you're not maximizing your time.

Unfinished things first

This is when you run down a to-do list and pick up tomorrow where you left off today. However, if this is being done without regard to the "first things" being addressed (What if the "first things" are at the bottom of the list?), then you have the things that matter most at the mercy of things that matter least. Over time, what impact does that have on your people, your customers and your company?

Urgent things first

Now you're working on whatever is screaming the loudest -- even though it may be a low-priority item. You'll find that when you begin doing first things first, you have far less "urgent" issues to deal with.

First things first

You have identified the areas of greatest importance and impact to your company, you schedule them and do them first. Of the 10 sample tasks listed above, let's say the item that brings you the greatest return is spending one-on-one time with your salespeople. (Because in sales we have to get things done through others, this should probably be on everyone's list.) In order to see that this vital issue is addressed, you should be scheduling times to meet with your people -- not just hope you have time to do it when everything else is done. You'll also find that, as you develop your people, they can take on more responsibility for those less important tasks. And when you spend more quality time with your salespeople, you'll probably find you have fewer unhappy customers to deal with as well.

Where you get your greatest return may differ from where others get theirs. The important thing is that you spend some time identifying those areas and then scheduling them. Too many managers prioritize their schedule when they need to be scheduling their priorities. After you have determined the "first things," you have to have the resolve and discipline to see that they get done. Otherwise, you'll find yourself getting caught up in the thick of thin things. Once you begin to do this on a daily basis, you can have more impact and get more done in less time -- because you'll be doing what really counts.

Put the 80/20 rule to work for you by evaluating your average day. Where do you get your greatest return? How much time have you really been spending on your important tasks? What can you do to increase the time you spend on what really matters? Figure this out, and you'll be head and shoulders above the average manager who continues to major in minor things.

Dave Anderson is the author of Selling Above The Crowd: 365 Strategies For Sales Excellence. He's been a salesman, general manager and director of some of the most successful automotive dealership in the country and is currently a partner in Anderson Honda of Palo Alto, California. He publishes the Leading At The Next Level newsletter and just released the audio program, The Fifteen Commandments For Peak Performance In Sales.


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