It’s SKO time of the year. In the meetings, I’ve been doing an informal survey of leaders, at all levels. I’ve been asking, “How much time are you spending in the field working with your people?” The answers, while not surprising are disappointing. So far, it looks like the average is somewhere around 15-20%.
I ask, “How are you spending your time?” As you would expect, their days are filled with internal meetings, reporting, and, sometimes coaching their people.
I ask, “Would you like to spend more time in the field, with your people?” Too often, I get hemming and hawing, an aversion to eye contact, some shuffling back and forth, and usually, “Well I’m just so busy……… Oh. and I don’t want to seem like I am micromanaging…… ” And I get a lot of, “Most of our meetings are on Zoom or Teams, that doesn’t seem it would work too well….”
As a leader, I have always biased my time to working with my people and supporting their efforts in working with their customers. Once, I prioritized a meeting with a big customer over doing a board requested presentation at their meeting. I apologized, saying I would be glad to present later, but my priority was supporting my people. (And they actually responded positively to that.)
Why do I think it’s so important to prioritize time with your people and customers?
First, it’s enormous fun. I can’t imagine anything more interesting than helping them in working with their customer. Customers are always a seller’s “real world.”
Some of you might say, well aren’t you micromanaging or taking the lead in selling? There’s a danger, if it’s done incorrectly. I’ve never “forced” myself into a meeting or a deal. Rather, I’ve positioned my participation the following way, “If there is anything I can do to help you move a deal along, or deal with a challenging customer, please consider me a resource you can use.”
Every customer meeting I participated in was driven by a seller’s request for me to participate. Before each meeting, I insisted on a conversation around our objectives for the meeting and call plan. Typically, I’d ask, “What role do you want me to play? What can I do that is most helpful to what you are trying to do in this deal?”
Sometimes, in the planning meeting, there was a little back and forth, I may have suggested that I could be used in a different more effective way, or encouraged some adjustment to the goals for the meeting. But they were always in charge of the meeting and drove the agenda, I was participating as a resource to help them achieve their goals and to enhance their positioning with the customer.
There are other reasons for spending a lot of time in the field. As I mentioned earlier, this is the “real world” for sellers. Spending time with my people enabled me to see what they were facing, understand their challenges, seek their opinions and feedback; was well as to provide coaching.
Spending time with customers helped me better understand the issues they face, what was happening in their markets, trends and issues facing the industry, how they dealt with them. These meetings were always great to get feedback on what they thought of us, what they wanted to see from us, and how they viewed our competitors.
While I had endless amounts of data, analysis and research, time spent with customers gave a meaning and context to all of that data. I could connect what I was hearing and learning with the data being presented. It brought all that data to life.
Some concluding thoughts:
- A sale’s leader’s highest priority in time allocation is that spent with their people and customers. I have always set 30% as the minimum.
- Never inject yourself into a meeting or deal, it’s more likely to be perceived as micromanagement or that you are taking over the deal.
- Encourage your sales people to pull you into meetings with customers and deals. You are a resource to them and they need to direct you in how you can best support their efforts.
- Use your time in the field well. Coach the people you are with. Get their feedback and observations on how things are going.
- Use your time with the customers well. Get their views on challenges, the markets, key issues impacting everyone.
- Connect the dots between what you have observed/experienced and the data you are seeing.
- Have fun!