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In sales, you can work one of two ways.  You can either do the things you should do or you can do the things you want to do.  Sometimes these are one in the same, but more often they are at odds with one another.  However, this article isn’t about doing the right things, it’s about showing you what things to avoid.  If you can figure out how to control each of these 7 things on a daily basis, you’ll be well on you way to selling success.

Eternal Email

Eternal email can occur several different ways.  The most common of these is checking your email every five minutes in eager anticipation of something new.  Another way to waste your day with email is by relying on it for long messages or conversations that last longer than a few sentences. 

To control your email instead of the other way around, set aside two or three scheduled times a day to check it.  Also, never have a conversation over email that could ever be misinterpreted because of the rigidity of writing instead of speaking.  Embrace your telephone for communication with your clients, prospects, and colleagues.  In the age of information overload, a friendly voice on the other end of the phone can greatly separate you from your competitors who are taking hours of their client’s time with excessive emails.

Personal Phone Calls

How many people do you know at your office that take at least a dozen personal phone calls a day?  I bet at least one or two people came to your mind almost immediately.  Do you know why?  Because taking personal phone calls is one of the most distracting and unprofessional things you can do in a corporate environment and is immensely irritating to co-workers.  If you’re concerned with productivity, this should be one of your most irritating pet peeves. 

If you don’t think that taking personal phone calls at work is such a bad thing, then you may be the very person at the office that everyone is complaining about.

In sales, if you’re having problems with personal phone calls,  I recommend putting a little note on the receiver of your phone that says “Can this Wait Until Later?”  Most of the time, when you take a personal call at work, it’s because you think it has to happen right now.  Ask yourself this question before taking any personal phone calls at the office and you’ll quickly start to take less time each day with distraction.

Unplanned Internet Research

A killer for sales people is surfing the internet for hours at a time and justifying it as prospect research.  Should you do research every day on your clients and prospects?  Of course you should, but only if it doesn’t interfere with your more important tasks such as meeting with clients, following up with prospects, and asking for referral business.

The key to overcoming unplanned internet research, as well as many of these other distractions, is planning your day the night before.  Lay aside a reasonable amount of time each day for research (probably between 30 minutes to an hour) and make sure you don’t go outside of that time the next day.  Try to keep this philosophy for your sales research, only do research that you plan to act on in the next 24 hours.  That will prevent you from doing any research that you might forget before having the opportunity to use it.

Running Personal Errands on Your Sales Route

Whether it’s dry cleaning, grocery shopping, buying shoes, or anything else, keep your personal errands out of your business life.  Why?  Because you have a limited number of hours each day to sell and you can’t afford to spend that time on things that aren’t making you any money.

In sales, everything should be weighed according to its opportunity cost.  You probably remember this from your economics class in college.  Basically, opportunity cost means the cost of something in terms of an opportunity foregone (and the benefits that could be received from that opportunity).  Whether the cost is time, safety, or money, nothing is ever totally free.  So when you’re picking up your dry cleaning during time that you could be making phone calls, the opportunity cost of doing that is the amount of money you would be making if you were making calls instead of picking up your dry cleaning.  Measure everything in sales by looking at the opportunity cost and you’ll find that making decisions about what to do first becomes much easier.

Working Without a Plan

If there’s anything on this list that probably kills more sales people that any other, it’s trying to function without a daily plan.  Study the life of any successful sales person throughout history and you’ll quickly see that planning is a common thread that runs through all of their careers. 

The worst thing I’ve seen that happens to dozens of sales people is that they manage their day according to how they feel.  When this happens, you can work for an entire day without ever accomplishing anything significant.  Don’t let this happen to you, make a plan and follow it every day.

Some of the things you should plan into each and every day are new prospect development activities, follow up activities, research, and planning.  Everything that moves a sale from beginning to end should be planned into every day.  

Long Term Marketing During Work Hours

This one may not hit home if you’re not responsible for the branding and marketing of your product on a more national or long term basis.  But for those of you that are selling for a small business, or own a business, this one is just for you.

Long term marketing includes writing articles or books, working on your web site, putting together marketing material, and any other similar activity during business hours.  If you’re in the very first steps of developing your business model then this material has to be created before you can really selling, but for those of you that just aren’t convinced that your marketing material is top quality, or your brand positioning needs a little work, you’ve got a constant temptation to do this during work hours and it will kill your sales if you give in to it.

You’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot and that mean selling during normal business hours and working on long term projects after or before business hours.  If you think that sounds too difficult for you, guess what, you’re in the wrong profession.  When you decided to go into sales, you agreed to a whole different lifestyle than your computer programmer friends.

Non-Business Work During Business Hours

This is the catch-all for all those other things that you do at work that don’t make yourself or your company any profits.  This includes paying bills, reviewing your 401K, balancing your checkbook, writing poems to your girlfriend, playing video games, watching movies, and so on.  All of these things have a time and a place in life, but it’s not at the office when you need to be selling.  If you find yourself gravitating to these activities every day, I recommend getting some professional help.  A great way to start would be to sign up for my Nacke Gazette where you’ll find encouragement and success tips in your inbox every couple of weeks. 

Overcoming non-productive activities in sales is probably something you’ll struggle with your entire career.  By being mindful of what you’re doing and fighting against distraction, you’ll see greater and greater success throughout the years.

This Sales & Marketing article was written by Mike Nacke on 7/12/2005

Mike Nacke is a speaker, author, and consultant to business owners, managers,
and recruiters. He has helped companies save millions of dollars by developing
unique hiring processes that turn hiring into a measurable science. His clients
range from fortune 500 companies to small businesses. Visit for
more information on reducing labor costs and increasing workforce productivity.
Mike is currently the Director of Development for PrideStaff, a national staffing
and recruiting firm.