A Rocket Ride to the Sales Stratosphere

Your launch pad: Pen, paper, and a few minutes to calculate which aspects of your professional routine produce the greatest and fastest results.

One of my favorite scenes in Top Gun comes when stars Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards give each other high-fives and declare that they “feel the need for speed.” While that’s the sort of sentiment we associate with fighter pilots, it also applies to salespeople. No, not when you’re in your car driving between appointments — please, we have enough crazy drivers on the road already — but rather when you’re out there in the trenches, seeing customers, and selling.

Speed is usually expressed in miles per hour. To boost your selling speed, you must first do some calculations and then refocus your selling activities. The benefit of increasing your selling speed is that you can reach your quota faster. Alternatively, you can give yourself a raise and sell more in the same number of selling hours. The good news is that, when it comes to selling, there’s no speed limit.

Increasing your selling speed involves four simple steps:

  • Make a list of all your selling activities.
  • Compute the selling speed of each.
  • Rank them from “fastest” to “slowest.”
  • Devote more of your time to the activities at the top of the list.

Just like on the highway, the more hours you spend at higher speeds, the more ground you cover — or in our case, the more sales you book. What follows is a step-by-step plan to increasing your selling speed.

  • Step One. Start by taking a look through your PDA or calendar and write down all the different activities you do in a typical selling month — prospecting, presenting, closing, follow-up, servicing clients, and that evil time-suck, paperwork. You can do it either on a per-client basis or a per-type-of-activity basis, whichever is easier or more meaningful.
  • Step Two. Look over your results and compute the total sales return per activity over the same 30-day period. Then add up the number of hours it took you to achieve those results for each activity. Divide the results by the hours and — voila!— you’ve got your selling speed.For example, if it takes a total of four hours’ effort to make a $1,000 commission, your selling speed is $250 per hour. By the way, if you could maintain that pace, you would earn around $500,000 annually — not bad! For those who are less analytical (count me in), simply rank the returns from your activities on a 1-to-5 scale. As in everything else, the rule of “garbage in, garbage out” applies, so the more specific your information, the more meaningful your results will be.Some of your activities may not pay off in measurable sales today, but since they are laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s business, you may need to adjust your figures accordingly. Just don’t be too generous when assigning a value to investments of time and effort that have yet to come to fruition, because while preparing for the future is all well and good, your bills and quotas are due now. Also, things may change, and all your work could be for naught, so be tough with yourself and focus on the more immediate rewards. A bird in the hand really is worth two (or more) in the bush.
  • Step Three. Now, list in order each activity by its selling speed, starting with those that generate the most sales per hour down to those with the smallest return. The results can be really shocking — or reassuring. Post this list where you can see it all the time. Drill the concept that list represents into your subconscious.
  • Step Four. When you plan your selling work, focus on those tasks near the top of the list. When you finish a task, look once again towards the top of the list for the next one. This process may result in a sweeping change in the work you do, and with a corresponding increase in your sales results. You will probably start to look for more opportunities, move more prospects further along the selling cycle, and close more sales. You will probably experience a corresponding decrease in the desire to forward funny e-mails, attend general networking lunches, and file copies of reports — in other words, to squander time on less productive pursuits.

A word of warning: While a simpleton might be tempted to do only those tasks at the top of the list and disregard the duties at the bottom, it goes without saying that Savvy Selling readers are much sharper than that. If I’m not mistaken, you will already have figured out that unavoidable, bottom-of-the-list chores with low payoffs are best delegated to your sales-support team, a messenger service, or, when possible, simply scratched from the list altogether.

I’m the first one to admit that sitting down and analyzing a bunch of numbers isn’t my idea of fun. If it was, I’d be an engineer or accountant. That’s when I remind myself that the U.S. Navy’s elite Fighters Weapons School (the official name of the “Top Gun” academy) is for the top 1% of pilots. So sit down, force yourself to do the math, and then apply the results to your selling process. Guess what? Your chance of making the top 1% of the salespeople in your industry will skyrocket. Happy selling!

Michelle Nichols  is a sales consultant, trainer, and Vistage speaker based in Houston, Tex.

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