Sales Procrastination: How it impacts you and what you can do to fix it

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I sat down to write this blog post two days ago, but I just wasn’t in the mood then. Nobody can do a good job when he’s not in the right mindset. So I decided to work on some other, smaller projects to get my creative juices flowing.

First, I developed a pretty slick system for prioritizing Slack conversations with emojis, and it only took a few hours. Unfortunately, the time I spent creating my coding system and legend was for naught. It turns out that you can’t search Slack based on an emoji. Oh well. This task didn’t really do enough to prime my brain for writing anyway.

Next, I hopped on Twitter to see what our followers are talking about — always an excellent source for blogging ideas. One person tweeted about artificial intelligence in marketing, so I clicked the link to learn more. That article took me to a second, more technical post about machine learning and AI, which then led me to a site talking about Ray Kurzweil and the impending Singularity.

Reading about computers gaining human-level intelligence put me in a bit of an existential funk, so I decided to head out for a warm cup of coffee and ponder what it means to be human. I then went home to watch The Matrix just for the reassurance that humanity can prevail . . . eventually.

And that brings us to today . . . where I’ve just sat here recounting the time-wasting things I did to avoid writing this blog post. In fact, I made some of that stuff up just to avoid getting down to the real topic of this blog post: procrastination.

Enough messing around. Let’s talk about procrastination and how to avoid it.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Psychology Today states, “Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day. ‘I don’t feel like it’ takes precedence over goals; however, it then begets a downward spiral of negative emotions that deter future effort.” Also, if you’re a perfectionist, you may put things off because it feels better to do nothing than to do something imperfectly.

Snap out of it!

I’m not on your case because I’m strong-willed enough to beat procrastination. I can goof off with the best of them if I’m not careful. I’m giving you grief because I know what it means to you as a salesperson. When you don’t hustle, you don’t make sales. That’s not what you or your manager wants to see.

When you don’t hustle, you don’t make sales. That’s not what you or your manager wants to see. #procrastination Click To Tweet

How Can You Prevent Procrastination in Sales?

First, it’s important that sales managers understand the difference between actual procrastination and workload imbalances. According to Pace Productivity, only 22% of the sales week is actually spent on selling. I’m sure some of the other time during the week was lost to procrastination, but not all of it. Administration and other activities eat into selling time each week.

According to Pace Productivity, only 22% of the sales week is actually spent on selling. Sure, some of the other time during the week was lost to procrastination, but not all of it. Click To Tweet

Managers, before you assume that your sales development reps (SDRs) are goofing off or procrastinating, review the systems and processes your team uses.

  • Does your sales solution require SDRs to search for the best lead to call next?
  • If so, do sales reps then have to make a judgment call as to whether or not a lead is the right one to call now?
  • Are SDRs writing emails from scratch and searching for sales collateral, or do you have a centralized library of content?

If your SDRs have to deal with the scenarios above, some of that “wasted sales time” isn’t due to them “wasting time.” It’s a sign that you need to re-evaluate your processes and systems.

OK. Enough finger pointing at the boss and the company’s technology choices. You know you do a little procrastinating, too.

Manage Antecedents

Clinical psychologist Joel Minden says that “antecedents” often get in the way of getting things done. An antecedent is a cue or event that happens before we do something. “Looking up the best lead to call” next is the antecedent to “making a sales call.” Are you spinning your wheels looking for the “perfect” lead — the big fish that will make you the star of the team? That’s wasted time when there are plenty of other leads that may be more qualified or close to making a decision.

Other antecedents SDRs deal with include sales meetings, interruptions by coworkers, IMs, text messages, and administrative tasks. You can’t avoid these things, but you need to manage them instead of letting them lead you down the path to Procrastination City.

Look at Your Behaviors

Minden also suggests that procrastinators look at their behaviors when it comes to procrastination. Why are you putting off the task? Does it provoke any type of anxiety — large or small — when you think about or attempt to do it? Things that make us feel overwhelmed, less competent or less knowledgeable are the first ones to get deferred.

The next time you find yourself avoiding a sales-related task, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I feel like I don’t have enough product or sales knowledge to make my next call?
  • Do I feel overwhelmed by all the other things on my plate to the point that they are taking my attention off making the next contact?
  • Have I experienced a slump or loss lately that has undermined my confidence?

While each of these issues can be difficult to tackle, you need to have an honest conversation with yourself — and maybe your mentor or your manager — about how to overcome these obstacles. Find or ask for training. Talk to your mentor or a colleague for advice on building your confidence. Talk to your manager about the administrative tasks on your plate.

These and similar problems won’t go away by avoiding them. Meet them head-on, so that you can get back to selling.

Tips to Stay on Track

Whether you’re dealing with issues with antecedents or your own behavior, here are some tried and true ways to avoid — or at least limit — procrastination during prime selling time.

  1. Block time for important tasks. Try breaking up your day into hour-long segments (or whatever works for you) and only focus on an essential sales task during that time. If you’re sending emails, don’t do anything but send emails during that segment. If you are cold calling, don’t let anything else distract you from cold calling. When your cold calling segment is up, take a quick break to socialize, catch up on interoffice email, or grab a coffee.
  2. Chunk big projects into smaller tasks. If you have a tremendous administrative project that you have to conquer, break it into smaller steps. The project will be less overwhelming and easier to accomplish.
  3. Don’t spend all day playing “sales psychic.” It’s impossible to fully know how a prospect will react to your call or email. Don’t put off contacting someone because you think he or she won’t be interested.
  4. Don’t take on the role of Captain Ahab either. When you go hunting for your white whale of a lead, you waste time and potentially sink your ability to hit your quota. There are plenty of worthy leads to call. Don’t pin all your hopes on a single “dream sale.”
  5. Leverage technology to make yourself more effective. If you have influence over or can make buying decisions, look into sales cadence automation and engagement platforms that will make it easier for you and your team to stay focused and productive.
  6. Make unpleasant tasks more pleasant. If you hate cold calling, practice and build your cold calling skills. If you can’t stand admin tasks, allow yourself a reward when — and only when — you finish the work.
  7. Don’t wait until you “feel like it” or are “in the mood.” When it comes to doing things you don’t like to do, you will rarely ever feel like doing it. Just motivate yourself to get it done. Otherwise, your pile of detestable tasks will become a mountain.

So what are your favorite ways to procrastinate? Do you like coming up with elaborate emoji coding systems or pondering the fate of humanity during office hours? Well, quit it! Those things didn’t help me get this blog written any more quickly. They won’t help you get your sales calls done either. Instead, try the tips above to kick procrastination to the curb and focus on making more sales.


Darryl Praill

Darryl Praill, Chief Marketing Officer of VanillaSoft, is a high-tech marketing executive with over 25 years’ experience spanning startups, re-starts, consolidations, acquisitions, divestments and IPO’s. He has been widely quoted in the media including television, press, and trade publications. He is a guest lecturer, public speaker, and radio personality and has been featured in numerous podcasts, case studies, and best-selling books.

Praill is a former recipient of the coveted Forty Under 40 Award, and has held senior executive roles in leading companies including Sybase, Cognos (now IBM), webPLAN (now Kinaxis), and CML Emergency Services (now AIRBUS). He has raised over $50 million in venture funding across multiple organizations and consulted with world-class corporations including Salesforce, SAP, and Nielsen. He is a Computer Science graduate from Sheridan College.

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