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Successful leadership in sales hinges on your ability to consistently make good choices. The number of issues you're expected to manage on any given day are considerable and one of the most important skills in your decision making toolbox is the ability to decide quickly what warrants your immediate, direct attention.

This is because time isn't just money: time is a non-renewable resource.

Back in the 1950s, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower understood this. Lucky for us, he shared his secret time-management recipe – one that helped power him forward just as much as a five-star general on the battlefield as it did as Commander in Chief in the Oval Office.

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Fresh thinking on the path to greater performance.

"I have two kinds of problems," said Eisenhower, "the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."

Let's unpack that statement and look at how it applies to sales performance in today's busy work environment.

What Eisenhower was saying – which today is formally recognized as "The Eisenhower Matrix" – is that all business problems can be grouped into one of four categories:

  • Urgent and important: a very short list of items where you must act immediately;
  • Urgent but less important: a short list of tasks where you would be better served to delegate right away;
  • Non urgent but important: a longer list of tasks that you must act on, but later;
  • Non urgent and unimportant: matters that don’t require your attention.

Applying the Eisenhower Matrix to sales leadership: two examples

As I outline in greater detail in my book, Non-Stop Sales Boom, Engage Selling worked with a client who needed to make big changes to reach revenue targets consistently.

Their vice-president of sales correctly understood what required his attention right away: moving his team from a transaction-based to a relationship-based focus. Less urgent but nevertheless important, he needed to assign specific growth targets for each member of his team. Just as noteworthy, he identified a short list of issues that warranted delegation so that he could remain focused on the key tasks that required his direct management. Non-urgent and unimportant issues were dropped.

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Here's a second example: an Engage client in the industrial products sector needed to make major changes in how members of their team approached sales. They needed to be more methodical. The firm's VP of operations recognized that his first challenge was to communicate the importance of this goal to his staff. Coaching his team and providing skills for more disciplined selling, on the other hand, was ideally suited to Engage. This meant he was able to remain confidently focused where it mattered most to him: working directly with his team to implement the skills they had learned in seminars and sales training. Other issues that were considered non urgent were managed accordingly.

The key to managing your time in the Eisenhower Matrix is to be merciless and choosy about what deserves your time and focus right away. That needs to remain a very short list of tasks. If it isn't, you need to reevaluate how you and your organization makes a distinction between urgent and non-urgent issues.

Just as important, know the value of your time and outsource anything that can be done for less than your time is worth.

Doing this, you avoid the trap of being too reactive or overwhelmed by a relentless inbox demanding decisions from you on issues both large and small.

Sales expert Colleen Francis is founder and president of Engage Selling Solutions and the author of the recently released Nonstop Sales Boom (AMACOM) Ms. Francis ensures clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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