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How to Save Time at Work

Promotional products salespeople can easily fall prey to time-consuming detail work, from product research and placing cold calls to filling out purchase orders and chasing payment. Here are 20 tips to master your time so that every minute is maximized profitably.

Clean The Client Closet. Rid yourself of loser clients so that you’re devoting time to those current and potential customers who are most profitable. Expert John Mariotti, CEO of The Enterprise Group, recommends comparing your clients in terms of annual sales and gross profit dollars. Keep the clients who are in the top 25% for both factors. Lose the bottom 25%.

Analyze Product Profitability. Know which product categories yield the most profit for your business. Focus your energy on those goldmines.

Make The Most of Market Expertise. Look to your client base to see if there are clear areas of expertise that you’ve created rather than spending time on learning a completely new market. If you’ve focused previously on hospitals, for example, might you be able to leverage that knowledge for home-healthcare providers, dentists, etc. This would be a quicker way to expand you client base than picking a market about which you know very little.

Encourage Repeat Business. Cold calling to snag that initial order is one of the most time-consuming of sales activities. Leverage the sales you have made successfully to create more orders. Provide a discount coupon, for example, along with your client’s invoice or purchase receipt. Recommend continuity campaigns or suggest products (like calendars) that repeat annually.

Create a Time Cushion. Even the best time managers can be thrown a curve ball that sets a project spinning into overtime. Therefore, it’s wise to create a time cushion. For example, when planning a big order with a critical deadline, set an pre-deadline for at least a couple of days earlier than required. This allows for a finalization period to manage production errors or delivery snafus, if they arise.

Know Your Clients’ Business Cycles. For example, don’t waste time calling your accounting clients during the height of tax season. Analyze your clients to pinpoint their busy season. Then plan your contact/pitches for several months preceding or soon after their crazy period ends.

Educate Yourself. Take time from your busy schedule to participate in seminars that will subsequently save you time. For example, learning more about apparel decoration (e.g. screen printing, embroidery, etc.) will make it easier for you to oversee imprinted apparel orders without error. Why waste time recommending embroidery for a t-shirt made of a fabric that’s too thin? When you’re knowledgeable, you avoid mistakes that cost time and money.

Learn On The Run. Download podcasts from suppliers and industry educators that can educate you while driving to a client’s office or while jogging.

Purchase Quality Equipment and Software. Whether you’re selecting a hot press to expand your services to include heat transfer or selecting a new printer and computer, spend a little extra to get the right quality equipment. Cheap versions frequently require repairs or be slow to process/print. This will not only cost you time but sanity.

Be Accurate From The Start. When submitting orders to a factory, have all the pertinent details and artwork in order and clearly explained. The fewer times you touch the order, the more profitable it will be. Ideally, have pre-set form that you can use for most purchase orders, tailoring it as necessary for the products selected.

Think Quantity and Repetition. When clients have ongoing needs for a particular product, secure a blanket purchase order for the year and pre-schedule shipments at regular intervals. Your client therefore receives price breaks for quantity and you’re eliminating the time it takes to regularly resell/refill the order.

Group Up. When you’ve got big news to share or new products to showcase, consider an open house rather than scheduling a bunch of individual cold calls. The open house will allow you that important client contact while zeroing in on hot prospects worthy of a one-on-one follow-up visit.

Practice A Clear, Articulate Message. New salespeople often spend too much time prior to cold calls thinking through what they’re going to say when a person answers their call or if they must leave a voicemail. Create and practice a script that succinctly and clearly says who you are, why you’re calling and what action is required to further the relationship.

Track Your Time. Today’s smart phones offer useful timekeeping apps like Time Manager, More Than A Time Log and Time Master to track how you spend your time. The best versions allow users to create task categories and provide start/stop/restart timing functionality. You can then review the amount of time you spend on certain tasks, clients or projects comparing your the amount of time used per category on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Create Habits. Maybe you spend too much time in email, for example. Set a time allowance and schedule a particular time(s) during the day to check/reply to email. Once you know the areas on which you waste time, you can then set limits.

Set A Meeting Agenda. Whether you’re pitching a client or sitting down with a creative team to brainstorm a campaign, take a moment to outline a meeting agenda. Use this to stay on course and message. Be aware of the clock and nudge the meeting along to a timely completion.

Live By The Four Rs. When it comes to paper flow (e.g. memos, product flyers and invoices), you must control the amount of time you spend sorting. Immediately 1) Reroute, 2) Respond, 3) Read or ) Recycle. The same approach works for email, except recycling becomes refuse (i.e. simply hit delete).

Watch Out for Hassle-makers, i.e. those clients who frequently change their minds; require reworked orders; pepper you with small and unprofitable orders; plus need unreasonable hand-holding. If they’ve shown no promise of growing their business with you after the first few orders, they may not be worth your time.

Reduce Travel. Today’s technologies like Skype and GoToMeeting allow you to web conference with clients effectively. You get “face to face” time without having to drive or fly to another location.

Work with Preferred Suppliers. When you narrow your list of vendors to a few select partners, you’ll spend less time searching for product and gain the perks of being one of their important customers. Preferred suppliers will frequently help you with client presentations, fulfillment and drop-shipment. You’ll also be more familiar with those suppliers’ lines and capabilities, therefore better able to quickly identify a good source for your client’s project.