Episode #29: “Beat the Clock, and Your Quota” with Jill Konrath

Hosts: Kevin Micalizzi & Lynne Zaledonis

As we get busier and busier, we compensate by adding more hours to our workday. But are we really fixing the problem, or making it worse? Join best-selling author and sales-acceleration strategist Jill Konrath as she shares how to take back control of your time.


Episode Transcript

Kevin Micalizzi: Thank you for joining the Quotable Podcast. Today we'll be speaking with Jill Konrath, best-selling author and sales acceleration strategist. Jill's latest book is More Sales, Less Time. Welcome, Jill.


Jill Konrath: Thanks for having me today.


Micalizzi: Before we get started, the best way to stay on top of all things Quotable is by subscribing to our newsletter at www.quotable.com/subscribe.

Now, Jill, for listeners who aren't familiar with you and the work you've done, would you share a little bit about yourself?


Konrath: Sure. I'm a lifelong sales professional. I've sold technology, I've sold services, I've sold just about everything. And I've done a lot of consulting work for clients. And most recently in the last decade, I've written four books on sales challenges that people were facing, and me included. So that's what I do and now I speak on the topics.


Micalizzi: Love it, and I'm excited to get into it. Before we do, I'm Kevin Micalizzi, product marketing senior manager at Salesforce and executive producer of the Quotable Podcast, filling in for Tim Clarke.

I'm joined today by my co-host, Lynne Zaledonis, VP Product Marketing at Salesforce. Welcome, Lynne.


Lynne Zaledonis: Thank you so much for having me, Kevin. What a pleasure to be able to join Jill.


Micalizzi: Fantastic. So, Jill, I know in your book SNAP Selling, you had focused on selling to customers that are under pressure to do more with less money, less time, less resources. What led you to shift your focus to personal productivity?


Konrath: Well, it's interesting, because it's certainly not something I anticipated ever doing in my career. But shortly after I wrote SNAP Selling, I started hearing from people all the time that it had really helped them sell to crazy busy buyers. But they were crazy busy, too. And they kept saying to me, "What do you have for me? What do you have for me? You've got to help me." And I would just look at them in total frustration and say, "I have no idea. I'm just as swamped as you. I feel like I'm working night and day. I feel like there's no light at the end of the tunnel, that I'm on a rat race the whole time. And I don't know."

And I said that for years. And then I finally said, "I hate living this way. It's time to check into this personal productivity. It's time to figure out how to get my life in order so that I'm able to sell more without working the same number of hours.


Zaledonis: Let's dig into that a little bit more, this crazy life that we're all living. You had a name for it in your book More Sales, Less Time. You called it the age of distraction.


Konrath: Yes. It's funny because when I finally stumbled on that term, I actually read it in somebody else's articles. And I went, "Oh, my goodness, that's what's going on." This is really different from time management. I used to be really good at getting work done, but I kept finding myself going down a rabbit hole. I'd go online to do something, and a half an hour later I'd be doing something entirely different. And then I'd have to pull my mind back to try to get into what I was working on originally. And it just was so much harder.

But it was a constant battle of being sucked into a digital world and having to live in that digital world so much, because my job depended on it.

So the age of distraction is really what we're facing now. We are normal human beings who are not designed to live in a digital world where there's all these things that are pulling us this way and calling us over here. Click here, read this, watch that, listen to this. And it's just like we're in a candy store, like all these things we can do.


Zaledonis: I absolutely can relate to that in my own personal life. And it spills over to your professional life as well, too.


Konrath: You can't separate it, because during work we still are doing personal things. And when we're home, we're a lot of times connected and doing email. I think the average smartphone user professional is hooked up about 13 hours per day with work, which is again why we feel like we can never get done, because we're always available or checking.


Micalizzi: So, Jill, I know the first step is admitting you have a problem, but that doesn't really help you get a better understanding of it. What did you do to get a handle on how much time you were losing?


Konrath: You know, the first step is to admit you have a problem, but I don't think any of us really realized how big a problem it is.

One of the things I try to do — again, I studied productivity experts to see what they said we should be doing. And invariably they said you've got to track your time. And so I went, okay, I'll track my time. But everybody wanted you to write down in 15-minute increments what you had done. And it was impossible for me to do from a sales perspective.

I took a look at what I was doing, and I was jumping and doing 10 different things in the 15-minute increment. It was more a problem tracking my time than it was anything else.

And so I finally discovered an app called RescueTime, which runs in the background of what you're doing online and on your cellphones and stuff, too. And it actually just tracks what apps you're doing and what times during the day and gives you a daily rollout. You can see your scorecard and how you're doing. You can set goals [unintelligible].

And it was just such an eye-opener to myself to see literally how much time I was spending on things that were not contributing to the growth of my business, things that I allowed myself to get distracted by. I could justify each one individually. Like I could read an article. I'd see an article on LinkedIn, like 12 cringe-inducing subject lines you should never use. So, of course, I get sucked into that rabbit hole.

And then when I'm there, there's something else, and I could justify each thing individually. But when I looked at it in its entirety, I was spending such a huge percentage of my time on nonproductive work, that it was no wonder that I was constantly behind.

And by the way, I'm not the only one doing this. This is happening virtually everywhere. And most salespeople right now have the capacity to add an hour or two a day just from time that they're squandering from digital distractions, but also from the huge cost of task-switching and what that does to them in going back and forth from one task to another task. A tremendous productivity leakage there.


Zaledonis: You just hit on where I was headed next, which was this nonproductive work environment that we're in, we see it in our personal lives. I was also a former sales rep as well, so I understand how valuable an hour or two a day could actually mean to your bottom line.

So let's talk about that impact of being way too busy. If we can give some people time back, what does that mean to the business? Is this just about better prioritizing?


Konrath: Well, first of all, if I think about all the money. Sales productivity is a huge, huge KPI for a lot of sales leaders. We've got to drive sales productivity, get more revenue per rep. And if you take a look and say, wow, if I could add one more hour to each person's schedule per day, that's a huge productivity ramp. You know? And they get one more hour of good work time done. So that's one thing.

But this is also productivity that can come without adding technology, without adding any extra cost. Let's teach our people how to work better so that they are able to get more done in less time.

But the other thing that I think is so crucial that people aren't cognizant of is the fact that when you aren't bouncing around all day long and switching from task to task — and by the way, the average person switches tasks every two-and-a-half minutes. First of all, everything takes longer to do, things take longer to learn.

But the other thing that I think is so crucial is the impact of constant task-switching on the quality of your thinking. And I think right now that sales is a thinking profession. And what we need are intelligent conversations with our clients about what matters most to them.

And that is not something that we can just pull out of our heads. That requires preparation. It requires thoughtfulness. It requires strategizing. It requires evaluation and assessment of what we've done.

Putting together a plan that can be most effective for a demonstration or a big meeting with a client where you do a presentation with a whole group of people, we have to be so at the top of our game to be successful today. And research shows that constant task-switching makes us stupider. I mean, literally stupider, where IQ actually goes down at a time when we need to be as smart as we can. But it also makes us come up with more simplistic responses, like we just do the same old, same old because our brain is just not in deep-thinking mode where we really need it to be to come up with the best way of selling.

So, to me, it's not just that we have the extra time, which helps. It's that we're better at what we do if we leverage that time to think, prepare, and do what's right.


Micalizzi: What do we do about it? I completely understand what you're saying, especially around context-switching and the fact that we go into autopilot because we're not giving our full attention to everything that's going on. It sounds like such a huge challenge to overcome, though.


Konrath: Oh, my God. I wish I could say it was just a snap of the fingers. And it isn't because we are habit-forming creatures. The reality of it is as soon as we do something several times, it becomes a habit and it's the way we work. And so most of us, the way we work right now, we get up in the morning and we look at our cellphone and, boom, we're gone. We think that that's doing a good job. We think checking email all the time is really providing good service.

But we don't realize that we're addicted to it and we're actually getting a dopamine rush that is causing us to feel like we have to check.

So we have to realize that, first of all, we're human beings in a digital world. We're not designed for this. And we have to take different measures in order to not get sucked into something that is not good for us. It's not good for our quality of work. It's not good for the quantity of work. It actually seriously impacts our ability to perform at the top of our game.

What I found number one is that I literally had to admit that I had no power over this digital distraction. Our bodies are wired. The amygdala, which is our oldest part of our brain, is literally out there looking for things that are different and new. That is its responsibility in order to protect us. And so when we go online, the amygdala jumps to the forefront and says, "Hey, guys, I got it. I'll keep alert here." And so the worst part of our brain to be in charge is what takes over when we go online.

And so what I found is that I actually needed to do things that prevented me from getting sucked in. And I leveraged technology in order to protect myself from technology, which was really, really helpful, because I don't think we can be at the top of our game until we can literally control the distractions.

That's the first step. Once you can control the distractions, then you're able to be much more focused in terms of coming up with a better plan for the day and rolling it out and then organizing your day to be more productive. But you have to deal with the distractions first. You can't just jump in and try to plan a day, because you will get sucked in in a moment's time.


Micalizzi: You mentioned technology, Jill. Are we talking different technology that you leveraged to get a better understanding of the challenge? Is there technology that's nudging you to say, "Hey, get off of Facebook" or, "Hey, you've been reading this article too long"?


Konrath: What I ended up using is an app called Freedom [which] was really, really helpful for me. That literally blocked me from going to specific sites for periods of time. I could say I need an hour to just focus on this client, and so I would turn Freedom on, and I would actually not be able to go online or to designated online sites for whatever time frame I set.

There are certain ones you can get for cellphones, too. I think Moment is good for that, and Breakthrough is good, too. And they monitor your usage and tell you what's going on.

But the other thing that's so crucial. From my research I found that 15 to 17% of people don't alter the notifications on their devices. And the notifications are like one of the worst things that capture your attention. So simply by turning off notifications, you are creating a calmer environment, you're preventing yourself from being pulled away and even just noticing that you have an email.

If I have something that shows me that I have a new email, and I'm hoping to hear from a client, I go click on that email just like that. I can't stop myself because I'm waiting for that email. But if I don't have a notification, then I can check it on a schedule that I established. So something as simple as notifications, turning them totally off is important.

The other thing that's really important, too, is just shut down apps when you're done using them. Just simply having email on in the background doubles your chances of getting yourself distracted and doing something else. And that's not good.

So what's happened is that we are now working, like I said earlier, in an environment that nobody prepared us for, that's not conducive for our best work. And so we really need to control it, and then we need to focus on getting our days and our weeks set up the best way they can be in order for us to be successful. And we need to realize how our brain actually works is affecting our day-to-day productivity, our day-to-day sales success.


Zaledonis: I want to regurgitate some of the stuff back to you, Jill, because I'm not so sure I got this right. I'm the kind of person where I have a workout class tonight, there's no cellphones allowed in it, gives me a nervous twitch. Right? Like I can't imagine how the world's going to survive for those 45 minutes without me.

But some of the panic is when I finally get back to my phone afterward that evening, now my inbox is overflowing versus I feel that need to keep up with it.

Are you saying that that work's still there when you need to do it, but you need to just make sure you're focusing on one task at a time? Or are you saying that there's just some things that you're going to eliminate from your day to be able to be more productive?


Konrath: Yes and yes. What I'm saying specifically regarding what you're doing is that your emails do not need responding to right away. And they really don't, and you need to understand and you even need to maybe do some experiments. How often do you need to check your email? Because getting caught into email, you are operating on other people's priorities all day long and not yours. So you need to gain control of when you're going to be checking it and letting it go at other times.

For you to be on email up till the time you go to bed is not good for you. It doesn't calm your day down, and it doesn't allow you to get the best kind of sleep.

The research on sleep is phenomenal in terms of being at the top of your game the next morning. There's just so much going on in terms of what we need to do to calm ourselves down, to be more mindful about what we're doing, to just slow everything down so we're not rushing so fast. That's how we're going to do our better work. It's about better work.


Zaledonis: We did a state-of-sales research recently here at Salesforce, about 3,000 customers. And we came back with sort of what customers expect from a successful or a good sales rep. And part of it was that quick responsiveness, the ability to be able to engage and get them what they need in a timely matter.

But the other half of it almost contradicts that. And that's this idea that they want a trusted advisor. They don't want a sales rep. They want someone who's thoughtful in their approaches and understands their business.

And those two things, based on what you just said, don't seem to go hand in hand. How do I constantly be responding to you but also take that time to invest to be the good sales rep that you need?


Konrath: How do you do that? You have to actually say that that's the priority, and you have to [block the company] the best sales rep on your calendar. Becoming the best sales rep you can be requires a lot of thinking time, much more so than people give it credit for. It's not just being responsive. Nobody will choose a responsive rep over a well-prepared thoughtful rep.

And I think people, first of all, need to, like I said, do some experiments with time and see how often do you need to check your email so you can be adequately responsive. You don't need to be emailing people back in six seconds. I think, again, research shows that 72% of emails, I think it is, are attended to within six or seven seconds. That's crazy. You don't need to be on top of things that well. No other human being expects you to be sitting at your computer right at that moment and pinging them back and answering that question.

In different businesses time frames can be smaller or shorter. But the reality is we need to plan our day, we need to plan our week, we need to plan it in blocks of time. If you don't plan blocks of time to do different things, they won't get done. What you'll get done is what is urgent right now as opposed to what is most important.

And I think I say you have to control the distractions, because you can't get to what's important if you're constantly being distracted. But once you have managed the distraction and are checking your email on a schedule and not letting it run you, then you really have an obligation to say, "What do I need to do to set up the best week possible so I can be the best rep?"

And that involves the preparation time. It involves more preparation time than you probably are typically doing. It probably involves some professional development time, whether you're either working on an important skill that you need to fine-tune in order to be good at what you do, or it might involve you becoming smart about your customer's business or your own products or services.

But there's a lot we need to do in order to be highly effective. And personally I prefer reps that have long stood on the side of effectiveness. And what we need to do is rather than be expedient and fast in most B2B businesses, we need to be effective and keep looking at what makes us more effective.


Micalizzi: Jill, I want to change gears just a little bit. I know some of our listeners are on the leadership side in sales. And I'm curious, a lot of what we've talked about is how I get a handle on my schedule and what I'm doing with my time and how I kind of guide myself.

What should sales leaders be doing to help their reps kind of shift to being more productive?


Konrath: I think, first of all, a leader really needs to just understand the dynamics of productivity and the fact that the way that their sales team is working, and probably themselves, the way that they're working is not the most effective right now. It is not the best use of their time.

And to study and understand is the first step. But then you have to move into, “How can we roll this out?” One of the things that I found — I mentioned RescueTime earlier — I think a leader should offer to buy RescueTime for his people and not necessarily monitor it, but even just let his people get a grasp on how they're working and set personal goals for improving their productivity.

I think it's important to set power hours in an office, where between 9:00 and 10:00 every day we're going to do this if you have an office. This is going to be devoted to and really focus on that.

I think, depending on what you're selling and to whom, I know my nephew is in an office. It's a staffing business, and he has to do recruiting, and he has to do selling. So he has to recruit people. But they literally have one week a month that is set aside entirely for the recruiting of potential people that they can use for staffing. And then the other three weeks are the sales weeks. And people plan around that.

So by establishing a good plan and helping reps understand what are the most effective people doing and what is the best way, we can help reps be more effective.

I also think that one of the most fun things to do is to experiment and to engage your team in experiments. I love an experimental mindset, not just from a productivity standpoint, but from an overall way of lifting your team's performance.

It's about saying every one of us are doing the best we can, but let's see if we can do better. Let's see if we do something different, if we get a different result or a better result or it helps us move the sale faster. Let's see where it leads us. Literally as a group continually experiment with everything that you do to get better, because one of the ways to get more sales in less time, which I've written about in my first three books, is to just plain get better at selling.

But also the one I'm adding in is you have to get better in how you plan your day and how you invest your time, because as a seller, your only asset that you can manage really is your time and your skill level.


Zaledonis: Yeah, with your skill level for sure. And you might be answering my question that came to mind, because you can tell we're all junkies for overscheduling and multitasking, so I'm hanging on to every word you’re saying.

And the obvious question is, what do I do with that time back? How do we make it worth our while and work to our advantage? And you hinted at that with some self-development as well. Do we put that time back into the sales cycle as well?


Konrath: You can put it in wherever it makes more sense. And I think different people are involved in different things at different points of their career. But you take a new-hire person, they've got a lot to learn. They just plain have a lot to learn. And giving them the gift of an extra hour a day to focus on learning or shadowing somebody or listening in on other people's calls or doing something is a gift to help them get better.

But somebody who's handling more strategic accounts needs that time to prep more, to maybe be more effective.

If I take a look at what I see a lot out there, you know, the clients that I work with, the one thing I don't see people doing, I see people getting presentations together at the last possible moment. Like, oh, I've got a meeting at 3 o'clock and I've got to get some PowerPoints ready to go, because I can jump on GoToMeeting or whatever. And they seem to be working up to the last minute.

But if you have the gift of an extra hour that day, you could take a look at those PowerPoints, that demo that you're doing or whatever, and you can say, "Okay, now if I was in my client's shoes, and I was listening to this or on the other side, would this be of interest to me? Would this be of high value and a good use of my time?" Again, asking it from a client's perspective.

To me, that gives you the time to change your stuff around and to focus on your overall effectiveness in your job.


Micalizzi: You've got me very excited to get a better handle on where my time's going, though I'm a little nervous at what I'm going to find.


Konrath: Well, like I said, Kevin, it was appalling what I found. It was so appalling. And then to read about dopamine hijacks and how my amygdala was causing me to go off. And then I've got dopamine, a feel-good hormone, every time I got distracted or every time my amygdala discovered something new. It was like, "Oh, yes, good job, Jill. Good job."

And then I went, oh, my God, I'm letting my base part of my brain of my body of my essence run the show? This makes no sense. Why would I ever let my most animal part of me run my day? And at that point, I literally got kind of mad. And I said I'm taking my life back. I was not built for this digital environment. None of us were built for it, and we are getting sucked into it. And we're not as good as we can be if we're not managing it and experimenting and finding better ways to deal with it.

Believe me, I love the digital world. But we have to take charge of it as opposed to becoming victims of it.


Micalizzi: Understood. I wish we had more time to talk about it. Unfortunately we're coming up on time. So let me ask you, what closing thought would you like to leave with our listeners?


Konrath: I would really like to leave people with the thought that start with distraction. If you can control your distraction, that is the starting point. It's probably the hardest thing that we all have to do. But to literally stop and think, how often am I wasting time? And is this really the best use of my time? How can I spend my time more effectively?

Most of us are frittering away a huge portion of our workday and also a huge portion of our life. And if we had more time, we might enjoy our life better. And we might just plain be better at our jobs.


Micalizzi: I love it. Thank you so much, Jill. I really appreciate you taking the time to join us today.


Konrath: Truly my pleasure.


Micalizzi: And, Lynne, thank you again for co-hosting.


Zaledonis: Thanks. It was fun and I learned a ton. I'm going to have to go prioritize my day better, Kevin. So I might not be responding to your email so quickly.


Micalizzi: I was going to say you and me both.


Konrath: Nobody needs it. I mean, think about it, you guys. I'm serious. Think about it. Nobody needs you to respond that fast. Period.


Micalizzi: Yeah. It's not really life or death. We just like to think of it that way.


Konrath: It makes us feel important.


Micalizzi: Yeah.


Konrath: And what we do is we spend our day being busy, but not getting the right things done. And not enough of them. The reality is if we really stop to think about it and then said, how important is it to me to check this email? We would get so much more done if we would just think, how do I want to work and how do I want the digital world to fit in with how I work?


Micalizzi: Absolutely. And so I want to say thank you to all our listeners for joining in today. Please keep up to date with all the great sales experts at Quotable by subscribing at www.quotable.com/subscribe. And if you found this podcast episode valuable, please share it with your peers and your customers.

Thank you.


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