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From media to automobiles to insurance, time is a sales professional’s most critical resource. Time is your “inventory.” Once you use the time, it is gone and there is no time left for selling. How well are you managing your inventory?Sales executives in radio and television constantly monitor their inventories. The term does not apply to their various programs and specials; it refers to the available time for advertising. Once those time slots–approximately 20 minutes per hour–are gone, there is nothing left to sell.Effective time management is crucial, but there are plenty of books that help in that regard. Workflow management also is essential, but again, there are plenty of experts that can help you with that. After all, this is just a short article.Before moving on to the most critical aspect of your time, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:o Do not end the workday without returning all phone calls and e-mails. Starting off a new day with the remnants of the prior day is frustrating, discouraging and distracting.o At the end of each day, make a to-do list for the following day. This starts every day off with a road map. I also like to scratch items off for a sense of accomplishment.o Maintain an active list of proposals, applications and renewals in process. Daily review the status of each with your support staff–or yourself.o Get physical on your breaks. A few minutes walking around the block or getting on the treadmill can break through the mid-day cobwebs of your mind. Likewise, a lunchtime workout at the gym is not a bad idea. Oxygenate your brain to perform at higher levels.o Maintain a sensible regimen for sleep to start each day with energy.Failure to closeAssuming you are doing everything possible to maintain high levels of physical and mental energy for maximum productivity, let’s look at the biggest time waster facing any insurance producer: the prospects you are not going to close.Failure to continually and quickly qualify your suspects and prospects will cost you untold dollars in lost time and commission. Every minute wasted on a bad prospect is time not spent on a good prospect.I remember an auto salesman named Tony. Tony was not the sharpest or brightest salesman to work at this dealership. Yet Tony was one of the highest-performing salesmen there. If he spent more than 30 minutes with a potential customer, odds were he was going to sell a car.Tony felt that everyone walking through the door was in the market for a car, but a lot of them really couldn’t afford one. So Tony developed his own plan of action. After greeting a customer, he brought them to his desk before showing them any vehicles. Sitting down, he would ask for a driver’s license and pull out a credit application. This was his way of determining whether they had the means or the credit to afford a new car. Once he qualified them, he began to sell them.The other salesmen would romance every person that walked through the door. An old adage prominent at that period in the ’70s maintained that time created obligation: The more time you spent with a prospect, the more obligated they were to buy from you. That might be true, but what about the qualification factor? Is every prospect equal? Absolutely not! Spending time with a bad prospect also could be the greatest detriment to overall sales performance. Without proper qualifying, all of the power is in the hands of the prospect, not the salesperson.Too many of us allow fear to manage our time. We are so afraid of losing a deal that we fail to stop the game when we know we cannot win. In the formative years of my company, my fear almost bankrupted us. I treated every potential client equally, doing anything and everything to get their business. Luckily, my wife and partner saw what was happening. She saw me taking on clients who couldn’t pay their bills, or prospects that merely wanted to pick my brain. After I had given away all of the creativity and magic, they would take it back to their old advertising agency for production.My wife became the first step in the qualifying process. Prospects had to pass her inspection before I could even talk with them. She politely probed to determine their loyalties (relationships), budget (price) and needs (products and service). She then processed the information and gave them a “go or no go.”Graduates of Dynamics of Selling are taught the four cards in play: price, service, coverage and product. These are basically the same factors by which my wife would qualify a prospect. Unless you hold the right cards, you cannot win the game.Dynamics further teaches that qualifying is not a one-time event. It starts at the beginning of prospecting and list management, and continues to immediately before the presentation of solutions. According to Dynamics, we prequalify before the Step One Diagnostic Appointment and qualify again at the end of Step One. We again qualify at both the beginning and the end of the Step Two Protection Review. Finally, we qualify again before the Step Three Presentation of Solutions.By using this process of continually qualifying, requalifying and super-qualifying every prospect, closing ratios move up to ranges of 60 to 70 percent on average. And that is effective management of your selling time.The key ingredient in qualifying is the ability to walk away. Despite every misgiving in the book, some producers find it difficult to make that decision to walk away. They remember that one-in-100 situation they were able to close, forgetting that no one can survive on a 1 percent closing ratio. If you have difficulty in making the “walk-away” decision, seek a peer, manager or even a friend to support and enforce that decision with you.Remember Tony? Are you checking the financials of potential prospects before you dedicate your time? Even if you hold all the cards to win the game, is the business in a position to afford the coverage? In today’s economic environment, the financial stability of your prospects is essential. Like Tony, run a credit report and make sure they are solid before investing your time.Your time is both precious and finite. Spend it wisely. Jack Burke is president of Sound Marketing Inc., editor of ProgramBusinessNews, host/producer of Audio Insurance Outlook and author of “Creating Customer Connections and Relationship Aspect Marketing.” Contact him at [email protected].

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