Question: As a sales manager, I have so many competing responsibilities that its difficult to spend time with my sales team. How do I handle the “Other Stuff” that's getting in the way?

Answer: I have heard this question expressed countless times by executives, sales managers and salespeople. In one way or another, sales professionals find themselves increasingly occupied by trivial tasks at the expense of the important ones.

And, it is not just salespeople who are infected with this disease. It is an epidemic that is raging unabated in our economy. It renders people unproductive, and causes organizations to operate at a fraction of their potential. It often comes from what I call “other stuff.” Over the years, I have seen this phenomenon to be so pervasive that years’ ago I labeled it and gave it its own acronym: OSE. That stands for “Other Stuff Expansion.”

The rule is this: When you give a proactive salesperson “other stuff” to do, the other stuff will always expand, taking more in time and energy than you anticipated, and rendering the proactive sales efforts to an unacceptable smaller part of the person’s labors. While my focus is salespeople, the disease is rampant in almost every job description.

Here’s how this looks in practice. A branch manager needs someone to fill in a couple of hours a day for a customer service person who has taken a maternity leave. “The salesman can do it,” the branch manager thinks in a flash of inspiration. “He’s got time.”

Presto. The problem is solved.

But, alas, the couple of hours a day turns into a half day, and sometimes more, as the salesperson gets caught up in reacting to the inbound calls. Those proactive sales calls that should have been made in that time are never made. The silent costs of that decision and the inevitable “Other Stuff Expansion” begin to be felt months down the road.

Or, you have a sales manager check out that promising new product line, or write that new procedure because he/she “understands that,” and, of course, you’re too busy. OSE sets in, and the project swells to the point that the sales manager can no longer manage effectively.

Or, you have inside salespeople who also answer the phone and respond to inbound calls, and you are constantly frustrated that they don’t make enough outbound calls. The rule of OSE dictates that they will always find other stuff to do instead of the outbound calls.

The examples can go on and on. A quick perusal of your sales efforts will unearth dozens, I’m sure.

There’s a simple explanation for this. Making proactive sales calls is a high-risk effort that requires initiative, motivation and self-discipline. It’s fraught with potential rejection. In other words, it’s hard to do. That’s one of the reasons why most people aren’t salespeople. Most people just aren’t equipped with the resilience of character, the motivation and self-discipline necessary for success on the job. On the other hand, taking care of “other stuff” is usually low-risk and somewhat fulfilling. And, it keeps you busy. Put simply: It’s just easier.

That’s why, “When you give a proactive salesperson ‘other stuff’ to do, the other stuff will always expand, taking more in time and energy than you anticipated, and rendering the proactive sales efforts to an unacceptable smaller part of the person’s labors.“ It’s the law of OSE.

In a bigger picture, OSE for sales personnel is just the specific application of a deeper rule: When you give someone something to do, you are, by that act, preventing him/her from doing something else. Or, to be more personal, when we accept the responsibility for doing something, we, by that action, eliminate the possibility of our doing something else.

What sounds blatantly obvious is so often violated that it has become one of the major productivity killers, and one of the most common mistakes made today by managers and self-managers of all kinds.

Now, of course, it’s further complicated by smartphones. What could be a great productivity tool is too often the source of a constant stream of interruptions that prevent us from doing much good work. On a recent consulting visit, I was to spend an hour with a sales manager. In the first five minutes, he was interrupted by his cell phone three times. I brought an end to the interview and told him to come back when he was ready to focus on the task at hand.

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How To Keep Salespeople Focused On Proactive Sales Calls