Six Tips to Enhance Your One-on-One Coaching Meetings with Salespeople

coaching sales business Which of the following statements best describes your opinion, as a sales leader, of one-on-one meetings?

  • They’re the best way to stay connected to salespeople and drive pipeline opportunities forward.
  • They’re a low-value activity and should be skipped when more important priorities pop up.
  • They’re a dreaded but necessary evil.

Your answer probably depends on whether you have a defined coaching process to get the most out of these meetings. According to a sales-culture survey of more than 300 sales organizations across North America, which Fusion Learning conducted in 2013, nearly all sales leaders (97 percent) had one-on-ones with team members, yet 40 percent rated themselves 6 out of 10 or lower at conducting these meetings.

At Fusion, we liken one-on-one meetings that lack a defined process to the old sleight-of-hand “shell game.” In the shell game, the salesperson predicts which opportunities his or her manager will ask about (what shell will be lifted) and comes prepared with excellent examples of what’s been done to advance those particular opportunities. It doesn’t matter whether the examples are outdated. As long as the sales manager is satisfied, the salesperson can carry on with the status quo.

I speak from experience. My first sales manager and I met every Monday morning. These meetings were very friendly; we discussed accounts and I provided updates. I shared what I thought I was supposed to share. In retrospect, I realize we were playing the shell game. We would move the shells around looking for the pebble that wasn’t there. There was little coaching value in these meetings for either one of us.

Two years later, a new sales manager was assigned to our team. These meetings were similar but with one difference: he took notes and put them in a file folder labeled with my name. The next week, when he inquired about an account, I told a story similar to the previous week’s. He referenced his notes and I started to squirm a little.

“No worries,” he said. “Let’s discuss how you are going to move it forward this week.” Silly me – I showed up on week three and tried a similar tack. He was nice about it, but I realized the game had changed, and I needed to follow through on my commitments. My manager helped me and the rest of the team win business by staying focused and accountable. No more shell game.

At Fusion Learning, we know that world class one-on-ones are about dialogues and not two concurrent monologues. The conversation must meet these goals:

  • Focus simultaneously on business priorities and the individual salesperson.
  • Look to the future and not just backward at past performance.
  • Be strategic first and tactical second. Too often, one-on-ones take a tactical and operational approach. There must be a balance with a strategic perspective.
  • Hold the meetings at predictable and consistent intervals. Salespeople thrive on a steady, predictable cadence, helping them stay focused and remain accountable.

Here are six specific steps to help you conduct more productive, collaborative, and successful one-one-one meetings with your salespeople.

  1. Big Picture – Start the meeting by connecting with the salesperson and asking a high-level, strategic question. For example, you could ask him or her to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 his or her stress level or performance. It is not about the number, it is about the dialogue that results from the number.
  2. Green Flags – Ask the salesperson to share two recent accomplishments or actions he or she is proud of (for example, closing a deal or getting great feedback from a customer on a proposal). Then share two things the salesperson did that week that you’re proud of (for example, securing a meeting with an elusive prospect or updating opportunities in the CRM system). Discuss, give praise, and allow the salesperson to celebrate the successes achieved since you two last met.
  3. Red Flags – Next, follow the same process as in the Green Flags step, except this time focus on things the salesperson will improve. The salesperson should begin, “Here’s what I think I need to improve or do differently,” and then you can offer your own perspective. Help your salesperson create an action plan for improvement.
  4. Customers/Pipeline/Activities/Results – The trick here is to remain focused on all aspects of the salesperson’s activity – researching, prospecting, holding meetings, writing proposals, and closing – as opposed to locking in on one specific deal in the pipeline. (By the way, many sales leaders skip the first three steps and start here at the tactical level. Don’t do that.)
  5. Help Needed – Keep track of the commitments you make to help the salesperson, and follow through with them.
  6. Action Plan – During the meeting, note any action to which the salesperson commits. At the end of the meeting, have the salesperson repeat these commitments. Let him or her know you will review the action plan at your next meeting.

To learn more about how you can improve your one-on-one coaching meetings, check out chapter 5 of Fusion Learning’s book, Engage Me: Strategies from the Sales Effectiveness Source. It includes best practices, examples, and a template to use in structuring your meeting.

Alyson Brandt Fusion Learning Alyson Brandt is president of Fusion Learning USA.

 

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How To View Failure and Roadblocks in a Positive Light

sales leadership roadblocks Great leaders don’t fail less than the rest of us. The truth is, they fail frequently, but successful leaders learn to see failure in a positive light.

According to Patti Johnson, author of Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life, setbacks are a signal to stop and take stock. Maybe it’s time to abandon this particular project and move on to the next thing. On the other hand, maybe this is the exact time to double your effort. No matter which route you choose, you first need to address your underlying emotions about whatever setback you’ve encountered.

Learn to Roll with the Punches

First, remind yourself that, from time to time, all leaders struggle with failed initiatives. Disappointment and other negative emotions are natural reactions.

For example, Johnson describes a feeling of disbelief hitting her team after a key sponsor said that the global change initiative the team had been working on needed a whole new outcome. The directive came “after months of work and a widely communicated launch date.” Johnson’s response to her team? Roll with it.

“I told them we had one night to be frustrated and angry,” she writes. “But the next morning all energies were to be spent on how we could adjust our plan.”

Focus on What You Can Control

Once you move past your initial disappointment, Johnson recommends focusing on what you can control. She cites Stephen Covey’s concept of the Circle of Concern (what we care about) and the Circle of Influence (what we can affect).

“The vast majority of people focus too much time and energy outside their Circle of Influence, in their Circle of Concern. Such people typically worry about things they can’t influence, much less control, such as the weather when they go on a beach vacation or who will become the new leader of their group.” The faster you can get to the “What can I do?” phase of dealing with setbacks, the faster you can start learning from the experience.

Learn from Your Leadership Setbacks

Johnson outlines the following self-assessment questions leaders can use to learn from setbacks.

  1. How credible was your vision or idea?

Whether you wanted to write a book, create a new department, or change a long-standing process, take a dispassionate look at how realistic your idea was. These questions will help you:

What gap or need did your idea fill?

What was the actual impact of your idea?

How much research did you do?

What facts guided you to the idea?

What experiments or tests did you perform?

Why did you believe the idea would work?

  1. Who were your stakeholders?

Were you able to generate enthusiasm and support for your idea from colleagues and decision makers? “This question is to determine if the idea was able to gain traction with others who want what you want,” writes Johnson. “Did you find interest in part of the idea but not all? What resonated and what didn’t? This question helps you determine if it is the idea that needs to be reconsidered, the way it was shared with others, or the execution.”

Again, disappointment is normal when you experience problems that get in the way of your vision. Be patient with yourself and remember that all your experiences, good and bad, can be viewed as growth steps.

“I’ve had many situations where my idea/plan/change didn’t quite gain traction at first, but I knew I was building support to benefit the cause for the next time,” writes Johnson. “Recognize your progress and decide how it can work for you in the future.”

What are your tips for leaders on how they can best respond to setbacks? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Three Action Steps to Avoid Lackluster Sales Quarters

lackluster sales quarters

By David Hubbard 

When revenue starts to go off plan, your gut reaction as chief sales officer or vice president of sales is probably to ratchet up the activity level of the sales force. You know the drill: institute aggressive pipeline reviews by field management, requalify all forecasted deals for the quarter, focus field management on must-win deals, try to pull in deals forecasted for next quarter, create a SWAT team for bigger deals, and the list goes on.

These tactics used to work five or 10 years ago but not so much lately, and that’s mainly because business-to-business buyers are doing things differently, by

  • self-educating online and becoming aware of industry problems and potential solutions,
  • getting vendor referrals from trusted industry colleagues through social networking,
  • deciding on a short list of “qualified” vendors after double-checking online reviews, press coverage and analyst reports.

If your sales force can’t influence buyer teams early in their purchasing process, like it could 10 years ago, you’re almost certainly going to suffer lackluster sales quarters. To reverse that trend, here are three action steps you should strive to achieve in 2015.

Action Step 1: Establish a well-defined and understood sales process.

Your sales process should mirror your buyer’s current purchasing process. A recent study by HubSpot and the Sales Management Association shows that organizations with a clear sales process enjoy 18 percent more sales growth than other organizations.

Action Step 2: Leverage social selling in the sales process.

Are your salespeople on LinkedIn? Do they tweet? Are they using those platforms as a way to attract and reach out to prospects? If not, it’s time to get on the social-selling bandwagon. Reps who use social media as part of their sales process are 79 percent more likely to attain their quota than ones who don’t, according to Aberdeen Group’s study on social selling.

Action Step 3: Align with marketing.

If your sales and marketing teams have a strong collaborative relationship, then here are the typical benefits according to multiple research studies by Aberdeen Group:

  • Seventy-five percent of your sales reps are achieving quota (versus the industry average of 50 percent).
  • Sales is achieving its sales budget (versus the industry average of 61 percent).
  • Your corporate revenue is growing at least 13 percent annually (versus an industry average of 4.3 percent).

If you’re poorly aligned with your buyer, you’re going to need a lot of help from others to fix it, particularly from your chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, and maybe an experienced outside consultant. That’s not bad news; your colleagues on the executive team have a vested interest in helping the sales force succeed. They don’t want their budget to shrink as a result of missed revenue and profit goals.

If you are willing to accept help from the C-suite, you need to present an action plan that does these three things:

  1. reframes the solution, not simply as a sales-force execution issue, but as a cross-functional team effort with you as team leader;
  1. presents an executive-team action plan that clearly articulates how each executive can actively help make the company’s quarter;
  1. ensures that your action plan contains key components that start to lay the foundation for a successful next year under your continued leadership.

By demonstrating corporate leadership and showing progress toward a better sales strategy, you buy yourself a little more time to turn the situation around permanently.

Want to learn more? Here’s a detailed discussion of a CSO Action Plan.

Dave Hubbard David Hubbard is a revenue acceleration expert, a pragmatic marketing and sales consultant, a proven business leader, and the CEO of Marketing Outfield. Find him on LinkedIn or contact him for a complimentary consultation

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4 Habits Leaders Should Lose in 2015

leaders good ideas

We tend to start the year with the best of intentions and high hopes. But sometimes our bad habits are hard to shake. This year, think about saying goodbye to these four simple obstacles that often impede success for sales leaders.

1. Operate solely on gut instinct. 

Do you have good business and management instincts? Of course you do — or you wouldn’t have climbed to a leadership position.

On the other hand, we are living in the age of data. Sales leaders who want to take control of their pipeline and forecast must start tracking data and studying analytics now. For example, HubSpot Chief Revenue Officer Mark Roberge leverages science and technology to make the HubSpot sales process truly customer-oriented.

Many sales teams run on blind optimism and the best-guesses of the sales manager. However, a growing abundance of technology and sales-enablement tools are changing the way we think about managing and leading a sales team. It’s important to listen to your gut … but if you ignore data, you’ll get left behind.

2. Make your ideas conform to expected standards. 

Once they reach a certain level of success, some sales leaders play it safe when it comes to ideas. Usually that’s because they’ve become complacent and lost the hunger that once gave them an edge. Consequently they avoid or tamp down any idea that seems too weird, radical, or risky.

However, consider that commodified creativity is a race to the bottom. When you make your idea like everyone else’s, you fail to stand out and differentiate yourself. Follow the advice of author and marketing guru Seth Godin, who said in this TED Talk that bad and bizarre ideas are far preferable to boring or ordinary ideas.

3. Fail to keep learning.

What skills would make you a better sales leader? And how can you help your reps become better sellers?

The beginning of the year is a great time to evaluate everyone’s skill sets and figure out how you and your team can improve in the next 12 months. Should you take a public-speaking course? Hone your coaching skills? Tune into what analysts, authors, and thought leaders are saying about the sales profession? Foster a culture of learning, and improvements will follow.

4. Stress out.

With great responsibility comes great stress. But many leader fall into the trap of thinking about too many things at the same time. This is extremely fatiguing and stress producing.

To stop stressing out, try making a list of other things you must do, and then put it aside so that you don’t have to think about them but won’t worry about forgetting them, either. Stop throughout the day to see if you are relaxed. Are your hands clenched? Is your jaw tight? If so, let your arms hang loosely, unwrinkle your brow, relax your mouth, and breathe deeply.

Make 2015 the year you leave bad habits behind and open yourself up to greater success than you could imagine.

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10 Signs You’re a Great Sales Manager

 

If you agree with these statements, you’re performing exceptionally well in all your roles as manager. If you come up short, it might be time for a management course or a conversation with your own manager to determine how you can do better.

  1. I know what motivates my salespeople.
  2. I’m familiar with their challenges, both professional and personal.
  3. I’m skilled at managing my time.
  4. I’m skilled at organizing my sales team.
  5. I’m a great salesperson, but I don’t step on my reps’ toes when they’re trying to close.
  6. I’m firm but fair.
  7. I always deliver on my promises.
  8. I create a positive environment for my team.
  9. I listen more than I speak.
  10. I act quickly when problems arise, and I challenge my team to come up with solutions.

Adapted from The Essential Sales Management Handbook, by Gerhard Gschwandtner. 

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The Psychology of Making Good Decisions

In his best-selling book, Predictably Irrational, MIT professor of behavioral economics Dan Ariely observed that resisting temptation is a universal human goal, but our failure to self-regulate is the source of much unhappiness. “When I look around, I see people trying their best to do the right thing, whether they are dieters or families vowing to spend less and save more,” he writes. “The struggle for control is all around us.”

To gain more control, Ariely suggests making “precommitments.” When he let his students at MIT set their own deadlines, for example, they missed them. But when he set deadlines for them – providing a “parental” voice – they got their assignments in on time.

“If we can’t save from our paycheck, we can take advantage of our employer’s automatic deduction option,” Ariely notes. “If we don’t have the will to exercise alone regularly, we can make an appointment to exercise in the company of our friends. These are the tools we can commit to in advance, and they may help us be the kind of people we want to be.”

Listen to Ariely’s TED talk below about our ability to control our own decisions.

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Most Excellent Sales Leader: Claire Edmunds

Most Excellent Sales Leader Selling PowerThis feature provides a snapshot of a successful B2B sales leader and his or her accomplishments. To submit a candidate for consideration, email lisa@sellingpower.com with the subject line “Most Excellent Sales Leader.”
 

Selling Power Most Excellent Sales Leader Clare Edmunds Job title: Company founder and CEO

Company: Clarify Solution Selling Ltd., which is headquartered in the United Kingdom

Selling Power (SP): How long have you been in sales?

Fifteen years, and prior to this, five years in fundraising

SP: How many reps do you lead and/or manage?

Clarify is a sales organization. Our entire business is designed to partner with customers with high-value and complex sales processes, to support their goal to create a best-in-class business development capability. Having run a business-development maturity audit, we deliver a range of services to optimize the impact business development has on their enterprise field sales organizations, as evidenced by our work with Tier 1 technology vendors and services companies. Our team consists of 45 business-development managers and directors.

SP: What was the first job you were ever paid to do?

The first job I was ever paid to do was at the local chicken farm in the village where I grew up. It taught me that I never wanted to work with chickens! It was an interesting psychological exercise, as I started to appreciate how my body language affected the behavior of the birds, especially the cockerels, who clearly saw me as competition and would attack if they saw fear! I quickly learned to keep eye contact and move as fast as I could. Later, as I started to explore body language and nonverbal communication in more depth, I was able to reflect on that experience and how our behavior affects our whole environment,not just the humans in it.

SP: What was one of your biggest selling disappointments, and what did it teach you?

When Clarify was set up in 2003, we sold to small, US-based, independent software vendors who were looking to build market share in Europe. These enterprises were all about top-line growth and acquiring customers, including turn-key customers, which would open new markets for them. Our business-development services were judged on how much sales impact we could deliver; we offered a great fit and had some very successful partnerships. When we went to sell to larger, US-based IT vendors, we could tell by the faces of the marketing VPs we met that our message was not working for them, since they were not targeted on pipeline contribution but on generating leads and contacts to fill a sales funnel. Our offer to reduce the volume of leads and increase pipeline conversion and contribution was met with cries of, “But why would we do that? Surely it is a sales job?”

We realized early on that we couldn’t make progress in this market and that, with a few exceptions, buyer behavior is strongly influenced by what is in the best interests of an individual, even when it makes no sense for the business! Thankfully the market has changed dramatically, and we are now successfully working with many blue-chip clients, marketing and sales organizations, to deliver a managed business-development service that is measured on pipeline contribution and aligned to strategic business objectives centered on increasing multiproduct, high-margin sales.

SP: What professional or personal achievement are you most proud of?

I have four beautiful children, and I hope that they would say I am a very present and involved mother. I have worked very hard to be able to give enough to the family and get the balance right alongside a busy and demanding career. I recognize that this is a challenge faced by every parent, not just mothers, and only time will tell whether I got it right, but I hope that I have inspired my children to believe that we can manage our family, relationships, and careers in a fulfilling way that makes a positive contribution to the world.

SP: Share your best tip for managing people.

Cast people well from the beginning, i.e., set them up for success. Always look for and expect the best in people, give specific and honest feedback, and take it personally by enjoying the process of contributing to their success and learning together from their failures. Modify your management and development approach to get the best out of individuals, and set expectations and standards high but within reach. Watch what your best people do best, and use this to develop best practices. When people let you down, and they will, don’t allow yourself to become jaded or cynical; open yourself up for it to happen all over again.

SP: What motivates you to succeed?

Doing a good job, [having] a purpose, and the excitement of seeing how far something or someone can go.

SP: Name at least one leader you admire and why.

My children’s primary school runs a leadership program that encourages all the children to become leaders. This [program appeals] to the leader in each child and sets out how to demonstrate leadership qualities, such as showing courage, motivation, respect, collaboration, and trust. I am hugely encouraged to see the impact this has had on my own children’s understanding of what it means to become a leader, and I greatly admire the headmaster of the school for encouraging the next generation to understand what leadership really means.

SP: What sales-technology tools are your sales reps using right now, and what are the benefits?

My team uses a huge variety of online tools to access and build intelligence and knowledge about the organizations that they are targeting, from professional networking sites to company search tools to online publications, etc. Today, technology is sold to address the needs and issues of the business; buyers are highly educated and don’t want salespeople to sell to them. They want and need help to understand how they can change their current situation to resolve today’s business issues and deliver the future state their business requires. Through multichannel research, our business-development managers access a huge amount of information to equip enterprise salespeople with the information they need to design specific business and uses that enable them to engage senior stakeholders.

Connect with Claire on LinkedIn.

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Four Ways Sales Leaders Can Motivate Their Millennials

By Josiane Feigon

So you think you know who your top performers are?

The Bridge Group and VorsightBP studied more than 2,000 sales professionals, including individual contributors, front-line managers, and directors. The study focused on the management qualities of and tactics used by the most motivated and enthusiastic employees. In the area of job satisfaction,

  • forty-five percent of respondents were “detractors,” or the least likely to recommend a role in their organization to a colleague or friend;
  • twenty-eight percent were “passives” who were not enthusiastic about recommending a role to a colleague or friend;
  • twenty-seven percent were “promoters” who were enthusiastic about recommending a role.

The study identified four keys to successfully motivating sales reps, focusing on motivational influencers:

  1. “My manager is hardly available for any coaching.” Reps who reported more than three hours of coaching per month were twice as likely to be promoters. The catch: the reps reported 40 percent fewer hours per month spent on coaching than their managers reported, so reps are not perceiving the same value in the coaching that managers see. Managers should make it a priority to get in sync with their teams on this topic.
  2. “What’s next after I accomplish that?” Identifying skill-development goals will make reps three times more likely to be promoters, according to the study. Reps (and this is especially true of your Millennials) really value a sense of progression and achievement in the workplace. If a rep has a development goal in mind, and he or she is receiving regular coaching to get there, then the rep is going to be much less likely to get antsy and feel like it’s time to move on.
  3. “Can you explain my comp plan to me one more time? I don’t get it.” Three out of every 10 reps in the study reported being unclear about their incentive-compensation plan, a state that correlated to a 300 percent drop in engagement (i.e., they were three times less likely to be promoters). Three out of 10 isn’t overwhelming, but considering how motivation – or the lack thereof – is contagious on the sales floor, it’s definitely enough to be influential.
  4. “I’ve been here for three months and believe I’m ready for the next step.” The study reported a significant gap between reps’ expectations about when they should be promoted to a new role. The less experience the rep had, the less time he or she thought it should take. This is a frequently cited issue when managing new hires who are Millennials. It’s also a major reason why having early conversations about career-path expectations is one major motivation factor cited in this study.
Josiane Feigon
Today’s post is by Josiane Feigon, author of Smart Sales Manager
and 
Smart Selling on the Phone and Online and founder of TeleSmart Communications.
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Four Things CEOs Need to Understand about Sales Management

By Gretchen Gordon

CEOs sales managers

The most productive, world-class organizations have dedicated sales managers, but not every CEO understands how to make the most of this very important role. Here are four things executives need to understand about the role of a dedicated sales manager.

1. Think before you promote your best sales rep to a management role. The role of sales manager requires a significantly different skill set from the role of a salesperson. In salespeople, we are seeking some combination of skills that might include hunting, qualifying, selling consultatively, closing, farming, and account managing. In sales managers, we seek the skills of coaching, motivating, holding salespeople accountable to behaviors, and recruiting. Evaluate sales-manager candidates for specific sales manager skill sets.

2. Hold your sales manager accountable. Both you and your sales manager need to focus on four disciplines: goals, pipeline management, activity, and coaching – but at different levels. For example, when the sales manager asks each salesperson about items in the pipeline, you need to request that the sales manager report back to you about the health and predictability of the pipeline. Make sure he or she supports each opportunity’s position in the pipeline. Ask the sales manager specific questions regarding the activity of the team. (For example, ask if the team had 20 first appointments this week. If not, why not? What is going to be done differently next week?) This reinforces the questions the sales manager should be asking of each salesperson each week.

3. Be smart about the way you compensate your sales manager. It’s rarely productive to ask sales managers to sell in addition to manage a team. If it is more lucrative for the sales manager to close his or her own deals as opposed to growing revenue through the team, then the manager will be conflicted about where to spend his or her time. The manager may even compete with salespeople for deals. As CEO, you must be the sales manager to your sales manager, with scheduled weekly meetings about his or her behavior as a salesperson in addition to the scheduled meetings to discuss sales-management results. If you want the company to grow and the revenue base to increase, you will need to compensate the manager more for driving results through the team than for individual production. Here is a case study about how a sales manager who was also the top seller eclipsed the sales team until we helped realign his effort to drive more business through the team.

4. When necessary, know how to fill the role yourself. In smaller organizations, sometimes the CEO must function as the sales manager (click here for the CEO as Sales Manager Toolkit). To perform successfully in this role, you MUST

  • work with each salesperson to calculate what his or her activities need to be, and get agreement on a specific activity plan;
  • have frequent, scheduled meetings with all sales team members to focus their attention on the important activities for that day or week;
  • meet one-on-one with each salesperson on a weekly basis to hold each of them accountable for agreed-upon activities;
  • “pre-brief “and debrief sales calls to help team members improve;
  • go on sales calls to help coach team members (but refrain from taking over the call);
  • review each salesperson’s pipeline with him or her on a regular basis, and ask probing questions about each opportunity, e.g., “What is the agreed-to next step? What two deals are you going to move next week? This deal has been sitting here a long time; either move it or blow it up.”

If you cannot yet afford to employ a dedicated sales manager, make a specific, strategic plan for getting there. If you want to maximize sales growth, you must have a high-performing, dedicated sales manager.

Gretchen Gordon
Gretchen Gordon is founder and president of Braveheart Sales Performance, which improves the sales effectiveness of midmarket companies by transforming underperforming sales teams. Contact Gretchen at ggordon@braveheartsales.com or 614-396-6544.

[Image via Flickr / inertia NC]

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Manage Your Time in Four Simple Steps

time management

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How much would you pay a consultant to help your managers become more efficient and effective?

In 1904,  Charles M. Schwab (then president of the second-largest steel producer in the country) asked public-relations pioneer Ivy Ledbetter Lee how his managers could manage their time more effectively. Lee sent the following list and told Schwab to send him a check for whatever he thought the adviceIvy Ledbetter Lee  was worth.

1. Make a list of the most important things you have to do tomorrow.
2. Arrange them in order of importance.
3. The next day, work on the most important task until it’s completed.
4. Tackle the other tasks in priority order.

Schwab knew the value of simplicity; he sent Lee a check for $25,000 (the equivalent of about $250,000 today).

How do you manage your time? What tools do you use to help you prioritize and get things done? Share your tips in the comments section. 

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