In Sales or Marketing? Focus…and throw out the Laundry List!

If you’re a salester or marketer, you have to figure out what you’re not doing.

Before reading past the follow question, give yourself up to 30 seconds to answer. Question: what are your priorities for this week? <30 seconds passes…..> OK, it doesn’t much matter what your priorities are (how would I be able to judge anyway) but it does matter how many items you listed. I contend that unless this is an unusually busy week, your list should be 5 items or fewer. If you listed 3 or fewer, give yourself a pat on the back and an internal “A” on your report card.

Marketers and sales people too often treat their task list like a laundry list—bunch of stuff you know needs to get done sometime. All of it gets approximately equal attention…just like both the old rag and your favorite golf shirt in your laundry basket. Huge mistake.

I’m a believer in mastering first principles and applying them to various situations. The first principle at work in abandoning the Laundry List is opportunity cost. An old boss of mine put it very succinctly back in ’01, “Opportunity costs are real costs…whether you understand them yet or not.” Opportunity cost does not just apply to academics and MBA geeks. We all have limited time for work, we certainly cannot do everything we might, and so we must choose how that time is spent. For the market-facing professional, do things first that make the most money the fastest. When that stuff is in hand (waiting to hear from a client, the engineering team, whatever…) move on to the next most valuable task. Sometimes that “next thing” is something you enjoy doing and sometimes it isn’t. If you’re aware that the most important task isn’t your favorite, you’re well on your way to compensating to make it happen somehow because you know it’s good business.

So here’s a handy list of 3; my personal favorite number of priorities:

  1. Choose 3-5 items at the most. If you have 6 or 7 priorities, start seriously doubting whether they’re really priorities. If you have a dozen or more, you certainly have a laundry list.
  2. Don’t be afraid to “miss something”. If you keep the laundry list, you will certainly miss something—attending to the high-value opportunities properly! Fold or check your weak hands and double down on your strong ones.
  3. This idea doesn’t apply (certainly not in full force) to all roles throughout an organization. Some folks have to attend to everything on their desk…certain client services people and folks in accounting come immediately to mind. Logistics people. There are certainly others. However, you market-facing folks need to see the necessary differences in your approach to your colleagues in other functions.