When There's Too Much on Your Plate

We don't put soup, steak, and dessert in the same dish, and it's the same with selling: Focus on one course at a time to taste success

By Michelle Nichols

Recently, I read an article which suggested it is folly for businesspeople to get caught up in choosing between Direction A or Direction B because -- wait for it, folks -- they should just choose both A and B! As logic goes, that argument sounds an awful lot like my reasoning when I stroll down Dessert Alley at the local buffet restaurant. Cherry pie or the chocolate cake? I know, I tell myself, why not have one of each! Instead of making a choice, I listen to my inner child, who still wants to have it all, regardless of the consequences.

A similar story gets played out in sales offices every day, where salespeople and their managers also want to have it all by selling everything to everyone, everywhere. This reluctance to make hard choices, however, can mean that they don't end up selling much of anything to anyone. The reason: They didn't choose a sales strategy that required them to focus their efforts.

This brings to mind author Robert G. Allen, who wrote Multiple Streams of Income and made that phrase a common business concept. Trouble is, it's often misapplied. In selling, blind faith in Allen's slogan can encourage reps to pursue multiple streams of customers, which can easily lead to businesses losing their sense of direction and going astray.


  Consider the small-business owner I was talking to just the other day. Her current sales strategy hasn't been producing the sort of bottom-line results she wants, so she has been exploring the idea of adding another stream of income. Terrific in theory, I told her, but terribly hard to execute. No matter how many streams of income she tries grafting into her business plan, there will still be only one of her to manage the sales team and supervise all the work. The more streams she chases, the less energy and resources she has to devote to each one. I didn't need a crystal ball to see where it would lead: a scattering of effort and, just to add insult to injury, diminishing sales results.

I'll grant you, variety is the spice of life -- as a friend of mine pointed out, that's why sultans have harems. However, the smaller your workforce, the more thought needs to be put into focusing sales efforts in order to maximize results. I have a sign on my desk that makes that point every time I glance at it: "The trick is to focus on the best opportunities."

Think of focus as photographers do -- as a beam of light converging on a single point. In sales, you can't point your lens at 50 different targets at the same time. That will only produce a fuzzy picture, the sort where you miss all the little details that really matter. However, once you choose a specific target, that narrow beam of illumination can reveal the path to the best opportunities.

Like many of my peers, I am a child of the Sixties, when the fight for equality was important. To be successful in selling, however, we must face the truth: Not all customers, industries, and opportunities are of equal value, especially as you grapple with decisions about how best to allocate limited resources. You must make and execute a sales strategy that focuses your energy.


  I'll admit, focus can be scary. Using the earlier example, by choosing Direction A and not B, you forgo the benefits that selling to B might have brought you. But bear in mind that the risk of trying to pursue both A and B (and maybe even C and D, if you're a real glutton for punishment) is even greater. It's the same as trying to swim north, south, east, and west simultaneously. Well, guess what? The result will be pretty similar, too -- you'll flounder about, get nowhere, and, quite possibly, go down for the third time. By taking your best shots at your best opportunities, you increase your odds of success in selling.

And remember, if you choose to focus on Direction A for now, that doesn't mean you can't return later to explore Direction B. And when you do, you'll be in a stronger position because, as I keep stressing, your focus will be narrow and intense.

But don't take my word. Listen to the great writer and thinker Henry David Thoreau, who once observed, "Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand." He was writing about the appeal of the simple life in his cabin on Walden Pond, but your selling focus will benefit from the same wisdom. Making choices about where to focus your selling efforts can be tough, but the discipline pays big dividends. Now, put back that second dessert. Happy Selling!

Michelle Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston, Tex. She welcomes your questions and comments. You can visit her web site at www.verysavvyselling.biz or contact her at michelle.nichols@verysavvyselling.biz

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