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Conquering the Biggest Enemy of the Salesperson

By John Chapin

A salesperson’s most important activity is talking to qualified prospects. The biggest enemy of the salesperson is anything that distracts him or her from working on that most important activity. Distractions come in many forms, some obvious and some not so obvious. Here are those distractions along with their solutions. 

Seven Distractions that Keep You from Your Most Important Activity: 

Distraction #1: Cell phone, e-mail, text messages, false emergencies, and other similar items

Recently I was helping a call center increase their number of calls. The first thing I did was observe everyone to see how they typically make calls. I watched one individual pick up the phone, start to dial, and then stop because he got a text message. He read it, responded, and then went back the phone, hung it up, and started to redial. Just then an e-mail chime sounded and he looked to see who it was from. Once again, he hung up, then redialed. He got voicemail, left a message, then brought up his CRM to enter the information for that call. For the next half hour I watched as callers got distracted by everything from the above items, to trips to the bathroom and to fill up water bottles and cups of coffee. As a group, they averaged 2 ½ calls in the 30 minute period. Yes, one call every 12 minutes. 

The key here is single-minded focus. Ideally you are time-blocking as many items as possible, but especially your most important: prospecting calls. If you’re in the office, put together a prospect list and then remove all distractions. Shut off your cell phone and e-mail, clear all paperwork and other items off your desk, and focus. Make notes right on the list and enter notes into the CRM later. You may even put up a sign up saying you cannot be interrupted. In any case, you have one focus for at least the next hour: make as many calls as possible. If you’re on the road, again, focus on calls. Do not be distracted by the phone or other items in or outside the car that may prevent you from making as many prospecting calls as possible. The group above, once they removed all distractions, was able to average 13 calls in 30 minutes as opposed to 2 ½. 

Distraction #2: Paperwork

Paperwork, other than filling out an order with a customer, is for after or before prime prospecting hours. It’s okay to make a quick note, record something on an order form, or write down something you need to work on later, but you are never working on letters, proposals, or doing anything that can be done off-hours.  

Distraction #3: Servicing accounts

You may occasionally need to service accounts, but this should be done to a minimum and it should only be done for the 20% of your accounts that are giving you 80% of your revenues. I see many salespeople get adamant about servicing every aspect of every account. While they justify this as taking care of the customer, they are really doing it to avoid the hard work (fear and discomfort) of prospecting. You may have to do some servicing, just do as little as possible. 

Distraction #4: Looking for a quicker, faster, easier way to prospect other than picking up the phone or calling in-person

All prospecting should be done either in-person or by phone. Skype and other similar methods are also okay. The point is to be talking live, in real time with prospects. E-mail, social media, mailings, and other similar indirect methods that don’t allow you to actually talk to someone, are distractions from effective prospecting and nothing more than another way to avoid the hard work (again, fear and discomfort) of making live calls. You can and should still use these methods, but only after you have reached out via phone or in-person. 

Distraction #5: Talking to prospects who are not qualified

Stop pretending that ugly duckling is a swan. You know the truth in your gut. Either get rid of them immediately or give them one last chance to do business with you. 

Distraction #6: Majoring in minor things

Minor things include: cleaning your desk, rereading the letter you’re about to send out, doing preparation work, and all other “minor” items you should be doing before or after prime time. 

Distraction #7: Anything else that gets in the way of calling on qualified prospects

This could be a doctor’s visit, a car accident, an earthquake, weather, friends wanting to chat, or anything else under the sun. Regardless of what happens during the day, your primary focus needs to remain on hitting your daily number of qualified prospects.

Make sure anything you have control over does not interfere with “prime time.” Do not schedule doctor or dentist appointments, the plumber, the electrician, or anything similar during prime hours. When something unexpected arises, that you don’t have control over, like a car accident, weather, or similar event, ask yourself, “How can I still get all my calls in?” A few years back, the number one sales rep for a Fortune 500 company was out making prospecting calls when he got in an accident and totaled his car. He was okay, just some minor bumps, bruises, and cuts, and his pants got torn a little. Though paramedics urged him to go to the hospital just to be safe, he refused and jumped in a cab to complete his sales calls. While making his calls, he wondered how he may actually be able to use the car accident as an advantage. Two prospects came to mind that he was unable to get anywhere with. He thought, “Today’s the day.” He walked into each prospect’s office with his ripped pants and obvious cuts on his nose and forehead, approached the receptionist, stuck out his card, announced who he was there and see and finished with, “You have no idea what I’ve been through today to see him.” Each receptionist looked at him with some uneasiness, slowly took his card, and went off to get the prospect. The end result: he was able to see both prospects, tell a good story, show his dedication and commitment, and he eventually got one of those prospects as a customer who, down the road, became one of his largest. 

Your most important task every day is hitting or exceeding your prospecting numbers. Period. It is always the most important thing you do. Your creative brain will either come up with excuses to avoid this hard work or find ways to get it done regardless of what comes up in your day, including car accidents. Use your head and find all ways, both obvious and creative, to prevent distractions and get as many calls in as possible. 

John Chapin is a sales and motivational speaker and trainer. For his free newsletter, or if you would like him to speak at your next event, go to: John has over 29 years of sales experience as a number one sales rep and is the author of the 2010 sales book of the year (Axiom Book Awards): Sales Encyclopedia. For permission to reprint, e-mail:


John Chapin 

# 1 Sales Rep w 29+ years’ experience, Author of the 2010 sales book of the year: SALES ENCYCLOPEDIA (Axiom Book Awards) – Also the largest sales book on the planet (678 pages).


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