How to Prioritize Your Top Priorities

When everyone is asking you to do something and everything seems important, where do you start?

In sales, you have endless reminders pinging your desktop, a never-ending list of people to call and email, follow-ups stacking up higher than your commission checks (amirite?), and on top of it all, you have to devote time to revising and improving your process. It all gets overwhelming, and at times, paralyzing.

There’s nothing worse than staring at a long list of tasks and feeling a loss of where to start. We’ve all been there, but particularly for those of us who usually procrastinate in ordinary life (will the Real Chronic Procrastinators please stand up?), a nonspecific, yet urgent task list can send productivity spiraling:

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Whether you’re an SDR or full-stack AE, your to-do list is at great risk of becoming unruly; I get it. Your day is a never-ending stream of choices. Oftentimes it feels like everything is business-critical (and sometimes it really is), but even if that’s the case, you still won’t be able to do everything you want to in the same moment. You’re left with no choice but to pick your “first fire” to douse.

Here’s how our team at LeadUp does it. No one gets anywhere without asking questions, so we’re giving you our best prioritization questions to put in your toolbox:

1. TOP PRIORITY: Which one (or ones) of the items on my list is business-critical?

Business-critical scenarios resemble something like losing a deal you’ve been working on closing for months, or realizing a client is on the brink of churning. These kinds of tasks should not be put off just because you have something else due EOD or because you are supposed to follow up with someone (this is when having perspective can be one of your greatest strengths). Business is not a game of fate; it’s a game of determination. Meaning in order to win, you have to make your own luck, but not excuses. If a high-risk event is happening, putting off your other tasks will not cause your to-do list to explode; it will simply move things around. Don’t be afraid to place some things above others. Business-critical items are always your top priorities.

2. SECONDARY PRIORITY: Which items have immediate impact?

It’s important to note the difference in questions 1 and 2. If something business-critical is happening, then you have a fire to douse as soon as possible. But something that has immediate impact could be getting a meeting on the calendar by making a quick confirmation call with a hot lead. Things that have immediate impact don’t necessarily take a long time to complete, but they will change the game, making them your second highest priorities.

3. TERTIARY PRIORITY: Which client is at the greatest risk?

If you have a client in the red zone (no, not the football kind), then you have a spark that could do one of two things: (a) turn into a fire or (b) be stamped out. It’s up to you to tackle a problem before it turns into something business-critical. So train your eyes to identify these based off of your personal responsibilities and your overall business priorities. Address these issues next so you can stay on top of them.

4. Are any of these risks/business-critical situations lost causes?

Hopefully this doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. If you know something is non-recoverable, don’t waste time being a hero. Accept the situation and move on, just be sure to analyze the scenario without bias so that you can be confident in your decision.

5. Does anyone on your team have info that you don’t have?

There’s no way to tackle a problem without all of the information. Your team can be your resource and your competition at the same time; that’s why it’s so important to cultivate relationships as you go. Ask for advice and gather all of the relevant information before you try to put out a fire; otherwise, you will probably fail.

6. What will take the least time? The most?

Some of us take great enjoyment from striking a line through something on a to-do list (dare I say it–some of us even add unexpected tasks to our to-do list, just for the sole purpose of being able to cross them out…yeah, I see you guys). But even for those of us who don’t, tackling a simple and quick task can be just what you need to clear your head before getting to something bigger. Unless something business critical is happening, try to get one of these small items crossed off if you’re feeling a block. The fact of the matter is, these kinds of things rarely make it to the top of your priority list, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Whenever you feel your mind slipping and you’re trending towards procrastination, at least procrastinate productively.

It’s helpful to start off every day asking yourself these questions. And if tasks seem to be stacking up all at once midday, take 5 minutes to readjust so your priorities are logical. It’ll make much more of a difference in your daily effectiveness, and it will also give you the headspace to believe in yourself enough to finish it all.

It’s important to remember that your process is yours, and yours alone. You have to find what works best for you and take advice where it applies. We are sharing a system that works well for us in the hopes that it frees up time to find a long-term solution that works best for you.

Good luck finding your first fire today.

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On Making the Audience the Hero: An Incredible[s-themed] Approach to Cold Contacts

I have to be honest upfront: I did not come up with this wonderful principle. However, one of the people I admire most did, and he was inspired by the great teams at Pixar (hence our theme for today).

When I first heard the phrase “make the audience the hero,” it was in relation to giving tours at the one and only University of Georgia (go dawgs!). Our boss urged us to understand that in order to really get our message across, the story couldn’t be about us. Rather, it needed to be about the people we were telling the story to. The high school students visiting our campus didn’t necessarily want to hear about their tour guide’s college experiences; they wanted to see if they would fit into the culture of the campuses they visited–to see if those experiences the tour guides talked about could be their own. This meant that there was a balance to reach, and that the goal should be for our audiences to realize their potential, not to remind ourselves of our own.

This ideal inspires both my personal and professional writing, and whenever I get stuck on my writing for LeadUp, I remember this principle. And as soon as I do, I feel like this:

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I’m smiling and I’m running off to write–motivated by bettering those who receive my emails. Making the audience the hero is key for my role. It is the non-sales differentiation that make my emails stand out in inboxes rather than get filed away.

For the salespeople currently reading this, you’re probably thinking: “Jessie, this is old news, I glorify my prospects all the time.” But that’s not what I’m getting at here.

Although heroes commonly achieve glory in the stories we hear–such as the Incredibles family and all of their Super friends saving their town from Syndrome–your prospects’ goals are very different from the superheroes’ listed above. Therefore, stringing together compliments and praises to glorify your prospect doesn’t actually make them feel like the hero. Those tactics just flatter them, which may work in some cases, but chances are they can see through it.

In other words…

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Take the BS–the capes–out. If your cape can get caught in an air turbine, swept up by an elevator, or stuck on a missile, then your tendency to buff up emails or calls with old sales tricks will likely lead you to the same fate as those unfortunate Supers.

Instead, carefully think through what it means to be in your prospect’s shoes. Be truly empathetic. Do they really need what you’re offering? Honestly, sometimes the answer may be no. But, as the salesperson who believes in their product, you know that your offering can improve your prospect’s work life, even if they don’t understand how yet.

Making your audience the hero is the solution. Adding value to your prospect’s day is not hard–it just takes a shift in priorities. It’s a mindset that has a great effect on your outreach. Rather than giving a marketing pitch on your product, empathize with the challenges your prospect may be facing–the challenges that your product can help with. Rather than sending them another client testimonial, send them a TED talk you came across that reminded you of why you were reaching out to them in the first place. And most importantly, explain why you are making those decisions. Remember, the audience needs to envision how they fit into your offering–they are the student looking for a university where they will fit in and the kid in the theater feeling empowered by another hero’s journey–so don’t bombard them with your story; let them rewrite their own with you in it.

Try this strategy today and see what happens. Remind yourself of those five words and think of Mr. Incredible when you do it; your prospect should feel like Mr. or Mrs. Incredible, not you.

Good luck with your mission.

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First Month, First Lesson

I started my job at LeadUp exactly four weeks ago. During that time, I’ve learned a ton. But most of all, I’ve learned that there is so much out there that I have yet to learn…stay with me here.

This idea comes from a story a great mentor once shared–I’m going to call it “The Circle Principle.” Imagine you draw a circle in the middle of a white board. Everything inside that circle represents what you know, and everything outside of the circle represents all of the knowledge and wisdom in the world that you don’t know. As you gain more knowledge, your circle grows, absorbing more and more from the surrounding empty space on the board. But as your circle expands, so does its circumference. Therefore, you are touching more of the “unknowns;” you “know” more that isn’t know. Essentially, the more you know, the more aware you are of everything you do not know.

Four weeks ago, I stepped into an apartment on the beltline in Atlanta, but I also walked right out of my existing circle and into the blank space on the board–attempting to stay above water as I waded through all that I didn’t know.

At first, it very overwhelming. With no sales background whatsoever, I needed to learn the process and the game in a matter of days. Thankfully, the start-up culture is a fast-paced one, and I listened and observed until I could safely float. Every day I come in, I learn more, which builds my ability to navigate everything on my own.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take you through a few of the things that have found new residence inside my circle on the whiteboard. The first, and maybe one of the most important, is this: getting to the point.

My job title is the “LeadUp Content Strategist,” meaning that my main duty is to create email campaigns for our clients to send out to cold prospects in the hopes that one–or preferably many–will bite.

That means that I need to be concise and purposeful with every word I choose to place on someone’s screen. Because in all honesty, each of those words represents a millisecond I have taken from that person’s day. They might not need what I am offering and they definitely do not owe me any of their time. Therefore, it is essential that I use their time wisely.

Even so, it’s very hard for me as a writer to resist crafting perfectly-worded and clever emails that I spend hours revising. I want to make my words perfect, even if someone is only going to spend two seconds on them before sending them to the trash bin.  

But those types of emails, the ones that are laboriously crafted to appear conversational, don’t work. Trust me. A better strategy–strap in, this one is pretty crazy–is to only give yourself roughly 30 minutes to write an email chain….

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I know, I know, it’s crazy. But don’t look at me like that, anonymous reader! You’re scaring me.  

For my job, my time is much better spent getting to know the clients I am representing, rather than laboring over the placement of words and commas in the messages that represent them. Once I know the client, I can portray their key messages with ease and swiftness.

So I’ve got my first priority: getting to know the company I’m representing. The very close second to that priority is getting to know the people I will be reaching out to. But when you’re sending emails to around 800 people/month/client, that is nearly impossible–except that it isn’t.

Rather than learn every detail about Sue from HR’s life, I am going to spend a significant amount of time learning what HR professionals care about. What motivates them? What common struggles do they have? What humor and tone will they identify with? Once I know that information as well as I know the company I am representing, then I should only need 30 minutes to write a few very straight-forward emails that will show Sue that I can help her with this really great product/service. Because meanwhile, this is what Sue is thinking:

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Which brings me to my next point (thanks for the handoff, Sue): prioritizing information. Choosing which points are the most important to hit and presenting them so that they are easily digestible is no simple task. Thankfully, there is another lesson I’ve gained from years of writing (s/o to my mentor once again for giving me this wisdom) that always helps to put what is most important into perspective. It is a very simple principle that, quite honestly, demonstrated to me why I should take this job in the first place. I knew I could be successful in my role because I have the following knowledge:

To make the audience the hero of the story.

With that in mind, the sales process completely changes. I would tell you all about it now, but I want to keep you in suspense for next week where I will delve much deeper into this principle. For now, congratulations! You made it to the end of my first blog post. And I’ve made it through my first month of work. Let’s celebrate together by continuing this blog reader-writer relationship for a little while longer :). Comment below and maybe we can expand each other’s Circle of Knowledge by sharing ideas.

-Jessie