Best Practices for Using Microsoft Outlook from a Sales Perspective

Arrow-Tip #14 Where Did the Week Go – Using the Microsoft Outlook Calendar for More Effective Time Management

In Arrow-Tip #13 I discussed how Microsoft Outlook could be used to manage your billable hours, but tracking the rest of your time can be almost as important. I spent some time this week interviewing organizational development expert and President of Resource Management Associates Linda Carter who will tell you that it is important to track where you spend your time in order to make sure you are spending most of it on high pay off activities.

High pay off activities are those activities that contribute the most to your success – for a sales person, these activities include time in front of prospects face to face, on the phone qualifying and setting meetings with prospects, or expanding business with existing clients. An example of a low pay off activity for a sales person is spending excessive time dealing with customer services issues if you have a customer service group whose core function is to handle those issues or preparing multiple reports with overlapping information. Microsoft Outlook 2003 and later versions actually makes this a very simple task because of the great color coding function (see example in thumbnail below).

Day/Week/Month Color Coded Calendar View

Outlook gives you the ability to color code types of appointments on your calendar which make it very quick and easy to get a visual snap shot of where you are spending your time during the work week. Outlook assigns standard labels for each color offered, but you can edit those (in Outlook 2003 – in Outlook 2007, colors are attached to categories). Here are some sample labels you might want to consider for Outlook calendar color coding:

  • Client – Billable (great if you bill hours)
  • Client – Non-billable
  • Business Development
  • Marketing
  • Prospecting (great for sales people)
  • Client Farming (great for sales people)
  • Networking
  • Administrative
  • Personal
  • Vacation/Holiday
  • Travel Time
  • Volunteer
  • Vendor

If you have set goals for yourself, the color coding on your calendar will be a great reflection of how well your time management supports those goals. For example, let’s say you are an outside sales person and you label green color coding as “Prospecting”. If you have a goal to increase your commissions from new business by 50% then you’ll want to make sure there is plenty of green on your weekly calendar.

Linda recommends that sales people break their high pay off activities into four classifications with unique color codes including:

  1. Prospecting (1st appointments and telemarketing)
  2. Sales Cycle Progression (subsequent appointments moving a sale forward in the sales cycle)
  3. Closing (meetings where sales are closed)
  4. Client Expansion (meeting to expand business within existing accounts).

Linda suggests that you spend 80% of your work week on high pay off activities – especially during high pay off hours (typically from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM and then from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM). According to Linda “It is easy to convince yourself that you are busy by adding several appointments to your calendar, but color coding those appointments according to activity type really helps keep you honest with yourself.” She also suggests that by using all four unique color codes, you can easily get a feel for whether or not you have a good distribution of activities across the sales cycle – not enough prospecting this week means not much new business in the coming weeks.

Linda also suggests that you block off 15 minutes at the end of every work day to plan the next day and about 30 minutes to an hour at the end of each week to plan for the following week. Most of us block off our planning time at the beginning of the day, but Linda points out that by moving your planning session to the end of the day you will get it done more quickly and you’ll effectively start each work day when you wake up since you already have your agenda set. I know that my 15 minute morning planning session often ends up expanding to an hour over coffee so I’m going to give that suggestion a try myself. The easiest way to enforce this policy for yourself is to set a recurring appointment on your calendar for each work day 15 minutes before quitting time.

A big thank you to Linda who has helped me and several of my customers and associates more effectively manage our time and focus on our high pay off activities.

This post was written by MistyKhan and published on January 3, 2008 in the following categories: Arrow Tips, Calendar, Front Page. You can leave trackbacks on this post at this address. To follow the comments on this post subscribe to the RSS feed.


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