Excerpted from 11 Secrets of Time Management for Sales People by Dave Kahle.  Copyright Career Press.

Picture the way a sailboat operates. Its majestic sails catch the wind and power the boat forward. But if a sailboat were only equipped with sails, it would be impossible to steer. It would be blown aimlessly across the water, continuously responding to the constantly shifting direction and velocity of the wind. In order to be manageable, a sailboat needs, deep beneath the bottom of its hull, a keel. A keel is a heavy appendage that extends deep into the water and holds the sailboat down. You may remember the year that the United States lost America’s Cup race for the first time in over 100 years. The culprit? The notorious winged keel on the Australian boat. It was the keel, not the sails that made the difference.

A sailboat with a keel and no sails will sit motionless in the water. On the other hand, a sailboat with sails and no keel will blow whichever way the wind pushes it. It’s the dynamic tension created by those two opposing forces—that which powers it in response to the wind and that which holds it back—that provides the sailboat the ability to be directed no matter what the course and character of the winds. The secret to its power lies in the balance between the two opposing forces. A perfectly balanced sailboat, where the two opposing forces precisely complement each other, is a sailboat operating at its peak.

So it is in the life of a salesperson. In order to make the most effective use of time, a salesperson must stay in balance—perfectly positioned in the dynamic tension between opposing life forces.

The sails in the life of a salesperson are those things that speed you up, that accelerate your growth and your success, that energize you and empower you. The keels are those things that hold you down, that fasten you to ideas and people, that limit your behavior and reduce your choices.

If you are going to be an effective time manager, you need to balance the driving forces with the limiting forces in your life. You need to live within the zone of dynamic tension between those two pressures so that you can be your most effective all the time.

Think about it. If you are not as effective as you could be, you are wasting a good deal of your time. Even one sales call made when you are not at your best could be a waste of time. Remember that smart time management has far more to do with effectiveness than efficiency.

If you are in balance, you are working at your highest level of effectiveness. Staying in balance keeps you at your best, day in and day out, week in and week out, monthly, yearly, for the long term. A sailboat coursing along in the zone between the two forces is one that is operating as close to perfect as possible. It’s an experience of beauty, a thrill that requires almost no effort on the part of the sailor.

So, too, is a salesperson sailing ahead at the intersection of opposing forces. An effortless zone. Living in balance is the ultimate effectiveness strategy. It allows you to be at your peak most of the time, and that means you are operating at maximum effectiveness.  (You may also enjoy: Are You Serious About Your Job?)

Life Sails for the Salesperson

What are some of the sails you need to first build into your life, and then to continually trim and adjust?

  • Acceptance of personal responsibility.
  • A propensity to take risks.
  • An attitude of openness.

Acceptance of Personal Responsibility

It is amazing how liberating a real sense of personal responsibility can be. It’s also amazing how few people really experience it.

It’s far more popular to be a victim. We have all shaken our heads sadly over a newspaper story about someone who commits some act of irresponsibility, and then successfully sues someone else for millions of dollars. In our litigious world, being a victim often pays. That is an unfortunate consequence of an unhealthy belief.

As long as we view ourselves as victims, we’re unable to change our circumstances and achieve better results. It is not our fault that we’re not doing better, we tell ourselves. Someone else caused it. And because it’s someone else’s doing, the power to fix it and make it better is with someone else. We’re powerless to fix it.

While few people admit it or even realize it consciously, this victim attitude is very common and embraced to some degree by most of us. This is especially true of salespeople, who could always do better if only something were different—something that someone else controls. If only we had lower prices…our quality was better…the boss was more understanding …customer service was more responsive. You know the litany because you’ve chanted it.

My wife is a crisis counselor. One of the biggest eye-openers for her occurred when she realized that she was counseling the same people over and over again. You’d think, as she did, that a crisis would be an isolated event. Not so. Many of her clients find themselves lurching from one crisis to another. Why? Because they don’t make the changes in their behavior and character which got them into the crises in the first place. At some deep level, they see themselves as victims, not personally responsible for their own character, their own behavior, and the consequences that behavior brings.

A few years ago we visited the country of Albania, just after the communist government fell. We stayed in a government villa close to the main square in the capital city of Tirana. In the morning, our driver would show up and we’d go off for the day’s events. We’d pass the square and see thousands of people milling around. In the evening, on our way back to the villa, we’d repeat the experience. After a couple of days, we noticed that the same people were there in the morning and the afternoon, day after day.

When we asked the driver what they were doing, he replied, “Nothing. They are just waiting around for someone to tell them what to do.”

A generation of repressive, dictatorial government had robbed the population of the ability to think for themselves, to assume personal responsibility for their situation.

I had a personal experience that brought this lesson home to me in a way I will never forget. I had been the number one salesperson in the nation for a company—my first full-time professional sales job. I had it made: adequate salary, good benefits, company car, bonus potential, and the respect of my employer and colleagues. But the opportunities were limited, and I decided to move on to a job that was 180 degrees different. I took a position selling surgical staplers to hospitals. It was a huge leap from the secure job I had to one that paid straight commission, required you to buy your own samples and literature from the company, and provided only six months of a draw to begin.

But I was cocky, filled with the success of my previous job, and sure that I could make this work also. I wasn’t hasty. I looked at the amount of existing business in the territory I was slated to get and determined that if I could double the business within six months, I’d be earning close to what I was accustomed to earning. Then, as I increased the business, my income and lifestyle would illustrate the difference.

It all sounded good. I left my old job and arrived in New York City for six weeks of intensive training on the new one. During the time I was there, my district manager moved on and was replaced. When I arrived home after the training, the new manager was anxious to meet with me. In our first meeting, before I had a chance to begin working, he informed me that he had revised the sales territories. The territory I thought I had—the one for which I was hired—was not the one I was going to get. Instead, I was going to receive just a fraction of it.

The new territory only contained about 1/3 of the existing business of the previous one. This change meant my plans for making a living were shot. It now became an impossible task.

I was upset and angry. How could they do that to me? I had five kids to support. I immediately began to look for another job, determined to quickly leave this unethical, uncaring company.

Things got worse. As I interviewed with several companies, I discovered they saw me as the problem. Instead of understanding what the company had done to me, they thought I was an opportunist who was looking for an easy way out. It became clear that no one else was going to hire me!

I grew more and more angry and bitter. In addition, I had little success selling the staplers. After six months, my temporary draw came to an end. I owed the company $10,000, was making almost no money, and had no prospects for another job. I felt squeezed between the proverbial rock and a hard place. I was a victim of a dirty deal.

Then, out of the blue one day, I had a revelation. It was me! The problem was me! Yes, the company had treated me poorly. Yes, they had been unethical and uncaring. But the product was still exciting, and the opportunity still great. The real problem was my attitude—my bitterness and anger were getting in the way of everything.

I was responsible for my own behavior, my own thoughts, and my own attitude. When I realized that it was me, I felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. If the problem was me, then I could change it! If the problem was somebody else, then I was a victim, and powerless to do anything about it. What a motivational and exhilarating realization!

I began to work on my attitude. I began to take control of my thoughts. I looked up Bible verses that were very inspiring. Verses like, “If God is for you, who can be against you?” “If you have faith like a mustard seed…,” I wrote them down on 3 x 5 cards. Then, as I drove into my territory every day along I-96 in Detroit, I held them in my hand on the steering wheel and read them over and over to myself. Slowly I began to do away with my bitter attitude, and replace it with hope and expectation.

My results began to change also. Things began to go better. Six months later, I had paid off the debt to the company, and was making more money than I thought was possible. The job became more fun, more financially rewarding, and more fulfilling than anything I ever expected.

The changing point occurred when I realized it was me, not them, who was at fault. It was my personal responsibility to change.

The acceptance of personal responsibility is a sail, powering energy, and success for all of us.

(You may also enjoy Six Keys to Being a Professional Salesperson)

A Propensity to take Risks

Don’t get the wrong idea. We’re not talking about skydiving here. Nor are we talking about sinking your life savings in the new start-up dot com that your neighbor told you about. I don’t mean taking risks that might endanger your health, safety, or long-term security.

Instead, I am talking about taking risks that force you to move out of your comfort zones on the job—risks that will stimulate you to stretch yourself, to become more competent, to gain skills you may not currently have, to expand your abilities and maybe, help you become more effective and more efficient.

When I began my business, my focus was 100 percent on consulting. I had never given a seminar in my life. But I read the books on how to build a consulting practice, and all the experts recommended giving seminars as a way to build a consulting practice. I was determined to do so. I developed a program, How to Find, Interview, Select, and Hire a Good Salesperson, and approached the local business college with a proposal to jointly present it. They agreed, and a few months later, I presented my first seminar. It was a huge risk—something I had never done before. It caused me to stretch myself and to learn a new set of skills. The seminar was successful and led to another, and to more after that. Within a couple of years, I had realized that speaking and training could be major parts of my practice. Today, my speaking and training income exceeds my consulting income by a great distance.

If I hadn’t taken that first risk, I would never have built a speaking practice and traveled all over the world presenting. Not only has my income expanded, but my life has broadened, and I’ve gained new skills.

That’s the kind of risk I’m talking about. If you can build a propensity to take risks into your job, you’ll grow faster and further than if you remain safely inside of your comfort zones.

You take risks in a lot of ways. When you call on a different type of customer than that with which you are comfortable, you take a risk. For example, when you call on the chief financial officer of a business instead of just the production supervisor, you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and taken a risk.

When you choose to implement a new strategy or tactic, like rearranging your territory to invest more intensely in your A accounts, you take a risk. When you choose to try a new way to make a presentation, build relationships, or handle objections, you are taking a risk.

Some of those risks will turn out well, others will become failures. Regardless, you’ll become more competent, more confident, and more effective. That’s what good time management is all about.

Attitude of Openness

You don’t learn anything from people who agree totally with you. You only solidify and harden your beliefs. It’s for this reason that every cult and manipulative organization or person seeks first to exclude their followers from communicating with people who think differently.

I once worked with an extremely manipulative minister who sought to control the loyalty of his followers by influencing them not to talk with people who thought differently. He did that by planting seeds of doubt and distrust. “Be careful about talking to that person, he’ll spread rumors about you.” Or, “So and so is having trouble in her marriage, so don’t talk with her because you’re liable to push her off the deep end.” All of these cleverly planted seeds of doubt served to prevent communication that could have caused people to learn and change their thinking.

When I was a child growing up, the religious institution in which my parents raised us taught that it was sinful to visit a church of another type. We were taught to be afraid to do so. Take even one step inside, and we would somehow be corrupted. That’s what we were taught, anyway. I suspect that the real reason was to discourage us from other ideas. We might be challenged to question some of the beliefs we were being taught if we exposed ourselves to different ideas.

Much of the world holds on to this approach.  We have visited in Morocco, for example, where conversion from Islam to Christianity is treason, punishable by death. I understand that is almost universally true in the Islamic nations.  Could it be that the mullahs are afraid of what questioning their beliefs might lead to?

Whether it’s a manipulative individual or a fearful institution, the basic instinct is to cut off people from other ideas in any way they can. When you do so, you cause them to harden their beliefs and prevent them from questioning and growing.

The opposite tactic, then, becomes a means of enhancing your growth. If you want to grow, improve, and become more successful, then you need to expose yourself to people, practices, and ideas that are different from your own. You need to nurture an attitude of openness.

Add these sails to your life, and watch yourself gain speed and power. Then, put them in juxtaposition with the keels that slow you down. That’s when you begin to perform at your peak.

Life Keels for the Salesperson

The keels in the life of a salesperson are those things that give you substance, that hold you back and tie you down.

In order to stay on course, in order to be effective, use time wisely, and stay afloat in all kinds of conditions, salespeople need to build keels, as well as sails, into their lives. They need those things which provide them depth as well as energy. They need direction as well as power.

Some keels are:

  • An examined spirituality.
  • A chosen character.
  • A set of higher ethics.

Examined Spirituality

What’s a section on spirituality doing in a book about time management for salespeople? I believe it’s the starting point for a transformation to greater success in your life and your job. It’s at the very heart of who you are. When you make changes in your spiritual beliefs, those beliefs shape everything that you do. Your spiritual beliefs shape your worldview and your worldview determines how you see everything in your life.

Years ago, my wife and I visited Soweto, a large African township that is part of the greater Johannesburg, South Africa metroplex. At the time we visited, some of the children in the elementary school were skipping school in a sort of loosely organized strike. From our perspective, that was pretty unusual. Even more unusual, however, was the reason for this strike. They were objecting to being graded as individuals. In their tribal culture, either the whole class passed or the whole class failed. To separate one child out of the group as doing better or worse than another was to attack a deeply held, spiritual belief about how they saw the world and themselves. They saw themselves less as individuals and more as members of a group.

Think about how that worldview will impact the lives of those children for as long as they live. This was a deeply held spiritual belief underlying their culture, probably below the level of conscious choice, which will determine much of the course of their lives.

While that may be a dramatic example, the principle applies to all of us. Our deeply held spiritual beliefs impact everything we do.

Yet, few people ever examine their spiritual beliefs. The beliefs that are handed down to them are good enough for them. They never examine whether those beliefs are right or true. They only hold on with emotional attachments to beliefs held mindlessly.

I’m writing this almost two decades after the terror attacks of  September 11. It occurs to me that the actions of the terrorists are a powerful example of an unexamined spirituality dictating the course of their lives. People can so deeply believe things that they lose all touch with reality, and that which is good becomes bad and that which is bad becomes, in their mind, good. I wonder if the terrorists have ever stopped to examine their spirituality—to question the core beliefs and to ask if these are right and true. What if they are wrong? What if murdering innocent men, women, and children isn’t a good thing commanded by God? What if they have been deceived by a belief system that is fraudulent?

Have you ever examined your spiritual beliefs? Have you held them up to the light of what is reasonable? Have you considered what evidence there is for you to believe what you do?

Spiritual beliefs are so deep inside us that they have the power to shape and direct our thoughts, our mindsets, our attitudes, and, of course, our actions.

I happen to be Christian. I came to that position as an adult, at a time when I was searching for some meaning in my life. I came to it as a result of a pretty thorough study of spiritual issues and religious paths. As a result, I have a deep-seated belief that God instilled certain gifts and talents in me, and that part of my appropriate response is to consciously exercise those gifts and talents in a way that strives for more complete and influential use of them.

If you have examined your beliefs to the point where you are convinced they stand up under the light of critical inquiry, then you can move on, secure in knowing that you have shored up and supported that most basic and deep part of yourself.

Continuously Refined Character

It wasn’t so long ago that we had political elections in which one of the much-bantered about phrases was, “character doesn’t count.” The idea behind that cliché was that if a person does a popular job in his political office, his personal character was a non-issue.

What garbage! Not only does character count, but character is probably the single most important component of a successful life.

Here’s how Webster’s defines character: an individual’s pattern of behavior or personality; moral constitution. It’s our pattern, the way we can be counted on to act and react. When faced with a possible confrontation, some of us can be counted on to become aggressive, others reasonable. Some may avoid confrontation. At this point in our lives, our pattern is pretty much set, and we can be counted on to act in that way. In other words, how we generally act in certain situations is a predictable pattern for most of us. It’s part of our character.

Our character determines, more than anything else, our destiny. For every action, there is a reaction. Every time we do something, we cause some response or reaction in other people, or we influence the course of some events. So, if we routinely respond to confrontation by becoming aggressive, that aggression prompts other people to resist us. Instead of having a pattern of cooperation, we create an expectation of resistance around us. And that leads to people making decisions about us that are not in our favor.

Wonder why you didn’t get that promotion you were expecting? It probably had more to do with your character than anything else. Can’t figure out why that customer went with the competitor when you knew you had a better solution? Maybe it was you, not your offer.

See how this works? People react to your character—your pattern of behavior. And the way people react to you determines, to a large degree, how successful you are going to be in your life and in this job.

Your character is the composite of the ingrained habits you have created over the years. Many of these habits have become so deeply embedded that you don’t even think about them, you just do them.

A habit is created when you repeat an action enough times that it becomes an unconscious pattern. The very first time, as a young child, you chose to respond to a confrontational situation that didn’t create a pattern. But by the time you repeated that action a number of times, you established a pattern that became part of your character. It was repeated actions that turned into habits. Those habits became your character. Your character determines, to a large measure, your success.

We can take our analysis of how this works to one more very significant level. At some point, the stimulus to our actions—those same actions that eventually became crystallized into our character—began with our thoughts. Before we can do anything, we must first think it. Remember learning to drive a car? You had to think about every step of the process, from fastening your seat belt to turning the ignition switch to stopping at a red light and so on. You had to think the thought before you could do the deed. Then, after thinking about it over and over again, it became an unconscious habit. But the starting point was a thought—a conscious willful decision to do some action. Our character, then, is the ultimate result of our thoughts.

Let’s review this cause-effect sequence. The way we influence people and events determines our success in life. That pattern of behavior that determines how we influence people and events is called our character. Our character is the assemblage of habits that we have created over the years. Our habits are the result of our repeated actions. Our actions began with our thoughts.

Here’s an incredible principle, certainly one of the most powerful laws in the universe.


You Can Choose Your Thoughts


That’s right. You can choose to think about the kind of thoughts you want. And when you choose your thoughts, you change your actions. When you change your actions, you modify your habits. When you modify your habits, you shape your character. When you shape your character, you control how you influence people and events. When you influence people and events, you shape your success and your destiny in this life.

This is one of the most powerful truths in the world. And like all such truths, wise men have discovered and rediscovered it from time immemorial. Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Paul meant that you can transform yourself—your character and the way the world reacts to you—by renewing your mind, by changing the way in which you think.

More recently, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., in the book, Learned Optimism, described how you can choose to think about adversity in your life, and how that choice of thoughts impacts your level of optimism or pessimism, and how that determines the degree of success you have in your life.

This should come as no surprise to the wise student of human behavior. Of course, your thoughts determine your actions, your actions set your habits, your habits become your character, and your character influences your destiny.

If you can choose your thoughts, you can, therefore, refine your character. Bill Gothard, the great Bible teacher, holds that there are 49 character traits that we choose over the course of our lives. We choose for example, to be generous or stingy; courageous or cowardly; responsible or irresponsible.

Sooner or later, the serious pursuit of the effective use of time comes up against this truth. Over the long term, it is not the tactics you employ to be more efficient that determine your success, it is the character that you exhibit. It is more who you are than any techniques you employ.

The long term challenge, then, for you, is to become a person of continuously refined character—a person who has chosen your thoughts, and shaped your character to become the kind of person who positively influences events and people around you.

Set of Higher Ethics

There are some ethics that are particularly important for a performance–conscience salesperson. These include honesty, integrity, a serious work ethic, and a genuine concern for other people. Let’s consider each.

Honesty and Integrity

Honesty can be defined as telling the truth. The dictionary defines integrity as intactness, firmness of character. It means that you are who you portray yourself to be—that your habits and commitments can be counted on. You’re not changeable and fickle.

These are of great value because they stimulate trust in your customers, and trust saves you time. I was speaking to a group of professional salespeople in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the subject of integrity in business. At dinner later in the evening, my host, who had been sitting in the audience, sheepishly shared with me that several of the people seated near her snickered at the idea. Evidently, to the sales was just a series of transactions, and the salesperson’s job was to wring as much money out of each transaction as possible, under whatever means were necessary.

Their position was, I believe, sad as well as unwise. Honesty is a powerful sales strategy that is probably more important today than ever before.

It works like this. If you have integrity, you save your customer time. In today’s frenzied world, time is more precious than money for a lot of people. If your customers cannot believe you, then they must spend hours, days, or weeks of precious time confirming the representations you have made. If, however, they can believe you, then they don’t feel the need to check for the veracity of every fact or statement.

Here’s an illustration. A few years ago, we attempted to purchase a condominium in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The condo was in a resort location and had been used as a rental unit. So it came fully furnished, down to the silverware and cooking utensils. We thought it was a good value, a wise investment, and offered the owner exactly his asking price. Shortly thereafter, word came from the real estate agent that the owner, on receiving our full price offer, had increased his price.

The owner may have been looking at his action as a slick negotiating ploy. We saw it as a lack of integrity. If we couldn’t believe his stated price, then we couldn’t believe any of the representations he had made. We would be reduced to counting the number of knives and forks instead of believing the inventory sheet provided for us. We didn’t want to waste the time checking out every aspect of the deal. If we couldn’t trust some of the representations by the owner, then we couldn’t trust any. If we couldn’t trust any, it wasn’t worth it to us to take the risk in dealing with him. We walked away from the deal.

We saw the owner’s lack of integrity as causing us to invest a great deal of time to assure ourselves that the risk was worth the money.

The same is true for your customers. The more your customer trusts you, the less risk your customer feels in dealing with you, and the less time necessary to invest in understanding the product, service, or program you are offering. From the customer’s perspective, it’s easier and less risky to deal with someone you trust than with someone you don’t.

And that can translate directly into dollars. I’m always willing to pay more for something if I can buy it with less risk. In other words, if I can buy it from a company or person I can trust. On the other hand, I’d rather not buy something at all if I have suspicious feelings about the vendor.

Serious Work Ethic

One of the reasons that I’ve been successful is that I’ve always worked hard. I learned that value from my parents. It’s one of those ethics that people respect and that will serve you well over time. Notice I didn’t say work a lot. The average field salesperson in this country works about 49 hours a week. While there are some temporary situations that may call for you to work more than that, I’m definitely not recommending that you do. Working hard doesn’t mean that you work more hours than others. It does mean, however, that you focus on giving those hours your absolute best.

Think about your job in the way I described in Management Secret Two. You fearlessly and relentlessly pursue your goals and strategies. You follow your company’s directions and do what they ask you to do. You don’t take 30-minute coffee breaks three times a day and long, leisurely lunches. You work hard. You give it your best. You use every minute as if it may be the only one you have.

And as a result, good things happen to you. Every so often I run into a salesperson who has a story of some good thing that just fell on him. It seemed to come out of the blue.

I always congratulate the salesperson and then inquire into the specifics of the good fortune. It can almost always be traced to some work that the salesperson did somewhere in the past. It just took a while to come to fruition. I’ve found that the luckiest salespeople, coincidentally, happen to be the hardest workers.

Genuine Concern for Other People

There is something in human beings that hungers to be understood. There is something that wants others to care about us. These human appetites well up out of the deepest parts of our psyche. All of us want people to care about us and to understand us.

Your customers do, too. Of course, we’re focusing on business issues and the business environment. Still, it is impossible to divorce these powerful fits of hunger from our business lives. And that goes for your customers, too. It’s not just about price and product, it is about feeling understood, about feeling that someone really, truly cares about us. When your customers feel that you truly do care about them, then they trust you more, share more with you, and buy from you.

This sense that you care about your customers is an incredibly powerful component in the customer/seller relationship. It is tough to fake, although some people do. To be believable long term, it has to be genuine. That means that you need to develop the value of really, truly caring about your customers.

Living In Balance

Blending those things that hold you back and limit your behavior with those things that speed your growth and empower your efforts brings you into peak performance. Emphasize sails without keels and you’re likely to spin hurricanes of time furiously going nowhere. Emphasize keels without sails and you’re likely to be stuck in an unmovable rut where nothing changes, especially you. When you build solid keels into your life and juxtapose them with powerful sails, you live in that area of dynamic tension between these two opposing forces which brings out the best in you. You become that which you are capable of becoming, you move out of the world of working hard into the area of working smart and becoming more effective.

Living in balance is one of the greatest time management strategies.