Skip to content
Jun 6 18

Freeing Up “Time To Sell” Is BS!

by David Brock

A friend forwarded me an article entitled, “Giving People More Time To Sell Is BS.”  Intrigued, I clicked on the link.

The article started with a statement to the effect of “ill informed pundits quoting data that sales people spend only 10-30% of their time F2F with customers.”  I thought, “Hmm, that must be me…”  I’ve used that data, but so have a lot of others.  I call that TIme Available For Selling, (TAFS—just what we need, another acronym.)

He went on discuss the selling distractions, arguing,  “why would a sales person choose to spend their time on admin processes and things like updating CRM?”

He goes on to take the customer focused argument, saying, the problem isn’t with the sales people, it’s the customer.  Customers don’t want to spend  time with sales people.  They  prefer to get information through other sources, are busy, and prefer to spend less time with sales people.

It’s a valid point, but he leaves the argument at that point.  I was left with the vague impression that, because of this 10-30% time available for selling is OK, it’s what customers want…..

I’m left scratching my head, “Huhhhhhh……, what gives……?”

Let’s dissect this—-but before I do, if I’m not clear, this is among the most misguided logic/arguments I’ve ever encountered.

Some thoughts.

  1.  It’s true, our customers are crazy busy.  They have other things that are more important than spending time with sales people.  When they are buying, they leverage multiple channels for educating themselves on products/solutions.  They tend to have “salesperson avoidance,” because so many sales people waste their time.  The common reasons are, “sales people don’t understand me/my business, they are focused on themselves/product, they don’t understand their products, they waste my time…..”  All perfectly valid, but it’s not clear that customers don’t value sales people, it’s just that sales doesn’t help them with what’s important to them.  So one conclusion is that sales people have to change, they have to create value meaningful to customers.  Absent that, customers have no reason to see sales people.
  2. But even with that, there’s data that says, even in the best of cases, any buying group is unlikely to spend more than about 20% of their time with sales people–and that’s all the competitors.  So if you are on a shortlist of 3, it means you probably get no more than 7% of their time.  This reinforces the author’s premise, that even in the best of cases customers don’t want to/need to spend a lot of time with sales people.
  3. Here’s where that part of the argument starts falling apart.  Sales people aren’t just spending their time with 2-5 customers!  Yeah, you run some rough math, at 7%  per customer you can see that works out to be 14-35% of their time.  That’s not how the 10-30% TAFS data was determined, but that seems to be the way to bridge to the implication in the article that 10-30$ is a customer driven reality.  Clearly the flaw in this thinking is that while any one customer will spend a very small part of their time with a sales person, sales people must invest their time with lots of customers!  Great sales people are constantly looking for customers by prospecting, filling their pipelines with high quality opportunities, helping the customer navigate their buying cycle.  Our ideal is they spend 100% of their time engaged with customers, selling.
  4. We know that 100% TAFS is aspirational, but not possible, and in our saner moments, probably not desirable.  While the primary focus of sales people must be with the customer, there are other important areas in which sales people must invest time.  For example, learning–whether its about new products, selling skills, business/financial acumen, creativity, critical thinking……  Sales people who aren’t investing time in learning will not be competitive.  The sales person has a responsibility for providing information to their management and companies.  Forecasts, customer feedback, all sorts of things.  They need to keep their management and company informed of what’s going on.  They need to keep their management and company informed to get the support they need for their deals.  There are other administrative tasks, all of us have certain amounts of record keeping (e.g. updating CRM expense reporting, etc.).  We have to do these things, but we need to minimize the amount of time spent on these–here’s where technology helps quite a bit.
  5. There are other “seller burdens,” we often, unwittingly impose on sales people–often in the spirit of being helpful, but which have the unintended consequences of “loving our sales people to death.”  These can become huge time drains.  They are unintentional but the result of people doing their jobs.  For example, marketing and product management want to learn more about customers and how to better serve them.  Sales people are the obvious choice to help do this.  There are other things that take time.  For example, getting legal approvals for contracts, getting pricing for a complex solution, coordinating resources to support a sales effort.  Each in itself, is probably not a lot of time, but stacked up, they suck huge amounts of time from sales people, diverting them from working with customers.
  6. The previous point is simply the reality of our increasingly complex businesses.   The problem is, some of this is necessary, but much of it distracts from TAFS.  We have to be constantly examining our businesses, reducing complexity and seller burden.  Often, this falls to Sales Ops, Sales Ennoblement and Sales Management.  Ironically, the author claims to be a Sales Ops expert, but doesn’t discuss any of these issues and what Sales Ops can do to simplify the business.
  7. The author has the premise that all sales people are compelled to spend as much time with customers as they can.  “Show me a sales person who would let some administrative task like…….., get in the way of meeting.”  He goes on to say, if you have people who like to do this, you have a problem with your recruiting process.  He’s bang on with this, but this is an unfortunate, often seductive reality.  Too often, we find sales people unconsciously reveling in the distraction from being with customers—being with customers is tough work!  You have to prepare, you have to think, you have to engage……  In our efforts to dumb down our sales people, administrative work becomes a refuge and convenient excuse for sales people.  “Boss, you told me I have to keep CRM updated, that’s what I’m doing….”  This is a bigger issue than many are unaware of.  It’s something that demands constant attention and coaching from managers.
  8. In many projects in which we have addressed this 10-30% TAFS, removing complexity, freeing up more time to sell, the sales people respond, “What do I do with all this new found time?”  It’s a more real issue than we would like to believe.  It requires huge management attention, coaching the people on how they should be spending their time, giving them the skills–perhaps better prospecting skills, how to be more effective with customers.  Managers need to set expectations–less on TAFS, but more on where and how sales people need to be investing time.
  9. TAFS is important from a business management point of view.  It directly impacts sales productivity and cost of selling.  Management must constantly focus on these issues, doing everything possible to maximize productivity, and manage cost of selling.  Yet the author didn’t address any of these issues.

I’ve ranted for too long.  I’m not sure what the author of this article was trying to achieve.  He identified an issue, but did nothing in addressing what to do about it.

TAFS is not BS, it’s a critical sales performance and productivity issue.  If we aren’t paying attention to it, we aren’t doing our jobs.

Be Sociable, Share!
Jun 5 18

Survey Fatigue And Customer Experience

by David Brock

Companies are obsessed (Hmmm, maybe not) with customer experience.  Many seem to want to understand people’s customer experience–how or if they pay attention is anyone’s guess.

Along with this obsession comes the obsession with measuring that customer experience.  That along with technology making it easy to do surveys in real time, it seems as though almost every interaction is surveyed and measured.  For example:

  1. “Thank you for buying our products, we’d like to understand your satisfaction by having you complete this customer satisfaction survey.  If you complete it, you will be put in a drawing for a Starbucks card valued at $0.50……”
  2. “Thank you for your call to our customer service center, we’d like to measure your experience…..”
  3. “Thanks for downloading the white paper, we’d like to understand how happy you are with it……”
  4. “Thanks for visiting our website, we’d like to get your feedback….”
  5. “Thanks for logging on, we’d like to understand what we can do to improve the logon experience….. (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating).

I used to be dutiful about responding to surveys, after all, it is in my best interests to see them improve customer experience.  But the volume got so large with everyone surveying everything, I’ve stopped responding—for the most part.

I do respond in two cases, when I’m rip roaring pissed off and I want to make my dissatisfaction known.  In this case, if they don’t reach out, I’ll try to find a way to be surveyed, letting them know how angry I am.  The second is when I receive extraordinary service and I want to make sure they know the individual or the service was outstanding.

This week, there were three surveys I responded to.  The first was for the technical support from our enterprise cloud software supplier.  We are making some major changes to our infrastructure.  We’ve been having a few challenges, so I spent some time talking to tech support.  They did outstanding jobs, not only in helping us solve the problem, demonstrating empathy for the difficulty of the problem (too often, I feel like they are thinking “You moron, any fool can do this, so you don’t qualify as a fool….).  This experience was extraordinary.  They even called up a couple of times after we solved the problem, just to make sure things were OK.

I looked for their survey and was eager to respond and compliment the overall process and the individuals I worked with.

The second case, was the polar opposite.  I was rip roaring angry with a supplier.  It took many calls, ultimately an escalation to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company—Yeah, I’m one of those guys.  If the normal channels don’t work, I know I can always reach a CEO to get my problem handled.

I got the survey, I started it—as you might guess, I was consistently on the “Significantly disagree” side of the numeric score they are trying to get.

I got through about 10 questions, reached the end of the page, it seemed as though there were more questions.  I hit submit, the survey was submitted and the screen went blank.  I suppose I wasn’t giving them the answers they wanted so they terminated the survey abruptly.  Maybe I had finished the survey, but there was no, “You’ve completed the survey.  Thank you for taking the time, your feedback is important to us….”

I’m left with a feeling of “un-completion.”  Did I finish the survey and they just didn’t tell me, was I for some reason being disqualified, based on my responses, so they were terminating the survey—but they didn’t bother to let me know and thank me for my time.

I suppose they got want they wanted, and that’s what they cared about, not my experience at that moment.

The third survey was a little like the second.  I was at a website.  All of a sudden, “would you mind responding to a few questions….” popped up.  I was neither happy, nor unhappy, but for some reason I decided to complete the survey.  I actually got through a couple of pages and about 15 questions, including some essay questions.  I hit a submit button, the survey disappeared.  No, “you’ve finished, thank you for taking the time,”  nothing.

Again, I’m left to ponder, I guess they cared about what they cared about and not really about my experience in this process.  My level of dissatisfaction with the experience from this company was ratcheting up quite a bit.

It seems to be bad design, self centeredness, and a number of similar issues dominate surveys.  Unfortunately, too many companies think that the customer experience survey isn’t part of the overall customer experience…….  Hmmm, are they really serious about customer experience?

Every direct and indirect interaction customers have with our company are part of the “customer experience.”  If we are serious about customer experience, it’s all in the details of how we design every interaction—including interactions about feedback on customer experience.

These concepts are so simple and universal, why are they so difficult to put into practice?  I’m fast coming to the conclusion that too many are going through the motions.  There is a thin, “we care” veneer, in reality they don’t……..



Be Sociable, Share!
Jun 5 18

Sales Heroics Are Actually Sales Failures!

by David Brock

All of us revel in stories of the deal where we took dramatic actions and ultimately won–hopefully not by discounting.  We get an Adrenalin rush in talking about this things that we did to pull the opportunity from the ashes and into the victory column.  When we get together with our colleagues, over beer, we seek to outdo each other in stories about our heroics.

I’d be less than honest, if I didn’t admit to doing the same.  These stories are fun, we enjoy sharing them and laughing.

But the reality is that sales heroics represent a failure on our parts.  Organizations that constantly win, only through sales heroics and last ditch efforts, are failing systemically!

In reality, great selling looks more like the old “Maytag Serviceperson” commercials.  Great selling is about consistent execution of our sales process, it’s about consistently doing the things that work and not doing those things that don’t work.

High performing sales organizations are actually pretty boring to look at.  They work like “well oiled” machines.  They consistently, quietly execute their sales process, they engage customers in differentiated, value based ways.  There’s not a lot of drama–when there is, it’s because something isn’t working–usually a failure of execution.


Be Sociable, Share!
May 29 18

Beware Of “Experts” Sharing Data…..

by David Brock

I guess part of being perceived as being an expert is sharing data and research—all of which supports the conclusions you want people to reach.

Don’t get me wrong, we share data on the results we’ve produced, we share data on research we have conducted.  But we are careful to position the context of that data and how it might be interpreted.

But too often, we consciously or unconsciously, we “lie with statistics.”

I read an interesting article in Forbes.  Largely, I agree with the author, but he cited an example that is very misleading.  I’m certain there was no bad intent, but it was an example that reinforced his basic premise–everything in buying is going digital, the B2B buying process is becoming consumerized.

He posed an example, under the heading, “Don’t Get Fooled By The Occasional Analog Win.”

The example was behavior he noticed on a train ride.  A SaaS sales person, over the course of 4 hours and multiple conversations closed a single deal worth $10K.  He contrasted that with another sales person sending out a promotional tweet for a logo creation service to 1.2 M followers on Instagram and Twitter.  After blasting those messages out, at the end of the train ride, he had converted 800 to orders totalling $16,000.

Clearly, the conclusion we are supposed to reach is a simple posting on Instagram and Twitter was far more productive (in those 4 hours) than a series of phone discussions with a single customer.

“Experts” that want you to drink the “Social Selling Kool Aid” will revel in this example.  They will say, “Social selling produced 60% more revenue in the same time, QED!”

But one should be skeptical about these examples.  One should start questioning and looking deeper.  Some thoughts I had:

1.  The $10K SaaS deal was ARR.  In reality, the deal was far greater than that, an important metric in SaaS is CLV-Customer Lifetime Value.  In reality, this deal was probably worth $10’s of thousands in CLV.  I’m not sure what the entire sales cycle was, we’re left to think it was 4 hours, but even if that was the tail end of the sales cycle, that’s a great deal.  Let’s be really conservative and imagine CLV at $25K.

To create $1M CLV, I have to close 40 deals.  If it’s $1M ARR that I want to hit, I have to close 100 deals (but the CLV for that is $2.5M).  On a CLV basis, for the sales person, that’s a little more than 3 deals a month.  On an ARR basis, that’s a little more than 8 deals a month—both probably achievable.

2.  By contrast the Instagram/Twitter Deal was $16K, based on the description of the company, it looks like that is one-time revenue.  The results aren’t stunning.  Out of 1.2 M messages, 800 closed—or 0.067%, for an average transaction of $20 per customer.

One starts doing the math.  If I want to produce $1M in orders, I have to acquire 50,000 customers.  At the 0.067% conversion rate I must reach out to about 75M customers.  What’s this mean–can I go to the same 1M+ customers 75 times (clearly there will be significant fatigue in those customers receiving messages.  Do I cast a wider net, but the yields are likely to plummet.  How do I effectively reach those 75M customers?   And at what cost?

Now, all of a sudden, things look a little different.  Perhaps the “old school” method actually looks much more intriguing.

In fairness, it’s impossible to ascribe “goodness” to either case, though that’s clearly the implication the author is trying to make.  The situations are so different.  The selling/buying process, the target customers, the decision-making processes are very different.   For example the SaaS deal may have been a complex sale with multiple decision-makers and a higher level of risk.  The other deal is a very transactional deal, with very low risk, and likely to be a single decision-maker  (Brent and Nick, I know you are reading this, how many $20 deals require 6.8 😉 )

It’s impossible to tell which is better than the other, because these aren’t comparable situations.

Yet we are constantly presented with these false choices or alternatives.

And too often, we get sucked into believing them, often in very dangerous ways.

As consumers of this kind of data, it’s always important to be skeptical of the data and conclusions.  Make sure you understand the underlying context and assumptions.  Make sure those are relevant to you, representative of your business, customers and markets.  Be skeptical of claims of outrageous results, while they may be true, they may only apply to a very special case which may not be representative of the situations you face.

As experts, while it’s fun to present sexy compelling data, but if we are to be responsible and to engage followers in a meaningful way, we have to be careful how we position and present the data.  Thinking of customers a gullible and presenting data that, while true, may be very misrepresentative of what they might expect.  Be careful, it will always come back to bite you.


Afterword:  To help you understand and think about these issues both more deeply and broadly, I highly recommend reading the following:

Factfulness by Hans Rosling:  A stunning analysis of much of what we think of as true about world data on medicine, environment, economics, and how we look at problems in the world.  Lessons can easily be translated to what we do every day.

How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff:  An absolute classic.  This was originally published in the 1940’s but is a fun read about how we use and misuse data and statistics.  Really a fun, fundamental book.


Be Sociable, Share!