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Time Available For Selling

by David Brock on March 20th, 2016
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Do your people have enough time available to sell?

Some of you are thinking, “Dave, this is crazy, that’s how my people are supposed to be spending their time!”

But a variety of research reports indicate typical time available for selling is 30-40%.  We’ve conducted studies of Global 100 companies and found time available for selling as low as 17%!

This data is alarming.  What are sales people doing?  How are they spending their time?

Let’s lay some groundwork first.

As we look at time available for selling, we need to look at several things.  The most obvious, is the time actually spent with customers–in meetings, on the phone, on video conferences.  We also have to include the time they spend preparing for those meetings and in follow up.  These are all critical to their success in selling.

There are non selling activities that are important to doing the job.  Training and coaching meetings with managers are critical (if you are doing well).  I’ve written about my friend who insists on daily training meetings of 45 minutes.  He knows how much it drives the effectiveness of his sales people, so it is a highly leveraged investment in their time.

There are a number of other activities that are just part of the job, there’s always a certain amount of reporting and administrivia every sales person has to do.  Ideally, we’ve developed systems, processes and tools to minimize this.  After all, we don’t want our sales people spending all their time at data entry or generating reports (Nor do we want sales managers spending their time that way.)

Yes, there are vacations and holidays–all work and no play makes sales people even duller.

But then there are the subversive or hidden time drains.  Each, in itself may be small, but cumulatively, they suck away the time available for selling.

There seem to be two different sets of issues:  Those for people in small or start up companies, those for people in large companies.

For the small/start-up companies, the reality is that everyone wears several hats.  Sales people may spend time developing marketing programs, or in customer service or support.  They get drafted into helping get the new product launched or jumping onto a new strategic initiative, or addressing a big problem customers or the rest of the sales organization faces.

Someone has to do these things and there aren’t enough people to get the work done.  Inevitably, time gets sucked away from sales people in doing important, but non sales related activities.  There aren’t simple answers to this issue.  Often it’s an issue of affordability, the companies simply can’t afford to fully staff out all the functions, so everyone must wear multiple hats.

It’s critical that we constantly pay attention to this.  That we make conscious decisions about how our people spend time.  No CEO of a SaaS or other technology start up wants to see programmers and developers diverted from product development.  Likewise, we can’t divert sales from revenue generation.

While it may be necessary in the short term, management has to proactively look to changing this as quickly as possible–freeing up the time for sales people to do their jobs–generate revenue.

Sometimes in fast growing companies, the organizational capability and capacity is there, people just fall into bad habits–doing what they’ve always done.  Sales people may have gotten great joy in developing new marketing programs, in doing customer service and support.  As those capabilities shift to other people, sales has to stop–focusing their time on selling.

With larger companies, the issue is completely different.  There are people who are responsible for all those non-sales function.  But as we get more people in any organization, the number of people we have to deal with gets larger.  We now have legal, contracts, pricing, marketing, order management, customer service, product management…….  There is an inevitable formalization of how things get done and various levels of bureaucracy get in place.  All of these are time drains to sales people.

Let me be clear, usually these people aren’t maliciously trying to steal sales time, they are just doing their jobs.  The case I mentioned at the beginning of the post, a Global 100 company, where sales people only had 17% of their time available for selling was a great example.  Marketing, product management, customer service were all very customer focused.  Since sales people knew more about customers than anyone else, they were asked to participate in lots of meetings.  All good, meaningful stuff, but it sucked the sales time away from people.

When we look at time drains, too often we are looking for where people “waste” time.  None of the time drains I’ve mentioned are “wastes of time,” so we would tend to overlook them.  It’s always critical to look at these “organizationally imposed,” or even “culturally imposed” time drains.

Now where’s the payoff to this discussion.

Here it is, the fastest way to improve sales productivity it to make more time available for selling!

Well, duuuggghhh…….

But think about it.  Let’s take a pretty good case, let’s say your team has 40% of their time available for selling.  If you increase the time available for selling from 40 to 44%, you have the ability to drive a 10% increase in sales!  It doesn’t involve changing anything about how they sell.  They don’t have to become challengers, they don’t have to become better prospectors, negotiators, or closers.  Just freeing up time and letting them sell can drive huge increases in revenue!

Flash back to the company where the sales people had only 17% of their time available to sell; within 18 months, we got them to 30%, just by eliminating organizational time drains.  With that change, we almost doubled sales productivity!

Managers, it’s your responsibility to protect your sales people’s time.  Watch for these time drains.  Some can’t be avoided, but do everything you can to maximize their time available to sell.

Sales people, it’s easier to make your numbers if you spend more time selling—simple.  Don’t waste your time!  Don’t let others steal your time!

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3 Comments
  1. Excellent article David. One of the biggest time drains for sales reps is tracking down and attempting to qualify raw inquiries. We’ve seen the implementation of a marketing-driven qualification process to be a huge boost to sales efficiency and performance.

  2. Totally agree David.
    I spent my last 15 B2B sales work years with the one company, and I was there from its birth.

    In the early days I always had time for selling and the company grew very rapidly but as the company got bigger we were required to write more and more reports (market reports, weekly plans, weekly sales reports as to how we were tracking against budget, forward stock projections had to be supplied every month to the product managers), systems were introduced that required paperwork to be filled in (and personal thought and responsibility of admin people to be phased out) and of course there were more and more meetings to attend (especially if you were senior in the company like I was).

    Then people want to know why you were not seeing enough customers ? Or as many as you used to see 3 years ago.
    Really ?

    • Thanks Greg, it’s kind of insidious how it creeps up on us. That’s why it’s so critical to take a step back every once in a while.

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