Everyday, I speak with sales executives about the issues of sales productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency. For any sales executive it’s a critical issue, something they are constantly seeking to improve.
All the executives I speak with are bright, successful people. They constantly are looking at their sales processes, the skills of their people, the tools their people use, and other things to get the highest levels of performance out of their sales people. They are fine tuning, trying to find an edge, a few percent productivity improvement here or there. They are looking to reduce sales cycle times, improve win rates. They are looking at more effective and efficient ways of filling the top of their funnels.
As a self proclaimed sales guru, I spend a lot of time talking about it–even pontificating at times. I’m not the only one, there are hundreds of blog posts every week, with everyone offering good ideas on improving the sales process. Many of the Sales 2.o tools and vendors offer tremendous productivity and effectiveness advantages in executing the sales process. There’s lots of training that teaches us how to prospect, qualify, discover, propose and close more effectively.
Yet at the end of all this thinking and good work, on a daily basis, I speak with executives that, while they can’t put their fingers on it, they just don’t feel they are getting as much out of the sales people. The question I pose, in fact this is probably the starting place for any sales effectiveness assessment, is: “How much of their time are they spending on ‘doing deals’ and deal related activities? How much time are the spending on activities not directly related to selling?” After all, that’s what we do—deals. We find them, we qualify them, we understand what the customers want, we propose a solution, and we negotiate the close. We do that as effectively and efficiently as possible. We have all the latest tools, the best training, great management coaching, and we execute well. When we don’t, we have all the consultants, trainers, and tools in the world to help improve our execution and productivity.
But some how that misses something. What we are focusing on is only a part of what sales people spend their time on. To get a sense of where they are spending time and other areas to improve sales productivity, we need to almost do an old fashioned time and motion study (sorry, that industrial engineering class in college made a lasting impression).
We’ve done that with a number of large organizations and every time, the results are startling. Simplifying it, we basically look at how sales people spend their time. Typically, we find sales people spend between 11% and 23% of their time “doing deals” or deal related activities. Included in this is the time spent researching, prospecting, executing all the steps of the sales process in meetings with customers, the time spent preparing for those meetings, etc. Usually, when we are looking at sales efficiency and effectiveness we are looking at these types of issue. Stated differently, we are only looking at how sales people are spending 11-23% of their time. Big initiative productivity improvements of 10/20/30% in how they execute the sales process are only impacting this 11-23% of their time.
What if we started looking at the other 77-89% of their time. Those are the “hidden” time wasters, but eliminating or reducing those can have a tremendous impact on sales productivity, without changing anything about the way the execute their process.
Some of this time, we have no control over–things like holidays and vacations. There’s a lot, though that we do have control of:
1. Internal corporate requests of sales. Lots of people in the organization contact sales people for help and customer input. Product managers and marketing people are always looking for sales and through sales customer insight. This is fantastic, the product managers and marketers are doing their jobs. However, even though each request is small, taken together, these requests have a tremendous impact on people’s time. In one Fortune 100 organization, we found requests for information from these people was taking up to 20% of the sales people’s time. It was so easy to send an email blast to the sales force to get their views. Product managers didn’t know their peers in the next cubicles were also sending request—and they were all sending followups.
2. Meeting discipline. We waste a lot of time in meaningless meetings. We waste even more time waiting for those meaningless meetings to start. It all adds up. Think of it, 2 meetings a day, starting 10 minutes late, for about 236 workdays a year is just under 79 hours a week—almost 2 weeks a year per person of wasted time—waiting for meetings. Think of it, if you could reclaim that time and apply it to sales related activities, without doing anything else, you’ve added 4% more selling time. Based on the numbers I outlined above, that can be roughly a 20-30% increase in selling time, which is directly translated into productivity. And this can be implemented at no cost!
Looking at the number of internal meetings on many sales people’s calendars, and knowing that 10 minutes is probably an understatement, think of the time that could be recovered only by starting meetings on time! Add to that the number of meaningless meetings that are total wastes of time (read some of my other posts on that topic). One European client has adopted a very novel approach to managing this problem. All meetings start precisely on time and end on time, more importantly, meetings are optional. So if people feel a meeting is a waste of time, they don’t come. Imagine the number of meetings that are eliminated.
3. Reporting discipline. You read me rant about reporting. Sure there are a lot of good tools that reduce the amount of time needed for reports, but I continue to be amazed by the amount of time sales people spend on reporting that is never looked at—but I’ve written about it before, needless to say, there are lots of opportunities to divert this time into selling related activities.
There are amazing and very simple solutions to freeing up sales people’s time to sell—dramatically increasing productivity. Look at the amount of time spent in non-selling activities. Much of it is necessary and a part of any sales professional’s job. But there is tremendous waste. I’m not suggesting you start managing by a stop watch, but the first pass at any sales productivity initiative needs to be decreasing time spent on non selling activities. Make sure you are giving them as much time as possible to sell. The next step is making them as effective and efficient as possible in selling. There are hundreds of articles, lots of advice and many tools that focus on this.