We, our customers, colleagues, managers are time poor! In reality, we will always be that way, we will have more demands on our time than we have time to commit. For years, I’ve been lobbying for a 30 hour day or a 9 day workweek, somehow thinking things would be better if we just had more time. But, as much as I argue for these changes, they seem unlikely to be accepted.
History is filled with innovations intended to help us leverage our time much more impactfully. We used to be limited in the time we could spend with customers by the time it took to travel to meet with the customer. Telephones helped us reach and engage customers remotely, we no longer had to go door-to-door. Mobile devices, email, Zoom, and so many other technologies help us reach prospect and customers more easily, eliminating travel time.
New tools and technologies continue to help us gain leverage over our time. In addition to tools that to help us reach customers, other tools and technologies helped us manage other aspects of our jobs. CRM was intended to help consolidate information about our customers. Other tools helped us with proposals, demos, research. Still more helped us with reporting on our activities and progress.
And the “productivity tools,” continue to flow. There are somewhere around 20,000 sales/martech tools available to help improve our ability to use our time, reach our customers. Theoretically, freeing us up to have selling conversations. And the latest round of AI tools “promises’ to extend the volume of things we can do, and further improve our “productivity.”
As time has progressed, we’ve moved from CRM as the primary tool, to a handful, and now a sales stack. It’s not uncommon to see sales stacks of 20 apps/tools we leverage. Perhaps a few for outreach communications, sales enablement platforms, authoring/content platforms, conversational intelligence, reporting/analytics, messaging, proposal management, calendar management, conferencing/virtual selling, CRM, and others.
These tools, each intended to free up our time so we can sell, are taking more and more of our time. We have to learn how to use them, we have to keep entering data and updating them, so that we can use them. They take more and more of our time instead of doing what we bought them for–freeing up time to sell.
And then, seller jobs have been redefined and parceled. When I started selling I was responsible for prospecting and managing qualified deals through closing. I did have specialists to support me, people with deep expertise in customer problems or our products, so they freed up my time–I didn’t have to be an expert at everything.
Today, the process has been segmented even further. We have SDRs/BDRs doing prospecting, eliminating the time we spend finding opportunities. We have more specialists in our products, demoing. Others doing proposals, getting approvals, and presenting them to our customers. Even some organizations have specialists in managing final negotiations. Again, these are oriented both to freeing up time to manage the deals in our pipelines, and to have people with deep expertise in aspects of selling do what they do best.
Increasingly, we have bots and other tools that intercede, doing other things to fee up our time so we can focus on the most important things in working with customers.
Digital buying trends also help us and our customers. We no longer have to spend as much time educating customers about the capabilities of our products. Our websites handle the majority of that basic education.
And social tools provide us new methods and places to engage customers.
Since our managers don’t seem to have the time to coach and help us develop our skills and capabilities, we have other tools and technologies that coach us on how to improve what we do. Conversational intelligence coaches us, other automation tools monitor our activities, pipelines–alerting us to different things we must get done, or where we might be falling behind.
What started, many years ago as well intended efforts to free up time to sell, to work with our customers and move them forward in their buying process has snowballed–somewhat out of control. We spend more time with the tools and things that were intended to make us more productive that we are spending less time with our customers in selling activities.
There are other, possibly, unintended consequences of many of these tools. We are able to inundate prospects and customers with outreaches/touches—but finding customers not responding and not wanting to spend time with sellers. Less than 17% of time is spent with any seller and over 72% of customers prefer to buy with no seller involvement.
And then these productivity and time saving tools give sellers lots of places to “hide out,” not actually meeting with customers. We spend hours scrolling through our social feeds, more hours with these productivity tools, avoiding the time to actually talk to and engage a customer.
As a result, we now see less time available to sell. Research reports seem to converge on the 30%–the time people spend selling. Other research shows less than 20% actually interacting with customers in meetings (real/virtual), or by phone.
So all the things that are intended to free up our time to work with customers, helping them buy, actually seem to be taking more of our time.
And we are less productive–fewer people are achieving their goals and making quota, And win rates are plummeting, with 15-20% deemed to be “normal.” Fully burdened Cost Per Order Dollar/ARR is skyrocketing.
All of this seems to be madness. The things that are intended to free up our time, the things that are intended to maximize the impact of the time we do spend with customers, are actually doing the opposite.
Perhaps the most important thing leaders and sellers can do is to hit the pause button. To examine how time is actually being spent. To radically simplify and refocus on what our jobs are–finding and engaging a customer that has a need to change, helping them with that process.