Time Available For Selling is a critical issue for everyone in sales. But there are many things, both necessary and unnecessary, that distract from that time. Thinking of sellers chained to their desks, constantly on Zoom, telephone, or other meetings. Constantly doing email and social outreach, is unrealistic and unreasonable.
But before I go into a further discussion about time available for selling, let me first define how I look at time available for selling.
Time available for selling is the time sellers spend preparing for a customer interaction, the interaction itself, and the follow-up from that interaction.
We want to look at how effectively people are using that time, but for the moment, let me look at the time sellers spend outside this.
Sellers have responsibilities outside just engaging customers. There are review meetings-ideally to help improve their selling performance. There is training, enhancing their skills in engaging customers. There are meetings to develop and execute strategies to respond to specific customer and prospect issues. There is a certain amount of administrative work. And, there is a certain amount of idle/ad-hoc time that is actually important to sales performance.
There are a lot of powerful tools that help sellers improve their productivity in these non-selling activities. We may never eliminate the time people spend in these activities–some, in fact, are necessary, but we have to make sure sellers are a productive as possible in these activities.
While millions are invested in these tools, too often, sellers aren’t using them as they should, as a result they aren’t getting the productivity improvements, while we continue to spend money on these things. For example, an issue in 100% of the clients I work with is CRM compliance. CRM has been in place for at least 30 years, and it’s stunning to see that CRM compliance is still a dominant issue.
One of the issues we see with CRM and virtually every tool is we implement them poorly. We train people in how to use the tools, but provide them little understanding on “Why” the tools are important and how they help them improve their productivity. For example, most sellers I encounter seem to think CRM is a tool that helps managers watch over their shoulders and track them—ant that’s the way too many organizations use these tools. But, in our company, we can’t imagine working without CRM. We start and end our day with CRM, it helps us focus on the critical activities for the day, it helps us keep track of what’s happened, what we need to do.
Sadly, we see too many people implementing technology poorly. Rather than freeing up time tp sell, sellers spend more time using technology.
What about the endless internal meetings we have? Without a doubt we waste far too much time in meaningless meetings. I won’t get into effective meeting management, but be careful about meetings. Make sure you have clear purpose for each meeting, agendas and so forth. There are things that are useful for managing meetings. For example having meetings where people stand is an effective technique. Keeping people attentive by checking all devices at the door is another technique.
One meeting technique we encourage is making meetings optional. People will attend if they are getting value from them. If no one is attending your meetings, take that as a hint that you are wasting their time.
Meetings that are critical, we waste a lot of time by running them very ineffectively. Look at typical pipeline, deal, prospecting, territory, account reviews. We come in poorly prepared, we wander, we don’t have clear objectives, so we accomplish very little (keep this in mind for when we talk about using that selling time effectively).
Getting things done internally is, sometimes, critical for sellers. Perhaps in developing a proposal, getting resources or support. As our businesses get more complex, sometimes there is the unintended consequence of draining sales time. As you see systemic issues across the sales organization, for example getting complex proposals prepared, finalizing pricing/contracts, look at the workflow, redesigning it to make the process simpler. Automation tools may help here, but clear workflow, roles and responsibilities are actually easier and faster to implement.
For example, years ago, working with a major client, we found sellers had 9% of their time available for selling. We looked at the other 91% of time. Since they sold very complex/configurable solutions, sellers were spending an inordinate amount of time doing this. We leveraged a combination of automation and the establishment of deal desks to reduce the time sellers spent in this area.
Three final things on maximizing selling time. Simple time management tips, we too often forget. First, block your time for similar functions and use the time only for that. For example, we encourage sellers to block time purely for prospecting, or for customer research, or for follow up. Then keep that time sacred. Second, resist the temptation to react immediately to something that comes up. We spend a lot of time “thrashing” in the day, moving from one crisis to the next as we react to them. There are very few things in selling that require an immediate response. If you minimize your knee jerk reactions, you both handle the issue more effectively, and you get more accomplished. Finally, and this may seem like it contradicts the previous point, don’t over schedule yourself. Keep a certain percent of your day/week unscheduled. Use that as think/reflection time. Have that buffer in case things may take longer than you expect, they get delayed, or something urgent that you do have to respond to arises.
So now that we’ve looked at some to the issues impacting “non-selling time,” What about that time we dedicate to selling? Are we being as productive in using that time as we possibly can?
Doing the right research and preparation, making sure the customer is well prepared helps us accomplish more in the time we have with customers, than shooting from the lip and being unprepared. Some years ago, in a research project, we found sellers were spending 37% more time than necessary to close a deal. Here’s a simple test, how many times do you leave a customer interaction and think, “I forgot to do this…..” That generate another interaction/meeting and takes more of your and the customer’s time than it should.
We looked at one client. We found it generally took 22 meetings or interactions to close. We rethought those meetings, with the objective of reducing the number of meetings and interactions with the customer. We led some “design thinking,” exercises, developing an approach where they could accomplish more in each interaction. Ultimately, we got it to 9 meetings/interactions to close. In addition to using that selling time very well–enabling them to work with twice as many customers, there was a huge added benefit. The customers saw that our client was helping them be much more effective in their use of time–and win rates skyrocketed.
I’ll stop here, you get the idea. Two things to think about:
- How do you thoughtfully and effectively reduce the things that detract from selling time?
- How do you thoughtfully and effectively maximize the impact of your selling time?