It’s no secret: salespeople spend too much time on non-sales activities.
According to the Alexander Group, salespeople only spend 36% of their time selling.
Of course, no one wants this—not management, and certainly not salespeople. The more "at bats", the higher number of potential sales.
To have meaningful change, invest some time to objectively view the current sales process and what the team is doing each day. Most importantly, be clear about what core activities actually increase sales. If we're doing a good job at leadership, then we're always looking at productivity and efficiency.
Where to begin
Start by engaging your team to get their feedback. You may want to have them keep an informal daily log of what their day actually looks like. Encourage them not to sugar-coat it, but to honestly share all the things that take up their work day.
Your entire sales force doesn’t have to participate in this step, just a representative sample usually works fine. And yes...you’ve now created yet one more “non-sales” activity, but assure them this is a temporary exercise. Actually, savvy salespeople realize this is finally an opportunity to document all of the infuriating “nonsense work” they have to do that gets in the way of them making commission.
Another place worth exploring are salespeople’s calendars. How many meetings are there? How long are they? What are the meetings about? Are they all really needed? Is everyone really needed at each meeting?
After gathering data, get the right group of people together to assess what’s going on. This could be just 1 or 2 salespeople, and they don't have to be the star performers. You may want to also include people from the customer service and operations department to make it a company-wide initiative.
After some exploration, you’ll find that problems typically arise from one or more of these four areas:
- Legacy processes
- Internal communications
- Customer service tasks
- Managing sales-related information
When the company started everyone wore many hats. You had to cobble together procedures and figure things out as you went. It worked, at least for the time and the team at hand.
Then the company grew, headcount increased, responsibilities were divided up, but yet everyone was still doing the same thing in the same way.
In many organizations, there was never a moment where they decided it was time to implement a really good sales process. Like a manufacturing machine that's old and needs service, it still works. And yet, if the company invests in maintaining and upgrading the machine, it can produce more, yielding a return on that investment.
Meetings, calls, screenshares, emails, texts, Slack, plus more. With so many ways to communicate in the modern office, it can be daunting to find the right medium for the right message.
Is it really necessary to have the salesperson sit in the conference room for that hour-long meeting? Maybe...maybe not.
Are people wasting time crafting long-prose multi-point emails threads with dozens of recipients, when a focused conversation would be more time efficient? Human communication is nuanced, and office tribes develop their own culture around what’s acceptable and when.
The important thing is for everyone to start paying attention to this and noticing how communications are handled. Usually a new consensus can be found that better meets the needs of everyone.
Customer service tasks
It starts with good intentions.
The customer reaches out to the salesperson with “just a quick question” about something basic. It could be a delay in shipping, or a discrepancy in pricing, or something else. The salesperson wants to please their customer, and welcomes the emotional rewards of being helpful to someone in need, instead of trying to close the sale and risking possible rejection.
Usually, this isn’t the best use of a salesperson’s time.
Those issues can be routed to others who have the ability and personality to take care of customer service issues as well (or sometimes even better) than the salesperson.
Letting salespeople handle customer services can seem like it’s saving money, but there are hidden costs. If you calculate an effective hourly rate based on the total comp plan of your solid performers, you’ll find it’s multiple times what you’d pay an administrative person.
If you think you can’t afford a sales administrator on the payroll, consider that it doesn’t need to be full time, at least in the beginning. It could be additional tasks for an admin that’s currently working with other departments. You can hire a part-time resource, or even outsourcing it with virtual assistants on an as-needed basis.
So give your closers coffee...not customer service.
Managing sales-related information
You may find that another place where there is “low hanging fruit” involves how effective and efficient salespeople are when they have to create, edit, share, and even just find information related to the sales process.
This includes: generating quotes, putting together proposals, using price sheets, locating existing orders, reporting on sales metrics, managing presentation decks, email templates, and more.
Often salespeople are left to just figure it out on their own, dealing with unorganized information in various versions scattered across hard drives, local networks, cloud platforms, thumb drives, and individual emails.
For example, when it comes to pricing, if you have specific services and products, there should be one central, canonical, always-updated price list, easily accessible by anyone that needs it. You’d be surprised (or not!) how often that isn’t the case.
Here is another common example. Presentations, sell sheets, white papers, videos and other sales collateral are not stored in one, easily accessible location. Because of the lack of a simple, centralized repository, some salespeople are not even aware of all the sales tools at their disposal. Others are using outdated and possibly inaccurate material.
Factoid: According to CSO Insights, just 47% of companies report access to relevant content for sales reps.
If the pricing isn’t set, what does your team have to do to create an approved quote?
Are salespeople creating them manually with a calculator, or working with their own homegrown Excel sheet? Technology and platforms have evolved to the point that it’s easier than ever to build business rules into a platform or a custom sheet so salespeople can create quotes on the fly. Not only does it accomplish the task quicker, but the results would almost always be more professional and visually engaging.
It’s possible to get more productivity from your existing team, just by focusing attention on non-selling activities related to legacy processes, internal communications, customer service tasks, and sales-related information.
If you’re not the boss, then be sure to get the boss’s buy-in. Make sure they not only see the possibility of change, but the benefit that change can deliver. Create a “Sales Activity Log” to arm yourself with meaningful data.
When everyone sees the entire management team engaged with the initiative, it will get the attention and focus it deserves.
P.S. Interested in measuring how much time is spent on non-sales tasks? See the Time Suck Calculator.
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