I started the last SalesPulse with the question below but deliberately chickened out of giving the answer.
How much time do your sales people actually devote to selling and how much of it is productive?
However, I will answer it this time; the most amount of time people are actively involved in selling is around 50% (18.5 hours per week). Generally it is higher in small companies, which are rarely surveyed but in large companies the last surveyed figure I have seen is 38% (just 14 hours a week). However, this does not mean that this time is productive. So let’s have a simple definition of productive; productive sales people hit or beat their target/quotas/budget – is that a reasonable definition? Well the general consensus is that on average only 60% of sales people make the grade! Is the dominant reason that sales people fail is that their budgets were wrong? In some cases this may be true but in the greater scheme of things I don’t believe so. The main reason sales people fail is that most sales managers and directors manage, whereas they should lead. Managers check, count, control and focus on the short term; leaders listen, inspire, trust and focus on a broader horizon.
Traditional management behaviour constrains selling time which is why the statistics are as they are…. appalling! A leader will listen to their people and find ways to break down the barriers to selling time. They will listen to their sales people, identify the big wastes in terms of lost selling time and cut them out. If you had just 20% more selling time and utilised it properly the numbers will surely speak for themselves.
Before looking at the other horrible statistic above, let’s examine how much of the current sales time is poorly used. Sales campaigns have three outcomes; won lost and no decision. You could add decision deferred but in productivity terms you have still spent the time on it so I put it into the lost/no decision category. Your biggest single competitor is your own sales team. According to Forrester and CSO Insights somewhere between 26 and 42% of deals are lost to no decision. If this is the case then that percentage of sales time is lost. Everyone loses from time to time, after all our competitors may really have better sales people. However, the same reason applies. Sales managers and sales people forget to qualify, if they do they are not rigorous enough and they do not do it continuously. The failing to win rate exposes that weakness.
60% of sales people are not productive. They may generate sales but don’t make their target. The Objective Management Group (US) consistently says that 26% of sales people are elite or strong, the rest are not! Why? – there are failures in recruitment, training, coaching, motivation and vision (longer term). Additionally customers are significantly better informed than they were a few years ago and this has changed selling dramatically.
The factor linking all these issues is the sales management community. It has not been aware, able (or willing) to adapt to the current situation nor has it shown the skills and behaviours to drive a quantum leap in sales productivity. For some reason senior management rarely invest in Sales Management/Leadership training, but that’s probably because they don’t understand selling. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all sales managers are duds there are some really great ones out there, but even the best can improve.
Let me pull this all together:
Stop wasting valuable sales time – I have no doubt whatsoever that understanding how sales people use their time will yield many possibilities to generate more sales capacity. Set an objective of freeing up x% of wasted time and build and execute a plan to achieve it. Having done so raise the bar and do it again.
Focus on business you will win – Understand why you fail to win, whether you lose to “no decision” or to a competitor. Do you have a learning culture and is qualification rigorous and continuous? Make sure everyone knows and learns from mistakes. Our Sales Excellence Handbook (available from )  will help here and with other sales best practice.
Change sales management behaviour – Make a simple start by changing sales managers’ job title to “Sales Leader”. It won’t solve the problem but it will make them think about their role which is start. We have a sales leadership programme which will help your people make the changes required and demonstrate senior management’s support. In a relatively small company it will deliver at least a 100:1 Return on Investment.
This package of changes will provide companies with:
  –  Improved sales motivation
  –  More satisfied customers
  –  Significantly more productive selling time, and of course
  –  Better business results
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