There is plenty of research indicating that sales people typically spend less than 50% of their time actually selling. A recent research report put the figure at just 33% spent on selling – scary!
How good would it be to double the amount of business generated by your sales team without increasing the payroll bill other than paying more bonus or commission? After all you shouldn’t mind paying well-targeted bonus or commission as this is just a success fee! Doubling the business generated could be achieved more easily than you might think.
So let’s look at three key strategies that can be used to make sales people more efficient, effective and productive. This focuses on; what the sales people do, how much of it they do and what support, or interference, they get from technology and support functions.
What should sales people be doing?
This seems both too simple and too obvious but my answer is just SELLING; nothing else, just selling! This begs the question what is selling and what does it consist of. Strictly, selling is the name of the final transaction that sees the ownership of goods or services pass from the supplier to the customer in exchange for a consideration which is normally payment of money. However, a common understanding of the selling function embraces all of the activity involved in the engagement between a hopeful supplier and a potential customer.
A classic engagement cycle would see the sales people; making first contact or responding to an inbound enquiry, exploring the needs & wants, qualifying both the company and the opportunity to establish they are a genuine prospect, proposing a product or service solution, closing the deal and taking the order. This can be simplified to; find, explore, propose and close.
So it seems to me that if the sales people are doing anything other than find, explore, propose and close, they are probably wasting valuable selling time. I do believe there are valid activities that would fall outside my strict definition but even then those activities should be directly aligned to one of the four primary activities.
For example; we believe strongly in the value of desk research so before attending a meeting with a new contact the sales person should use the internet to find out enough background about the company to ensure the meeting is fruitful. In the case of an appointment arranged by the company reaching out to the prospect the research should have been done prior to attempting to make the appointment. When dealing with an inbound enquiry the research should still be done including deciding whether the enquirer has the potential to be a customer or whether they fall outside your profile for an “ideal customer”. The time for this will vary according to how complex your solutions are but we are talking 5 – 10 minutes in most cases not hours.
If you had someone tasked with doing the desk research your sales people are currently doing, would that enable your sales people to attend more meetings where the real selling will be done?
This would be an example of the work done by a sales support or administration function or to use a current term a Sales Enablement function. Doing the research is about making the sales person’s time more effective; who does it is a question of efficiency. Another example would be appointing a specialist, internal or external, to make appointments for field sales again freeing up more time to attend meetings.
This topic usually focuses on the mechanics of time planning, journey planning and the like. So if the sales person has a meeting in a particular location the idea is to get them to fix other meetings close by to make best use of the travelling time. However, this is about efficiency not effectiveness. All too often the sales person will book additional meetings and will often go for what is easy to achieve so they visit their old mate Jim who is always good for a chat and a cup of coffee. In considering this scenario through an effectiveness filter I would question whether the sales person would be better served getting back to the office to start producing the proposal for the exciting new prospect rather than wasting time having a nice chat with Jim? Just a question to ask yourself.
People will do what they are asked to do and if one of the parameters you set your sales people is to do XX meetings per month that is probably what they will do. It would be much better to set more meaningful criteria that relate directly to the selling job; find, explore, propose and close. So the measure should be something like “arrange and attend at least X meetings per month where the result is the customer having an actual requirement that we can satisfy” or “attend XX meetings per month that generate a follow on action (further meeting, site visit, demonstration, request for a quote or proposal, etc.)”
It is often said you cannot manage what you cannot measure and this should be extended to include “… and don’t measure what doesn’t matter”.
- Explain to your sales people that you want to understand how they spend their time as you are looking to eliminate counterproductive processes and targets which waste their valuable selling time. This needs to be handled carefully as it can be a sensitive subject.
- Sit down with each person and get them to describe their typical week or month. It may help to break this down to half or even one/two hour slots. Use as the basis for this; find, explore, propose and close, and add a fifth category – other*. This will give you a high level picture of how the sales people are spending their time plus a guide to how you may need to re-position the definition of an ideal sales productivity model.
* Other may identify missing as well as counterproductive factors.
- Understanding the ratios between the four main activities will also provide a useful aid when comparing the performance of different sales people and also different sales territories or product groups. It will also provide a very useful input to individual; training, development and coaching plans.
- Modify the; processes, goals, objectives, targets and, if necessary, the compensation plans that you set for the sales people to ensure they align with the ultimate goal of maximising the time spent actually selling.
- Measure only what matters.
Ways to support your sales people
The basic tools for pretty much any sales job are a phone, computer or tablet and maybe a car or access to good public transport for field sales. Now however, courtesy of technology, there are literally tens and probably hundreds of tools vying for attention in the sales and selling space. Here we have focused on just a few that we think can help to make the selling function more effective and productive.
Note: in our time we have used and investigated various tools which serve the purposes described below, each have their strengths, weaknesses and sweet spots, so feel free to ask.
- CRM will be top of the list for most people; we agree that when a CRM is properly implemented as a selling (not marketing) system it will definitely help the sales people to be more effective. It is not uncommon that sales people cite the CRM as extra admin they have to do. The word “extra” is the warning bell as it indicates the CRM requires people to do things outside or beyond their normal selling activities so the sales people often see no benefit in using the CRM leading to resistance. The most common cause for this is that the design of the CRM took little heed of the needs of the sales people or their processes, resulting in two discrete systems; the ways the sales people actually do the job and the way the CRM designer thinks they should do the job. Hence the view that CRM Ξ extra admin.
So, when implementing a CRM; first analyse the existing sales processes, fix any gaps or weaknesses, publish the new processes inviting feedback, amend appropriately and then produce the final specification for the CRM system your company really needs.
- Don’t fall into the trap of creating a system that expects sales people to record lots of low level activity. For example; how many times they pick up the phone is of little consequence; what matters is how many meaningful conversations they have as measured by a positive outcome such as a meeting or request for a quotation.
Tip: measure outcomes not inputs.
Now select the CRM tool that best fits the process you have defined and use it to “computerise” that process. Better still consider implementing a sales process automation system; as the name suggests this seeks to automate the processes not the selling activity. This will definitely minimise the “administration” aspects of the selling job thus freeing more time for the sales people to spend with prospects and customers.
In this way the sales people have one system to work to; one which actually helps them and you.
- Company search tools to help build better more informed profiles of prospects. There are a number of such search tools on the market that enable you to set comprehensive parameters that are then used to search for suitable potential contacts. Simple criteria such as; industry, location, size are easily catered for but it is also possible to build much more sophisticated profiles including, for example “any company that has static or falling profit over two or more consecutive years”. If your solution is focused on helping to address profit issues any message you communicate to a company with falling profit will have greater impact – they will realise you have done your research and this alone will encourage them to want to speak to your sales person. There are a number of well-established data aggregation tools that we have used for this purpose and we are in the process of trialing a tool that uses web crawlers and similar techniques to seek out new contacts with a fit to your ideal target.
Helping sales people to be better focused will contribute to all three criteria; efficiency, effectiveness and productivity.
- A sales support function has been a feature of sales and selling operations for many years but it has no clear definition. The essence of a good sales support function will be to provide a (centralised) set of services that all sales people can draw upon which frees them up to focus on the core selling activities. An example, stemming from the previous point, would see a central function doing the work to search for and profile potential new prospects which would be given to the sales people to follow up. It is also quite common that telemarketing is centralised (in-house or outsourced) to generate appointments for sales people. In cases where proposals and other responses to prospects are large, complex and time consuming a good strategy is to create a centralised bid support function again freeing the sales person to focus on the key activity of engaging with prospects and customers.
Tip: if all sales people have to do a small amount of a particular activity consider whether it could be centralised such that one person can become the expert.
Sales support has been morphing into Sales Enablement of late and it is worth considering whether such a function would add value to your business. We do have some firm views on this and will be covering the topic in detail in our next newsletter.
Making your people individually and personally more effective
Much of what we have discussed above is about the environment and systems the people operate in but of course there is plenty of scope to help the people themselves; paying attention to the inner person.
We have covered these topics in previous newsletters and blogs so I will just summarise the key topic areas here.
- Recruitment; it seems obvious but if you recruit the wrong people to join your sales teams you are starting from a weak position. What does wrong mean? The answer is about the fit with your job requirements and culture not an absolute description of the candidate.
Tip: define the requirements of the job and recruit against that specification; don’t just recruit the best of the bunch if they don’t meet your criteria – you and they will probably live to regret it.
- On-boarding and induction. When you recruit someone, no matter how experienced, they are in effect raw material to you. To help that person become an effective employee for you then you must make the effort to bring them on board and induct them into the role you have recruited them for and how that fits into the overall company activity and objectives. If this takes, one, two, three weeks don’t be concerned, the investment of time will pay you back handsomely.
Tip: I said “induct them into the role you have recruited them for” which means no surprises; ensure you have described the role very clearly during recruitment as people leaving jobs shortly after joining a new company is all too common if they feel they are a square peg in a round hole.
- Training is a crucial step in completing the process of converting your new recruit into an employee. You need to train them in everything they need to know to do the job as you want it done and this is of course about your products, services, solutions and your proposition but it is also about the processes they need to follow and if during recruitment you detected gaps in their selling skills then they need to be addressed as well.
Tip: a part of the recruitment process should involve the creation of a personal development program for each new recruit and this should include training needs.
- Ongoing development through; leadership, management and coaching is also key to creating happy employees who will want to stay with you. Recruiting the wrong person who stays with you for a few months then leaves or you have to let them go is a huge waste of money and time and with sales people it can also come with a huge lost opportunity cost if they fail to convert qualified opportunities, which you have provided, into revenue for your business. Of the three disciplines; leadership, management and coaching, coaching is the one that will deliver the best return in terms of gaining better performance from your sales people. Sales people receiving regular rigorous coaching typically out-perform those who do not receive such support by as much as 20% more business sold.
Tip: build into the sales managers’ objectives the need to undertake a minimum of four hours field coaching per month per sales person. If the sales managers don’t know how to coach, teach them.
- Retention is as important as recruiting and if you pay attention to the points above people will want to stay with you. While paying people appropriately for the work they do is of course important, how you treat them is even more so.
Tip: when people do leave you always do an exit interview; this should be a professional structured meeting conducted by someone not involved with the person on a day to day basis, maybe even consider using an external person to do this.
Efficiency, effectiveness and productivity, like the legs on a three legged stool, provide a strong and stable platform but if a leg is missing or unequal to the others then the stool will be wobbly and unreliable in use. Don’t let your sales and selling operation be like a wobbly stool.
The really good news is that all of this is available at no additional cost to payroll as it is all about doing what you already do, that you already pay for, better and faster. What’s not to like!?