How to Manipulate Father Time

By Heather Baldwin

How many times have you heard reps complain that there aren’t enough hours in the day? The implication is that with more hours reps could close more deals. While that might be so, what’s more likely is that, regardless of how many hours are in a day, reps will spend the same percentage of those hours selling. So the basic challenge remains: How can you increase the percentage of time your reps spend selling? Or, considered from a different angle, how can you decrease the percentage of time your reps spend doing everything else?

One answer is to leverage technology to reduce some of the administrative burdens your reps shoulder, says Sheryl Kingstone, an industry analyst with Yankee Group (www.yankeegroup.com). Here’s a breakdown of how a typical sales rep spends the day, according to a 2004 Yankee Group survey of 500 sales and marketing executives, and Kingstone’s suggestions for reducing the time spent in each of these areas.

Sales administration: 16%. This includes any administrative work directly related to a sale such as entering information into a SFA or contact manager, filling out order blanks and so on. To lessen the time your reps spend on these activities, first take a hard look at your SFA system. Many in use today are cumbersome and take a lot of click-throughs to get to the information salespeople need. Do some benchmarking: How long does it take a sales rep to enter a new contact? How many clicks does it take to figure out when a customer last placed an order? Then restructure your system to be more business process-oriented, says Kingstone.

Another way to lessen sales administrative time is to put an expert network in place, she adds. Sales reps spend a lot of time tracking down answers to customer questions – finding the right person to answer the question, sending emails, exchanging voice mails and so on. Consider installing a system that enables your reps to query experts and receive timely responses that they then can log into a central knowledge base. Companies such as OutStart (www.outstart.com) and Involve Technology (www.involvetechnology.com) are good places to start, says Kingstone.

Sales preparation: 16%. This includes all the time spent preparing for a call, including research, preparing a meeting agenda, putting together a presentation and so on. The challenge many companies face is the use of static Intranets with data repositories containing generic brochures and sales sheets. “Sales reps either don’t use these resources or they spend too much time looking for what they need,” says Kingstone. “When they do find what they want, they often spend a lot of time editing it because it’s not directly applicable to the customer.” Instead, consider using technology that lets you create dynamic materials that are easy to find and customize. Some good places to start include The SAVO Group (www.savogroup.com), Pragmatech Software (www.pragmatech.com), The SANT Corporation (www.santcorp.com) and Icentera (www.icentera.com).

Waiting: 11%. This includes time spent waiting for a customer, whether in the customer’s lobby, on the phone or in the customer’s office while he or she attends to another matter. While you can’t change wait time, you can induce your reps to use this time more effectively by enabling them to enter SFA information in a Blackberry, Palm or other PDA. “No one will open a laptop in a customer’s office, but you can open a PDA and get some work done,” says Kingstone. A lot of the existing SFA systems have this option now, she adds. If yours doesn’t, consider custom building it.

Travel and travel-related waiting: 21%. This category is just what it sounds like – the time reps spend in a car, on a plane, sitting in traffic or sitting at the airport. To decrease the amount of time reps spend traveling or waiting to travel, look at how you might use Web conferencing technology to interact with customers. Do your reps really need to fly to Des Moines to give a sales presentation? Or could it be done just as effectively online? “Face-to-face contact is great, but save it for when it adds the most value,” says Kingstone.

Other administrative tasks: 10%. This is a catchall bucket for time spent doing everything not included in the other categories. It includes everything from filing expense reports and time sheets to getting a cup of coffee.

Selling: 25%. If you can decrease the time your reps spend doing other things, they theoretically should have more time to spend selling. So put technology to work for you and watch this percentage grow.