February 2, 2010

How to Increase the Time Reps Spend Selling

By Henry Canaday

According to a study by Proudfoot Consulting, on average sales reps spend only 10 percent of their time actually selling. Paperwork, administration, travel and other duties suck up the rest of the time, dramatically reducing sales productivity.

Proudfoot Executive VP Miklos Klempa suggests that to get sales back on track companies must first reduce paperwork and give reps more support. But there are many other changes managers can make to maximize actual selling time and increase sales. If they do everything right, some firms could triple actual selling time per rep. Yes, triple!

Proudfoot spent more than 10,000 hours with sales reps as they called on many of its clients and prospects to estimate the wastage, according to Klempa. “We shadowed the reps; we went to sales meetings and everything else,” Klempa says. Long-cycle sales showed the highest time losses. For example, Proudfoot estimates that major-electronics salespeople spent only 3 percent of their time actively selling. Engineering and insurance reps did the best, with 18 percent of time spent in face-to-face selling.

Lack of management feedback and awkward information systems waste a lot of time. Brilliant sales automation systems are of no use if they consume too much time to maintain or do not directly help sales. Deficiencies in selling skills also hurt productivity. Sales calls are often made poorly and inadequately monitored. Across the board, Proudfoot found few sales forces that were truly competent in all eight key selling skills.

Current training programs at most firms are simply not correcting the problems. “There is a lack of training, coaching and follow-up,” Klempa emphasizes.

Proudfoot seeks to boost sales productivity in three areas: the sales process itself, information systems and the behavior of both reps and their managers. “You have to work on all three areas,” Klempa says. “Changing one, even dramatically, will not be enough.”

What is the upside? Proudfoot estimates that making all the improvements can push reps to spend 30 percent of their time actually selling to current customers or new prospects. That would still leave 70 percent of weekly hours for doing everything else, and at the same compensation cost. But it could triple the time – and thus the revenue – per year, per rep.

Where the Time Goes

Sales activity as percent of time

Active Selling 10%

Prospecting 10%

Problem Solving 14%

Personal Downtime 17%

Travel Time 18%

Administration 31%

Source: Proudfoot Consulting