How to Get a 20 Percent Increase in Sales Productivity

By Heather Baldwin

Sales leaders spend piles of money to recruit, hire, and train their sales professionals – and then burden them with countless non-revenue-producing activities that sap their time and decrease their productivity.

In a survey of 30 Fortune 500 companies, Carla Zilka, author of Business Restructuring: An Action Template for Reducing Cost and Growing Profit, found that salespeople in these large, global sales forces spend about 40 percent of their time not selling. Their biggest time-wasters: administrative work, such as updating a CRM system after a call or creating reports for managers, and “people” issues, such as conflict resolution and managing customer complaints.

Organizations that eliminate these nonselling burdens, says Zilka, typically gain a 20 percent to 25 percent improvement in productivity – the equivalent of an entire extra day of selling per week. So how do you get there? Follow these three steps:

  1. Identify how your reps are spending their time. Conduct an activity survey by asking reps to keep track of how much time they spend on each activity throughout the day. Be sure to let them know the surveys will be anonymous and that transparency is paramount in order to make effective changes.
  2. Group your reps’ activities into three areas: 1) activities that are core to sales, 2) administrative work, such as data entry, filling out contracts, and mailing brochures, and 3) unnecessary work. Armed with this information, ask what tasks can be eliminated, consolidated, or performed more efficiently. Zilka says one organization, after bucketing its reps’ activities, realized the reps were spending an unusual amount of time on reporting. Further investigation revealed that 100 different sales reports were being delivered to managers around the world every month because every manager wanted different data. By consolidating all the critical data onto a single page with cuts by geography and product, Zilka says she decreased the reporting workload by 500 hours a month, or an extra four hours per month per rep.
  3. Create a sales-support hub. Transfer the admin work identified in the activity survey to a hub staffed by people whose sole duty is to handle reps’ administrative tasks. The hub should be combined, either virtually or geographically, with standardized, automated processes for every task. That way, reps can contact anyone in the hub to enter data, fax contracts, mail brochures, etc., and the tasks will be executed properly. To drive productivity in the hub, create metrics, and link compensation to those metrics, says Zilka.

When these steps are done right, you should quickly begin to see an increase in sales and productivity, as well as a decrease in wasted administrative time. Reps who don’t exhibit these improvements – who are still spending a lot of time on administrative tasks – may not have the right personality and skills to stay in your sales organization. And that’s all right, says Zilka. Because you can either hire the right talent to replace them or make up the difference through the rest of your team’s improved productivity.