I just reviewed the 2011 Sales Optimization Survey from CSO Insights. This research organization surveyed more than 2,000 companies worldwide and collected information on more than100 metrics related to sales effectiveness. What struck me as most interesting is how salespeople invest their time:
1. About 41 percent is spent selling by phone or face-to-face.
Many technology vendors claim their solution will save time and that salespeople will be able to spend more time with customers. Looking at the same data point from a CSO Insights 2006 survey, we learn that five years ago, salespeople spent 46 percent of their time selling by phone or face-to-face. That’s when we had less technology. But technology is not the primary thief of selling time. The best explanation for this gradually shrinking slice of time is that customers want to spend less time with salespeople, since they spend more time now than in the past researching vendor solutions. In many cases, customers have completed 70 percent of the buying cycle before they begin a dialogue with a salesperson.
The survey also pointed to a very clear relationship between time spent with customers and sales reps making quota. For example, salespeople who spent 35 percent or less of their time selling by phone or face-to-face achieved quota only 55 percent of the time; however, when salespeople spent more than 45 percent of their time selling, the chances of them making quota went up to 62 percent. More belly-to-belly selling time fattens salespeople’s wallets.
2. Twenty-four percent of the salesperson’s time is spent on generating leads and researching accounts.
This time segment has grown from 19 percent, as reported in 2006. Does that mean this is a negative trend? CSO Insights researchers looked at the survey responses from companies that spend more time on contact and company research and found that they have higher conversion rates of leads to first calls. Here is where great technology can make a huge difference. Smart salespeople can research a prospect company within 45 seconds and access company data and social-media information within minutes. Given the right tools, salespeople can learn about their prospect’s business realities and personal tastes faster, cut call preparation time in half, and map out a winning strategy before dialing for dollars and engaging prospects in a meaningful dialogue.
3. Nineteen percent is spent on meetings or administrative tasks.
This is the area that deserves the most attention. Most sales meetings are called without an agenda, and salespeople are forced to listen to an emotional stream of consciousness from their manager(s). The best way to cut the time spent in sales meetings in half? Ask everybody attending to stand throughout the meeting. When nobody can sit down, mental productivity goes up. People will come to a decision faster, and small talk will evaporate. The more pressure people feel on their feet, the faster their minds will go from a problem to solutions.
4. Nearly 16 percent is spent on other tasks, such as service calls, training, etc.
There will always be “other” tasks in a sales office: ringing the bell when somebody sells something, reading this magazine, writing handwritten thank-you notes, congratulating another salesperson on a job well done.
The best way to approach the dilemma of salespeople spending less time with customers than in previous years is to reframe the issue. The solution isn’t about the management of time; it is about the management of actions. Only a better sales process will lead to greater sales progress.