December 9, 2013

Five Ways to Get More from Your Sales Force

By Selling Power Editors

Whether closing a major deal or keeping customers happy, a salesperson’s daily activities contribute to top-line growth in a big way. To help sales organizations understand how sales reps spend their time – and how to get the most out of that time – experts at ZS Associates recently developed the Sales Force Activity Snapshot (SFAS), a tool to help sales leaders analyze and prioritize sales activities.

Leaders in ZS’s sales effectiveness group developed SFAS with input from many of its clients. Sales executives need better information on the effectiveness of their sales force’s activities. As a result, ZS designed a 45-minute online survey, typically customized to each client’s needs.

“For individual clients, the results provide actionable information about the activities sales leaders should encourage and enable, as well as which activities salespeople should reduce or eliminate,” says Tony Yeung, a Principal at ZS Associates. “In the aggregate, data from SFAS also provide valuable insight about what top performers do differently from middle-to-low performers.”

Here are five best practices for salespeople that have emerged from SFAS survey results so far.

1) Prioritize core selling activities.

Many sales teams spend time pursuing activities that could best be handled by people in other roles in the organization (ZS calls this “role pollution”). These can include internal administrative tasks, pulling and analyzing data, ad hoc requests from other functions, and customer service and support activities. Although the jobs of service and support are important, they can sometimes prevent salespeople from tending to their core job of selling.

“Salespeople are an extremely expensive resource, and many sales forces need to look for ways to streamline noncore activities or offload them to a lower-cost resource,” says Yeung. He adds that the sales force he worked with was spending 40 percent of customer time on service and support, dramatically limiting available selling time.

“Salespeople were literally taking a tool kit onsite and fixing things for the customer,” Yeung says. “If you can reduce that 40 percent of service and support time across the sales force, you can nearly double selling capacity without increasing head count.”

2) Engage in precall planning.

Some sales managers push their teams to maximize customer face time while precall planning is underemphasized. Aggregate results from SFAS reinforce what ZS Associates has known for years: precall planning is a standout best practice among top performers.

“Top performers spend more time preparing for customer interactions,” Yeung says. “Not only do they spend more time studying information related to that customer’s business [prior to making a call], they also develop a clear objective, questioning approach, and strategy for handling anticipated objections.”

3) Spend time with the right prospects and customers.
Similarly, top performers usually take a quality over quantity approach to customer face time. Says Yeung, “They don’t spend a lot of time calling on lower-value customers who require a lot of time but don’t deliver equal returns. Low performers often have a tendency to spread themselves too thin.”

4) Make good use of road time.

Among sales forces who have taken the SFAS survey, most spend about 15 to 20 percent of their time traveling. Many companies are getting smarter about how they optimize that travel time. For example, some sales teams have detailed route plans to help reps plan travel on a weekly basis.

“With territory planning, you’ve got lots of room to ask, ‘Am I planning and scheduling calls in a way that maximizes customer time?'” Yeung says. “Many sales leaders have stories of salespeople driving hours to see just one customer, when a little advanced planning could have enabled multiple sales calls and a more productive day.”

Sales leaders are also tapping technology to help their teams accomplish more on the road. By giving reps access to resources and CRM through mobile devices, salespeople have less need to be in a local or home office. In addition, technology is blurring the lines between field and inside sales. When appropriate, online content and video can remotely bring the salesperson to the customer.

5) Reinforce your value to existing customers.

Highly successful salespeople devote a good deal of time communicating with existing customers. “Doing account reviews and checking in with existing customers reinforce the value of the relationship, drive higher customer satisfaction, and help identify new growth opportunities,” Yeung says. “That’s a big key to success.”

Implementing even a couple of these ideas can add up to significant improvement. Yeung estimates that most sales organizations have the potential to increase their selling capacity 20 to 25 percent. Enable your sales team to adopt these habits and you’ll create a more productive and engaged sales force.