Mention sales productivity and nearly everyone in sales has the same thought: Let’s increase it!
But that’s clearly a struggle: Nearly half of sales executives say boosting sales productivity is a top challenge, according to ongoing research from The Bridge Group. Sales pros constantly want to maximize sales results while keeping tabs on cost, time and effort.
The challenge is real. Consider all the things that can – and do – get in the way of salespeople actually selling:
- poor planning and scheduling
- confusing communication from top to bottom of the organization
- pressure to exceed targets
- inconsistent coaching and training practices
- unnecessary paperwork
- changing sales activities priorities
- turnover and unpredictable demands
- lack of alignment between Sales, Marketing, Support and Service
- distractions from our always-on world
Despite all that, some salespeople – the top performers – manage to remain productive. How? According to SiriusDecision’s 2019 Sales Talent Study, all salespeople spend 58% of their time on selling activities. But top performers spend that bulk of that time on late stage activities.
“That’s often because they’ve figured out how to streamline, delegate or minimize other activities – the early funnel activities,” says Heather Cole, Service Director of Sales Enablement Strategies at SiriusDecisions.
Assess your time
The first step in figuring out how to streamline, delegate and minimize is know where and how salespeople currently spend their time.
It’s an exercise in hard-reality.
Many salespeople think they spend their time wisely – and their logs probably reflect that. But many of us are guilty of exaggerating time well-spent on activities such as cold calls, presentations and visits. Then we minimize the time not-so-well-spent on activities such as Web searches and check-ins with current customers who don’t need to be checked on.
So if you want to make better use of time, encourage salespeople to be honest, candid and realistic when they log their time. Promise no judgment, and you should get the right benchmark.
Know what to do with time
With an assessment, you’ll see your sales productivity reality.
“Then, you want to minimize things like expense reports and data reporting – those non-core activities,” Cole said at the SiriusDecisions 2019 Summit.
“Leverage delegating for things like customer service calls. Streamline things like company research and prospect checks. Then maximize face time and relationship-building.”
You can accomplish all that with these 15 tactics. They’re designed to help salespeople spend more time on the activities that have the highest selling value.
1. Measure differently
It’s easy to measure sales – quota goals, revenue, deal size. They’re solid indicators of success. Measuring (and rewarding) selling is a bit more difficult.
To improve sales productivity, you want to track and reward productivity gains and results. Add metrics such as call rate, win rate, sales cycle length, conversion rate and number of touches to conversion. Reward for those, too. Community dashboards help everyone see trends and often encourage or remind salespeople to stay focused on productive activities.
2. Simplify the workflow
Nearly half of salespeople say they spend up to 20 hours a week on manual processes to report leads, sales and other activities that are vital to closing deals, a Spotio study found. Some salespeople spend half of their time just reporting actual selling time!
Sales organizations want to hold salespeople accountable for their time. But too much paperwork – even when it’s automated in CRM or sales solutions – makes salespeople prisoners to process. Eliminate as much manual lead and funnel management as possible. Add more check points – rather than detailed answers – to automated systems.
And before we go into more technology solutions (because there are many), keep in mind: Automation and technology tools won’t fix all the productivity issues. Tools only help when salespeople are trained to use them properly, rewarded for using them and face consequences for not using the tools.
3. Simplify the system
In an effort to maximize efficiency, many organizations amp up technology. They give salespeople tools for video, chat, email tracking, document sharing, presenting, forecasting, scoring, etc. Just managing those can hamper sales productivity!
With so many unrelated tools to focus on and maximize, salespeople often get slowed down trying to align the information. Try to bring as many tools as possible under one roof – a CRM system, a multi-use app, even something as basic as a house-built, cloud-based system that runs the Microsoft suite programs. What’s important is information, account databases and metrics are centralized, easy to access and simple to understand.
4. Update regularly
Messy CRM and sales systems slow down selling. When salespeople have to dig through outdated information, input data into overflowing files and accounts or manually update deals, they’re wasting time.
Have someone take a few hours every month to update your systems or upgrade to a system that automatically updates to keep it squeaky clean.
5. Delegate smartly
Paper and/or electronic trails are a necessary part of selling. Although time-consuming, the trails are records important for the sales journey.
Gain selling time by delegating much of the paper or electronic trail to a virtual assistant. More sales organizations embrace the service these days because the price of one (or some) can be made up easily in the extra deals salespeople make when they aren’t bogged down by paperwork and process. Virtual assistants can often take over managing calendars, answering large numbers of emails, processing orders, creating lead lists and handling some low-level follow-up.
6. Digitize sensibly
For all the help automation and technology offer, they can also be a distraction and time-drain. By all means, use your tools. But try these strategies to avoid becoming overwhelmed by handling technology.
Email is likely your best tool for keeping in touch with customers and prospects. But it needs to be managed so it doesn’t become a communication jungle.
- React in batches. Time management experts suggest accessing email about three times a day. Set a schedule that works for you – up to six times a day. What’s important is a schedule instead of reacting to individual messages as they come in. Turn off notifications so you aren’t tempted to get distracted and waste time throughout the day.
- Turn on the IMAP setting (as opposed to POP). Then any action you make on one device – such as delete or respond – syncs across all devices.
- Automate some messages. Prepare email templates for routine tasks such as follow-up and appointment setting. Use apps like those here to schedule sends.
Social media posting and Internet searches can turn into many lost hours without some self-restriction.
- Listen automatically. Rather than scour and scroll social media for what you need to see, identify the companies, industries, individuals and topics you want to stay attuned to. In addition to settings in Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, use apps like these to set up alerts so you can dig deeper – rather than randomly – when there’s activity.
- Participate effectively. Social media engagement should lead to sales. Participate with quality, not quantity. Some social media apps help you pull information from social platforms and make recommendations on how to interact with people – such as recognizing important dates and posting pertinent, timely information.
- Draw the line. You probably know when to call it quits with a non-responsive prospect. Same goes for social media. There’s a point you’ll lose selling time by continuing with social contacts who engage but don’t act.
7. Qualify for quality
Sales productivity can skyrocket if salespeople work with quality leads more often. That’s why a Lead Scoring Plan is detrimental to any organization that wants to improve productivity.
Establish a framework to determine the worthiness of leads. You’ll want to assign values based on how they’ve interacted with your organization and how well they fit into your ideal customer profile. Then sales development reps or salespeople are only spending time making contact with qualified leads – and not wasting time sorting through leads that aren’t.
8. Manage content better
Some sales reps say they spend as much as a third of their day looking for content to share with prospects, in social media and in presentations, research from Seismic found. Sales reps say they can’t find the right content at the right time, so almost 70% of marketing content goes unused!
Sales leaders want to coach salespeople on their sales enablement tools with online and classroom training. Then, and more importantly, leaders can check on sales calls that salespeople understand and know how to navigate the system.
9. Align sensibly
Unfortunately, the disconnect between Sales and Marketing doesn’t end at content (as noted above). Only about 10% of companies say Sales and Marketing are tight, according to Forrester research.
When Sales and Marketing are aligned, win rates, quota achievement and growth increase. The key: shared goals.
To increase sales productivity, sales and marketing teams need to share the same vision for goals and how to achieve them. Even if salespeople have individual goals, some shared goals keep everyone working more effectively together to hit or exceed the mark.
10. Follow the process
Many salespeople are mavericks, following their own style and intuition. That approach only works for a few.
Processes work better. In fact, sales organizations that have a sales pipeline process have an 18% higher revenue growth than those that don’t, according to research by Vantage Point Performance and the Sales Management Association.
Defined processes keep salespeople on track and productive because they know what must come next. There’s always another step, another goal, another reason to act.
The better part: We aren’t talking about a rigid protocol. A simple workflow or narrow guidelines with accountability are enough to keep salespeople productive.
For instance, your sales process might look like this:
Prospecting > Qualifying > Presenting > Handling Objections > Closing > Nurturing
You can break each step down into more steps that serve at least as a guideline (with accountability, of course). For instance, Prospecting:
Research > Connect with contact > Update information on CRM > Identify decision-maker > Plan best approach to decision-maker
11. Focus on a single task
You’ve probably heard that multi-tasking is actually inefficient, but it bears repeating (and here’s proof, if you want it). Yet, multiple screens of varying sizes and capabilities make salespeople think they can get more done at one time.
Salespeople will be more productive if they focus on one task at a time. Encourage them to start small if they’re reluctant or just don’t know how to single-task. For instance, make a certain number of calls before stopping to do any related administrative tasks (that aren’t automated). For information that seems to be important to include, jot it down on a notepad to add when it’s time to do the single administrative task.
12. Do ‘Deep Work’
Salespeople who take single-tasking one step further – into “Deep Work” – are more productive.
In business expert and author Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, he suggests:
- Schedule Deep Work. Plan time at around the same hour every day for difficult tasks that require serious mental focus and critical thinking.
- Be ready. Deep Work can be boring. So don’t allow yourself access to the things we do to distract ourselves – social media, news or sports feeds, email, etc.
- Be alone. When doing Deep Work – perhaps for you, it’s cold calls, writing proposals or creating content – make it more difficult for others to interrupt you. Put “Do not disturb” on your calendar. Work in a space away from your office.
13. Knock out the tough tasks
Many sales and time management experts recommend tackling your toughest or highest priority task in your first hour of the day.
That’s when you’re freshest, most focused and open-minded.
Plus, if prospecting is your toughest task – which is the case for many salespeople – the early hour is often when prospects are in their offices (like you) and more likely to take a call or respond to a personalized email.
14. Be more precise
When salespeople contact customers and prospects, they often err to the side of a short, less-detailed message in hopes of grabbing and keeping their attention. But short, vague messages – whether they’re email, voicemail, text or social messaging – often turn into a lot of back-and-forth to bang out details.
Instead, plan your message with the intent to have everything resolved in one response. For instance, don’t just ask for a meeting. Ask to meet, suggest a few days and times, one location and an offer to confirm everything once the customer gives you the go.
15. Check under the hood
The most effective way to continually improve sales productivity is to check under the hood regularly. Evaluate and reevaluate processes, changes and protocols. Leaders and salespeople want to review at the beginning of every quarter:
- What are the strengths and weaknesses in our sales funnel?
- Where are the gaps or roadblocks in our processes?
- Where does communication break down?
- Why do customers and prospects complain?
- What makes us feel like we’re spinning our wheels?
- What moves us forward the fastest?