There are thousands of posts, hundreds of tools, hundreds of books focusing on “sales efficiency.” Sales efficiency is important. We want our people to accomplish as much as possible in as little time as possible. (As a side note, focusing on sales efficiency without first focusing on sales effectiveness will do nothing more than creating crap at the speed of light.)
The problem with the exclusive focus on sales efficiency, is that it focuses on us, what we do, and how we do it. But it ignores the customer–ironically, much of what we do to be efficient, makes the buyer very inefficient.
One begins to wonder, “If we try to help the buyer become very efficient, might it also cause us to be more efficient?”
The concept of “how do we help the buyer accomplish more in less time,” enables us to also spend less time on each deal. Since it is buyer focused–a process of creating value with the buyer, it’s also likely to have a huge impact on our effectiveness. We have the possibility of winning more business in less time, with the buyer spending less time and achieving their goals at an accelerated rate.
But we do so many things in the name of sales efficiency that actually make buyers more inefficient. Examples include:
- Email. we leverage all sorts of tools and automation to paper our customers with millions of meaningless emails. While buyers are automating much of their process of dealing with these through spam or related filters. There are still the hundreds that filter into each buyer’s inbox every week. They have to waste time deleting or unsubscibing to these.
- Power/Robo diallers. We put tools in place to make 1000’s of dials a day. We leverage those, hoping to have 10’s, possibly hundreds of conversations. But think of the buyer side. As an example, I get 15-20 calls on my office and mobile phone every day. I’ve trained myself (and am training our clients) not to pick up calls from numbers I don’t recognized. But the interruption, even if I don’t answer the call is a distraction, it takes a few seconds to refocus my time, over the course of the day, the distraction is hugely annoying. For those calls I pick up, I have to wait to be connected–I won’t wait, so I hang up. But I’ve wasted my time.
- Our pitch. When we do get to talk to customers, we focus on our products. It’s efficient for us, we talk about what we want to talk about. But even if the customer is interested, it becomes their task to figure out, “What does this mean to us? How does this help us achieve our objectives more effectively, efficiently?….” We put the onus on the customer to figure out how to apply what our products do to their specific business issues. It’s hugely inefficient for them, but we’ve accomplished what we wanted to do very efficiently.
- Lack of customer research/understanding–particularly in prospecting. Again, sales people look for volume and velocity. It allows us to accomplish a lot in a very short period of time. But too often, we are calling the wrong customers–wasting their time. Alternatively, we don’t understand the customer business/drivers/problems, so we can’t connect effectively with those customers we talk to. For those customers we do talk to, it takes a lot of their time explaining their business, markets, drivers and challenges. If we have a basic understanding–through research, we and the customers save huge amounts of time getting to the issues most important to them more quickly.
- When we do find an interested customer, we waste huge amounts of time. We are unprepared, we take more meetings than necessary to accomplish our goals, we focus on executing our process, not understanding their buying process. In our research, we’ve found that sales people make 37-50% more calls than necessary, largely because of poor call planning and execution. Each of those additional calls we have to make, takes more time from the customer.
- We focus on individuals, rather than the buying group. Much of complex B2B buying is consensus oriented (the proverbial 6.8). Too often, we focus our efforts on one or two people–that just sales error. Sometimes, we try to call on the 6.8 (I do have to admit, I have great difficulty finding that 0.8 individual), we do it one on one. But the challenge the customers have in buying is not a one on one challenge. It’s a group consensus seeking challenge. We help the customers more, when we design meetings around the buying group, not just individuals. At the same time, we improve our efficiency tremendously by focusing on the buying group.
- Business justified proposals aligned with top corporate objectives. Perhaps, we’ve gone through the whole buying process with the customer. We’ve provided a proposal, pricing, all the benefits the customer should achieve. The buying group still has to get approval from senior management. They have to present a business case, and they have to position what they want in terms of the impact on corporate goals. Customers struggle with this, particularly if they aren’t buying every day. Too few sales people help customers with this. As a result customers spend a lot of time figuring out, the things we can help them understand more effectively.
Buyers are smart. While we don’t think about buyer efficiency, they are fixated on it. They are trying to manage their time just as viciously as we are trying to manage our time. They already have solutions:
- They trash our emails and don’t answer our calls. Our reaction is to ramp up the volume, making us less efficient.
- They self educate through digital and others types of research. They know we waste their time, so they go after what they want, when they want it, how they want it.
- They minimize and defer their engagement with sales people as late in the process as they possibly can. The data shows they are anywhere between 57-92% through the process before they engage sales people. If they can, they will buy without engaging sales people.
There are many other things buyers do to improve their buying efficiency.
One wonders, if we focused first on helping buyers become more efficient (and effective), might we also become more efficient and effective?
Perhaps the design point of sales efficiency is the wrong design point.