A 3 Step Framework to Reallocate Sales Time for Improved Performance
I recently led a sales performance benchmark research project for IBM where we surveyed 1,036 companies and ranked the participants among sales performance levels – where the top 15% were designated Best-In-Class, the middle 50% designated Medians and the lower 35% designated Laggards. We then compared several sales performance measures to understand what the Best-In-Class sales reps do differently than their lower performing peers. One item that stuck out was how top performing salespeople invest their limited time.
How the Highest Performing Salespeople Invest Their Limited Time
The diagram below shows how each sales archetype allocates their time among common tasks.
The take-away is clear. Best-In-Class salespeople spend more time engaging customers than their peers and less time researching prospects, creating correspondence and performing sales administration and reporting.
What's less clear is how they got to that point. Fortunately, additional qualitative research is available from IBM's Institute for Business Value and AQPC's Benchmark database. Below is a 3-step framework that incorporates the techniques Best-In-Class sellers use to reallocate salesperson time for increased sales performance.
First, measure what matters.
Start with salesperson objectives. It's common for sales reps to be working on too many things because they are unclear about their priorities. Ensure that salespeople have clear, measurable and prioritized goals and they are held accountable for those goals.
Then measure current time allocation to find gaps and opportunities for improvement. This can be a challenge as salespeople are notorious for not recording their time. They are also cautious of time management programs as they may believe these exercises are designed to micromanage their time. Up front education is needed to show how time management improvement programs will increase their individual performance.
For some clients, I've been able to measure time investment with discussions while with others I've used direct observation. To align time with outcomes, I normally start with outcomes and work backwards to understand, attribute and weight the tasks, activities and time that contributed to the result. I also use Agile Value Stream Mapping as it further assigns value to effort, categorizes value and non-value effort and identifies non-valued added tasks or activities that can be eliminated. Your end goal for time measurement should be to record activities in the CRM system as it also provides a means to align effort with outcomes.
Second, reprioritize time from low to high value actions.
Your goal in this step is to eliminate low value or non-value effort, mitigate or delegate tasks that must get done but do not correlate with sales results, and reallocate time savings to those activities that drive sales results.
In this step I normally apply sales process benchmarking. Comparing the time and tasks captured in the first step with industry peers will show deviations. The largest negative variances generally provide the largest upside opportunities. Without operational metrics (benchmarks) you're just guessing what should be done.
Salesperson time allocation is about focus and spending limited time doing the right things. For example, too many salespeople distribute their limited time across prospects and customers near equally and regardless of customer contribution. A better practice is to reallocate time and effort to customers based on their propensity to close and contribution to the company. Applying customer segmentation, tracking online buy signals from digital footprints, calculating lead scores and referencing customer lifetime value are all methods that objectively prioritize sales prospects with sales time investment.
There is nothing wrong with working hard, unless working hard and long hours is a substitute for working smart. The reason the first step aligns time with outcomes is so that salespeople don't confuse activity with progress. Agile Value Stream Mapping will show which tasks most contribute to outcomes and which outcomes contribute to sales results. This will provide an objective basis to reallocate time to those tasks that drive results.
Third, iterate for continuous improvement.
Sales managers are acutely aware that their staff spend less than half their time selling. But Best-In-Class sales organizations pursue continuous efforts that incrementally shift sellers most limited resource—time—away from nebulous task-based activities to customer engagement that delivers measurable sales outcomes.
Shifting tasks and reallocating time will show improvements, but you won’t get it totally right the first time. Also, ceasing tasks is difficult for some people and old habits have a way of reappearing, so sales managers will need to use their CRM system or another oversight tool to flag and stamp out relegated processes for good.
Keep this mind.
The most effective sales organizations implement continuous productivity improvement programs which enable them to reallocate time from low to high value activities. However, unlike their lower performing peers who implement less consistent improvement programs and focus productivity almost exclusively toward becoming more efficient, the top sellers calculate productivity with both efficiency and effectiveness measures.
Sales productivity and efficiency are complimentary but distinct. Becoming highly productive in low value or non-essential tasks does not improve sales performance. Productivity measures focused on efficiency without a focus on outcomes is a losing proposition. However, when the two are pursued in concert, sales time can be reallocated from low to high value actions.