For more than 30 years (yikes!), I’ve been directly involved in selling, managing, and leading salespeople, and providing advisory services to sales organizations. There are two trends that have persisted:
- The increased prominence and investment in sales technology and sales force automation
- The consistent decrease in sales rep productivity, or the time salespeople actually spend selling
Recent research from The Aberdeen Group and Docurated indicate good salespeople today spend less than a third of their time selling, while increasingly more time is spent managing various administrative tasks surrounding sales and demand generation.
Whether you’re a salesperson, sales executive or other investor or stakeholder in a growing organization, I’m certain I don’t need to tell you the direct and collateral damage done when salespeople aren’t selling.
Before sharing the key to increasing sales productivity, let’s look at the three root causes for the problem sales organizations have dealt with for decades:
- Complexity - Selling is more complicated today. More touch points are involved, buyers are more sophisticated, and the technology reps use grows almost every day.
- Chaos - As the third law of thermodynamics demonstrates entropy is always increasing, so does the chaos involved in managing today’s selling interactions. Differences between sellers are increasingly nuanced, consensus has taken over the buy-side, and despite record investments in data and analytics, sellers face more uncertainty than ever. Selling today is a lot like playing speed Texas Hold ‘Em -- partially blindfolded.
- Context - The Zero Moment of Truth has blown up the alignment and synchronicity that existed in traditional buy/sell situations. This has put salespeople at a contextual disadvantage and, when combined with modern demand generation strategies, has forced salespeople to spend more time managing administrative tasks than managing the sales process.
What’s more, the approach most selling organizations have taken to solve the problem is by focusing on the strategy side of selling (which, candidly, has contributed to the first two problems above). Yet, as General Omar Bradley once said, “Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.” Solving the sales productivity problem is more of a process/logistics issue than it is a strategy issue.
The good news is the problems today’s modern sales organizations face are very similar to the problems manufacturers faced in the 1980s. Using those manufacturing lessons as inspiration, we’ve been working with sales and marketing teams to reverse this trend.
Through the combination of dynamic playbooks and flexible systems design, we’ve seen quite an impact. In fact, when fully implemented, we often see increases in sales rep productivity from five to 15 points, which creates significant win/win results.
Reps are happier because they spend more time doing what they love and less time doing what they don’t -- while generating more income in less time. And executives are ecstatic as it equates to an additional sales rep’s production for every three to five reps on staff, with no additional headcount.
While these strategies are far more effective implemented at an organizational level, sales reps looking to gain better results can apply many of these strategies to enhance their individual production, even if their organization doesn’t.
5 Ways to Increase Salespeople's Productivity
1. Map the customer acquisition process
The fundamental problem with “process” is that the purpose is to eliminate variance. Yet, in sales, the value lies in the variance. Selling is a highly dynamic, open loop system. The more complex your offering, the greater the variance and complexity that must be managed.
While creating a repeatable process when the process is different every time may seem like an insurmountable problem, in reality, it’s not. The key is to view the process through an “object-lens.”
Don’t build out your methodology from A to Z; instead, map the system and find the waypoints. Mapping the system in this manner enables you to find those key inflection points where adjustments occur.
This enables you to make your repeatable process a series of repeatable mini-processes that can be plugged in as needed. If you’d like to be inspired by seeing this approach in action, just watch how a football team executes their playbook in football or how a hitter adjusts to the pitch and situation in baseball.
2. Create a clearly defined service-level agreement (SLA)
Over the last year, I’ve reviewed more than 100 sales organizations, their playbooks, and their processes. The single biggest -- and most common -- mistake I see made is a lack of clear definition to leads, situations, and progression. This is what causes the chaos and confusion I shared above.
Great selling organizations have crystal-clear service-level agreements that define what every lead definition means, the processes and protocols for managing those leads and what’s expected from every aspect of the revenue generation team(s).
A strong SLA enables everyone -- especially salespeople -- to spend their “thinking time” focused on selling situations, rather than figuring out what to do and when to do it. This creates greater discipline and velocity.
3. Stop focusing on efficiency
CRM, video, chat, email tracking, document sharing; today’s sales reps need a scorecard to keep track of the technology they’re supposed to use. Add marketing automation, lead scoring, forecasting and more and you begin to realize that it’s a near miracle reps are able to spend even a third of their time selling.
While this technology, content, and strategy is designed to enable reps to “sell smarter,” it also creates multiple systems, too many databases, and mass confusion. Reps are forced to spend too much time simply figuring out where to go for what they need, and executives are unable to get a single view of the entire process.
This results in a focus on efficiency. The problem is we’re trying to maximize each disparate system’s efficiency, which makes things less efficient and usually slower.
Your goal should not be to focus on efficiency, but instead to focus on velocity. To do that, you must have a single system of the truth. It’s fine for reps to use multiple apps, but it must all connect into a single system and a “database of truth.”
4. Design and execute contextual plays
This is what’s killing sales productivity: Sales reps either spend no time thinking and execute their sales cadences like a poorly programmed bot, or they’re forced to spend so much time thinking about what to do they have no time or brainpower to focus on the conversation taking place.
As Peter Drucker shared years ago and IBM mastered with the greatest sales team of all time, the secret is to build the genius into the system. Contextual plays free up a sales rep’s genius to execute and engage with their most important asset: the prospect/customer.
5. Integrate and automate your playbook
Playbooks are powerful. If you don’t have a defined and documented playbook, you’re competing at a disadvantage and predictability and scale are highly unlikely. However, if your sales reps have to think about or refer to the playbook, your playbook isn’t going to work.
The Aberdeen Groups’ research (cited above) highlighted the drag manual processes are placing on sales and revenue velocity. Reps shouldn’t have to think about the playbook. The playbook should be integrated and automated within the existing systems.
Sales reps are the quarterback of the customer acquisition process. The key to maximizing the productivity (and economic impact) of this crucial role is to create, execute, and optimize the processes that enable them to dedicate their energy and focus on the high-value actions that cause sales.