You’ve heard the stats before. Selling time is down: your sales people are spending less and less time in-front of customers. Time tracking studies place customer-facing selling time at 10-30% of total work hours, depending on the sector and sales role (e.g., field vs. inside). The usual culprit for this decline is a corresponding increase in administrative and post-sales tasks (e.g., reporting, CRM maintenance, processing orders, etc.), accounting for 30-40% of total hours.
What doesn’t get as much coverage is that other sales activities are also taking more time: account research, pre-meeting planning, and alignment of internal sales and technical resources (e.g., sales engineers). One explanatory factor is that Buyers are more informed, sophisticated and ‘pitch-resistant’ than ever. They expect sales reps to have done their “homework” before the first introductory phone call. And there’s a lot more homework to be done these days given the mind-boggling increase in information available about customers and decision-makers on the web and particularly in social media networks.
Conventional wisdom says that a decrease in selling time translates directly into lower levels of sales attainment. Fewer sales calls and meetings mean fewer opportunities, fewer proposals and ultimately fewer closed deals. This line of logic, however, does not take effectiveness into account. What if a time investment in research and planning results in greater effectiveness? Maybe I have fewer meetings scheduled, but those meetings convert at much higher rate into opportunities.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Matthew Dixon, Simon Frewer, and Andrew Kent, reconfirm that selling time is down 26% from five years ago. That’s not new news. Here’s what’s surprising in the article. Five years ago, high-performing “star reps” were spending more time in front of the customer while average-performing reps spent more time conducting research, planning and lining-up internal resources. Today, a shift has taken place. They found that star reps are spending less time in-front of customers relative to their lower-performing peers and more time developing sales intelligence and organizing resources.
“What these data suggest is that being a successful salesperson today is about much more than being a persuasive presenter. It’s about the hard work that happens before and after that presentation, from researching customers to pulling together internal stakeholders to planning how to grow the account over time.”
Geoffrey James, a blogger for BNET, has made a similar point:
“It’s been pointed out numerous times that today’s sales professionals must strive to become a “trusted adviser” to the customer. How can you be a “trusted adviser” when you’re spending all your time and effort meeting with people?
If you’re really going to be a “trusted adviser”, you need to make certain that absolutely every contact that you have with the prospect is productive and useful to the prospect. And that’s only possible if you take the time to do gain insight into industry issues, typical customer problems, and the broader business context.”
The bottom line is that sales leaders should continue maximizing the number of hours sales teams allocate to productive sales activities (vs. administrative tasks). However, there is a lot more nuance in how those sales activities are split between customer-facing selling time on one hand, and preparation, research and resource alignment, on the other.
Where are your sales teams spending their time? We look forward to hearing from you.