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A friend forwarded me an article entitled, “Giving People More Time To Sell Is BS.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link.

The article started with a statement to the effect of “ill informed pundits quoting data that sales people spend only 10-30% of their time F2F with customers.” I thought, “Hmm, that must be me…” I’ve used that data, but so have a lot of others. I call that TIme Available For Selling, (TAFS—just what we need, another acronym.)

He went on discuss the selling distractions, arguing, “why would a sales person choose to spend their time on admin processes and things like updating CRM?”

He goes on to take the customer-focused argument, saying, the problem isn’t with the salespeople, it’s the customer. Customers don’t want to spend time with salespeople. They prefer to get information through other sources, are busy, and prefer to spend less time with salespeople.

It’s a valid point, but he leaves the argument at that point. I was left with the vague impression that, because of this 10-30% time available for selling is OK, it’s what customers want…..

I’m left scratching my head, “Huhhhhhh……, what gives……?”

Let’s dissect this—-but before I do, if I’m not clear, this is among the most misguided logic/arguments I’ve ever encountered.

Some thoughts.

  1. It’s true, our customers are crazy busy. They have other things that are more important than spending time with salespeople. When they are buying, they leverage multiple channels for educating themselves on products/solutions. They tend to have “salesperson avoidance,” because so many salespeople waste their time. The common reasons are, “salespeople don’t understand me/my business, they are focused on themselves/product, they don’t understand their products, they waste my time…..” All perfectly valid, but it’s not clear that customers don’t value salespeople, it’s just that sales doesn’t help them with what’s important to them. So one conclusion is that salespeople have to change, they have to create value meaningful to customers. Absent that, customers have no reason to see salespeople.
  2. But even with that, there’s data that says, even in the best of cases, any buying group is unlikely to spend more than about 20% of their time with sales people–and that’s all the competitors. So if you are on a shortlist of 3, it means you probably get no more than 7% of their time. This reinforces the author’s premise, that even in the best of cases customers don’t want to/need to spend a lot of time with salespeople.
  3. Here’s where that part of the argument starts falling apart. Salespeople aren’t just spending their time with 2-5 customers! Yeah, you run some rough math, at 7% per customer you can see that works out to be 14-35% of their time. That’s not how the 10-30% TAFS data was determined, but that seems to be the way to bridge to the implication in the article that 10-30$ is a customer-driven reality. Clearly, the flaw in this thinking is that while any one customer will spend a very small part of their time with a salesperson, salespeople must invest their time with lots of customers! Great sales people are constantly looking for customers by prospecting, filling their pipelines with high-quality opportunities, helping the customer navigate their buying cycle. Our ideal is they spend 100% of their time engaged with customers, selling.
  4. We know that 100% TAFS is aspirational, but not possible, and in our saner moments, probably not desirable. While the primary focus of salespeople must be with the customer, there are other important areas in which salespeople must invest time. For example, learning–whether it’s about new products, selling skills, business/financial acumen, creativity, critical thinking…… Salespeople who aren’t investing time in learning will not be competitive. The salesperson has a responsibility for providing information to their management and companies. Forecasts, customer feedback, all sorts of things. They need to keep their management and company informed of what’s going on. They need to keep their management and company informed to get the support they need for their deals. There are other administrative tasks, all of us have certain amounts of record keeping (e.g. updating CRM expense reporting, etc.). We have to do these things, but we need to minimize the amount of time spent on these–here’s where technology helps quite a bit.
  5. There are other “seller burdens,” we often, unwittingly impose on salespeople–often in the spirit of being helpful, but which have the unintended consequences of “loving our salespeople to death.” These can become huge time drains. They are unintentional but the result of people doing their jobs. For example, marketing and product management want to learn more about customers and how to better serve them. Salespeople are the obvious choice to help do this. There are other things that take time. For example, getting legal approvals for contracts, getting pricing for a complex solution, coordinating resources to support a sales effort. Each in itself, is probably not a lot of time, but stacked up, they suck huge amounts of time from salespeople, diverting them from working with customers.
  6. The previous point is simply the reality of our increasingly complex businesses. The problem is, some of this is necessary, but much of it distracts from TAFS. We have to be constantly examining our businesses, reducing complexity and seller burden. Often, this falls to Sales Ops, Sales Ennoblement and Sales Management. Ironically, the author claims to be a Sales Ops expert, but doesn’t discuss any of these issues and what Sales Ops can do to simplify the business.
  7. The author has the premise that all salespeople are compelled to spend as much time with customers as they can. “Show me a salesperson who would let some administrative task like…….., get in the way of meeting.” He goes on to say, if you have people who like to do this, you have a problem with your recruiting process. He’s bang on with this, but this is an unfortunate, often seductive reality. Too often, we find salespeople unconsciously reveling in the distraction from being with customers—being with customers is tough work! You have to prepare, you have to think, you have to engage…… In our efforts to dumb down our salespeople, administrative work becomes a refuge and convenient excuse for salespeople. “Boss, you told me I have to keep CRM updated, that’s what I’m doing….” This is a bigger issue than many are unaware of. It’s something that demands constant attention and coaching from managers.
  8. In many projects in which we have addressed this 10-30% TAFS, removing complexity, freeing up more time to sell, the salespeople respond, “What do I do with all this new found time?” It’s a more real issue than we would like to believe. It requires huge management attention, coaching the people on how they should be spending their time, giving them the skills–perhaps better prospecting skills, how to be more effective with customers. Managers need to set expectations–less on TAFS, but more on where and how salespeople need to be investing time.
  9. TAFS is important from a business management point of view. It directly impacts sales productivity and cost of selling. Management must constantly focus on these issues, doing everything possible to maximize productivity, and manage cost of selling. Yet the author didn’t address any of these issues.

I’ve ranted for too long. I’m not sure what the author of this article was trying to achieve. He identified an issue, but did nothing in addressing what to do about it.

TAFS is not BS, it’s a critical sales performance and productivity issue. If we aren’t paying attention to it, we aren’t doing our jobs.