Time available for selling is plummeting. Several years ago, we assessed how salespeople for a very large client were spending their time. We were all shocked by the results: less than 20% of their time was being spent directly on customer-related activities.

Let me sharpen that definition a little, primarily so you can see the magnitude of the challenge salespeople face. In this survey, we defined “customer-related activities” as time spent preparing for a meeting with the customer (phone or face-to-face), within the meeting, and doing follow-ups. Basically, it was the time most critical to finding new deals and helping the customer move through their buying process.

It’s no wonder sales and quota performance is plummeting, with only 54% of sales reps making quota according to SiriusDecisions! Sales reps are basically spending one day a week selling and four days doing anything else!

As we looked at this particular client and others, we found two major things impacting time available for selling. One, as might be expected, was “how salespeople were spending their time,” but the biggest was “how their time was being spent for them.”

As sales reps, we like to think we are in control of our time, but actually a large part of our time is being spent for us. It’s insidious, and sometimes it’s for all the best reasons, but in the end it takes away from time available for selling. Let’s take a look at 3 ways sales reps’ time is being spent for them.

1. Time spent in reporting, providing information, and compliance.

Everyone wants to know what’s happening. It could be the sales manager wanting to know the status of deals, the pipeline, the territory, whatever. It could be well-intended people in marketing, wanting to know about particular product sales, customer needs, trends, issues customers are facing. Since salespeople are the closest to customers, whenever anyone in the corporation wants information about the markets and customers, where do they turn? Yep, to the sales rep.

It’s easy to see how it happens: each person in the organization thinks, “It will only take a couple of minutes for the sales person to deal with this.” Individually, it seems like there is no impact, but when all rolled up together, looking at the salesperson, the drain on their time is huge. A lot of this is important stuff; managers do need to be informed, others in the company need to understand what’s happening with customers. But when all of it converges on the salespeople, the adverse impact on their time is enormous.

It’s critical to be thoughtful about the reporting, information, and compliance requirements we impose on our sales reps.

2. Time spent in customer service/support activities.

Where do customers turn when they have a problem? Yep, to the salesperson. Even when there are other support channels they know about, if they have a problem they really need to get solved, they turn to the sales rep. As a results, reps spend a lot of time chasing late/lost orders, billing problems, contract problems, service and support issues. Either the customers don’t know where to turn, or they aren’t getting the answers/responsiveness they need, so the customer problem becomes the salesperson’s problem.

We need to make sure customers know where to turn for support and help. We need to train them on it, teach them that it’s the fastest and most effective way to address their problems. Then we have to deliver superior service levels, solving their problems. If we don’t, they will go to the sales person.

3. Time spent in internal meetings.

Meetings, meetings, meetings! The larger the organization, the more we like talking to each other. Sometimes, it seems we define ourselves by how packed our agendas are. We complain about the time wasted in meetings and probably schedule meetings to address the problem. Meetings are necessary, but we need to be thoughtful and purposeful about each meeting we have. We need to minimize meetings and eliminate wasted meetings. There are lot of other ways to communicate and share information, not all of them require a meeting.

I could go on, but I think I’ve captured the major categories of time drains.

How Is Your Sales Reps’ Time Spent For Them?

Time drains are insidious. Each, individually, look small, but in aggregate they conspire to keep sales reps from spending time with customers and prospecting potential new ones.

There’s something wonderful about understanding these time drains and eliminating them. Without changing anything about how people sell or their own effectiveness, eliminating time drains drives more customer engagement and higher sales.

Thinking back to the client I mentioned above, with a little work, we took their time available for selling from less than 20% to 30%. Still too little, but a 50% increase in the time they spent with customers! You can guess what that did to results!

The simplest and fastest way to improve sales results (not effectiveness) is to identify the time drains that adversely impact time spent with customers.

It’s not an issue sales reps can solve themselves because the time is being spent for them, not by them.