It’s About Time

Time is precious. The passage of another year reminds us how quickly time flies. Perhaps the greatest asset you have as a sales leader is the cumulative time available to your sales force. That time is best spent by your salespeople preparing for and conducting customer meetings. As a sales leader you plan carefully to ensure your team has enough sales capacity, and enough selling time to make the number. Sales Operations works to help ensure your reps save time on necessary non-selling activities to give more time back for engaged selling. As long as the need for a sales person exists, there will be tremendous value placed on their time. And without enough time, your chances of success are bleak. What can you do next year to give your sales force the time it needs?

The Problem

Time analysis has been around for decades. Yet only one in five sales leaders uses it to measure and improve the performance of their sales teams. Without proper measurement and analysis, issues and opportunities to improve sales time go overlooked. As a result, many companies perform well below best practice, impeding the sales leader’s ability to get optimal utilization from their sales force and meet or exceed their target.

An Illustration

Figure 1 below shows two charts. The chart on the left summarizes the Engaged Selling Time (EST) by role for a client sales force. EST refers to high-value motions performed by reps including opportunity qualification, needs assessment, solution presentation, persuasion, and closing. They are the core motions sales incumbents perform that drive topline results. The chart on the right summarizes time spent on non-selling activities including administrative tasks, customer service and support.

Figure 1: Time Analysis for a ~$1B Technology Company
Figure 1 - Time Analysis for a $1B Technology Company

The variance to benchmark may seem slight, but consider the following – improving EST from 20% to 25%, an increase of just 5 percentage points, can produce a 12.5% increase in productivity. This assumes only half of the time “gained back” is repurposed into EST (see figure 2 below).

The Solution

Alexander Group has worked with hundreds of companies to improve sales performance, and we frequently use sales time analysis as one of several diagnostic tools. While not an exhaustive list, here is what we believe are the top seven factors impacting EST. Get them right and watch the sales capacity of your organization grow.

  1. Role Clarity. The number one killer of sales productivity is job ambiguity. The fact that roles typically evolve over time makes this a challenge. Sales roles grow fuzzy for two reasons – job blending and job corruption. Job blending occurs when reps attempt to juggle too many different types of customers, products or sales motions. The lack of focus results in wasted cycle times figuring out what to do with whom. Job corruption occurs when non-selling activities creep into a rep’s routine. And not just admin time. This could include seemingly good things like prospecting and customer service. But too much of these activities compromises time spent on engaged selling.
  2. Leadership Messaging. Good sales leaders know that clearly communicating the company’s goals, objectives and strategy provides needed direction and guidance to the reps, informing actions and behaviors on a daily basis. And messaging can’t be done once as sales people tend to have short memories. Make it stick by consistently reiterating what behaviors and activities you want sales reps performing (and not performing).
  3. Customer Access. Having time on your hands is not much use if you can’t get in front of the customer, and gaining access to the right buyers and influencers has never been harder. After all, the sales force is only as good as the company’s ability to support it with the right offerings and marketing engine. Get support from other functional groups to help the sales team access the right customer contacts with the right information.
  4. Sales Talent. Some people aren’t cut out to be sales people. This isn’t an insult, it is simply a reality as some people prefer to perform back-office activities and service the customer rather than sell to them. “Farmer” sales people will often default to these activities because they are more comfortable doing so. Listen to your top performers to understand both how they make time for selling and where improvements in time allocation can be made.
  5. Processes. Have you ever heard a rep complain about having to “jump through hoops” to get something done? Clearly defined and documented processes should save time, not take up more time. Sometimes the biggest delays a sales person deals with are internal. Make sure your company is ETDBW – easy to do business with – by having clear internal processes.
  6. Tools and Technology. There is a plethora of solutions on the market today. Sales leaders are just as prone to make the mistake of “over subscribing” to tools, as they are to under invest. Still, many organizations fail to make the investments required to automate or streamline sales processes or give reps the tools they need to quickly access information, perform rudimentary activities efficiently, and ultimately free up time to focus on activities that drive sales.
  7. Incentives. The right sales compensation program ensures alignment between your goals and objectives and the sales person’s pay check. The right program also supports the leader’s ability to attract and retain the right talent.

Figure 2:  Impact from Increasing EST
Consider a sales rep whose EST = 20%. In other words, 20% of his or her time is spent on the high-value, account development and customer-facing activities that lead to closed deals. Assume the rep is also currently producing $2.0M per year in sales. Increasing EST from 20% to 25% can lead to an additional 12.5% in sales which equals $2.3M in sales.
Figure 2 - Impact from Increasing ESTAssumes 225 working days per year and 8 working hours per day

Now imagine if this increase in sales time is replicated for all front-line sales reps. The impact on the company’s topline would be significant! But, as always, sales management must balance the cost associated with increasing EST as it typically requires investment in job redesign, lower-priced support resources and/or better technology and tools. There are always ways to increase EST in ways where marginal benefit exceeds marginal cost. You just have to find them!

Get Moving

While EST is not the “silver bullet” that always leads to growth, it is a crucial measuring stick that should be part of every sales leader’s dashboard. Cross-industry EST averages 25%, but best practice is northward of 30%. How does your sales organization stack up? Are your sales incumbents losing valuable selling time? How can your organization free up sales reps’ time to drive more sales without increasing headcount? Alexander Group can help answer these questions.

To learn more, please visit our Sales Analytics Practice.


Insight type: Article

Industry: Cross-Industry

Role: C-Suite, Sales and Marketing Leadership

Topic: Sales Analytiсs

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