Helping Manufacturers And Distributors
Improve Sales Performance And Profitability
Published by the Industrial
Performance Group, Inc.
No. 34

Where Does a Salesperson’s Time Go?

To succeed in manufacturing and distribution, you need to acquire and keep more customers than your competitors. Advertising and marketing may help you identify and qualify prospective customers, but acquiring and keeping customers is still the primary job of salespeople.

The way this job is accomplished has changed significantly during the past 40 years. Despite these changes, one thing has remained constant: Time is the salesperson’s most precious resource, and it’s usually in short supply.

Of all the fads, trends and techniques that claim to improve sales force productivity, one approach consistently increases sales performance. This approach is to give your salespeople more time to acquire and keep customers by identifying and eliminating activities that waste their time.
One approach consistently increases sales performance: giving your salespeople more time to acquire and keep customers by identifying and eliminating activities that waste their time.

Selling is more complex than ever.

In most industry sectors, selling has become more time-consuming. The customer’s problems have become more complex, and so have the solutions.

More complex customer problems require a salesperson to spend more time listening and learning about the customer’s situation. The increase in the complexity of solutions being offered by manufacturers and distributors often require the salesperson to stay involved during implementation to assure that the customer gets maximum value from the purchase. The net result is that it now takes longer to acquire and keep customers.

None of these changes would pose a sales productivity problem if salespeople simply had more time to spend with current and prospective customers. But again, time is often in short supply.

Where does the time go?

The key to improving sales force productivity is to identify and eliminate activities that add little or no value for your customers and do not improve decisions made by manufacturers and distributors.

Many of the activities salespeople perform on a day-to-day basis may have added value in the past, but today they are just taking up valuable time. We can often trace this shift back to the 1980s and the focus on creating shareholder value that emerged early in that decade.

Corporate management teams began to feel pressure from shareholders to improve performance, and a common response was to cut costs by reducing "head count."

One of the first groups to go was midlevel management in sales and marketing operations. Their primary role had been to collect, sift through and interpret information coming in from the field and report their findings to the decision makers.

With this layer of management removed, it was assumed that someone else would pick up the slack and continue to analyze this information and report their findings. But with fewer people remaining to do an increasing amount of work, much of this analysis and reporting began slipping through the cracks.

Salespeople were still collecting and reporting information, but nothing was being done with it. Since information has no value until it leads to a decision that results in action, both money and time were being wasted.

The next big trend in sales force time consumption emerged in the mid-1990s, with the advent of the Internet and the explosion of digital communication. Cell phones, PDAs, laptops and e-mail were all intended to improve communication. But have these technological innovations helped sales force productivity, or are salespeople now spending more and more time responding to communications that do not help them acquire and retain customers?

The problems your customers face will continue to grow more complex, as they deal with globalization, fierce competition and the ever changing needs of their own customers. Companies that develop and deliver solutions for these customers will need more and more information just to keep up. This will place even greater demands on your sales force’s already limited time.

How can we give a salesperson more time to sell?

There are only so many hours to get things done. Given all the conditions we’ve described, how can you improve the productivity of your sales force?

You could ask them to work longer hours. But they’re probably already working more than 40 hours a week.

You could hire more salespeople. But more than likely, you'll have a hard time finding qualified candidates. Even if you can find them, the only thing that is sure to increase is your costs.

The best way to improve the productivity of your sales force is to free up their time by finding activities that consume their time but could be done more efficiently — or eliminated altogether.

To help you accomplish this, we are conducting a
National E-survey to Identify the Activities that Consume a Salesperson’s Time. The findings from this survey will appear in a future issue of this newsletter.

If you are a salesperson, click here to participate in this survey. If you are in sales management, please forward this link to your salespeople.

If you are interested in improving the productivity of your sales force, call us at 800.867.2778.

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