Why Isn't Your Sales Team Out There Selling?


It’s not uncommon in businesses that have a salesperson or a sales team to find the manager complaining about them “not doing enough selling”. Well, what are they doing? Studies show that the salespersons job often involves a lot of things besides getting out there and selling. A study of salespeople in the insurance industry found that the amount of time they spent actually selling during a 40-hour business week was a paltry 6 ½ hours, or less than 20% of their total hours worked. The rest of the time they were filling out paperwork and complying with other administrative requirements.

This situation repeats itself in many other industries. Salespeople are now doing much more than selling and the percentage of their time spent selling is decreasing. If you are concerned that not enough selling is getting done, don’t start by criticising the salesperson. Instead, take a serious look at your sales team’s responsibilities and what you’re asking of them in the way of non-selling activities.

For example, you probably expect them to be accountable for what they are doing with their time, and that’s reasonable. But when you ask them to fill out a complicated sheet every day that outlines where they’ve been, who they’ve seen, what was discussed, what time the meeting started and finished, how much time was spent traveling to and from the meeting – that all takes time, and their time is supposed to be spent with customers and prospects.

Traditionally there’s been a lot of resistance to giving salespeople ‘too much’ independence and freedom. There has been a fear that they’ll waste time and company resources if their chain isn’t kept a bit tight. On top of that there’s the need to capture more and more information about customers so they can be segmented and marketing initiatives developed to appeal to individual segments – and it’s the salesperson who picks up a lot of the customer information that allows this. But it also means they have to spend time writing it up back in the office at some stage.

This is partly why most businesses ask their salespeople to do a lot more than just prospect and sell. They’re expected to assist in developing and managing customer relationships, to write proposals, to design and write promotional material, to gather competitor intelligence, to collect outstanding debts; and then to attend meetings and write more reports to keep head office informed of what they’re doing with their time.

It can be argued that these activities are part of their job as a salesperson since most of them are related, at least in part, to making sales and retaining customers. But that’s not the point. Selling is a skill not everybody possesses, and a good salesperson is someone to be valued, nurtured and set free to use that skill on your behalf rather than saddled with a lot of administrative activities.

So what should a salesperson’s role be restricted to? That will vary from one business to another but let’s suggest three general areas: 

  • Prospecting – using their experience and field knowledge to identify prospects 
  • Selling – face-to-face selling to purchasing decision makers 
  • Relationship building – participating in managing customer relationships, but only as really necessary

If the members of your sales team are focused on these activities, and only these activities, their time will be spent more productively. Each of these areas has a direct relationship to the selling function that will help generate the results salespeople are supposed to achieve. If this isn’t happening, then it’s time to change things.

Start by analysing the non-selling activities now carried out by your sales team. For example, how much time do they spend developing presentations to new clients? These presentations can be done by administrative personnel in the office once the salesperson has briefed them on the content they want in it. How much time do they spend managing customer relationships? It may well be time to investigate a CRM system that could shoulder some of the burden.

Look at every avenue to support your sales team. What’s needed to help them prospect for new business? What would help them spend more time selling? What parts of customer relationship management can be taken up by others in the business or by technology? Look at any option that will increase the time they spend actually selling and decrease the need for them to be involved in non-sales activities.

There does have to be a compromise reached here so as to satisfy the legitimate management need for information on what team are doing and how well they are doing it, but the goal of management should be to minimise the time salespeople spend on this and to adopt practices for such things as meetings and report writing that don’t make significant inroads into their selling time.

Until next week,
Mike Reddy