In the world of inside sales, timing is everything, but – according to a Forbes report – only 35.2% of seller time actually goes toward activities related to revenue.
The importance of time management for salespeople is no secret. Navigating new leads, completing follow-ups and hitting quotas in a timely manner can be a challenge brimming with hairpin bends and unexpected client demands.
Any “good” seller can arrange their daily activities in order of priority and follow them through – but the main goal of a seller is to sell. The issue is that salespeople across the globe are now wearing more hats than ever. Customer service. Prospecting. Retention. What responsibilities stand between your sellers and their actual “money time”?
In this article, we explore the importance of protecting sellers’ time, and how leaders can design their operations to sustain greater productivity from each member of their sales team.
Why protect seller time?
Productivity is a challenge faced by almost every sales team. Many firms try – and fail – to monitor “team effort” in relation to revenue performance, so they can establish where operations are falling short.
Most find that there’s not always a direct trend between team effort and profitability. To get the most out of their people, they need to put sellers in a position to do what they do best: sell. Set them free from time-consuming constraints of support, top -of-funnel prospecting, complaint management, or any other non-revenue-generating activities. It’s more profitable to leave these responsibilities with customer service, and better for the customer as they get a more trained and informative experience.
That’s not to say it isn’t valuable to support client issues for the purpose of retention. Protecting seller time is more about understanding and assigning considered responsibilities for each team member – and then preventing individuals from straying. Identify that a seller’s key responsibility is net-new business and create an environment where they can focus solely on meeting that goal, without being pulled in other directions and spread too thin.
Where does all the time go?
The foundation for a successful business is built on revenue, and salespeople attract revenue. When sellers’ time isn’t protected, businesses lose out on opportunities to scale, grow and attract net-new revenue opportunities.
So what are the greatest time-wasting expenditures in the customer lifecycle?
The number-one time constraint for a salesperson is inbound, non-revenue-generating activities such as customer maintenance or brand awareness. Customer enquiries, service support calls, contract disputes and payroll issues are all relevant business activities – but they have no place in the seller’s remit.
Between 40-55% of calls, chats and web forms are non-revenue-generating activities or engagements with existing clients, according to Forbes. If an inside seller is made to handle general inbound calls, that’s a titanic loss of their time.
Focus on prospecting activities
Too often, businesses root prospecting in guesswork. Without an in-depth understanding of a prospect – or any relevant contact data – sellers will spend a large percentage of their time chasing low-quality leads.
From qualifying to contract negotiations, everything in the sales process is relevant to revenue. However, it can take anywhere from eight to 14 attempts on average to reach a decision-maker – with a 5% connect rate. So, while still technically a “revenue-generating activity,” the actual return on effort from prospecting is incredibly low. Seller time is better invested in activities that create a faster path to revenue, rather than in potentially time-wasting tasks such as collecting data and researching prospective accounts.
How to protect sellers' time?
Before changing your strategy in search of greater rep productivity, consider two clear points:
- Is my seller engaging with or focusing on anything company-related that is not a direct net-new opportunity?
- Of the net-new activities they perform, are they able to spend their time focusing on achieving the highest ROI, or exceeding review targets?
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to protecting the time of your agents. Different organizations target unique audiences, which require distinctive approaches to selling and tonality.
There are, however, steps you can take to put your team on a faster path to growth. In the following section, we outline four considerations for leaders looking to get the most out of their people.
Assign the right responsibilities
Leaders have a responsibility to leverage the individual strengths of their team members. Role specialization is critical to the effective running of any organization. Far too often, teams lack alignment because there isn’t a clear, identifiable understanding of the role and responsibilities of each person.
Not recognizing the role of the seller is one of the most wasteful mistakes a leader can make. An inside salesperson does not need to be the one who sources, contacts and sells the deal.
It’s never a good idea to have your inside sellers as part of a generalized response-handling unit. Many organizations make this mistake because they believe it will result in genuine sales opportunities. If a salesperson is handling unqualified leads, they’ll spend 40-55% of their “money time” dealing with unfruitful, unpromising conversations.
For an effective, streamlined inside selling team, you need to assign separate roles for pipeline generation and actual selling. Don’t blur the lines. Be clear on the responsibilities of each department.
Improve lead qualification
No matter how convincing your approach is, some leads will never convert. Sellers can often end up astray, chasing down the unqualified, rather than actively pursuing net-new business opportunities.
To maximize time spent physically selling, leaders need to supply the context to reach the right person, in the right place, at the right time. If you have an inside seller who is actually able to convert interest into visible revenue, they shouldn’t be spending the lion’s share of their time researching prospects, contact data, assets or demos.
Identify the right individual(s) to qualify leads, and have them supply sellers with warm prospects to convert at the “demo” stage – at the right place and time. That way, instead of a seller spending 20% of their time selling to a “potential buyer,” they can spend 100% of their time pursuing hot prospects and leading them through the sales cycle.
Invest in a data partner
For sellers to excel and maximize productivity, they need to be armed with top-quality prospecting and B2B data. Data adds value to your existing CRM, creates richer contact profiles, and helps sellers to seamlessly contact, engage and nurture their prospects – without the burden of extensive, time-consuming research.
By investing in the services of a quality data partner, sales teams can also avoid any data decay and re-verify the crucial prospecting information that is essential to lead qualification. This data should also be updated in real time and readily available at your team’s fingertips. From connecting with prospects to closing decision-makers, reliable data increases team adoption and results at each step of the sales cycle.
Sales automation is not new ground. When it comes to increasing sales productivity and streamlining routines, the quickest and most effective route is usually automation. By freeing up time spent on administrative tasks and CRM reporting, leaders can unlock more time to be spent on closing deals. In fact, according to McKinsey – a third of all sales-related tasks can now be automated.
Most sales teams will already be using a CRM for data management, which is ideal for automatically logging communications and pipeline engagement – but that’s not the be-all and end-all of what automation has to offer. Optimize other features like automated email workflows based on client interactions. Enrich your pipeline with lead-scoring analytics. Streamline onboarding and even schedule meetings – with the right technology at your fingertips, this is all easily achieved.
But remember – automation doesn’t just mean sending emails through a sales engagement platform. With the right processes in place, organizations can bypass the common inbound time constraints associated with customer experience. For example:
Website FAQs to support inbound traffic
Chatbot, live chat & conversational intelligence
Triage (IVRs, playbooks)
Protecting seller time: what's in it for me?
One of the biggest barriers to a sale, from a prospect’s perspective, is a lack of simplicity. Modern buyers want seamless, quick and quality interactions, rather than lengthy customer service queues and endless call transfers between departments.
By protecting the time of your best-performing salespeople, you can position your team to ensure that each inbound call is directed to the most suitable sellers for that inquiry. Freeing up capacity creates availability and opportunity – meaning that each initial prospect call is with the right salesperson for that particular buyer. This improves the quality of the prospect journey, and the reputation of your brand.
Salespeople are typically more expensive than other resources in any organization, so it’s more financially viable (from a profitability, capacity and quota perspective) to ensure their time is actually spent selling.
Increased sales time directly correlates to an increase in revenue. If you’re genuinely looking to improve your top line, you need to take salespeople away from customer service or support and reinvest their time back into what they do best. Often, hiring specialized support, inbound or customer service personnel can improve these processes dramatically.
A lack of time means a lower earning potential. If a salesperson’s quota is low because they’re forced to work in other areas, then their earning potential is hugely reduced. Reps simply aren’t going to tolerate spending their time or effort (that could be spent making money for themselves) responding to difficult customer queries.
Salespeople want to sell – they don’t want to be answering customer complaints. By protecting the time of your key salespeople, you support the creation of a strong organizational culture that understands where each individual will excel and affords them the time to do so.
As the old adage goes, “time is money.” Every minute of your sellers’ time counts, and taking steps to protect the productivity of your team will undoubtedly result in increased revenue growth.
Start by narrowing your focus and planning ahead, work smarter with the tools available to you, and collaborate with other departments to understand where individual sellers can provide the most value, in the roles most suited to their skill sets.
Before you begin to make changes, ensure you carry out the following essentials:
- Conduct a time and motion review on how long your sellers are currently spending conducting different activities in the funnel.
- Compare these elements of the funnel to what actually drives revenue opportunity, as opposed to activity.
- Specialize and understand your skill sets.
- Consider what you can feasibly automate.
Need a faster solution? We can help. At Harte Hanks Sales Services, we have experience in optimizing hundreds of inside sales teams, helping them to better prioritize and protect the time of their top performers.
Originally from Iver in the United Kingdom, Christina has 25+ years in sales and operations, the majority of which has been at board level. Those who have met Christina would agree that she strives for operational excellence on a daily basis, consistently working in her role as SVP of Sales Services to develop the individuals and teams as a whole.