Sales leaders are always trying to balance between sales effectiveness and sales productivity. If a poll was conducted what would a CEO prefer, a productive sales force or an effective sales force? In my experience the most successful sales leaders and people care little about sales productivity. Anyone with even a few years experience in sales management will know that real sales people move to a different beat. They are a different animal, and not just because some of them like fast cars, expensive shirts or the latest Smartphone, no, the reality is real successful sales professionals are more goal focused than the average sales person. In fact the most successful sales people will constantly work more than 40 hours a week to make a sale or win a new customer to beat their target.
The measure of productivity is “the output of a worker divided by the time is required to achieve the output “, while a nice metric in sales it is not that really applicable in most sales organisations. I argue that sales people or a sales force cannot be measured in the same way as a factory worker, software developer or accountant.
Let me explain further, if for example, the IT department bring in a new system that reduces software coding time by 20% it takes a developer to code then it is reasonable to expect that the developer will produce an extra 20% more lines of code and the software teams output might go up proportionately.
When it comes to sales, when a tool is introduced that should save a sales person a few hours a week or measured as % of their working week – then it could be reasonable to think that they should be able to increase their sales by ten or twenty percent. But that is just not the case as has been proven by the mass adoption of CRM systems as real sales productivity has not improved.
Freeing Up Sales Peoples Time Does Not Increase Sales
You see, unlike the IT and coder example if a company introduces a solution to help sales professionals do the dreaded monthly expense reports faster, what do you reckon the typical sales person will do with the extra time the business has saved him or her?
A poll of ten senior sales leaders I know gave the following quotes in reply to the above scenario – they will takes longer lunches – play more golf – spend more time at home – relax a little more. None mentioned they believed the sales force would improve productivity.
The reality is that the successful goal focused sales person is already working as many hours as it takes to nail or over achieve their targets. Saving them time simply makes them more “productive” as in they achieve the same sales output but in fewer hours. In management speak, the sales professional’s time spent working is flexible, meaning it is adjusted by the very productivity measures or tool companies have introduced to increase productivity. A zero sum result.
Could Phone based or Inside Sales be an Exception?
The above observations are mostly to do with customer facing sales people. But let us discuss the inside sales people especially in light of the growth in SaaS models. The role of a typical phone based agent is to make 60 to 80 calls a day, so you would think that say a dialler that enabled them to increase their dials to 66 or 88 calls a day (10% sales productivity boost) would yield higher results, right?. Not always!
Let me explain why not in more detail. In a typical selling day, in making “the call quota” the inside sales person might have 6 or 7 good decision maker conversations and then generate one or two real opportunities for the sales pipeline from these conversations.
Next increase the above numbers by the 10% productivity boost and you get approx. 0.7 more sales conversations per sales person, and maybe 0.2 more qualified opportunities. Yes, I hear you say because if you spread this out over a large inside sales force, these numbers should average out to more opportunities, but often do not. Another reality check! Inside sales productivity has not improved in over 20 years despite huge investments in technology and systems.
Why is this so? Much the same reason as for the customer facing roles, sales people are goal focused and as every good sales manager understands that four deals with a 25% probability do not equal one deal with a 100% probability in the eyes of a sale person.
Sales Effectiveness, Not Sales Productivity Is the Answer
Introducing new systems and time saving technology that reduces non selling work is valuable for any sales force. At a minimum it will increase their job satisfaction and engagement levels plus over time it can impact an additional sale or two per sales person. However, I have firsthand experience of companies who time and time again fail to justify costly sales force automation tools because of the over reliance on increasing sales productivity as a KPI.
Sales people want to be more effective in sales situations. Their focus is not about working less or more, it is on winning more deals.
So to drive sales effectiveness for serious revenue gains, companies and sales leadership should
- Enhance Integration of Marketing, Sales and Service –Smarketing
- Improve the Customer Experience at All Touch Points
- Strengthen the Sales Methodologies and Sales Process
- Bring more Science to Hiring and Talent Acquisition
- Ensure Better Outcomes from Sales Technology
- Sharpen Focus on Goals and Customers through Agile Selling
In the new era of selling, sales leaders and management will be rewarded for taking a more holistic approach to sales effectiveness across the entire sales force including strategy, process, incentives, talent acquisition and growth, roles and sales training. At the crux of this focus to drive more revenue is delivering a consistent and excellent customer experience that blends sales, marketing and service to sell more dynamically while providing the brand promise to meet the customers ever more demanding expectations