Solving the sales rep productivity problem
Every job has humdrum tasks, annoying meetings, and work chores that end up distracting from important goals. Many of us find it a challenge to do our actual job, what with so many emails to check, feeds to read, threads to answer, and rabbit holes to go down after you look up that one thing.
It’s a very human problem: even as we keep pretty busy, we get lost in the minutiae of the day-to-day. The finding from a research report by Workfront — that 58% of enterprise workers feel “so swamped with getting day-to-day work done that they don’t have time to think beyond their daily to-do list” — is self-evident. Even more people, 63% of workers, say that if they “had more time to just think”, that would help their overall productivity. It's the trap caused by busyness.
Sales teams are no exception to this unfortunate reality. Salesforce’s 2018 State of Sales report, for example, found that sales reps spend a mere “34% of their time actually selling, while the majority of their time is spent on other duties.”
When reps can’t focus on selling, the unsurprising result is that they struggle to perform at their best. Let’s have a closer look at what’s going on in the worklife of a salesperson and ways to increase their selling time.
The very busy day of a salesperson
The thing is, it’s not like reps are goofing around the other two-thirds of their day where they’re not actively selling. They are indeed working, but much of those efforts are being spent on menial tasks like data entry, contact research, and organizing information. Instead of jumping into productive sales conversations and finding more promising prospects, they’re typing in information and rooting around to find the right company and people at those companies to contact in the first place.
Hindered by tasks that may be administrative but also seem necessary to be able to function in the job day-to-day, sales reps already recognize their predicament.
As Salesforce found, reps admit they spend too much time on:
- Managing emails
- Logging activities
- Inputting sales data and customer notes
- Finding the right person to contact
- Creating follow-up tasks
Meanwhile, they’re aware of the cost of what they're missing out on, wishing they could spend more time on strategic work like:
- Researching competitive activity
- Researching competitive offerings
- Discovering a prospect’s needs
- Reviewing a pipeline
- Researching a prospect’s solution
Reps face a tough imbalance between clerical work over customer relationships, with neither headspace nor literal time left to do crucial research, strategic planning, and reflection. Meaningful work gets pushed out for the menial.
Strategies for sales time management
Like most productivity challenges, the sales rep struggle comes down to better time management.
One popular time management strategy is the Eisenhower box, named after a quote attributed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower about importance versus urgency: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” The Eisenhower box, which was popularized in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, provides a decision matrix of four quadrants to guide your planning.
- Urgent and important (the fires and big deadlines)
- Not urgent but important (priorities but are prone to stay barely simmering on the backburner)
- Urgent but not important (where we more frequently get stuck because urgency tricks the mind on how important something actually is)
- Neither urgent nor important (the trivial and timewasters).
The main productivity trade-off we’re concerned with here is between the not urgent but important and the urgent but not important (quadrants 2 and 3). In other words, how do we win the battle between better balancing meaningful work and menial tasks? How do we carve out more time for the cultivating, strategic work that results in a higher volume and quality of sales conversations?
If we fill in an Eisenhower box (adapted from the productivity expert James Clear’s version) with these two branches of tasks, some insights come to light:
Two strategies for sales reps to be able to focus more time on their main job of selling:
- Create more time using delegation and technology. What are some ways that parts of workflows and tasks can be automated and data-driven instead of manual?
- Schedule dedicated time to do Quadrant 2 work that centers mostly on strategy and focused reflection. Put it on your calendar, just like your sales calls and meetings.
To be a highly successful sales rep and to build high-performing sales teams, start by getting smarter about time management and making sure the balance of time is spent in the top two quadrants — selling and strategic work.
Making continuous progress
When your day continually gets jammed with all the little things, it can feel like a slow job death by a thousand paper cuts. You lose the ability to move the needle at a larger level — and as the Salesforce report authors explain, preventing you “from cultivating meaningful — and profitable — customer relationships.”
More than half of sales reps (57%) expect to miss their yearly quotas. And that’s a sign of the modern landscape for sales teams. Reps “have far more on their plates than their predecessors”, tasked with addressing the needs of customers, who are savvier and expect personalized engagement, all while creating that differentiated, great sales experience and meeting their numbers.
Productivity for sales reps isn’t just about the numbers themselves. It’s what happens to impact those numbers. Getting stuck in the grind of the day-to-day undermines the future beyond the single day, the long-term capacity to do sales as primary work and figure out how to get better.