Here’s How to Increase Sales by 33% without Hiring More Reps: A Guide to Simplifying Sales and Protecting Selling Time
September 6, 2023
Is that right?
Sellers only spend one third of their time directly selling? If so many sources didn’t come to the same conclusion, I’d be sure it was a mistake:
- Forbes reports 35.2%
- Salesforce reports less than 30%
- InsideSales reports 35.2%
- McKinsey Global Institute reports the highest number I’ve seen, at 39%
While sales reps are accountable for how they spend their time, I believe this metric speaks less to where sales reps are focusing, and more to the environment and expectations that are placed on them. The power to solve this problem lies more in the hands of Sales leadership and Revenue Operations than the sales reps themselves.
Focusing in the Right Place
As Sales and Revenue Operations leaders, we invest a lot of energy trying to improve efficiency metrics in an effort to level-up revenue performance. Metrics like win rate, conversion of marketing qualified/sales accepted leads, and sales cycle length are useful areas of focus, but none will impact your revenue performance as directly as selling time.
If we increase direct selling time from 30% to 40%, then we increase sales by 33%, without hiring more reps. Conversely, if we decrease our direct selling time from 40% to 30%, then we decrease our sales performance by 25%. Of course, this assumes that we have enough pipeline and leads of similar quality to keep all sales reps busy, but my point still stands. The revenue impact of improving direct selling time is more predictable and easier to solve than other sales efficiency metrics. We shouldn’t ignore other metrics, but selling time is often overlooked low-hanging fruit.
In our introduction to this “Simplify Your Sales Environment” series, I highlighted 3 types of distractions that interfere with direct selling time:
- Administrative distraction
- Mental distraction
- Motivational distraction
In this article we focus on how to address administrative distraction.
Protecting Selling Time
Leaders don’t typically wake up in the morning thinking “How can I distract our sales team today?” The distractions tend to come from good initiatives deployed with good intentions. In fact, they come from initiatives that are designed to improve sales performance. Leaders want to capture CRM data in order to make data-informed decisions to optimize revenue generation. Internal meetings are held to disseminate important information, train staff, foster a sense of team, and various other helpful reasons.
The question we should consider isn’t whether these requirements are valuable (the answer will almost always be “yes”). Rather, are they valuable enough to warrant the trade-off for direct-selling time?
Let’s do some conservative math. Imagine your sales reps spend an average of 60 hours per month directly selling, producing $60,000 ARR per month (actual performance, not quota). That’s $1,000 ARR per hour, per rep. Suppose that each rep conducts 40 conversations per month. Let’s consider launching an awesome new sales tool that requires each rep to invest an additional 90 seconds per conversation to make it work. This translates to one hour per month. With this insight, your decision is easily made by determining whether this new tool will deliver more value than the trade-off of $1,000 ARR per month, per rep, plus the cost of the tool itself.
The best tools are those that help increase selling time, or give reps a better way to do something they’re already doing. Tread carefully when adding recurring non-selling workload.
A simple strategy you can use is to cap the total amount of non-selling expectations in each category, and prioritize the most impactful areas of focus within those parameters. For example, if you commit as an organization that no less than 60% of sales rep time will be spent directly selling, then you have 40% to allocate to other activities. You might allocate them as:
- 10% on internal meetings (forecasting, training, team meetings, 1:1’s)
- 10% on manual entry (expenses, CRM management)
- 10% on planning, preparation and research
- 10% on learning and mastering your sales craft
If something else requires attention, then you trade off from the 40%, not from selling time. Using this example, anything beyond the 40% should be considered an administrative distraction.
Easier said than done? Let’s explore some practical ways to reduce non-selling time.
Addressing Existing Administrative Distractions
Here is a simple approach to help create more selling time. List every non-selling task expected of sales reps, and for each task consider one of these four options:
Option 1: Eliminate
This option is exactly what it sounds like! Remove the expectation altogether. For example, review your CRM system and eliminate fields that are redundant, of low value, or are no longer relevant. You can do this by removing them from your page layout, or by actually deleting the fields from your data structure. If you delete fields, be sure to make a backup first!
Years ago I performed an assessment for the reporting processes at a large corporation. I interviewed an individual whose entire job was to manually update a daily report, based on a complex set of inputs from various data sources. After digging deeper, I learned that this report was requested by an executive leader who had left the company, and that nobody had even viewed this report for over two years! Just because something was needed yesterday, does not mean it still adds value today.
Option 2: Automate
If a task is repeated often, and its inputs are predictable and accessible, then it can be automated. Automating a process will not only give back selling time, it will also improve the accuracy of the task, avoiding the risk of manual error. Here are some examples to consider:
- Automate note-taking from sales calls using an AI note-taker like fireflies.ai.
- Automate notifications and hand-off emails using CRM workflows.
- Automate manual inputs from one system into another by passing data with Zapier.
- Automate document creation for proposals and quotes with a tool like Conga.
Option 3: Delegate
If a task doesn’t require a lot of context to complete, and it cannot be automated, then consider delegating it to one of the following resources:
- An internal role: Some companies have hired a dedicated administrative assistant to offload tasks from a team of sales reps. This is a lower-cost alternative, and gives back time to the Sales reps. Additionally, some assistants grow to take on sales roles, and this model provides a warm pipeline for sales talent.
- A virtual assistant: I have known a number of high-performing sales reps who paid for their own virtual assistant because its cost was easily offset by the additional commissions earned from reallocating their time saved to selling. For companies, engaging a virtual assistant may be a good way to experiment with the model using very little cost and commitment. After proving the model works, then make VA’s part of the model, or hire a full-time assistant.
Tasks to consider outsourcing may include:
- Preparing expense reports
- Augmenting lead data
- Manual reporting
Option 4: Simplify
Some tasks legitimately cannot be eliminated, automated or delegated. In these cases find ways to simplify the work. The goal with this approach is to convert a five-minute task into a two-minute task (for example).
Here are ways to simplify sales activities:
- Create templates: Follow-up emails, call and voicemail scripts, proposals, and presentation decks are all examples of materials that tend to be 80% the same from case-to-case. Creating an easily-accessible library of templates lets your sales reps focus on the 20% that needs to be customized for their particular instance.
- Build for the 90%, not for the exception: When designing a process, resist the temptation to account for the fringe cases, otherwise you may complicate your core 90% of scenarios in an effort to accommodate for the 10%. It’s more efficient to simplify for the common scenarios, and deal with exceptions separately.
- Create one-click options: Look for tiny, high-volume tasks where you can reduce clicks. Saving a click here and there can add up! For example, a simple auto-populated URL or script can make a helpful Google search or AI prompt literally one-click away.
Make It a Practice
Assessing the activities that occupy Sales’ attention isn’t a one-time exercise. Your selling environment is constantly evolving, and so are your operating rhythms. Establishing a regular practice of reviewing your tools, processes, data and sales expectations is critical.
Establish a baseline by measuring your current selling time. Set a tenacious goal for improving this metric. Protect it going forward. In addition to the revenue generated by these improvements, other metrics will naturally improve as a by-product. Your ARR per rep, percent of reps achieving quota, and cost of sales will all improve.
Don’t settle for the norm of 35% direct selling time. Just because it’s a benchmark, doesn’t mean we have to accept it. Just because it’s common practice, doesn’t mean it’s best practice! Why settle for average? Why not be counted among the trailblazers who define the new benchmark?
Imagine an environment where sales reps spend the vast majority of their time…well…selling! Your reps will be motivated by a renewed sense of winning, sales employee engagement will rise, and your company will become more attractive to the top sales talent in your market. This reality is completely within your reach.
All you have to say is, “Challenge accepted!”
This article is part two in a series on better selling. Read part one here.