3 Steps to Increase Salesperson Productivity

A Vantive sales performance benchmark research survey revealed an interesting but not surprising finding that Sales Managers top objective is to increase sales productivity.

Question: How will you improve sales results?

1.Increase salesperson productivity (i.e. streamline effort and increase output)43%
2.Improve sales methods (i.e. sales methodologies and processes)41%
3.Technology automation34%
4.Human Capital Management (i.e. recruiting, hiring, onboarding, retaining staff)31%
5.Better information reporting (i.e. dashboards, pipeline and sales forecast)25%
6.Account Management (i.e. territory and customer alignment)18%
7.Talent Management (i.e. compensation & performance management, learning & development)14%

When drilling down to understand the importance of this top sales objective the reasons became clear. Organizations and sales managers most often scale their revenues by either hiring more salespeople or increasing performance of existing salespeople. Due to constraints such as time and money, the latter is the more popular choice.

Sales Productivity Methods and Technologies

Despite being a top goal, sales productivity programs tend to be intermittent, without structure and deliver mixed results at best and disappointing results at worst. To do better, below is a three-step framework I've used many times to successfully drive big improvements.

  1. First define, measure and report your baseline productivity. Sales productivity is equal to the revenue delivered divided by the resources consumed. Improving it is done by increasing salesperson revenues at a pace greater than the increased resources expended. Then identify your essential performance metrics. The top metric, called a headline metric, is salesperson revenue achievement. However, that's overly broad so we need to focus on the underlying metrics such as close (sales conversion) rate, revenue per sale (ticket amount or average deal size), sales cycle duration and sales quota achievement that directly contribute to the top metric and therefore must be targeted for improvement. A common error for many companies is that they do not measure their baseline productivity, and therefore, cannot demonstrate real progress or payback. It's important to identify your top metrics before investing in enhancements in order to calculate your baseline measurement (i.e., your starting point), demonstrate measurable sales improvements and make the effort sustainable.
  2. Second, define the sales roles you wish to improve. Sales efficiency goals vary by role. Management is focused on recruiting, hiring, onboarding, coaching, improving staff effectiveness and getting accurate sales forecasts. Field reps want to be able to access information quickly, reuse content and assets, automatically schedule their time and be alerted to changes to their sale opportunities or pipeline. Inside Reps or SDRs (Sales Development Representatives) want to automate outbound prospecting, quickly distribute correspondence, auto-schedule call-backs and automatically transfer leads to field sales when they reach sales-ready scores. Creating broad goals to accommodate multiple sales roles will dilute any achievements. This effort must define specific goals for specific roles.
  3. There are three ways to improve sales productivity. You can redesign processes to be more streamlined and effective, apply technology to automate otherwise manual activities and develop analytics to work smarter. Begin with business process redesign, it's a precursor to the other two. There's no sense in automating inefficient business processes. When doing business process redesign with clients I inevitably discover two things – activities that can be performed more effectively in less time and activities that can be eliminated. The latter provides an immediate reallocation of time. I use Agile Value Stream Mapping as the process redesign method because it quickly identifies idle periods which extend process durations, designates process steps by value or non-value and is particularly well suited to eliminating non value-added steps and activities.

For the rest of this article, I'll illustrate and provide examples of how to apply these three steps to the three sales roles of Sales Manager, Salesperson and SDR.

Sales Manager Productivity Methods

Three areas where I've consistently seen sales process redesign deliver big labor improvements are time reallocation so that salespeople invest their limited time in the most effective areas, coaching to help sales staff increase their sales win rates and improving upon or eliminating sales meetings.

Salesperson time reallocation is an exercise to help sales staff separate the urgent from the important, and not confuse activity with progress. Just about every sales activity that matters is measurable. However, salespeople are notorious for not accounting for their time. The best place to record sales activities is the CRM system. It should capture internal and customer facing tasks (i.e. to-do items), activities (telephone calls, emails, meetings) and events. You won't capture everything but if you can record most of it, the CRM system can show which activities advance sale opportunities and provide a repository for sales managers and salespeople to review and refine.

Good sales managers recognize their greatest impact is to grow the contributions of each of their direct reports and achieve a workforce multiplier effect. A frequent coaching misstep is how coaching is allocated among sales performers. Most sales managers spend a disproportionate amount of time coaching the highest and lowest performers. While all sales staff need coaching, investing more time with the core selling group will produce the greatest impact.

Sales meetings are meant to boost productivity but often have the opposite effect. Many meetings have a way of perpetuating simply because they are the norm and not because they add value. For essential meetings, be sure protocols are in place to get value. Meetings should deliver agendas in advance, state the purpose of objective of the meeting, time-box discussion items, use a 'parking lot' to table off topic follow-ups and verify the intended purpose or value was achieved. When doing process design work with clients, I always find recurring meetings that can be replaced or eliminated.

Technology automation to help sales managers increase labor efficiency often starts with Master Data Management (MDM) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.

MDM is effective in organizations which have customer data in many locations and need to standardize and synchronize that data to make it useful. MDM is often a big part of the solution for organizations with poor data quality.

CRM software, or possibly the Sales Force Automation (SFA) software within the CRM suite offers many capabilities to improve sales performance. Sales methodologies integrated within CRM software accelerate sales cycles by providing road maps to get to the destination in the shortest time. Using CRM workflow to facilitate sales processes saves time, creates consistency among reps, provides measured visibility and enables predictability. Delivering insights based on persona or customer segment, or recommending content based on sales cycle step or stage, reuses intellectual assets and saves salespeople a lot of time. Applying customer segmentation to determine profiles and traits of high contribution customers and then identifying look-alike customers with the similar characteristics, but not yet in the top contribution segment, can show growth opportunities for targeted acquisitions.

Analytics surface key information so sales managers can intervene timely, set targets and forecast future sales performance. CRM dashboards are effective in making metrics actionable and top sales management measures include sales to date, sales growth, win rate, average deal size, sales cycle velocity, % of reps achieving quota, pipeline, forecast, sales funnel leakage and sales progress based on operating variables, such as sales per rep, territory, product or line of business.

Beyond dashboard metrics, CRM systems can be tweaked for more accurate reporting. For example, to improve sales forecast accuracy, one technique is to calculate the age date and velocity of each opportunity as this will quickly show what opportunities are stalled or dead and should be reviewed or removed from the forecast and recycled back to marketing. Another technique is to create point-in-time sales pipelines and forecasts so managers can quickly understand what's changed from the prior to the current forecast.

More advanced analytics use machine learning to deliver things like customer health monitors or predict which customers are about to churn. The key to analytics is to measure what matters. Analytics enable near real-time course corrections by applying data to shift performance in a rational way. But this only works if the data is captured, surfaced in the right metrics and delivered to people that act.

Salesperson Productivity Methods

Some of the more common high impact business process design areas for sales professionals include focusing on the rights prospects and customers, achieving a 360-degree customer view and simplifying access to content.

Sales professionals can gain a significant productivity boost by only investing their limited sales time in qualified sales prospects. Measuring lead and opportunity sales-readiness using weighted qualification checklists will objectively score leads, make Go- or No-Go decisions, divest time from poor fit opportunities and double down on the best fit opportunities. Those leads that are not qualified can be returned to marketing for inclusion in nurture marketing campaigns until they demonstrate buy signals and are ready to be transferred back to sales for sales cycle engagement.

360 degree customer view

Achieving the elusive 360-degree customer view will also aid efficiency. While this is a frequently cited request, few actually know the five types of data that go into a 360 degree view, which are demographic, transactional (credit terms, purchase history, fulfillment status, etc.), behavioral (i.e. digital footprints and online engagement), environmental (often enriched or third party data) and social data.

Making content easily accessible also improves labor efficiency. McKinsey advises that salespeople waste 10 to 20 hours per week searching for content and then curating or recreating content because they can't find what they are looking for. The problem is a double whammy as SiriusDecisions reports that Marketing goes to great effort and expense to create content, but 60% to 70% of marketing's content goes unused because it's not found. I've included some solutions to this problem in the following technology automation section.

Here are some of the higher impact technology automation capabilities to improve sales rep productivity.

First, start by streamlining or reducing the number of information systems salespeople need to use. For most companies, sales reps should spend most or all or their time in one system – the CRM system. You will likely need to reduce or eliminate spreadsheets and shadow systems. Due to lack of technology automation, sales reps spend an average of 9 percent of their time in spreadsheets or apps outside the core systems. Identifying these shadow systems, the reasons they are used and shifting their use to CRM or another core application where tasks can be automated and information can be shared will reduce manual effort.

Next, employ technology to make content more accessible and to deliver the right content at the right time. When sales reps can't find what they are looking for, they recreate or use less relevant or dated materials. Reps find themselves in a frustrating position where it's often faster to create content than to find it. The challenge stems from content that is scattered over multiple repositories and search tools that are not.

To make content accessible it needs to be consolidated, categorized and easily found. There are several types of technology to make this happen, including content management systems or CRM systems that have their own content management capabilities or offer packaged integration with storage systems such as SharePoint. Regardless of the storage tool, the search capability needs to be simple, intuitive, google-like and mobile friendly.

CRM systems can take content accessibility to the next level of contextual content delivery. Several CRM applications can be designed to proactively suggest templates, scripts, collaterals, insights, offers or assets based on customer type, persona, sales step, sales cycle stage and other factors. This push-based technology facilitates guided selling, eliminates search time and better leverages the company’s content.

There are many other technology enablement tools and apps to increase sales rep results. Examples may include tools such as Inside View that import all types of customer or contact information into your CRM system, Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) tools that greatly reduce the time needed to create complex quotes, route planning to maximize field sales visits, digital contracts with e-signatures to accelerate sales closure or automated lead and opportunity calculators to score leads and opportunities. The possibilities are near endless and will depend upon your situation.

Salesperson analytics are best displayed in role-based CRM dashboards that prioritize tasks and deliver actionable metrics. When selecting your dashboard metrics, recognize that less is more. It's best to focus on fewer, higher impact performance measures that directly correlate with revenue goals. Metrics must be measurable and compared to a standard, such as quota, target, prior year or industry-based performance benchmarks. Lastly, metrics must be actionable and measure follow-through. Sales leaders know they get what they inspect, not what they expect, so dashboard metrics should be periodically reviewed as part of sales coaching sessions. When negative variances exist managers may need to insist upon remediation plans.

Top salesperson metrics include pipeline value, sales forecast value, forecast accuracy, average deal size, quota progress, win rate, sales velocity and revenue leakage. Salesperson analytics should also include notification alerts to signal changes in opportunities, shifts to the forecast, neglected accounts and opportunities or other deviations that impact prioritized goals.

SDR Productivity Methods

Business process redesign for SDRs is best focused on ways to streamline outbound prospecting, automate follow-up actions and distribute qualified leads to the sales force. The starting point for an SDR should be a dashboard or home page that displays exactly what should be done, in a sequenced or prioritized order, to aid time management, create a work rhythm cadence and maximize conversions.

SRDs incur fewer work processes than the field sales force. Focusing on fewer, highly repetitive tasks lends itself to performance benchmarking. I generally start SDR process design by comparing current activity volumes with industry-benchmarks such as outbound calls made per hour or day, volume of contacts reached, first appointments scheduled and the number of MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) transferred to the sales team. These comparisons will identify the biggest deviations that offer the biggest upside opportunities.

Technology automation for SDRs starts with CRM software that brings intelligence to outbound call lists. For example, don't show 100 prospects that could be called, instead show the 20 that should be called because they share the closest fit to the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), or their digital footprints show buy signals, or they suggest the highest value potential based on their Customer Lifetime Value. SDRs can also create Watch Lists, so when prior leads or named accounts show digital buy signals on the website or elsewhere, the SDRs can be alerted for quick follow-up. Software tools can also automate telephone-based prospecting with Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, auto-dialers and Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) to display contact record screen pops. Technology automation also includes guided selling capabilities within CRM software to aid SDR performance by surfacing scripts or proactively suggesting intelligent offers, promotions or up-sell or cross-sell opportunities.

Collaboration apps such as enterprise social networks (i.e. Salesforce Slack or Microsoft Teams) provide reps with tools to find answers, content or experts on demand. These apps enable SDRs to better connect with each other and with the field sales force. And because they accumulate the questions posed and answers provided about customers, products, offers, solutions and other highly relevant discussions, they become powerful knowledgebases that can be searched and harvested for continued value.

There are two types of SDR analytics – activity and financial – and both are important for SDR performance. Activity metrics include calls made, emails sent, accounts contacted, accounts engaged, conversion rate, first appointments scheduled, meetings completed, outreach activities completed and call quality analysis.

Financial metrics are more closely associated with revenue achievement and include MQLs generated per period, Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) rate, opportunities generated, pipeline generated and won revenues sourced by the SDR. Both types of SDR metrics should be visualized in CRM dashboards.

A Few Closing Points

The prior examples are not an exhaustive list, but opportunities that I've uncovered multiple times over. Considering how each role contributes to the company's revenue goals and applying Agile Value Steam Mapping will identify the highest impact improvement areas for each organization.

Labor efficiencies must be achieved in tandem with the realization of goals. Efficiency and effectiveness must be taken together to not just increase productivity but also increase performance. It's a mistake to increase your sales productivity solely by becoming more efficient with your time. Doing work faster doesn't matter if results decline. It's not enough to just measure the volume of work. What's needed is to measure the volume of work that achieves slated results. Becoming efficient without an aim toward effectiveness is a losing proposition.

CRM software is the primary technology automation for sales. It can improve performance, but the system must be simple, intuitive and contextually integrated with sales processes, content and assets. CRM will only make sense for salespeople and gain sustained user adoption when the output is worth more than the input.

Sir Francis Bacon is generally credited for the phrase, "knowledge is power." I would suggest that knowledge is not power unless it is acted upon. Simply creating a list of metrics to display in a dashboard falls short of inducing action. However, when metrics are linked to objectives, backed with actions and measured by payback, information goes from being interesting to creating value.

Lastly, remember sales productivity is a journey. You are never really done and continued iterations will achieve continued improvements. Applying a business process design framework or systemic process (like the three-step process suggested in this article) will lend itself to easier and faster iterations, measurements that show quantifiable progress with each exercise and a sustainable performance improvement program.