5 Reasons Why Salespeople Focus on the Wrong Sales Activities
Having worked with hundreds of IT staffing CEO's and business owners, I’ve heard more than my fair share of frustrations and complaints over salespeople spending too much time on the wrong activities. I'm talking about salespeople spending hours a day on non selling activities such as servicing existing customers and consultants, formatting resumes, prepping candidates, conducting sales research, preparing client facing content, writing emails and many others. They say "how can I get my salespeople to spend more time prospecting for new business and meeting with prospective customers? The answer to that question lies in the reasons for why salespeople are in fact spending so much time on these non selling sales activities. Here are five reasons why salespeople focus on the wrong sales activities and how you can diagnose why your salespeople are struggling with time allocation.
Do Your Sales People Understand Your Target Market & What is MOST Important?
When leaders fail to make it clear for their salespeople what their target market and go-to-market sales strategy is, salespeople choose to spend their time how they see fit. Salespeople need a clearly defined “bullseye” telling them exactly which accounts and contacts to focus on and why, and which sales tasks and activities are the priority and why. When these things are unclear salespeople focus on the things they are comfortable with and make up their own rules about how they should spend their time. To be blunt, if your salespeople are focused on the wrong tasks it's probably because they were not given clear direction. Fortunately, there is a quick and easy fix for this. Staffing leaders need to communicate exactly how they want their salespeople to spend their time, the methodology and messaging they want them to apply for approaching their prospects and the results they expect. “What gets measured gets done.” Your sales cadence including your daily and weekly sales coaching that is led by your sales and/or recruiting manager should reinforce this communication ensuring reps are focused on the right tasks and allocating their sales time and effort appropriately.
Key Questions: What is your sales cadence? How do your managers know that their salespeople are focused on the right sales tasks? How do they know when their salespeople are focused on the wrong tasks? Do your managers know how to take corrective action?
Do Your Salespeople Possess the Right Knowledge, Access to the Right Tools?
Salespeople are far more likely to spend their time and allocate their effort on the right sales activities when they possess the right knowledge and have access to the right sales tools. Docurated's State of Sales Productivity study revealed that 31% of reps' time is spent searching for or creating content. This tells us that salespeople feel they don’t have the knowledge or right content to communicate and correspond with their prospects. As a result, they waste hours upon hours searching for content online or trying to create content on their own. I recently helped an IT staffing company overcome this by implementing sales playbooks to give their salespeople access to the information they needed when they need it for improving new account acquisition. Their sales playbooks spelled out what information-data, insights, case studies, etc.- to share with their prospects based on where the buyer resided within their buyer journey. The playbook also included a series of email templates to send to prospects based on over a dozen different prospecting scenarios. This not only ensured the sales reps communication was aligned with the buyer but it boosted the sales team’s confidence and productivity because they knew they had the right tools and knowledge to be successful. the productivity boost led to an increase in net new bookings
Key Questions: Do your salespeople have access to all of the sales tools and resources they need to be successful and to maximize sales productivity? Do you know exactly what type of content they need for the various situations they face when prospecting for new business?
Do Your Salespeople Posses the Required Competencies?
When salespeople fail to execute sales activity due to insufficient skills and knowledge, the remedy is coaching and training. I once worked with a customer who (the owner) made it very clear to his salespeople that they were to call on IT hiring managers and avoid calling the HR department. But when I started coaching one of his sales reps I quickly discovered that this rep was calling on recruiters in the HR department. I also discovered that all of his placements were direct-hire and not contract. When I probed the rep to understand why this was the case I discovered that he didn't have the competencies-nor the self confidence-to call on the IT hiring managers. He was intimidated and didn't feel he understood the technologies or what these managers did on a day-to-day basis well enough to call on the IT hiring managers. To overcome this I reengineered the training by taking the focus away from sales skills development and instead focused on boosting his customer knowledge. We did this by focusing the training on teaching the sales rep to understand the buyer personas of the IT hiring managers he was calling on. I focused on educating him on who his customers are, the challenges they face, how they are measured, the industry information they read and are interested in, what is important to them, and their common objections to working with staffing firms. As a result he developed a strong grasp of the people he was calling on and was able to connect with and engage these hiring managers in dialog that was of high interest to them. More importantly it gave him the self confidence that he needed to stop calling the HR department and start calling the hiring managers.
Key Questions: Do your salespeople understand who your customers are and what is important to them? How do you know? Have you heard them articulate this?
Are Your Salespeople Being Properly Motivated to Succeed?
Let's face it, sales is not easy and even top performers fall into slumps. Salespeople lacking proper motivation are notorious for misallocating their time and effort for many reasons such as:
- Lack of personal and/or public recognition
- Lack of self-empowerment (they're micromanaged with little to no autonomy to make decisions on their own)
- They have a weak sales compensation/commission/bonus plan
- They struggle to see or tie their sales effort to their results
Salespeople are motivated when they see results from their efforts and are recognized for it. Promotions, personal and public recognition, self-empowerment and money or compensation are just a few of the key levers for motivating salespeople. Remedies for lack of motivation could include changing the incentive plan and/or modifying the criteria for recognition programs such as President's Club. An IT staffing firm recently reached out to me because they were frustrated with the lack of new job orders coming in from new accounts. They wanted their sales people to spend more time on prospecting and opening new accounts. I quickly came to discover that the sales team had no incentives in place to drive the desired sales behaviors, prospecting for new business. We implemented a new incentive plan that included multiple ways in which their people could earn additional compensation for opening new accounts. By implementing a new compensation plan and additional incentives we were able to get the sales team to properly channel their sales behaviors and allocate their time on the desired activities and outcomes.
Key Questions: What sales behaviors do you want your sales team to exemplify and execute on a daily basis? When is the last time you communicated this to your sales team? How does your compensation plan drive and encourage those desired behaviors?
Do Your Salespeople Posses the Right DNA?
Sales training can and should develop a salesperson's skills and knowledge, but sales success also requires innate qualities that can't necessarily be taught. Salespeople who misallocate their time and effort often do so because they lack the DNA required to get the job done. I'm talking about things that are difficult or impossible to teach such as persistence, assertiveness, or the ability to overcome fear and get outside of your comfort zone such as not being afraid to discuss money with a prospect or attempt to overcome an objection three times (persistence) in the same conversation. The remedy for this is hiring and retaining the right people. This probably won't come as a surprise but I have witnessed hundreds of IT staffing companies focus on promoting recruiters into sales as well as hiring technical consultants onto their sales force. While most of these people had the technical background and understood the nuances of the industry, in all most all cases they lacked the DNA to consistently sell. They were fine if you had accounts to hand over to them but when it came time to prospect and open new accounts on their own they failed miserably. And when the economy slowed, it just became too much. Their sales floor was like a funeral parlor, silence. Nobody was picking up the phone and making calls. In some instances these staffing firms changed their profile and hiring strategy. They started to screen for the DNA or the personality traits that they knew were key to being successful in sales but difficult or impossible to teach. These changes improved employee retention and ultimately grew revenue and market share.
Key Questions: What are the key personality traits that a salesperson must possess to be successful in your organization? How do you? What are you doing to screen your employees to ensure they possess those qualities?
As you can see, there are many different reasons for why salespeople lose focus and improperly allocate their time and effort. It is up to the sales leader to communicate the high value sales activities and results they expect and to reinforce those messages along with the desired sales behaviors to ensure their salespeople maintain proper focus.
What sales activities are your sales people focused on? Are you challenged with motivating your salespeople to focus and on what is most important? Let's start a conversation in the comments section below.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.