What is the main cause of sales under performance?Graham Hawkins on Sales Underperformance and enablement

It’s easy to point to the competition, the economy, outdated methods, information parity, and even a lack of pipeline for sales underperformance.

But the truth of the matter is that salespeople simply don’t spend enough time selling.

According to Objective Management Group, 3 out of 4 salespeople are failing to achieve their quotas, and the average salesperson is only spending around 22% of their time selling (Pace Productivity)…how crazy is that? The rest of a salesperson’s time is spent on administrative tasks and planning.

How salespeople spend their time

Sadly, I can agree with the accuracy of this type of weekly breakdown. In fact, in many of the sales departments that I work with, I’m witnessing less than 22% actual selling time, and this flies in the face of all business logic and resource allocation thinking.

  1. Why pay an expensive B2B sales resource to spend the clear majority of their time in low-value activities (LVA’s)?
  2. Wouldn’t it be smarter to employ lower cost resources to perform the LVA’s and let the ‘specialists’ focus on performing the tasks that actually create value for customers? The high-value activities (HVA)?

Rhetorical questions of course, but it’s a classic case of inputs equaling outputs.

It’s no surprise that salespeople are now all complaining about lack of pipeline, low conversion rates, and stuck deals when they are spending more than 50% of their working hours engaged in Admin, Order Processing, Travel, etc.

It’s irrational to keep loading salespeople up with LVA’s and expecting them to increase their selling time.

B2B salespeople fail to hit their sales quota

Savvy customers are now looking for every opportunity to reduce the cost of sales and marketing as a percentage of revenue (or cost of customer acquisition). Buyers don’t want more vendors.

During my own research of enterprise level buyers in Australia, I found that:

  • 87% of buyers are looking to reduce their total number of suppliers.
  • 31% now have a policy for blocking ‘off-panel’ purchases – that is, they simply won’t allow new vendors to engage direct.
  • 43% are looking to the multi-product vendors to displace the smaller single product vendors.

If you want to optimize your sales team’s performance, it’s time to reassess how you allocate and deploy your resources if you want to target the right market…and grow revenue.  

So how did it get to this?

Failure to accept that the world has moved on:

Buyers have evolved but salespeople have not. Times have changed and if your sales leader is still expecting you to conduct your role around these sorts of time restrictions and expectations then you probably should start looking for a new role. You can NOT be successful in this hyper-competitive, customer-pull era by spending less than a quarter of your time engaged with potential buyers. Period.

Failure to clarify purpose, goals & objectives:

How can a salesperson possibly know if any given activity is valuable to his/her employer if there is any ambiguity around objectives? Of course, it’s very easy for management to default back to telling salespeople that “your only objective is to hit your revenue quota” (which is now outdated thinking, but a topic for another post). However, it’s a complete contradiction to then turn around and say, “oh, but you also need to spend over 50% or your time in admin, order processing and other LVA’s”. Too many sales leaders create unnecessary and unproductive obligations and duties for salespeople – in many cases simply to appease some other department head.

Failure to establish the right measurements and KPI’s:

Why ask salespeople to be 100% focused on just “hitting their quota” if you are then going to also measure them on Admin, HR, and the myriad of other unproductive internal tasks? My personal favorites: and CRM accuracy the folly of measuring size of pipeline – both are often used simply to beat salespeople up.

Failure to put in place the right support structures:

Sounds so obvious to say that the only way to extract maximum value from any specialist or highly skilled practitioner is to create the environment that allows that specialist to flawlessly execute only those skills that will optimize output, while simultaneously removing the need for said specialist to perform LVA/tasks that others can do just as well (and cheaper). Basic performance management fundamentals.

A-Grade B2B salespeople have always been uncompromising about their time because they have clarity of purpose, and they know that ‘proactive distraction management’ is the only way to ensure that they are 100% focused on the attainment of the goal.

So, if you are a sales leader in 2017, then this is your biggest challenge: you must find ways to remove LVA’s from salespeople to allow these expensive resources to spend as much of their time as physically possible on HVA’s.

Buyers continue to tell us that they only want to engage with specialist salespeople (and not generalist order takers) that can provide them with genuine commercial insights. It therefore makes no sense whatsoever to have these B2B sales specialists wasting their time on meaningless tasks like planning, admin, and other internal fluff, when someone else could be doing this stuff for them. Agree?

  • Does a Brain Surgeon prepare the operating theater?
  • Does a Barrister conduct paralegal discovery work?
  • Does the Quarterback waste his time (and specialist skills) blocking or tackling?

In my experience, the best way to transform your sales execution plan is to put in place a separate, cross functional sales enablement program that has been empowered by senior management to drive real change.

Graham Hawkins Sales Consultant Trainer and InfluencerGraham Hawkins is a B2B sales specialist with a contemporary view on how ‘sales’ must align to the new customer-led era. Graham has recently authored two books on B2B sales – the most recent is now an Amazon International Best Seller. Graham is the Founder & CEO of SalesTribe


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Published On: July 27th, 2017Categories: Blog News, Job Search and Career

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