Set Your People Free
(to Sell!)

Here’s the bad news. At best, most salespeople spend less than 40 percent of their time selling. In fact, most time management surveys tell us that most business-to-business salespeople spend about 25 percent of their time in selling situations. The rest of the time gets gobbled up doing administrative tasks, attending meetings, traveling, and waiting.

As a class, salespeople are a pretty independent lot. They prefer to be in control of their own fate, set their own agenda, march to their own drummer, etc. Unfortunately, as sales managers, if we let them do this, a certain level of chaos quickly results.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you should establish rigid controls over your salespeople. Quite the contrary. I’m suggesting that you set them free to sell while providing the guidance they require to be even more effective.

If you want to help increase your salespeople’s selling time and sales effectiveness, avoid these three common traps:

Trap No. 1:  Hold lots of meetings, especially during prime selling time. Let’s assume you have a weekly sales meeting every Monday morning and the meetings go until noon. You’ve just lost four hours out of a forty-hour week or about 10 percent of the available selling time. A meeting that runs for a half-day a week means 50 half days or 25 full days of lost selling time. I know some companies who take their salespeople out of the field two and three times a week. Ironically, the worse the sales, the more meetings they seem to hold.

I’m a believer in a weekly or bi-weekly sales meeting with a tight agenda and lasting no more than two hours. Knowing the general attention span of most salespeople, keeping the meeting to ninety minutes or less is a good idea. If your meetings are running longer than this, trim them down and set your people free.

Why not consider holding your sales meetings in non-prime selling time? Early morning breakfast meetings aren’t incredibly popular but if you provide a breakfast along with lots of high-test coffee, you’ll get the troops fired up for the day (and week). One thing’s for sure, a breakfast meeting is a LOT more popular than a 5:00pm meeting, although end-of-the-day meetings rarely run over their allotted time like the daytime meetings do.

Trap No. 2:  Insist on lots of sales reports. Most salespeople hate paperwork with a passion. Insisting on copious sales and activity reports is like training elephants to fly. It annoys the elephants and frustrates the trainer. If a report doesn’t help your salespeople do a better job, then they will have minimal interest in completing it. As sales manager, your job is to sell them on the value of the information to both you and them.

Insisting on call reports and daily activity reports simply as a way of monitoring the salespeople smacks of the big-brother-is-watching-you approach to sales management and doesn’t work. I’ve seen some pretty impressive (and creative) activity reports from salespeople who spent most of the day in coffee shops.

I’m not saying that all paperwork is either bad or unnecessary. I’m just suggesting you look at the reports and forms you get from the field and ask yourself, “What do I do with this information?” or “How important is it that I have this information?” If you’re not doing anything with the information or it’s not particularly important to your operation, stop collecting it and give your salespeople more time to sell.

Trap No. 3:  Insist on the performance of non-selling duties. The best example of this is the turning of salespeople into bill collectors. Now this really helps build long-term, solid relationships with the client! Every time the salesperson shows up on the client’s doorstep, the client has to guess if he’s there to help or badger, to sell a solution or collect an account. No one needs this kind of tension. Besides, most salespeople make terrible bill collectors.

Some companies won’t pay the salesperson until after the client pays. Not only does this have a very negative impact on morale, it’s a short-sighted policy that hampers the salesperson’s ability to build long-term business. I believe the salesperson is paid to bring in a clean sale, and it’s the company’s responsibility to deliver the order and collect the account.

Another great time waster is having salespeople make deliveries, whether it’s products or proposals. Turning your salespeople into couriers is a monumental waste of time and takes away from their primary function — making money for the company.

There are many more traps companies fall into that consume their salespeople’s selling time. Consider asking your people to maintain a time log for a couple of weeks and then analyze where they lose valuable selling time. I’ll bet that travel and meetings will be up there at the top of the list.

Use the results of the time log to look at what limits your salespeople from spending more time in front of potential clients. Better yet, ask them what they see as barriers to getting even more sales. Not only do they know the barriers… I’ll bet they know the solutions as well.

Set’em Free

Find ways to set your people free to sell and watch your sales soar.