One of the first things sellers learn is to keep it simple. Yet when it comes to a particularly hot topic in our industry, sales leaders do anything but. Rather than apply the K-I-S-S principle to sales productivity, many leaders instead turn to technology, tracking, and top-down governance.
Within some major organizations, you’ll even find a Sales Productivity team.
Why? Because it’s far easier to deploy tools and technology as a quick fix than to change sellers’ mindset and behavior. But the truth is that time wasting and diminished productivity will persist without a different approach.
Organizational Intelligence vs. Organizational Health
In his book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni makes a key distinction between organizational intelligence—think: tech stack—and organizational health. Organizational health has more to do with self-discipline and common sense decision-making, among many other intangible indicators.
To illustrate the difference, Lencioni shares a fitting example from I Love Lucy, excerpted here:
Ricky, Lucy’s husband, comes home from work one day to find his wife crawling around the living room on her hands and knees. He asks her what she’s doing.
“I’m looking for my earrings,” Lucy responds.
Ricky asks her, “You lost your earrings in the living room?”
She shakes her head. “No, I lost them in the bedroom. But the light out here is much better.”
Pure comedy first of all (I love that show)—and a harsh reality for many sales organizations still struggling with productivity issues. As Lencioni argues, organizations need to address organizational health so that making productive choices comes naturally (and sellers don’t end up pulling a Lucy).
The Unpopular Answer: It’s Time to Focus on Personal Productivity
A Forrester study found that B2B sellers spend more time on internal communications than they do on important sales activities such as relationship building, presentation preparation, territory and account planning/management, and customer/competitor/industry research. It’s an astounding finding but should be unsurprising to modern sales leaders.
Sellers don’t operate in a vacuum. They’re constantly pulled in 10 different directions by 10 different teams. The result is a lot of inboxes and messaging apps overflowing with internal communications. Coupled with the amount of time sellers spend in front of a screen each day, it’s a massive productivity sink that sellers must cope with daily.
Yet, it turns out that top-performing sellers are more skilled at managing their time. In fact, they’re 62% more likely than other sellers to maximize time spent on sales activities that drive the best results, according to a recent study by RAIN Group’s Center for Sales Research.
Rather than demanding productivity by decree or delegating it to an app, we need to put sellers in position to manage productivity on their own.
Flaws in the Top-Down Approach
A common approach to improving sales productivity is governance. At the organizational level, leaders establish guidelines about what’s sent to sales teams, including when and by whom. Conventional thinking holds that governance of this sort can limit the amount of communication to the sales team.
While an organization might be able to govern internal communications, what about all the other emails, texts, and interruptions that sellers encounter? There are plenty of emails that come through that aren’t from the head office about a new product or price sheet. Personal texts and non-work websites are always a click away.
The truth is, no amount of governance can control every second of a seller’s day. Which is critical, because a seller’s typical day is full of thousands of tiny decisions (and distractions) about how to spend work time. Over time, the decisions add up.
A Model for Cultivating Individual Time Discipline
What about putting the responsibility back on the independent contributor to decide how and when they make these decisions? Or cultivating a level of individual discipline—internalized habits—that makes when and when not to respond second nature?
My view is that our field needs to return to teaching employees how to do two things:
- Instinctively recognize behavior that runs counter to their productivity.
- Make the right decision on how to spend time the vast majority of the time.
In Time Management Tips to Boost Your Productivity, we introduced to a model that any seller can rely on daily to make the most of their time. The TIME model breaks down as follows:
Take your treasured time: This is the time that a seller holds dear, such as family outings and hobbies. The idea is to manage time wisely to get more of this treasured time.
Increase investment time: This is time that generates outsized returns, such as focusing on your most important opportunities and activities, skills development, formative experiences, and even exercise. A seller that learns to recognize and increase investment time stands to reap the benefits down the line.
Minimize or outsource mandatory time: There’s some time throughout the day that a seller simply cannot avoid, such as commuting to and from work, logging calls in the CRM, attending internal meetings, or taking clean notes. The idea here is to minimize this time (switch to working from home to regain those hours or trim the number of internal meetings you really need to be in, for example).
Another option is to convert this time to investment time. A great example is listening to a sales podcast during the commute or devoting the time you’ve regained from outsourcing toward a new sales training or certification.
Eliminate empty time: Television, social media, staring at the wall—time spent on these diversions doesn’t bring any return. The best approach here is to be honest about one’s empty time and try to reduce or eliminate it. This might be where an activity tracker comes into play, which can help show sellers just how much time they spend on empty activities. Only once you know it can you manage it.
Last Thought: It’s About Empowerment
I find that the healthiest, most productive sales teams avoid overcomplicating productivity. They simplify the formula for their salespeople, empowering them with the discipline, habits, and instincts they need to manage their own output.
Which isn't to say that productivity tools, tracking, and analytics don’t have their place. Or that sales productivity shouldn’t be treated with some modicum of formality. But too much reliance on governance the tech stack tends to create its own problems. And if sales leaders want to unlock the productivity code for their teams, the last thing they need is counterproductivity.
Just ask Lucy and Ricky.