Freeing up the sales force for selling

Most sales reps spend less than half of their time actually selling. Here’s how companies can reshape sales operations to allow them to focus on their real job.

JULY 2011 • Olivia Nottebohm, Tom Stephenson, and Jennifer Wickland

Source: Marketing & Sales Practice

Here’s a situation that may sound familiar. “Inside” sales reps1 at a global manufacturer spent 75 percent of their time away from the phones—pushing through stalled deals, scurrying for data to answer questions from customers, and cobbling together one-off proposals for even the simplest requests. Highly paid field reps spent 45 percent of their time on internal sales support and tracking the progress of deals. Developing a standard proposal required meetings with as many as seven people, and field reps had to spend up to three weeks of constant effort to get a special price approved. This model of inefficiency culminated when the company fumbled a new-product launch because it failed to meet the deadline for proposals to secure initial orders.

That was the wake-up call the company needed. For two years, it worked to streamline its global sales operation by creating “sales factories” comprising specialized sales support staff with clear responsibilities and deal coordinators to shepherd sales through the system on behalf of reps. Internal processes were standardized and simplified, and a comprehensive performance-management system was implemented. While not all companies can successfully achieve these difficult and time-consuming transformations, the rewards are worthwhile for those that rise to the challenge. When the program was rolled out country by country, in some cases the impact was felt in just four months: reps gained an average of 15 percent more time for selling, conversions of proposals to sales rose by 5 percent, and the cycle time for internal sales processes shrank by 20 percent.

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