Growth. It's the mantra of sales and marketing managers everywhere. Yet many companies inadvertently limit growth by burdening their sales teams with high levels of non-revenue-generating administrative work. In our restructuring work with clients, we often find that more than 50 percent of a sales professional's time is spent on non-customer-facing work, including account maintenance, issues resolution, and reporting. Since the top mandate (and natural talent) of sales professionals is to generate revenue, excessive administrative work—be it paper or automated—represents a significant loss of revenue.
How much? To answer this question, we looked at the sales force of a $6 billion global consumer services organization. Our first step was to identify sales activities using a Business Core Competency Model—and then to determine how much of the sales force's time is being spent on each activity (visit nexgenadvisors.com to see the diagram). This allows you to measure—and ultimately minimize—the amount of administrative work assigned to the sales team.
The high-priority improvements are those administrative areas where "current" time allocations are significantly higher than "ideal" or benchmark allocations. In this example, sales professionals were spending between 40 percent and 70 percent of their time on non-sales activities. The goal should be to eliminate or transition as much administrative work as possible.
To accomplish this goal, we segmented administrative work into three categories: (1) work to streamline (2) work to automate and (3) work to transition.
The streamlining stage of the project involves a team of sales professionals and process experts (i.e., individuals trained in Six Sigma.) This team works together for a short period of time (usually three months or less) to identify decision-making processes and policies that stand between the sales force and their ability to sell. Key design principles to keep in mind are "alignment," "simplicity," "consolidation," "agility," and "customer focus." The goal is to quantify the total costs associated with gaps, overlaps, and cumbersome processes—and to capture the savings that come from streamlining inefficiencies.
Typically, the automation stage of the project is more difficult and requires an investment. If the sales team is not using a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, you need to invest in one right away. You also need to integrate current platforms that are autonomous. Do not be penny wise and dollar foolish. An investment in a robust sales platform today will pay significant dividends later. Happily, it is usually possible to self-fund this investment through near-term cost savings and revenue improvements.
The final step is to identify the work to be transitioned. This type of work is typically manual—and highly administrative. Here, it's often a good idea to create an administrative hub or "center of excellence," staffed by administrators who are trained to support the sales process end-to-end. These administrators can be housed together or work remotely. The goal is to standardize administrative support and free up sales professionals to spend more face time with the client.
Among the sales activities that typically can be transitioned to an administrative center of excellence are:
•Sales presentation development
•Contract development and management
•Pricing and bid support
•Data entry (and CRM maintenance)
•Issues resolution regarding contracts
By transitioning these (and other similar) activities to a center of excellence, companies reduce the number of hours sales professionals spend on non-sales activities. Most companies also find that centers of excellence increase standardization, consistency, and accuracy, which improves the overall customer service experience.
The Bottom Line: Growth
Often, sales professionals can increase their "selling power" by roughly 25 percent by streamlining, automating, and/or transitioning non-sales work. That's essentially one extra day per week of additional selling time for each salesperson.
In every company, the goal of sales managers is to do more with less. In the current economic environment, this mandate is more important than ever. The best way to meet this mandate is to free sales teams from non-sales, administrative work. The bottom line will be increased efficiency—and profitable growth.
Carla Zilka is the founder and senior advisor of NexGen Advisors, a restructuring and transformation firm focusing on driving growth. She has extensive experience in organizational efficiency, talent management and engagement, and sales. For more information, visit www.nexgenadvisors.com.